• Running for Her Life in the Rain: Information for Writers

    I have a scene coming up in a story I'm writing where the evil villain chases my beautiful heroine through the woods. 

    It always irritates me when I'm watching a movie, and the heroine is dressed in some gorgeous gown and high heels when she has to save her life - I mean really, can' t the bad guy ever come after her when she's in her hiking boots and pants?

    Personally, I can barely make it from  my car to the restaurant without ripping my pantyhose - how can these ladies crawl through glass and still
    keep everything intact? I want to know the brand
    of stockings they buy.

    My heroine will definitely not be dressed in her Greek-revival toga dress with strappy sandal stilettos because, let's face it, in reality - she's not getting very far that way. She will not be clean and beautiful when she's done saving her life. Yes, she will have ripped her stockings into shreds and no, it is definitely not attractive. 

    Even dressed properly, if you're writing it right, she's in for the world of hurt.

    To do research for my story, I just ran the Mudderella. Mudderella raises money to support initiatives to stop domestic abuse. It was a five-mile course with thirteen mud obstacles. I was dressed for it. I wore Spandex shorts, an exercise tank and light weight shoes built to let water pass through them. What I wasn't wearing was my glasses. I knew they'd go flying off right away. Not being able to see clearly can mess with your heroine - and we know that nothing should ever come easily for our heroines.

    Now to be clear, I'm not writing this as a bitch session - I had an AWESOME time running Mudderella and CANNOT WAIT to do it again. I am merely posting my observations so that perhaps it can give texture to your plot line.

    Some observations:
    *Running in nature is nothing
      like running on a treadmill or 
      even running on pavement. It's
      a lot more work/fatiguing.

    * Running along this
       fairly clean
       path, I constantly encountered
       brambles and roots. The
       thorny vines wrapped my
       ankles and tripped and cut me as I went.

    * The uneven ground was taxing on my ankles and knees - so your
       heroine will feel those early on, after the adrenaline starts to
       abate, and she is hunkering down for the long haul to civilization
       and safety.

    * If your heroine is going in the drink, let's hope she has on light
       weight shoes, or she may have to pull them off to stay up,
       especially if she's tired. Now she's running barefoot? Those rocks
       are going to bruise her feet quickly to the point that she can only
       hobble if she can stand up at all. Also, getting shoes to untie
       when they are wet (and mud-caked) is nearly impossible. She's 
       going to have to hope her feet haven't swollen from the run, 
       because  she'll have to pull the shoes off still tied.

    * She should try her best to keep the mud and dirt out of her eyes - 
       there's nothing clean to wash them with and a scratched cornea is
       bad news.

    * While the water feels good on tired legs, it makes her shoes
       harder to run in, especially if she is developing blisters.

    * I saw a lot of people wearing cotton shorts and a few of the guys
       were running in running shorts that came to their knees. These
       soaked up the water and flapped about their legs as they ran. At
       some point, if I were escaping, I would have just taken them off
       and run in my  undies (keeping my pants or skirt with me around
       my neck - they  may be useful later) but then you'd have to
       write in the  trade off of more exposure to the environs, twigs, and
       sharp rocks etc. 

    * While the water might be a great way to escape - floating on a
       current, not leaving a trail. Currents will also wear your heroine

    * Once she's in the water, eventually she has to get back out.

    * This was a very steep slope. It was clay, which is extremely
       slippery. There were no toe holds or hand holds. My teammates
       (you can see behind me) took a few tries to get up. I was clinging
       to the tiniest baby weeds trying for anything that would keep me
        from sliding back down. You can hear in this film people were
       growling - me included. The growling actually was very helpful.
       It worked a little like a martial arts k'ihap. It kept the power 

    * This exercise was mainly about balance, weight distribution, and
       upper arm/back strength.

    * If someone were close on my heels, this would be a very
       dangerous time. I would try to find a bank that had a friendlier
       exit, especially if it provided cover - but sometimes beggars can't
       be choosers and your heroine will have to make it up the slippery

    * Is your heroine running with someone? This could be
       a hindrance, or it could be very helpful. It would help if the friend
       was in the same shape or better shape than your heroine or had 
       special skills. And was healthy and unhurt. It would help if the
       friend was positive and  encouraging and going forward as a 
       team. J ust having someone around who could catch the
       heroine if she were falling, or to help over the obstacles you're
       sure  to throw in their way is morale boosting.  

       It would not help if any of these were reversed.

    * The most effective way my team found to get out of the deep
       water onto dry land was for one person to link their fingers to
       make a stirrup and let someone step into the hand hold. Then they
       would do a squat thrust. Once one person is up, they can reach
       down for the second. Lifting in any other way was taxing and not
       as effective.

    Things I learned in the mud
    * Shoes will fill with tiny rock particles and clay. 
    * The rocks and clay will take up quite a bit of space in the shoes
       and become very heavy.
    * Cleaning this out is problematic because - the shoe laces won't 
       come undone. If she were washing them out, the heroine would
       be using the same water that m ade them that way in the first
       place, and she couldn't stop anyway - there's a villain on
       her  heels!
    * The rocks and mud will cause bruises, blisters, and tiny cuts in
        very weird places.
    * All the cuts will be infected by the time she gets to a place where
       she can clean herself.
    * Bruises will appear in random places on her body, and she will
       have no idea  how they got there.
    * She probably won't feel any of this until she gets to a place to

    I hope this helps. You can leave questions and comments below. I moderate for SPAM so they will NOT show up right away. If you find my blog to be helpful, I'd appreciate your sharing it with your friends. Social media buttons below. Happy plotting.


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  • Cadaver Dogs: Information for Writers with Kate Flora

    Today, I'd like to introduce you to Kate Flora. Award-winning
    mystery and true crime writer Kate Flora is the author of 14 books, including the true crime story Death Dealer and the novel And Grant You Peace, both forthcoming in the fall of 2014. 

    Her book Finding Amy (true crime), co-written with a Portland, Maine deputy police chief, was a 2007 Edgar Award nominee. Kate’s other titles include the Thea Kozak mysteries and the starred-review Joe Burgess police series, the third of which, Redemption, won the 2013 Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction.

    A former assistant attorney general in the areas of battered children, deadbeat dads, and employment discrimination, Kate is a founding member the New England Crime Bake conference, a founder of Level Best Books where she worked as an editor and publisher for seven years and has served as international president of Sisters in Crime. When she’s not riding an ATV through the Canadian woods or hiding in a tick-infested field waiting to be found by search and rescue dogs as research
    for her books, she can be found teaching writing at Grub Street in Boston.

    Fiona -
    Kate, you have an interest in cadaver dogs and have included them in the plot line of a few of your books. Can you tell me about your background with working dogs?

    Kate - 
    To be absolutely clear, I have no working dog myself. I got into the realm of search and rescue and cadaver dogs when I was helping a friend, who was a police captain, write about a murder he investigated. He wanted to tell a story, and I knew how to write. In that case, the victim was buried in the woods and the police couldn't find her. She was ultimately found when a Maine game warden decided he had to help out, and organized a search with SAR (search and rescue) personnel and trained cadaver dogs.

