Writing Rituals… or the things I do to write a novel…the story bible

Happy one year to Authors Speak. My first post was a year ago this month! Thank you Lou Sylvre for all you do for this group.

One of the things I’m often asked as a writer is: how do you write a whole book?

I don’t have a concept of a life without creating a story and writing it down. I have, literally, done this in some form for my entire life. Writing is second nature and storytelling is ingrained to the point I can’t not write.

The drive and desire to write does not create books, screenplays and poetry. Telling the story is the end result but it’s only one part of the process.

We writers are a fickle lot and there are an infinite number of ways to create that product, a completed novel (or screenplay, etc). The simple fact is, however, the creation of all stories does have a few common elements. It’s how each writer goes about organizing and using those elements that is individual to each and every one of us.

So, since this article is about me, I’m going to talk about what I do—my rituals—to write a novel. Firstly, I write novels, not screenplays or other forms of written works, so that in itself dictates a number of my writing rituals and tools.

A book is a book, right? Doesn’t matter if it’s fiction, non-fiction or part of a series. They’re all books, aren’t they?

Wrong.

Every so often I’m asked to write something for a friend or coworker that isn’t fiction. It’s sort of like training to compete in one sport then trying to switch for a day to another sport. Yeah, you can muddle on through and probably not embarrass yourself, but you won’t be in the best form.

Everything I do in the course of creating and writing a book centers around the fact that book is fiction and a novel.

The first thing that happens when I set about creating a new novel is the basic plot idea. For me, plot and title come first. After I have those I begin plugging in characters and locations.

My initial ritual with a new novel or series is making a list of plot points. The order doesn’t matter and is likely to change, but I want a general idea of major events in every story. If the initial story is going to be part of a series I make a separate list of major events I’d like to include in the series.

The next step I take is to plan out where my story will take place. For that I use maps, books and the world’s best location explorer, the internet. Specifically, Google Earth and maps.

This is where the creation of my story/series bible begins. I have a bible for each series, and for every book within a series. I think all the authors I personally know have some form of bible for their works. For me, setting up my bible and organizing it, filling it with research, scene ideas and reference photos is one of my very most important writing rituals.

This is a page from the bible for Gone Away. There are personality traits for the two main characters, inspiration photos and links to research. This page is what I call my basic story board. It holds all my general ideas. Eventually I’ll create individual pages for the characters, plot, location and so on that has much more detail.

Some people use paper notebooks, I know others who employ index cards or journals. This is the digital age, and all of those tools have been recreated in the virtual world.

I use OneNote, which is a digital notebook system. It can be used on a computer, tablet or phone, so I have it with me wherever I go. At one time I figured out that if my OneNote notebooks for the Sentries series was somehow transformed to traditional paper notebooks each one would be hundreds of pages long and probably form a stack about three feet high.

I love my digital bibles. They are filled with photos, links and articles and become a scrapbook for every project. If I have an idea to use a waterfall or certain type of car in a story I can collect images and details, putting them on my digital pages. As I write it’s helpful to go back and refresh my memory with a visual image or check details from articles and links I’ve saved. If I’m planning a series I keep a list of what needs to be included in book #1 as foreshadowing for later books. On the reverse side of that I have other notebook pages with lists of events and characters from earlier books to reference in later books in a series.

This is one of the dozens of pages created for The Vampire Guard series and contains info on the organization featured in the series and some of the secondary characters.

Another nice feature of using a digital system is I can easily move pictures, information and links from one bible to another.

My final step before beginning the actual writing is characters. There is so much of a character that never makes it into a book. I know all sorts of details, childhood pets, favorite color and what kind of pizza they like! Every detail that comes to me about a character is recorded in case I need to use it. Images go in the character sections as well. Photos of people who look like my characters are a helpful reference when writing descriptions.

For me creation of my bible is one of the most enjoyable aspects of writing a novel. As I work on each bible the story begins to gel in my mind. The plot ideas and characters start to take on a life of their own and the story begins to play in my head. From there on it’s simply a matter of recording that story.

More on that another time.

http://www.elizabeth-noble.com/

Lou Sylvre on the Co-Writing Two-Step (Also Sunset at Pencarrow, Happy Pride, and a Giveaway!)

