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Writing Weapons: Revolvers

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Disclaimer: This series of blogs will deal with the issue of handguns, shotguns and rifles. The information is to help writers write more accurately about them. It is in no way a statement for or against guns and should not be misconstrued to be such.

 

The characters in our novels have jobs and interests. Sometimes those jobs and interests will require that they have and use guns. For example, if one of our characters is a police officer, it is likely that on and off duty he may carry a semi-automatic handgun. Or if one of our characters hunts, he may use a rifle or a shotgun or a bow and arrow, depending on his prey. It is our responsibility as writers to write realistically about them. There is nothing worse than referring to a character as a “quick draw” and then giving him a .44 Magnum with an 8-inch barrel as his weapon. There is no way anyone is going to quickly draw an 8-inch barrel from a holster. And seriously, never, ever say “she emptied the magazine of her revolver.” No she didn’t. And you cannot shoot eight bullets from a 5-shot revolver as is so often seen in the movies. Ugh.

For the general public, there are two categories of guns: handguns and long guns. The two most used of handguns are semi-automatic and revolvers. Long guns are shotguns and rifles. Each has its own carry method and set of accessories. I’ll start this series with handguns because they really are the most common.

To begin, I will talk about revolvers. The revolver, like many handguns, have many different variations: barrel length, type of grip, type of sight, laser sights (or not), number of shots in the cylinder (4 + shots), caliber, metals, and with or without hammers. Longer barrels are more accurate but harder to conceal. Snub-nose revolvers are easy to conceal but are only accurate up close and personal. The most common revolvers carried are .357 Magnum and .38 Special.

The .357 Magnum is most common with a longer barrel although it can be snub-nosed. The shorter the barrel the greater the recoil. And the recoil is painful. Sometimes this is eased by loading the revolver with .38 Special shells. Either way, there will be recoil and this should be noted. The .38 Special revolver commonly comes with a shorter barrel and cannot fire the .357 Magnum shell..

The metal the guns are made from will be something to make note of too. The older generation revolvers would be made from blued-steel. In modern times, there is stainless steel for durability , the light-weight alloys are preferred for concealed carry including a few models that are made from polymers. This can add a dimension to your character all by itself. Is he a grumpy old man who likes his revolver “Old Blue?” Or is she hip and fresh and carries an alloy J-frame in her purse?

Grips can run the gamut from rubber, wood, ivory, bejeweled, etc. It is the bling of the gun. Or not. Sometimes it’s all about pure function. A character who has rubber grips is all business. The character who has the mother of pearl grips to match her cigarette case is all bling.

Be sure to fact check on the number of shots in the cylinder for the model revolver you choose to have your character carry. The number of shots can vary greatly from 5 for a .38 Special to 12 in a .22 target pistol. The best place to find specific information is from the gun manufacturers.

How the character chooses to tote his weapon around is to be considered too. Does he carry it in an outside-the-waste holster, inside-the-waste holster, pocket holster, shoulder holster, or ankle holster? Or does she toss it in her purse with her lipstick? Is your character in a state that allows open carry? Does he need a permit? Does he care? This list will help you.

It can be important to know how the gun is shot. Yes, your character would have to pull the trigger. But is it a single-action where he has to cock the hammer first before pulling the trigger or a double-action where the pull on the trigger does both – cock the hammer and release it? Most modern revolvers are double action but your character may like collector pistols or have an old one. Does it even have a hammer? Many of the smaller revolvers designed for concealed carry purposes don’t even have protruding hammers.

This is just some basic information on revolvers that may add a little interesting detail and insight into a character who may have one or use one.

Forensics & Fiction: The Death Certificate

Despite what you see on C.S.I, Bones, Criminal Minds, etc., it takes approximately six to eight weeks from the time the autopsy is performed before the death certificate is signed. Why? Because the autopsy is only part of the process. Before a pathologist will sign the death certificate she will also need the toxicology results, police report, ambulance report, medical records, psychological records. This can go on and on depending on the circumstances surrounding the death being investigated.

Once all of the toxicology results are back and all of the medical records and other various reports have been reviewed the doctor will issue his findings in the form of Cause and Manner of death. Here’s what you need to know.

