Last month I flew across the pond to talk crime in London with a this amazing group of writers in one of my day-long seminars on crafting binge-worthy crime dramas. Since you couldn't all be there, I thought I'd share a take away nugget with all of you on the concept of tropes in crime dramas. How to spot them? How to use them?
Tropes are used all the time in any good crime drama. What is a trope?
Trope means "a turn." Tropes are turning events in a story. They are conventions writers use to turn
the story in a way that satisfies audience expectations. Here are some common examples:
Something blows up.
Someone dies/body drop.
Someone you think is bad turns out to be good or vice versa.
Someone attempts to harm/kill the investigator
Someone shows up who shouldn’t be there.
Someone innocent dies.
Someone important to the case goes missing.
Evidence is tampered with or missing.
Evidence is a dead end.
Another crime is committed that leads to/connects to the main one.
Next time you watch a crime drama, play a trope game. While watching, make a list of all the tropes you see being used. Whoever has the largest and most accurate list wins!
And... to help you get started. Get a little cheeky with these summer UK Crime picks! (Most available on Netflix)
Broadchurch (traditional detective mystery)
Doc Martin (medical mystery)
Peaky Blinders (action/historic crime)
Marcella (noir detective)
Paranoid (traditional detective/noir)
We already took a look at DNA basics. Let’s go deeper into DNA fun facts and emerging trends in DNA science.
1. Chemical Tracing: a new forensic technique that goes beyond DNA and fingerprinting to identify persons based on the traces of molecules and microbes you leave behind. Chemical signatures can be found everywhere, including the surface of your cell phone!
2. Rapid DNA Testing is a new technique that allows investigators to test DNA on site and within minutes of collecting a sample. Great for use in terrorism, mass disasters, homeland security, and trafficking. The machine, which can be taken on location, is called ANDE.
3. Lab Backlog. There are 200 forensic labs in the U.S. and a backlog of 400,000 sexual assault kits awaiting DNA testing. It can take 6-24 months to get results and they are expensive and error-prone. We need more labs, more technicians, and better technology!
4. The DNA-Rape Myth. DNA tests help solve only .2% of rape cases. Sadly, one in five women (yes, 20%) are raped in the U.S. A rapist averages 12 assaults until convicted. - Dr. Richard Selden, lecture at the WGA, 2018. It's very, very difficult, but let's encourage all women to speak up and get tested after an assault.
5. DNA Detective. The new term for genealogy sleuths who use take-home DNA test kits to help police solve crimes and crack cold cases. Learn more here!
6. eDNA (aka Man-Made DNA) adds two new letters to the DNA genetic alphabet: X and Y to the already natural bases: A, T, G, C. With these two new letters, scientists can make 172 amino acids that can be applied to encode books, poems, music. They can also help create better medicines, vaccines, and new antibiotics. Check out Synthorx.
7. Sex Typing. Is there a DNA test to determine sex? Sort of... A Raman Spectroscopy method may soon be able to determine sex through saliva DNA tests. A laser vibrates molecules and then the scattered light particles are measured to determine chemical signatures that differentiate males from females. Scientists are also developing a way to test the amino acids of your fingerprint to determine sex. Females have a higher concentration of amino acids in their chemistry.
8. A 20 Loci Match! Up until 2016, the National DNA Index System (NDIS) was only required to make DNA matches based on 13 loci (or genetic markers along the DNA strand). After January 1, 2017, they raised it to 20 loci. This provides a 1 in 100 million likelihood for a true match. It also increases the ability for compatibility with international law enforcement who are testing at higher loci rates, and aids in missing persons cases.
9. The New Floppy Disc. By converting the four DNA bases - A,C,G,T into ones and zeros, a software company in Hinxton, England, and scientists at Harvard have encoded the sonnets of Shakespeare, the "I Have A Dream" speech of Martin Luther King Jr., and other books into DNA strands. One gram of DNA can hold 455 billion gigabytes. Four grams can hold every piece of data the world produces in one year. Talk about condensed storage! More here.
