Are you searching for ways to prevent the hero of your tales from becoming the bumbling, inept investigators seen on many television shows? Well, look no further. Here are a dozen tips that’ll turn any fictional schmuck into a perceptive Sherlock.

1. Use a new, clean fingerprint brush for each crime scene to prevent cross contamination of DNA.

2. Never place items containing DNA evidence into plastic bags. Plastic retains moisture, which can degrade or damage DNA.

3. When collecting potential DNA evidence (blood, urine, saliva, semen, etc.) from an object—walls, baseboards, bed posts, car windows, steering wheels, light switch covers, refrigerator door handles, etc.—use a clean, fresh swab. First, though, moisten the swab with sterile distilled water. Once the sample is collected onto the swab, place it inside a cardboard or paper container for air drying. ALWAYS use a fresh cardboard and/or paper container to prevent cross contamination.

4. Use adhesive side powder for lifting prints from the sticky side of tapes, packing labels, etc. Mix the side powder with water and dispersing agent until it reaches the consistency of thin paint, then apply it to the surface. Wait 10-15 seconds and then rinse with clean water. Presto! The print(s) appear instantly.

Sirchie’s kit “contains all the components necessary to develop latent prints on the adhesive surface of tapes, labels and similar surfaces. Adhesive-side powder yields excellent results on duct tape, plastic tapes (clear, frosted and opaque), paper labels and tapes (except those with water-activated adhesives), vinyl packing labels and paper-backed adhesive labels. Poor to excellent results are possible on cloth surgical tape (excellent fidelity but low contrast). The TRA20 adhesive tape release agent allows tangled tape to be released without damage to latent prints which may be present.” 2021 MurderCon (virtual) features a brilliant class on lifting prints from difficult surfaces, such as tapes and wet objects.

ASP150 Adhesive-Side Powder Kit includes:

1 – ASP50D Dark Adhesive-Side Powder, 50g

1 – ASP50L Light Adhesive Side Powder, 50g

1 – ASP10 EZFLO Super Concentrate, 6 oz

1 – TRA20 Adhesive Tape Releae Agent, 1 oz

1 – KCP300 LPDE Bottle with Cap, 6 oz

2 – 118L Regular Powder Brushes

2 – KCP139 Plastic Tweezers

1 – KCP301 Rinse Basin

2 – KCP302 Mixing Bowl with Lid

1 – KCP303 Measuring Spoon, 1 tsp

1 – Instructions for TRA20

1 – ASP501 Texturized, Molded, Plastic carrying Case

*Images and text above – Sirchie. Sirchie, “the global leader in crime scene investigation and forensic science solutions,” is the official host of “MurderCon,” a Writers’ Police Academy event

5. Polyethylene tape is great for lifting prints from curved surfaces. The material easily conforms to the shape of non-flat surfaces, such as a doorknob.

6. To prevent contamination, do not talk, yawn, cough, sneeze, etc. over potential DNA evidence.

7. When seizing computers as evidence – If the device is on, do not use it. Photograph the image on the monitor and then unplug the power cord from the machine (remove the battery from a laptop). If the computer is not on, do not power it up. Deliver the devices to the crime lab for examination by computer experts.

8. Use SPR or Wet Print to ift prints from wet surfaces. By the way, both products are water-based, which means they cannot be used when temperatures are below freezing.

“Small Particle Reagent (SPR) is a suspension of fine molybdenum disulfide particles in a surface-active solution for light-colored surfaces and a white suspension for dark-colored surfaces. It adheres to the fatty constituents of latent fingerprints to form a gray or white deposit—depending on the reagent, and is a quick and simple latent print development process (recommended by the U.K. Home Office, Scientific Research and Development Branch). Each kit includes complete instructions.” – Sirchie

9. Do not store or transport potential DNA evidence in direct sunlight, or in areas exposed to excessive heat (vehicle dashboard, trunk, etc.).

10. Typically, embalmed bodies are not suitable for DNA testing. However, it is possible to obtain DNA from bone and hair, even on a body that has been embalmed.

11. A “how-to” kit is available to law enforcement that details (step-by-step) the process of collecting insect evidence. The kit also contains a list of entomologists who’ll help identify the bugs and their stages of life.

12. Every single item found at a crime scene should be considered as evidence until it’s ruled as having no evidential value. For example, broken window glass should be recovered as evidence. It may be possible to match the glass to particles discovered embedded in the soles of a suspect’s shoe. Likewise, hairs, fibers, soil, and other trace evidence may be found on a suspect’s clothing and shoes.

I once collected a soil/plant/seed mixture found on the brake pedal of a suspect’s car and it was later matched to an area where the combination of the items was specific to a very small region—the precise place where the victim was killed.

By the way, forensic botany is a fascinating aspect of crime-solving that could certainly add a touch of pizzazz to works of fiction. To help with this underused aspect of criminal investigations, we’ve added Forensic Botany to the MurderCon’s 2021 lineup. The class is amazing.


RESERVE YOUR SPOT TODAY!

Are you searching for the proper details and the perfect words to describe a scene or character? Well, here’s the solution to your troubles. Sign up today to learn from some of the best in the business!!

 

 

www.writerspoliceacademy.online

 

 

 

 Writers’ Police Academy Online is Pleased to Present:

 

“Search Dogs, Search Warrants, a Search for Words, and Lies”

 

When: February 27, 2021

 

This daylong live and interactive seminar features three renowned professionals who will share intimate knowledge of K-9 search and rescues and the recovery of human remains; laws and procedures governing search warrants, pursuits, and police use of force; how detectives use the words of suspects and witnesses—nouns, pronouns, extra words, missing words—to detect deception or hidden information.

At the end of day international bestselling author Heather Graham presents a dynamic workshop on the craft of writing titled “It’s All in the Words.”

Instructors include Carrie Stuart Parks, Sheri Lewis Wohl, Wisconsin Judge Kevin Rathburn, and the fabulous Heather Graham Pozzessere!

Registration is officially open. Reserve your seat today!

https://writerspoliceacademy.online


Seminar Schedule

Schedule (Times are EST)

10:30 – Login and Test
10:45 – Welcome

11:00 – 12:20

Search Warrants, Pursuits, and Police Use of Force

This course will describe the general legal standards for the use of force by police such as warrants, including anticipatory, knock, and No Knock, warrants and pursuits. Instructor, Kevin Rathburn

12:20 – 12:50

Break

12:50 – 2:10

More than the Nose: K9 Search Teams in the 21st Century

K9 Search Teams in the 21st Century is a journey into the world of canine search teams. What does it take to be field ready? What makes a good search dog? Learn the difference between what it looks like on TV and what it’s really like out in the field. Learn how and why it’s changing from search and rescue volunteers to unpaid professionals. Instructor Sheri Wohl

2:20 – 3:40

Don’t LIE to Me!

