Villains. They’re the bad guys of our stories who are devoted to wickedness. They have specific goals and will stop at nothing to reach them.

Are you as driven to write them as compelling characters?

Before we dive into the dark, murky depths of the villain pool we should first take a look at the opposite end of the watering hole. Because that’s where, on a sandy beach bathed glorious sunshine stands … The Hero.

Villain vs. Antogonist

An antagonist (someone who merely opposes the hero) simply makes waves for the hero.

The antagonist and the hero, while having views that differ, are not necessarily enemies.

Well, what’s the difference between a villain and an antagonist?

Villains are used to create tension in a story. They also provide much-needed hurdles for the hero to overcome during his journey.

Unlike antagonists, villains are sociopathic and narcissistic, and they can be quite unpredictable. Villains often use fear to get their way.

And they absolutely must have a reason to do what they do.

Think of real-life villains. What makes them so creepy and scary?

Readers must be able to identify with the villain. Perhaps he has an interest in animals, or children. Maybe he’s a devoted church member, or the hero’s letter carrier. Maybe the villain is the babysitter for the good guy’s  children.

– Villains are extremely motivated to do what they do.

– Over the top villains are unbelievable.

Believable make-believe should be your goal.

When should you first bring your villain to the page?

Finally…

Those were just a few basic guidelines for creating a compelling villain. If all else fails you could follow a simple recipe I concocted. It goes something like this (Of course, like all good cooks I’ve kept a few secret ingredients to myself).

For a special treat, top with a sprinkling of chopped character flaw just prior to serving.

*This article was re-posted by request.

 


MurderCon!

There’s still time to attend MurderCon, an event featuring hands-on workshops that are typically for law enforcement eyes ONLY!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To view MurderCon classes and workshops click HERE.

To sign up to attend this unique event for writers, readers, fans, and anyone who’s interested in attending actual hands-on law enforcement training at a renowned facility,  click HERE. 

 

You’ve all heard police officers chattering away on their police radios, on news reports, and while arresting Ray Buck Jenkins, the town drunk. And when they do they use their own special form of communication, the sometimes brain-jarring language called “cop-speak.”  But when they’re conversing with their own kind inside the privacy of police station gyms and patrol cars, their lingo and terminology becomes even more bizarre, such as …

U-Boat: an unmarked police car.

Under-Belt: The belt that holds up an officer’s pants, just like the belts worn by citizens (through the belt loops). The duty belt is attached to the under-belt using belt keepers.

Un-Sub: an unidentified subject. Other terms include, suspect, actor, perpetrator, and a**hole.

Weekend Holiday/Getaway: When arrest warrants are served on Friday afternoons, after courts close, there’s no one around to conduct bond hearings. Therefore, offenders typically must remain in jail until the following Monday when judges and court employees return to work.

It’s an unofficial favorite tactic of some law enforcement officials to purposely serve arrest warrants after the close of the Friday business day to make certain that, instead of partying, the subjects spend the entire weekend behind bars. And, to add insult to injury, doing so on the Friday afternoon of a holiday weekend means the person will sit in a cell until the following Tuesday. It’s sometimes a tool that’s used to keep people “on ice” and out of the way while police continue an investigation. Feds love this tactic. *Also known as a Holiday Weekend.

Weeney-wagger: a male subject who exposes his “bits and bobs” in public.

Whale: a black and white unmarked car. Some say they resemble killer whales. To me they look like unfinished patrol cars.

Whiskey-Tango: White trash.

Sorry to offend, Cousin Junior, Jr., but that’s what it means, behind the scenes.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot/William Tom Frank: WTF

Wobbler: a case initially charged as a felony but is later reduced to a misdemeanor by a lenient prosecutor. Or, a felony offense that’s reduced as part of a plea agreement.

Working the Bubble: a street cop who’s on temporary desk duty, such as behind the bulletproof glass separating the precinct lobby from the interior of the station.

Yankee 9er: former soldier turned cop who refuses to let go of military-speak, especially so when transmitting over police radio air waves. “Incoming! Incoming! We’re taking rounds from male subject. Sounds like he’s firing a fitty. This is a real soup sandwich, sir! A Charlie Foxtrot!”

Translation – “Somebody’s shooting at me with a bunch of bullets. Yep, I’m in a real jam. Send backup, please.”

  • Fitty: M2 .50 caliber machine gun
  • Soup Sandwich: an assignment that’s gone absolutely wrong.
  • Charlie Foxtrot: a real “cluster ****”

Phonetic Alphabet

Listed below are common uses of the phonetic alphabet, both by members of the military and by police officers. Of course, they’re interchangeable, but officers without  military background may say, well, anything.

(Black text for military and blue for non-military/police).

A – Alfa (or Alpha)

Cops without a military background may use Apple, or Adam

B – Bravo

Cops – Boy

C – Charlie

D – Delta

Cops – David

E – Echo

F – Foxtrot

Cops – Frank

G – Golf

H – Hotel

I – India

Cops – Ida

J – Juliett

Cops – John

K – Kilo

L – Lima

Cops – Lincoln

M – Mike

Cops – Mary

N – November

Cops – Nora

O – Oscar

P – Papa

Cops – Paul

Q – Quebec

R – Romeo

S – Sierra

Cops – Sam

T – Tango

Cops – Tom

U – Uniform

V – Victor

W – Whiskey

Cop – William

X – X-ray

Y – Yankee

Z – Zulu

Yard Bird: fast food chicken. Also, a suspect who hides in the bushes or behind outbuildings, but suddenly makes a run for it as searching officers come close. FYI – Yard birds have been know to enjoy a meal of yard bird. Actually, some yard birds like to listen to The Yardbirds while eating yard bird.

Zebra: a term with a variety of meanings, such as the sergeant who wears three stripes on their sleeves. A cocky and boisterous sergeant may also known as “an ass with stripes.” Or, the term used by street crooks to describe a black and white patrol vehicle. “Here comes the Po-Po, driving a new zebra.”

