Tag Archives: science

Jul 01

“The Expendable Man” Author Peter G. Pollak Visits with Mike Angley

MA: My guest today is Peter G. Pollak. Peter is a retired business executive who has also been an educator and editor of two weekly newspapers. He also runs a web business where he interviews people, and he writes a blog on New York State government and politics.
Welcome, Peter. Please tell us more about your background.
PP: My working titles have included visiting professor, editor, publisher, CEO and lately chairman (of the company I founded), but what has characterized my professional career has been a willingness to take a risk in order to make a difference. After finishing my B.A., I spent a year as a VISTA Volunteer. Although I went back to school and eventually earned a Ph.D. (in history and education), in between I was editor of two alternative newspapers. In 1985, I said good-bye forever to being an employee and started a press release delivery service which is still in existence (under the name readMedia). I’m semi-retired now, spending most of my time writing.

MA: With your particular credentials in business and journalism, how did you end up writing fiction?

PP: I love to read fiction. To me fiction is on par with painting, sculpture and music as a higher art form. It requires both talent and dedication and good fiction rewards the reader by transporting h/h to another reality. In doing so, the reader can experience life’s horrors and its potentials.
MA: In your novel, did you create characters based upon people you’ve known in your personal and professional life?
PP: I don’t draw on real people for my characters. I suppose my characters are composites of people I’ve met, read about or come in contact with in some other way.
MA: Tell us about your novel.
PP: The Expendable Man is a political thriller. The protagonist is thrown into a bad situation for which he is ill prepared. He not only has to find a way out of that situation, but in order to regain his life he must find out why he was put there in the first place. He must survive the crucibles of being wrongly convicted of a crime and contracting a normally fatal illness.
MA: I love political thrillers. What makes your hero who he is? Strengths? Weaknesses?
PP: At the beginning he’s all about himself. He lacks family or friend. He’s not a bad person, but one who hasn’t allowed himself to smell the roses. No one can go through hell without being changed in the process. I hope my readers see the changes that take place in his personality as he struggles to regain his health and his freedom.

MA: Every good thriller has to have a bad guy, so I assume you have a unique one?

PP: Yes, of course. There is the person who sets the ball in motion and the one who has to do the dirty work of making my protagonist “expendable.” Readers may recognize their types.
MA: I imagine you don’t have any real life experiences that you drew from to create your story, or do you?
PP: I’ve been behind bars…for a few hours. I was arrested when I was about 19 for violating a local ordinance, selling without a permit. I was trying to earn money one summer selling encyclopedias. Later I had the privilege of teaching political science 101 to inmates at more than one NYS Correctional Institution (prison). What’s worse than being locked up? Answer: facing a deadly disease. What if you had to contend with both? That’s the fate of my protagonist.
MA: Well, I never saw that coming! What are your future writing plans?
PP: I’m working on a mystery which I hope to finish by the end of the summer and then publish a second mystery set in the same city using two of the characters from the first one. The protagonist of The Expendable Man has ridden off into the sunset. I’ll let my readers imagine what his life is like, but I think readers will like the main characters in my next two novels — Jake Barnes, a retired cop turned P.I., and Karen Battaglia, recently promoted to detective on her local police force.
MA: Excellent! Any parting thoughts for my readers?
PP: If you live in the Baltimore/Washington, D.C. region, I’d be happy to do a reading for your book club or other organization. Contact me through my website: http://www.petergpollak.com/

Read More

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Jun 24

“The Light Bringer” Co-Authors Mike Force & Chris DiGiuseppi Guest-Blog with Mike Angley

MA: I am pleased today to welcome co-authors Chris DiGiuseppi and Mike Force. Chris and Mike have penned a wonderful suspense novel, The Light Bringer. Both of these gentlemen are fellow former law enforcement officers, so I have a special place in my heart (and on my blog) for their service.

Chris has over nineteen years in law enforcement at various levels up to and including Assistant Chief of Police. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy and Northwestern University School of Police Staff Command. He is trained in various aspects of law enforcement and holds degrees in Human Resources and Business Administration. Chris lives with his wife and children in Missouri.

Mike has spent over 30 years in law enforcement, the last 19 as a Police Chief. Mike has numerous certifications in various areas of law, forensics, investigations and criminology. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy and served 22 years in the U.S. Marines where he retired as a Captain. He oversaw operations for twenty-seven military installations worldwide. He holds degrees in Political Science and Human Resources. Mike lives with his wife in Missouri and has three grown children and a granddaughter.

Thanks for your LEO and military service, and welcome aboard! I’m going to fire questions at you both, so perhaps we’ll go back and forth for equal time. Chris, please tell us a little bit about your professional LE background.

CD: I’ve risen through the ranks from patrol officer up to Assistant Chief of Police for a small community near St. Louis, MO. I’ve experienced many different facets of police work during my tenure since starting in 1991 to include general patrol, public and community relations, support services functions and administrative functions over our Operations Division. Since our agency is smaller, 30 sworn officers and 10 civilian employees, we’ve had the luxury of building a team of professionals centering on good core values that we look for when recruiting people for our organizational family.