    In order to write that story, I needed to know more about how cadaver dogs and handlers worked, and that meant watching them train. 

    Fiona -
    Can you tell us about your experience?

    Kate - 
    I started out like many people, thinking the handlers just ran the dogs through the woods. I was so wrong. 

    It's years of training bringing those dogs along and getting them certified for the various search expertises. The most important thing I learned by watching the training, is that these handlers and their dogs are a genuine team--it is important for the handler to be able to read his or her dog and become attuned to the nuances of the dog's messages. It is also critical to learn to trust the dog and not override the dog's messages.

    It is almost balletic, watching the synchronized actions of a good dog team. The handler can tell from the dog's body language, speed of movement, and even from the dog's breathing what the dog is discovering, when the dog has a scent, and when the dog is close to a find. And those dogs will work all day for the reward to playing with a ball or playing tug of war with rope.

    Fiona - 
    In search and rescue events that I've participated in the dog is on a 30 foot lead - this was a search for live people. Can you tell us what the dog wears on a search, the equipment involved, and what the handler wears?

    Kate - 

    In general, the dogs I've observed are not on a lead, unless the conditions--adjacent highway or other dangers--calls for it. These are primarily air scent dogs and to do their job, they need to be able to range some distance in order to try and pick up that scent cone.

    Equipment varies, but in general they wear a vest, which helps to signal to the dog that he or she is going to work, and often a bell, which is especially helpful in thick brush or woodlands or during nighttime searches so the handle can keep track of the dog's location. Handlers say that they can tell when a dog is on a scent, and often when the dog has made a find, by the increasingly excited ringing of the bell. 

    The handler? Again, this depends on the weather and the organization. If they are a uniformed searcher, it will be a uniform. Many of the volunteers also wear a shirt or something that indicated their affiliation. The other gear depends on the search--weather, time of day, time of year, the search parameters and how long a search team may be out to clear a block of land, whether there is an expectation that the person may be found alive. And there is always the dog's favored play object or food treat.

    Fiona - 
    These are mainly air scent dogs, which means that they keep their nose in the air. There are also dogs who prefer by nature to do ground scent, they are great for following trails. But you have also worked with water scent dogs - dogs who can find cadavers in bodies of water can you talk about that experience?

    Kate - 
    I haven't actually worked on a case where they used water scent dogs. I spent a couple of years with a retired Maine game warden who trained and ran cadaver dogs, and he has told me a lot. In the book we've just finished, there are some stories of dogs who have found bodies in the water. 

    One interesting thing that the wardens say is that dogs can scent bodies in the water within a few hours of death, which I found amazing, and that many other branches of law enforcement are unaware of this as a resource and usually fail to employ it in search situations. 

    There was a case recently in New Hampshire where a young girl disappeared and was found days later in a river. A water scent dog could probably have found her days earlier. The scent molecules released by the body travel through the water and can be scented by the dogs from the shore or from a boat. 

    I've heard discussions about whether a dog could work from a plane but they've been inconclusive. One thing that's often missing from these discussions is that first the dog has to go through all of those other cadaver scent training, and then also has to be trained to be comfortable in a boat. 

    And an aside, one of the differences between tracking dogs and air scent dogs is that tracking dogs are generally working from a known scent following a known person, while air scent dogs are often working away from the scene (which is often contaminated by the many people their and by fear scent, which is very powerful) and trying to find the scent in the air.

    Fiona - 
    What would surprise us most to learn about using a cadaver dog and are there any cool details a writer might include in their plot line?

    Kate - 

    Well, gee. In the first true crime I wrote, Finding Amy, the dog came to the scene and didn't first hit on the grave site where the victim was buried, but about ten or twelve feet away under some trees. Later, when the suspect confessed the crime to his mother, what he told her was that he had killed Amy and left her lying under those trees for a few days, and then gone back and buried her. The dog was reacting to that first scent pool where the body had been lying, and the dog's reaction was corroboration of the confession at trial. 

    Other cool details? Well, because cadaver scent can move through the ground and into growing plants, you can often find an old burial through the scent that has become embedded in trees or shrubs.

    Sometimes bears or other predators have been at the bodies and the dogs can find small bone fragments that are sufficient to show that there was a body. 

    Find the guy, get to play!

    The dogs can find burials that are 50 to 100 years old. Other cool things? Not so much about cadaver dogs, but dogs can also be trained to find find shell casings, shotgun wads, cigarette butts, all kinds of evidence that might have been discarded by the killer that a human searcher would never find in the woods.

    Fiona - 
    They can indeed find very cool things. On a personal note, my daughter has Type 1 diabetes. She has a medical alert dog who tells her when her blood sugar number goes over 180 or under 100. Those are very specific parameters. He is both a ground scenting dog (I trained him to find our family members so, for example, in the library when I can't find my son, I just tell our pup to "Find the boy," and pup follows the trail until we land on him) and an air scent-er. When pup is checking my daughter's blood numbers his nose will go in the air. When he does it repeatedly over a span of time, I know he's just waiting for it to hit the number that will get him his treat. Then he comes to alert.

    Kate, thank you so much for sharing your experiences. Any last thoughts?

    Kate - 
    One thing I would add is that many of these events take place at night…and if the body was dumped at night, the wardens are looking at the environments, decided where someone might hide a body. 

    Fiona - 
    Can you talk more about that last bit?

    Kate - 
    Well, that last really goes much more to suspect behavior than to cadaver dogs, but that's something else there's some writing and thinking on. 

    This is really in my game warden/outdoor search realm which is practically another interview. We think that searches are just a bunch of folks going out and walking through the woods--whether for a dead person or a live person, but in reality they are far more complicated and planning intensive than that. In Finding Amy, one of the most interesting moments is when the wardens come to interview the cops, to plan a search operation. Of course, we know that cops are territorial and certain, but this was the woods, which is warden territory. Wardens read the woods like cops read the streets. Hey…now that is a great line. Must remember it. Anyway, when they're dealing with a situations where someone may be hidden in the woods, they're looking for a million different things that brick and mortar cops might never think of. On another note, I forgot to mention that dogs are extremely good at finding weapons, so if the writer's bad guy has dumped his gun in the woods, human eyes might never find it, but a dog's nose will.

    Fiona - 
    Amen. Kate, please tell us about your favorite scar or your most harrowing story.

    Kate - 
    Well, my most harrowing experience was a hot air balloon crash…but let's talk about scars. I've never been in a gun fight, a knife fight, or any other kind of fight outside a courtroom, but I have a scar from back surgery that represents a fight with myself. After emergency surgery for a ruptured disk and having to give up running and skiing, I also had to fight my way back from the throes of "I'll never do anything again" into a braver world of taking different kinds of chances--chances with my writing, with stories I didn't know how to write, and ultimately, with other people's stories--co-writing a true crime with a police captain and working on a memoir with a Maine game warden who worked with search and rescue and cadaver dogs. Those books have taken me to some pretty interesting places.