Law enforcement uses numerous tools to identify deception in witnesses and suspects, depending on their background and training. Learn one of the more unique skill sets in recognizing deception through language–by reviewing the written statements. Understand how the very nouns, pronouns, extra words, missing words, and other clues alert detectives to deception or hidden information. Add richness and depth to your writing by utilizing and weaving content statement analysis into your manuscripts. Instructor, Carrie Stuart Parks

3:50 – 5:10

“It’s all in the Words”

A dynamic workshop on the craft of writing taught by one of the all-time great authors of suspense, historical romance, vampire fiction, time travel, occult, and Christmas family fare. Instructor, Heather Graham

5:10

Final words


Instructor Bios:

Carrie Stuart Parks is an award-winning, internationally known forensic artist. She travels across the US and Canada teaching courses in forensic art to law enforcement professionals including the FBI, Secret Service, and RCMP, and is the largest instructor of forensic art in the world. Her best-selling novels in the mystery/suspense/thriller genre have garnered numerous awards including several Carols, Inspys, the Christy, Golden Scroll, Maxwell, and Wright. As a professional fine artist, she has written and illustrated best-selling art books for North Light Publishers.

 


Sheri Lewis Wohl is a 30-year veteran of the federal judiciary, a search and rescue K9 handler, and the author of more than fifteen novels, several of which feature search dogs. She is a field ready member of search and rescue in Eastern Washington and for the last nine years, has been a human remains detection K9 handler deployed on missions throughout Washington, Idaho, and Montana.

Sheri has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Communications from Eastern Washington University and a Master’s degree in Literature from California State University, Dominguez Hills.

 

 

 


 

Kevin Rathburn became a full-time faculty member at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in 2000 after serving as an adjunct instructor for nine years. Prior to that, Mr. Rathburn served for ten years as an Assistant District Attorney for Brown County in Green Bay, Wisconsin. In 2004, Mr. Rathburn became Municipal Judge for the Village of Suamico. Mr. Rathburn holds BAs in political science and economics from St. Norbert College (1987) and a JD from Marquette University Law School (1990).

While in Law school, Mr. Rathburn served as a law clerk to several Milwaukee Circuit Court Judges handling civil and criminal matters and the appeal of cases from local boards and municipal court in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He also completed an internship in public sector labor law with the law firm of Mulcahy and Wherry and an internship with Blue Cross & Blue Shield Insurance Company.

Mr. Rathburn is a State Certified Instructor for the Wisconsin Technical College System. He is also certified by the Department of Justice, Training and Standards Board in the areas of Child Maltreatment, Constitutional Law, Corrections Law, Courts and Jurisdiction, Criminal Law, Introduction to Criminal Justice, Criminology, Domestic Violence, Ethics in Criminal Justice, Interviews and Interrogation, Juvenile Law, Report Writing, Sexual Assault and Sensitive Crimes. Mr. Rathburn recently helped create Constitutional Law and Juvenile Law Manuals and update the Criminal Law Manual for the WI. Dept. of Justice, Training and Standards Bureau.

Mr. Rathburn has been a member of the Department of Justice Legal Context Advisory Committee since 2005. He has also served as a Commissioner on the Governor’s Commission on School Violence and the Governor’s Juvenile Justice Commission. He is a past member of the Brown County Youth Aids Committee, Brown County Council on Child Sexual Abuse, Brown County Subcommittee on Underage Drinking, Brown County Consortium on Dysfunctional Families and St. Vincent Hospital’s Child Health Team.

Since 1991 Mr. Rathburn has made presentations on a wide variety of legal topics at numerous conferences including the Wisconsin Jail Association, Wisconsin Juvenile Officers and Juvenile Intake Workers, the State of Wisconsin DARE Officers Association, the Wisconsin LETAO, the Wisconsin Criminal Justice Instructors, the Wisconsin Arson Investigators and the Wisconsin Criminal Investigator’s Association. Mr. Rathburn frequently provides legal updates for law enforcement and correction agencies. He has also provided in-service training for Unified Tactical instructors, administrators, corrections officers, dispatchers and casino security staff.

Since 2007, Mr. Rathburn has been a frequent speaker for the State Supreme Court in its training of Municipal Judges and Court Clerks. Since 2012 Mr. Rathburn has provided Basic Intake Training for Juvenile Intake Workers throughout Wisconsin. He is a trainer for the Wisconsin Child Welfare Professional Development system. Since 2016 Mr. Rathburn has been a featured presenter at the annual Writer’s Police Academy. He recently completed work with James Patterson and Maxine Paetro on a crime novel (The 17th Suspect). He has also presented to officers from England and the Caribbean Islands on multiple occasions in recent years.

In 1994, Mr. Rathburn received the Optimist Law Award for his contribution to the legal field. He also received an Outstanding Teacher Award in 2004, 2005, & 2006 from Who’s Who Among Teachers in American Universities & Colleges and from Who’s Who in Collegiate Faculty in 2007 and 2008. In 2017-18 he was included in Who’s Who in Technical College Faculty. In 2019, Mr. Rathburn received the Excellence in Teaching Award from Northeast Wisconsin Technical College.

Mr. Rathburn says his family is the most important part of his life. He spends as much time as possible with his wife, Beth, and their three sons, Sam, Jack, and Ben. He enjoys landscaping, gardening and walks with Beth and their dog Sophie. He spends many of his late evening hours reading and writing on legal topics. He also likes reading espionage or mystery novels and watching movies; especially westerns. He is an avid Packers fan and enjoys following the Badgers, Brewers, and Bucks


 

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, Heather Graham, majored in theater arts at the University of South Florida. After a stint of several years in dinner theater, back-up vocals, and bartending, she stayed home after the birth of her third child and began to write. Her first book was with Dell, and since then, she has written over two hundred novels and novellas including category, suspense, historical romance, vampire fiction, time travel, occult, sci-fi, young adult, and Christmas family fare.

She is pleased to have been published in approximately twenty-five languages. She has written over 200 novels and has 60 million books in print. Heather has been honored with awards from booksellers and writers’ organizations for excellence in her work, and she is the proud to be a recipient of the Silver Bullet from Thriller Writers and was awarded the prestigious Thriller Master Award in 2016. She is also a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from RWA. Heather has had books selected for the Doubleday Book Club and the Literary Guild, and has been quoted, interviewed, or featured in such publications as The Nation, Redbook, Mystery Book Club, People and USA Today and appeared on many newscasts including Today, Entertainment Tonight and local television.

Heather loves travel and anything that has to do with the water, and is a certified scuba diver. She also loves ballroom dancing. Each year she hosts a Vampire Ball and Dinner theater raising money for the Pediatric Aids Society and in 2006 she hosted the first Writers for New Orleans Workshop to benefit the stricken Gulf Region. She is also the founder of “The Slush Pile

Players,” presenting something that’s “almost like entertainment” for various conferences and benefits. Married since high school graduation and the mother of five, her greatest love in life remains her family, but she also believes her career has been an incredible gift, and she is grateful every day to be doing something that she loves so very much for a living.