Examples of Cause of Death

  • Cancer
  • Gun Shot wound
  • Head Injury
  • Asphyxia
  • Blunt force trauma

 Examples of Manner of Death

  • Natural
  • Homicide
  • Accident
  • Suicide
  • Unknown

 Homicide

  • Homicide is defined as the act of one person killing another.
  • Classifying a death as a homicide has nothing to do with intent.
  • Whether or not the coroner or medical examiner labels a death as a homicide has very little to do with whether or not the case will be prosecuted.

 Example: A young child picks up a loaded gun and pulls the trigger, killing his caregiver. This death will be classified as a homicide on the death certificate. However, the police will likely call it an accidental death.

 Accident

  • An accident is an unintentional event that results in the loss of life.
  • Classifying a death as an accident does not mean the police won’t prosecute the case as a homicide.

 Example: A pedestrian is struck and killed by a drunk driver. The coroner/medical examiner will classify this death as an accident. The police will likely charge the driver with drunk driving and vehicular homicide or manslaughter. The only way the coroner/medical examiner would classify this death as a homicide is if the police discovered evidence that the driver intended to kill the pedestrian.

 Who Can Sign the Death Certificate on a Natural Death?

  • The coroner or medical examiner
  • The decedent’s primary care physician
  • A hospital doctor – E.R. doctors often refuse to sign the death certificate because they aren’t familiar with the patient’s medical history.

Doctors are not trained in medical school on how to sign death certificates. Periodically a physician will unknowingly sign a death certificate on case that should have been referred to the coroner or medical examiner. When this happens, the Department of Vitals & Statistics will send the death certificate to the coroner/medical examiner’s office for correction.

Example: A young women falls off a horse and becomes a paraplegic. Because of her injuries, she becomes vulnerable to a number of illnesses an otherwise healthy person would not suffer. Over the course of 20 years her health declines. Eventually she develops pneumonia and succumbs to it.

Her primary cause of death is pneumonia; however her decline in health ultimately resulted from the fall off the horse. The signing physician lists the secondary cause of death as paraplegia. Paraplegia is not a natural death. Therefore the decedent’s death should have been referred. Given the nature of her injuries and how long ago they occurred, it isn’t likely she would have been autopsied but that decision is ultimately up to the assigned pathologist.

That about wraps it up for this Forensics & Fiction post. If you have any questions about the material I’ve provided in this post or any others, please leave a comment.

Below is a link to the CDC’s website which displays a standard format used for U.S. death certificates. It also includes instructions to assist physicians and funeral homes on how to fill it out. Some of the information the form requires may spark an idea or two for your story. You can find the death certificate template here.

Have a great day!

By the Light of the Silvery Moon

[avatar user=”LeeAnn” size=”thumbnail” align=”left” link=”file” /]

 

Full Moon Over Water by Exsodus www.freedigitalphotos.com

Full Moon Over Water by Exsodus www.freedigitalphotos.com

Every 29.5 days there is a full moon. The moon is bright and in some areas, when you are away from artificial lights, you can actually read by its light. Countless songs have been sung about the moon and there may have been a time or two when you’ve howled at it. It is the impetus for the transformation of men into werewolves. Yes, people, we did land on it. No, it is not made of green cheese.

 Each month heralds a full moon but I bet you didn’t know that each one has a special name. In fact, many cultures from the Celts to the Chinese. The common names that we use today actually come from the Algonquin tribes in New England to Lake Superior area. Here they are below with their corresponding month. You can read more here.

 January – The Wolf Moon

This is the month that snow collects in the woods and the howls of the wolves can be heard echoing. Some tribes called this one the Snow Moon.

 February – The Snow Moon

February is when most of the snow falls and gets deeper. Some tribes called this on the Hunger Moon due to the hunting difficulties.

March – The Worm Moon

This is the time when the ground begins to thaw and the worms begin coming to the surface for air and they begin moving in the ground. Other names are the Crow Moon, the Crust Moon, the Sap Moon, and the Lenten Moon (among the Christian settlers).

 April – The Pink Moon

April is when pink phlox blooms and the flowers in the landscape begin to appear. Other names are the Fish Moon, Sprouting Grass Moon, and the Egg Moon.