    Fiona - 
    And could you tell us about some of your writing?

    Kate - 

    About Death Dealer:
    When Miramichi resident Maria Tanasichuk’s husband David reports her missing, the local police force is perplexed: they have had a close relationship with the Tanasichuks and know David as a loving and supportive husband, yet his account of Maria’s disappearance contains disturbing inconsistencies. Through conversations with Maria’s many friends and loved ones in Miramichi’s small, close-knit community, the police soon discover that David has been using drugs heavily and Maria’s efforts to stop him have frayed the marriage. Witnesses report he has been selling Maria’s belongings to support his drug use, has been involved with another woman, and has engaged in suspicious, nighttime comings-and-goings. Further disclosures suggest that he played a role not only in Maria’s disappearance, but also in several unsolved murders.
    The fact that they cannot locate Maria’s body -- combined with David’s clever, deceptive ways -- make it impossible for the Miramichi police to prove their suspicions. As signs that David may in fact be a dangerous killer mount, the police officers tracking him fear, rightly, that at any moment he could unleash his vengeful violence on their families. Only when they look across the border into Maine and enlist the help of the Maine Warden Service and trained cadaver dogs and dedicated handlers are Miramichi’s police officers able to undertake the long and grueling search for the evidence they need: Maria’s body.
    New Horizon Press Books ISBN: 978-0-88282-476-5

    About And Grant You Peace:

    This 4th book in the Joe Burgess mystery series finds the Maine detective pulled into a case rife with religious tensions after screams for help lead him to a woman and a baby locked in a closet inside a burning mosque. The baby dies. The very young mother survives, but suffers from traumatic muteness. She has no ID, and no one has reported her missing. When the autopsy shows the baby was gravely ill, and needed surgery to survive, Burgess suspects someone was trying to keep mother and baby away from hospitals that might have asked questions.

    The mosque’s Somali Imam claims to have no knowledge of the girl, or of who was responsible for scrawling anti-Muslim graffiti on the mosque’s walls. Burgess learns that the “Iron Angels,” an outlaw motorcycle gang led by William “The Butcher” Flaherty has been harassing the mosque’s members. Then someone tries to steal the baby’s body. Burgess has been hoping to regain a semblance of “normal family life,” but there, too, things are complicated. First, by the threat that his son will be suspended from school. Then by the chilling knowledge that his family is being stalked.

    As Burgess tries to sort out the tangle of a suspicious and uncooperative immigrant community, an outlaw gang, and a mysterious man who may be involved with both, clues lead to another body, a stash of stolen guns and ultimately, a tense confrontation in which the staggering extent of death and destruction that’s been sowed in the name of greed is revealed.
    Five Star/Cengage ISBN 978-1432829391

    If you need more information about cadaver dogs, Kate suggests these references:

    * Andrew Rebmann, Edward David & Marcella H. Sorg, Cadaver Dog Handbook: Forensic Training and Tactics for the Recovery of Human Remains

    * American Rescue Dog Association Search and Rescue Dogs: Training the K-9 Hero

    * Susannah Charleson, Scent of the Missing

    * Cat Warren, What the Dog Knows

    Fiona - 
    Thanks Kate!

    And thanks to you readers/writers for stopping by. You can leave comments and questions below. I moderate for SPAM so they wont show up right away. Also, if this blog helps you, why not help your fellow writers by sharing? Social buttons below. Happy plotting.

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  • Plot Line Myth Busting with NYT Bestseller Alafair Burke

    I am using this blog article to  share my notes from a recent  lecture  entitled:

    Cool Stuff I Learned as a Prosecutor that You Can Use in Your Book 

    - given at WPA 2014 by  Alafair Burke . I am posting these notes with her kind permission.

    Alafair Burke, a graduate of Stanford Law School, is a professor of law at Hofstra University. She uses her background to inform her novels. Alafair is a NewYork Times Bestselling author and has been interviewed by The Today Show, People Magazine, The New York Times, MSNBC, The Washington Post, USA Today, and The Chicago Sun-Times. And in person, she is just a fun and wonderful person.

    The Myths:

    1. Criminal cases involve trials
    * Trials are the exception 
    * 90% are resolved by plea.
    * They are fast and informal - the suspect waives his rights, and
       pleads guilty.
    * Charge Bargain - Instead of murder one, your character will plead
       guilty to a lesser degree.
    * Sentence Bargain - Your character pleads guilty to the charge but 
       will receive a sentence that is less than the maximum.

    2. Police and prosecutors are part of a single, integrated, happy
    * The police and the prosecutors institutionally are not friends.
       They have different hierarchies.
    * Individuals make friends and personal relationships, and they
       ARE important.
    * There is a cultural collision in their jobs - they are intentionally 
       ~ Police - I caught the bad guy.
       ~ Detective - I've got my evidence
       ~ Prosecutor - Looks for what's missing, has hindsight, wants to
          have no holes (doubt)
       The police and the detectives rush to tell the story. It is the
       prosecutor's job to be skeptical of the story.

    3. Judges are umpires
    *** Who the judge is matters A LOT.
    Judge Shopping
    *If the plea deal is going poorly then they find
      out who the judge is who will try the case. If it is a judge who 
      hands down harsh sentences, it might be better not to chance it
      and take a lesser time deal. If the judge is unsympathetic to the
      issues that the prosecutor might be having in filling in the holes in
      the crime story line, then it might be best if  the prosecutor offers a
      lesser charge.
    * When a warrant is needed some judges are more flexible and
       some more exacting. The process of getting a warrant is fast -
       under three minutes.

    4. Defendants HATE prosecutors and love their defense
    * Defendants recognize and often respect a prosecutors power.
    * Often a defendant views their own lawyer as unsuccessful or

    5. Police Need Warrants
    * 90% of searches are warrant-less.
    * Search is looking for something
    * Seizure is interfering in movement

    A.  Is it a search? Only if the police:
       `Do something outside the bounds of a "reasonable expectation of
       `Commit "trespass."
    * Public View - It's okay to:
      `Aid the senses by using binoculars and flashlights
      `Collect abandoned property such as a cigarette butt, and
        discarded trash.
      `Use things exposed to third parties - for example - conversations
       between friends.
      `Use K9

    B Is it a seizure?
    * Cops can approach a person and talk with them. 
    * Would a r easonable person believe that they were free to leave?
       The assumption is that a reasonable person would feel free to
       walk away from the police officer. 
    * Chasing is NOT the same thing as seizing,

    C. Here are the exceptions - 
         You DO NOT NEED A WARRANT to:
    Arrest someone in a public place
    * Terry stops - stop and frisk for weapons (need reasonable
    * Protective sweeps - a well-established law that
       law enforcement arresting someone in a house may perform a
       quick and limited “protective sweep,” warrant-less search for
       their own safety when there is a reasonable suspicion that the
       house may contain a dangerous person.
    * Search incident to an arrest - this includes the person and
       everything within their arms reach. So your officer might want to
       time when they arrest the person so they can search whatever is in
       his reach. Ex. while he's opening his trunk
    * Exigent circumstances: 
       ` Probable cause
       ` The object or person will move (not be found again)
       ` Someone could get hurt
       ` Evidence could be destroyed
    * Community care taking ex. well checks
    * Administrative searches
    * Special needs
       `students at school
    * Roadblocks
    * Inventory searches (the police impound a car and an inventory is
       taken of the items therein)
    * Borders
    * Consent -  90% give consent. YOU CAN REVOKE CONSENT
    * Plain view -  finders keepers

    UNLIKE the real police as a writer, you get to make up the facts. 