 

www.writerspoliceacademy.online

 

The “Dark Triad” refers to a group of three of negative personality traits—Psychopathy, Narcissism, and Machiavellianism. People with these traits are often cold-bloodied and insensitive, devious and manipulative. Their actions are often “knee jerk” and impulsive, and those activities are sometimes criminal in nature.

  • Narcissism comes from the Greek myth of Narcissus. Narcissus, in Greek mythology, was the son of the river god Cephissus and the nymph Liriope. He was known for his beauty. A blind “seer” told Narcissus’s mother that her son would enjoy a long life, provided he never saw his reflection. However, as one version of the tale goes, Narcissus did indeed see his reflection in the waters of a spring and he loved his image so much that he killed himself. Another version is that Narcissus fell in love with his reflection when gazing into the spring water while thinking of the death of his sister.

Narcissistic people can be selfish, arrogant, lacking in empathy, and they’re not at all fond of criticism. They love to brag.

  • Machiavellianism: the word comes from Niccolo Machiavelli, the 16th century Italian politician and diplomat. Machiavelli’s book, “The Prince,” was thought of as an endorsement and approval of the dark arts of cunning and deceit. Traits associated with Machiavellianism include hypocriciy and deceit, manipulation and control, self-interest, and a lack of emotion and principle.
  • Psychopathy: According to Psychiatric Times, psychopathy is “a personality disorder characterized by lack of empathy, grandiosity, shallow affect, deceitfulness, impulsivity, irresponsibility, and disregard for the well-being or rights of others.”

In the U.S., psychopaths are approximately 1% of the population. Of that 1% males exhibit psychopathic traits more often than females—90% of all psychopaths are male. Not all psychopaths are criminals.

Psychopaths make up 15-18% of prison population. Of the overall prison population, psychopaths are three times more likely to reoffend and four times more likely to use violence when committing those new offenses.

The majority of psychopaths are not serial killers. Some are, but most are not. Instead, psychopaths are our neighbors who also happen to be crooks, con artists, rapists, spouse and child abusers, white collar criminals, gang members, and crooked lawyers, doctors, cops, and business people, to name a few.

Psychopaths are Master Manipulators

Psychopaths  use people to get what they want and they often do so by developing relationship based on lies. They often portray themselves in a grandiose manner. They tell embellished stories and tall tales about anything and everything and, those fictional accountings that are so creative and entertaining, people believe what they hear and instinctively trust the storytelling liar.

If the teller of wild tales, the psychopath, is caught in a lie they simply tell another fib to explains the “facts” and cover their tracks. They’re typically quick on their feet.

How to Tell if Someone is a Psychopath

In the 1970s, internationally renowned researcher Robert Hare (co-author of “Criminal Psychopathy: An Introduction for Police”) developed a checklist for use by mental health experts when assessing and diagnosing psychopathy. Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist is based on a three-point rating scale of certain characteristics:

  • 0 = does not apply
  • 1 = applies to a certain extent
  • 2 – the characteristic fully applies

The line between clinical psychopathy is a total score of 30 or more. Ted Bundy, for example, scored 39.

 Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist

So, for fun, it’s time to use your calculator to tally up your own scores. Good luck! (Please do not post your scores!).

Remember:

  • 0 = does not apply
  • 1 = applies to a certain extent
  • 2 – the characteristic fully applies

The Test

Use the scores from above to rate your response to each point below. For example, if you are longwinded, verbose, gabby, and absolutely full of hot air, well, you should give yourself a score of 2 for “Glibness/superficial charm.”

You May Now Begin

  • Glibness/superficial charm

  • Grandiose sense of self-worth

  • Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom

  • Pathological lying

  • Conning/manipulative

  • Lack of remorse or guilt

  • Shallow affect (i.e., reduced emotional responses)

  • Callous/lack of empathy

  • Parasitic lifestyle

  • Poor behavioral controls

  • Promiscuous sexual behavior

  • Early behavioral problems

  • Lack of realistic, long-term goals

  • Impulsivity

  • Irresponsibility

  • Failure to accept responsibility for one’s own actions

  • Many short-term marital relationships

  • Juvenile delinquency

  • Revocation of conditional release (from prison)

  • Criminal versatility (i.e., commits diverse types of crimes)

The Hare Test must be administered by professionals. In fact, for accuracy, two different professionals should administer identical tests, independently. The average of the two test scores is the final result.

*Some experts such as Gendreau, Goggin, and Smith (Paula Smith, M.A. Claire Goggin, M.A. Paul Gendreau, Ph.D. Department of Psychology and Centre for Criminal Justice Studies University of New Brunswick, Saint John) offer that a different test, “Level of Service Inventory-Revised”(LSI-R) is overall superior to Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist-Revised for the prediction of recidivism and violence.

Hare contends, though, that both instruments are beneficial, “but for different reasons. The Level of Service Inventory-Revised is a specialized tool, whereas the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised and its derivatives measure one of the most explanatory and generalizable risk factors identified to date.”

LSI–R scores

LCI-R scores are primarily used to help predict the success of parole, correctional halfway houses, prison and jail misconduct, and the revolving door of recidivism.

The LSI–R assessment is used by an assortment of professionals—counselors, doctors, psychologists, probation officers, and youth and social workers. Professionals who utilize the assessment should have advanced training in psychological assessment. They are responsible for properly interpreting and relaying the results.

The LSI–R test contains the following scales, with the number of items in each listed in parentheses.

  • Criminal History (10)
  • Education/Employment (10)
  • Financial (2)
  • Family/Marital (4)
  • Accommodation (3)
  • Leisure/Recreation (2)
  • Companions (5)
  • Alcohol/Drug Problems (9)
  • Emotional/Personal (5)
  • Attitudes/Orientation (4)

Like the Hare Test, the item responses are tallied which results in an overall score for the person tested.


Now that you’ve had a go at the test, it’s a perfect time to make note of the characteristics you found to be most interesting. To make certain fictional characters are realistic, assign to them a few of these traits to add flavor, style, and personality.


Resources – Sage Journal, Psychiatric Times, Public Safety Canada, Assessments.com – LSI-RLevel of Service Inventory-Revised, Multi-Health Systems Inc. (MHS) – Level of Service Inventory-Revised (LSI-R) Profile and Associated Costs, Robert D. Hare and Matthew H. Logan, Criminal Psychopathy: An Introduction for Police.


“Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us”

by

Robert D. Hare, PhD.

Nearly all crime novels feature a muscle-bound, sharpshooting, fast-driving, marathon-running, cool-as-the-center-seed of-a-cucumber detective? What is it about the suit-wearing investigators that attracts a writer’s attention? After all, detectives are often the last officers to see any real action.

Police investigators are rarely in shootouts. They hardly ever chase fleeing suspects. In fact, their job is pretty mundane—see a body, collect some evidence, send evidence to a lab, talk to a few people, evidence results return from the lab in the morning mail, get a warrant, arrest the suspect (or have a uniform pick him up), testify in court, and then start all over again. Oh, and paperwork, paperwork, paperwork! Lots of mind-numbing paperwork.