10. Getting Wet DNA. The M-Vac is a machine used to pull DNA from porous surfaces (like wood, drywall, carpet, clothing). According to Forensic Magazine, it works like a mini-hurricane of sterile solution that sprays the surface of the object being tested, then sucks the wet traces into a container. The solution and any DNA material is run through a microcentrifuge filter, collected and analyzed. More here.
As we honor Mothers this month and Fathers next month, I thought it would be fun to do a two part series on DNA... since these are the building blocks of how we are fearfully and wonderfully created!
In the beginning.... two distinct sets of gene pools merge and in those genes are all the DNA we will ever need to become who we are today. The term DNA gets thrown around a lot, so let's break down the concept of DNA and look at a couple different types and how they are used in crime solving.
DNA stands for deoxyribonucleic acid. It is found in the cells of all living things (plants and animals included). A complete set of DNA is unique to each individual and only identical twins share the same DNA.
DNA contains a set of gene codes arranged along 25,000 chromosomes that contains all the information about a person’s genetic make-up and well-being from birth to death. Your hair and eye color and what diseases you’re prone to are found in DNA.
DNA was first discovered in 1868, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that scientists figured out how DNA looked like. And only in the late 1980s that DNA started to be used forensically to link suspects and victims to crimes.
How doe DNA works? We’ll start with the building blocks of DNA science and then see how it applies to forensic science.
What is it?
The core DNA unit consists of a base attached to a sugar-phosphate strand. The four bases contain nitrogen and they are: Adenine, Cytosine, Guanine, and Thymine. Adenine always pairs with Thymine. And Guanine always pairs with Cytosin. This core unit of DNA repeats itself over and over and over in one lone double helix configuration.
Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA)
What is it?
Mitochondrial DNA is inherited from the mother only and is found outside the cell. It provides the cell with energy and there is lots of it. Hundreds or even thousands of mitochondria live on a single cell; compared with just one set of nuclear DNA in each cell. MtDNA is extracted from hair shafts, teeth, bone, organs and tissues.
How is it used to solve crimes?
Mitochondrial DNA is used in cases of trying to prove identity from nuclear DNA when the body has been destroyed or disintegrated (charred, dismembered, or highly decomposed). And in order to prove identity you need a sample from the deceased’s maternal line. The down side to mtDNA is that it’s expensive to process and only a few labs do it. Also, persons with the same maternal lineage who are tested by mtDNA will not be distinguishable in DNA code from each other.
Nuclear DNA (nDNA)
What is it?
Nuclear DNA is the form of DNA found within the cell in the nucleotides creates by the 23 chromosomes from mom and dad.
How is it used to solve crimes?
Nuclear DNA is sometimes called touch DNA. This is the kind you hope to find at the crime scene in the form of blood, urine, semen, saliva on a cigarette butt, or glass.
Artificial DNA (aDNA)
What is it?
Artificial DNA was first engineered in Tel Aviv in 2009. Amplified DNA cells was mixed with DNAless red blood cells to create fake blood. And it fooled the American labs. Looks like we’ve come a long way since the days of corn starch, food coloring, and syrup. All you need is a sample DNA from anyone or a DNA profile from a database. There are currently two processes for manufacturing fake DNA. One is called whole genome amplification and the other is a cloning process So far current forensic testing has failed to tell the difference between nDNA and aDNA.
How is it used to solve (or commit) crimes?
Now, your high tech criminals, or even those with just some college-level knowledge of genetics, can engineer a crime scene or sell aDNA on the black market to other criminals. Want justice to be served in this case? A prosecutor can now contest the reliability of biological versus artificial DNA and save the case if he thinks the perp was faking it. Or a defense attorney can try to get DNA evidence thrown out if he believes someone planted fake DNA evidence against his client.
Y Chromosome DNA
What is it?
A Y Chromosome refers to a sample that contains only a male DNA sample. A YSRT is a testing method that extracts only the Y chromosome in order to identify a male presence in the sample being tested.
How is it used to solve crimes?
YSRT is used in cases of gang rape to prove multiple Y chromosomes or when there isn't much male DNA present. YSRT testing is more rare and few labs do it. There is no organized Y chromosome database maintained in the U.S.
What is it?