Lou Sylvre Gay Romance Happy Endings Hi, Lou Sylvre here for my monthly post on Authors Speak. Before I get to anything else, thanks everybody who entered the Merry May giveaway. Our winner has been contacted and will soon be the proud owner of a new Kindle Fire and a bunch of books. Next, I want to say happy Pride Month, everybody on the queer spectrum and all allies!

Next, I want to say, this post is short. I know you can see that for yourself, but let me explain. I wanted to write all about my experiences co-writing (something I’ve not done before) Sunset at Pencarrow with Anne Barwell, but I have been delayed getting this post done, and now I find out my grandsons have a band concert performance tonight, the final one of the school year, and for the oldest, the final one of before high school graduation! That means I need time to make myself presentable. Others have written about the juggling act that being a writer is, and I won’t add to that, but I will say, dang. The phrase “free time” is an oxymoron.

So here’s the brief, bare-bones, bullet-point version of my report on the adventures of co-writing:

  • We approached the task by each taking one character as our own, writing the scenes that called for their point of view. While we didn’t stick to this religiously, and we suggested tweaks to each other’s writing, this method worked out great, in my opinion. It wasn’t half the work, nor was it twice the work. The work, aside from the actual writing was just different.
  • Having a work partner helped keep things moving according to plan. Of course, I didn’t want to let my co-author down, nor did I want to hold Anne back. But, more than that, the input from outside my own brain stimulated my creativity like a second muse. When I read a scene she wrote, I felt a need to respond on “my” character’s behalf.
  • Sharing the character couple’s story with another writer made them and their romance all the more precious, and added to the rewards that came with getting to “The end.” All struggles along the way, the hours spent on chat hammering things out, the research to make sure the character world was as accurate as could be and matched between scenes—all that was more than worth it.

Long story short, Anne and I will write together again, and I’m looking forward to it.

Let me leave you with that, and with a little info about Sunset at Pencarrow. Here’s the blurb, some links, and the giveaway.

Kiwi Nathaniel Dunn is in a fighting mood, but how does a man fight Wellington’s famous fog? In the last year, Nate’s lost his longtime lover to boredom and his ten-year job to the economy. Now he’s found a golden opportunity for employment where he can even use his artistic talent, but to get the job, he has to get to Christchurch today. Heavy fog means no flight, and the ticket agent is ignoring him to fawn over a beautiful but annoying, overly polite American man.

Rusty Beaumont can deal with a canceled flight, but the pushy Kiwi at the ticket counter is making it difficult for him to stay cool. The guy rubs him all the wrong ways despite his sexy working-man look, which Rusty notices even though he’s not looking for a man to replace the fiancé who died two years ago. Yet when they’re forced to share a table at the crowded airport café, Nate reveals the kind heart behind his grumpy façade. An earthquake, sex in the bush, and visits from Nate’s belligerent ex turn a day of sightseeing into a slippery slope that just might land them in love.

World of Love: Stories of romance that span every corner of the globe.

Click right here for a link to our release tour schedule and blog links.

Your comments are welcome, as always, and don’t forget to enter the Sunset at Pencarrow giveaway!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

There And Back Again – Anne Barwell

As I’m knee deep in writing blog posts for the upcoming release of Sunset at Pencarrow with my partner in crime, Lou Sylvre, I figured I’d blog about blog tours. I’ve been asked by non-writers what they entail so here goes…

The title of this post is from The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien, and as our upcoming book is set in New Zealand, it seemed appropriate.

Disclaimer: Everyone’s experiences and modus operandi is different, and I’d love to hear from you guys about what you’ve done. Also—readers—how do you find new books and do you follow blog tours?

Many authors use blog tour companies to set up their tours for them, and they do a fabulous job finding blog stops and helping to get exposure for a book. However, as I’ve only hosted for those, rather than used them for promotion, I’m going to blog about how I’ve set about promoting my books, and what’s involved.

Graphic from Michal Klajban (Hikingisgood.com)

The first thing I do is set up a cover reveal when the book goes up for pre-order so I have buy links. This is usually about a month before the book’s release.

The next thing is finding tour stops. My publisher is fantastic with this, and organises stops at review sites etc for me, so I just need to build on that. I usually aim for about twelve stops all up, and approach other authors for space on their blog. They’re always very supportive, and I love the way our author community is always ready to help each other out.