Many detectives have been on the job for years and years, doing not much more than the above, and it’s this lack of activity that sometimes takes its toll in the form of flabby muscles, poor shooting skills, slow reaction times, couldn’t run if they wanted to (and they don’t), and yes, as more time passes by, even hot flashes, crappy eyesight and hearing, and bad backs, knees, and hips.

Writers are actually going about this thing all wrong. Bass-ackward, as some of the old-timers on my old beat used to say.

Patrol officers are the men and women who see all the excitement—going toe-to-toe with 350 lb. musclebound crooks who refuse to be handcuffed, shooting it out with armed robbers, 110 mph vehicle pursuits, chasing armed robbers through dark alleys, being bitten by dogs, removing unwanted 20-foot-long pythons from beneath mobile homes, rescuing people from burning cars and buildings, performing CPR on unconscious and unresponsive drug addicts, climbing in windows after burglary suspects, capturing prison escapees, wading into a street filled with drug dealers, gang members, and prostitutes, and rescuing tiny puppies and kittens from storm drains and frozen ponds. Now there’s the complete package—excitement and action along with a tender side. And who doesn’t love puppies and kittens, right?

So let’s explore this concept a bit further. Lots of people are attracted to fit men and women in uniform, right?

But how many people could possibly be attracted to detectives who wear rumpled, out-of-style suits and scruffy facial hair? For example …

Ridiculous to even consider, right?

Patrol officers hit the gym regularly so they can match muscle-for-muscle with the thugs they arrest on a daily basis. Detectives, well, they sometimes drive by a gym or two while on the way to their colorectal pre-surgery appointments.

Patrol officers hone their skills every single day. They’re out there in the trenches, staying sharp, looking sharp, and acting sharp.

such_fat_cops_640_07

Investigators start their day in their offices, drinking a cup of coffee while solving the daily crossword puzzle, using a pencil crudely sharpened with the pocketknives they carry for peeling apples and cutting loose threads from their suit jackets.

Uniformed officers are the front line officers, the “faces of the department.” Therefore, their hair is neatly trimmed, clothing neatly pressed, and shoes shined to glossy perfection.

Detectives are often seen wearing t-shirts, old jeans, and sneakers. And the last time they saw a set of hair clippers was the day they spent an entire morning grooming the family Lhasa Apso.

Patrol officers stare into the face of danger. Detectives work “undercover.”

Patrol officers fight crime. Detectives wait until the danger is over before “going in.”

Patrol officers rush into active crime scenes to save the victims. Detectives serve search warrants in the middle of the night, hoping to catch the bad guys while they’re sleeping.

So give this a little thought when you sit down to dream up a character for your next thriller. Do you go with bass-ackward tradition, or will your tale face a new direction?

Besides, who do you want saving your puppies, a super-fit, handsome patrol officer …

such_fat_cops_640_10

Or an out-of-shape, poorly-dressed detective who adores puppies, rainbows, and long walks on the beach at sunset?

*No puppies were harmed during the research portion of this article. I cannot say the same for donuts and chocolate cake.


*** A fantastic and unique opportunity! ***

On January 23, 2021, Writers’ Police Academy Online will once again offer an exciting and unique daylong live and interactive seminar. This course, “Criminal Investigations: Writing Believable Make-Believe,” features three of the country’s top investigators and forensics experts who will present detailed sessions on cybercrimes and security, 3D crime-scene mapping using drones and lasers, and an in-depth, behind the scenes chronicling of what happens when a victim of sexual assault seeks care in a hospital setting.

As a bonus, USA Today & Wall Street Journal bestselling author Lisa Regan details how to use the elements of fiction to craft a gripping crime novel.

Sign up today to reserve your seat!

“Criminal Investigations: Writing Believable Make-Believe”

Schedule and Class order:
(All times are EST)

10:30 – Login and Test
10:45 – Welcome

11:00 – 12:20
Digital Breadcrumbs: Tracking People in Cyberspace ~ Instructor, Josh Moulin

Nearly every investigation involves some aspect of technology, whether it is used to commit the actual crime or contains evidence of criminal activity. In this information-packed session, you will learn how cybercrime investigators trace activity on the Internet, how mobile devices are tracked, how digital forensics is used to uncover evidence, and how law enforcement obtains information. Additionally, this course will cover techniques that suspects may use to try and hide their activity from law enforcement such as the darknet, anonymizing services, and anti-forensic tools.

12:20 – 12:50
Break

12:50 – 2:10

Sexual Assault: When a Victim Seeks Care in a Hospital Setting ~ Karmen Harris, RN, SANE-A

Based on a scenario, the class will explore what happens when a victim of sexual assault seeks care in a hospital setting. In this class, we will walk through the process of the medical-forensic exam and further explore how trauma is identified, the elements of documentation and forensic photography, evidence collection, and other aspects of the fascinating intersection of forensic science and nursing.

2:20 – 3:40

Using 3D Laser Scanners and Drones to Document Crime Scenes ~ Instructor, RJ Beam

3D scanners used by engineering firms have slowly been gaining traction in police work. Take a walk into a real homicide scene to see how the 3D reconstruction helped secure a conviction. Learn about how 3D scanners work and how drones can augment the creation of a 3D recreation.

3:50 – 5:10

Creating Dynamic Crime Fiction: How to use the elements of fiction to craft a gripping crime novel ~ Instructor, Lisa Regan

In this class you will learn how to combine several elements of fiction to create a crime novel that is authentic and riveting. You’ll learn tips and tricks for plotting effectively to keep readers turning pages. You’ll learn how to develop characters who are relatable and intriguing. We’ll discuss how to write believable dialogue that moves your story forward. You’ll also receive tips for incorporating information from law enforcement and other experts into you work. Finally, we will discuss advice on self-editing.

5:10

Final words

Does your latest tall tale feature a beginning, middle, and end? How about characters, setting, and dialog? Have you been especially creative by inserting lots of sentences composed of various words with various meanings? Do you know the difference between a police chief and a sheriff? Are you aware that the FBI does not typically investigate local murder cases, that it is the duty of local police to solve those crimes?

If you answered yes to each of the above questions, well, you’ve taken a few of the appropriate first steps toward accurately writing about cops, crime, and crooks.

So, you conduct tons of research by visiting online websites and by participating in your local citizen’s police academy, and those are fantastic resources. But have you considered going the extra mile by spending a bit of extra research time to develop ways to activate the senses of your readers? After all, using the senses is a huge key to the success of showing, not telling. And the use of the senses creates an important emotional connection between the story and the reader.

How does a writer create scenes that ignite a reader’s senses of touch, taste, hearing, smell, and sight? Well, for starters, they should call on past life experiences and then translate those experiences into dynamic descriptive words and phrases. However, when describing mood, setting, to emphasize a point in dialogue, etc., writers should avoid using an abundance of clunky “ly” words.