    * Don't let the law stuff mess up your plot line.
    * Want the police to hit a wall? Set up the facts to require a warrant
       - or have the supervisor or prosecutor say, "better safe than
       sorry." Then you could have a judge sign and they move forward
       OR not sign, and tah dah! They've hit the wall.

    A couple of final concepts
    Yes, you can pick up someone's phone when you arrest them if it's in their wingspan. BUT NO you can't search the contents without a warrant. The court says that's a definite no-no.

    Sneak and peek warrants - Normally when the police go in and search something they plaster the warrant on the door or hand it to the person to let them know that the warrant was used and a search took place. BUT with the Patriot Act - the police can tell the judge why they do not want the suspect to know that they searched for something. If the judge agrees, then they don't have to leave notice. An example - they go and collect data from someone's computer or put on computer keystroke tracking devices. That way they can monitor someone's ongoing activity.

    A big thanks to Alafair  for her wonderful talk. She has a new book coming out - why not pick up a good read?

    And thank you readers/writers for stopping by. As always, please leave your comments and questions below. I monitor for SPAM so they will NOT show up right away. If you find my blog to be helpful, why not share it with your friends? Buttons below.
    Happy plotting,




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  • Investigative Reporting: Information for Writers with Rob Peecher

    I'd like to introduce you to Robert  Peecher.

    Robert Peecher has been in the newspaper industry for 20 years as a reporter, editor and publisher. He has reported on everything from murders and trials to spaceship cults to corruption at City Hall. He currently is Editor & Publisher of The Oconee Leader newspaper in Watkinsville, Georgia. He is also the author of the Jackson Speed Memoirs, historical fiction novels about a cowardly rascal fleeing his way through 19th Century America. He also writes the Moses Calhoun Potboilers, a series of short stories about a hardboiled sheriff’s investigator
    fighting bumbling meth-heads and other assorted troublemakers.

    Fiona -
    Hey Rob, thanks for stopping by. Tell us a little bit about where you work.

    Rob - 
    Most all of the work I’ve done has been in communities with a population under 50,000, so I’ve worked for a lot of rural and small-market newspapers. I have, however, covered stories that had national and even international appeal. 

    I covered a cult for several years in Putnam County, Georgia, where the leader eventually went to federal prison for molesting children. I appeared on The O’Reilly Factor on Fox News to talk specifically about Jesse Jackson’s and Al Sharpton’s involvement with the cult group (which was predominately African-American). At times when I was covering the cult, I stood at press conferences with German and Japanese television reporters – this in a county of 20,000 people that didn’t even have a Walmart.

    Fiona - 
    That must have been an awesome experience. 

    I'm writing a crime reporter into my scene, and it occurs to me that journalism isn't a one size fits all.

    Can you tell us how investigatory reporters differs from being a crime reporter?

    Rob -
    Being a crime reporter generally is very reactionary – you show up after it’s all over and report on what other people do. Being an investigative reporter, though, allows you to dig into a story and break news.

    I’ve also spent a lot of time reporting on crimes and covering trials. I’ve ridden with sheriff’s deputies to crime scenes or followed them to crime scene,s and I’ve followed many crimes (murders especially) from incident to trial.

    Fiona - 
    Can you tell us about one of your investigatory cases?

    Rob - 
    I spent several months investigating corruption in a rural town. It was one of those things that everyone knew it was going on, but nobody did anything about it. 

    After getting an anonymous tip (from someone I knew) I started investigating thefts. Through the work I did, I forced the city auditor to do a thorough audit (which he’d never done before) and forced the District Attorney to go after the officials who were stealing money (the DA, who was on friendly terms with me, freely admitted that I forced him to do something he didn’t want to get involved in). I’m the only reporter I know who can truthfully say I sent people to prison based on my reporting.

    Fiona - 
    What are some ways that a reporter's interest might be perked? How do you come upon a story?

    Rob - 
    A lot of times, especially with an investigative type story where the reporter is looking for somebody doing something wrong, the story starts with a phone call or an anonymous tip.

    I always think of "Deep Throat" in the parking garage. It's not usually that cloak and dagger, but it does start with someone who has information and wants that information to be made public.

    Fiona - 
    And why would you trust an anonymous tip? What would turn up your radar and make you say, "this is going to be a good story"?

    Rob - 
    You never trust an anonymous tip. You always check into it and follow the trail of information. But if the person is in a position to have information or can articulate why they are coming to the media as opposed to the police, those are reasons to at least be willing to follow the trail. You use a little of your own knowledge and experience, also.

    Does the story the person is giving make sense? Is it plausible? And if so, if all of it passes the "gut feeling" then you follow it. Sometimes you'll talk to an editor or fellow reporters and get their feelings.

    Fiona - 
    Why would someone go to the media and not the police?

    Rob - 
    Good question.

    Sometimes the person may not trust the police. Corruption among government officials is never particularly far from the police.

    An example: Once a person called me with information about the mayor stealing money from the city. This was a small town. The police chief was his brother. It made sense that he wouldn't go to the police.

    Sometimes, too, a person might feel that exposing corruption through the media will force law enforcement to get involved where maybe they wouldn't before. I've seen that, too.

    Step one - find a bread crumb.

    Fiona - 
    Can you tell me some processes that you might go through to see if there's a crime trail? Maybe take us through an example?

    Rob - 
    The biggest story of corruption I ever worked started with an "anonymous" tip. I knew the person calling, knew they were in a position to know what they were talking about. It was theft of government money on a pretty wide scale.

    I relied heavily on the open records act for that story. Most all states (maybe all states) will have an open records act that allows you to get access to public documents. With that story, I knew a little of what I was looking for. I asked to see things like canceled checks for a year.

    They may not like it, but they have to give you the records. I spent hours and hours going through records like that.

    And once you start to find what you're looking for, then you just follow those leads.

    Fiona - 
    That seems a little bit like a mouse maze.

    Lots of false starts

    dead ends

    Rob -
    A lot of times you check with other sources, other people who may know. Most of the time what you get are "no comments", but in putting together a story those are sometimes as good as a comment.

    Yes - a lot of false starts and dead ends, and I've had to give up stories just because I couldn't find proof.

    Fiona - 
    That must feel frustrating

    Rob - 
    Reporters generally have a quota of stories they've got to produce, so big long investigative pieces, especially at a small paper, aren't in the budget. Editors want results quickly, or it's time to move on.