More important than my professional background, I’m married with 3 children and 2 step children – and couldn’t be happier.

MA: Excellent, and I could not agree more with your assessment about the role of family. Mike, your turn. Tell us why you chose to write a novel, especially why you and Chris decided to co-author a project.

MF: Chris and I talked about writing a book for many years. The desire to write was sparked from the many tragedies we experienced over the course of our careers and our book relates to those instances. In my opinion, the initial reason that we wrote was basically therapeutic, as our story helped us make some sense of those things that often bothered us involving tragic incidents of death. Helping people through those times of despair and grief pushed us to question the complexity of life and why things happened, that seemed so wrong. The first half of our book is based on real incidents that Chris and I experienced in both our professional and personal lives. The last portion of our book delves into a supernatural explanation that takes the reader beyond life.

MA: Obviously, your professional careers inspired your story, but are any of your characters based upon real-life people with whom you’ve interacted?

CD: Our personal and professional lives definitely formed our writing, and our characters are based on real people and/or personalities we’ve encountered throughout our lives.

MA: Tell us about The Light Bringer.

MF: The Light Bringer is our first novel and is part of a trilogy. Our publisher, HCI Books, has it categorized as Suspense Fiction but it also has a paranormal/supernatural element as well as an inspirational theme.

MA: Who is the hero or heroine in the story?

CD: Our main character is an ex-military man who is now a police sergeant. His personality traits and overall characterization was developed as a mixture of our (myself and co-author Mike Force) background, habits and personal traits.

MA: This may be a tough question considering your protagonist is a composite of you both, but what are his strengths and flaws?

MF: I believe his strengths and weaknesses stem from the same thing. He’s a deep thinker and extremely empathetic where he spends a great deal of time fighting to stick to his core values.

MA: There’s a lot to be said about having strong core values, and I’m afraid not too many real people, let alone fictional characters, embody them. What about a bad guy – any unique antagonist you want to tell us about?

CD: There is one particular character that was developed who portrays a person of poor character and values who is continually doing what’s wrong. His constant dedication to victimize others leads to a much bigger plot and eventually reveals his involvement in something extremely evil and wrong.

MA: I suspected as much based upon your hero’s description. What better antagonist than someone who is the polar opposite? I take it there are some elements of real-life experiences and people in The Light Bringer?

MF: Absolutely – the first portion of the book centers around 16 different people who die – most of those incidents are based on real experiences that we’ve had in our professional and personal lives.

MA: Since The Light Bringer is the first in a trilogy, how close are you to getting the second book out?

CD: We have the second draft written and hope to further it within the next year or so. The second book bridges the first and the third. The third book will offer finality to the overlying plot and message. The main characters will continue through the trilogy with new characters being added as we go.

MA: Given the inspirational nature of The Light Bringer, what do you want your readers to walk away with after reading it?

MF & CD: The Light Bringer focuses on the question “Why do people die.” We’ve received many praises and endorsements from readers via advanced readers’ copies. The book seems to appeal to a diverse crowd from those who like a good paranormal suspense/thriller, to those who like a murder mystery with a supernatural twist or even those who are looking for an inspirational message of hope in dark times. It’s our desire that this book will not only entertain but also help people who struggle with grief and despair because of tragedy. We additionally aspire to challenge the reader to draw their own conclusions pertaining to the concept of how “doing what’s right” in life perhaps follows you after death.

MA: Gentlemen, it was a pleasure having you guest with me today, and thanks again for your public service. I encourage my readers to learn more about Mike Force, Chris DiGiuseppi, and The Light Bringer by visiting their website: http://www.thelightbringerbook.com/ Read More

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Apr 27

Saturate Yourself by Mary Deal

Saturate Yourself

by

Mary Deal

Many writers see a piece of prose and feel they can write like that. When they make the attempt to write their own story or piece of poetry, they fail. Why?

We’re all told to read what we wish to write. That is, read the authors we like best. That’s one reason we choose to write in the genre we’ve chosen. But also read instruction books on how to write for a certain genre. With the advent of eReaders, more books can be available at our fingertips for a fraction of the cost. Your local library also has reference books.

Every genre has its requirements.

* A mystery solves a problem
* A romance brings two people together or apart
* Science fiction usually creates other worlds
* Fantasy has elements of imagination beyond the norm
* Literary fiction deals with a moment in time, the human element

And on and on…

One of the best ways to help you gain success with your writing endeavors is to immerse yourself in the form of writing you wish to accomplish. You’ll identify certain rules or formats followed in each type of story you read.

For example in poetry, if you’ve read a heartfelt sonnet that touched you deeply, and wish to write about your feelings but every time you try the words just don’t fall into place. The best thing you can do is to study how to write a sonnet. Read sonnets. Read other poetry so you can learn the different between forms of verse. The latter is a great way to understand the type of poetry you wish to write. Oftentimes, we must learn what it is not, versus what it is.

Read about the format of a sonnet, the grammatical make-up, and the purpose of a sonnet. When you come to understand exactly what makes a perfect sonnet, chances are, your words will tumble out in sonnet format.

