• Autopsies 101: Info for Writers

    English: Skull and crossbones
    English: Skull and crossbones (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
    The ambulance guys think he died of anaphylactic shock,” the young policeman’s partner confided to Sean, as they took the body out. “Looks like the seafood did for him. You wouldn’t think prawns were dangerous, would you? Anyway, no foul play, so everyone can relax. Of course, there’ll have to be an autopsy.”

    Cadillac Fleetwood hearse 1990s. Photographed ...
    (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
    So someone is dead. The body was collected. And now you're at the point where your plot needs scientific data. Decisions must be made.

    All deaths are given a CAUSE and a MANNER. Though either or both can be listed as unknown. This is particularly true if the remains have decayed substantially. (See skeletal remains HERE)

    Why = cause of death - what trauma or happening terminated the
                person's life?

    How = manner of death

    * In most of US there are only five reasons for a death:
    1. Natural
    2. Accidental
    3. Homicide
    4. Suicide
    5. Unknown
    In some states a 6th manner is:
    6. Therapeutic - this relates to a death that is the result of a medical intervention

    Ultimately, it is the CORONER or MEDICAL EXAMINER (this depends on the location) who makes the decision about what is listed as the cause and manner of the death. 

    The CSIs, anthropologists etc. inform the Coroner or Medical Examiner by presenting their scientific findings.

    Only about 1/2 of the United States uses the coroner system. A coroner is an elected county official who may or may not be a medical doctors. 

    Go HERE for more information. 

    It is usually a part time job with a small income.

    Only 4 states require their coroners to be medical doctors: Ohio, Kansas, Louisiana, North Dakota

    Because coroners are often elected officials, there are often problems with on-going cases and transferring/losing files. This might be a good place to twist your investigatory plot.

    The coroners do not do autopsies. Their job is to certified deaths in their jurisdiction and order an autopsy when one is required. Smaller jurisdictions will contract with larger areas to do their autopsies. 

    Some states have opted out of the coroner system and use instead a MEDICAL EXAMINER or MEDICAL INVESTIGATOR.  So you will want to do some research into the state/jurisdiction in which the body is found in your plot line.

    For more information go HERE.

    ME or MI are usually appointed individuals with educational backgrounds in medicine and death investigation. 

    Autopsies are conducted by MD and DO who have specialized training.

    * Pathologists with specialized training in understanding the
       disease and traumas in/on a body such as
       ` High energy impact
       ` Stabbings
       ` Gun shot wounds
       ` Poisons
       ` They need to be able to tell what was a disease prior to death
          and what was a trauma that created  the death.

    In the Morgue

    * The body is logged in.
    * Anything that came with them is catalogued.
    * The body is weighed and measured.
    * The pathologist and coroner will decide on the timing of the
       autopsy. Is this an urgent case? Should it be bumped to
       the front of the line? For example, is there is a killer on the loose?
       The police might need the findings  quicker than if they are
       looking at a probably heart attack.
    * The body is then stored in a cooler.

    The Autopsy

    * Performed on bodies in the early stages of decay.
    * In bigger offices, consultations often happen. They often have
       regular meetings to discuss various cases. So you could plot
       different individuals with varying backgrounds weighing in.

    External Exam
    * A complete external exam is conducted clothes
    * Notes and photographs are taken
    * This initial exam is very important because the condition of the
        body is about to be forever changed.
    * Looking for trace evidence like 
       `gunpowder residue (go HERE
       `fiber evidence 
        Once collected the trace evidence will be sent to a crime
       laboratory for further investigation.
    * Whole body X-rays can be taken to look for broken bones,
       foreign objects such as bullets, and previous surgical hardware
       that might be helpful in identification of an unknown body.
    * Then the clothes are removed. 
    * Further tests are performed.
        ` They look for other hair - ex. they might comb the pubis looking
        for pubic hair as a part of a rape kit. (hair forensics HERE)
       ` They might take fluid samples. For example, they might look
          for/collect semen in the vagina or anus. (serology forensics
    * Once all trace evidence is collected the body will be washed if it
       is needed.
    * A second external exam takes place, with photography of surface
       trauma. Also, anything that might be useful in determining
       identity such as past scarring, and tattoos.
    * Sometimes they will take fingerprints which they run through
       IAFIS (fingerprint forensics go HERE)

    Internal Exam
    * Y incision from clavicle to sternum, and then down to the pubic
    * Skin is pulled back and the ribs will be examined
    * A rib spreader and scalpel are used to expose the organs under the
       rib cage and sternum
    * A visual  exam is done first called an In Situ exam.
    * Individual organs are removed.
    * Each organ is weighed, measured.
    * Tissue samples are processed and turned into microscope slides
       for viewing by slicing them with a  microtome. The exam is
       called a histological exam.
    * Fluids are collected for the toxicology lab (go HERE). The fluids
       might also be sent to labs to look for bacteria and viruses (this is
       NOT routine).
    * Brain - the scalp is cut and pulled down over the face (so that it
       can be put back in place if the family wants to have an open
       casket funeral.) A bone saw cuts open the skull cap. The brain
       can be examined in place and/or can be removed. This is
       processed differently than organs. 
    * Sometimes the skin on the limbs is opened to see if there are
       signs of trauma beneath the skin. In people with dark skin, for
       example, bruising is not always as obvious on the surface of the

    Finishing Up

    Once all of the tests are run, the pathologist moves on to the next body. The morgue attendants close up the body.
    * The organs are put in a plastic bag and placed in the cavity so the
        body doesn't look deflated - they are not in their anatomical
    * Skull cap is replaced
    * Sutures are put in place to close the skin.