Not every single arrested criminal has their DNA listed in the CODIS database (run by the FBI). Since that is the case, a familial DNA search allows DNA from the scene of a crime to be run through CODIS and if there is a partial match (15 loci points) that would indicate that a relative of that criminal left DNA at the crime scene. With this information, law enforcement can now pinpoint a more specifical branch of potential suspects through their family tree.
How is it used to solve crimes?
In extreme crime cases, law enforcement officials can seek requests to use familial DNA searches in order to match DNA from a scene of the crime (or victim) to suspect's family members. It has become more accepted practice in the U.S. after the 2010 Grim Sleeper case in California. It's still rare to use familial DNA and only 12 states allow it under these circumstances: the case must be a cold case, an extremely violent crime, and investigators must have exhausted all leads and means.
What is it?
Each person’s DNA contains a slightly different code. The code is found in the way the bases are arranged. Remember the bases? Adenine, Thynine, Cytosine, and Guanine? So, the way in which these pairs (A-T and C-G) are arranged along the double helix creates your unique DNA fingerprint. And this is fingerprint can be replicated and used to make matches. A DNA fingerprint is also called DNA typing, DNA blue print, or a genetic profile.
How is it used in crime solving?
In all humans 99.9% of our genomes or DNA looks exactly the same as everyone else’s. It’s that 0.1% that tells us apart. When trying to make DNA matches, technicians look for 21 different loci (or regions) on the human chromosome. And it’s not uncommon that a majority of these 21 loci look the same from one person to the next. According to a LA Times article from July 8, 2008, "Although a person's genetic makeup is unique, his genetic profile -- just a tiny sliver of the full genome -- may not be. Siblings often share genetic markers at several locations, and even unrelated people can share some by coincidence.” We’ve been trained by CSI to rely on the absolute validity of DNA evidence. But in reality DNA evidence can get stuck on boggy soil of doubt; thereby providing fertile ground for storytelling twists.
Now, we've covered the basics. In Part 2 we'll take a look at other aspects of DNA identification... like fire and DNA... water and DNA... DNA versus fingerprints... and the new DNA ancestry detectives! And we'll take a look at a new technology that traces smudges of microbes you leave on your phone... a world beyond DNA and fingerprint identification!
Seems like everyone is quick with an opinion these days. Thumbs up! Like! 4 Stars! Winking emoji! There is no shortage of ways to show our pleasure (or displeasure) with just about anything. Every product or service is fair game for the chopping block or golden pedestal!
When I was in Italy last month teaching crime writing at the university in Milan, I came across a sign painted on the wall of a quaint Italian osteria (but really, aren’t they all quaint?) It said (translation): If there are things you are not happy with, please tell us. We are not Tripadvisor!
I love that Il Capo (the boss) posted this message in permanent calligraphied paint on the dining room wall.
I love that Il Capo took a stand against the digital world where are quick to judge and often forget there are actual human beings who worked hard to make the pasta you are eating!
When we take out the human factor of face to face conversation (i.e. Facebook, Amazon, Yelp), it’s easy to lean into harsh and judgmental criticism.
Alert! This is no way to live successfully in community!
This is a symptom that we are separating ourselves from each other. This is the way we start to lose our humanity. This is evidence that we are moving away from one another. You see it in families, engrossed in their devices over a family meal. Or young people filling therapists’ offices with their anxieties and loneliness.
The problem seems so prevalent, that I am tempted to despair! Until I remember the power of one! One person. You. Me. We can be agents for change and for building meaningful community! And we can start in our backyard!
One of my favorite communities is my writing community. I have been a part of it for over 16 years has taught me a thing or two about creating a positive, very personal, face-to-face relationships where iron sharpens irons as we encourage each other to greater success!
Our group has been built with lots of practice and a few guidelines and tons of coffee and pie (we meet for pie). Here’s how we graciously and systematically take the advice of that Italian osteria: If there are things you are not happy with, please tell us!
1) Circle of Love – one of my first TV writing mentors insisted that we start our writer’s group with the circle of love. And we still do this. We spend the first couple minutes going around the table and expressing what we liked about the project or what is working. This isn’t for an ego-boost or touchy-feely exercise. It’s because it’s important for us to know what we’ve done well and know that we’re progressing. Praise lets us know we’re on the right track. We all need that.
