• TOXIC: Information for Writers from Forensic Toxicologist Sabra Botch-Jones


    Before you read ToxicI'd appreciate a 6-second hands-up. 

    I would like to land a contract with Amazon. 
    Amazon would like to know that people are interested in reading my books.  If you go to  THIS LINK  and press the nominate tab, you are helping me on my way. 

    Here's the PAYOFF FOR YOU - If you are on my nominating list at the end of the campaign (Jan 31 at midnight), and I am signed with Amazon you get a FREE ADVANCED COPY of WEAKEST LYNX. 

    If you like my blog, you should love the book. Here's the  LINK  again, THANK YOU! ~ Fiona

    Today, ThrillWriting welcomes Sabra Botch-Jones. Sabra is a Forensic Toxicologist and full-time faculty member at Boston University School of Medicine’s Biomedical Forensic Sciences graduate program. She teaches courses in Drug Chemistry, Forensic Toxicology and Instrumental Analysis in Forensic Laboratories.

    Fiona - 
    Sabra Botch-Jones, M.S., M.A., D-ABFT-FT
    Department of Anatomy & Neurobiology
    Boston University School of Medicine
    Biomedical Forensic Sciences
    Sabra, you have a very cool title. At what point did you realize that you wanted to be a forensic toxicologist?

    Sabra - 
    I realized that the field of Forensic Science was “where” I wanted to be in during my junior year of my undergraduate degree when I took an Introduction to Forensic Science course. I “thought” I wanted to be a psychiatrist. I did not know that the sub-discipline of Forensic Toxicology was my calling until I was working as an intern at the Federal Aviation Administration during my final year of undergrad.

    Fiona - 
    Here is a PRIMER on Forensic Toxicology.

    Can you tell us what a forensic toxicologist does?

    Sabra - 
    A forensic toxicologist is like a chemist. We conduct instrumental analysis on biological samples (like blood and urine, but also body tissues or even bone at times) to determine the presence of drugs, including alcohol, and sometimes other compounds (like heavy metals, etc.) 

    We are also trained in the interpretation of those results and what they may mean based on the case we are working with. For example, a toxicological result in a living person such as a Driving While Impaired (DWI) case may be different if we find the same value in a deceased person.

    Forensic Toxicologists can work in Federal, State, County or private laboratories. The cases can involve living and deceased individuals.

    Fiona -
    You're sitting on the couch in your den, enjoying a bowl of popcorn with some of your colleagues and watching TV - a crime show. What are the things that make you throw food at the screen and yell at the writers for getting it ALL wrong? What points do you want writers to pay the closest attention to so that you can enjoy the plotline?

    Sabra - 
    So, I don’t have a lot of time to watch TV. As the mom of a 2 year-old, I watch a lot of Curious George (which I love); therefore, I don’t get to watch a lot of crime shows. But if I do, the over simplification of some things and the time it takes drives me crazy.

    I don’t let it get to me too much because I know the producers and writers are working with time constraints to tell a story. Plus, as Forensic Toxicologists we are always trying to reduce the time it takes to perform analysis so at times it makes me wistful for faster analytical times. 

    There is one other humorous thing forensic toxicologist like to joke about and that is wearing white clothes in the laboratory. Besides our lab coats, we don’t typically do that, but now I do it on purpose because every time I do I think of a shows like CSI.

    Some points that would really impress me would be using the difficult names of our instrumentation like Liquid Chromatography Tandem Mass Spectrometry or Supercritical Fluid Chromatography.

    Fiona - 
    Do you ever go to a crime scene? Do you ever interview a witness or a family member? Do you ever seek (outside of the laboratory) evidence to support a theory that you came up with while doing your forensic analysis?

    Sabra - 
    Those are good questions, because the typical answer to that question would be no. Most Forensic Toxicologists stay in the lab and are very happy to do so. But, I have been very fortunate in that during my career I worked in a medical examiner’s office with a Forensic Anthropologist who needed help in recovering skeletal remains. Therefore, I have been to scenes -- some were and some were not crime scenes. In one instance, we actually found drug paraphernalia. I do not interview witnesses or family members, however I have spoken with individuals who believed they were being poisoned or victim’s family members to address their questions and concerns.

    Also, depending on the laboratory, we may conduct experiments to determine why something happened. One of those areas as a Forensic Toxicologist would be to recreate storage conditions to determine analyte stability.

    Fiona -

    With whom do you interface? How do the samples get to you? 

    Sabra -
    We interface with medical examiners, attorneys, police officers, judges, jurors, and at times family members. Depending on the laboratory, samples may be hand delivered or may be sent to us. 

    Fiona - 
    From whom do you get information for what you are looking for in the sample? Do the detectives ever sit down and chat with you about the case and their theories/what they are trying to prove?

    Sabra - 
    Case information comes in a variety of different ways. If medical information is available for a case, we would review it. We may also look at the investigators' narratives and police reports. Some police officers go through extensive training to become Drug Recognition Experts, and their reports can be very useful. Police officers or investigators do not usually discuss their cases with us, unless they need interpretation on what the results mean. They may want to understand what a drug is and what its effects would be. We don’t typically get involved in the “proof” of a case, as our role is that of a scientist or “fact finder”.

    Fiona - 
    Let's talk plot twists. If a sample is collected -- at the scene or a hospital, for example -- and it is properly packaged for clean chain of custody. Is there any way that a character could taint your sample or switch your sample or for that matter change your report to reflect something other than what was found? The presence of drugs for example?

    Sabra -
    As a plot twist that's a fun one but a nightmare in reality to a Forensic Toxicologist. 

    The purpose of chain of custody is to preserve and protect the evidence. But for this example, we don’t have to look too far for real life examples of mistakes that have been made. Storage is one, let’s say you have an unstable analyte that must be kept at a certain temperature or it begins to degrade. Leaving a sample locked in the back of police car (intentionally or unintentionally) might have deleterious effects.

    Another scenario would be switching out a sample before or at the lab such as having an “insider” or a “break in” at the laboratory. These all make me shudder but are reason why we have so many safeguards and security measure in our laboratories.

    Fiona -
    Have you been to court as an expert witness?

    Sabra -
    I have been to court as an expert witness and I have interacted with both the defense as well as prosecutors. As a Forensic Toxicologist in government laboratory I primarily dealt with the prosecutors or District Attorney’s office. As a consultant, I have dealt mainly with the defense. The hearing was fairly straight forward.

    Fiona - 
    What was it like to sit in the witness box? Did the defense lawyers try to rattle your cage?

    Sabra - 
    I have had attorneys try to rattle me before I took the stand so that I may not present myself in the best possible way. The witness box is a very important place to be and I believe an individual who has the opportunity to sit there should show it the respect it deserves. 

    Fiona - 
    Can you give examples of defense rattling techniques? That's good plot fodder.

    Sabra - 
    I had the opportunity to do an interview for The Setup (you can find my interview here:  http://sabra.botch-jones.usesthis.com/ ) and the image I provided was one of a flask and cocktail glass held up to my face. This image represented what we do as Forensic Toxicologists, looking for chemicals that enter the human body. I had an attorney show me the image before testifying and during the cross-examination. I believe he wanted to rattle me, but when he asked me about the interview I had the opportunity to talk about what we do as Forensic Toxicologists and the technology we use. 

    Fiona - 
    I always ask my guests to share their favorite scar story or lacking scars their favorite harrowing event story. Would you share?