I then find about three excerpts to use on the tour. For some books it’s difficult finding excerpts that leave the reader wanting more, but don’t give away too much of the plot. I have a word doc I update with each book that has all the promo details I need – blurb, buy links, my social media links, and the excerpts. I’ll throw other handy info/links etc into the doc along the way. That way when I send my posts to each site, I just need to write my blog post, and then copy/paste all the other info from my promo doc, and attach the book cover, and any other graphics I want to send.

Offering a chance to win—often an ebook from a backlist—can also be a part of the tour. As a reader, I’ve found several new authors I now love that way.

The most time consuming part of a blog tour is writing the posts that go with it. Twelve stops mean a lot of topics to find to write 500 or so words about. Luckily some stops provide a handy list of topics, and/or a list of interview questions. I love interview questions, especially as some of them really make me think, and it’s one less topic I need to find. I also choose one excerpt that will only go up on a particular site so it’s exclusive to them.

Usually I let the book dictate the topics. I love reading about other authors and how their writing process works, and their behind the scenes peek at their books, so I figure I’ll write what I want to read. For example, with an historical I’ll do at least one blog post about research. Music often plays a part in my stories, so I’ll write about my writing ‘soundtrack’, or how a character being a musician drove the plot. As I write different genres, that tends to play a part in blog post topics too.

It can be a challenge finding something different to focus on for each stop, and I find I usually need to put aside at least two weeks with each book to work on promo. After all, readers aren’t going to read a book if they don’t know it’s out there.

Don’t forget we’re running a rafflecopter giveaway here at Authors Speak for May. Click on the link to find out more, and don’t forget to enter!

What’s in a Name

Recently, out of nowhere, I was contacted by an author explaining she was setting up a blog tour for her very first release. In her email she mentioned the names of a few people and it seemed she was using them for references and I was supposed to know who they were. I didn’t, however, I knew right away what was going on.

See, there is another Elizabeth Noble and she writes het romance. I believe she lives in England and is about ten years younger than I am.

I said, yes, of course I had blog space for another author and her debut novel. The book sounded really interesting, too. I wrote back, saying I wanted to be sure she didn’t have me confused with the other author. I gave her the link to my website and went on to say how wonderful it would be to have her as a guest. Lots of people read both MM and Het romance, something I pointed out. Maybe she’d find some new readers. Maybe I would. I looked forward to working with her.

I never heard back from her. Very sad.

I don’t know anything about the other Elizabeth Noble except what’s listed in her bio. I have no idea if that’s her real name or a pen name.

The name I go by, Elizabeth Noble, is sort of my pen name, but it’s also my real name. I’m not sure how others go about deciding on a pen name, but I didn’t have to look far for mine.

I was born Laura Elizabeth Noble. My surname has twice changed for different reasons, but the Laura and the Elizabeth have remained the same.

So, see, really Elizabeth Noble is my actual name. I chose to use that variation for a few reasons. I always liked my middle name and when I was little I tried to get people to call me Elizabeth, but it never took.

I opted to use Noble because that’s who I originally was, the real me so to speak. It’s also an easily remembered and spelled name. My legal surname is longer, sorta hard to spell and some people find it difficult to pronounce. It’s one of those names that spells and says exactly how it looks, but still trips people up.

My father’s name was Bernie Noble. At one time he was a bit famous and a photographer for The Cleveland Press newspaper.

I can’t take a decent photograph to save my life, or anyone else’s… go figure.

Bernie Noble, however, could take a decent photograph.

This picture sits on a shelf next to my desk. It’s a photo Bernie took that was later entered into a photography show and competition. He did a lot of that sort of thing. I like it because of the mouse sitting on the cat’s head. My father was a big cat lover.

Being the head photographer for The Cleveland Press for a few decades (and a professional photographer all his adult life) he took a lot of pictures.

One, however, was really special.

In 1963 Bernie took a photograph of US President Eisenhower which was later selected by his wife, Mamie for use with the stamp that was issued commemorating him. It was a six cent stamp!

Sitting in my attic is a copy of that photograph as well as one of my father holding the photograph. I have no idea who took that photo, I’m guessing one of his coworkers at the newspaper for a little article they did at the time.