    It gets frustrating sometimes. Good stories, if I think there's something there, I'll work those in the middle of the night.

    Fiona - 
    That's dedication.

    When you're reading books or watching movies that have an investigative reported in a pivotal role, what mistakes do you see the writers make in depicting the job?

    Rob - 
    In general, I'd say the ones I can think of are mostly accurate. Deadlines are a hassle. There is a lot of pressure in the job. Every story you write has to be accurate or it gets you sued. It's a high stress job.

    "The Paper" with Michael Keaton - that was a pretty realistic movie in terms of how things work at a newspaper. I've never had anyone fire a gun in a newsroom before, but I've seen people throw chairs across the room. So in terms of getting it right, I think that one mostly did.

    Fiona - 
    So what kind of personality gravitates to that career choice?

    Rob - 
    When it comes to investigative reporters, specifically, I think you have people who have a pretty high sense of justice, people who want to have an impact on the world but people who might not have a lot of respect for authority and therefore don't want to be police or military (if that makes sense). A lot of people in the business, though, end up here simply because they like to write.

    Fiona - 
    Let's talk about stakes.

    How dangerous to you - and those you love - can this particular job get?

    Rob - 
    It can get very dangerous. I've been threatened many times. At one time it was bad enough that I stopped taking my children with me in public.

    But those stories are probably rare. Most of the reporters I know have never had a serious threat.

    I think I just have a way of really pissing people off.

    Fiona - 

    Rob - 
    ... Asking about loved ones, I remember one night practicing with my wife what we would do if someone tried to come into our house to kill us.

    She wasn't thrilled with that.

    Fiona - 
    Yeah, I can imagine that going down very badly. It's a very personal question I know so feel free to say pass - but what is your emotional reaction to a threat? And my follow up - when threatened what kinds of precautions/actions do reporters and their employers take?

    Rob - 
    It depends on the threat and who is making it, but I've been very scared before. Your employer probably won't be much help. I did have an editor who offered to let me borrow his gun and even offered to come watch my house at night, but I didn't take him up. I carry a gun also.

    Fiona - 

    A ThrillWriting traditional question is - What is the story behind your favorite scar - and barring a scar could you tell us a harrowing story that you survived?

    Rob - 
    My favorite scar is actually not my scar, it's my youngest son's scar. He was 12-years-old and had gone to a birthday party. It was his first boy-girl party.

    All the kids were running through the woods, and he tripped and fell on a rock - landed right on his knee.

    It tore meat and skin away from his knee and was a terrible thing. I took him to the emergency room and they cleaned it and repaired it as best they could, but he has an enormous scar on his knee cap.

    I told him, "This is what happens when you go to parties with girls."

    Fiona - 
    Or you don't chase the girls - you need to sit back and let them chase you.

    Rob - 
    That's right!

    Fiona - 
    Well, that was pretty gross with the meat and stuff - LOL

    Rob - 
    Yes, it was. Which is why his mom made me take him to the emergency room.

    Fiona - 
    So she's wimpy around wounds and gets upset around the idea of defending life and limb from would-be attackers. I think this is the part where you had better say something very wonderful about her - I understand couch sleeping is not comfy.

    Rob - 
    Haha! Actually, she was very good about defending life and limb. I've always figured most women would have gone to stay with their parents when it came time to work out a plan for what to do if someone broke into the house to kill us. She was wonderful about standing with me because she believed in what I was doing, and I've always been grateful for that.

    Fiona -  Oh that is wonderful - kudos to her!

    Does your investigative reporting show up in your novels or do you write about something completely different to give your brain a vacation?

    Rob - 
    Some of the stuff I write is very loosely based on some of the crimes I've covered.

    I have tried to write about investigative reporters before, but it's never really worked out. 
    But the Moses Calhoun stories sometimes follow or were inspired by actual crimes I've covered.

    Fiona - 
    Amazon Link
    Can you tell me about your novels?

    Rob - 
    I write in two series: The Jackson Speed Memoirs and the Moses Calhoun stories.

    Moses Calhoun is a modern-era, hardboiled sheriff's detective. He deals with a lot of bumbling, dumb criminals. Meth heads and what not.

    The Jackson Speed novels are set during
    Amazon Link
    the 1800s (Mexican- 
    American War, Civil War, Wild West). Speedy is a womanizer, a coward, a real unsavory guy. I put him in actual events and then watch him flee his way out of them. I'm currently writing about Jackson Speed at Gettysburg.

    Those novels are a lot of fun to write, and I think they're fun to read, as well.

    One of the photos I sent you is of me at Gettysburg doing some hands-on research.

    Rob Peecher at Gettysburg
    Fiona - 
    We are at the very end of our time together. What do you wish I had asked you? Is there something I didn't know enough to ask that you think is an important point?
    Rob -
    The one thing I would say to writers who want to write it right about investigative journalists is that these are going to be normal people with normal lives and concerns (got to take the kids to daycare and pay the mortgage).

    However, most of them are also going to be married to their jobs.
    They take what they do very seriously, and they work late and skip meals if they're on a good story.

    And they stick with the stories, even when people are threatening them.
    Add caption

    Fiona - 
    Is this you getting pepper sprayed?

    Rob - 
    Yes, this is a picture of of me getting pepper sprayed with some of the sheriff's deputies ... I did that for a story, but also because when you're a crime reporter and need deputies to talk to you, it's better if they feel comfortable.

    Doing things like getting pepper sprayed with them makes for some fun bonding.

    Or, sometimes not fun.

    Fiona - 
    Thanks on much for coming on and sharing your expertise, Rob.

    And thank you fellow readers/writers. If you have a question or want to leave a comment please do so below. I moderate for SPAM so it will NOT show up right away, Also, if you like my blog, please share with your friends. There are some handy buttons below. Happy plotting.


    If you want to get in touch with Rob here are his links: 

    See original post...
  • The Intelligence World à la Hildie McQueen: Info for Writers

    Available for Pre-order 99 cents Only Available for a Limited Time

    Fiona - 
    Today, we're visiting with author Hildie McQueen.
    Hildie, you have an unusual back ground. You started off your career in army intelligence, turned successful romance writer, turned suspense writer.
    I'm sure you've found at all these turns that once in a while, circumstances line up and a hero emerges.

    Sometimes they are not your every day heroes. I usually ask this question at the end, but could you tell us your favorite scar story 
    and how the soldier and his dogs showed up at just the right moment ?

    Hildie -
    My life has always been about going with the flow. Following my instincts to see where they land me. Usually, it works out. I'm super excited about this new turn, a try at romantic suspense.

    How I got scar on my forearm (hidden by tatoo now)

    One evening back in 1982, I was heading back to my Army kaserne (post) from a beer fest. A girlfriend and I were especially proud of having stolen large beer steins. We were, I'm sure, talking obnoxiously loud as we walked down the street. About four blocks from the front gate, a group of Turks happened upon us. I'm not sure if they meant us harm or were just having fun. What I do know is that we were not about to find out, so we took off running. And they chased after us, cat calling and saying things in Turkish.