2) Easter Egg Hunting - It can be tough, but important to talk about theme. I think about theme like an Easter Egg hunt. Theme likes to hide behind character motivations, symbols, tone, or place. Theme can be decorated differently based on each reader’s experiences and interpretations. In our group, we don’t even use the word theme. That’s too formal for us. We ask each other… what are you trying to say with this story? What do you want your readers/viewers to know? Then, instead of arguing about which theme is correct (or which Easter egg is prettiest), we try to look at all the eggs in their painted glory and find the one that best fits our taste.
3) The Big Picture – It can be challenging to know where to start when giving a constructive critique. I like to use The Big Picture principle. This means giving 2 to 3 overall thoughts about the project. Each person in the group contributes two to three things that stand out in a story and this keeps the notes sessions moving along (and doesn’t overwhelm the writer as much). This works great for a book club, too. Limit critique to a couple main things. Maybe tone of the piece? Maybe a particular character’s arc? Maybe how the piece was structured?
4) Heroes and Villains – What does the hero want? What does the villain want? Do they get it? How? When? What do they actually need to change (rule of thumb: heroes usually change/villains usually don’t). These few questions alone are all that is needed to spring board the rest of the discussion and reveal a lot about the story (holes, flaws, strengths, what if’s).
5) Don’t be a Nitpicker! Silence. It makes us uncomfortable. We’ll do anything to fill the silence. So, when we’re at a lack of things to say, we start to nitpick. Stop it! Limit the amount of time for a critique (book analysis). 30-45 minutes is usually enough time until people run out of things to stay and start to nitpick. That’s when things turn ugly and an otherwise helpful or productive critique session can go south. Set an alarm if you need to. I usually do.
Readers, this is for you, too! See how you might apply these 5 guidelines to your next book club!
Hey… maybe we should all just take these a step further and apply some of these to our next Amazon review… kid’s band performance… Or even that friend’s political comment on Facebook (ouch!).
Love is always a crime. Find out why every great crime drama starts with a great love story.Read More
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After returning back to Los Angeles from a long, restorative, holiday, hiatus in Michigan, I took one look at my 2018 vision board and ripped it down. Not one of the "goals and visions" I had set for last year came to fruition. Sounds desperate, right? Disappointing for sure.
But I'm not upset or disappointed that I didn't get to achieve everything on my vision board (okay getting a house would have been nice!) because 2018 was a great year with amazing adventures -- especially the ones that took me off my beaten path. One of those little beaten paths was the learning the importance of striving and pushing for goals with a proper plan in place. A plan that is grounded in routine is one that truly offers peace and satisfaction.
So as 2019 winds up, I find that I have a lot of the same goals and hopes from last year. And I'm going to lean into routines, not resolutions, to see them through!
There is comfort in implementing a doable, daily routine you can fall back on, even when you're not feeling it. Lean in to the routine! It will reward you!
We're all spinning many plates. But when you break it down, your professional lives and personal lives can be handled through project management. For the sake of this article, I'm going to focus on routines for your professional life. But you can do the same concept with goals in your personal life (i.e. running that marathon, planning that family trip, reading a book a month, finishing that ginormous puzzle!).
First, write down the work projects you have for the next 6-12 months.
Now, prioritize them. What has to be done first, second, third.... what can wait til next week? Next month? Later in the year?
Take the top ones you need to work on first and break them down into smaller time chunks and tasks.
Then, create a "to do" list for the following week. What do you need to do on each project in the next week.
When the week is over, take inventory. Did you finish? Are there things you need to carry over into the next week? Did new tasks pop up?
Start over and write down next weeks' "to do". And so on. And so on. Week after week. Soon, you've written a novel, planned a trip, launched a website, created a newsletter! You've eaten the whole elephant, one bite at a time.
Next, learn to harness your time. Use the time blocking technique. Spend 80 percent of your time on your strengths and income earning skills. Use 20 percent of your time on the other stuff you have to do keep your business running. For example, in a 40 hour work week, I should be spending 32 hours of that time on writing projects, writing meetings, and generating new projects and ideas. The remaining 8 hours of the week I use on marketing and outreach to keep my business running and generate more business.