May – The Flower Moon

Flowers are in full bloom. Also know as the Milk Moon, and the Corn Planting Moon.

 June – The Strawberry Moon

June is when the strawberries have reached their peak.

 July – The Buck Moon

Deer start sprouting their antlers during this time. This moon is also called the Thunder Moon, or the Hay Moon.

August – The Sturgeon Moon

August is the month when sturgeon are plentiful and easily caught. Other names are the Green Corn Moon, the Grain Moon, and the Red Moon.

 September – The Harvest Moon

This is fairly obvious, the crops and staples are ready to be harvested and put away. This moon is the full moon closest to the autumn equinox and sometimes occurs in October. It is also called the Corn Moon.

October – The Hunter’s Moon

After the fields have been cleared and the game has fattened up for winter, it’s time to hunt.

 November – The Beaver Moon

The beavers are preparing for winter – fattening up, repairing their dens, storing food – and thus are active. Trappers are able to set their traps and catch the critters more readily. Also known as the Frosty Moon.

 December – The Cold Moon

December starts winter and the temperatures drop. Another name is the Long Night Moon because the nights are longer than the days during this time.

Because the lunar month is 29.5 days, every two to three years there is an extra full moon. This moon is The Blue Moon.

So, now you know. Try using them in your writing to add flavor and nuance. “Her hair shone in the light of the full moon,” becomes “Her hair shone from the light of the Hunter’s Moon.” Cool.

 

This blog originally appeared on LeeAnn’s personal blog on September 18, 2014.

Conversations I Have with Amos (My Laptop)

Image Courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image Courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“All righty then.” I logged into my computer and waited for Amos to boot up.

He hummed himself awake. The icons on his screen flickered as he transitioned from sleep mode to work mode.

“What’s going on?” He yawned, causing the icons to stretch across the screen. When he was finished they snapped back into place.

“It’s time to work, Amos.” I used the mouse to click away until I found the document I was searching for.

“Work?”

Everything on the screen froze. That annoying blue wheel spun in place in the center of the screen.

“What’s happening, Amos?”

The blue wheel disappeared and the screen finished loading.

“Sorry.” Amos said. “When you said work I was shocked. You haven’t done any actual work in weeks. This is an exciting day!”

I rolled my eyes and sighed. Leave it to my laptop to torment me. “I’ve done nothing but work for the past few weeks.”

“Sure, sure. You work real hard……on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr. Ooh!  Are you going to make those pumpkin-shaped rice krispies treats you found Pinterest the other day? Can you download them into my hard drive? They looked tasty.”

“I don’t think so.” I opened the file my novel was in and waited for it to load. Everything today was running so slow. “Amos, why is it taking so long for everything to load?”

“Because it’s been so long since you’ve used any of the files on your computer. Their components went into atrophy. Give ’em a second to warm up.”

“You’re hilarious.”

About two minutes later everything was completely loaded and I was tapping away on Amos’s keyboard.

“255 pages. Wow! You might actually finish your novel before I become obsolete.”

“You’re love and support means so much to me, Amos.”

“Hey! If you’re going to write sarcastic you should use the irony mark. That’s what it’s there for.”

“I’m working,” I sang.

“Can we print this puppy and send it Leonard. It’ll drive him nuts. Maybe he’ll jam up again.”

“Leave the printer alone.”

Google popped up on my screen followed by a series of several more screens, each loading with Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

“Amos.” I groaned.

“Awe, come on!  Let’s play.”

I closed out each of the screens. “It’s not play time; it’s work time.”

“At least check your email. There’s always something in there that distracts you.”

“That’s exactly why I’m not checking my email. No distractions until I’m finished.”

“Fine!”

The screen locked up and flickered a couple of times before turning blue.

“What?” I pulled my hands off the keyboard and held them, palms out, in the air, demonstrating my innocence. “Amos? What did you do?”

“I won’t be taken for granted.”

“Who’s taking you for granted? I didn’t buy you to surf the Internet. I bought you so I could work.”

“Can’t hear you. Everything is blue. I’m going back to sleep.”

“Ahem.”

I turned toward Gretchen, the baby monitor, and watched as her indicator lights flickered.