    The Family -
    * On occasion will need to identify the body
    * Also works to with the coroner/pathologist to get the medical and
       dental records to the staff.
    * Will give permission to harvest organs for donation if the organs       are  still viable.

    The body is released to the funeral home if they know the name of the remains. If the remains are unidentified, then a decision is made on how long/what the officials will do with the remains.

    See how this article influenced my plot lines in my novella MINE and my novel CHAOS IS COME AGAIN.


    Thanks for stopping by. You can leave comments below. I moderate for spam so it won't show up immediately. If you found this blog helpful, please tell your friends. Social buttons conveniently below. Happy plotting.


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  • Keeping Your Heroine Safe - Situational Awareness in Your Plotline with Doug Cummings

    English: Chicago skyline at sunrise Deutsch: C...
     (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
    Hey there! 
    Today Doug Cummings is visiting with us here on ThrillWriting
    to talk about your character's situational awareness and his new book Escaping the O-Zone.

    Escaping the O-Zone is a product of Doug's more than thirty years of experience as a deputy sheriff, security consultant, and television and radio crime reporter. 

    Doug - did I get that all right? What should we know about your background?
    Doug Cummings

    Doug - 
    I spent my college years and a few thereafter as a deputy sheriff, did some security consulting work and then morphed into a broadcast reporter covering crime darn near exclusively for more than 25 years.

    Fiona - 
    25 years of crime reporting in Chicago - that's a lot of time looking at the underbelly of society.

    I've just finished reading your book, O-Zone. I'd like to talk with you about 
    the lessons you garnered from your experiences and how writers can apply your work to writing their characters in a more realistic and recognizable way.

    I am particularly interested in portrayals of teens and young adults as their attitudes about personal safety seem to put them right into harms way. Let's start there. From you experience seeing the effect of crimes,  what can you tell us about  that group and choices

    Doug - 
    To be clear, my work was not entirely in Chicago, some in Kansas City, but yes, it was a job that required a lot of emotional distance and a fair amount of mental alertness.

    One of the first and hardest lessons learned both in law enforcement and in the news business is how quickly a situation can change.

    It's cliched to say that teens and young adults think they're invincible... I'm not sure that's quite the attitude. It seems to me that they are indifferent. In part, that's because some have experienced repeated violence ...friends killed...maybe they have been victims themselves, and they accept it as a part of life

    I think a lot of the kids in the well-to-do neighborhoods and suburbs are indifferent for precisely the opposite reason...they've never had firsthand experience.
    This applies to adults as well. Not invincible as much as, thinking that crime will never happen to them.

    Fiona - 
    Let's talk about that point. People from different areas/backgrounds will perceive of events and react to events differently. 

    Can you sketch a quick NA character and place that character in a suburban setting and then do it from inner city? 

    Doug - 
    I'll use the term "kids" because that's how they appear to me...not to be insulting.

    Fiona - 
    Understood. It's also understood that you are painting with a broad brush and your comments are generalizations.

    Doug - 
    Suburban kids focus on themselves, their gadgets, and their friends/relationships. They are the ones I most often see in the O-Zone or Oblivious Zone. Texting as they walk down the street, drive, ride their bikes, or even hang out in the water. Their awareness of what's happening around them is limited to about a two foot radius, if that. They have no conception of "danger" because it's not really been an issue for them.

    I just talked to a friend who's worried about his daughter. She's 20, just moved into an apartment in Chicago ...a garden apartment with a sliding glass door and a hallway door. She prefers to use the patio door for it's easy access to her car, even though the door doesn't lock.

    Fiona - 
    He has every right to worry!

    Doug - 
    Sure. Obviously, that presents a security problem. Fortunately, she also has a dog she loves. I suggested to my friend that he talk to her about people who steal dogs for a variety of unpleasant reasons

    She's now dropping a metal bar into the track of the sliding glass door, has asked for a deadbolt lock on her hallway door.

    Oh, and is in line to rent an apartment on a higher floor

    Fiona - 
    Often, suburban kids are zoned out and can't conceptualize violence coming towards them. Please talk about why this set suburban kids up for bad things and how an inner city kid might be a harder target.

    Doug - 
    While my experience with inner city young people is limited, I can say those I have known - those who come from neighborhoods where street crime is common and Mister Drive-By visits daily - are yes indeed, a far harder target.

    They seem to have the instincts you'd expect of a child growing up in a war zone. They know not to walk their dogs in the fields where land-mines are planted, so to speak

    They may listen to their tunes and focus on their friends but one kid I talked to says he never wears a headset in certain neighborhoods.
    * for fear of theft 
    * for fear of mis-identification as a gang member 
    * for fear of missing the sound of gunfire or a car roaring up on

    He's a kid who knows to roll off the bed onto the floor in the middle of the night if he hears any unusual noise outside.

    He's 13 by the way.