Words ending in “ly” are often clunky and clumsy

Words ending in “ly” are often redundant and quite frankly, unnecessary. They can slow the reader and are often so jarring they could stop the flow of the story. Is it possible to draw on personal experiences and then to write those powerful scenes without the use of “ly” words? Well, let’s check in with a few top storytellers.

For example …

Patricia Cornwall didn’t invent rain, leaves, or playing fields, but she obviously drew on her memories to create the passage below. It’s a simple scene, but it’s a scene I can easily picture in my mind as I read. I hear the rain and I feel the cool dampness of the asphalt, grass, and tile roof. The writing also conjures up images of raindrops slaloming down windowpanes, and rushing water sweeping the streets clean of debris. The splashing and buzzing sound of car tires pushing across water-covered roadways. And she accomplished the imagery without using a single “ly” word.

 “It was raining in Richmond on Friday, June 6. The relentless downpour, which began at dawn, beat the lilies to naked stalks, and blacktop and sidewalks were littered with leaves. There were small rivers in the streets, and newborn ponds on playing fields and lawns. I went to sleep to the sound of water drumming on the slate roof…” ~ Patricia Cornwell, Post Mortem.

Sandra Brown takes us on brief “no “ly word” journey through a pasture on a hot day. We know it’s hot because of the insect activity. We also know the heat of the day increases the intensity of the odor of horse manure. And, Brown effectively makes us all want to help Jack watch where he steps.

“Jack crossed the yard and went through a gate, then walked past a large barn and a corral where several horses were eating hay from a trough and whisking flies with their tails. Beyond the corral he opened the gate into a pasture, where he kept on the lookout for cow chips as he moved through the grass.” ~ Sandra Brown, Unspeakable.


Here’s a decent rule of thumb – Write the scene and then remove all unnecessary flowery words, especially those that end in “ly.”

Too many “ly” words are often difficult for readers to take in. Besides, they can slow the story and do nothing to further it.


Lee Child is a master when it comes to describing a scene with few words. Here’s a fun exercise. Count the number of times Child uses an “ly” word in the text below. Then consider whether or not you would have used unnecessary “ly” words had you written this scene? Aha! Perhaps it’s time to step away from using clunky words.

“The bar was a token affair built across the corner of the room. It made a neat sharp triangle about seven or eight feet on a side. It was not really a bar in the sense that anybody was going to sit there and drink anything. It was just a focal point. It was somewhere to keep the liquor bottles. They were crowded three-deep on glass shelves in front of sandblasted mirrors. The register and credit card machine were on the bottom shelf.” ~ Lee Child, Running Blind.


Another example of effectively and masterfully projecting an image into a reader’s mind comes from James Lee Burke. Short. Sweet. And tremendously effective.

“Ida wore a pink skirt and a white blouse with lace on the collar; her arms and the top of her chest were powdered with strawberry freckles.” ~ James Lee Burke, Crusader’s Cross.

Okay, what does all of this have to do with writing about cops, you ask? Well, in the passages above, the authors created a micro world by using a few, but extremely powerful and carefully chosen words. And it’s obvious to the reader that each of the writers called upon their own experiences to write those scenes. They’ve been there and done that, and their imaginations have conjured up memories of things they’ve seen, touched, tasted, heard, and smelled. And all without the use of words ending in “ly.” Just simple, clunk-free writing.

Cops live and work in a unique world that’s generally not accessible to the average person, including writers. They experience things that most only read about or see on TV news reports. And that brings us full circle. How can a writer effectively write, and activate a reader’s senses, about something they’ve only read about or heard second and third hand from someone reading to them, word-for-word from a teleprompter?

I think Joseph Wambaugh, one of the best cop-writers of our time, offers a brilliant guideline to follow when writing cops. Wambaugh said, “The best crime stories are not about how cops work on cases. They’re about how cases work on cops.”

Paste Wambaugh’s quote near your computer. Glance it as you write. Keep it in mind while developing law enforcement characters and scenes.

To increase your knowledge of forensics and writing, I strongly urge you to attend courses and classes offered by Writers’ Police Academy Online. These sessions take participants behind the scenes to places typically visited only by law enforcement. The value of information provided is immeasurable, especially so for writers whose goal is to deliver top shelf material.

On January 23, 2021, Writers’ Police Academy Online will once again offer an exciting and unique daylong live and interactive seminar. This course, “Criminal Investigations: Writing Believable Make-Believe,” features three of the country’s top investigators and forensics experts who will present detailed sessions on cybercrimes and security, 3D crime-scene mapping using drones and lasers, and an in-depth, behind the scenes chronicling of what happens when a victim of sexual assault seeks care in a hospital setting.

As a bonus, USA Today & Wall Street Journal bestselling author Lisa Regan details how to use the elements of fiction to craft a gripping crime novel.

Sign up today to reserve your seat!

Experts are often asked what kind of entrance and exit wounds are produced by various types of ammunition. The rounds in the photograph below contain hollow point bullets similar to the rounds fired from the Thompson sub-machine gun I’m holding in the top and quite ancient photo. I pulled the picture from the buried crypt where I keep my old cop stuff.

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The .45 caliber rounds above are approximately the diameter of the Sharpie pens many authors use to sign books. That’s pretty close to the size of most entrance wounds which, by the way, is very near, if not identical to, the size of the bullet that punctured the flesh.

Pictured below is an entrance wound caused by 9mm round at point blank range, a close contact gunshot wound. Obviously, this was a fatal wound since I took this picture during the autopsy of the victim. Note the post-autopsy stitching of the “Y” incision (above right of the photo).

Also notice the charred flesh around the wound. This was caused by the heat of the round as it contacted the victim’s skin. The bruising around the wound was, of course, caused by the impact.

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9mm bullet wound to the chest—close range.

Next is one of the .45  rounds after it was fired from the Thompson machine gun.

Firing the Thompson at a sheriff’s office indoor range in Ohio. Notice the piece of ejected brass to the right of the major’s arm. I took the photo and was lucky enough to capture the shot of the brass casing during its fall to the floor.

The round passed through the paper target, through several feet of thick foam rubber, through the self-healing wall tiles of the firing range, and then struck the concrete and steel wall behind the foam. The deformed bullet finally came to rest on the floor. Keep in mind, though, that this all occurred in the blink of an eye, or quicker.

The above image shows a .45 round (above left between the 3″ and 4″ mark on the ruler) after a head-on strike with concrete and steel. The other distorting of bullets occurred when striking various surfaces from a variety of angles—ricochet rounds.

Remember yesterday’s article where I detailed the parts of a cartridge? The bullet is the projectile portion of a cartridge, not the entire round.

Hitting the hard solid surface head-on caused the .45 bullet to expand and fracture which creates the often larger exit wounds we see in shooting victims.

Many times, those bullet slivers break off inside the body causing further internal damage.

The size of an exit wound also depends on what the bullet hits inside the body. If the bullet only hits soft tissue the wound will be less traumatic. If it hits bone, expect much more damage. Easy rule of thumb—the larger the caliber (bullet size), the bigger the hole.