           

So, that’s a little bit of history surrounding my pen name.

Don’t forget to enter our Merry May giveaway for a chance to win a Kindle Fire and books!

Until next time,

Happy Reading!

Elizabeth Noble

Writer’s Police Academy Part 2: K9 Units by Sarah Madison

I confess, when I saw the K9 handler pull up on that first afternoon at WPA, during the open Q&A session with various law enforcement and emergency personnel, I was immediately drawn to watch. Having owned many high-drive German Shepherds myself, I couldn’t help but admire the power and beauty of these dogs, as well as the appreciate some of the similarities between these working dogs and my own.

But it was impressed upon us just how different these dogs are from any family pet.

I’ll try to make sense from my hastily scribbled notes.

The K9 units are subdivided by specialty training: SWAT, patrol, drug work. A typical shift is 10 hours/ day (though the officers are paid for eleven hours, to include grooming and care of the dogs), four days on, four days off.

Unlike the other units, the drug units frequently rely on sporting dogs for drug work—Labradors, Pointers, etc. It makes sense, as many of these breeds have been selected for their sense of smell as well as a willingness to retrieve. Handlers are only allowed to stay with the drug unit for 5 years before moving into another division—presumably to help prevent burnout.

Most of the ‘police’ dogs are imported from Germany. Handlers undergo six weeks of intensive training, but it can take up to a year before the handler/dog team is call ready. Handlers are expected to train daily. The length of time spent training depends on both handler ability and the capability of the dog.

The cost of a single dog plus training runs between $12-13 thousand dollars—it’s a major investment for a police department. The K9 handler spent a good deal of time discussing protecting that investment, as there had recently been a local case of a dog dying in a police car due to overheating. The cars have fixed grills in them that allow the windows to be rolled down without the dog being able to leave the car. Newer police K9 units have heat sensors that will roll down the windows automatically if the car becomes too hot. Lights and sirens also go off, and a text is sent to the dispatch, the handler, and the captain. As a system of fail-safes, it should be foolproof, and yet many departments have older vehicles well-past retirement age due to budget cuts. All three management systems failed in the case of the heat-related dog death.

There are protection vests for the police dogs, but they are seldom used because they weight between 40-50 pounds, greatly hampering the dog’s ability to do its job. No officer will send their dog in on a ‘suicide mission’, but they will put the dog in danger to protect a fellow officer. Ultimately, the police dog is a tool, much as a service weapon. The speaker stated that the dogs weren’t considered part of the ‘use of force’ continuum, but unfortunately, didn’t explain that statement further.

The average working lifespan of a police dog is eight years, after which they are retired with the handler or euthanized. These dogs are NOT socialized. Walking on a leash in the neighborhood is not an option. The handler who spoke with us estimated his kennel arrangement at the house cost about three thousand dollars to make a safe, dog-proof environment. While euthanasia, if the handler is not prepared to retire the dog at his home, may sound cruel after a lifetime of service, it is preferable to the practice of auctioning off retiring dogs to the highest bidder, which some cash-strapped communities have done in the past. The liability of doing such a thing has probably ended this practice for the most part.

The handler and dog are a team—the dog is rarely out of the handler’s sight, and is the handler’s backup in any given situation. Handlers have a remote control which can open the rear door of the police car and release the dog. The handler can direct a search, direct an attack, but in an open brawl, the dog cannot distinguish friend from foe and will attack the most animated person. This is because the dogs are selected for having a strong prey drive, which means they go after anything that moves. I have personal experience with that, as my last shepherd had a strong prey drive. The very first time he laid eyes on a black bear, he chased it up the side of a mountain!

Dogs are usually trained to ‘bark and hold’, which means they will go up to a suspect and bark but not engage unless the suspect moves. If a dog is already lit up with excitement, however, training may break and the dog might engage regardless.

Dogs are frequently used as a locating tool. The handler referred to ‘walkaways’, which are people who are either suicidal, have dementia, or walked out of an assisted living situation. Dogs are used to locate people in buildings or parks, finding them much more efficiently than a human searcher could do.

Dogs are also frequently utilized at traffic stops because an officer can only hold a driver for so long without probable cause, but if a dog alerts on a car, they have probable cause.