    Fiona - 
    Let's move farther into our scenario,

    The suburban kid (we're stereotyping here for illustrative purposes) is zoned out and can't imagine violence/crime happening within her sphere. The harder inner city target is aware and has some stay-safe auto-responses. So these are what we would call a soft target and a hard target - when violence/crime happens how might these two examples React differently?

    Doug -
    Let's take it to the extreme ...

    Gunfire: suburban kid may or may not hear it (headphones) and even if she hears it, she may not identify the sound properly.

    The inner city kid (if headphone equipped) may have the same problem but won't be wearing the headphones if their subconscious threat assessment capability tells them they're in a dangerous place.

    I think that's a significant point...kids with no experience dealing with danger or threats will be slower to get out of the O-Zone. To them, gunshots in real life don't sound the way they do on TV, so it could take them critical moments to understand what's happening.

    Someone who is quasi trained will hit the ground or at least look for cover immediately. For someone who is untrained, it'll be a bit like waking up from a nap or light trance for them.

    Once they realize they have been threatened with a gun, most people, young and old, will react from fear. Bad place to be but as babies, we all learn emotional responses first. Training can mitigate that...and I mean hard core police or military training that becomes reflexive. No thought required. you see the gun you have an immediate series of responses programmed.

    Fiona - 
    Gun shot is the extreme. Let's make it more personal - they actually encounter a thug. 

    Doug - 
    That scenario is more realistic. Most kids, urban or suburban, know what it's like to be bullied. They'll recognize an overt threat when they're approached. The more subtle variety is where a street smart kid who's grown up with a sensitivity to bullshit and the suburban kid may react differently.

    A kid will generally submit ... fear delays us and that limits our options so we give in...especially to a gun or knife. That said, the cocky type A may (especially if emboldened by alcohol) not recognize the seriousness of the situation or just won't back down.

    The cocky type A with a little bit of training in self defense is scary. No way is an amateur trained to deal with a firearm threat. Remember...the really bad guys "train" as predators their whole lives. They're always looking for victims and have no conscience. The newbie bad guys are even worse...they don't know that some victims react unpredictably and if someone twitches at the wrong moment, they shoot out of fear.

    The most important thing young adults and new adults...everyone ... need is awareness. 
    The headsets while jogging? Nix 'em. 

    In my book Escaping the O-Zone, I make the point that situational awareness is like defensive driving...hopefully it's something we do automatically. We learned to drive, and we can learn to pay attention to our surroundings.

    Give yourself a checklist if that helps. Every time you walk into a new place...identify the exits. Walk into crowds, any crowd, as though you're looking for someone. That keeps your head up. Always pay attention to sounds...even in a loud environment, the ambient noise will change if something significant happens. The President walks in, or someone gets knifed in the corner of a bar. Pay attention to conversations too. You hear a drug deal going down and you might want to leave the area.

    I'm told one of the best things about Escaping the O-Zone is that it's short and to the point. And I don't try to reinvent the wheel. This isn't paranoia...fear is counterproductive.

    Fiona - 
    Doug Please tell me a favorite harrowing story that you survived.

    Doug - 
    One of the "secret" reasons I wrote the book was that I've wandered into the O-Zone myself far more than I'd like to admit. 

    I was held up in a cemetery when I was a teen, for example. But a few years ago I was on my way to cover a third-floor porch collapse in the city...a tragic multiple fatal incident that happened during a large party where every third person was a drunk college student. Their friends were dead and the media showed up. The students were angry and confrontational. Running toward the scene, I failed to note a guy and two women coming toward me, fuming. They saw my audio recorder, screamed at me for wanting to "put our dead friends on TV," and the guy came at me to yank away the recorder. Fortunately, I broke away and by amazing luck not skill, smacked his face into a brick wall, dissuading him and probably sobering him AND his friends a bit. 

    My mistakes were all in awareness: I knew there had been violence toward other reporters, I should have (a) hidden the recorder, (b) not worn my hat with the station logo (c) hidden my credentials, which were on a lanyard around my neck, (d) and should have noticed the attitude and intent of the trio before they got to arms length.

    Advance planning, consideration of threat level, and awareness

    let me just say the cemetery incident alerted me to the fact that 16 year old boys do wet their pants when surprised by dark figures with knives in a graveyard late at night

    Fiona -
    Good to note. 

    You can read more about Doug and his fiction books HERE.

    . So Writers, how aware is your heroine? Is she chatting on her phone while walking down the street? Is she lost in a good song on her headphones? Does this give your villain the opportunity to pounce?

    In my book Chaos Is Come Again - distraction at a pivotal moment had dire consequences. You can read it by clicking HERE.

    Thanks for stopping by. If you have any comments or questions please leave them below. Remember, I moderate for SPAM so they won't show up right away. If you'd like to share with your friends, I encourage you to use the social buttons below - and thank you kindly. Also, if you like my blog, I bet you'll love my books. Happy plotting.


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  • Blood Alcohol Levels - Info for Your Inner Writerly Geek

    Image found publicly on Facebook
    Just how drunk is your character?

    Because it's fun to play with numbers.

    Widmark Formula -

    (alcohol consumed in ounces X percentage of alcohol) x 5.14   =   BAC (blood alcohol)
                                (lbs the person weighs x .73 for men OR .66 for women)

    The difference between the male and female numbers is because males and females have different amounts of water in their systems.

