Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Writing murder and mayhem

Author Jeanne Adams talked about murder, forensics and investigative procedures that can help mystery writers. I don’t write mysteries (well, maybe a few attempts), but I do enjoy reading a good mystery.

She gave plenty of information mystery writers can use to help your novel flow. Such as, how your victim dies can affect your timeline, as far as the type of autopsy required and police investigation needed.

With a light, yet respectful tone, she talked about what happens to bodies (called remains) in different situations and how writers can use this knowledge to extend the plot timeline and make sure the details in your story are correct.

If the character died of a gunshot, what type and size of gun was used? What type of wound would it leave? Is it a type of gun that your villain or hero could handle?

Can there be delays in the regular procedures? How can someone steal a body or make a murder appear to be a natural death? Does the killer bury the body deep in a forest or have it go through the morgue? To collect life insurance or inherit property, there must be a signed death certificate giving the cause of death. Someone has to determine a cause of death before a body can be released for burial or cremation.

“Funerals are for the living, not the dead,” she said. Despite last requests, the body becomes the property of the next of kin and could be cremated within 48 hours.

Usually a coroner or medical examiner is called for a gunshot wound, even if it appears to be self-inflicted. But different states have different procedures and titles, so check them out.

Procedures are especially different in rural areas where your timeline may be extended if the body has to be taken to a distant location. She said that rural hospitals and morgues can be used to extend the time you have to have your criminal destroy evidence or help police to solve the murder.

Arguments at the funeral home may reveal the personality of different family members and friends and perhaps give readers a new suspect.  Adams discussed types and costs of caskets. I hope you know that they use caskets now, not coffins. Also, there is no longer an undertaker. Remember that if your murder occurred in recent years.
Joelle Jarvis and Jeanne Adams

I’ve often heard, the devil is in the details. Make sure those details are right. For forensics, you can contact people who work in the fields, such as forensic experts, crime scene technicians and morticians. A Public Information Officer can be helpful. Check out the National Funeral Directors’ Association and cemetery searches like Find-a-Grave. There is even a site called  

Some books she mentioned are:

When You are the Only Cop in Town, A Writer’s Guide to Smalltown Law Enforcement by Jack Berry and Debra Dixon. Adams considers it an indispensable guide to facts, procedures, and the how-to’s of small town law enforcement.  Jack Berry has over 30 years in law enforcement, the last 17 as Chief in a small town.

The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Reveled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime by Judith Flanders.

The Forensic Casebook: The Science of Crime Scene Investigation by Ngaire E. Genge, and The MindHunter book series by Kylie Brant.

“There is always an investigation,” she said, as she discussed what agencies would be involved in situations, such as industrial accidents, natural disasters or terrorist attacks. It is important to know the specifics in your story are correct before you lose credibility and sales.

Adams is a member of the Mystery Writers of America and had worked in the funeral home and cemetery business for 13 years.  Besides mystery and suspense, she writes romance and fantasy. Her blog is

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Girls in the Picture novel

Take a trip back to the early days of Hollywood and the flickers (movies), when you read The Girls in the Picture.
I read the book right after a presentation by Melanie Benjamin about her most recent book. This novel is timely, published just before the Oscars and during the discussions of “me-too” and “women’s voices in Hollywood.”

The title didn’t come from the idea of movie pictures, Melanie said, but from old photos where Mary Pickford and Frances Marion were often the only women in the room (surrounded by men) during important events, such as the founding of United Artists.
Besides giving us a close-up view of the new movie industry, she tells this story through the voices of two powerful women who became friends, during that time, imagining what they were thinking and how the movies changed.

The book is fiction, just as their movies were, but often truth can be revealed through fiction. Each person seeing a movie or reading a book sees it through their eyes.
Silent movie star Mary Pickford and writer Frances Marion met during the confusion that was early Hollywood and became best friends and movers and shakers in that world.

As a writer, I could identify more with Frances and her view of this emerging new method of communication. Some thoughts from the fictional Frances Marion that I could identify with:
”How fun-how freeing- it had been to put myself in other people’s shoes! To imagine their lives, their relationships, what they might say, even if it was merely party chatter. I wasn’t acting only one role, I was acting several—all of them—all intoxicatingly different.”
“This is it, this is what I was looking for, waiting for, all those years. This flowering, this opening of hearts and eyes and minds, great vistas, all through the creation of people like me – people whose imaginations were too big for real life, so we had to build another.”
“Perhaps the simplest formula for a plot is: invent some colorful personalities, involve them in an apparently hopeless complication or predicament, then extricate them in a logical and dramatic way that brings them happiness.”
These two women were very different, but both loved this new world, Hollywood. Mary could bring the emotions alive in front of the camera and was an astute business woman, while Frances was a writer and director.

Mary and Douglas Fairbanks married, became the king and queen of Hollywood during that era. Pickfair was like the Buckingham Palace of California and they entertained royally. Frances and Fred Thompson married and the four honeymooned together.
Both women were far more than just their jobs. Besides their movies, they were instrumental in forming United Artists,   the Screen Writers Guild and the Academy Awards and other Hollywood institutions. Pickford won the second Academy Award and Marion won two Academy Writing Awards.”

I had trouble putting this book down, although I knew it was not going to be a happy story all the way to the end. Life happens to all of us and not necessarily the way we want. I hope you enjoy “The Girls in the Picture” as much as I did. Thanks to Melanie Benjamin for a wonderful story and a good presentation and compliments to Penquin Random House, Carroll Community College and Carroll County Public Library.
I’ve also enjoyed Melanie’s books, The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb (which I read in 2012) and The Aviator’s Wife (2015) and look forward to reading more of her books.

You can learn more about the author and books at and on twitter@MelanieBen.
Okay. For those who have stuck with me, here is another quote from Frances Marion who volunteered and went to war (WWI).

“It was odd, I knew; I’d come to war for a lot of reasons, one of which, if I were being honest, was to gain experience; experience to write about. Because that’s what writers did; they lived, then they wrote about that living.”