The thing that the handler reiterated the most was that, though he would bawl his eyes out if anything happened to his dog, he was prepared to sacrifice his dog’s life to save a human being. The bond between handler and dog is great, but ultimately, the dog is there to be used.

Tune in next time, when I’ll treat you to the highlights of body armor and how it stops certain kinds of ammunition.

In the meantime, check out the reason I wanted to go to WPA in the first place, the FBI guys from the Sixth Sense series!

I’m also giving away a free short story for signing up for my newsletter.

Also, be sure to check out our Rafflecopter Giveaway for a Kindle Fire loaded with books from our gang here at Authors Speak!

A Bit on the Side…

Before anyone has pause for concern, this isn’t a post about extramarital affairs, but instead about my ever-expanding list of works in progress. And when certain stories keep butting in to try and derail my carefully mapped out (– ha!) writing plan.

What I am currently working on is a series of for books charting the history of the Redbourn family from my Crofton Chronicles series. Here I’m planning to write four novels, one for a different Earl of Crofton through different periods of British history (Early Stuart, Restoration, Regency, Victorian). As you can imagine, not only will these take a significant amount of time to write, there is also a lot of research to be done for each period.

So I’ve finished the first one and happy writing the second, when BOOM I get hit by a completely unrelated plot idea that won’t be quelled until I crack open a Word doc and write an extremely high-level plot outline for a paranormal rom com where an angel is planning to attend a general paranormal creature conference for continuing professional development, and the poor frazzled human conference planner who didn’t realise what he was signing up for.

Strange brain appeased, I return to the 17th century and highwaymen, only for a subplot with would be perfect for my ‘Very British’ sci fi story to barge in and I need to make sure it’s captured, and that a certain type of biscuit would be fit for purpose (yeah, don’t ask).

In reality, my brain is not one to stick to the same thing for long. When I write a contemporary it’s off pining for fantasy realms, if we are busy creating an enchanted forest then a desire to be in a historical setting with frock coats and periwigs crawls out of the woodwork… I really can’t keep my brain beast happy.

However, I think I have found a way to keep it sated. By having a bit on the side…

I’ve recently had a new mobile phone which comes with the MS Office suite, and using that and cloud storage I can write while out and about using my phone without having to whip out a notebook and type it up later. What I have now is the paranormal rom com and the historical trotting along together, and I’m surprised that instead of derailing my main writing project (the historical), it’s actually helping. Giving my brain a break from the past seems to be enough to super-charge it.

How do you handle writing? Multiple WIPs on the go? Or stories queued waiting for their chance?

Oh, and while you are here, don’t forget our giveaway to win a Kindle!

REBECCA COHEN is a Brit abroad. Having swapped the Thames for the Rhine, she has left London behind and now lives with her husband and young son in Basel, Switzerland. She can often be found with a pen in one hand and a cup of Darjeeling in the other.

Contacts:

Blog: http://rebeccacohenwrites.wordpress.com/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/rebecca.cohen.710

Twitter: http://twitter.com/R_Cohen_writes

The Authors Speak Merry May Giveaway (win a Kindle™ and a bunch of books)

Hello! Lou Sylvre, happy to be here for my monthly blog. In this post, I’m all about launching our biggest giveaway yet, and I’ll get to that in a flash. First though, I want to talk a little about Authors Speak, what we do, why we love having you be part of it, and opportunities for everyone—readers and writers—to be heard right here on this platform.

Authors Speak is designed to be a different kind of writers’ blog. Yes, we do talk about our books, our genre, writing tips, and the industry. Sometimes, we just have post something because it’s fun. But other times, we have something to say about the world in a broader sense. As authors, we live in the world like everyone else, and we respond to “big issues” like elections, laws, wars, poverty, corporate greed, and hate crimes. Our lives as humans isn’t separate from our lives as writers, and sometimes we blog here on Authors Speak about how it all ties in, and what we try to do about it. In other words, Authors Speak is a place for Authors to do just what our name says—speak our minds.

Of course, speaking out is pointless if nobody is listening, so thank you to everyone who’s visited the blog. And you know what? We realize readers sometimes want to speak out too, and you can! As you know, comments are welcome and appreciated, but here’s a new offer:

Authors Speak now has a Readers Say, page! Can’t find it? That’s because it’s blank. You might be our first reader guest. If you’re interested, comment below (which also counts as an entry for the giveaway drawing), or if you’d prefer, email me at lou.sylvre@gmail.com, and we’ll discuss particulars.

