November 5, 2017
Now, I am happy to announce that I am ready to get back to our regularly scheduled programming...and just in time for NaNoWriMo! I hope the time change allowed you to sneak an extra hour of writing time in, even if you aren't participating in National Novel Writing Month.
- CHARACTER: OLD SCHOOL BEAT COPS
The LA Times ran an article yesterday on a pair of LAPD Officers that have been partners for an unbelievable twenty-nine years! The guys seem to be right out of a Joseph Wambaugh novel. Like any good marriage, the key to their resiliency is that they operate like a well tuned machine. Each partner has his own strengths (and I'm sure weaknesses as well) and they know which part to play and when. If you are writing a Cop/Buddy Story, you will enjoy this article.
- WRITING TIP OF THE WEEK: LEVEL UP YOUR DIALOGUE
I am a fan of both Reddit and Quora. If you've been living under a boulder of old AOL Installation CDs, they are websites every author should add to his or her research toolbox. While Reddit and Quora are quite different sites, they are both great places to learn about nearly any topic you can dream up. This week, I was reading the Quora thread: What one tip changed your writing forever? Christopher Kingery shared a tip for writing dialogue that is a must-read. It is so simple and it's something that all of my favorite authors do...yet I never really thought about it. (Are you a Redditor or Quora User? Add me as a friend on Reddit and Quora!)
- SOME OTHER COP'S BLOG: The Salty Sarge
I discovered thesaltysarge.com blog this week and the post "Why Cops Retire Before You" is absolutely spot on. To gain even more insight into the lives of cops in the later stages or their careers, scroll through the comments at the bottom of the post. This is good background on the mentality of any Mentor type characters you might write about.
Good luck hitting your NaNoWriMo word counts and remember that any questions you have can be posted in the WRITERSDETECTIVE Q&A group on Facebook...even if you aren't a NaNo'er. It's a very supportive group and I try to answer your questions as quickly as I can.
October 3, 2017
I buried my best friend today. He was only 46.
Last month, I lost my uncle.
A few weeks before that, my beloved 12-year old German Shepherd passed away peacefully with his head resting on my foot.
The month before that, my Mentor died in a car wreck.
Right now, I am grieving.
But I will get through this. I will be back to publishing my weekly APBs soon.
Thank you for your understanding and support. In the meantime, keep writing and do not hesitate to email me with any crime-writing questions you think I can help you with.
Write well and love one another,
June 17, 2017
- CHARACTER: FORENSIC ODONTOLOGIST
Crime fighting Dentists. Wait-What? One of the more esoteric fields of Forensic Science is Forensic Odontology. Bitemark analysis can play an important role in cases ranging from Domestic Violence to Murder. If you are writing about a killer with a sexual deviance or one that uses torture, bitemarks might make an interesting literary device. I'm sure you can come up with all sorts of deeper symbology or an intense psychological profile with a biter as the perpetrator.
If you choose to go this route, the American Board of Forensic Odontology created a Bitemark Methodology Standards and Guidelines document that you may find incredibly helpful. This guide covers bitemark analytical methods, related terminology, collecting Bite Site evidence, collecting a suspect’s dentition, preferred formatting for the Odontologist’s analytical reports, exemplar comparison methods, the best practices for describing whether a suspect’s teeth could have made the bitemark in question, and even a sample layout of what the final investigative report should look like.
It’s easy to read and it's only eleven pages long. I have no doubt you’ll be able to use this document to create believable dialog for your Forensic Odontologist, whether it's explaining facts to an investigator or testifying as a witness in court. While you’re on the ABFO.org page, you might take a quick look at the Member Directory to see if any Members work near you. I’d be willing to bet any one of these Forensic Odontologists would be willing to talk shop to a writer interested in this fascinating niche.
- WHAT I'M READING THIS WEEK: DEAD BODY STUFF...BUT FUNNY
A good friend of mine, who also happens to be a super smart and talented Psychologist that works with my agency, recommended the book I am reading this week:
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers* by Mary Roach.