“Oh no.” Please don’t tell me the baby is awake. Please don’t tell me the baby is awake.

“Yup.  Sorry.” Gretchen cleared her throat. “THE BABY’S AWAKE! THE BABY’S AWAKE! SHE CAN’T FIND HER BINKY! SOMEONE SEND OUT A SEARCH PARTY!”

So much for productivity.

 

So, That’s What That Means II

[avatar user=”LeeAnn” size=”thumbnail” link=”file”]LeeAnn Rhoden[/avatar]

So, Allison and I were dropping the kiddos off at school and she says, “I was wondering where the phrase ‘a snake’s den” comes from. When are you going to write that blog?” Lucky for her, I was still trying to decide what to write so I could get right on it.

I’d never heard the phrase “a snake’s den” before. Where I grew up it was called “a snakes’ nest” or “a nest of snakes.” The imagery is the same and thus, I’m sure, the meaning is the same with only geographic differences in phraseology. Okay, then where did that phrase come from?

According to The Phrase Finder the phrase is actually a “a nest of vipers.” Referring to someone as a snake has been an insult dating back to Aesop. Personally, I think the reference goes back further than that – at least as far back as Genesis. Snakes lurk in dark, hidden places and are camouflaged and therefore sneaky. These are negative qualities to have as a human. Anyway, our phrase in English comes from, you know, England. There, vipers specifically refer to poisonous snakes – even more insulting.

Nests were what groups of people, especially those composed of nefarious folks, were called. But in 1644, a pamphlet criticizing a group plotting treason against the English Parliament was entitled A Nest of Perfidious Vipers. It was the first time the two terms can be documented in use together.

 So, now you know!

Forensics & Fiction: The Morgue

“Revise! Revise!” I screamed at the television. As much as I loved Brenda Lee Johnson from The Closer, the scene in the morgue where she’s digging through bodies in search of a Jane Doe, without assistance from a morgue technician, would never happen. EVER!

Here’s what you need to know when writing a morgue scene. This information is taken from the observations I made while working in two different morgues.

Morgue Facts

  • The morgue generally refers to the section of the building where the bodies are kept and autopsies are performed.
  • It is a secure facility.

Police officers cannot walk into the morgue by themselves and mosey about the refrigerated units looking for deceased individuals.

  • Retrieving a deceased individual for a police officer is the responsibility of the morgue technicians or investigators.

Morgue technicians can also be referred to as autopsy technicians or autopsy assistants. See your local office’s website to find out what this job title is called there.

  • There is a receiving area where bodies are brought in and transported out of by funeral homes and transport companies.

The receiving area has a digital scale built into the floor. The scale looks like a rectangular piece of metal and wiggles when you step on or off of it.  It’s used for weighing the deceased. Weight, height, hair color and eye color are all recorded initially when the decedent first arrives. More detailed information, such as tattoos and scars, is recorded later.

  • Morgues depicted in movies are fancier than what I’ve seen – though that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

In the movies there will be a stainless steel wall with a series of small square doors. The pathologist or technician will open the door and pull out a gurney with the deceased on it. My former offices didn’t have that, although the second office I worked in had large doors that, when opened, revealed a series of stainless steel shelves where bodies stacked. Both offices had large refrigerated units (walk-in refrigerators). The deceased were found, in body bags, on stainless steel gurneys or on silver shelves along the wall.

The body bags used for the decedents were either black or white. A white body bag is used if the manner of death was believed to be natural, accidental, suicide or unknown (as long as it wasn’t believed suspicious). Black body bags are used for homicides and suspicious deaths.

  • Both offices I worked in had two separate refrigerated units.

The main refrigerated unit held anything that wasn’t a decomposed body or John Doe. Decomposed bodies (because of the smell) and long-term cases (usually John/Jane Does) were stored in the smaller units. The main refrigerated unit had two doors. One door connected to the receiving area; the other door connected to the autopsy room.

  • The number of bodies a morgue can hold varies greatly on its size.