We’re know some who read our blog are fellow authors. If that’s you, we invite you onstage too! If you’d like a guest post in the spirit of Authors Speak, of if you have a cover reveal, new release, or other news announcement, please comment or email me. We’ll do our best to fit you in.

(Now for the really fun stuff)

Welcome to the Authors Speak Merry May Giveaway!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Anne Barwell – Juggling Apples & Oranges

When I mention I’m in the middle of edits—again!—and planning posts for blogging and cover reveals, the usual response from people who aren’t writers is: ‘oh, I didn’t realise there was that much work involved.’

A friend once told me that once your book is accepted by a publisher, then the work really begins. She was so right.

At present I’m juggling a bit more than just apples (edits) and oranges (promo). I’m also on a deadline to finish a book I need to submit at the beginning of June. Given I have a novella—Sunset at Pencarrow co-written with Lou Sylvre—releasing on 7th June, and a novel—Comes a Horseman—being published on 1st August, life is a little hetic right now.

Photo from Max Pixel – freegreatpicture.com

I also have another book under contract, and was very relieved when I discovered its planned publication date wasn’t until October/November this year. Phew. At least I can relax for maybe a month before the edits show up for that one. No wait, I have a tax return due 1st July, and a very long ‘to write list’. I need to play catch up on book reviews too, as I have a growing pile of books I’ve read and written copious notes about but haven’t had time to type up a review.

So anyway, I figured a good subject for this post would be to write about my experiences with the publishing process. Please note that others might have different experiences, and their publishers might do things differently. One thing I’ve found is that with each new book the process changes slightly as the publisher refines the way it does things—which is rather cool actually.

The first step is writing the book, and I often find I take annual leave at this point, especially when I have a submission deadline because something always happens to impact my writing time. Next comes the submission, and the waiting to find out whether the publisher wants the book.

Once the contract is signed, a different kind of work begins. By now I’m expecting the forms I’ll need to fill in fairly early on in the process, so I have all the information on hand and ready to go. This includes author’s notes, front matter, dedication, and, if it’s an historical, a list of resources used. The first time I had to provide the latter my reaction was “eep”. I work in a library so my list of resources is often the size of a novella just on its own. Now, if I’m writing an historical I make notes of every resource I use as I go which makes life a lot easier. I also think about what I’d like for cover art, as this question comes very early on in the process too, and with this in mind I have a handy guide to my characters written out so I’m not wading through a word document to find it. The blurb I’ve already written as I need to send it in with the submission, although I know my early version will probably not be the one on the back of the book.

Next come edits. These usually turn up several months before the release date, which won’t be definite until much closer to the time. Usually the contract states a window of a couple of months for the projected release date EG August/September. There is never just one lot of edits, as it’s a good idea to get more than one editor to take a look at the manuscript, as different people spot different things. Structural edits are followed by copy edits, which are followed by PR prep edits, which lead into the galley. The first two of these often have more than one round, and if you’re writing something historical and/or including phrases or words in another language there’s the historical and foreign language edits as well.

With Sunset at Pencarrow and Comes a Horseman out months apart I’d send back edits for one book, go to make a cup of tea, and find edits for the other book in my inbox.

And yes… I’m still trying to write my book which has a submission deadline a week before I have a book due out.

Photo from Max Pixel – freegreatpicture.com

So I’m now organising promo, as well as expecting galleys for two books, writing my two scheduled monthly blog posts, and oh yeah… real life, what’s that again? Housework and gardening at this point are just loud sighs of knowing I’ll need to play catch up or….do them as my breaks away from the computer on writing days. It’s not good to work 24/7 either which is why I keep up with the things I do to unwind—movie nights with friends, and playing in an orchestra.

I have a slight breathing space before having to write blog posts for all the stops on the tours for the new books, so hoping to spend that time writing. That is, if nothing else turns up in the meantime.

Wish me luck and catch you on the flip side.