    It was not that hard to get away from them. And since we were both Army soldiers, that part didn't worry me. What did bother me was the possibility of having to drop my prize stein, and it breaking.

    When we got to the back wall of the Army kaserne, we split. I decided to scale the wall, while my friend Lori (the smarter of the two) sprinted to the front gate. I got to the top of the wall, used the mug to hold down the barbed wire as best I could and jumped down.

    Out of breath, I straightened to find that I had jumped right into the K-9 kennels. The dogs didn't bark at first, most cocked their head to the side and stared at me with puzzled expressions.

    "Hands in the air!" a military police guy came to my rescue. (Sort of, I think his gun was drawn.)

    He later told me, I was a sight. Obviously drunk, pants torn, mug in the air, blood dripping down my arm.

    He was nice enough to let me stagger to my barracks, and I was nice enough not to mention his dogs were not very good watchmen since not one bit me.

    Fiona - 
    Hildie, what was it like being young in Germany working in Army intelligence?

    Hildie -
    It was an adventure. I hung out with German friends and got to know the locals, which was super cool. Germany is a beautiful country. I enjoyed traveling to Spain, France, and Italy. The only regret was that I was so young, I didn't appreciate so much the beauty of the architecture and such. At that age, my German friends and I spent most of our time jumping trains and having a great time.

    The interesting part, was that I couldn't do some of the things they did because I had a Top Secret clearance and could be tested at any moment. So I stuck to the legal pursuits.

    Fiona - 
    Did you need to go through any specialized training or background checks to take on you duty?

    Hildie - 
    Oh yeah, everyone in my neighborhood was questioned. My mother was beside herself trying to explain to them that I wasn't a murderer, but had a special job in the military. LOL 

    Besides random drug testing, I have been polygraphed about ten times! I hate those things

    Other than my job training, I also had to do special anti-terrorist training yearly.

    Fiona -  
    Tell us about the polygraphing process and how you felt during the procedure.

    Hildie - 
    The first time, I wasn't sure what to expect. They sat me in a chair with a special cushion on it. Then a strap across my chest and wrists. Some sort of other monitors. Then they begin by telling you to lie. Those polygraph technicians were sneaky bastards, too. They would ask the same question over and over and freak you into thinking, "Oh no, am I lying?" LOL It's unnerving. But most of the time, I was done within an hour or so.

    Fiona - 
    Why a special cushion?

    Hildie - 
    I think people clench their butt cheeks when they lie.
    I never even thought about practicing butt cheek relaxation. LOL

    Fiona - 

    An hour seems like a very long and exhausting time - did you head to the bar afterwards?

    P.S. A valium will take care of all that. Did they do drug tests at the same time?

    Hildie - 
    Nah, it was usually during work hours. Go get tortured, then back to work. I know some people had a beer right before. Not sure if it helped.

    But they asked about drugs

    Especially if you started clenching because you needed a restroom break.

    I did fail once because I wanted to cough and kept holding back. They got mad at me and kicked me out of the room. I tell you those polygraphers are buttheads! ;-\

    Fiona - 

    So you passed with flying colors because you're such a good girl err, were such a good girl (I'm posting photos of you - so you can't lie about this)

    Hildie - 
    I passed because I didn't lie. Not because I was a "good girl." There's a difference ;)

    Fiona - 
    What did you do during the day. And what would have happened to you if you smuggled files out in your boots?

    Hildie - 
    I was a captains assistant. He was hot too, had one blue eye and one brown eye. I still remember him. Captain Carson. He was blond... 

    Oh yeah about the job, I did all kinds of things, mainly briefings and security - administrative type, not walking around with a weapon.

    I was taking paperwork to headquarters one day and didn't realize there were a couple of classified documents mixed in. That was not a fun day. They wrote me up and made me go through refresher training, which was funny since I normally did that. So I counseled myself! LOL

    I've never met a man with different colored eyes - what a fun detail. Have you worked it into any of your books? Oh, and Captain Carson, if you're reading this, a big hello from the Unlucky Seven.

    Hildie - 
    Yeah, I wonder where he is now. I am going to write that hero. Not sure but he'll probably be a cop or a cowboy!

    Fiona - 
    What are the different file classifications and what puts material into these categories?

    Hildie - 
    Confidential, Secret and Top Secret, then there's some super duper one called *****. 

    (Fiona's note - references to this top secret name had to be redacted for national security's sake - I was warned that if I posted it, the baddies would come after me and try to milk me for other information. If you are a baddie and think I have any kind of information at all - I DO NOT. And everything redacted is erased from my memory. But Hildie knows - go for her.)

    Hildie cont.
     I never saw one of those. Usually it depends on the measure of how much damage would be caused to National Security.

    Fiona -
    *****! HOLY MOLY, girlfriend. I wouldn't look at a file called ***** if you paid me my weight in gold.

    Hildie -
    I never got any closer than a rubber stamp with that on it. It was still new when I transferred.

    No telling what evil would be after me and mine to give up the goods.

    Yeah, most of us only knew a bit of the puzzle, rarely enough to be taken hostage by any baddies

    Fiona - 
    How would they transport ***** files - in a tank?

    Hildie - 
    LOL Probably a special courier. 
    Whose job I would never w ant.

    Fiona - 

    Were you trained for that - what to do if a baddie snagged you?

    Hildie - 
    Give your name and serial number. That's it, can't say anything else

    Personally I'd offer them sex and to cook or clean their house. I was not about to die

    Fiona - 
    As if you could "offer" something. If the baddies had you, they'd make you do whatever they wanted.

    You have to come up with a contigency plan - quick! What would you do?

    ...besides make a killer salsa.

    no wait!

    That might just do it.

    Hildie - 
    Hey, Mr. Badman, how about if I tell you what I read on an ***** file once? Plus, I'll give you Captain Carson's address.

    I'd make some crap up about ships and air craft carriers!

    Fiona - 
    Captain Carson appreciates your loyalty. You don't have my address do you?

    Did you learn ways to do research - find  information t hat isn't readily available to lowly writers such as myself?

    Hildie -
    In a way. I haven't used any. I don't find that world as fascinating as perhaps the world of police officers, snipers, and black ops. They are the ones that have all the fun!

    Fiona - 
    Did you think the world of intelligence would be more exciting - were you disappointed?

    Hildie - 
    Not really. I think I was a bit paranoid at first. But I got used to it. There were times I was a bit nervous like when spies were caught or when we had certain threats, but for the most part it was not as exciting

    Fiona - 
    Can you tell me about spies being caught?

    Hildie - 
    Not any specifics. But I did work with a traitor for a short time. I don't understand people who do that.

    Fiona - 
    Can you tell us about that experience?

    Hildie - 
    It happened in the 80s. Boring normal guy. 