I'm not sure if the Doc profiled me as being psychologically disturbed or that we share the same skewed sense of humor. Either way, it was a brilliant recommendation.
Just like cops, most crime writers seem to share a certain degree of gallows humor. If this describes you, you will LOVE this book. It is packed full of answers to your dead body questions, peppered with hilarious observations that make this a quick, funny, and useful reference tome that every serious crime writer should read.
If you need answers to serious plot quandaries, such as the stages of a body’s biological and chemical decomposition phases or the timelines associated with each...but you'd prefer it explained in a way that sounds like you're listening to a friend telling stories over drinks (rather than a dry medical school textbook,) then this is the book for you.
Here’s a sample passage from the Stiff*: [Context: Mary is visiting the University of Tennessee's Anthropological Research Facility in Knoxville where human decomposition is studied.] “So the gas builds up and the belly bloats. He explains that the small intestine has pretty much collapsed and sealed itself off…Though he allows, with some prodding, that a little bad air often does, in fact, slip out, and so, as a matter of record, it can be said that dead people fart. It needn’t be, but it can.”
Mary also writes about the mental techniques first-year medical students use to get over the natural tendency to get grossed out by their cadavers. Any character of yours that routinely attends or partakes in autopsies will have developed “objectification techniques” like what is mentioned in this book.
If the mere thought of dead bodies and decay gets you squeamish, you might want to reconsider my suggestion, but I really do think you should give it a try. There are ZERO gross pictures, so you don’t need to worry about seeing any gore.
I will be traveling through various parts of England and Scotland in the upcoming weeks. If you want to keep tabs on what I'm up to, follow me on Instagram: @writersdetctive (DISCLAIMER: It is entirely possible the photos will be nothing but the pubs, ales, and wee drams of whisky I find. So no promises that the photos will be any good. ;)
June 12, 2017
If there is one writing-related thing I can share about this, its the way cops have a tendency to detach using an out-of-sight-out-of-mind coping mechanism. It's not that we don't care or that we aren't thinking about our former Brothers and Sisters in Blue; we just spend our emotional effort on those that we are working with (and watching the backs of) currently. We are also notoriously bad at acknowledging and dealing with negative emotions, other than to lock them away for another day.
It starts at the beginning. When a Recruit is fired from the Police Academy, the Academy Class does not get to say goodbye. The Recruit is called to the office and that's the last you see or hear of the Recruit. When the class comes back into the classroom after PT or a defensive tactics course, the fired Recruit's belongings are gone and his name placard has been removed from his seat and pinned upside down to the wall at the back of the classroom (along with the name placards of other former classmates.)
The lesson is clear: You're either in or out. The work still goes on.
That persists through the rest of a cop's career. There is a saying "SWAT-OR-NOT." Many officers will be part of a SWAT team at some point in their career. SWAT is for the young and motivated. Which means there are a ton of former-SWAT operators full of "When I was on the Team..." war stories. SWAT-or-NOT means if you aren't on the team now, you aren't SWAT anymore (so shut it.) In or out.
So when an officer retires from the Department, it can feel like going through an amicable divorce. Sure, we all say we'll still be friends and keep in touch...but only your closest friends will actually follow through. It's a weird and sad phenomena. So if your characters are "ex-cops" that have turned into a P.I., expect that they may be forgotten rather quickly no matter how awesome they were. In or out.
- CHARACTER: THE SPOUSE
There is no tougher rock than the spouse of a cop. "10 Tips for a Police Spouse" was written by the wife of an Australian Police Officer. Every single bullet point translates to police work anywhere in the world. This brief glimpse into a Police Family's life is worth the read, as it may give you insight into an often overlooked character in your story. It may also offer you a chance to skew the way your detective character is viewed and/or add additional conflict and chaos to the detective's life. Regardless of whether the cop catches the murderer or saves the kidnap victim, the spouse may be seeing that same cop as the absentee-parent or an aloof workaholic who fails to prioritize his or her marriage.