    Beer .06
    Wine .12
    Liquor % alcohol is 1/2 the proof ex 80 proof is 40% or .40

    * This assumes that your character did all of the drinking at once.
    * If your character was drinking over time - here's the formula:

    1. Estimate the hours that the character was drinking.
    2. Multiply the number of hours by .015
    3. Subtract this number from your BAC that you calculated using the above formula.  

    So let's try this out. 
    Your heroine, 110lbs of spit fire, drank 5 shots of 80 proof over 4 hours. Can she reasonably aim her 9mm at the bad guy?

    Let's say the shots are 1.5 oz

    1.5 (ounces of vodka) X 5(shots) = 7.5 ounces

    7.5 (ounces of alcohol) X .4 (percentage of alcohol) X 5.14 =  15.42 =  .21  
    110 (how much she weighs) x.66 (she's a woman)                    72.6

    Your heroine is in bad shape. An illegal level of alcohol is typically .08
    Did you really write 5 shots into your plot???

    But remember, she's spaced this out over 4 hours. Let's see if that helps.
    1. estimated hours = 4
    2. multiply by .015  4 x .015 = .06
    3. subtract this from your BAC from the above calculation   .21 - .06 = .15

    Okay she's still almost twice the legal drinking number. Hopefully you wrote a good Samaritan into your plot to grab that chick's keys.

    She is stumbling, incoherent, maybe puking and wetting herself - she's not a pretty picture. 

    Image found publicly on Facebook

    This formula can also help you figure out how long it would take for your character to sober up and get their blood alcohol level down.

    Do you need to get your character drunk faster?

    * Alcohol absorption is greater on an empty stomach and these
       calculations assume that your  character wasn't eating. 
    * Carbonation will increase speed of absorption - but also, often 
       slows down the drinking process.

    Other factors not compensated for with the Widmark Calculation:

    * Sleep deprivation

    * Dehydration

    * Low muscle mass ratio

    * Medications 

    * Individual physiology and psychology 

    Image found publicly on Facebook

    Here's how your character might feel:
    The following was listed on Yale College Site  LINK

    Today: slight buzz. a bit more relaxed, warmer, less inhibited.

    Tomorrow: hangover free. 

    Today: buzzed/tipsy some stimulant effects (euphoria and increased energy); slight decrease in inhibitions, judgment, and coordination; possible mood changes.

    Tomorrow: no hangover 

    Today: Drunk. noticeably losing coordination, inhibitions, and judgment; starting to feel some depressant effects like drowsiness and lowered alertness.

    Tomorrow: hangover possible. Some chance of a hangover; hydrating between drinks will help. Likely a little slow getting things done in the a.m.

    Today: very drunk. Loss of coordination, inhibitions, judgment; some depressant effects: drowsiness, lowered alertness, loss of coordination. Slurred speech and chance of nausea.

    Tomorrow: hangover likely. Decreased REM sleep overnight = a bit tired and less productive. Hydration between drinks (not right before bed) will help.

    Today: very drunk. Depressant effects in full force: drowsiness, lowered alertness, loss of coordination and judgment. Nausea and vomiting somewhat likely.

    Tomorrow: serious hangover. Probably sick and headachy. No REM sleep at all = not very sharp; studying will be a struggle. Hydration between drinks (not right before bed) will help

    Today: extremely drunk. Difficult to walk or even stay awake. Significant nausea/vomiting; sleeping on back could lead to choking on vomit and suffocating. Speech is a struggle; blackout likely.

    Tomorrow: hangover agony. Debilitating headache/nausea and fervent regret almost certain. Productivity of any sort unlikely until mid-afternoon.

    Today: critical state. Probably unconscious; well past vomiting and blacking out. A chance of death if medical attention does not arrive.

    Tomorrow: bigger problems. A debilitating hangover is only the start. Details will depend on time of hospital release.

    Today: comatose. Already thrown up, blacked out, passed out. Significant chance of death if medical help doesn’t arrive promptly.

    Tomorrow: hopefully. In the event of survival, hangover or not will depend on the amount and type of anesthesia administered in the hospital.

    $3.99 AMAZON LINK 

    In Chaos Is Come Again,  our hero knew better than to mix alcohol with his meds, even if his friends encouraged him to indulge.

    Want to see this article in action?
    Check out this Fiona Quinn novel
    Chaos Is Come Again

    Readers, you can leave questions or comments below. Also, if you found this article to be helpful/interesting why not share it with your writer friends? I've put some buttons just below for your convenience.
    Thanks! and happy plotting.


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  • "Sin on a Plate" A To-die-for Chocolate Cake Recipe

    Those sentiments are understandable. I’ve had days like that myself. It’s a very human reaction, I think,” Avery said.
    Sean smiled. “Was today one of those days?” 
    Canting her head, Avery asked. “How did you know?”
    Sean rubbed his index finger at the corner of his mouth. “You have a little chocolate icing, just there.”

    In Chaos Is Come Again, Lola Zelkova can do little to make her friend Avery's life any easier. Lola's solution? A sinfully rich chocolate cake. It can cure almost anything that ails you. Here is her recipe.