    Sabra -
    I have been very lucky to not have many scars, but the ones I have I wear with pride. The longest was from an emergency C section for my son (I also have a couple on my face from him when I let his nails get too long). I am really fortunate to not only get to be a mom but also a scientist. It’s a tough balance, but being a mom, I think has complimented my new role as an educator of future Forensic Toxicologist and Forensic Scientists.

    Fiona - 
    Where could an author look for new material - what's being explored in forensic toxicology?

    Sabra - 

    One of my research focuses include New Psychoactive Substances, and I think this is a great area to explore for writers. Not just the use, but how they are made and obtained.

    Fiona -
    Sabra, thank you so much for helping us writers out. I truly appreciate your time and expertise.

    You can stay in touch with Sabra on  Twitter
    fTox Consulting, LLC. website
    BU faculty website

    Readers, as always, thank you so much for stopping by. If you like my blog, you'll love my books! Give one a try today.

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  • It's Not Over When It's Over: A Crime Survivor's Perspective - Info for Writers with Hannah Byrnes.


    Before you read It's Not over, I'd appreciate a 6-second hands-up. 

    I would like to land a contract with Amazon. 
    Amazon would like to know that people are interested in reading my books.  If you go to  THIS LINK  and press the nominate tab, you are helping me on my way. 

    Here's the PAYOFF FOR YOU - If you are on my nominating list at the end of the campaign (Jan 31 at midnight), and I am signed with Amazon you get a FREE ADVANCED COPY of WEAKEST LYNX. 

    If you like my blog, you should love the book. Here's the  LINK  again, THANK YOU! ~ Fiona

    TRIGGER WARNING - for those of you who might be triggered by abuse survival stories, please be cautious about reading this article.

    At ThrillWriting, I am particularly grateful when survivors come forward to tell what it's like to live with the aftermath of a crime. So many times in books, when a crime is over, the character moves on with life. I have professed many times before, I think it's important to write things right. And writing crime scenes right means writing the effects of the crime on the character.

    In the case of crime survival, one important reason for due diligence and correct portrayal is that people without context learn from literature. If we as writers say, "She was held at gunpoint," and in the next scene she's brushed it off like dust from her hem, then that is the expectation for real people in real-life situations, and it's just not the truth.

    Today, is mostly about PTSD. You can read about this condition HERE. But I would like to introduce you to another linked diagnosis called NEAD (non-epileptic attack disorder) or PNES (Psychogenic nonepileptic seizures). For today's article, we will call it NEAD. NEAD has many characteristics of an epileptic seizure without the associated electrical pathways associated with epilepsy.

    ThrillWriting welcomes our guest Hannah Byrnes; this is Hannah's story:

    Hannah -
    My story begins at age 7, when a well respected and sought after dog show judge showed an interest in my dog handling abilities.

    I was regularly winning competitions with my pets and had qualified for young handler of the year and this was the man everyone said would coach me. Little did we realize at the time but this man was a pedophile who by 1990 was found to have abused over 30 children, including me. No matter what anyone says, there is a lot of guilt, shame, confusion and embarrassment over abuse.

    Its often how other people react in the aftermath that causes the most damage. If you tell someone their immediate reaction is to tell you that its not your fault, and of course they are right. Yet every day discussions take place about how "children today are more promiscuous" that girls dressing in short skirts and makeup make them targets. Imagine how that feels at aged 7? 

    I went from a happy little girl who danced with fairies in the garden to being isolated, withdrawn and suffering from extreme night terrors. Eventually my brain learned how to block it out completely and until the age of 14 I could not remember anything from my childhood.

    But then my brain decided it was time to deal with it and saw the start of flashbacks, hallucinations, absence seizures and depression. To make matters worse I suffered two, independent, sexual assaults as a teenager. The police were supportive and amazing yet there is a lot of ignorance regarding rape and sexual assault that is commonly conveyed in conversations. 

    False rape claims are reported in the media yet statistics show that 6% of all crimes are false. I have seen plenty of men convicted of perverting the course of justice in the name of insurance or to get back at someone yet these stories do not attract the same media frenzy as a false rape claim. As a woman, being met with messages not to get drunk, not to give out false signals or wear revealing clothes is victim shaming. I even asked the rhetorical question of "why does this happen to me?" to get met with "you do not walk down the street with your head held high". So, you can imagine it is very difficult to speak openly about any of this for fear of being somehow blamed or treated differently.

    But the statistics for women suffering from assault are so high that chances are that female colleague[s] in [your] workplace have experienced the same as me, so from that perspective you should be aware of the effect of 'victim shaming' can have in the workplace. This cultural attitude makes it more difficult for people (men included) to speak out about sexual harassment in the workplace...

    Fiona - 
    Can you talk about how your NEAD diagnosis came about?

    Hannah -
    In short, I had started developing seizures when I was 14. It was diagnosed as epilepsy and for many, many years I had frequent seizures, as many as 50 a day at times. I was heavily discriminated against and developed an interest in disability rights and studied law.

    It was only when I was 29, when the seizures were so bad that they were considering neurosurgery that they actually reconsidered the diagnosis. That was when they linked it to my abuse as a child.

    You see, when someone experiences abuse they can separate from the images and feel nothing, I can describe what happened to me in great detail but be very cold. However, it was when I was working a case involving child pornography that my flashbacks and seizures triggered. 

    It lead to the correct diagnosis and ultimately my being cured via extensive therapy. I became an advocate, as PTSD is misunderstood, it is feared like many mental health and films etc tend to tell of the war veteran returning. Yet, 
    • 80% of people with PTSD are women 
    • 1 in 4 women in their lives have suffered sexual assault 
    • 20% of misdiagnosed cases of epilepsy is often NEAD as a result. 
    Fiona - 
    How did your physicians put this together? What are the symptoms of NEAD? Do they vary person to person?

    Hannah - 
    I had been dealing with the same team, and then moved. I was referred to a new hospital which just so happens to be the best in the country for NEAD. They went through my entire history, and I was admitted to the hospital for a week. They videoed me; I had an EEG on all week, and they would put me in various situations to induce a seizure. It was then that they found that my brain waves had nothing to do with my seizures. In epilepsy there is a correlation.
    The symptoms of NEAD are varied but look like epilepsy, so you will have types of seizures including absences where you just black out, but they may be accompanied by various behaviours as well or occur in particular emotional circumstances

    Fiona - 
    You were presumably taking anti-seizure medicines all along and they did nothing to stop this - but did they do you any harm along the way?

    Hannah - 
    The seizure meds did not work, or I would become violently allergic to them very quickly, so lots of hospital trips. Hence why I eventually got referred because of my difficult-to-control epilepsy. 

    I was actually on one for several years that doubled as an antidepressant SSRP - that worked for a time unsurprisingly, but then the seizures came back and an increased dose nearly killed me. I had several tonic clonic seizures within 24 hours and could not come out of it, it took 3 vials of ketamine for them to stop.

    Fiona -
    Tonic clonic seizures are convulsive seizures. 

    Is NEAD always correlated with PTSD? 
    Do you get a dual diagnosis or does NEAD take the place of a PTSD diagnosis? Can you explain how that works from a clinician's point of view?

    (Hannah is under the UK health system. Check your character's country for their diagnostic criteria, as they sometimes differ.)

    Hannah - 
    PTSD and NEAD are both dissociative disorders that have separate classifications under the ICD-10. 

    Fiona insert: USA uses DSM V

    Hannah (cont.)
    I was diagnosed with both because of my circumstances, but they can occur without each other. Often NEAD is related to trauma but it can also be hormone imbalances or related to another type of mental health disorder. seizures can be convulsive or absence seizures just like epilepsy.