Likewise, every writer should have a good grasp of what makes a great story in the genre of their choice. I want to say that you should read only the best books, but that doesn’t give you a well-rounded experience. Saturate yourself. Read some books that do not appeal to you in any way. Ask yourself why they don’t. You may realize that they were not written in proper format for the genre.

When you read books, be aware of what is good writing and plotting as opposed to poor or incomplete work. All of this helps you to know the rights and wrong, the ins and outs, of making your story great.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More

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Jan 28

Scientist-Turned-Novelist Paul Guthrie Joins Mike Angley Today

MA: My guest-blogger today is Paul Guthrie. Paul – or Dr. Guthrie – is a scientist by training and vocation. He received a BA in Physics from Cornell University, followed by a Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of Massachusetts. After graduation, Paul went to work for NASA at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt MD. His work was primarily in the development of computer models to simulate the chemistry of the Earth’s atmosphere in order to understand ozone depletion and climate change. After thirteen years he left NASA and joined a consulting firm in San Rafael CA, working mainly on air pollution issues for the EPA. By then he was irrevocably committed to the use of computers and the development of software. In 1999 he left the environmental field entirely and became involved in developing software for biotechnology and medical applications, which he continues to do part time. Starting in 2002, however, Paul decided to pursue another interest, that of writing fiction. He lives in the San Francisco Bay area, still married to the same person after thirty-seven years. We have two grown children.

Now that’s a fascinating biography you have, Paul. I am curious about how you found an interest in fiction with so much science in your life.

PG: I’m a scientist, with degrees in physics and astronomy. Working on issues like climate change, I was part of the collision of science, where truth (even approximate truth) is an ultimate goal, with politics, where truth is irrelevant. And I like to read. I‘ve read lots of fantasy and SF over the years, from classic “hard” SF to Tolkien, Eddings, Jordan, Martin, Stephenson, Gibson…the list goes on and on. I also like technology thrillers, like early Tom Clancy and early Michael Crichton.

MA: It’s good to have a wide breadth of interests, but how did you end up writing fiction, and why novels?

PG: My teachers always said I was a good writer, back before I chose a career in science and technology. In 2002 the medical imaging startup where I was working ran out of money and went belly up. Writing seemed like a good way to keep my mind occupied until something else turned up. Something else never did. Why novels…the form is long enough to really explore characters and story. You can say a lot of things in a novel.

MA: Tell us about your novel.

PG: “The Wrong God” crosses genres a bit. It involves something that looks like magic, elements of science fiction, some real science, politics and religion. Here’s the pitch:
Since the beginnings of history people have believed in magic, but California science writer Andy Taggart is not one of them. Until the day that John Chalk, his old friend from grad school, makes a ballpoint pen rise to stand on end – untouched. From that moment Andy is caught up in John’s mystery. Is this an illusion or is it new physics? Why can John do things that other people can’t – things that will mark him in some eyes as a worker of miracles? And why does John think someone is watching him?

Someone is watching. Wendell Murchison is possibly the most powerful man in America. He controls wealth, his own cable news network, an army of evangelical political operatives, and the President of the United States, but he wants more. From the new America of terrorist sleeper cells, detention camps and legalized torture he sees a path to levels of power not seen since the Inquisition. He would make a new all-out war of religion; all he needs is a leader – the New Prophet, John Chalk. Whether John believes or not.

When John refuses and disappears, Andy is left to face an adversary who will offer bribes, publish lies, send goon squads to beat him, whatever it takes to force him to betray John. Under constant surveillance and unsure who he can trust, Andy can’t stand alone; he has to find John. But even together, what can they do against Murchison? Levitating pens won’t stop him and there’s no point in hoping for miracles if you don’t believe in anybody’s gods.

Actually, it all grew out of a single observation. Traditional epic fantasy often involves ancient magic, with a venerable sage or a sacred book to explain the magic. My question was, how did the book get written? Who were the poor bastards who first discovered magic and had to figure out how it worked without killing themselves? Since I assumed (naturally) that they would approach it like scientists, the story became contemporary.

MA: That sounds intriguing, and it contains many of the same elements I enjoy reading about and writing with my own work. Tell us how you developed Andy’s character.

PG: Andy is kind of an almost-scientist. He has the training, but he isn’t entirely part of that world, the way John is. Andy can see the ambiguities in John’s discovery. I tend to like stories of ordinary people facing extraordinary challenges, so he had to be somewhat unheroic.

MA: Andy’s strengths? Weaknesses?

PG: Strengths…determination, loyalty, intelligence, humility, his love for his girlfriend, Rachel.
Weaknesses…fear, self-doubt, a little envy.

MA: It sounds like this Murchison guy is pretty devious…your antagonist, I assume?

PG: Oh yeah. I spent a lot of time on Wendell Murchison. My wife kept asking for more backstory. I kind of saw him as an amalgam of the kinds of people who have been involved at the intersection of great wealth, political propaganda, and the religious right.

MA: I almost hesitate to ask if any real-life experiences made their way into your story, especially given you hard science background.

PG: I guess the main influences were knowing how physicists think and approach problems, and experience watching scientists collide with politics. One other thing isn’t really central to the plot, but I’m a student and player of Taiko, the big Japanese drums. I gave that to Andy so I could try to describe it.