I usually have no problem filling my 32 hours of writing and could (and do) usually put in more than 32 hours on my writing. Where I struggle-- as do most entrepreneurs-- is with the other 20 percent. That marketing beast that constantly needs to be fed!
So... let's break down that 20 percent even further with the 15 minute rule. I'm pretty useless if I don't spend a little quiet time each day before I get started. So I use 15 minutes a day for prayer/meditation/journaling. Then, I schedule 15 minutes a day on outreach/networking task. Another 15 minutes a day on marketing yourself (social media, newsletter, blog, etc). And finally, I take 15 minutes a day to track my bookkeeping. Of course, there are days when I go over the 15 minutes. That's fine, as long as I'm not spending more than 2 hours/day on these tasks. (Remember the 80/20 rule!)
Last and most importantly! Remember to schedule in "Me Blocks" of time every week. These are 2-4 hour blocks of time where you can recharge. I call them "Artist's Dates." Take yourself on a date to get a massage, a mani, see a movie, cook something new, go kayaking, take a long hike, bake a loaf of bread, read a book, or go to a museum.
I like to revisit my to do list at the beginning of each day to set my intentions and directions and make any adjustments. Life happens. Plans change. Meetings come up. Sickness befalls us. It won't run perfectly, and that's okay.
One last thing I must address is flexibility. Your goals and visions for the coming 12 months may shift, derail, or take a back seat. That's okay. Others will take their place. That's okay, too. Good news! You still have your system in place! Lean in to the routine. I think you'll also find that established routines allow you the flexibility you're going to need as your plans, goals, and visions morph during the course of a year.
I believe in living a purposeful, meaning-filled life. And I believe in having goals and visions. I have lots of them! And I believe strongly that the path to our goals and visions in set in the well-laid plans we make for them. And that those routines we set up help us implement those plans.
Have grace and patience with yourself as you get started in your new routines. Take inventory at the end of each week and each month to see how much you've accomplished of your goals. I think you'll find it inspiring!
Have a beautiful start to your 2019!
What could be merrier than taking a look at death investigation during the holidays? Here are some deadly facts sprinkled in with a few fun Christmas facts that will make you bellow, "Ho, ho, oh no!..."
1) Will you die on Christmas? Lots of people do. In fact, more people die on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year's Day than any other days of the year. Find out why and if you or someone you love is a candidate for a holiday death.
2) Here Comes Santa Clause-- NOT! In 1932 in Mesa, AZ, Santa Claus jumped from a plane to parachute into the Christmas parade. His parachute failed to open traumatizing the town's children and parents.
3) Hey, Rudolph, aren't you cold driving Santa's sleigh? Apparently not. Reindeer from Lapland, Finland are uniquely adapted to survive the brutal winters. They have a thick winter coat made of hollow hairs. The air inside and between each hair super insulates the reindeer from the harsh cold. (Courtesy of Frederick Meijer Gardens, Grand Rapids, MI)
4) O Tannenbaum, O Tannebaum... your branches green... are on fire?! Between 2012-2016, U.S. fire departments responded to an average 170 home fires that started with Christmas trees per year. These fires caused an average of 4 deaths, 15 injuries, and $12 million in direct property damage annually. Keep your fire in the fireplace, please!
5) Seasonal stress, poor diet, increased alcohol are contributing factors to why more people die of heart problems during the holidays. If you want to eat, drink and be merry, beware: it may just kill you!
6) During the Middle Ages in the Middle East, rosemary was spread on the floor at midnight on Christmas Eve so as people walked on it, the fragrance would fill the air. The belief was that those who smelled the rosemary on Christmas Eve would have a healthy and happy new year. (Courtesy of Frederick Meijer Gardens, Grand Rapids, MI)
7) It is believed that the San Bernardino terror attack of 2016 was triggered by a company Christmas party that the shooter, a Muslim, was mandated to attend.
8) In Spain, children are taught that it's the Three Wise men who bring them gifts, not Santa Claus. These Wise Men fill their shoes with gifts on the Eve of Epiphany, January 5. So, does that mean, the bigger the feet the better the gift?