- STORY: CASE COORDINATION?
If your Detective is undercover as an arms dealer trying to lure in potential lone-wolf terrorists, how will s/he make sure the "clients" aren't also undercover cops trying to run their own arms-dealing investigation? Or drug dealing? Or murder-for-hire? The answer is to have a deconfliction clearinghouse. RISS.net is exactly that. Each area of the U.S. has a RISS Clearinghouse. If I am on a surveillance (or some other sort of covert op, like buying drugs or guns), I will call my local clearinghouse and be "put on the war board" so any other police agencies working covert operations (that also call into the clearinghouse) will be made aware of what we're doing. NOTE: In my own experience, Federal Agencies are notoriously HORRIBLE at notifying RISS of their operations. So if you want some part of your investigation to go awry or for Federal Feathers to get ruffled, this is a real-life way of it happening. The Feds definitely use RISS, they just tend to enter their info after the fact.
Each RISS affiliated Clearinghouse has it's own name, often a bland acronym that we turn into a weird sounding word. For example, in California we have WSIN (Western States Information Network) which everyone pronounces as Whizzin' and the Clearinghouse for the greater Los Angeles Metropolitan Area is creatively named LAClear. Or how about MAGLOCLEN? Yep. Just like it sounds, Maglow-Clen. Sounds like the Glow in the Dark brother of Kylo Ren to me.
In addition to deconflicting covert operations in the field, RISS also deconflicts entire investigations. If I am working a homicide and I've identified a suspect or person of interest, I will call WSIN and run that suspect's name in their database. If that name is a match for being related to another investigation (say a drug investigation), the Clearinghouse will put the detectives in contact with each other. Wouldn't it be nice to know that your homicide suspect was also identified by the DEA as a member of a drug cartel? This is often how those investigative links are made.
The RISS Clearinghouses also offer other support as well, which are mentioned after the 3:28 minute mark in this video. If there is one thing I've discovered in government work, the more bland the title or description, the more important and bad-ass the work they actually do.
June 6, 2017
- CHARACTER: NEW DETECTIVES
Writers often ask me about how their characters can realistically become detectives in their stories. While federal agencies in the U.S. hire directly into investigator roles (usually called Special Agents), local police agencies almost always require officers to promote to the rank of detective after serving some years working the street in uniform. This week, I discovered a BBC story announcing Scotland Yard's decision to hire Detective Trainees. The Met has a shortage of investigators, so the new hiring program is aimed at recruiting new hires directly into the detective ranks without requiring the trainees to work in uniform. While I don't see this program becoming too likely in the U.S., it could certainly lead to some interesting crime stories and character bios.
- THE BUSINESS SIDE OF WRITING: FEAR LESS (NOT FEARLESS)
I have made reference to Tim Ferriss' podcast before, but this week he sits down with Vince Vaughn. Vince talks about how his teenage job as a telemarketer helped him overcome any fear of asking for things from strangers. Some of the stories in this interview are hilarious, but I really appreciated the message of not being afraid to go beyond what you find comfortable to accomplish your goals. Writers being introverts maybe a stereotype, but I think most of us find it uncomfortable to make the Big Ask. This is especially true when it feels like a possible rejection will be too tortuous to endure. This interview speaks to that and I think you will enjoy it. I am contemplating running a contest based on an idea presented in this interview. Check out the interview and you may get a head start on the contest!
- MOTIVE: WOMEN WHO KILL
We tend to think of men as the killers in our society. A&E aired a special documentary focused on the phenomenon of women being more likely to kill family members than men. You can still catch the documentary on aetv.com, you just need to login using your TV provider's account credentials. Just remember me when your next story idea sells to Lifetime TV.