MA: I spent many years in Japan and always enjoyed Taiko drum performances, so I can relate to that character aspect (and a good thing you gave that to your hero!). So what’s next?
PG: I’m working on another novel that is still an untitled work in progress. It’s unrelated, more of a straight-ahead technology/political thriller. Beyond that I have notes for two more books to continue the story of “The Wrong God.”

MA: Thanks, Paul! You have a great blend of real science colliding with fiction in your work. I like the confluence of the two. For my readers, please check out Paul’s website: http://www.thewronggod.com Read More

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Jan 14

A Return Visit by Rocky Mountain Writer, Linda Faulkner

MA: I’m pleased today to welcome back a fellow Rocky Mountain author as my guest-blogger, Linda M. Faulkner. Linda first “guested” with me on January 29, 2010, just about one year ago. During that interview, she talked about her mystery novel, Second Time Around. When you finish reading today’s blog star with Linda, I’d encourage you to go back and read the first interview I did with her: Fellow Rocky Mountain Mystery Writer Linda Faulkner Rappels Down To The Child Finder Trilogy

Linda has written both fiction and non-fiction. She also pens a column, Business Sense, in The Weekender, a monthly entertainment newspaper (Orlando, FL) and articles for both regional and national magazines such as Three Rivers Lifestyle and Rough Notes. A tremendous body of Linda’s work appears in the insurance industry, where she has developed, written, and instructed numerous continuing education workshops and seminars. Visit Linda’s web site at: http://www.lindamfaulkner.com.

Your first published novel was a mystery. What prompted you to write a non-fiction business book?

LF: Actually it was a combination of two things. I’d been doing a significant amount of freelance writing in the insurance industry and it seemed an extension of that. Also, my husband (who loves gory science fiction movies and TV series but believes fiction will rot your brain) suggested it. Between my freelance writing and the fact that I’d founded several businesses, he felt I was more “qualified” to write business books than fiction. It sounded like a good idea, so I tried it.

MA: How is writing non-fiction different from writing fiction? You don’t get to make up stuff, do you?

LF: Actually, writing non-fiction has seriously improved my fiction—for several reasons. First, because non-fiction needs to be tighter than fiction, and because it’s not jazzed up with dialogue, it’s essential to use words that will make the greatest impact. Using those skills is definitely transferrable.

Having said that, the rules of grammar and punctuation and spelling don’t change with the genre. Neither do the rules of outlining and plotting, although it’s MUCH easier to outline (or plot) a non-fiction book. When I analyzed exactly how I outlined in non-fiction, and applied the technique to my fiction, it actually made the process easier!

And as far as making stuff up goes, sure you can make stuff up. You just can’t change facts or figures or statistics. I tend to teach by using examples and, while most of the examples I use in my business book are true stories, some of them are … fiction.

MA: Can writers benefit from the lessons in Taking the Mystery Out of Business?

LF: Absolutely! Writers are independent business people. They’re responsible for marketing, sales, building and retaining relationships, customer attention, and all the other things that people who have “real” jobs have to do.

MA: Well, Linda. I know you have a plane to catch, so we need to cut this off here, but I wanted to thank you for joining us today. Once again, Linda’s website is: www.lindafaulkner.com. Read More

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Nov 05

Mike Angley Interviews Best-Selling Author Frank Fiore

MA: Please help me welcome best-selling author, Frank Fiore. Frank has sold over 50,000 copies of his non-fiction books. He has now turned his talents to writing fiction. His first novel, CyberKill, is a techno-thriller that answers the question “How far will an artificial intelligence go for revenge”. CyberKill has garnered five star reviews on Amazon. Frank’s writing experience also includes guest columns on social commentary and future trends published in the Arizona Republic and the Tribune papers in the metro Phoenix area. Through his writings, he has shown an ability to explain in a simplified manner, complex issues and trends. He and his wife of 30 years have one son. They live in Paradise Valley, AZ.

It sounds like writing has been a passion for many years, and you’ve been quite successful at it. Is this something you’ve always done professionally?

FF: I started out as an entrepreneur. During his college years, I started, wrote and edited the New Times newspaper which is now a multi-state operation. From there I went on to start several business and retired to take on writing full-time.

My interests in future patterns and trends range over many years and many projects. I co-wrote the Terran Project, a self-published book on community futures design processes, and worked as a researcher for Alvin Toffler on a series of high school texts on the future. I designed and taught courses and seminars on the future of society, technology and business and was appointed by the Mayor of Phoenix to serve on the Phoenix Futures Forum as co-chairperson and served on several vital committees.

MA: I’ve always enjoyed reading the Tofflers’ works. When I was in the USAF, Alvin and his wife visited the Air Command and Staff College when I was a student there to talk about future trends. Fascinating stuff! With your background, why the transition to novels?

FF: I’ve always wanted to be novelist. I wrote my first novel in high school then another when I was in my late 20s. Both were not very good. Like many novelists, I write to entertain but also to make a point – to try and educate the reader in something they might not have been aware of.

MA: Tell us about CyberKill.