    I will warn you at the outset:
    * This cake takes forever to make (but 
       I'll give you options along the way)
    * This cake is HIGHLY ADDICTIVE
    * Once you make this cake, no other 
       cake will ever be good enough. 
       Yup, this cake will ruin you for all
        cakes from here on in. 
    * If you share this cake with others, they
       will insist on this cake to feel loved.
    So hand out the slices with caution.

    Start with the chocolate mousse because this is a lovely dessert in and of itself. If you only get this far, it's all good - just pipe this into a martini glass add a garnish and call it a day.


    1 3/4 cups heavy cream
    12 ounces quality semi-sweet chocolate chips
    1/2 c dark rum
    4 tablespoons butter
    1 teaspoon flavorless, granulated gelatin


    * Chill 1 1/2 cups heavy cream in refrigerator. 
    * Chill metal mixing bowl and mixer beaters in freezer.

    * In top of a bain marie, combine chocolate chips, rum, and butter. 
    * Melt over barely simmering water, stirring constantly. 
    * Remove from heat while a couple of chunks are still visible. 
       Burned chocolate is nasty and ruins the  mousse. 
    * Allow to cool to room temperature.

    * Pour 1/4 cup heavy cream into a pyrex bowl and sprinkle in the
    * Allow gelatin to "bloom" for 10 minutes. 
    * Carefully heat by stirring in a bain marie. A bain marie is just
        simmering water in a pot so the heat is  diffuse. 
    * Do not boil or gelatin will become a gloopy mess. 
    * Fold into the cooled chocolate and set aside.

    * In the chilled mixing bowl, beat cream to medium peaks. 
    * Fold some of your whipped cream into the chocolate mixture to 
        lighten it. 
    * Fold in the remaining whipped cream in two batches. 
    * Do not overwork the mousse.
    * Stick your bowl in the fridge.


    This too can be an excellent dessert in and of itself. Once made, you can spoon it over brownies, ice cream what-have-you.

    * Mix one small jar of raspberry jam and a mini bottle of 

    Tah dah!

    Wasn't that easy?



    1 cup room temperature butter
    2 cups granulated sugar
    4 large eggs
    1/2 cup dark rum
    2 cups all-purpose flour
    1 cup unsweetened cocoa
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1 cup hot water
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract 

    * Beat the butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until
       fluffy; gradually add sugar, beating well. 
    * Add eggs, beating until blended after each addition. 
    * Add rum; beat until blended.
    * Combine flour and next 5 ingredients sift into sugar mixture 
    * Add hot water and vanilla
    * Beat at low speed until blended.

    * Prepare pans by spraying with non-stick spray then dust with
        cocoa powder.

    * Pour evenly into 2  9" pans then give a shake to smooth tops and
       release air bubbles.
    * Bake at 350° for 27 minutes (cake will be slightly under done). 
    * Cool in pans on a wire rack 10 minutes. 
    * Remove from pans, and cool completely on wire racks.

    Whew! Almost there. Did you give up? Slice the cake, drizzle with raspberry sauce, and add an ice cream scoop of mousse, garnish with chocolate shavings. 

    But if you're still hanging in there...

    Chocolate Rum Frosting

    1 lb. confectioners' sugar
    1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    12 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
    3/4 cup  unsalted butter, room temperature
    18 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
    1 1/2 cups sour cream
    2 tbs rum (you knew I'd have to do it)


    * Sift together confectioners' sugar, cocoa, and salt. 
    * With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat cream cheese
       and butter until pale and fluffy.
    * Add sugar mixture 
    * Mix in melted and cooled chocolate and sour cream
    * Beat until smooth. Leave out on the counter so it is room

    Okay ready for the great construction -
    Boo! The video failed us! But I know you can follow from these instructions

    You need to make sure your cake is cool, and you work quickly to keep the mousse firm.
    1. You have 2 cakes. Slice each one in half to form what will be
        four layers. You can use a serrated
        knife or dental floss if you don't have a cake cutter.
    2. Place the one of the layers smooth side down spongy side up on
          your cake plate. 
    3. Use strips of waxed paper of aluminum foil around the edge so
        your plate is clean when you're  done icing.
    4. Stab your sponge side with a fork. and spread 1/3 of the 
        raspberry mixture onto the cake. Stabbing  your cake means the
        Chambord will seep down into the cake and infuse it with 
        moisture and  flavor.
    5. Add 1/3 of your mousse spreading it to the edges.
    6. Repeat until you place your top layer sponge side down smooth
        side up.

    CHILL - to firm up your mousse

    FROST - 

    Please note: This is not a smooth pretty frosting. It is more a thick layer of chocolate deliciousness that wants to look a little wild and free. The kind of cake that you can slice right into and don't need to remark of its beauty. Nope this is just a decadent gluttonous cake that needs to lay on your plate and be spooned into your mouth.

    It's like crack. One taste, and you'll be addicted. This is your warning. Make this cake at your own risk.

    And if you do. 

    Well, you are entirely welcome. 

    Read all about the Lola's chocolate cake panacea in our new novel CHAOS IS COME AGAIN.

    As always, thanks for stopping by. If you have any comments or questions, please leave them below. I moderate for SPAM so it will be a short while until you see your comments. If you like the things you find on my blog, thanks so much for sharing! I've put some social buttons below. Until next time, happy plotting.