Zip Gun: a crude, homemade firearm that is sometimes designed to use ground match heads as a propellant and fires projectiles such as broken glass, bits of metal, small nails, etc.


The Yardbirds

I recently saw a couple of questions about police scanners posted to the wonderful Q&A site crimescenewriter. The questions there were some I’ve seen often enough that I thought I’d also share and respond to them here as well.
 

The inquisitive author asked if scanners were legal to possess by private citizens, including retired police officers who reside in California.
 

Answer – Yes, the possession and use of a scanner is legal in California. However, it is a misdemeanor to use one during the commission of a crime, such as to use the messages received to aid in the escape of custody, etc.
 

In some states it is illegal to install or use a scanner inside a motor vehicle. For example (click the links below to read the statues).
 

Florida
› Indiana
› Kentucky
› New York
› MinnesotaOther states also have laws regarding scanner use during the commission of a crime, such as this one from the Code of Virginia.

§ 18.2-462.1. Use of police radio during commission of crime.

Any person who has in his possession or who uses a device capable of receiving a police radio signal, message, or transmission, while in the commission of a felony, is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. A prosecution for or conviction of the crime of use or possession of a police radio is not a bar to conviction for any other crime committed while possessing or using the police radio.In New Jersey it is illegal for felons convicted of certain crimes to possess a scanner, even inside their own homes.§ 11-1-11. Felons prohibited from possession of radio scanners.

No person: (1) who has been convicted of a felony violation of chapter 28 of title 21 involving the illegal manufacture, sale or delivery or possession with intent to manufacture, sell, or deliver a controlled substance classified in Schedule I or II; or (2) who has been convicted of a felony in violation of chapter 8 of this title involving the burglary or breaking and entering of a dwelling house or apartment, whether the house or apartment is occupied or not, any business place, or public building, with the intent to commit larceny; shall carry, transport, or have in his or her possession, or under his or her control outside of his or her own home, any operational police radio, police scanner, or any other device capable of monitoring police broadcasts. Every person violating the provisions of this section shall, upon conviction, be punished by imprisonment for not more than five (5) years, or a fine of not more than five thousand dollars ($5,000), or both.

And, Michigan:

750.508 Equipping vehicle with radio able to receive signals on frequencies assigned for police or certain other purposes; violation; penalties; radar detectors not applicable.

Sec. 508. (1) A person who has been convicted of 1 or more felonies during the preceding 5 years shall not carry or have in his or her possession a radio receiving set that will receive signals sent on a frequency assigned by the federal communications commission of the United States for police or other law enforcement, fire fighting, emergency medical, federal, state, or local corrections, or homeland security purposes. This subsection does not apply to a person who is licensed as an amateur radio operator by the federal communications commission. A person who violates this subsection is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than 1 year or a fine of not more than $1,000.00, or both.

(2) A person shall not carry or have in his or her possession in the commission or attempted commission of a crime a radio receiving set that will receive signals sent on a frequency assigned by the federal communications commission of the United States for police or other law enforcement, fire fighting, emergency medical, federal, state, or local corrections, or homeland security purposes.

As you can clearly see, it’s best to check local laws before purchasing a scanner for your home.

Another of the questions related to the terminology used when speaking of a scanner—do I call it a “police scanner” or simply a “scanner?”
 

Answer – Today, most scanners are capable of receiving radio traffic from a variety of sources, such as police, fire, EMS, marine, air, and even weather. Therefore, the use of “scanner” is a better fit. Still, many people still refer to the electronic devices as “police scanners.”
 

When I worked as a police investigator, and during my time as a sheriff’s deputy, our in-car radios weren’t set up to receive radio traffic from EMS, fire, and nearby law enforcement agencies outside of our jurisdictional territory. Therefore, many of us, including me, installed scanners inside our vehicles which allowed us to monitor the activities of other departments.

 
It’s not that we were nosy, though. Instead, we’d sometimes, for example, hear an officer’s call for help, and if we were close enough to assist we could do so, and would. Also, by listening to nearby agencies we’d often hear of pursuits heading in our direction, fleeing felons, descriptions of stolen cars and wanted persons, locations of fires, car crashes, explosions, and other valuable information.
 

By the way, there are apps for phones that offer similar service. Most are free. Not all locations are available within the online versions, though. Therefore, if the goal is to monitor broadcasts in your area, a scanner might be the best option.
 

The final question about scanners was about what a listener would hear regarding a missing person broadcast.
 

Answer – As always when dealing with law enforcement, it depends. These days, such as in Virginia, the state where I worked as a law enforcement officer, scanner listeners may not hear much at all. This is due to the use of in-car mobile computer terminals (MCTs) which is basically a silent dispatch system and car-to-car exchanges of information, all without the use of a radio. However, when officers are away from their cars they still rely on portable radio communication (walkie-talkies).
 

Police radio transmissions, while fascinating to hear, can be dangerous for the officers on the street. This is so because not only are you able to hear what the officers are doing and possibly where they’re located, well, the bad guys could also be listening, and they do. Therefore, they could easily flee, hide, and even use those radio transmissions to ambush police officers.
 

To combat the problem of criminals listening to police radio calls, many departments encrypt their transmissions which basically winds up sounding like conversations among space aliens who’re speaking with a mouth full of marbles while underwater.
 

We’d always used encrypted channels for tactical reasons during special operations, but the general day-to-day channels were open for all to hear. Since 911, many agencies abandoned the use of 10-codes, opting for plain speak (“Okay” in stead of “10-4.”). This transformed police radio “speak” into simple, everyday conversations. Everyone could then understand what was being said.
 

FYI – Virginia State Police 10-codes are exempt from the Commonweath’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). They are not public. And, when they are used they differ from many local departments. For example, the 10-code for a “fight in progress” call in Bumble Stump County’s sheriff’s office may mean “abandoned vehicle” to the state police (the two examples are totally ficticious).
 

Anyway, see how a simple question—Is it legal for a retired California police officer to have a scanner in his car—can evolve into a rambling blog article.
 