FF: My first novel is CyberKill. Fans of Tom Clancy, James Patterson and Clive Cussler, would enjoy this twist on the Frankenstein myth.

A brilliant programmer, Travis Cole, inadvertently creates “Dorian,” an artificial intelligence that lives on the Internet. After Cole attempts to terminate his creation, Dorian stalks his young daughter through cyberspace in an attempt to reach Cole to seek revenge. When cyber-terrorism events threaten the United States, they turn out to stem from the forsaken and bitter Dorian.

In the final conflict, Dorian seeks to kill his creator – even if it has to destroy all of humanity to do it.

MA: Where did you come up with the idea for the story?

FF: Many years ago I read an article in Time magazine about a young artificial intelligence (AI) programmer. He had created a series of AI agents and sent them out over the internet to see if they would evolve. I thought to myself, what if the programmer terminated his experiment? If the Artificial Intelligence evolved into a real intelligence, would they take his act of shutting down the experiment as attempted murder? From there, I thought “How far would an artificial intelligence go for revenge?” and stalk Travis Cole, my protagonist, through cyberspace to kill him. The end result was CyberKill. (cyberkill.frankfiore.com)

MA: Tell us more about Travis Cole.

FF: Travis is an intelligent and gifted programmer but he’s into shortcuts. That provides the opening that AI agent can exploit and reach Cole.

Readers are not interested in a main character that can do or know everything. It’s not only unreal but it makes for boring story telling. The main hero has to have his sidekicks – people who know what he doesn’t know – and that builds a relationship and makes the characters feel more real to the reader. It also lets the author play one off the other to create interesting dialogue and an interesting story.

I try and combine the male and female leads into what one character would be. Between them, they know enough to drive the story forward with the help of secondary characters. Besides a little flirting and possible love interest adds to the story.

MA: I take it that Dorian is the antagonist?

FF: The ‘bad guy’ is the AI software agent he created. The AI agent becomes super-intelligent and names himself Dorian.

MA: I don’t know if you’ve dabbled with AI at all, but from your background you’ve certainly had an interest in related studies. Any real life influences in the story?

FF: All my life I have been interested in many, many subjects – from the social sciences to the human sciences to science itself. All of this interest has helped me develop interesting and believable characters and stories. Also, CyberKill is speculative fiction with a science bent. That means the technology the geographic locations, government and military installations and organizations, information warfare scenarios, artificial intelligence, robots, and the information and communications technology in this book all exist.

As for the genetic weapon, pieces of the technology are either in existence or in the research and development stage. Now, according to the Department of Defense, it doesn’t exist. But the Fars News Agency of Iran reported otherwise last year.

I wanted to show the reader that what happens in the book could very well happen today. So I had to take what was known, combine it with other knowns and then stretch the facts a little.

MA: (chuckling) That pesky Department of Defense! So what’s next in your writing journey?

FF: I’ve just completed the first two novels of a three book series called the Chronicles of Jeremy Nash.

The Chronicles of Jeremy Nash is a new thriller series about a noted debunker and skeptic of conspiracy theories, urban legends and myths. Jeremy Nash is pressed into pursuing them by threats to himself, family and reputation. The Chronicles of Jeremy Nash capitalizes on the continuing interest of the reading public in conspiracy theories, unsolved mysteries, urban myths, New Age beliefs and paranormal events. I also feeds the growing appetite of the public for ‘puzzle stories’ in the vein of National Treasure and Indiana Jones with a little of the X-Files thrown in. The formula of the chronicles consists of a conspiracy theory, unsolved mystery, urban myth, New Age belief or paranormal practice that Nash is forced to pursue; combined with an underlying real world event, organization or persons that is somehow connected to what he is pursuing. This provides the thriller aspect of the stories.

MA: Fascinating. Anything else you’d like to add?

FF: I watch movies because I write my novels as movies. Movie scripts have a structure that is shared by novels. Both have a similar 3 or 4 act structure (spine/skeleton) that involves a hook, generally with the main character involved, then the ordinary world (who they are, etc) the first turning point, tests and trials, reversals, black moment when all seems lost, climax, the epiphany and reward. This is not a formula, it’s classic mythic structure and it’s used in both mediums. Current contemporary commercial novels are much faster paced than in the past, no matter what genre. Some genres (action and thrillers) move faster than others but the whole market has shifted. We are a USA Today society that deals in sound bites and Tweets, and that doesn’t bode well for the slow moving novel. Read More

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Oct 13

“Forensic Evidence in Plots” (A Subject Near and Dear to my Heart!) by Mary Deal

Forensic Evidence in Plots

Forensic science could kill your story.

With forensic evidence being able to convict a perpetrator on as little as a millimeter of hair fiber, for example, plots of stories and films could be brought to an end too abruptly. Too, explaining the forensic evidence and showing how it affects the outcome could take over any plot.

When a subplot takes over and becomes the action, this is to lose control of your story. It is important that the main plot hold the most interesting, the most critical action. Then, no matter how contorted a subplot, it will only serve to enhance the main plot. True, too, any twist or turn in a subplot must enhance the main plot action. It cannot be included only to enhance the subplot. There is a risk here of having your subplot become a story unto itself and distract from the purpose it should serve. Any action in a subplot must feed into but not be greater than the main action.