Bullets that hit something other than their intended target, such as a brick wall or metal lamp post, can break apart sending pieces of flying copper and lead fragments (shrapnel) into crowds of innocent bystanders. Those flying ricochet fragments are just as lethal as as any intact, full-sized bullet.

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Bullets don’t always stop people. I’ve seen shooting victims get up and run after they’ve been shot several times. And for goodness sake, people don’t fly twenty feet backward after they’ve been struck by a bullet. They just fall down and bleed. They may even moan a lot, or curse. That’s if they don’t get back up and start shooting again. Simply because a suspect has been shot once or twice does not mean his ability, or desire, to kill the officer is over, and that, writers, is why police officers are taught to shoot until the threat is over.

The bank robber I shot and killed during a shootout fell after each of the five rounds hit him. But he also stood and began firing again after each of my bullets struck—one to the head and four to the center of his chest area. After the fifth round he stood and charged officers. Four of the five rounds caused fatal wounds. Yet, he still stood and charged toward officers. I and a sheriff’s captain tackled and cuffed him. In another instance, a man engaged in a gun battle with several officers. He was shot 33 times and still continued walking toward officers.

Always keep Sir Isaac Newton and his Third Law of Motion in mind when writing shooting scenes. The size of the force on the first object must equal the size of the force on the second object—force always comes in pairs.

Here’s Professor Dave to explain …

 

So, if your scene shows the shooting victim flying that twenty feet away from the person firing the rounds, the shooter would also fly twenty feet in the opposite direction. Ah, sounds silly, right? So toss this one in the trash can along with the use of cordite. No, no, and NO!

Equal and Opposite Reaction—Newton’s Cradle

Billy Buck’s heart pert-near stopped cold when he realized he was out of bullets. He frantically dug his grubby and stubby fingers down into each of the pockets of his crud-caked moldy jeans. Nothing. No bullets. He’d have to bare-knuckle and BS his way out of this one. He straightened his back and stood tall while squinting his eyes until they were practically shut, just as he’d seen Clint Eastwood do many times. Hey, it worked for him. Maybe …

Okay, what’s wrong with the above text (other than the poor writing)? I’ve seen this faux pas in several published works, and so have you, I’m sure..

Yes, bullets are only a portion of a complete round, not the entire item. If you already knew this then you’re ahead of the game.

So, while we wait to see if Billy Buck makes it out of this post alive, let’s examine a few other details about ammunition you may not know or have forgotten.

Bullets are Only Part of the Story

Acetic acide – reagent used in in the Griess test for detection of gunpowder residue. It’s also used for determination of nitrite in drinking water.

Action – The working mechanism of a firearm. For example:

  • Automatic – A firearm that feeds cartridges, fires, extracts, and then ejects spent cartridge cases. It will continue to do so as long as the trigger is fully depressed and there are cartridges in the feed system. These weapons are sometimes called “Full Auto” or “Machine Guns.
  • Lever – The breech mechanism of the firearm is cycled by the shooter who operates an external lever that’s typically located below the receiver. Operating the lever ejects a spent round on the way down and feeds a new round into the chamber on the way back up, if the gun is designed to do so. (Think old western TV shows where the cowboy fired his rifle by operating a lever action).
  • Revolver – A firearm with a cylinder having several chambers that rotate around an axis with each pull of the trigger .
  • Semiautomatic – A repeating firearm that requires a separate pull of the trigger for each shot fired. These are the typical pistols and rifles carried by police officers, recreational shooters, homeowners, concealed carry folks, etc. They are NOT fully automatic. Semi-autos operate by using the energy of each fired/discharged round to operate a sliding mechanism that  discharges and loads each round, until the weapon and magazine are empty.

Bore diameter – Diameter of a rifled gun barrel, measured from the tops of the lands. In a non-rifled barrel, such as a shotgun, the diameter is measured from inside wall to inside wall.

Breech loading – A breech-loading weapon is a firearm (a rifle, a gun etc.) in which the bullet or shell is inserted or loaded at the rear of the barrel, or breech; the opposite of muzzle loading.

Buckshot – Lead pellets ranging in size from .20” to .36” diameter. These are typically loaded in shotshells used by hunters, target shooters, and police.

Bullet – an elongated missile of some type (lead, etc.) that’s to be fired from a firearm.

Bullet, armor piercing – A bullet consisting of a hardened core other than lead or lead alloy.

Bullet, exploding – A bullet containing some sort of explosive that’s designed to explode upon impact.

Bullet, hollow point – A bullet with a cavity in the nose that’s designed to expand on impact.

Bullet, ogive – The curved forward part of a bullet.

Bullet, tracer – A bullet featuring a burning compound in its base. The hot and clearly visible flaming trail permits the shooter, and others, to view the bullet’s flight path.

Bullet penetration – The distance a bullet travels within a target material.

Bullet splash – The fragmentation and scattering/spattering of a bullet upon impacting a surface, such as metal or wood.

Bullet wipe – The discolored area around the immediate periphery of a bullet hole. It’s the smear/staining left surrounding the hole, caused by a combination of bullet lubricant, smoke components, lead, and even jacket material.

Cannelure – A groove or other mark surrounding the outside of a bullet that’s usually knurled, although, sometimes they’re plain. Cannelures are used to assist in crimping and identification of rounds.

Cartridge – A single piece of ammunition. One round.

  • Centerfire Cartridge– Any cartridge with its primer located central to the axis in the head of the case.

Rimfire Cartridge – A flange-headed cartridge with the priming mixture contained inside the cavity of the rim, such as .22 ammunition.

Chamber – The rear part of the barrel bore that accepts cartridges. Revolver cylinders have several chambers, for example (six shooters).

Chambering – Inserting a cartridge into the chamber. Officer Al Bundy, ready for a night of walking his downtown beat, loaded his 9mm and then chambered a round. He looked toward his partner and said, “Let’s rock.”.

Cordite – A double-base smokeless powder. It’s made of gun cotton, nitroglycerin, and mineral jelly. The mixture is molded and shaped into long cylindrical strands. Which are packed into individual casings. Cordite use and manufacturing ceased near the end of WWII. It’s not used in modern ammunition; therefore, modern day characters in novels and on TV cannot smell it when entering a crime scene. NO CORDITE in your stories!!!!

Cylinder – The rotating part of a revolver that contains the chambers (the individual slots where rounds are inserted).

Ejection – Expel a cartridge case, live or fired round, from a firearm.

Ejector/Extractor – The mechanism that expels cartridges or cartridge cases from a firearm.

Ejector/Extractor marks – Toolmarks on a cartridge case produced from contact with the ejector. Ejector/extractor marks are typically found near the rim of the cartridge and can sometimes be used to match a spent cartridge with the firearm that made the unique scratch, dent, etc.

Feeding – The insertion of cartridges into the chamber, either by hand or by magazine.

Feet per second – The unit of measurement used to express the speed of a projectile’s rate of travel.

Firing pin drag marks – Toolmarks produced during the extraction, ejection cycle, when a firing pin contacts a cartridge case. The same occurs when ejecting shotshells from a shotgun.