    Fiona - 
    What is the therapeutic intervention? What kind of health care professionals are involved? And what is the outcome prognosis after someone receives a diagnosis?

    Hannah - 
    In cases of trauma, like mine, intervention is psychotherapy. Prognosis depends on how willing a person is to face their demons and change. Remember the seizures are a pattern of behaviour that has developed as a form of escapism.

    A lot of people relapse. But not me; I'm 5 years clear.

    With me, because I was just 7 when I was abused, my young mind learned to put my emotions in my dreams and nightmares. So I was very blocked emotionally for years. imagine feeling no fear, no anxiety, no guilt, no shame yet no love, no joy, no happiness
    Therapy for me, involved going back into my dreamworld.

    Most commonly, they look at the belief systems you have about yourself and start to unpick those. Deep down, as a result of the abuse, I believed I was defective and unloveable, so I had developed high standards of myself as a result, but when my law career took off, I felt like an imposter. 
    So we dealt with that negative chatter in my head first, because I was really cruel to myself, but as we went deeper, it became difficult to unlock my emotions around the abuse, so I went to a hypnotherapist...that's where the major work came.

    This last year, I have faced divorce, a change of life, etc...but my dreams have been the key so I started writing and the book is the result.

    Fiona - 
    To read about hypnotherapy and crime go HERE.

    On ThrillWriting, my readers understand that it is important to write it right - and that means not falling into the stereotype trap, but exposing victim issues as what they are in reality so their plotline is correct.  As a survivor advocate, what would you like to see writers included in stories both written and on TV/film

    Hannah -
    Well firstly, PTSD is not simply a series of flashbacks that cause someone to blow up a house or try and kill someone. Indeed, the flashbacks may not be that obvious either. They are only triggered in situations that cause you to feel exactly as you did at the trauma, and that is why it can seem bizarre.

    For example, part of my abuse was that if I did what my abuser wanted, he would make a big show of giving me attention and prizes. So when my boss gathered everyone around, because I had received a client compliment, and he wanted to give me a bottle of wine, I panicked.

    PTSD is not always the angry outburst that people tend to write about.

    In cases where there has been abused as children, they may have been subject to such severe subjugation that they literally curl up in a ball and shut out the world, thats what I do.

    Disassociation causes you to react in ways that protect you from feeling like that again. Relatively nice things can cause flashbacks if, like me, you don't believe you are worthy or have been conditioned to believe that no one can do anything for you without wanting something.

    There is a great book every writer should read about life traps called Reinventing Your Life. It explains how life traps are formed and how they expose themselves. It was the book that saved my life.

    Fiona - 
    So when you received the bottle of wine and felt panic what was the external manifestation? Were you able to hide it? Or was it evident and if it were evident did you then need to explain your behavior?

    Hannah - 
    I went very quiet. I was able to hide it, but it spoilt the occasion for me.

    Fiona - 
    As an advocate, you've heard many stories how does PTSD specifically affect a survivor's employment. How could they discuss the situation? What should their expectations be about their employers reaction?

    Hannah -
    I think anyone with mental health conditions can face stigma and stereotype and a lot of this comes from fears based on inaccurate or dramatic portrayal of those conditions.

    I am an employment lawyer, so I handle discrimination cases every day. In the UK there are laws to protect people with mental health conditions from discrimination. In my experience many employers are supportive, but if you are still having seizures or symptoms, it can be a difficult as the employer has to balance the needs to the business against the duty of care towards the employee.

    Of course discrimination does occur at an alarming rate. Some discrimination is overt. I have been told that they don't think I can handle the stress. Some is subtle. "Oh, we really need someone who can drive." (for a desk bound job). There is also harassment such as colleagues sending jokes or making remarks that someone is 'mad'. As a result, many people won't disclose their issues until part way into their employment which means they don't get the support they need from their employer
    Fiona - 
    What message would you like us writers to walk away with?

    Hannah - 
    Thinking on from a writer's perspective, the real story is in the courage it takes to address your past in those circumstances. 

    For me, my abuse gifted me with a wonderful vibrant imagination that I am now using to develop books. It can take a while, but when you are walking in darkness of PTSD, it is realising you hold the light all along that releases you as in The Dragon Children, which contains a lot of totems and messages about facing fears, being your truth etc...it was a story of transformation.

    Fiona - 
    The Dragon Children is a childrens' book that is just coming out.

    Hannah -

    The Dragon Children:The Prophecy has nothing to do with any of my experiences. However, it came to me at a time where I had completed my treatment and had started to identify everything around me that was keeping me in a bad place. It came to me in a series of dreams, and is about being true to yourself and walking your path to destiny. I learned a lot about myself during the creative process and am happier than I have ever been.

    Just like it my truth is to be a writer. I had enjoyed reading and creative writing as a child but through my experiences my creative side got shut down with my emotions so it is a real pleasure to be able to connect with that part of myself again. Writing is not therapy for me. However, it is my passion and my stories come from my heart. I hope that many will enjoy them.

    Once a generation, two children are born, whose destiny is to share the wisdom of the Dragons with mankind. Kai and Bridget were both born with a star shaped birthmark and were summonsed to Zomak to care for a nest of royal Dragon Eggs.
    When the Iron Queen struck, Kai and Bridget were separated, the dragon eggs lost. The outlook is bleak, though there is talk of a prophecy where Mans faith in Magic is restored and Dragons rule the skies once more.
    Only if Kai and Bridget can meet again, only if the eggs are found, only if the Iron Queen is defeated - only then can the prophecy be fulfilled.
    All proceeds of my book will be going to Make-a-Wish(R) Foundation UK Charity Registration Nos. 295672/SC037479. 

    It takes courage to live with a life-threatening condition when you are young, so every penny of the books royalties will go to grant magical wishes to young people. 

    Available February 9th 2015

    Fiona - 
    Thank you so much for sharing with us, Hannah. 

    Readers, you can keep in touch with Hannah on  Facebook  and Twitter.

    As always, thank you so much for stopping by. If you like my blog, you'll love my books! Give one a try today.
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  • When Writing It Right Is Writing It Wrong: Info for Authors with Jamie Mason


    Before you read Writing it Wrong, I'd appreciate a 6-second hands-up. 

    I would like to land a contract with Amazon. 
    Amazon would like to know that people are interested in reading my books.  If you go to  THIS LINK  and press the nominate tab, you are helping me on my way. 

    Here's the PAYOFF FOR YOU - If you are on my nominating list at the end of the campaign (Jan 31 at midnight), and I am signed with Amazon you get a FREE ADVANCED COPY of WEAKEST LYNX. 

    If you like my blog, you should love the book. Here's the  LINK  again, THANK YOU! ~ Fiona


    Friends, today Jamie Mason is in the house!

    Jamie is a spectacular writer, and I claim her as my very first writing mentor - she has been incredibly positive and enthusiastic, gently offering suggestions ever since I handed her my very first draft of my first novel and thought that I had created a masterpiece. 

    Oh the shame!  LOL.

    Welcome. Jamie, and congratulations on your incredible success with Three Graves Full. Since I learned from you that you have to be careful about your details, I thought we could chat about writing it right and when that's just wrong.  Do you have your coffee ready?

    Jamie - 
    I do!

    Fiona - 
    Are you happy and healthy?

    Jamie - 
    I have not killed anyone all day, so it's starting off great.
    (And yes, for a straight answer.)

    Fiona - 
    Today, you were going to tell me a weird true-life story that ended up in your book...