Writer’s Police Academy Part 2: Death Scene Investigation by Sarah Madison

Last month, I wrote a general introductory post to Writer’s Police Academy and my experience there. For this month’s post, I’d like to go into more detail. As I mentioned in the previous post, attending WPA is a lot like going to any big continuing education meeting. A variety of seminars are listed simultaneously, and you must pick and choose which to attend. Also like a CE meeting, there were loosely defined tracks: several classes on arson, for example, or legal issues.

Because I already have somewhat of a medical background, I initially decided to forego the more medical seminars and attend courses where I thought my education was lacking. It didn’t take me long to change my mind, however.  In part because my background didn’t always lend itself to a direct translation into police/crime-based information, but also because this is where my interests obviously lie. To deny them would cut out an important–and authentic–voice in my writing.

This became apparent to me early on in the weekend because some of the very popular classes were limited as to the number of participants. As such, the organizers of WPA held a lottery for the courses and attendees were chosen at random. Some courses had to be limited for logistical reasons, such as the emergency driving course, or the live fire handgun class. I was lucky enough to get a ticket for both Death Scene Investigation and Ballistics.

Death Scene Investigation proved to be the first course of the day for me.

We were taken into a classroom and shown graphic images of actual death scenes, and then given the opportunity to say what we thought had occurred based on the blood spatter and evidence visible in the photographs. Before each set of photographs, the instructor gave us as attendees the option to leave the room before the next set of images were posted. Some people took the opportunity to do this. I confess, even though I have a pretty strong stomach, at times I felt a little queasy knowing I was viewing the scene of someone’s murder. That didn’t stop me from feeling a little spurt of pride, however, when after being shown photos of a brutal attack of a mother vacationing in a cabin with her two children, the instructor asked for speculation as to who the murderer was and I correctly guessed it was the estranged husband.

Now granted, the odds are high that a murdered woman is usually a victim of a domestic situation.  But when the instructor asked why I believed this was the case,  I pointed out that the woman was on vacation alone with her children, that the murderer had waited until the children had gone swimming, that the attack was brutally centered on her breasts and genitals, possibly signifying a strong personal hatred or previous sexual relationship, and that her left hand had been severed–the ‘ring’ hand.

The instructor was so pleased with my reasoning, he gave me a T-shirt!

After the initial instruction about basic procedures (more on that below), we then entered a room that had been staged with a fake death scene. We were given time to observe the evidence and then determine what took place. This was a little tricky since the room was small and there were a lot of us in it. Most of us could only clearly see a small portion of the scene. However, I won another T-shirt when asked for speculation as to what had happened and I said there had to be at least one shooter from outside, as the glass on the inside of the room indicated a bullet had been fired into the room. But I missed the bloody footprint, as well as the driver’s license (conveniently) abandoned in the trash basket.

My notes from the course are barely legible, as I wrote at top speed trying to keep up, but here are the highlights:

  1. Blood spatter goes in all directions–look for cast-off. In our arranged death scene, blood spatter had been placed on the ceiling and many of us neglected to look up. When a blade goes into a body, suction is formed around it, so if it is pulled out, the blade comes out with force and cast-off ends up behind the perpetrator.
  2. Passive blood drops don’t change size past four feet in height, therefore you can measure the size of the drop that falls from a height of under four feet to determine the height at which it fell (think of blood dripping off the tip of a knife point). There is a mathamatical formula for working this out, but don’t ask me to explain it! If a tear-shaped droplet forms as a result of cast-off, the fat end of the droplet will be closest to the source and the tip points in the direction of flow.
  3. Don’t assume all the blood is the victim’s. You may only get one chance to get a sample if it came from the murderer, so identification and preservation are critical. Knives become slippery with blood and it is easy for the perpetrator to get cut under those circumstances.
  4. A scene with a lot of evidence is frequently divided into grids (much like an archeological dig)
  5. Every death is treated as a homicide until proven otherwise.
  6. A void pattern can be as important as a spatter pattern (ie, what was in the way of the spray and where is it now?).

You can’t assume the perpetrator has left the scene–so you must complete a search/clear building first. Victims can only be assessed–not declared dead (coroner must declare death). A first responder can only say “pulse/no pulse.” The coroner is often an elected official with no real medical background. Larger counties will have both a coroner and a medical examiner, but it depends on the state.

The first responders will use codes when calling for backup because people listen to police scanners. An officer cannot assess/help/call for backup until the home is cleared.