The Autopsy Rooms

  • At both of my former offices there were two autopsy rooms. Again, this may vary according to the needs of the facility. I imagine Los Angeles has a much larger facility.
  • The larger of the two rooms had 2-4 spaces where autopsies could be performed simultaneously.
  • The smaller room was designed to perform one autopsy. This room was typically reserved for examining homicides and decomposed bodies because it could be closed off from the rest of the facility, limiting the number of eyes on evidence collected and containing the smell of the decomposed body.

A General Description of Autopsy Rooms

  • Each autopsy station will have stainless steel counters with space for the pathologist to dissect tissues.
  • A sink is located in the center of the counters.
  • A special autopsy table, with a drain found at the foot of the table will be placed inside a notch that connects to the sink. This allows the drain in the table to flow into the sink.
  • There may be another stainless steel counter that sits away from the autopsy stations. This is considered the “clean” area. Paperwork for each case can be found here and the general rule of thumb is “clean hands only” because this is the same paperwork that will circulate through the office.
  • A Material Data Safety Sheet or MSDS will also be found somewhere in the morgue. It lists how to handle dangerous chemicals such as formalin.
  • An emergency eye rinse/shower station will also be in one or both of the autopsy rooms in case an employee splashes something in his eyes or has a chemical spilled on his skin.

What You Might Smell In An Autopsy Room

  • Formalin

Formalin is the chemical substance used by pathologists to preserve the tissue samples they collect at autopsy. Formalin is basically the same as formaldehyde – an ingredient found in embalming fluid. Formalin smells like ammonia. It can create a burning sensation in the eyes when inhaled.

  • Other odors.

The best way I can describe the odor of a body being autopsied is a combination of must and blood. I always associated the smell of blood with a musty-metallic-sweet scent. For some people, the smell of blood can be nauseating. Then again, so can the site of an autopsied body.

A decomposed body will smell like a combination of ammonia and rotting chicken. Describing the smell in your novels as “rotting meat” is fine. I’ve just always associated it with chicken.

A Morgue is Not

  •  A long-term storage unit.

The goal is to release the deceased to a funeral home as quickly as possible to make room for new cases. In one instance, we released a decedent to the funeral home the family chose. The funeral home had already transported the body back to their facility. The family called requesting we take the body back because they couldn’t afford that funeral home and that funeral home charged a storage fee. I had to explain to that family member we couldn’t accommodate her request. 

  • A funeral home.

Families are often confused as to what the purpose of these offices is. In one case, when I contacted a family member to find out what funeral arrangements he had made, he told me, “Just cremate her.” I had to explain to him that we were not a funeral home. We can’t make those arrangements. That is the responsibility of the family.

  • A private autopsy facility.

The purpose of coroner/medical examiner is to determine cause and manner of death. If the family wants anything more than that done they will need to arrange for a private autopsy. Private autopsies are costly. The last I heard they ran approximately $3,000, depending on what testing the families wanted performed. A medical examiner/coroner’s office cannot be used to perform private autopsies. It’s considered a conflict of interest and in some states may be illegal.

 

Singularly Neutral

[avatar user=”LeeAnn” size=”thumbnail” align=”left” link=”file”]LeeAnn Rhoden[/avatar]

Third person singular: he, him, she, her. Seems simple enough. He likes ice cream. She likes ice cream. The tree fell on him. The tree fell on her. The problem with our language is that third person pronouns are gender specific. Not just our language, in most western languages. In fact, according to this article in the World Atlas of Language Structures Online there are only 254 languages with no gender distinctions in the third person pronoun.

The complication of no gender specification is obvious – Person likes ice cream. Who? Is this person a male or female? Is it important to know or is it more important to know what flavor ice cream person likes? The tree fell on person. Is it important to know what gender has been flattened? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Our English language and most Indo-European languages have gender specific third person pronouns. So, we know if the person who likes ice cream is male or female and we know which gender has been victimized by the tree. But, what if we don’t know? What pronoun do we use?

It used to be, that when gender was unknown, the male pronoun was substituted. He likes ice cream. Oh! Sorry, Mary! She likes ice cream. Personally, I don’t have a problem with the masculine being the fail safe pronoun. I’m not that thin-skinned that if someone were to refer to me as “he” or “him” without actually knowing it’s me (I am female) I’d be insulted.