May 27, 2017
- CHARACTER: FOUR MOST IMPORTANT CHARACTERS
This isn’t my first link from an APB to K.M. Weiland’s writing website, helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com but this week's post about a story's Four Most Important Characters is fantastic. She writes about the roles the Protagonist, Antagonist, Reflection, and Love Interest should play in fulfilling their unique thematic roles and guiding your Protagonist toward (or away from) your story’s Thematic Truth. This is a must read for any author, regardless of genre. If you’re a fan of Poldark, you’ll really appreciate K.M.’s examples.
- GENRE: DANGEROUS WORK
One reason Detective Stories and Cop Shows are so popular is that the stakes are often life and death. Nothing will remind you more of those stakes than the Officer Down Memorial Page, which tracks every Law Enforcement line-of-duty death. The FBI tracks officer deaths and assaults, through the Annual LEOKA Report. LEOKA is an acronym for Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted. LEOKA statistics are reported by local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies to the FBI as part of the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program.
- RESEARCH: ASK THE EXPERTS!
Sue Coletta is an award winning crime fiction author; murder blogger; co-host of the monthly Partners In Crime #BlogTalkRadio; and host/founder of #ACrimeChat, the bi-weekly Twitter Q&A for crime writers. Both the Partners In Crime streaming audio program and #ACrimeChat Twitter Q&A are regular opportunities for you to ask a cadre of experienced cops and writers questions specific to your craft. I jump into the #ACrimeChat Q&A as often as I can. It’s always a fun set of questions that don’t always get the same answers from the experts. Search #ACrimeChat on Twitter to see past Questions and Answers. #ACrimeChat occurs every other Wednesday from 3pm-4pm EDT/12pm-1pm PST. Submit your questions by tweeting @SueColetta1. Don’t be shy; we’d love to have you join us!
- WRITING: FOR YOURSELF
In addition to my law enforcement career and helping authors and screenwriters through writersdetective.com, I also teach at the collegiate level. One of my favorite classes to teach is a Criminal Justice Ethics course that includes the topics of mindfulness and wholesight. I am far from becoming some kind of New Age hippy, but I believe practicing mindfulness and wholesight leads to being a better person and a happier life. One tool I love to accomplish this is The Five Minute Journal*. Writing in my journal is the one daily New Year’s Resolution I have kept since 1/1/2017, and I urge you to consider checking it out. I read the daily quote and write in my journal when I first wake up, which helps me frame my day as one of possibility. Then before bed, I reflect back on how my day went and what I took notice of as being amazing. Knowing that I will write about “Three Amazing Things That Happened” each day has given me reason to seek out the amazing little things daily. It takes me LESS than five minutes each day. For those of us who don’t make the time to meditate or keep a diary, The Five Minute Journal* is perfect for cultivating a few minutes of good thoughts at the beginning and end of your day.
May 21, 2017
- COMMUNICATIONS: Every cop has a story for what led them to this career. A Commander I worked for shared his story, which was a simple one. When he was a kid, he happened upon some sort of emergency in his town. There were flashing lights, sirens, police cars everywhere, and a crime scene cordoned off. He remembered watching an officer arrive in a police car and then walk past him into the crime scene. As a kid, my Commander desperately wanted to know what was going on. It dawned on him that the uniformed officer knew what was going on. That was the seed that grew into a police career: Knowing What Was Going On. Despite newer technologies like cellphones and computers in the patrol cars, the primary communication tool is still the police radio. Thanks to modern technology, you can know what's going on by listening in on police radio traffic from around the world for free, on your smartphone. While I don't recommend filling your writing or dialogue with police radio codes and jargon, listening to the communications around where your story is set can be enlightening. Is your story set in an area where a dedicated dispatch center is responsible for tracking dozens of officers at a time, or is the dispatching handled by the one civilian employee back at the office who is also the records clerk? To listen in using iPhone/Apple iOS Devices: Download the free 5-0 Radio App in the App Store. For Android Devices: Download the free Scanner Radio App in the Google Play Store. If you navigate to your story's location and don't get much to listen to, navigate to "LAPD Aero and Special Unit Dispatch" (LAPD calls this frequency "Air / K9") to hear the most serious emergencies in the City of Los Angeles in near realtime.