    Jamie - 
    I am not known for my coordination.

    I'm very careful or I'd be very clumsy. I can't dance. I can't skate. Playing the drums or piano or anything that would require my hands and feet to do very separate things is not recommended for people like me.

    I'm a terrible shot with a pistol and in darts, I'm really only aiming for the board, nothing more specific than that.

    Many years ago (like 17 years or so) I was home alone because my husband worked out of town during the week. We were only married on the weekends.

    I was talking to him on the phone and also being menaced by a horsefly in my kitchen. The conversation was going nowhere, because most of my attention was tied up in flailing a dish towel at this horsefly.

    But eventually, I'd had enough of that. These were the days of phones anchored to the wall, and I either had to abandon the phone call or do something about that fly. I suddenly became possessed by some action-hero demon and told my husband, "Hang on, honey. I'm going to knock this sucker's head off."

    I struck a pose that really should have required stilettos and waited for the horsefly's next pass. It dove and my arm shot out with a wave of never-to-be-repeated aim, With a flick of the wrist, the the horsefly’s head, its little wand of a brain stem still attached, hit the floor to my left and the winged body, still twitching, ticked against the linoleum to my right, a full five feet away.

    Yes. I decapitated a horsefly with a dishtowel four seconds after I called my shot like Babe Ruth.

    It was the coolest thing I've ever done and nobody saw.

    So I put it in a book. (Well, a version of it anyway.)

    Fiona - 
    There's a story that you and I share that went into this book as well, I think. Because it was such a weird thing to happen, I put it in one of my books as well. We were having coffee at a friends house...do you care to tell the story in your words and how it worked into your plot?

    Jamie - 
    Oh yeah!

    It was just a tiny little moment, but it's a turning point for the main character, Dee.

    What happened in real life is that you were utterly exhausted - with good and serious reason. I mean, we all knew this was true and a fact of your life at the time, but one little thing just illustrated it.

    You were fixing up your afternoon coffee with a packet of sugar, but in your distraction, you poured the sugar on the table and popped the paper packet in the coffee and stirred it with the spoon before you realized what you'd done.

    It was such a profound, albeit tiny, demonstration of your mental fatigue that I used it to illustrate Dee's line of "enough".

    Then she gets to solving her problem.

    Fiona - 
    In writing, borrowing from our memories of little scenes that stayed with us is such a useful tool. But I know that you are also a girl who likes her facts.

    When I'm giving lectures, one of the stories I tell came from you

    Jamie - 
    That's fun!

    Fiona - 
    It's really pretty funny. The story is about the poor guy who you called to find out about digging.

    Can you tell us the story in your words about calling the company and asking them about how long it would take to dig a hole and their reaction to your inquiry?

    Jamie - 
    Ha! Yes.

    There's a lot that you'll know about a story that won't go into specific words on the page. Just details, really. And you never want your Google to show up in the writing.

    When I was writing Three Graves Full, I knew that my main character had dug a competent grave.

    This was no shallow, stupid job. In my mind (but not on the page) it was about a 7ft x 3ft x3ft.

    I got into a wrangle with my critique partner, because he said Jason should do it in an hour, ninety minutes tops, but I had written that it took 3 hours.

    We went round and round, so I finally called an septic and irrigation company and announced that I needed to speak to someone who knew a lot about digging holes.
    The guys said, "I been diggin' holes for twenty years."

    So I asked how long it would take to dig a 7 x3x3. 
    He said, "'Bout an hour."

    I don't know if I cussed out loud or only in my head. But I did say at least, "WHAT??!!??!"

    He informed me that sure, most of that time would be spent getting the backhoe on and off the trailer.

    I was greatly relieved. "Not with a backhoe. With a shovel. By hand."

    He said that it would take him three hours in favorable conditions, but to triple the time for someone who didn't know what they were doing.

    So, I left it at three hours, but what I have Jason doing is likely close to unbelievable, since he wasn't an expert.

    Fiona - 
    Can you imagine that poor man's reaction after he hung up?
    Scratches head. "Why do you think that woman needed to know how long it took to dig a hole that's 7 feet deep and 3 foot square? With a shovel. Alone. At night...What she say her name was? Jamie? That sure sounds like a made-up name to me. Maybe I should *69 that call and let Sheriff Blankenship mull it over."

    One of the things that I like about your writing, Jamie, is that I know it's correct, but it's not a tutorial. 

    Since this is a site with the goal of helping authors to "write it right", can we talk about when writing it right is actually wrong? The "I did my research, and I want you to know it effect."

    Jamie - 
    Oh sure. Definitely. One of my favorite things about the writing process is the wide open access to expertise. Anyone will tell you anything if you say you're writing a book. And now, with so much wonderful information on the internet, it's even easier. But, like a slip under your sexy skirt, you never want your Google showing.

    I try to be careful about that, but it's hard. You learn fascinating things and you want to put all of this information into the story, but you just can't, because when your hero takes a ruinous kick to the knee, he can't buckle to the ground thinking that his anterior intercondyloid fossa has just been disengaged from his meniscus.

    Technical detail and jargon are, generally speaking, in blocking opposition to action, adrenaline, and emotion.

    Fiona - 

    One of the things that I like to ask people when they visit ThrillWriting is to share their favorite scar story - I think they are interesting things for writers to read - all the ways your heroine can get messed up. You have one about a doctor and a paper clip. Will you share it? I think it is novel worthy.

    Jamie - 
    Oh, cringe city.

    When I was about 19 years old, I slammed the tip of my index finger in a lead file cabinet drawer.

    Luckily, I didn't break the finger, but the impact had driven a lot of blood up under the fingernail and the pain was outstanding.

    The throbbing just never stopped.

    That evening, my boyfriend suggested I let him heat up a needle and work it into the flat of my fingernail to create a borehole to release the blood, therefore the pressure, therefore the pain.

    I refrained from hitting him, but told him to stay away from my finger with his grand ideas.

    By next day, I was ready to try anything.

    I had an office job in the main compound of a huge national insurance company. This place was a city block in total and honestly had its own zip code - and a doctor on site.

    She said she was a doctor anyway.

    I went to her to see if there was anything she could do to make this finger stop throbbing. She suggested a borehole to release the blood, therefore the pressure, therefore the pain.

    I said, "GREAT!"

    But where my boyfriend had wanted to use a sterilized, sharp needle, Dr. Manic pulled a large-gauge paperclip out of her desk drawer and bent it straight-ish.

    She had me flatten my hand on the table and pressed the blunt paperclip against my fingernail and all my memories after that are very slow and fuzzy. I do remember thinking, as I watched her arm shaking with exertion, that if she managed to get through the nail there was no way she'd pull back in time to keep from driving it all the way---

    And that's when she put the paper clip all the way through my finger.

    Blood splattered the wall and my knees started to buckle.

    Fiona - 
    Argh - oh my god my bones just turned to Jell-o

    Jamie - 
    Then, this crazy bitch grabbed up a bottle of rubbing alcohol and poured it into the hole. I nearly hit the ceiling.

    I think I didn't stop shaking for two hours.

    There isn't much of a scar on my finger, but on my psyche -- oh, you betcha.

    Fiona - 
    LOL now. I bet you were loving your boyfriend though for wanting to do it the right way - did he gloat "I told you!" 'You should have let me..."

    Jamie - 
    No kidding. I so wish I had done it his way.

    Fiona - 
    As we are discussing real life situations that inform our writing, research that influences but does not overwhelm our writing, I'd also touch on the concept of the plotting spark. The what if... or the how it would it play out...