In summary, yes, it’s legal to possess and use a scanner … except when it’s not.
 

 

Serial killers may attack anywhere at any time. However, depending upon whether or not the murderer is organized or disorganized, those two factors can affect location and timing.

The set up, or initial place(s) where the killer(s) first meet their intended victim(s) varies. However, the majority of initial contact locations are areas known for vice activity, such as places frequented by prostitutes and/or drug users and dealers.

Secondary target areas include outdoor locations such as public parks and vehicle parking areas, etc.

A third choice location, but not the most favored, is the victim’s home, either by forced entry or by ruse. Also, indoor public locations such as bus stations, shopping malls, and places of business.

Breaking this down even further, we know from past experience and knowledge, that initial assaults by serial killers tend to most likely occur in outdoor public locations. Again, public parks, etc. The next prime attack location is a victim’s home. And, if the killer knows his victims, his own home may be another choice spot to kill.

Organized Killers

Organized killers are typically of above average to average intelligence. They’re often thought to be attractive. They’re neat and tidy and are often married or living with a partner during the times they committed their crimes. They hold jobs, are typically educated, and are skilled at their profession. They look to be in control. And they often have above average knowledge of police and forensics procedures. They enjoy reading and hearing about their crimes, with a particular affection for seeing their crime scenes in the media. It is not unusual at all  for an organized killer to make contact with the media, or even the police.

Having carefully plan their crimes, organized offenders frequently go the extra mile to prevent leaving evidence behind. Their killings may be premeditated.

Killers in this group are antisocial and often psychopathic—they lack of empathy and other emotions. They’re manipulative of others. The tricky thing when dealing with organized criminals is that they perpetually appear quite normal, and they’ll do their best to use charm to their advantage.

They’re not insane and they definitely know right from wrong, but they lack conscience and feel or show no remorse for the deeds.

Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer, is an example of an organized killer/criminal.

Dr. Katherine Ramsland is a renowned expert on serial killers and she details Rader’s crimes in her book Confession of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Denis Rader the BTK Killer. As part of her research, Dr. Ramsland spoke with Rader by telephone once a week for an entire year. Each week, Rader called her from the El Dorado Correctional Facility and the two of them talked for an hour or so. Also as part of her process of delving into Rader’s mind, Dr. Ramsland played chess, by mail, with the killer.

As many of you know, Dr. Ramsland is a regular presenter at the Writers’ Police Academy.

Disorganized Killers

Disorganized killers/criminals typically do not plan their crimes in advance. They quite often leave evidence at the scenes of their crimes, such as fingerprints, footprints, DNA, tire tracks, or blood. They’re also known to simply leave the body as is, making no real attempt to conceal it or to prevent leaving telltale evidence such as semen or saliva. Their crimes are sometimes chaotic.

Disorganized killers tend to be younger in age. They’re unskilled workers who have no problem depersonalizing their victims. They may be mentally ill. They’re often of below average intelligence who lack communication and social skills. Many come from dysfunctional and/or abusive families. They may have been sexually abused by relatives, and they may present with sexual detestation. They’re loners who often travel on foot to commit crimes due to a lack of transportation. These are the neighbors of their victims. They’re often under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol when they commit their crimes.

Jack the Ripper, for example, was a killer who made no effort to conceal the bodies of his victims.

This is the killer who uses a sudden and quick attack to overpower their victims.

Race

White offenders are far more apt (over double) to meet their victims in an outdoor public place (a park or somewhere similar), while African American offenders tend to prefer a less conspicuous location. African American offenders, however, are more prone to choose a meeting place that’s in vice areas (locations where prostitution is known to exist, etc.) than do white offenders.

Location

Serial killers tend to commit murder in public locations. Their next choice is typically the homes of the victims.

For example, in the late 1980s, serial killer Timothy Spencer (the Southside Strangler) raped and killed four women—Debbie Dudly Davis, 35, an account manager, Susan Elizabeth Hellams, 32, a neurosurgeon, and Diane Cho, 15, a high school freshman, and Susan M. Tucker, 44, a federal employee.

Spencer committed those brutal murders while living at a Richmond, Virginia halfway house after his release from a three-year prison sentence for burglary. He killed the first three women on the weekends during times when he had signed out of the facility.

Officials had not yet linked Spencer to the murders, so they granted him a furlough to visit his mother’s home for the Thanksgiving holiday. Susan Tucker’s body was found shortly after the time Spencer returned to and signed in at the halfway house.

Police learned that Spencer entered the women’s homes through windows. Then he raped, sodomized, and choked them to death using ligatures. He’d made the ligatures in such a way that the more the victims struggled, the more they choked.

All four were discovered nude or partly clothed. Their hands were bound, and either rope, belts, or socks were tied around their necks.

Spencer had left no evidence behind other than DNA evidence. At the time DNA testing in criminal cases was new.

Spencer later was also implicated in the murder of lawyer Carolyn Jean Hamm, 32, in Arlington, Virginia. He was also thought to have raped at least eight additional women. However, he was never tried in those cases because he’d already been sentenced to death.

Spencer, by the way, was the first person in the U.S. executed for a conviction based on DNA evidence.

Patricia Cornwell’s first book, Post Mortem, was based on the Spencer murders.

In the spring of 1994, I served as a witness to Spencer’s execution by way of the electric chair. His death was gruesome.

 

When looking at murder cases, detectives occasionally find that some charactistics and aspects of the crimes and killers are similar to those of others. Then, as time and investigations move forward, patterns sometimes begin to emerge, such as that the causes of death are identical (multiple stab wounds in identical patterns, etc.), physical locations of crime scenes are in close proximity to one another, and the timeframe matches the timeframes of other murders, such as the slayings always take place on Monday mornings, in or very near to a specific city park.

Victims are often of the same ethnic backgrounds, with the same hair color, size and body shape, and are potentially from the same or similar neighborhoods inhabited by those specific racial groups.