- STORY: In March, I shared a link to the policeone.com website that several of you said was extremely helpful. I've got another one for you! Similar to PoliceOne is a website called LEO Affairs. (No, it's not Ashley Madison for Cops.) In addition to having a ton of incredible dashcam/bodycam footage, you can be a fly on the wall in the Forums to learn how cops honestly feel about various topics and possibly get some insight to what is going on inside the agency you might be writing about.
- DEATH [Squeamish Alert] If you only write Cozy Mysteries or get squeamish, feel free to skip these links. One writer asked "does a body decompose any faster/slower if it doesn't have any blood in it?" My reply: "It could. It would also depend on how the body lost its blood. Putrefaction may be slowed if the bacteria doesn't have a blood filled circulatory system to move through easily. That said, if the blood loss occurred due to a significant wound, that wound would also allow for outside insects and bacteria to enter the cadaver to speed up the decomp. Depending on how you want your story to go, you can speed up decomp by elevating the ambient temperature and have the cadaver exposed. If you want the decomp slowed, cooling the temp and having the cadaver unexposed to air and outside elements (buried, bundled in clothing/sleeping bag, etc.) may help." To learn more, check out AboutForensics and ExploreForensics (both links to U.K. sites.)
May 14, 2017
- CHARACTER: MOTHER'S DAY Imagine being a single-mom to five kids, attending college, and being a Baltimore City Police Officer during last year's riots. Meet BPD Officer Karyn Crisafulli. If you're looking for a real Mother's Day Hero, she is definitely it. I hope she inspires you to go for your dreams!
- PROPS: FLIR On Saturday morning (by that I mean 0230 in the morning), my helicopter pilot partner and I were called to search a remote area for a suspect that fled on foot from a vehicle pursuit after he crashed his car. I was operating the helicopter's Forward-Looking-InfraRed (FLIR) and using it to look for heat sources ahead of where our canine team was searching. I spotted the suspect about fifty yards ahead of the canine team just as he began running away from the officers. I radioed the K9 Officer who released his German Shepherd partner from his leash. The bad guy tried fighting the canine and quickly became a bloody chew-toy. Once the dummy was in handcuffs, we landed the helicopter and delivered a First Aid kit for bandaging his wounds. Being able to visually "see" heat through a thermograph has been an invaluable tool for law enforcement. Which leads me to this week's second link: Understanding the scientific principles of how FLIR works. Oh how far we've come since the Year 1800 and Sir Frederick William Herschel's discovery of infrared! At the very least, your kids might enjoy the science project of using a prism and a handful of thermometers. To find out what I'm talking about, watch this YouTube video.
- STORY: EXTRADITION When bad guys are on the run, they are usually wanted because an arrest warrant was issued demanding their arrest. So what happens when a wanted person is arrested in another state? This short video explains the process of Interstate Extradition.. I have personally traveled out of state for dozens of extraditions, usually bringing the defendant back via a commercial airliner. In this video, you'll see that the process becomes a little more complicated with International Extraditions. As I mentioned in a previous APB regarding the FBI and Interpol, international extraditions involve partner nations that have agreed to reciprocity in a treaty.
May 6, 2017
- SETTING: LATIN AMERICA & CARIBBEAN Insight Crime is a great researching resource for crimes relating to Latin America, the Caribbean, and its ties to the US. Insight Crime is a foundation dedicated to the study of Organized Crime in those areas. Their website offers timely reporting and analysis on organized crime in the region. For adventurous bilingual students, they offer unpaid internships on a semester schedule.