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  • Is that Even Possible? A Writing Experiment: Chaos Is Come Again with John Dolan and Fiona Quinn

    First, a Scientific Question

    Could two writers who had just met on Twitter come together and write a novel? 


    Some considerations:
    * The writers had never met, never even spoken to each other. Only
       tweeted. Though the question was posed in an e-mail. 
    * They write in different styles.
    * One writes in English- English; one writes in American-English.

       And thus, spelling, vocabulary, and phrasing differences - some
       of  them quite significant - some quite funny.
    * One writer lives outside of D.C. in the U.S. and the other is an
       English ex-pat splitting his time between Thailand 
       and Dubai so a time difference of 11 or 9 hours  respectively.
    * They were both very busy. Dolan was running a power company,
       and Quinn  was homeschooling  her brood. Both were already
       working  on their own writing projects. 
    * One was a plotter who has a love o f spreadsheets, the other a
       pantser who  actually broke out in hives the first time she saw a
       Dolan- spreadsheet.

    The catalyst for the science experiment.

    Fiona Quinn, a newby to Twitter, meets John Dolan, a Twitter proficient, because she did not understand what an RT was. 

    This lead to Dolan putting on his much doffed Henry Higgins cap as he tried to explain the workings of Twitter. 

    And then, there was a Twitter exchange of a story - line by line - which lead almost immediately to the question - is this possible in a larger format? Could we write a novel?

    Background Research

    * First, each subject had to read each other's work and see if
       they felt their possible writing partner  could string more that 140
       characters together in a cogent fashion .
    * Then there was the Skype session - to actually "meet."
    * This was followed by ideas thrown about to see if the minds
        could  interact as a team.


    Two strangers from different backgrounds and different parts of the world can bring their own talents and knowledge to the table to create a unique and interesting work of fiction.

    Test Your Hypothesis

    Fiona Quinn
    Quinn and Dolan began the experiment in the spring of 2013. Within a couple of months of daily Skyping and numerous emails, they had constructed their characters and plotline. Dolan took time off on a sabbatical, and they came together to finish the project spring of 2014.

    Decisions were made about spelling, language, and process and all were documented ad nauseum into spreadsheets (that Quinn had to be coaxed into opening).

    Language/cultural barriers were broken down with exchanges such as these:

    Dolan - You are a cheeky cow.
    Quinn - I'm a cow? 
                  I think we could start with a dictionary of weird
                  English  words - Yonks, Cow, Fanny, Shag, Twee,
    Dolan - The "cow" thing btw. In English the term "cheeky cow" (of
                  which "cow" is a shortened version) is almost a term of
                  endearment directed at someone who has made a comment
                  which is critical but in a non-threatening/insulting way.
                  Just so you know.
    Quinn - I took it with a spoonful of endearment.


    Quinn - How do you envision Sean?
    Dolan - * He's not a homeschooled vegetarian
                 * He doesn't like anchovies
                 * Size 9 feet
    Quinn - Size 9 feet? That's unfortunate.
    Dolan - Why?
    Quinn - Oh... Hmm... Well there seems to be a mythological 
                 correlate --
    Dolan - I have size 9 feet
    Quinn - ACH! I'll stop typing.
                  NO WAIT!
                 You have size 9 feet in European size?
    Dolan - Yes.  Well UK size
    Quinn - Okay then I'll finish. A correlate between the man's foot
                  size and his uhm “endowment.” And here, size 9 is rather 
    Dolan - Ah, but my foot is only a size 9 when it's not aroused. 
                 Whenever my feet get excited, they bust out of my shoes.
    Quinn - Too early! I just woke up. 
                  That's a frightening thought, Mr. Dolan.
    Dolan - It's like a scene from Alien.
    Quinn - OK, that's enough thank you. I'm off to wake the kiddos.
                  L8r G8R.

    There were lots of technical difficulties - a typical exchange.

    * OK, I've been through it and accepted all your yellows and put a couple of red expansions. Wanna
        talk about the big blocks of green under Sean and Teagan?
    * 2:00pm Quinn - yup.
    * 2:02pm Dolan - On video? 15 min warning: I need to get something to eat shortly, OK?
    * 2:03pm - John missed a call from you.
    * May 24 - You missed a call from John.
    * 2:04pm Quinn -  try again  it didnt ring.
    * May 24 You missed a call from John.
    * 2:05pm Dolan -retrying
    * May 24 You missed a call from John.
    * May 24 John called you.
    * May 24 John called you.
    * May 24 John called you.
    * May 24 You missed a call from John.
    * May 24 You missed a call from John.
    * May 24 John missed a call from you.
    * 2:10pm Dolan - 1 more try
    * 2:10pm Quinn -  k u go
    * May 24 You missed a call from John.
    * 2:11pm  Dolan - Tried. It's not playing. Let me eat and we'll try later if that's OK with you
    * 2:12pm Quinn -  Yup

    * 4:07pm Dolan - You try
    * May 24 You called John.
    * May 24 John called you.
    * May 24 You called John.
    * May 24 John called you.
    * 4:09pm Quinn - one more time for good luck - you or me?
    * 4:10pm Dolan - you call but give me 1 min first. I thought I'd try headphones and see if it makes a
                   difference. OK ready
    * May 24 You called John.
    * 4:14pm Quinn -  Whoop! I can see you... BOO! I can't hear you.
    * 4:15pm Dolan - Can you see my lips moving?
    * 4:15 pm Quinn - Sigh. Maybe the book will just write itself????