Serial Killers

  • single killer who acts alone
  • killed at least two people at separate locations at separate times ~ FBI

Serial killers must be able to move about freely, without attracting attention while they’re “hunting.” Therefore, it’s a good indicator of the suspect’s race if the killings occur within a racially specific location—a blue man would stand out in a neighborhood occupied by green people. But a green man would not stand out in a neighborhood inhabited by a mixture of both green and blue people. Likewise, a blue man would also fit in nicely and could and would most likely go unnoticed as he moved about within the area. These details serve as clues that help police narrow the search field.

Forensic evidence in these types of cases often indicate that it is one person, a serial offender, who leaves the same types of evidence at each crime scene—same body fluids in the same places on a victim’s body, same type of bite marks at the same locations on a victim’s body, a specific brand of tape used to bind hands and feet, ropes, electrical cords, tool marks at entry points, same type of paper and ink used to write notes, same kind of items removed from the scene, etc.

Other factors that point to a serial killer/killing is the means in which they come in contact with their victims. Do they patrol certain areas to hunt specifically for prostitutes. Similar neighborhoods for tall women or men with blonde hair, blue eyes, and lots of tattoos?

Type of weapon used to kill could be a clue as to the background of the killer. For example, a suspect whacks his male victims on their heads with a shovel, and then uses a Burdizzo castrator, a tool for castrating bulls, to remove a couple of “takeaway trophies” from the body, well, there’s a good possibility that the murderer just may work in the cattle farming industry. After all, there’s not much use for a bull castrator in the everyday household.

How a serial killer disposes of the body could also point to his identity.

Do they always …

Transport the body to a location other than where they were killed? Do they conceal the bodies or simply dump them on the side of a country road, or within a specific area of the city? Do they bury their victims? Weight them down with bags of concrete and then submerge the bodies in a pond or lake?

Serial killers sometimes have multiple motives for committing murder. However, there’s often a primary motive for doing what they do.

Primary Motives

  • Sexual
  • Mental Illness/psychosis
  • Greed/Financial Gain
  • Anger

*This post is the first of a brief series of factual posts about serial killers and how to incorporate them into a work of fiction. Part two is coming soon.

 

Realism in fiction is important, when it’s needed. The ability to weave fact into fiction is aa must. But one must first know what’s fact and what’s fiction before attempting to use reality as part of fiction. Otherwise, the author is offering readers fiction as reality.

And that’s a fact. Or is it fiction? Okay, now I’m confused.

Anyway …

Have you done the unthinkable? Are there words in your latest tale that could send your book straight to someone’s “Wouldn’t Read In A Million Years” pile? How can you avoid such disaster, you ask? Fortunately, following these four simple rules could save the day.

1. Use caution when writing cop slang. What you hear on TV may not be the language used by real police officers. And, what is proper terminology and/or slang in one area may be totally unheard of in another. A great example are the slang terms Vic (Victim), Wit (Witness), and Perp (Perpetrator). These shortened words are NOT universally spoken by all cops. In fact, I think I’m fairly safe in saying the use of these is not typical across the U.S., if at all.

2. Simply because a law enforcement officer wears a shiny star-shaped badge and drives a car bearing a “Sheriff” logo does not mean they are all “sheriffs.” Please, please, please stop writing this in your stories. A sheriff is an elected official who is in charge of the department, and there’s only one per sheriff’s office. The head honcho. The Boss. All others working there are appointed by the sheriff to assist him/her with their duties. Those appointees are called DEPUTY SHERIFFS. Therefore, unless the boss himself shows up at your door to serve you with a jury summons, which is highly unlikely unless you live in a county populated by only three residents, two dogs, and a mule, the LEO’s you see driving around your county are deputies. Andy was the sheriff (the boss) and Barney was his deputy.

3. The rogue detective who’s pulled from a case yet sets out on his own to solve it anyway. I know, it sounds cool, but it’s highly unlikely that an already overworked detective would drop all other cases (and there are many) to embark on some bizarre quest to take down Mr. Freeze. Believe me, most investigators would gladly lighten their case loads by one, or more. Besides, to disobey orders from a superior officer is an excellent means of landing a fun assignment (back in uniform on the graveyard shift ) directing traffic at the intersection of Dumbass Avenue and Stupid Street.

4. Those of you who’ve written scenes where a cocky FBI agent speeds into town to tell the local chief or sheriff to step aside because she’s taking over the murder case du jour, well, grab a bottle of white-out and immediately begin lathering up that string of goofy words because it doesn’t happen. The same for those scenes where the FBI agent forces the sheriff out of his office so she can remove his name plate from the desk and replace it with one of her own along with photos of her family and her pet guinea pig. No. No. And No. The agent would quickly find herself being escorted back to her “guvment” vehicle.

The FBI does not investigate local murder cases. I’ll say that again. The FBI does not investigate local murder cases. And, in case you misunderstood … the FBI does not investigate local murder cases. Nor do they have the authority to order a sheriff or chief out of their offices. Yeah, right … that would happen in real life (in case you can’t see me right now, I’m rolling my eyes).

Believable Make-Believe

Okay, I understand you’re writing fiction, which means you get to make up stuff. And that’s cool. However, the stuff you make up must be believable. Not necessarily fact, just believable. Write it so your readers can suspend reality without stopping in their tracks to wonder if they should, even if only for a short time.

Your fans want to trust you, and they’ll go out of their way to give you the benefit of the doubt. Really, they will. But, for goodness sake, give them something to work with—without an info dump, provide readers a reason to believe/understand what they’ve just seen on your pages. A tiny morsel of believability goes a long way.

But if you’re going for realism, then please do some real homework. I say this because I recently began reading a book and I’d barely made it halfway through the first chapter when I tossed it into my WRIAMY pile (Wouldn’t Read In A Million Years). This was a ARC a publisher sent me to review, by the way.

It was obvious the author was going for realism, and it was also painfully obvious the writer’s method of research was a couple of quick visits to crappy internet sites, and a 15-minute conversation with a friend whose sister works with a man whose brother, a cab driver in Dookyboo, North Carolina, picked up a guy ten years ago at the airport, a partially deaf man with two thumbs on his right hand, who had a friend in Whirlywind, Kansas who lived next door to a retired security guard who, during a Saturday lunch rush, sat two tables over from two cops who might’ve mentioned a crime scene … maybe.