    One day we are on shut down, can't leave the building. I was in Germany at the time. People that knew him were taken to be questioned. The rest of us were screened and released. I think I got home the next day early morning. It was strange, no one trusted anyone, and we all felt suspicious and paranoid. Didn't learn until months later what exactly happened. I'd only seen him in passing, so I wasn't one of the unlucky ones who was held for days. I remember being so mad at him. So angry that someone would do something that could potentially get us all killed. For money.

    Fiona - 
    What are three things that writers get DEAD WRONG about military intelligence.

    Hildie - 
    I haven't read much, but people assume everyone with a clearance has had a super secret mission. That military intelligence doesn't help as much as they should during war time, when in actuality, many of the servicemen and civilians in MI are first ones on the ground. And lastly, that MI folks are smart! LOL Nope mostly just crazy!

    Fiona - 
    Awesome. You are awesome, Hildie.

    Hildie - 
    Thanks! It was fun, had me reminiscing ! I'd like to mention the three cops I'm dedicating my book to. My friend Sheriff's Deputy Keith Warner, a guy that pulled me over in Alabama, and then became my FB friend. Officer Ryan Key. Scott Silverii. They're all heroes!

    Fiona - 
    They are indeed! Before you go, tell us about your novella in UNLUCKY SEVEN.

    Available for Pre-order 99 cents
    Only Available for a Limited Time

    Hildie -
    The last twenty-four hours have been hell, between a fight with her ex that left her with a bruised face and now finding a dead body. Somehow Eliza Brock still manages to feel the undeniable attraction to the handsome deputy in charge of the investigation.

    Sebastian Castro planned for another slow week in Lovely, Tennessee. Instead, the first murder in twenty years happens. Eddie Mason is dead, Eliza's ex had an ongoing feud with him and the widow is making the moves on Castro.

    It's definitely not a normal week in the small town. But it's the week fate decides to bring two solitary people together. Just when neither of them needs it.

    Heroine (Eliza) finds a dead guy, and her ex is one of the people of interest.

    She'd convinced the deputy won't ask her out now, so she's bummed.
    The Hero (Sebastian) while caught in the middle of investigation finds his attraction to Eliza distracting.

    I have a funny scene where they're kissing. She puts the breaks on it, and he falls off the couch! It cracked me up while writing.

    Fiona - 
    Ha! Thanks for sharing, Hildie.

    And thanks to the readers/writers for stopping by. Please leave any questions or comments below. I monitor for SPAM so they will NOT show up right away. If you found this helpful, please share. Buttons are below.

    Amazon bestselling author Hildie McQueen loves action, love and unusual settings. Author of western historical, Highland historical, paranormal and contemporary romance, she writes something every reader can enjoy.

    Most days she can be found in her pajamas hiding from deliverymen while drinking tea from her David Gandy coffee mug. In the afternoons she browses the Internet for semi-nude men to post on Facebook.

    Hildie's favorite past-times are romance conventions, traveling, shopping and reading.

    She resides in beautiful small town Georgia with her super-hero husband Kurt and two unruly boy Chihuahuas and a spoiled rotten girl Chi named Lola.

    Visit her websiteFacebook, Twitter, Google+
    See original post...
  • Is Death Growing in Your Garden? Information for Writers with Teresa Watson

    Available for Pre-order 99 cents Only Available for a Limited Time

    The hazard symbol for toxic/highly toxic subst...
    The hazard symbol for toxic/highly toxic substances.
     (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
    DISCLAIMER - This site is geared to help writers write it right. I am presenting information to help develop fictional characters and fictional scenes: this is for informational purposes only to be used for your fictional stories. The information is just a tiny bit about poisonous plants that is available. There is so much more that you can learn with a simple search. But this needs to be taken seriously, especially to protect your children and pets. These plants, while beautiful, are DEADLY, particularly to children and pets. Just licking some of these poisonous things can quickly CAUSE DEATH. Always check the toxicity of a plant before you add it to your
    garden or home.

    The following article was written by Teresa Watson.

    Growing Death in Your Garden 

    We all know the familiar nursery rhyme:

    Mary, Mary quite contrary
    How does your garden grow?
    With silver bells, and cockle shells,
    And pretty maids all in a row.

          But do you know just how deadly little Mary’s garden really is? Cyanide was a particular favorite of Dame Agatha Christie. In her mystery And Then There Were None , the first death was from cyanide poisoning. And who can forget those lovely aunts from Arsenic and Old Lace , who used arsenic, cyanide and strychnine in the elderberry wine to kill their gentlemen callers? (I highly recommend you watch the movie with Cary Grant and Josephine Hull; it’s one of my favorite movies!) In the 1962 movie Dr. No , the cab driver, after a fight with James Bond, kills himself with cyanide in a cigarette rather than tell Bond who he worked for. But not all victims who use cyanide die. Such is the case with Raoul Silva from the 2012 James Bond movie Skyfall . Silva’s suicide attempt by hydrogen cyanide failed, and it burned his body internally, forcing him to wear a prosthetic face to hide the disfiguring injuries.

    It was suggested to me that I use poison to kill off a character in my next novella, and I was shocked to discover just how toxic the plants are in flower and vegetable gardens. Take a look for yourself; I guarantee you will be totally surprised. I’m going to mention just a few in this article. I’ll talk about which parts of the plant are toxic, how toxic they are and the symptoms. At the end, you’ll find general treatment for these types of poison. 

    Water Hemlock/Spotted Parsley

    English: Cowbane or Northern Water Hemlock (Ci...
    English: Cowbane or Northern Water Hemlock (Cicuta virosa) a. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
    Let’s start with what the USDA rates as “the most violently toxic plant that grows in North America”:
    Water Hemlock/Spotted Parsley (Latin name: cicuta maculata). It doesn’t look deadly, with its tiny white flowers and umbrella-like appearance. You’ll find it growing near the edges of your property in pastures
    and meadows.

    Toxic parts of the plant:
      The whole plant - especially the roots of early growth. 

    How toxic
    Deadly to take by mouth or to apply to the skin. Death occurs within a matter of minutes, depending on the dosage.

    * The first symptoms include drooling, nausea, vomiting,
       wheezing, sweating, dizziness, stomach pain, lethargy, and
    * More serious symptoms include trouble breathing, convulsions,
       heart problems, kidney failure, coma, and death.

    Foxglove (Latin name: Digitalis purpurea)
    English: Foxglove Foxglove in hedgerow
    English: Foxglove Foxglove in hedgerow (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    I’m sure you all recognize the word digitalis. Doctors use digitalis to strengthen the heart and regulate the heartbeat. The most commonly prescribed drugs are digitoxin and digoxin, and patients using these medications are carefully monitored by their doctors to make sure they suffer no ill effects. In your garden, they are tall, thin plants, with white, pink and purple bell-shaped flowers.

    Toxic parts of the plant: the entire plant, especially the leaves of the upper stem.

    How toxic: 
    As mentioned above, it is used for medical purposes. But, if you need a quick, effective way to kill off a character, a high dose of foxglove will effective dispose of them.

    Blurred vision, confusion, depression, disorientation or hallucinations, fainting, headache, irregular or slow heartbeat, lethargy, loss of appetite, low blood pressure, rash or hives, stomach pain, vomiting, nausea or diarrhea, weakness or drowsiness.