    For example, in my novella Mine,  my plotting spark was, "Hey, did you know they reformulated OxyCodone so it turns to goo if a junkie tries to get high on it?"

    Your newest book, Monday's Lie, uses an plotting spark that is so amazingly cool that I cannot wait to get my hands on your book. (That's an appeal for an ARC - Monday's Lie is available Feb 3, 2015). 

    Would you please tell us the basics of your idea spark?

    Jamie - 
    Here's a little of the inception story of Monday's Lie.

    Back in 2009, I saw a FBI agent give a talk about, well, all kinds of things. He was working with the Fugitive Apprehension group and was explaining something about facial recognition technology.

    He said that humans processed faces top down. That's how we load them into our memories.

    And since hunting a fugitive can take a very long time, against an adversary who necessarily doesn't want to be recognized, they found a psychological trick to counter time and disguise attempts.

    If you study someone's photo upside-down, you load their image into your brain differently than all the thousands of faces your incredible mind catalogs the regular way. You'll be able to recognize this person no matter if they change their hair, wear a hat, wear sunglasses, add or remove facial hair, and, of course as we all must, age.

    I thought that was so cool, and it germinated into what became Monday's Lie.

    So, to all those writer people, Fiona's blog and all the expertise detailed therein is invaluable. You never know what little gem will turn into a story that works.

    Fiona -  

    Jamie, thank you so much for sharing your stories and wisdom with us today.

    Readers, as always, thank you so much for stopping by. If you like my blog, you'll love my books! Give one a try today.

    See original posts...
  • Writing with an Accent: Info for Writers with Peter Schmitz


    Before you read Writing with an Accent, I would appreciate a 6-second hands-up. 

    I would like to land a contract with Amazon. 
    Amazon would like to know that people are interested in reading my books.  If you go to  THIS LINK  and press the nominate tab, you are helping me on my way. 

    Here's the PAYOFF FOR YOU - If you are on my nominating list at the end of the campaign (Jan 31 at midnight), and I am signed with Amazon you get a FREE ADVANCED COPY of WEAKEST LYNX. 

    If you like my blog, you should love the book. Here's the  LINK  again, THANK YOU! ~ Fiona


    One of my loyal followers asked me if I'd do an article on writing accents in dialogue. 

    I thought about this for a while because it's a rule of thumb that we don't write accents. We should write special words or phrases but not write it the way it sounds.

    But it seemed to me that if we understood the background of learning accents, then the task of conveying a region or socio-economic background would become easier. 

    So I sought the help of Peter Schmitz.

    Peter is a professional stage actor and acting teacher working in the Philadelphia area. He teaches audition technique, acting, theater history, and does accent work with other theater professionals and students. Peter graduated from Yale University in 1984, summa cum laude, with a BA in History. He received an MFA in Acting from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in 1987. 

    Since then he has lived and worked in New York, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Philadelphia where he worked with such theaters as the New York Shakespeare Festival, Theater for a New Audience, the Guthrie Theatre, The Walnut Street Theatre, the Arden Theatre Co., the Wilma Theater, and Act II Playhouse. 

    Those with a interest in film will recognize Peter as a Parking Lot Attendant from the Coen Brothers’ film, “Fargo”, where they can hear his Minnesota regional accent! In 1994 he appeared on Broadway in “My Fair Lady” - playing, among other roles, that of the accent master Zoltan Karpathy, the professional enemy of the great professor of phonetics Henry Higgins! 

    So we couldn't be in better hands. By the way, if you are working on a script or screenplay and need some help for your actors, Peter is available for consultation for any theater project or project for film where a regional dialect is required by the text, or if the character is a non-native English speaker. Here's his website.

    Fiona - 
    Now that I've introduced your background, can we discuss your wonderful accent training program? Why do acting students seek you out?

    Peter -
    Well, usually because they are working on a specific role that requires a regional dialect or class accent in English, or because the character is a non-native English speaker, and therefore sounds 'foreign'. Either the student is auditioning for the role soon, and wants to exhibit expertise in accent/dialect work, or the actor is already cast in a part and wants to hone their skills during the rehearsal process. Other times, I am hired by a theater or director to work with the entire cast of a play.

    Fiona - 
    They walk in and say, "Hey there Peter, I'm from Dixie, but I need to sound like I'm from Boston." (I went to a play once where every time the actor left the stage and came back on he could affect a Boston accent, but only for the first 2 lines - it was a very surreal experience) Can you tell us about the process?

    Peter -
    If you already have a strong regional accent, it is often hard to do other strong regional accents. So much of how we speak is grounded in our experience as children and adolescents. Usually people who are able to 'switch' accents have already shown some skill at it at an early age. It sounds like the actor you mention was miscast. But sometimes it's hard for a director to find someone with all the skill sets they need, so therefore you end up with situations like the one you mention.

    Fiona -
    This is true and could be an interesting plotting point. That a character can "become" someone else by disguising their voice. 

    When I was a child, I lived between Canada and America. When I went over the Rainbow Bridge that took us from one country to the other, my accent would change - I didn't know this until I travelled for the first time with hubby - and it freaked him out a little - he has a decidedly Texan accent. 

    But as an adult, I do know that when I speak with people, I quickly start speaking with their accent.

    Peter -
    Yes, that probably shows that you have what writers and actors call a 'good ear'. The ability to hear and to mimic voices, which we start to do quite early in life just to learn language at all. It is a good skill if it is maintained. 

    Often people who live in non-dominant cultures are quite aware of how dominant cultures speak, and therefore it is essential that they know how to mimic them. Canadians, if you will forgive me, are quite aware that the US is the dominant culture in North America, and therefore are quite aware of how we speak here. On the other hand, most "Americans" could not imitate Canadians, or are even aware of what a Canadian sound is . . besides putting "eh?" on the end of a sentence - which isn't always correct.

    Fiona - 
    Which areas of the US have the purest accent - or lack of accent - who has the cleanest slates for you to work with?

    Peter - 
    Oh I don't think in terms of a 'pure' accent. 

    Actors, both British and American, used to be taught 'standard' accents, but that isn't the case anymore. Anyone can learn to adapt their regional accent. I was just watching "The Wire" and am quite admiring the way the British actors Dominic West and Idris Elba fully take on an East Coast urban American accent. Occasionally they do slip, to my ear, but it's very minor.

    Fiona - 
    How would a character who wants to work for the CIA, for example, develop an ear? And secondly, is that even possible to do as an adult?

    Peter - 
    Well yes, I do think an adult could learn to speak a believable accent. Certainly if you are very intelligent, and have some experience with speaking a foreign language, as I'm sure most CIA people are, then by learning certain basic principles you could learn an accent or dialect as an adult. "Developing an ear", however, might not be teachable. Really, in my experience, either you have it, or you don't.

    Fiona - 
    When you are reading a book and the person has an accent say the Dixie boy travelling in NYC how would you enjoy that accent being conveyed besides the ubiquitous "y'all?"

    Peter - 
    "Y'all" is a very important and useful word for conveying regional dialect! I wouldn't avoid it at all.

    But here we get to the crux of the matter. . . if we are talking about a book or a piece of journalism - something that isn't written to be spoken out loud (like a stage play or screenplay), then word choice and syntax is a very important matter.

    On the whole, it is important for writers NOT to try and reproduce the sound of a character's speech patterns phonetically. The answer for that it obvious: English orthography is not phonetic, as can be seen by the sentence: "Through some tough neighborhoods, Sugar thought that women should always have their cell phones."