Please, if you want good, solid information, always speak with an expert who has first-hand knowledge about the subject. Not a person who, having read a book about fingerprinting or bloodstain patterns, suddenly believes they’re pro. Sure, they may be able to relate what they’ve read on a page, however, those mere words are not the things writers need to breathe life into a story. Reading about bloodstains is not the same as standing inside a murder scene, experiencing the sights, sounds, smells, and emotions felt by the person who’s there in person. The latter is the true expert who can help a writer take their work to the next level, and beyond.

So, is there a WRIAMY pile in your house? Worse … have you written something that could land one of your tales in someone’s “Wouldn’t Read In A Million Years” pile of unreadable books? If so, perhaps it’s time to change your research methods.

A great means to assist in adding realism to your work is to, of course, attend the Writers’ Police Academy! Registration for the 2020 WPA’s special event, MurderCon, our 12th anniversary blowout, opens on February 23, 2020. You will not want to miss this thrilling experience. It is THE event of the year!

*The all new MurderCon website is scheduled to go live by the end of next week (February 15, 2020). Please check back to view the all new topics and schedule.

Between a rock and a hard place

I cringed when I read the opening line of the first draft of the new series. She’d named me Biff Steele, as if Rod Manly hadn’t been bad enough in the previous books. But names, however cheesy they may be, are not the worst thing that could happen to me. At least my author does her homework, unlike my best friend’s creator.

My pal, poor guy, has lived a really tough life. Not only does he have a name worse than mine—Rocky Hardplace—his psycho-behind-the-keyboard author lives her fantasies through him—killing, bombing, fighting, shooting, and sex … so much sex. Too much sex. SEX, SEX, SEX. It must be all she ever thinks of, day and night. Well, that and how to solve crimes using the dumb stuff she sees on TV shows. Doesn’t she realize that most of those characters are products of poor research and fantasy?

My writer, thank goodness, understands the huge differences between the written word and the on-screen action seen on TV and film. Live-action stuff quite often needs over the top excitement to capture and hold the attention of a viewing audience. TV watchers see events unfold in vivid color. They hear the excitement pumping throughout their living rooms via high-dollar surround sound systems.

Rocky, if he’s told his writer once he’s told her a thousand times that readers, as opposed to TV and film watchers, must have the means to extract movement and stimulation from carefully planned and plotted mental massagings of each of their senses. They do so from what’s nothing more than a writer’s carefully arranged blots of ink on a page. There are no images within a typical novel; therefore, the writer must somehow use only words made from a mere 26 letters to mold and form detailed pictures inside a reader’s mind.


A pangram is a sentence that contains all 26 letters of the alphabet.

The five boxing wizards jump quickly.


We, Rocky, me, and all the other members of the Fictional Characters Guild, have all traveled throughout the convoluted paths inside the minds of readers. And we know that each person has a different perception of what they read, and that’s because they draw upon their own past experiences. This, sadly, is where Rocky Hardplace’s writer really goofs. She has no experience in the world of cops and robbers, so she, unfortunately for her readers, makes up what should be realistic information, and some of it is totally absurd.

Rocky’s writer, as do many others, often has her hero tromping about his fictional city while doing some pretty ridiculous stuff—shooting a revolver that spews spent brass, knocking out bad guys with nothing more than a tap to the back of the neck, shooting guns from the hands of serial killers, and smelling the odor of cordite at crime scenes. She even forces upon her readers her own wacky-ass notion that FBI agents ride into town on white horses to solve every murder and kidnapping case. Someone really should tell her the FBI does not work local murder cases. That’s not what they do. And don’t get me started on the smell of cordite. Yes, STOP with the cordite already! The stuff hasn’t been around since WWII.

Thankfully, as I said earlier, my author does her homework. She reads books such as Police Procedure and Investigation, and she’s a regular reader of this blog. She also attends the Writers’ Police Academy and its offshoot event, MurderCon

20170106_221254My writer is a fictional hero’s dream author. I rarely ever do stupid stuff in my quest to save my city from crime and corruption (Have you ever noticed how much “stupid stuff” is found in books? I’m thankful that reality isn’t nearly as bad).

My author dresses me nicely. I carry the best guns money can buy. I’m an expert in the martial arts … all of them. My girlfriend is an astronaut. My work partner is smart, but remains at one level below me (my IQ is over the moon). I drive a really cool car. I live in a wonderful beach house. I have a flea-less dog as a best friend. And I have just enough flaws and quirks to keep my fans interested. Yes, my world is perfect.

If I could only convince her to change my name. Biff Steele … yuck.

Could be worse, I suppose. She could’ve written me as … Sergeant Lance Boyle.

It’s Saturday night, almost midnight, and your California protagonist has arrested a couple of strangers who sorta-kinda sound as if they’re speaking English, but not quite. Sure, every third or fourth word is recognizable, but phrases such as, “If’n you don’t let me go I’ma gonna stomp a mud hole in your ass,” well, they just don’t quite make sense.

The drawl, though, should be a dead giveaway. Yep, those folks are from the southern part of the country from where I lived for a few decades. It’s where life is just about as fine as the hair covering our little green friend pictured above.

You know the old saying, right?

No? Well, when someone who resides in the bottom half of the Commonwealth of Virginia asks how another person feels, and they feel good, the person might respond by saying, “I’m as fine as frog hair.”

So, without a Southern-speak interpreter your hero’s caught twixt a rock and a hard place. But this ain’t his first hog-callin’, no sir. He’s been in this pre-dict-a-ment afore. So he reaches for his handy-dandy Officer’s Guide To Southern Speak, and within seconds he’s a hootin’ and a hollerin’ with the best of of ’em, including that famous southern lawman, Cap’n Rufus “Peanut” Jenkins.