     (***Children have been known to die by sucking on part of the plant.)

    Hydrangea (Latin name: hydrangea macrophylla)
    Hydrangea macrophylla (Bigleaf Hydrangea, Hort...
    Hydrangea macrophylla (Bigleaf Hydrangea, Hortensia) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    My mother grows these in her garden in the front yard, and I think they are beautiful. They grow so big, and the flowers in colors of pink, blue or white are simply gorgeous (hers are blue). So I was shocked to discover that they are poisonous!

    Toxic parts: 
    The entire plant, especially the flower buds.

    How toxic: 
    Think cyanide.

    * Itchy skin, vomiting,
       weakness, sweating. 
    * More serious symptoms
       include shortness of breath,
       dizziness, fainting, rapid pulse,
       a drop in blood pressure that
       can cause convulsions and death.

    Mistletoe (Latin name: Phoradendron flavescens)
    Mistletoe berries in Wye Valley
    Mistletoe berries in Wye Valley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    We all know what mistletoe looks like: a cluster of green leaves with white berries. A popular holiday decoration, all couples in love want to get caught standing under it for the kiss. But beware, looks can be deceiving, and enough mistletoe could give you the kiss of death.

    Toxic parts: 
    All of it, especially the berries.

    How toxic: 
    It depends on the dosage. Drinking anything containing mistletoe, or munching on the leaves, berries or shoots will, at the very least, cause abdominal pain and diarrhea (I’ve never tried mistletoe tea, but apparently people do drink it.)

    Stomach irritation, intestinal irritation, abdominal pain, diarrhea, reduced blood pressure, slowed pulse, nausea, vomiting, slowed heart rate, cardiovascular collapse, and seizures. 

    (***This is VERY potent for pets, so keep this away from them!)

    Lily of the Valley (Latin name: Convellaria majalis)
    Convallaria majalis cv. Plena
    Convallaria majalis cv. Plena (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    How could something with a name that sounds like it should be in a song be so deadly? They are very sweet smelling, and look like tiny white bells.

    Toxic parts: 
    The entire plant, especially the leaves.

    How toxic: 
    Even the water you put the flowers in will contain
    deadly traces of toxins. 
    One bite will give you a
    headache, hot flashes, hallucinations and irritability (sounds like menopause!). Enough of the toxins will slow your heart rate down, potentially leading to coma and even death.

    Besides the ones mentioned above, symptoms could include abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, confusion, fatigue, dizziness, and reduced blood pressure.

    Nightshade (Latin name: Atropa belladonna)
    Atropa belladonna or Atropa bella-donna, commo...
    Atropa belladonna or Atropa bella-donna, commonly known as Belladonna, Devil's Berries, Death Cherries or Deadly Nightshade (Solanaceae), Flower (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
     I've personally never seen
     a nightshade plant, but I
     have heard of belladonna. Mostly found overseas, it can now be found in North America, especially in areas rich with limestone. The berries are various colors of red, orange and green, and when they bloom, the flowers are purple with green pollen bulbs.

    Toxic parts: 
    The whole plant, especially the berries, roots and leaves.

    How toxic: 
    A single leaf can be fatal to an adult. You probably won’t even have time to call for help.

    Unable to speak, respiratory problems, intense digestive distress, and violent convulsions. 


    * CALL 911 or Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222. 
    * Try to find out how much poison the victim ingested and their
    * DO NOT make the victim vomit unless instructed to by
       emergency personnel.

    An antidote depends on the type of poisoning, and with all the medical advances that are happening every day, an antidote could have been discovered as I write this. General treatment is aggressive supportive care by paramedics in the field, and then by hospital personnel. Depending on the severity of the poisoning, treatment could include:

    * Activated charcoal
    Gastric lavage
    * Blood and urine tests
    * Breathing support
    * EKG
    * Fluids
    * Medication to treat specific symptoms.

    Quick treatment improves your characters chances. But even then, the symptoms could last 2-3 days. The important thing is to get treatment for your victim as quickly as possible. But since this is for fictional writing, it might be better to let them die…

    Fiona - 
    That was very interesting, Teresa. You put your research to work for you in your new Novella that is part of UNLUCKY SEVEN.
    Can you tell us about your story?

    Available for Pre-order 99 cents
    Only Available for a Limited Time

    Teresa - 
    It's time for the county fair, and things are heating up for the coveted "best pie" blue ribbon. But two competitors, Gladys Norwell, and Durlene Snodgrass, are disqualified the day before the fair. 

    During the pie eating contest, Gladys' husband, Harold, falls face first into his blueberry pie, and Gladys is the prime suspect. Did our beloved Gossip Queen kill her husband, or is someone setting her up? It's up to Lizzie, her beloved dogs Babe and Mittens, and the rest of the gang to
    sniff out the truth before the Queen
    is dethroned...permanently.

    Fiona - 
    Very fun! You know here on ThrillWriting we always like to ask about the story behind your favorite scar. Would you share yours?

    Teresa -
    Known to my friends as Queen Klutz, my scars (and casts) are many, but the favorite scar story belongs to my son. 

    When he was 18 months old, he wanted juice one night before bedtime. I told him no, and went upstairs to get his pajamas. Alas, my son has his mother’s stubborn streak. The one time I had to buy a glass jar of juice was the time he decided to pick it up. I heard a crash, and came racing down the stairs. There was a trail of blood from the kitchen, across the living room, ending at my recliner, where my son sat on the floor. A bloody handprint was on the seat of the recliner. I grabbed the phone and a beach towel, wrapping it around his right hand as I called my parents. After I hung up, I looked at his feet, and noticed a pool of blood under his left foot. Another beach towel went around his foot. 

    Picking him up, I went outside, holding him in my arms while I waited for my parents to show up. When they did, my mother got out with tea towels and a box of Band-aids because she thought I was overreacting. When she saw me standing there with him in my arms, she immediately opened the back passenger door so I could get in. Three hours later, seven stitches in his hand, and five behind the toes of his foot, we were back home. The middle finger of his right hand is slightly bent because of scar tissue, and is a reminder of that night.

    Before we end, could you tell us a little about you?

    Teresa -  
    Teresa Watson
    I’m the daughter of a retired Methodist minister, so I moved a lot when I was a kid. Familiarity with small towns and the people in them have helped me with writing my stories. There are plenty of characters to draw from for inspiration! I’m a wife of a wonderful man, a mother to a hard-working, sweet, kind and caring 20-year-old son, a granddaughter to an awesome 95-year-old woman who is the basis for a character in my new series, a daughter to two wonderful people who have been so supportive, a sister to a few, and a friend to many.

    Fiona - 
    Thank you so much, Teresa.

    And thanks to the readers/writers who stopped by. Please leave any questions or comments below. I moderate for SPAM so it will NOT show up right away. If you find this blog to be helpful, please share with your followers. Thanks so much! Buttons below. Happy plotting.

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