    In the Nineteenth Century, a lot of writers, like Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mark Twain, or Joel Chandler Harris tried to reproduce the phonetics of their characters' speech in their writing. But now it is regarded as a bit of an embarrassment, and probably offensive.

    Word choice and syntax are the best tools for suggesting a character's voice. For instance, your Dixie boy might ask for a 'mess' of something as a collective noun, while a New Yorker would as for 'bunch'a'. Here in Philadelphia, they might use the very specifically regional word "jawn".

    Fiona - 
    Jawn? I'll bite. What is 'jawn'?

    You see? That's what an 'ear' is for! If you came around here, and dealt with a working class person in Philadelphia, especially, an African American, you would soon hear it. It's used as a substitute for any collective thing, habit, or experience. " 'at jawn is messed up!" "I'ma get me some of that jawn!"

    Fiona - 
    Please help us to understand the difference between the concept of accent v. dialect.

    Peter - 
    Okay. Well the words 'accent' and 'dialect' are sometimes used interchangeably, and that's all right. But for my purposes, an 'accent' refers to the SOUND and the MUSICALITY of a person's speech. What specific vowel sounds do they use? What is their 'vocal placement' (that is, how do they typically use their tongues and lips and teeth to shape their words)?

    That is why we can usually spot someone who is a non-native speaker of our own language. Most people find it very difficult to completely lose the vocal placement of their native language, and their habits of sound production persist when they shift to another language -- especially if there is a sound in the new language that is typically not used by their base language. That's why it's hard for a French speaker to say "H", and why it's hard for an English speaker to use the uvular "R" sound when they speak French.

    Fiona - 
    Oh, a great way to catch the spy!

    Peter - 
    "Dialect" implies all of the above, but also includes word choice and syntax. So a person from England might end a lot of questions with a reflexive "isn't it?", or a Canadian might end a sentence with that 'eh?"

    In this vein, can you give some advice to my readers who are screenwriters and playwrights?

    Peter -
    As for someone who is writing a screenplay . . .on the whole do NOT try to write the phonetics of a character's speech. Writing for actors, as opposed to writing for something to be read to oneself (like a novel), is something different. You can trust that if you instruct an actor to speak in a certain regional, class, or national speech pattern, then the actor will do their best to do that work for you! Be quite specific about what you want, but do help them out by being as accurate as possible in terms of syntax and word choice! 

    A writer who is writing for actors should always try and speak the words out loud while they are writing . . . does it sounds like the way real people talk? Even if you can't do a regional or foreign accent yourself, do your very best to make the lines sound like someone from that area.

    A great tool to use, if you are not familiar with a specific regional accent, is YouTube! It is so easy to find someone speaking or demonstrating accents these days! Just a little time on the Internet brings the world to your doorstep, speaking in their natural way!

    I used to go through such efforts to get regional dialect tapes or recordings. Now it is so easy for actors to get exposure to accents and dialects, and therefore it is easy for writers, too! 

    Fiona -
    And writers as well. I will play a movie that has the cadence that I want in my story over and over and over until it's like a musical score in my head. I find it much easier to write the dialogue when I have the regional rhythm down.

    Peter, you are so darned interesting! Thank you so much for coming over today and sharing your expertise.

    And thank you to ThrillWriting readers for stopping by.
    Remember, if you like my blog, you'll love my books! Why not try one today?

    Happy plotting! Cheers,

    See original posts...
  • The Big Bang Theory: Explosives Info for Writers with New York Times Bestselling Author John Gilstrap


    Before you read The Big Bang Theory, I would appreciate a 6-second hands-up. 

    I would like to land a contract with Amazon. 
    Amazon would like to know that people are interested in reading my books.  If you go to  THIS LINK  and press the nominate tab, you are helping me on my way. 

    Here's the PAYOFF FOR YOU - If you are on my nominating list at the end of the campaign (Jan 31 at midnight), and I am signed with Amazon you get a FREE ADVANCED COPY of WEAKEST LYNX. 

    If you like my blog, you should love the book. Here's the  LINK  again, THANK YOU! ~ Fiona

    ADR labels for dangerous goods, class 1 - Expl...
     (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    Today, we are visiting with New York Times Bestselling Author, John Gilstrap.

    I asked him over to ThrillWriting because of his expertise in things that are hazardous to our heroes and heroines and also make for lovely volatility in our plotlines.
    Fiona - 
    Well John, you went and did it. You hung up your hat from your "big-boy" job; and now, you are leading a life of leisure. Firstly, congratulations and much good fortune in your retirement.

    Can you tell folks what you did when you whistled off to work? Why are you a hazmat expert?

    John - 
    John GIlstrap
    In my "other" life--my non-writing life--I was a safety engineer. I got my masters degree in that field a while ago, and have been a safety professional for 35 years. My expertise, starting way back at the beginning of me career, deals with explosives, hazardous materials and hazardous waste. During my 15 years in the fire and rescue service, I was a member of the HazMat team.

    Fiona - 
    Okay - so John, you are reading right along. The novel has reached its boiling point. All hell's breaking loose. You're at the edge of your seat and then...the author blows it (figuratively) because they didn't know enough about explosions to make things work.

    Do you run into this often? And if so - what are some of the most common errors? 

    John -
    The most common errors that frost my flakes are huge explosions from little devices, or tiny explosions from huge devices. There's a general underappreciation for the effects of the overpressure. 

    A detonation is defined as a pressure wave that travels at supersonic speed. We're talking ruptured ear drums, crushed sinuses, really bad stuff. T here's likewise an under appreciation for shrapnel. a tiny piece of steel going very fast does lots of harm.

    Def. insert:  Overpressure , according to the free dictionary is  -  A transient air pressure, such as the shock wave from an explosion, that is greater than the surrounding atmospheric pressure.

    Fiona - 
    In your Digger Graves novels, things blow up a lot. His team's explosions don't really subscribe to the laws. So we have good guys doing technically bad things for the greater good. What are the assessment steps that he will go through to choose the right size BOOM.

    John - 
    People in the door-crashing business come prepared with specialized charges pre-made. Delta Force calls one type of such charge a GPC--general purpose charge. It's essentially a lump of C4 with tail of det cord (PETN) and a cap. That's great for opening pretty much any door.

    RELATED ARTICLE: Breach Entry

    In the Grave books, Boxers is the explosives guy, and he's been known to daisy chain GPCs for a really, really big boom.

    Jonathan's big concern is often collateral damage. You don't want to kill other good guys while trying to help the good guys. Sometimes, though, there's no choice.

    Fiona -
    Big Guy does like to make some noise.

    John -
    It's like his favorite thing.

    Fiona -
    With the GPC, how dangerous is it to carry (volatile)? What could make it go off unexpectedly, anything? What are the things that would make it not work properly and leave Johnathan and Boxers standing there looking for a plan B?

    John -
    The cool thing about C4-which a lot of people all "plastic explosives" is the fact that it's really hard to set off. In fact, a lot of soldiers use a chunk of it to start a fire. To get it to go bang, you have to hit it with another detonation. Under most circumstances, even shooting it with a bullet will not make it go high-order (detonate). Maybe it's time to go a little into the science here.

    Fiona -
    Yes, please! 

    John - 
    In broad terms, there are two types of explosives--primary and secondary. (And that pie can be sliced in many more ways.)

    Remember that most of this stuff is designed for use in battle, so you don't want the good guys blowing themselves up. 