Cap’n Rufus “Peanut” Jenkins

Now you, too, can join in on the conversation. All you have to do is print out the pocket guide (below) and keep it real handy because you’ll want to know exactly what to do when Bubba Lee Johnson, Jr. says, “If you feel froggy, jump.” Of course, even without “jumping frog” warning, when Junior spat out his Redman chew—the whole wad—and snatched off his grease-stained Hank, Jr. t-shirt while puffing out his narrow chest, well, you sort of knew he was ready to fight. His words were simply a dare for you to make the first move (why they always, always, always tear off the t-shirt is a mystery of the universe, along with black holes and Stonehenge).

Anyway, poke your finger at the print button, ’cause if the good Lord’s willin’ and the creek don’t rise, I’m fixin’ to help you understand Southern Speak. And to help us out, Bubba Lee is going to share some of his favorite expressions.

Take it away, Bubba …

Mindless Superhero

1) He’s so poor he cain’t pay attention (a person of meager means)

2) D’rectly (in a little while) “I’ll be there d’rectly.”

3) Like white on rice (extremely close to something or someone) “Bobbi Sue is so stuck on Junior she’s like white on rice.”

4) Looks like two bulldogs in a gunny sack (the motion of a female’s rear end is very appealing). “Hey, Junior, look at ‘ol Bobbi Sue over yonder. Looks like two bulldogs in a gunny sack.”

5) Fixin’ (going to). “I’m fixin’ to head down to the liquor store. Y’unt anything?” (See definition of “y’unt,” below).

6) Blessed me out (fussed or cussed). “I got Bobbi Sue pregnant and dang if’n her husband didn’t bless me out.”

7) Like a cow peeing on a flat rock (a downpour). “It’s raining so hard it sounds like a cow peeing on a flat rock.”

8) Slicker than snot (extremely slippery). “That dad-gum snow made my driveway slicker’n snot.”

9) Fine as frog hair (exceptionally nice). “Why, I’m as fine as frog hair. Thanks for asking.”

10) Rode hard and put away wet (looking pretty bad). “Dang, what happened to ‘ol Junior? He looks like he’s been rode hard and put away wet.”

11) Hungry enough to eat the south end of a northbound skunk (famished). “I ain’t eat in three days. I’m hungry enough to the eat the south end of a northbound skunk.”

12) Quieter than a mouse peeing on cotton. Extremely quiet. “It so quiet in here it’s, well, quieter than a mouse peeing on cotton.”

13) Dancing in high cotton (successful/wealthy). “I just got my income tax check and I’m dancing in high cotton.”

14) Stove up (sore muscles). “Dang, Lulu’s old man come in the back door and I hadda run all the way home. Now I’m all stove up.”

15) Nabs (Lance snack crackers). “I’m going to the store to get me a pack of Nabs”.

16) Catfish are carrying canteens. Dry conditions/drought. “It’s so dry the catfish are carrying canteens.”

17) – Disremember (forgot). Write down what I’m tellin’ you, Ralphie Sue, so you won’t disremember it.”

There you have it, 17 expressions your hero is likely to encounter when arresting a southerner. So listen closely and keep this guide handy. And, bless your heart, not everything that sounds nice is a compliment.

Bless your heart – a polite way to deliver an insult. Transforms a positive comment into a negative. “Her baby is really cute, bless her heart.” In the region of the South where I lived and worked for many years, this typically means the little one is basically stomp-down, butt-ugly.

REJECTED!

Therefore, if you’ve queried an agent who resides below “the line,” and their response to your manuscript submission was, “Your writing is wonderful, bless your heart,” well, it might be a good idea to re-think your career choice.

Help is on the Way

To help out (if the rejections become too overwhelming to handle), I’ve listed a few local “HELP WANTED” ads. A couple of them caught my eye, and they need employees right away. The first …

News reporter

Fence painter

Ghost writer for James Patterson

Undercover Writer

Carpenter

Rejected, again.

Paid participant in new drug clinical trials

I don’t think they gave me the placebo …

The letter “D” works overtime in the South

Oh, I almost forgot about the addition of the letter “D” in places it “dudden” belong. I “wudden” gonna mention these but they are an important part of the dialect in some southern locations. It “idden” right, but it is what it is.

Some of you, I know, “hadden” been around many hardcore southerners, so these phrases and words may be a bit furrin’ to you. And, if used anywhere else in the country they simply “wooden” work.

Suppose, for a moment, that Paul Revere had been born and raised in, say, Richmond, Va. If so, locals might have heard him cry out, “To arms, the Briddish is comin’, y’all.” Lawdy, that sounds purdy silly, dudden it?

Fine-lee, I’d like to mention the ever-popular:

  • Lie-berry (library)
  • Cain’t (cannot)
  • Don’t make me no never mind (I don’t care)
  • Cut out the light (turn off the light)
  • Might ought to/Might could (should)
  • Y’unt-to? Rhymes with “punt two.” Like, “Could the kicker punt two footballs at the same time? (Definition – Do you want to?)
  • Lie-berry Ann – (Librarian) “There’s the lady from the lie-berry. I think her name is Ann ’cause my teacher said I have to see the Lie-berry Ann to get the book I need for my report on moonshinin’.”

“Don’t make me no never mind if you go to the lie-berry. I’d go witcha but I cain’t right now. I might could go a bit later, though, if y’unt-to  Hey, don’t forget to cut out the light before you leave. And y’all be careful now, ya’ hear.”


* Before any of you “bless me out,” I lived in the south for nearly 40 years and have heard each of the above more times than I could count. Remember, many terms and expressions may vary from place to place, but I reckon you already knew that, didden you?

By the way, this article brought to my attention just how often frogs are mentioned in southern conversations. That, and their legs are absolutely delicious, which explains why frog-gigging is a favorite pastime in many locations in the south.

Don’t think you’ll want to participate in this kind of “gig,” Froggy. Unless your band is called The Entrées. In that case, well, plan on staying for dinner.

 

Jail Cell

Writers are a curious bunch of folks who should never let walls, doors, locks, or the word NO stop them from producing the best stories possible.