Firing pin impression – The indentation of the primer of a centerfire cartridge case, or on/at the rim of a rimfire cartridge case. The mark is made when the firing pin strikes the cartridge.


Billy Buck’s partner in crime, Onion Jenkins, tossed him a handful of cartridges (not bullets) just in the nick of time. So yes, he made it out of here in one solid, non-perforated piece.

Many of you attended virtual MurderCon last summer and/or Writers’ Police Academy Online’s recent seminar  “Mystery and Murder: Transforming Reality into Fantastic Fiction.”  Those of you who couldn’t make it missed not only a couple of fantastic training sessions for writers, but also the reference to a few wonderful research books that could help bring a bit of extra zing to your stories.

During his MurderCon presentation, homicide detective Jeff Locklear referred to “Practical Homicide Investigation: Tactics, Procedures, and Forensic Techniques, Fifth Edition (Practical Aspects of Criminal and Forensic Investigations), the unofficial gold standard of death scene reference books.

This book again made an appearance last week when international bestselling author Tami Hoag held up a copy of the book during her session at the “Mystery and Murder” seminar. By the way, Tami gave her prevention from her office, giving the world a peek inside her stunning home.

I, too, have a copy of “Practical Homicide Investigation” and often refer to it either for new information or to reinforce my memory. It’s a bit on the pricey side, but worth every dime. Actually, it worth every penny for the photographs alone, if your crime-scene-writing stomach can take it.

Highly recommended.

*For your shopping convenience, please click the links below.


Next up is a book recommended by Dr. Katherine Ramsland.

“Crime Scene Staging Dynamics in Homicide Cases” by Laura Gail Pettler is another “must have” book if the bad guys in your tales wish to fake a murder scene in order to throw detectives off their trails. Dr. Ramsland’s “Mystery and Murder” presentation about staged homicide scenes, by the way, was simply fascinating, and we can’t wait to see what she has in mind for future classes.

And, while we’re speaking of Dr. Ramsland, her book “How to Catch a Serial Killer” should have a home on the shelves of all serious crime writers.


Here’s an oldie but goody. “Spy the Lie” It’s an entertaining read, albeit a quick read, that describes the things to look for during a interviews interrogations. The author also details how easy it is ruin opportunities to garner confessions. There’s a bit of intuition involved as well.


Of course, we mustn’t forget …


Looking for stocking stuffers and other unique gifts for crime writers? What about a Pen Multitool used by Military Pilots, Navy SEALS, First Responders, SWAT, and more? It’s a self-defense weapon as well as a super cool pen.


It’s a glass with a real .308 bullet embedded in its side.


Perfect for taking notes when interviewing cops for your next book, jotting down important details while attending Writers’ Police Academy events, or creating the weekly to-do lists. This pack of notebooks is formatted to help you “get it right.”


Coming January 23, 2021, a live and interactive seminar featuring crime scene mapping using lasers and drones, sexual assault investigations, the craft of writing with USA Today & Wall Street Journal bestselling author Lisa Regan, and more!

writerspoliceacadey.online

Boogaloo: a slang phrase used as a shorthand reference for a future civil war. (Also known as “Boog.”)

Boogaloo Boys (aka Boogaloo Bois): A leaderless group whose “members” seem to have extreme libertarian politics, with a strong emphasis on gun rights. Their objectives vary greatly, from some claiming to be strictly antiracist, while others lean toward white-supremacist beliefs. Group members often post memes to social media pages featuring neo-Nazi themes. Boogalooers love their guns and many openly carry them while wearing colorful Hawaiian shirts as part of their Boogaloo “uniform.” Their stance is anti-authority, anti-state, and definitely anti-law-enforcement. The collapse of American society is quite possibly their ultimate goal. Some members have murdered police officers. Others attempted to aid foreign terrorists.

The Boogaloo movement roughly formed in 2019 and is still developing. When 2020 rolled around, “Boogalooers” increasingly became engaged in protests about gun rights, police shootings/killings, restrictions related to the COVID pandemic and, well, basically anything that involved authority over citizens.

Typically, Boogalooers are not white supremacists. In fact, as a result of their anti-cop beliefs, many actively participated in the Black Lives Matters protests following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. Most likely, though, the George Floyd protests were an excuse to confront and attack law enforcement.

In May 2020, a 26-year-old Texas man, Ivan Harrison Hunter, participated in one of the Floyd protests. He was seen wearing a tactical vest and a skull mask over his face as he used an AK-47 style rifle to fire 13 shots into an occupied police building. Shortly after Hunter fired those rounds the building was set ablaze. Hunter also claimed to have joined with members of the Black Panthers organization to burn other police stations.

Shortly after Hunter fired those rounds into the police precinct he sent a brief series of messages to a a fellow Boogalooer in California, a man named Steven Carrillo.

“Boog,” Hunter wrote.

“Did,” Carrillo responded.

“Go for police buildings,” Hunter said to Carrillo.

“I did better lol,” replied Carrillo.

Carrillo was referring to the fact that he’d just shot and killed Federal Protective Service officer, David Patrick Underwood, in Oakland, California.

Later in the year, Carrillo was arrested and accused of shooting and killing a Santa Cruz, Ca. sheriff’s deputy. Prior to the arrest, Carrillo used his own blood to scrawl the word “BOOG” on the hood of a white van.

Boogalooers believe in a vast assortment of causes, from “wanting the heads of politicians on spikes,” to “wanting pedophiles to die by putting them feet-first in wood chippers.”

The group is so loosely organized that one faction of Boogaloorers seem to support Black Lives Matter, while others muddy the waters by posting an opposite view on social media—“F*** BLM. They’re one of the most racist groups out there. It is ignorant to think BLM isn’t a terrorist organization filled with black supremacists, and white liberal Marxists.”

Boogaloo Michael Solomon and Benjamin Ryan Teeter have been accused and arrested for their plot to sell weapons to someone they thought to be a member of the terrorist group Hamas. The person with whom they’d planned to do conduct business was an undercover FBI agent. Prosecutors say the pair considered becoming “mercenaries” for Hamas in order to fund the boogaloo movement.

In October 2020, eight boogalooers were tied to the plot to overthrow Michigan’s state government. Part of the plan was to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Fortunately the FBI thwarted those actions by arresting Adam Fox, Ty Garbin, and Daniel Harris before the kidnapping could be carried out. The other five men involved were also arrested by the FBI. However, in addition to federal charges, the five men also face state charges of plotting to attack Michigan’s Capitol for the purpose of initiating a civil war.

The basis for the plan centered around Gov. Whitmer’s strict COVID lockdown regulations.

As bizarre as this all sounds, the Boogaloo movement is quite real.

Unfortunately, another casualty caused by the Boogaloo movement are the few brightly-colored, extremely comfortable, Hawaiian-style shirts hanging in my closet to which I must now say goodbye.