    A primary explosive -  is one that is VERY sensitive to heat, f riction or impact.  I used to deal with azides that would go high order if you looked at them cross-eyed. Nitroglycerine is like that. You don't handle NG in glass because the energy of breaking glass crystals will make it blow up.  Primary explosives -  are the materials inside of "detonators" or "initiators."  Primer caps in bullets are also primary explosives. They're used in small amounts, but are easily set off.

    So. . . to get a secondary explosive to go bang, you "prime" it with a primary explosive/detonator. The energy of the smaller detonation will trigger a detonation in the secondary, which generally is a KFB kind of explosion (Ka-effing-boom)

    Most munitions have a safe/arm device built into it that will keep an accidental initiation of the primer from hitting the secondary.

    Fiona -
    So I'm imagining that from the secondary standpoint things could go wrong if 
    • It got wet? 
    • That the connector wasn't connected? 
    And I suppose the main problem with the primary would be it going off before we wanted it to?

    John - 
    Well, a solid connection is certainly important. That's why a lot of operators will use two detonators in a charge. The chances of screwing up both of them is pretty small. 

    As for the effects of getting wet, that really varies from explosive to explosive. It also depends on the definition of "wet." For example, the explosive that brought down the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City was a combination of ammonium nitrate (fertilizer) mixed with fuel oil. It's called ANFO, and as the world saw, that's a very effective combination. But ammonium nitrate on its own won't detonate. Neither will fuel oil. The wetness is important.

    I think writers get into really dangerous territory credibility-wise when they get into more exotic applications of explosives.

    Now, as far as danger from initiators going off prematurely, there are some pretty simple steps to keep that from happening. For example:
    • The wires to a detonator should always remain twisted together before they're used. By shorting out the wires, there's no possibility for an errant circuit setting them off in your bag.
    • Never carry primaries and secondaries in the same container.
    • And the last thing to be put into an explosive charge is the detonator. In a perfect world, that job is done by a single person. (I used to call that person "the most expendable employee." I served in that role for some time.) 

    Fiona -
    I just read a Michael Connelly book where a molotov cocktail was thrown down a trash chute. What are a few common homemade bomb types that would be good choices for writers to use in a plotline?

    John -
    I haven't read that one of Mike's books, so I can't speak to that, but Molotov cocktails kill as many throwers as they do throwees. When dealing with flammable liquids (gasoline) as opposed to explosives, there is no pressure wave, so the only damage is done by setting things or people on fire. Very inefficient.

    You'd do way more damage by packing strike-anywhere matches into a PVC pipe, sealing it, and throwing it. The fire inside the tube will burn without venting until the pipe bursts. (By the way, don't do that. It's one of the most sensitive, easily-ignited bomb that's ever been made.)

    Fiona - 
    Not that we are trying to hand out bomb making recipes, but let's say our heroine is running from the bad guy and finds herself in a janitors' closet. She has to make that shed over there go boom to distract the bad guy so she can save the day. What components would she look for and what might she come up with?

    John -
    Hmm. I think it would be really hard to make something go boom. Setting a fire would be simple, but with explosives, the ignition train is a problem. Even the ANFO I referred to above needs a detonator to get it to go.

    Breaking gas lines is effective, but it's hard not to be part of the fireball.

    Remember that scene in Bourne Identity where Jason Bourne shoots the Diesel tank out back and it blows up? Can't happen. Not only is diesel fuel hard to set afire (particularly in winter), it won't go bang. Gasoline won't go bang. It would just dribble out and catch fire.

    Oh! I have the explosive for your heroine!

    She finds a propane tank (or acetylene or any other flammable gas). Open the valve and sets the stream on fire. The place the flame up against another tank of flammable gas. As the second tank heats, it will increase internal pressure and leak. The flame contact on the outside of the steel will cause the pressure to rise. When the tank finally fails, there'll be a huge explosion. It's called a BLEVE--boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion.

    Fiona -
    Nice! LOL. 

    Lets talk about the boom. Earlier you mentioned shrapnel -- that hits good guys as well as bad guys. Along those lines, how far/how fast would they need to run to stay safe? Any truth to the people who dive through the air in the movies as the concussion hits, and they can roll out of it? 

    John - 
    The detonation velocity of TNT is roughly 4.3 miles per second. That's how fast you would have to run to out-run the blast wave. Now, the rules of physics mandate that the farther you are from the source of the blast, the lower the pressure wave.

    The overpressure of TNT at the surface approaches 1 million pounds per square inch. People don't fly through the air from that kind of pressure. They vaporize. They become humidity. 

    Now, consider that it takes roughly five pounds per square inch to bring down a concrete block wall, and you get a sense of how big a deal these things can be.

    Sound is merely perceived pressure changes that make the ear drum vibrate. Imagine a five psi (pounds per square inch) hit on that tiny membrane. Hearing loss is a real problem with explosives.

    More science...

    Fiona - 

    John - 
    Remember that nature abhors imbalance. Behind every pressure wave is a rarefaction wave (a vacuum) that is much longer in duration.

    So, after the blast wave shatters things, the rarefaction wave sucks on the shattered things. All the while, that blast is propelling hunks of stuff at high velocity--and then, on the outer reaches, it sucks them back.

    It's a pressure storm that you just can't survive. The only defense against an explosion is distance or shielding.

    Fiona - 
    How cool is that? (Unless you're in the middle of it.)

    If the good guys sets a detonator and needs to protect themselves - don't hide behind a car right? Where should they go? What should they do to stay close to the scene safely?  What with all of that blasting and sucking going on...

    John - 
    Well, we're talking about making the best of a bad situation, right? People with the longest careers move back a couple thousand feet before they detonate the bomb.
    But if that's a luxury your character doesn't have, then a good makeshift foxhole will do. 

    Fiona -
    So laying in a ditch, not so much

    John - 
    Laying in a ditch could help a lot, actually. Assuming you're a decent distance away. Remember that an explosion is omnidirectional (although they can be directed). If you're below grade, the pressure wave will be absorbed by the ground, and the shrapnel won't have a line to get you.

    But remember that gravity is a bitch. The stuff that flies up will indeed come back down--and sometimes ten or fifteen seconds later. You don't want to be hit by that.

    I always tell people that if you're around to say, "Oh,shit!" after the explosion, you're halfway to survival. Then you just keep your head down.

    Here's a good photo of what I'm explaining:

    This picture shows the first milliseconds of a very large detonation. Note how far the pressure wave is ahead of the flame front. Also, note that the pressure actually creates weather by condensing the moisture out of the air.

    Fiona - 

    Suddenly shifting gears on you, would you tell us your favorite scar or harrowing story?

    John - 
    Inexplicably, I have relatively few scars. 

    My fire service career provided some scary encounters with people who were clearly not sharing the same reality as the rest of us--that became particularly problematic when they were armed and I was not--but probably the scariest single moment for me was when I fell through the floor while fighting a fire. 

    It was in the wee hours, and the building on fire was a daycare center, meaning that there really was no life hazard to worry about. The structure was a converted one-story home with a basement, and at zero-dark-early, the visibility inside was south of zero, and it was very, very hot. But we couldn't find the seat of the fire. I told my crew to stay near the wall, and I moved out into the center of the room--among a forest of chairs and desks--hoping to find some sign of flames. 

    The floor went spongy under me, and then it went away, and I dropped through. It turned out that I was directly over the seat of the fire. As I fell, I was able to get my arms out to the side, cruciform, and that's what saved me from falling all the way through and burning to death. My teammates pulled me out, and I was okay, but that was unnerving.