The tellers of both tall and short tales, in fact, go to great lengths to find detail—the perfect setting, great, believable characters, and those wonderfully juicy tidbits of information that stimulate a reader’s senses.

With pen in hand and minds wide open, a writer will do whatever it takes to reach the last page of their work-in-progress, including hopping on a plane, train, car, or truck to travel to wherever information can be found. They walk, they talk, they telephone, they email, they read blogs and books, they ride with cops, attend court proceedings, and they attend awesome events such as the Writers’ Police Academy. Again, they do what it takes and they do it all in the name of pleasing readers.

Many stories include prison and/or jail settings, as well as the residents and/or employees of each. So what do writers do? They meet with jail officials and arrange to tour their facility. Sure, it can sometimes be a very steep uphill battle to get a foot in the door to some places of incarceration. But, as it’s been said, where there’s a will …

Suppose, though, that you, a writer, find yourself incarcerated for a long, long time … perhaps even for the remainder of your life. What would you do? After all, your passion is the written word. You have so many stories to tell, especially the one that landed you behind bars. You’ve gotta write!

So how on earth would you obtain the information you need for your book(s)? The internet is often not available. No modern library (in many lockups you’d be fortunate if there’s anything more than a few tattered paperbacks stacked in what used to be a mop closet). You’d have very little, if any, contact with people on the outside. And, if your story involves law enforcement, forensics, etc., you can pretty much rule out the assistance of cops and CSI experts.

What would you do?

Well, one such writer, a prisoner, once reached out to me back a while back, via my publisher. He sent a three page handwritten letter, complete with a very nice, well-written one-page introduction that explained the reason for his incarceration—murder. He went on to say that he’d been sentenced to life for killing a woman (a close associate of a well-known outlaw motorcycle club) during a heated argument. He also said he feels no ill will toward police. In short, he did what he did and accepted full responsibility for the act, but the circumstances hadn’t stopped his desire to write.

Interestingly, this fellow, the convicted murderer, subscribes to Writer’s Digest Magazine, which is where he read an article I wrote (published in the September 2014 issue). Yes, WD is delivered to prisons.

My article is what prompted the lifer to write me with an unusual research request. A request that I strongly considered. It was a consideration that went against the very grain of my being. However, I was inclined to help because his story could’ve very well been a good one … a life-changer for someone on the outside.

There was a small problem, however, with delivering my information to this prisoner. You see, he had no idea where I lived at the time and I didn’t want him to know (return addresses are required on all inmate mail at this and other facilities). In fact, the bio in my book about police procedure states that we reside in Boston. This is a book the inmate has in his possession and he mentions it his introductory letter to Writer’s Digest.

howdunit_PPI

Non prisoners may also my purchase!

Therefore, when the inmate wrote my publisher he was under the impression that I lived somewhere in New England.

20141105_113239

As many of you know, we’re frequent re-locators (and that’s putting it mildly), so imagine my surprise to see a return address that just happened to be that of a state prison located very near where we lived at the time I received the letter. Very. Very. Near.

I finally came up with with a means to give him the information he needed, via an online source. I used the internet instead of snail mail to prevent him from learning our home address. After all, he had family and friends and “business associates” on the outside.

Anyway, the point of this long-winded story with no real end is that writers should never settle for an “okay” book when overcoming small obstacles is all that stands in the way of producing a really great story.

What are some of those barriers?

  • Too chicken to make contact with cops and/or other experts. Believe me, cops love to talk about their work and, if you let them, they’ll talk about it until the cows come home. So please don’t hesitate to approach a police officer. Of course, you may have to extend an offer of a cup of coffee to start the ball rolling, but after that, hold on because your mind will soon be filled with real-life tales of car chases, shootouts, drug raids, puking drunks, and struggles with the biggest and baddest bad guys who ever walked a dark alleyway. Of course, you should probably avoid weird and scary opening lines, such as, “Hi, my name Wendy Writer and I’m wondering if you would please tell me how to kill someone and get away with it?” Or, “Hi, my name Karla Killer and I’d really like to hold your gun so I can see how heavy it is.”
  • Procrastination (I was too busy to attend the Writers’ Police Academy. Maybe next year. In some instances, “next year” may never arrive. After all, we can’t do this forever!)
  • Fear of rejection by agents and editors. Settle for nothing less than a big fat YES, and don’t stop working and writing and bettering your craft until you reach your goals.
  • Television (Please STOP using TV as a source of information!! Easy isn’t always best).
  • Allowing life to run you instead of you running your life.

I guess what I’m getting at is that if a murderer who’s serving a life sentence in a pretty harsh prison setting is willing to go the extra mile for a scrap of important information needed for his book, then why shouldn’t all writers at least make some sort of effort to “get it right?”

How about you? Do you go the extra mile for the details in your tales?

Speaking of details …


It’s almost time to announce the name of the 2020 MurderCon/Writers’ Police Academy guest of honor. In the meantime, here are a few hints …

Over 3 dozen bestselling novels.
Rarely appears at writers conferences.
Numerous books adapted for film and TV and each feature big name actors.

Oh, and don’t forget, in addition to naming the 2020 guest of honor, the The Writers’ Police Academy/MurderCon will also soon announce an exciting, unbelievably thrilling, and closely guarded secret. Yes, you’ll lose your mind over this one! Hint … Reacher.

AND, we also have a couple of fabulous extra-special guest speakers in the lineup!

We’ve added some pretty cool hands-on classes, all related to murder investigations. Practical exercise workshops are extremely realistic where you’ll learn to use the equipment and the techniques and tactics utilized by investigators at actual crime scenes. In fact, MurderCon attendees will have the opportunity to properly collect and process evidence, all in a realistic residential setting which, by the way, happens to be a crime scene. Yes, you will be the police investigator and it’s up to you to solve the case. This is realism at its best!