The good side to all of this, however, is that writers have more wacky fodder for stories than ever before. Strange politics, spies, moles, whistleblowers, secret meetings, etc. So a Hawaiian-shirt-wearing villain could be shaped into an interesting villain, right? Nah, who’d believe such nonsense could happen in real life?

Of course, this is, after all, 2020!

Aloha, y’all.

I have many fond memories of my days as in law enforcement. Sure, there were bad times and I still bear those scars, both physical and mental, but all things considered I value and cherish the experience. After all, I have a built-in resource library that’s practically unending, and part of that vast lump of knowledge includes interacting with people from all walks of life.

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting celebrities and I’ve had the unique opportunity to sit mere feet from a notorious serial killer when the “switch” was pulled to end his life. I’ve met wonderfully nice people and I’ve dealt with some of the worst of the worst. I can honestly say that I’ve been punched, bitten, stabbed, and shot at by some of the best worst in the business.

But pushing aside all of the “bad” cop stuff, I’d like to call attention to plain old human interaction and the differences in our cultures, and how those backgrounds can sometimes affect police officers during their daily duties. These are also details that can go a long way toward bringing that extra bit of realism to your stories in progress.

Such as …

Imagine for a second that you’re a deputy sheriff whose patrol area covers a vast portion of real estate that’s so deep into the countryside that sunshine is delivered each day by horse and wagon. Trips to the grocery store roll around only once or maybe twice each month. These are the places where residents keep their “deep freezes” filled with vegetables from their gardens and home-butchered meat from freshly-killed hogs, deer, and squirrels.

Back in the day, not everyone in these areas had a telephone. Keep in mind, this was pre-cellphone and that meant party lines were still in use, as well as some people having to go to the nearest county store or phone-owning neighbor’s house to make or receive a call. Even then, those precious calls were mostly reserved for emergency use only.

It was during those days—pre-cellphone and pre-GPS—when deputies had to rely on obtaining directions from local residents when they weren’t sure of a particular address. Houses were often set so far from the road we couldn’t see house numbers, if there were any to see. 911 had not come into play. And, well, you get the idea. Cops were on their own when it came to finding someone’s house.

So, we’d often stop the first person we saw to ask for directions. Or, we’d stop in at the country store to ask the overall-wearing guys who sat around a warm potbelly stove chewing tobacco, discussing crops and livestock, and gossiping about so-and-so getting a new tractor or truck, and who’d killed the biggest deer.

This is what we’d sometimes hear in response to our inquiries.

Me to the checker-playing, work-booted group: “Do you by any chance know Joe Imacrook? He’s somewhere around five-feet tall and weighs in the neighborhood of four-hundred pounds. Thick beard and missing one front tooth. His wife’s name, I believe, is Hattie Sue.” 

The men look up from their games, glance at one another, and then the loudest, most vocal of the crew said, “We might. Why’re you asking?”

Me: “He killed a man last night. Shot him twice in the forehead and then took the victim’s cash, car, and his shoes.”

Crew leader: “Did the guy need killing?”

Laughter erupts from his buddies.

Me: “The guy he murdered had just left church and was on his way home to his pregnant wife and two small children. He killed him for no reason other than to rob him.”

The laughter shut down as if someone flipped a switch. These folks were serious their women and children.

Crew leader: “Yeah, we know him. He lives down the road a piece.”

A second man spoke up. “I always thought old Joe was a few pickles shy of a full jar. Told the missus so, too.”

Crew leader leaned back in his chair and ran a hand across the patch of scraggly, bristled whiskers dotting his cheeks, chin, and neck. “Here what you do,” he said. “Go back out to the crossroads and take a left. Then go on about, oh a mile or so and then keep goin’ till you pass Robert Junior’s old horse barn. Then you hang a sharp right at the big oak tree. You can’t miss it ’cause it’s got a big old hornets’ nest a-hanging from one of the bottom branches. When you see the tree, the one with the hornets’ nest, keep on a goin’ til you see a red mailbox. That ain’t Joe’s mailbox, but you’re close. He’s just past where John Henry Thomas used to have a store. It burned down 37-years ago next week, but they’s a big rock there with some yaller paint on it. Yaller was John Henry’s favorite color so his wife, Etta Jean—she’s Romey and Winonna Jenkins’ oldest daughter—painted the rock so’s everybody’d remember him and the store. You know, John Henry sold the best cheese, bologna, and peaches this side of Atlanta. 

Anyways, if you get to where the road splits into a “Y” you’ve done gone too far, so turn around in Mable Johnson’s driveway and head back the way you come. Old Joe’s house is the blue one a’settin’ off the road about two-hundred yards. The one with the goats and chickens running ’round the place. You can’t miss it. Oh, whatever you do, blow the horn three times when you drive up so he’ll know you’re okay, not some of those pesky Joe Ho’vers Witnessers. I ‘spect he’ll come on out peaceful.”

This bit of dialog may sound a bit overwritten, however, it’s a fair representation of what I’ve encountered on more than one occasion throughout the years. Anyway, the point I’m so poorly trying to communicate is that no detail is too small to store in your memory banks. You never know when those intricate pieces of information are the things needed to take your work to the next level.

James Lee Burke, one of my all time favorite writers, is a master of detail and he often utilizes simple things to enhance his stories. To open the cover of one of Burke’s books is to release the scents of swamp water and crab boils. The smell of meat cooking on open fires greets you warmly as you turn the pages.

In short, Burke makes us feel the words he’s written.

For example, here’s a brief passage from The Jealous Kind, one of his recent books.

“I drove her into the same neighborhood where I bought the switchblade knife. It was Sunday morning, and a few people were on the streets. A blind woman of color was playing bottleneck guitar under s canopy in front of a liquor store.”

In three short sentences Burke takes us by the hand to guide us through this neighborhood. I see the blind woman sitting in the shade of well-weathered canvas awning. I hear the twangy sounds she makes while pushing and pulling a metal slide across the steel strings of her guitar. I hear the notes faintly echo from the sides of brick and glass storefronts. I picture her seated on an overturned plastic milk crate, wearing layers of tattered clothing. In the windows behind and beside her, a few tubular neon lights advertise beer and cigarettes.

Burke’s words show me people strolling along sidewalks littered with faded, discarded lottery tickets and scraps of fast food wrappers. Both men and women avoid making eye contact with anyone. They’re going nowhere particular, just going. The fact that the character purchased a switchblade there indicates it’s a dangerous area, especially after the sun slips behind the skyline.

It’s quite possible that Burke visited this place at some point in his life, and at the time he needed the information he pulled it from that place in his mind where he stores such vivid detail. And this spot, a place we all have inside our minds, is where the dialog I posted remained in limbo until I dug it up.

So yes, details, even the tiniest of them all, can be used to bring life to an otherwise unremarkable three sentences. Imagine if Burke had written the passage without detail.

I drove her through a place I’d been before, where I once bought a knife. We saw some people, including an old blind woman. She was playing a guitar.

See what I mean? Same information, but absolutely no life.

So yes, details. Look for them. Store them. Write them. They are the heartbeat of a good book.

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