- PLOT: FBI and FISA Last week, FBI Director Comey testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the FBI oversight. I am sure you’re as sick of the news as I am, but this testimony is worth reviewing from a research perspective. Near the 2 hour 57 minute mark (scroll down to that clip), Dir. Comey offers a pretty concise explanation of Section 702 of FISA. For my research gluttons out there, here is NSA’s more detailed white paper on Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Section 702. (A big shout out to my Mom for sharing the C-SPAN coverage with all of us!) Most Detectives do not get involved in FISA “wire taps” when investigating homicides. However, all it takes is a terror motive and your Detective may get sucked into the shadowy world of the Intelligence Community. It’s important to understand that the FBI acts as both a criminal investigation agency and as a domestic intelligence agency. Generally, the FBI Special Agents in each office will be assigned to one or the other as a primary job duty. In smaller FBI RA’s (Resident Agency offices –think satellite offices in smaller communities), an agent assigned to IT (International Terrorism) or DT (Domestic Terrorism) may still be required to roll out to a bank robbery. It just won’t be their primary duty. As a Detective, I have personally worked with both sides of the FBI office. When you are working with the Intel side, you are generally dealing with classified information that will not be used in court. If it does make it to court, it’s gone through some heavy legal review and it’s usually years after the arrest.
- WHAT I’M READING THIS WEEK: "The Six Month Novel Writing Plan" Caitlin and Jacob Jans are the editors of Authors Publish Magazine, a free weekly email magazine for writers. Caitlin recently published “The Six Month Novel Writing Plan” and it’s available for free for a limited time. She offers some really practical advice for actually getting that novel finished (hint: writing time is not facebook time), edited, and published. If you find it worthwhile, consider giving it a review on Amazon.
April 29, 2017
- Story: Dialogue - "Know Your Why" - Self Publishing Podcast Last year, the amazing folks at Sterling & Stone were crazy enough to feature me on an episode of their Self Publishing Podcast. (I’d like to offer a huge shout out and thank you to fellow Tribe Writer, Christine Niles, for making the podcast happen! Y'all are even nuttier for including me in the 2016 Year in Review episode.) On the podcast, I spoke about writing Interview & Interrogation dialogue and how “knowing the why” of each character will shape what is said...and [PUN ALERT] why it’s a cop out to use a suspect interrogation to summarize the investigation for the reader. So, what would a Detective actually say in an interview or interrogation? One of the most successful (and sometimes controversial) interview and interrogation methods is called The Reid Technique. This link to John E. Reid’s website includes some worthwhile presentations covering the stages of interview and interrogation. The Reid Investigator Tip page has a drop-down list of I&I questions that may help you craft dialog for your own interrogation scenes. If you pay attention to the way most Reid questions are formatted, you’ll notice that they are designed to elicit expository answers, not just a Yes/No response...which always help keep the dialogue and story moving!
- PLOT: “All the pieces matter.” –Det. Lester Freamon, The Wire Your investigation is stalled. You can’t identify your victim, or maybe you only have part of a victim. Perhaps there is a signature to this killing and you want to see if any other homicide investigations have a similar trademark. ViCAP (the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program) is an FBI administered database dedicated to accomplishing exactly that. It was created in the early 1980s, but has since morphed into a secure web-based database that all US law enforcement agencies can access. If your serial killer uses a specific technique or you are looking to identify a Jane/John Doe, then ViCAP is likely the database where the analytical linking to other homicide, kidnapping, or missing person cases will occur. Click here to see the Public's version of current investigations currently seeking leads or information.
- WHAT I’M READING THIS WEEK*: "DRIVE: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us" I know. "Writing is hard." Many traditionally published authors argue that writing Is even harder once you’ve obtained that ever elusive “Publishing Contract.” This book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us* sheds light on the illogical human tendency to lose motivation whenever something that was implicitly rewarding (like writing for the love of it) becomes something you’re compensated for (a Big 5 Publishing contract perhaps.) This book is a interesting read and the author does a great job making the scientific evidence an easy read. It is definitely thought provoking. I am still in the middle of the book, so I will update you on whether there are any motivation hacks worth pursuing. ;)