One thing that came up again and again during the weekend is how often murderers confess to their crimes. It’s almost as if committing such a horrific act weighs on their conscience to the point they can’t help but confess given the slightest opportunity. Spontaneous utterance (confession) can be accepted, but an officer must Mirandize immediately afterward.

Officers on the scene can question anyone present to get background statements but there is a fine line between a witness and a suspect. When in doubt, read Miranda rights, but that may shut a witness/suspect down.

If a witness/suspect asks if he should get a lawyer, the correct response is to say, “It’s up to you. I’m not in a position to tell you your rights.”

If a suspect doesn’t call 9-1-1 immediately after a situation that ends in death, then self-defense credibility drops rapidly.

Once you’re assigned to a crime scene, it’s yours until the investigation is complete to avoid cross-contamination of a scene. If a crime scene occurs in a private home, the entire street will be closed off until secure.

That’s pretty much what I got out of the course–that and the realization I had halfway decent observation skills! I enjoyed the class so much I revised my planned schedule so that I could take more courses that were similar. I also learned there is too much to learn in a single course! I took notes, but quickly realized I’m going to have to invest in some more reading material if I want to be truly accurate describing crime scenes. I have a book on blood spatter on my Amazon wish list now. 🙂

And of course, I want to go back to WPA again!

Tune in next time when I will talk about K9 units and ballistics.

The Art of Blogging – An Art Form I Have Yet to Master as I Try and Get My Life Together

I must admit I have struggled this month to find a theme, and it hasn’t helped that I haven’t posted for a couple of months thanks to the general shenanigans of real life. Nothing is more telling than the state of my blog/website where my last post is from November 2016 which basically said, ‘I’m lost, please bear with me’.

But with a new year, I am starting to get my groove back starting with this post… little steps! I’m writing again and am in the process of revamping the aforementioned unloved blog/website. Now this brings me to where my ramblings are headed. Blogs, more specifically authors’ blogs. As I work with someone to update my website, I find myself bombarded with page after page of advice about what should be in a blog, how often you should post, how to drive traffic your way and various other topics that have me running to hide under my duvet. Working with my new designer, I basically only had one real thing I didn’t want and that was white writing on a dark background (my eyes just can’t take it), but the rest I’m happy to negotiate. New banner, layout menus will all be on the agenda, along with gentle hand holding about web hosting and figuring out if I want .org or a .com.

I often hear about an author’s brand. I use my ‘R’ across all platforms, it’s pretty simple and identifiable but this is just a part of a brand. As I’ve been contemplating what to do with my website I thought what can I do about this branding malarkey. I tend to write across many genres but at the same time most people probably know me from my historical series, so I’ve plans to set up regular posting about fun historical facts. Below is the sort of thing I have in mind. I recently received rights back for ‘Captain Merric’ my first published story so I have a legitimate excuse for researching pirates. Here’s an interesting titbit about the sort of agreement pirates had between themselves, this between Captain George Lowther and his company.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But another specific thing about me, and so maybe also useful for this branding stuff, is I’m an ex-pat Brit living in Switzerland. So as well as the historical stuff I thought I could post regularly on life overseas in Basel, the challenges and highs of living away from your home country. Like learning a new language and being equally entertained and annoyed by day-to-day life. For instance,if someone had told me when we left London that I would willing get up at 3 am to watch a load of people march around playing drums and piccolos in the dark, I’d have laughed in their face. Nor would I have believed I would be willing stand on a pavement waiting for giant clown creatures (known as Waggis) to throw confetti over me. But you can see from the photo below, that’s just what I did for Basel’s spring carnival, known as Fasnacht.

 

 

 

 

 

 

All in all, I guess I’m starting to get my act together. And hopefully my regular blogging here and at my new website (once it is finally resurrected) will put me back on track. Watch this this space, I’m definitely going to try to be better…

 

REBECCA COHEN is a Brit abroad. Having swapped the Thames for the Rhine, she has left London behind and now lives with her husband and young son in Basel, Switzerland. She can often be found with a pen in one hand and a cup of Darjeeling in the other.

Contacts:

Blog: http://rebeccacohenwrites.wordpress.com/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/rebecca.cohen.710

Twitter: http://twitter.com/R_Cohen_writes