A perfect example of a subplot nearly taking over can be found in the movie, Witness, (1985). The good cop, John Book, discovers fellow officer, McFee, has committed a murder. When John Book discloses this to his boss, Schaeffer, he soon learns Schaeffer is just as corrupt. The bad cops are selling off confiscated drugs. Once found out, both Schaeffer and McFee want to kill John Book.

This is a simple subplot that adds to and is intrinsic to complicating the action of the main plot. This subplot of clandestine activities within the police department blocks the hero from accomplishing his goal of bringing the perpetrator to justice and heightens tension in the story. So, too, does the fact that John Book needs to hide out and heal while yet another person turns him in.

Considering Pamela Wallace won an Oscar for co-writing the script for Witness, how many times can such good cop/bad cop plots be done? If some cops are to be the bad guys in scripts, after the impact that Witness made in films, bad cop plots began taking more drastic turns.

In a thriller I started writing a few years ago, soon after I completed the rough draft of the manuscript, an explosion in forensic science occurred and my story immediately became outdated. A year of work had to be shelved. But my plot is so unique! I kept saying. I had to find a way to save it. I did. To this day, it is still a unique story.

The murders and arson I conjured in my original story could today be easily solved. How could I learn enough about forensic science in order to thwart its proving effects in my plot and still keep the action running?

Then I read, You Can Write a Movie, also written by Pamela Wallace. Finally, I hit upon a way to get around forensic science without myself having to become a forensic scientist.

In Witness, Wallace had crooked cops tampering with evidence. I have crooked cops in my mystery too. However, I could not be satisfied with simply adding crooked cops into the mix. It seemed all too convenient and way overdone in films. But not if you throw into the melee a radical group who just happens to get their kicks from wrongdoing.

In my story, I wanted to convolute the subplot way past the point of simplicity and yet not have it threaten to take over the main plot, as it almost does in Witness. My story has a subplot of not just crooked cops but a group of social renegades as well. But as I said, this was not enough for me. I have further complicated my plot with a hierarchy within the group of bad guys—and girls—all trying to out-do or eliminate one another in order to rise in stature. Then, so as not to distort from the main plot action, anything this group does enhances or thwarts the heroine from accomplishing her goal to help bring the proper person to justice.

While a certain amount of evidence is a must in order to redirect the finger of guilt toward the real perpetrator, my plot becomes complicated when evidence disappears. People within the wicked hierarchy fall or rise to power dependent upon who loses and finds and uses said evidence to climb another rung on the proverbial ladder. While all this is going on, an innocent inmate moves perilously closer to a date with lethal injection.

Ultimately, you cannot get away from using forensic evidence, but if there is no evidence to test, or if it is found and lost again, this heightens the excitement of your plot. If your story lacks excitement or is too easily solved, interrupt the pathway that connects the dots. Maybe kill off the only person who knows about the smoking gun. Let corroboration be found later on. There is no way to get around the fact that forensic science can solve most crimes these days, but only if there is evidentiary proof to test.

While no forensic evidence was needed to solve the murder in Witness, the complications that arose and blocked John Book from accomplishing his goal made for an exciting story. However, you must complicate your story to delay the final scene that forensic science can prematurely bring about. Make your plot as contorted as possible. Because of the splash Witness made by using the simple subplot of good cop/bad cop, chances are, another serious story of this type won’t fly because that kind of plot is simple and would have to be better than Witness. You must complicate your plot and learn something about the forensic information your story needs. The writer need not learn about all forensic science, only as much as must be used to enhance that one plot; enough to hide the true facts from being found too soon.

NOTE: The novel that Mary mentioned writing in this article is her new thriller, Down to the Needle, which was recently released. Read More