9) Pot for Christmas? Deputies in California confiscated 60 pounds of marijuana from an elderly couple, who told investigators the large stash was intended to be divided up and given away as Christmas presents. This sheds a whole new light on "being merry."
10) Yearning for simpler holiday traditions? In early Victorian times people trimmed their trees with walnuts, pine cones, little pouches for secret gifts, paper cornucopias filled with sugared almonds, fruits, and popcorn. Yummy, eatable ornaments!!
Thank you for being a part of this community. Wishing you a Christmas season of hope, joy, peace, and love. See you in 2019!
I’ve been writing professionally (meaning I got a pay check to write!) since I was 19. Like any woman who lives in Hollywood, I’m not gonna reveal my true age, but lemme just say that age 19 was many projects ago.
People who see my perseverance often ask, what do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started writing? Well, it didn’t have to do with craft. Craft is easy to learn and easy to practice. What I wish I had known was…
1. … just how long it takes to make headway as a writer! I know there are some lucky writers who hit it big on their first project or first writing gig (ugh, we all roll our eyes and secretly wish to be you). But for most of us, that’s not the case. I wish I had started out with more patience. I still get impatient and anxious at time and that leads to discouragement and despair because I want things to happen sooner, faster, better. A huge part of the writer’s life is just slogging away at pages every day and learning how to foster positivity. I have a good many encouragement mentors… two of my new favs is anything from Marianne Williamson. And DeVon Franklin’s The Hollywood Commandments.
2. I wish I had known not to be so hard on myself, but I guess that's human nature and my stubborn work ethic. It’s okay to push. You have to push. You won’t succeed if you don’t set daily and weekly and monthly goals. You won’t get anywhere if you don’t write pages. But you also have to play. Which I actually had to learn how to do. I come from a workaholic home. I am still learning how to “be still” and trust the process and the journey. I was guided in this by The Aristist’s Way by Julia Cameron.
3. I wish I had known how to be more thankful at first! I spent a good many years dwelling on the woulda, coulda, shoulda’s—which is negative and basically a huge waste of time and energy. Having a daily gratefulness practice and keeping a gratitude journal fosters goodness and kindness and creativity—not just in myself, but in how I can positively shape the world and the people I see every day. Doing little things every day with love and thankfulness is upper level living. Gratitude attracts opportunity. Gratitude rewires the brain to accept and receive. Gratitude keeps you sane when the rejections come. Gratitude is a form of seeing and expressing truth, goodness and beauty. Who doesn’t need more daily doses of that? One of my favorite books on gratitude is One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.
7 Ways To Step Up Your Writing Game!
Happy NaNoWriMo Month! Are you writing?! I hope so! I'm sort of writing... I just finished a novel and a TV pilot so I'm actually using NaNoWriMo month to brainstorm my next project.
In that spirit, I thought I'd share some of my gold tips for surviving the daily grind of being a content creator and getting IT done. Here are seven simple ways to foster a creative and sustainable life as a crime and mystery writer.
1. Read, watch, and listen to crime stories. Duh. I know it’s obvious, but a small diet of crime stories keep the wheels oiled. Don’t worry about being the most current. I almost never am. I feel like I’m always behind reading and viewing trends. I don’t layer too much guilt over this fact. The point is to gorge on what you like and what you find an interest in.
Here are a couple of my favs right now.
Books: The Yard, Devil in the White City, Killer of Little Shepherds, Big Little Lies
TV Series: Ozark, The Alienist, Angie Tribeca, Brooklyn Nine-9, Sharper Objects
Podcast: Small Town Murder. Beware: Highly explicit content. Disclaimer: My views usually do not reflect those of the hosts. But they’re funny and honest and they do an awesome job researching and presenting cases!
2. Figure out which story type of crime fiction best suits you. Or try on a new brand if things are getting stale. Some examples: medical mystery, true crime, amateur detective, action/thriller, psychological profiler, or caper.
3. Keep a journal or file of interesting cases you want to explore in your writing. I put the electronic ones bookmarked in my web library. Or, I often print them from the web because for me, outta sight is outta mind. I put the paper ones from newspapers or magazines in a big box under my desk. Sometimes these ideas come as full-blown books that I want to read. So, I buy the book on the spot (thank you Amazon Prime) slip it on my bookshelf and and make the read when I’m ready to tackle a new project.