    Analyze Your Data and Draw a Conclusion

    * I am holding the end result in my hand. 
    * It has a beginning, a middle, and an end.   
    * Words form sentences, sentences form
       paragraphs which in turn form chapters.

    Yes, by jove! 

    I do believe that this experiment produced a book!

    Commnicate Your Results

    This is what people are saying:

    “Readers, get ready for a hysterical, wild, whacky read that
      will keep you biting your nails till the end. ” 

    “The characters in this book are diverse, complicated and

    “The ending will simply blow you out of the water.”

    and Quinn's personal favorite:

    "A book this weird shouldn't work, but this one does, magnificently."


    To read all of our reviews click on this LINK  (and also, buy the book! )

    Thank you so much for stopping by. If you have any questions or comments for us just leave them below. Remember, I moderate for spam so the comment won't show up right away. If you enjoy my blog, I'd appreciate you sharing with your friends. I put some handy social buttons below. Happy plotting.


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  • Slip Sliding Away - Flash Floods: Info for Writers with Master Survival Instructor Tony Nester

    Fiona - 
    Hi Tony thank you so much for joining us today. Can you tell my readers about what you do for a living

    Tony - 
    Tony Nester, Ancient Pathways

    It's real pleasure being here again. Thanks for having me. I am a fulltime survival instructor and run my own training school called Ancient Pathways. We teach 1-21 day courses in both modern survival and bushcraft for the general public as well as the military.

    Fiona - 

    And you do a lot of your teaching out in Arizona where flash floods are an issue. Can you explain to our readers who do not live in flash flood areas, what is a flash flood? How do they happen?

    Tony - 
    Yes, I am based in Flagstaff but teach throughout the desert Southwest. It has been said that here you can either die from not having enough water or from getting too much headed your way. 

    Flash floods are the number-one weather related killer of people in the outdoors the world over and most cases occur in desert regions. 

    Because the ground is largely bedrock or sandstone underneath the veneer of sand here, the water runs off quickly during a storm. When a flood hits, you are not only contending with the force of water but van-sized boulders, logs, and a few hundred years of debris that has accumulated.

    Fiona -
    If a person is out camping or on a fishing trip, picnic, what have you. Are there any signs that a flash flood is headed their way?

    Tony -
    As we have nearly 329 days of sunshine in Arizona, most of us go off what the clouds are telling us first. If it is going to be raining that day, I will stay out of the narrow canyons altogether and certainly the corkscrew slot-canyons as these just don't offer an escape route. So: 
    * Watch the weather 
    * ALWAYS camp off the canyon floor
    * Make sure you have 2-3 egress routes out of the place you are in
       if you are camping in the desert. 

    Ironically, 75% of flash flood fatalities happen in urban areas like Phoenix, Vegas, El Paso, etc... when motorists try to blast through a flooded wash only to get swept away. I had a geologist tell me that it only takes 2 feet of swift-moving water to whisk away an F-150.

    Fiona -
    A few years back I loaded the kids into my van, and we set off to drive around the U.S. and have an adventure. When I was in Arizona, I experienced my first brown out with a dirt storm. And I was lost in Phoenix (no real surprise there - I'm often lost) but let's say some east-coast gal is there and a flash flood occurs. I have no reference point for action/reaction - let's start with some basics. From what I've read a little water goes a long way in creating issues. At what point might I lose control of my car?

    Tony -
    Good question- our floods are different here because we just don't have the obstructions on the land here like you would in a forested region. So, when it happens, it happens lightning fast! 

    I was camping above a small canyon once, and we had a storm roll in transforming the desert around us from a serene setting to sheer violence in thirty minutes. During that time, the formerly dry canyon below us filled with raging water that was twelve feet deep and twenty feet across. The noise was deafening. I had to shout just to communicate to my friends around me. We saw an entire old-growth cottonwood tree with its root system get ripped away from the canyon wall and float off like it was a toothpick. 

    If you are in a vehicle and the wash before you is flooded, then back up your rig and stay put until the flood subsides. This might be a few hours or 8 hours, depending on the rainfall. You would only have to enter into such a soupy mess a few feet before you risked getting swept away. It happens out here all the time during our rainy season from July-August and it doesn't matter whether you have a Hummer or tricked out SUV. Mother Nature usually wins that one.

    Fiona -
    It sounds like a horrible thing to go through but wonderful plotting material.

    Don't have your heroine grab onto a cottonwood thinking she'
    ll survive.

    Let's say your car did get swept up. Any chance of survival? What could our heroine do to increase those chances?

    Tony -
    Get to the roof and try to jump out onto a nearby branch of the embankment. Not much else unless you happen to have the Sherrif's Dept circling overhead in a helo! 

    Seriously, these are things that happen out here with motorists who have unwisely chosen to cross a flooded wash - even though such areas are well-posted with signs saying "Do Not Cross When Flooded." 