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Oct 01

Science Fiction Thriller Writer Graham Storrs Lands on Mike Angley’s Blog

MA: My guest today is Graham Storrs, a writer who lives in quiet seclusion on a bush property in Australia. He trained as a psychologist in the UK and, after a career in artificial intelligence and human-computer interaction research and software design, now shares his time between his family, writing, and the beautiful forested hills of his adopted home.
Graham, welcome aboard! Tell us how you became a storyteller.
GS: There never was a prequel really, just parallel lines. I’ve always told stories from as early as I can remember. When I got older, I started writing them down. Meanwhile, I went to school, then university, got jobs, did research, had a career. And all the time, I was writing. Strangely enough, I only took seriously the idea of publishing my fiction about two years ago. Before then, I hadn’t published anything (except non-fiction). Since then, I’ve published ten short stories and my first novel.
MA: Why did you choose to write novels?
GS: I didn’t really choose to at all. For most of my life I was happy writing short stories, but the stories kept getting longer and longer. In the end, I stopped trying to keep them short and started writing book-length stories. I still write shorts now and then (I bundled up a few related stories and put them out as an ebook on Smashwords recently) but I feel very cramped in anything smaller than a novel these days.
MA: Tell us about your début novel, TimeSplash.
GS: TimeSplash is a science fiction thriller – a fast-paced, near-future story about a couple of people – Jay and Sandra – who get caught up in a time travel party scene that wrecks their lives. After that, they each devote themselves to bringing down the guy responsible – a supercool villain named Sniper. Sniper quickly graduates from murderer to big-shot terrorist and is planning to use a temporal anomaly to destroy a capital city. When his two pursuers join forces to track him down, they find themselves and each other along the way.
MA: Who’s the main hero or heroine?
GS: My main protagonist is Sandra. I wanted to create a heroine with huge problems, so bad they sometimes incapacitate her, and a task so hard that anyone would regard it as impossible. And I gave her the curse of being breathtakingly beautiful – something which, perhaps more than anything else, blights her life, On the very first page of the book she is in desperate trouble – and then things get worse and worse. All that she has going for her is an unstoppable will to succeed and an ordinary goodness that is often hard to find.
MA: What about your antagonist, Sniper?
GS: Outwardly, he is handsome and suave, a confident, powerful man, but Sniper also has problems that have left serious psychological scars. Throughout the book he teeters on the brink of a self-destructive downward spiral. The world, to him, is on the verge of chaos and the only way he knows to avoid being consumed by it, is to become its master, smashing and destroying on a massive scale to lead chaos by the nose and make it do his bidding.
MA: Your background in AI and human computer interaction is intriguing, and I’m sure (tongue-in-cheek) that you’ve no real experience with time and space travel, but did any other real life experiences factor into the plot at all?
GS: Most of the places in the book are places I know – London, Brussels, Berlin, Paris. The characters are mostly composites of people I have known – even Sniper is not as uncommon a type as you might suppose – but I have exaggerated or magnified them somewhat, to amplify the drama.
MA: Will there be a sequel to TimeSplash?
GS: Since I finished TimeSplash, I have written another near-future sci-fi thriller – a space-based adventure based on how the religious right will deal with the first transhumans. I’m looking for an agent for that one at the moment. Right now I’m writing the first book of a three-book space opera set thousands of years in the future, finishing a sci-fi comedy based in the present day, and planning a spooky sci-fi noir story about a rather unconventional alien invasion.
TimeSplash was really a stand-alone story. However, I left at least one hook in there for another book, in case I ever feel the urge. I have written two short stories set in the same world. In one of them my two protagonists meet again after fifty years. I haven’t tried to publish it because it’s a sad encounter and I don’t know if I really want that to be their destiny.
MA: How can people find you online?
I use Twitter just about every day and I’m always pleased to meet new people. Anyone can reach me at http://twitter.com/graywave (@graywave)
I also have a blog in which I write about my life as a struggling new writer http://grahamstorrs.cantalibre.com
And TimeSplash itself has its own website and blog http://www.timesplash.co.uk
Thanks for having me over, Mike. It’s been great. I hope you’ll do me the favour of letting me have you as a guest on my blog one day soon.
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Sep 24

Dual Pen Named Author Alice Griffiths AKA P.A. Wilson Swings by to Guest with Mike Angley

MA: I’m joined today by an author with two pen names, Alice Griffiths and P.A. Wilson (I think for interview purposes I’ll use Alice’s initials to mark your responses). Please tell us about you and what brought you to the writing world.

AG: I’ve been writing for decades but I have been seriously interested in publishing for the last few years. I think the catalyst for the change was National Novel Writing Month. In 2008 I happened upon the site and impulsively decided I could write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. It didn’t matter that I’d taken years to write previous manuscripts. I could do this.

When I typed ‘the end’, I had completed 82,500 words and my first full manuscript. I put it away for a month and then started the process of revision and polish. By April, I’d entered it into a contest and by June, I had created an indie e-publishing company with a partner. Off Track was published December 23, 2009 and I had graduated from writer to author.

I write in two genres with a pen name for each. I write romances under the name Alice Griffiths, and gritty mystery thrillers under the name P.A. Wilson. At first, I thought the lines would be clear between the two genres, but that’s not what happened. My romances have elements of violence and my mysteries have elements of romance.

Now, I work as a project consultant and managing editor, and author, my days are full but never boring.

MA: Tell us more about your background before becoming a writer.

AG: In the professional world I am a project management consultant. I worked in the corporate world for more than thirty years before I decided to go it on my own. I have to say that I have less time to write now than I did before, but more energy when I do write.

I’ve been working on projects for more than ten years and I have to say it’s taught me more about writing than anything else in my past. I get to meet so many different people that I can use to fill out my characters. I use project management methodology to get started on writing a book. I figure out what I’m going to write, investigate what I’ll need to learn to write the first draft, and then I plan out the different scenes. Writing for me is building the story up in layers.

MA: I’ve met many authors who use a methodical approach such as this. One thriller writer I met is an engineer by degree, and takes a disciplined design approach to crafting his stories. Why fiction?

AG: I have tried to write short stories and poetry but I don’t seem to have the talent for that. I guess I’d say novels chose me, rather than the other way around. I like having some room to build in secondary plots and more detailed richness. In shorts you have to keep it clean and precise and I don’t have that skill. I admire people who do, because when I’m in the middle of the third revision pass and wondering if I’m contradicting something that happened 60 pages ago, it would be nice to have a short story to handle.