Again, MurderCon/Writers’ Police Academy and Sirchie provide the same training that’s taught to law enforcement investigators from around the world. The classes offered at this one of a kind event include sessions taught in Sirchie’s elite Evidence Collection and Processing Training Program that, according to Sirchie …

“Our Evidence Collection and Processing Training Program provides law enforcement professionals and crime scene investigators with hands-on training using forensic tools that will help to execute the best crime scene investigation mission possible.”

Writers generally fall into one of two categories, panthers or plotters. Writers, you share these traits with killers, and this could be the reason your books are so devilishly delightful.

The Plotter

plotter starts each writing project with a plan, and before typing the first word of a new story they know how and why each action happens. They have a clear picture of their characters and setting. Plotters generally know where they’re going and how they’ll get there. They also know where and when they’ll stop along the way.

Plotter’s offices are decorated with multi-colored stick notes (red for character A, blue for character B, yellow for character C, etc.), and photos of celebrities cut from People magazine to use as inspiration for characters. Neatly organized stacks of notebooks filled with research material stand at ready on the surfaces of uncluttered desks. Pens are lined up next to keyboards, like sardines in tin cans. A predetermined word count must be reached each day.

A great example of a true plotter is top bestselling author Jeffery Deaver. Jeff once told me that he conducts extensive research and plotting for six months or longer prior to writing the first word of a new book. He’s extremely meticulous and organized, and records massive amounts of notes. Yet, he weaves this factual material into a story without even the slightest hint of an information dump.

Roadside Crosses

I often tell the story where, while reading Deaver’s Roadside Crosses, I learned about the use of a hard drive enclosure to retrieve data from a computer that had been rendered useless after having been immersed in ocean water. And, ironically, not long after reading the book my personal computer crashed and would no longer work. Obviously, I had a ton of material I couldn’t afford to lose so I purchased a hard drive enclosure and was able to recover all of my files. This detail in the book was real, but Jeff had smartly included it in a work of fiction without it seeming as if I’d attended a lesson on electronic devices. He’s a brilliant writer.

The Panster

A pantser is someone who powers-up the Mac, enjoys a long gulp of coffee, and then hands over the entire book to their characters, and it is they, not the writer, who do the majority of the walking and talking and thinking, all with very little help. Pansters are not much more than stenographers who works for their characters. They are the vehicles that transform characters’ ideas and actions into words on a page.

A panster’s writing journey, like that of the plotters, begins at point A. However, the panster often has not a single clue in advance how they’ll reach point B. The convoluted paths traveled will often be as much as a surprise to the author as it will be to the reader. They know where they’re going, but not how they’ll get there.

Still, no one is all-in as a panster or as a plotter. Things change as stories evolve and the writer must adapt. And both methods work well for both types of writers. I’m a panster and my wife Denene, the scientist, is a plotter.

Billy Bob Thornton is a Pantser

Billy Bob Thornton used the panster approach when writing the script for the movie Slingblade. Thornton has said that he likes to write late at night, generally between the hours of midnight and six in the morning. He says he writes in the “stream of consciousness fashion” and doesn’t rewrite. He writes his projects all at once. The actor/screenwriter/director wrote Slingblade, for example, in nine days.

Thornton had the character Carl in mind in advance, basing him on a blend of two people he knew from his past, a black man and a white man. He incorporated the look and mannerisms and walk from the black man, and the situation from the white man. The white man, according to Thornton, was fed in his backyard, like a dog. This combination of the two real-life men was the starting point for Carl’s character and story. The rest of Thornton’s tale flowed from there, without the benefit of notes, planning, or plotting.

Now, what does this have to do with murderers? Well …

Organized Killers

Organized killers, the “panthers,” have above average to average intelligence. They’re often thought to be attractive. They’re neat and tidy and are often married or living with a partner during the times they committed their crimes. They hold jobs, are typically educated, and are skilled at their profession. They look to be in control. And they often have above average knowledge of police and forensics procedures. They enjoy reading and hearing about their crimes, with a particular affection for seeing their crime scenes in the media. It is not unusual at all  for an organized killer to make contact with the media, or even the police.

Organized offenders carefully plan their crimes. They go the extra mile to prevent leaving evidence behind. Their killings are often premeditated. Killers in this group, the “plotters,” are antisocial and often psychopathic—they lack of empathy and other emotions. They’re manipulative of others. The tricky thing when dealing with organized criminals is that they often appear quite normal, and they’ll do their best to use charm to their advantage.

They’re not insane and they definitely know right from wrong, but they lack conscience and feel or show no remorse for the deeds.

Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer, is an example of an organized killer/criminal.

Dr. Katherine Ramsland is a renowned expert on serial killers and she details Rader’s crimes in her book Confession of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Denis Rader the BTK Killer. As part of her research, Dr. Ramsland spoke with Rader by telephone once a week for an entire year. Each week, Rader called her from the El Dorado Correctional Facility and the two of them talked for an hour or so. Also as part of her process of delving into Rader’s mind, Dr. Ramsland played chess, by mail, with the killer.

As many of you know, Dr. Ramsland is a regular presenter at the Writers’ Police Academy.

Disorganized Killers

Disorganized killers/criminals, “the pantsers” of the criminal world, typically do not plan their crimes in advance. They often leave evidence at the scenes of their crimes, such as fingerprints, footprints, DNA, tire tracks, or blood. They’re also known to simply leave the body as is, making no real attempt to conceal it or to prevent leaving telltale evidence such as semen or saliva. Their crimes are sometimes chaotic.

Disorganized killers tend to be younger in age. They’re unskilled workers who have no problem depersonalizing their victims. They may be mentally ill. They’re often of below average intelligence who lack communication and social skills. Many come from dysfunctional and/or abusive families. They may have been sexually abused by relatives, and they may present with sexual detestation. They’re loners who often travel on foot to commit crimes due to a lack of transportation. These are the neighbors of their victims.

Jack the Ripper, for example, was a killer who made no effort to conceal the bodies of his victims.

*No, I do not actually believe writers are potential serial killers. Then again, we still don’t know the identity of Jack the Ripper. For all we know, he/she was the author of great works of fiction and his/her killings were part of a gruesome research project.