However, at some point in the past few decades in writing the combination pronoun “he/she” or worse “s/he” started showing up. S/He should sign on the dotted line. Way too much work.  And why? Is it to be gender inclusive? Why not use the neutral “one?” One should sign on the dotted line. Is it an attempt to be crystal clear? To know that it’s an actual person rather than something else? It should sign on the dotted line. Perhaps in some legal situations it may be necessary to be absolute.

“They” has been used as an answer. But is using the third person plural pronoun better? I don’t know, I’d rather be “he” than a “they.” Besides the fact “they” is plural, to use it then one has to conjugate the verb in the singular “you” form. Ugh.

For now, let’s revel in tradition and stick with “he” or “one” for the unknown gender. It’s simpler. It’s cleaner. It’s correct. What do you think? What do you prefer?

 

Irony: A short story

 

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Samantha kicked back on the couch with her feet resting on the coffee table. Thirty minutes passed since Jamie called and Samantha was thoroughly enjoying every minute.

I can’t believe he’s buying this. A soft giggled escaped from her throat and she coughed to cover it up.

“Has your computer finished booting up yet?” Jamie was growing more and more agitated as time progressed.

First, Samantha told him her computer was booting up. Then she told him her computer locked up while she was trying to login to the Internet. After that, she told him she received the blue screen of death and she needed to reboot.

He is one determined phisher. Samantha filed down the rough edges of her fingernails.

Jamie from Microsoft, allegedly, took time out of his busy day to call Samantha and let her know the Windows department detected a virus on her computer.

“If you’d be so kind as to login to your computer, I’ll install a special edition of antivirus software on your computer to remove it.”

Samantha knew better. Microsoft doesn’t have the staff or the budget to call every client in the freaking world to remove viruses from their computers. Jamie was, indeed, a phisher and Samantha enjoyed messing with him.

Samantha pulled out a small jar of purple nail polish and unscrewed the lid, dabbing the brush up and down several times before applying it to her toe nails.

“I haven’t got all day, Miss.”

Samantha all but forgot he was waiting on her response. That’s what he gets.

“Sorry,” she began. “If this is a bad time for you to hack into my computer and steal my financial information, you can call back at another time.”

“Excuse me?”

“Did I stutter?” Samantha bent over her knees, blowing on her toe nails to dry the polish.

“Are you even by your computer?”

“Nope.” That was the first truthful thing Samantha said to him since he called. Her computer was upstairs in her bedroom.

“You’ve been jerking me around this whole time?”

“You’re not one to complain, Mr. Hacker-Man.”

“You are a horrible woman!” The verbal abuse continued with a number of colorful expletives.

“Hey, now!” Samantha began applying nail polish to her other foot. “The last man who spoke to me like that disappeared. I’d watch it if I were you.”

“I’m not scared of you.” Jamie’s thick accent was filled with animosity.

“You should be.” She wondered what his reaction to this would be. “I’m a person of interest in the disappearance of my husband.”

“Oh yeah,” he began, “then I am John F. Kennedy, back from the dead.”

Samantha pursed her lips, tilting her head to one side. “How’s your head, Mr. President?”

“I don’t have time for this!”

Samantha rolled her eyes. Unfortunately for Jamie, his temper proved he wasn’t legitimate customer service. A legitimate customer service person would’ve given up a long time ago.

“Give it up, dude. You’re a fake and I know it.”

“How? How do you know? How. Do. You. Know?”

A knock on the door pulled Samantha’s attention away from the phone. The ringing doorbell followed close behind. Samantha walked toward the door on her heels.  Her toes were spread wide.

“Because Microsoft wouldn’t call people to tell them they have a virus.” Samantha opened the door, momentarily blinded by the bright light.

“No…”

Samantha lowered the phone to her waist before Jamie could finish.

“Samantha Walker?” A plain-clothed police officer stood in front of her holding out a badge. Two uniformed officers stood behind him.

“Yes,” Samantha stammered.

“We have a warrant for your arrest. Please come out here.”

Samantha stepped outside her door. This was the moment she was waiting for.

The detective removed the phone from her hands, placing them behind her back. She cringed as she felt the cold metal of the handcuffs dig into her skin, sending goose bumps up her arms.

“You’re under arrest for the murder of your husband, John Walker.”

They found him.