    Fiona - 
    YIPES! And it's just such storytelling that makes your Johnathan Graves books some of my favorite reads. Can you tell us about the series?

    John - 
    I write thrillers about Jonathan Grave--a freelance hostage rescue specialist. The books are based on research I did for SIX MINUTES TO FREEDOM, the only book that Delta Force has ever cooperated with.

    Fiona - 
    Thanks so much for stopping by and helping us fellow writers and other curious folk learn about things that go boom. Just so my readers know, John has promised a return visit later in the year where we will learn about liquids and gases and other ways to be dangerous in our writing. So we'll all look forward to that.

    In the meantime, here is how to keep up with John:
    Readers, as always, thank you so much for stopping by. If you like my blog, you'll love my books! 

    Happy plotting! Cheers,

    See original posts...
  • 12 Steps to Getting Your Heroine Laid: Info for Writers


    Before you read Getting Your Heroine Laid, I would appreciate a 6-second hands-up. 

    I would like to land a contract with Amazon. 
    Amazon would like to know that people are interested in reading my books.  If you go to  THIS LINK  and press the nominate tab, you are helping me on my way. 

    Here's the PAYOFF FOR YOU - If you are on my nominating list at the end of the campaign (Jan 31 at midnight), and I am signed with Amazon you get a FREE ADVANCED COPY of WEAKEST LYNX. 

    If you like my blog, you should love the book. Here's the  LINK  again, THANK YOU! ~ Fiona

    Twelve steps - that's it.
    Foto de Tiago Nicastro e Juliana Rosen
     (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    Really, it's pretty easy from a physical signalling point of view.

    Just how far your heroine lets things go before she throws up a block is up to you. I mean -- she is acting a little stressed out. A little wild monkey sex might just be the thing...

    It's going to take some plot-thought, though. There are lots of decisions that influence the 12 steps to getting your heroine laid.

    Consider your characters - both partners of the potential hot and steamy scene. Things can go very very fast or very slow. It can go smooth as silk, or you can take them on a turbulent ride.

    Who's involved?
    1. What are their personal moral backgrounds?
    2. What have they experienced in their intimate pasts? What would
        help? What is a roadblock?
    3. How do they see intimacy? What is the import? Is she using him
        to gain state secrets? Or does she  have too many cats and too
        little human affection?
    4. Where do they want this relationship to go? Is this a wam bam
        thank you, man; or is this heading  to a lifetime of commitment.
    5. How about the cultural norms of the region, the time period, and
        the families?

    This information is based on scientific study. Desmond Morris in his seminal book   Intimate Behaviour: A Zoologist's Classic Study of Human Intimacy  laid out 12 simple steps. 

    The 12 Stages of Physical Intimacy

    1. Eye to body –  The girl is in the power seat. 
    The female will take in the body structure, clothes, bearing and other clues. If she is attracted, she will seek step 2.
    But it doesn't have to produce attraction. All primates follow these same patterns so either person can re-route the interactions at any point in the continuum. Someone might be walking in and meeting their boss for the first time or their whomever. Eye to body - prejudging happens first.

    2. Eye to eye –  
    Eye to eye for the first time is a very important stage setting for their interactions. What does your heroine see there? Safety? Menace? Disinterest? What does she offer up in her gaze as a return? Self-preservation? Intelligence? Cunning?
    In attraction-interaction the woman will hold the gaze for a nano-second longer than is the norm, and then flick her hair or give some other preening body information, allowing the male to approach (see this blog article on attraction).

    Ah, potential studmuffin  passed the test. He got a hair flick offered up. Now the ball is in HIS court.
    Stud-muffin likes what he sees; she has merriment in her eyes. He'd like to know what's put it there. He weaves his way through the crush.

    3. Voice to voice – Holy smokes - someone has to start the interaction, typically the approaching male. Please, nothing schmarmy...

    Let's keep it simple. How about he says, "Hi, I'm Reed," and then offers his hand for a greeting handshake?

    4. Hand to hand (or arm) – She accepts the shake,  and they are 1/3 of the way to bed!

    Well a handshake isn't really going to get him past #4. This is walking hand in hand, or her resting her hand on his forearm, possibly her taking his arm as she totters along on her high heels. 
    How's your hero doing in his wooing  efforts? If he jumps around the continuum, I'm not saying he's not going to get any. I'm just saying there's kind of a plan in place for all primates and if he moves from 1 to 2 to 3 to 4 and so on up the charts, it's going to be a smoother ride. (He did hold back that schmarmy pick-up line, right?)

    5. Arm to shoulder 
    So they leave together walking arm in arm, things are looking up from your heroes dry spell.

    "Wait," you're thinking. "What if it didn't work this way? What if things jumped from steps 0-6 in 1.2 seconds?"
    Your hero, chasing the villain is running down the street. The villain turns and pushes the girl into the hero's arms and vaults through the doors as they close on the subway. The heroine has not assessed hero's body, not caught his eye, didn't give him the "you may approach" signal, never heard a word from his lips directed at her only the "Stop!" that he was shouting at the bad guy. All of a sudden without the benefit of hand to hand then arm to shoulder, he's got his arms wrapped around her waist. 

    That, my friend, is going to take some unraveling. It could be a really fun piece of writing. She may be moving through the steps to quickly catch up - but since she didn't get to signal, things are not going as biologically planned. It's going to be awkward. They're going to flounder to get back on the path - whether their aim is to take all 12 steps or not.

    6. Arm to waist, or back – 
    • Read this as a man signalling that this is his (potential) mate. Back off, buddy.
    • It is also read as a protective gesture. 
    • Think about how the couple walks into the room/restaurant/event. Does your hero stake his claim so all of the other men glancing up know the girl's not available? 
    • Also think slow dances and whispered conversations.

    7. Mouth to mouth – the kiss. Sigh. Do you see that they are more 
    than halfway down the path BEFORE the kiss can happen?

    8. Hand to head – This can start with something like tucking a stray piece of hair behind her ear. Or she puts her head on his shoulder, and he strokes her hair. Maybe she is attending to his head wound. Lots of creative ways to do this. Think about it, since you've grown up, how many people besides your hairdresser, do you let touch your head? There has to be a special connection for this to feel okay. 

    Don't skip this step as you write the ramping up of a romance - for some reason it's one that often gets overlooked. Your audience may not know why they didn't buy into the scene - but on some biological level, they know a step has been missed. If she's a spy who needs the flash drive - that's okay; it's not about an emotional commitment. But if this is your main romance, slow it down studmuffin and do your due diligence.

    9. Hand to body – This is the first step to foreplay. This is decision making time for your characters - how far are they willing to let this get in this scene?

    10. Mouth to breast –Either partner can make a decision about calling it a pass, and moving toward the door. Feelings are going to be hurt. Frustrations are going to be ramped. Sure, she can say "stop" and "no" at any point. But really this is kind of the polite time to give the partner a heads up - "This is fun, but I'm not the kind of girl who does it in the back seat of a car with a stranger -- no matter how well tasks 1-9 were performed."

    11. Hand to genitals - The further the characters move towards coitus the more difficult/frustrating/plot-twisting it will be if they are suddenly stymied. His anatomy isn't cooperating. The husband bursts into the room. They hear a window break downstairs.

    12. Genitals to genitals – TAH DAH!!!!!

    On stage or off stage. Fast or slow. Bumbling or smooth - lots of wonderful decisions to be made here. Coitus Interruptus. Completely content. Raisin in the sun - in desperate need of rehydration... 

    Now to write the ramifications.

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    Happy plotting! 

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