4. Keep a list of interesting, dynamic antagonists that you glean from true crime stories. And dig into their WHY! The best stories hinge on why-dunnit! What is the emotional, internal motivation that caused these killers to kill? This is the fear that freaks us out and keep us awake at night! And it will do the same for your readers! (By the way, this is also the reason I can not watch or read crimes stories before bed.)
5. Take a writer’s retreat. I think writer’s retreats are especially helpful if you’re having trouble starting that project or finishing it. Get away and GET IT DONE! Depending on how much time you can set away, make your goals REASONABLE so that you exit the retreat feeling accomplishment! The above picture is from my favorite writing retreat location!
6. Bounce things off people when you get stuck or don’t know. I know it sounds obvious, but it’s also easy for us writers to get a little too comfortable on our little writing islands. A writer’s group is great for tossing around ideas. Even just one or two writers you really trust is enough. Professionals or retired professionals in the field you are writing about are super helpful in this area, as well. They often have the solutions to the problems I spend way too much time fussing over and researching. Their on-the-street experience is better than Google search every single time. And let’s give them the credit they deserve. They’re the ones fighting real crime. We just do it from a couch cushion.
7. Subscribe to off the beaten path publications as fodder for your imagination. My top three:
1) Hometown newspapers. I still read mine. Mom sends me the electronic version every week. Every now and then something quirky jumps out at me that I can use in my next project.
2) Regional magazines. I’ve been a big reader of LA Magazine and Texas Monthly that often feature highly researched, in depth true crime stories.
3) Forensic Magazine online. www.forensicmag.com The daily newsletter sends me a flood of articles that keep up with current cases and crime solving technology.
Are these rocket science? No.
Do these seem obvious. Probably.
Are you doing all of these? Yes- then Bravo!
No? Revisit the list and resolve to start one new practice to step up you writing game!
How will you improve your game this week?
Have other game-changing practices? Share them with us now!
Here’s a glimpse into my new film that released September 7th in theaters across the U.S. and Canada! Enjoy "never seen before" pics from the set and learn a little bit about how GBBR got onto the big screen! 5% proceeds from the film will go to support veterans at the DAV.
Find show times and tickets below:
Send a veteran to dinner & the movie!
A Little About GBBR On the Big Screen
1. What inspired you to write this film & novel?
God Bless the Broken Road (GBBR) actually began as a feature film script four years ago. My friend and director, Harold Cronk, who is best known for the God’s Not Dead movies, called me one fine summer evening. He pitched me the seed of the idea and asked what I thought? I said I thought it sounded like a solid story. And then he asked if I wanted to write it with him. Of course, I said yes.
We finished the first draft of the script on Christmas Eve, 2014. Over the course of the next year we refined it while the producers rallied the funds. In the spring of 2016 Harold shot God Bless the Broken Road in Manistee, Michigan.
A few months earlier, as we finished the script version, I talked with the producers about penning a novel version. They thought it would be a great idea. So my agent put a pitch together and while we were filming I quickly wrote the first three chapters. Within two weeks my agent had procured a couple contracts. We happily chose Simon & Schuster.
2. What do you hope your viewers and readers take away from this story?
First, that God is always with us, even if we don’t feel like He is or aren’t seeking Him actively. He is always there and He is always providing us with amazing blessings, even when/if we don’t acknowledge them. One of the keys to healing and hope on our broken roads are to turn our gaze to Him so that we can start to recognize Him along the path. When we turn to Him and humble ourselves, He can start to guide us and shape our brokenness into blessing.
Second, this is a story about community. We don’t have to travel our broken roads alone. God has given us friends and family to lean for support and encouragement. This can make a huge difference when we are going through trying times. I think so many people suffer from depression and suicide because they think they are alone. Mother Theresa said the greatest poverty we have today is the poverty of loneliness because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.
So many people feel like this. They feel alone. The feel that no one understands or cares what they are going through. What a travesty. It’s so simple to be there for someone. You don’t have to be a professional counselor or therapist to help someone heal from a wounding. Sometimes the very best thing is to just to take a moment from your day to pause, listen, and lend a hug or word of encouragement.