    The one thing I think people unfamiliar with the desert don't realize is the fact that you have so much sand, debris, rocks, and logs coming your way. One guy who was stuck in a flash-flood trying to rescue his hiking partners, had the skin abraded away below his knees from the scouring action of the sand. He was treated as a burn patient when he finally arrived at the hospital. That whole episode started out with the group hiking in a slot canyon under blue skies that morning. However 8 miles up canyon, there was a cloudburst that dumped. The guide was the only survivor out of around 13 people. When he emerged from the canyon, he only had a single boot left! So this canyon country that we all love so much is a place that was and is continually shaped by extremely violent forces.

    Fiona - 

    You have a series of books that help people pre-think, pre-organize, prepare for the things that can go awry in life. I have all of them because they are such great fodder for creating plot lines - things that can go wrong - what the heroine could do to make it out alive and conversely by not following the plan the things that could dig her even deeper into trouble. They are an excellent writer's resource. Of your books, which ones do you think would best prepare our eastern damsel for her upcoming rub with a new kind of nature - one very unfamiliar to her.
    Amazon Link

    Tony - 
    Thanks so much, Fiona! That means a lot. Well, if the focus is on desert travel and know-how then my eBook, Grand Canyon Survival Gear & Garb would be a good fit. This covers the skills and gear to cope with the demands of arid regions, even outside of the Canyon. Everything from scorpions and rattlesnakes to dealing with heat stress is distilled into a short read. My book on living off the land, The Modern Hunter-Gatherer is another one that delves into what's realistic for procuring wild game in a long-term situation. This book was a labor of love and one of my favorite areas of study. The great thing about studying the natural world and our ancestral skills is that there's no shortage of fun activities to learn.

    Amazon Link

    Fiona - 
    Some other titles that might prove helpful are:

    A Vehicle Survival Kit and When the Grid Goes Down.

    Tony -
    Yes, that's right. Those focus more on urban situations and, again, cover practical skills that the beginner can use to get started.

    Fiona - 

    When the Grid Goes Down talks about preparing for not being able to get home. Ways to contact your family, where to go if you can't make it home, and cash available to get you there.
    Amazon Link

    Reading your book, I can imagine all of the ways that a family could get confused and scared about what's going on and maybe out of their confusion, make some bad decisions.

    Tony - 
    Right. I took that material from my 1-day Urban Survival Classes and it provides a place for people to get started on figuring out how to become more self-reliant. I kept it simple and it just focuses on the 6 key areas for getting your home prepped to handle a short or long-term crisis. 

    Yes, when your heroine is getting started in all of this, it can be overwhelming for her. She should just start with a few things such as how much water should she have on hand? How will she purify it when the infrastructure in my city is damaged? Then the following week, she should work on her pantry and beefing up supplies there. Self-reliance as a lifestyle is a cumulative process. 

    Fiona - 
    Amazon Link

    Please tell us a harrowing story about an adventure you've survived. 

    Tony - 
    Harrowing story- you mean other than the time when I made a wrong turn down a street in Detroit when I was younger...

    Fiona - 
    That is harrowing.

    Tony -
    I was once on a 21-day winter survival trek in southern Idaho, and we had an Arctic storm sweep down upon us dropping the temp 48 degrees in one hour to minus 35. I got hypothermia pretty bad and we still had an 8 mile hike to get to an old cowboy line-shack that we had to get our group to. 
    Amazon Link

    This was a wilderness therapy program for adjudicated youth that I worked for back in the 80s. Anyway, as the hike progressed and the wind bit through me, I had a very organic feeling that my life-force was withdrawing from my arms and legs. Soon, there was only this sensation that my entire being consisted of this little beacon of light in my chest that I had to keep going no matter how ugly things were getting. I pushed on and eventually made it to the line-shack. It took me weeks to recover from that and I had lost 18 pounds on that trip because we were existing on 1200 calories a day for three weeks. After that, I took a long trip to Florida!!

    Fiona - 
    My gosh, Tony! What an experience!

    To end this article can you us  5 bullet points for flash flood survival? 

    Tony - 
    Amazon Link
    Regarding flash flood, here are some pointers:
    1. Watch the weather that day and see if anything of concern is

         headed your way. Situational awareness is key in the
         backcountry just like it is in our urban-suburban lives. 
    2. Stay out of the narrow (slot)
        canyons during the height of the
        rainy season from July-September
        and in the spring time. 
    3. Research from the Grand Canyon
        indicates that most flash floods
        happen between Noon and 8 p.m. So do your hiking in the
        early  morning if possible during the rainy season. 
    4. As you travel in canyon country, get in the habit of looking for
       "up-and-outs" or egress routes in case you have to quickly get
        out  of that region. This becomes habit after a while with more
        time  spent in the desert. 
    5. Hike with a partner. This is true in most backcountry situations. 

    Fiona - 
    Thank you so much Tony!
    You can reach Tony Nester here:
    ANCIENT PATHWAYS - He has great resources available for you.

    And if you really want to write it right - there is NOTHING like hands on experience. Tony's classes are high up on my writerly bucket list.

    Nester Survival Kits - I carry the mini-urban survivor. After the first unusual taste/consistency of the emergency bars, I found them quite addictive. 

    You'll find articles here that will help you prepare your intrepid heroine (and yourself when you see how cool they are.)

    A big thank you to the readers/writers who stopped by. If you have any questions or comments you are welcome to leave them below. Please remember that I moderate for spam so they will not show up right away. Also, if you find my blog helpful, why not share it with your friends? Social buttons placed handily below. Happy plotting.

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