On the flip side, if you are traveling a broken road it can be difficult to let people into your pain. We see this in GBBR in the character of Amber, who lost her husband in Afghanistan. It takes a lot of courage to be vulnerable and ask for help. But here’s the secret… people love you and want to help you and be there for you. Amber eventually hits bottom in order to find this out and finally surrenders. It’s at that moment when her life starts to really find hope and redemption.
Needing to be loved and cared for is not a sign of weakness, it’s the way we humans need to relate to one another to build real and lasting communities. By the way, building community this deep requires that you get off social media, look up from your phone and have actual human contact! Just sayin’….
Click below to order the novel version and the soundtrack of God Bless The Broken Road!
Why is The Coroner set in a small town? What can we expect to see in the second of the series? How does TV inaccurately portray coroners? Answers to these questions and more… in this month’s Author Q&A!
1. Obviously being the daughter of a medical examiner had a big influence on you. Did you ever want to follow in your father’s footsteps?
As a teenager, I was rather grossed out and embarrassed about what my father’s job at M.E. These were the days before CSI and Forensic Files made death investigation exciting and cool. When my friends found out my dad did this, they took great interest, so that lessened the embarrassment on my part. And while I do love the sciences, I always knew my calling was to be on the storytelling side of crime solving.
2. You’re also the author of an inspirational novel and feature film about an Army widow, and a nonfiction book about the science of forensic investigation and crime dramas. How did writing a mystery differ?
Storytelling is storytelling no matter the genre. All genres follow the same story rules and arcs. I find it takes the same amount of time, effort, thought, energy, and research to develop a story whether its for book or screen. Creating a screenplay requires the same amount of story work as it does for a novel. The only difference is that I can write a screenplay in a fraction of the time it takes me to write a novel because most of the backstory and ground work never shows up as words on the page. Non-fiction is a whole different ball game. It requires a lot less emotional energy. And in that sense, it feels less exhaustive. I love the challenge and results of all of them.
3. Did you plan out the mystery before you started or did you see where you writing took you?
I’m a plotter. That comes from my screenwriting training. When I start a new mystery I pretend I’m the investigator and I create a case file for my “case.” From there I create a rough skeleton outline of the mystery plot. After that I flesh out the character’s arcs and emotional journeys, and B, C, and D stories surrounding the case. Then, I create a treatment. Workshop it. Then, a first draft. More workshopping. I’m a collaborative writer. It’s more fun, makes the project stronger, and gets the project done faster.
4. What is something that you frequently see the media portraying incorrectly in regards to forensics?
I have my top ten and they all have pet names. One of my favorites is what I call, “Sex Appeal.” You see this a lot on television. The good-looking, well-dressed investigators show up in heels, skirts, or suit to a crime scene investigation. Their hair and make-up are perfectly done. They are fresh and well-rested. A lot of times they aren’t wearing any proper protective gear. It’s not a criticism. I understand it why they do this. Shows want to portray a certain sex appeal from their actors. But it’s not a reflection of how real life investigators show up to crime scenes.
5. Why did you decided to set most of the book in a small town?
The Coroner harkens to my experiences growing up in a small town and seeing how death investigation works in a rural area. I like to expose the reality that resources in rural areas are often limited and different than they are in big cities. I’m not saying they are not professional. They are. But the elements of staffing, equipment, education, experience, and budget all factor in and vary vastly from county to county. Secondly, I think it’s interesting to explore how small communities react when one of their own is taken from them. No one remains anonymous in small towns. Everyone plays a role. Everyone is affected. Everyone has an opinion and a stake.
6. The cliffhanger leads me to think we’ll be seeing more of these characters – can you tell us anything about their futures?
We’ll be continuing the journey of Dr. Emily Hartford as Coroner. Her love life becomes more complicated as she struggles with calling off her engagement, tests the dating waters, and explores any remaining sparks with Nick. And she will be have to solve a brutal cold case murder… much darker than the first book… with Nick as a key suspect.
People often ask me, how much of your characters are like your real life as a coroner’s daughter?Read More