MA: Tell us about what you write…I’m struck by the fact you write in what would seem like two very different genres.

AG: I haven’t yet found a genre I can stick with. I guess my constant is that there’s a romance somewhere in the story and that lots of people die.

I’ve written a fantasy romance, Off Track by Alice Griffiths, and that was my first National Novel Writing Month book. It’s the story of a lawyer on the track to partnership who finds herself pulled into a magical world as the result of a prophecy. Along with her easy going assistant, Madeline has to accept that she needs to fulfill the prophecy and figure out what it is exactly she’s supposed to do. While that’s happening, she meets and falls in love with a knight who really wants to be something other than a knight.

My serial killer novel, Closing the Circle by P.A. Wilson, is currently under review with my business partner in PaperBoxBooks.com. In this story Felicity Armstrong is the focus of a brutal serial killer who has taken her religion, Wicca, and twisted it in to something evil. The killer stalks and kills her friends, leaving their bodies in prominent sites around San Francisco as Felicity works with FBI special agent Sam Barton to identify and stop the murders.

I’m working on two other books, and planning out my NaNoWriMo book for this November. One book is a thriller set in Vancouver BC with gangs, human trafficking and teen hookers. The other a YA science fiction story with three heroes who raise a rebellion to save the humans.

Then my NaNo book will be an Urban Fantasy with a wizard, Sidhe, and Raven. That’s about as far as I am in planning.

MA: Well, sounds like you are keeping very busy with all those projects! I’m almost afraid to ask how you approach character development since you have such a varied writing style.

AG: I develop characters though a process of discovery. For Madeline, I sketched her out physically and gave her a flaw – she finds it difficult to trust people – and then I started to write some back story for her. I wasn’t happy with the lack of depth when I was done and I turned to something that romance writers use all the time. I read her Tarot. It sounds flakey (or at least it did to me at first) but by doing the Tarot reading I was able to push aside my own personal preferences and dig into Madeline’s psyche. I had to interpret the cards based on what I knew about her.

It turns out that Madeline doesn’t trust easily because when she gives her word it’s for life. She has difficulty making commitments as well because she wants to know she’ll stick with any commitment. Interestingly, this brought forth a habit that I could use. Madeline is a dabbler in learning; she takes courses, does well but gets bored and leaves. This means when she’s in the magical world, she has a bit of grounding in a lot of skills she’ll need. She learned how to ride horses, but still needs the knight to help her get better, and she has taken some martial arts, etc.

Madeline is highly competent and learns quickly; this allows her to integrate quickly – and saves me and the reader from having to wade through her learning curve. She’s also accepting of differences so she doesn’t judge people on first glance.

Unfortunately, despite her external image, she’s not confident in her own skills and talents. She focuses on the fact that she is a lawyer and doesn’t have any understanding that the prophecy brought her to the magical land for something else.

MA: Who did you throw into the story to stand in Madeline’s way? Who’s the antagonist?

AG: Madeline faces two antagonists. Throughout the story she is facing her own demons and is convinced she won’t be able to fulfill the task she was brought there to complete. She is used to being in control and finds it almost impossible to go with the flow and trust that it will all work out – as everyone keeps telling her.

The final antagonist she faces at the end is the enemy who must be killed. He is a marauding creature who is going to destroy the people Madeline is aligned with in fulfillment of an ancient feud. Madeline hopes her task isn’t killing the villain, but worries that it is.

MA: Considering how prolific – and disciplined – you seem to be with your writing, what are your future plans? Any sequels?

AG: I would like to be able to produce two books a year – I am certain I can do a first draft in a month other then November but I haven’t yet been able to prove it.

I also want to write a series, or a trilogy. I am fascinated by the idea of such a sweeping story and I want to explore the process.

The book set in Vancouver BC has always been a series concept. I need to finish this first story and then I already have a germ of an idea for the next one. I think the trick is going to be planting the seeds of the second book into the first, a great new challenge.

MA: Is there any particular challenge for you in writing?

AG: I find writing the romance difficult. The saving grace for me up to now is that the romance has been the secondary plot – important but can be dealt with in revision. I tend to write the story and clumsily insert the romance in the first draft and then thread it back into the story during the first revision pass.

And, my writing group will tell you I am not good with description. I have settings all worked out but I have difficulty putting it on the page. I have learned to insert some setting in as I go along and then each revision pass has a note – add description.

MA: Thanks, Alice, er, P.A.  Folks, please visit Alice Griffiths at: http://www.alicegriffiths.ca/, and visit P.A. Wilson at: http://www.pawilson.ca/

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Aug 27

Science Fiction Writer Tony Thorne Beams Down for a Visit with Mike Angley

MA: I am delighted to have as my guest-blogger today, Tony Thorne. Tony is an Englishman, born and technically educated in London, England, and now living in Austria; but in the winter, he lives in the warmer Canary Island of Tenerife. He originally qualified as a Chartered Design Engineer and subsequently created a well-known British company specializing in Applied Physics products. For developments in the field of low temperature (cryo)surgery instruments, and very high temperature (carbon fibre) processing furnaces, the Queen awarded Mr. Thorne an MBE.

Well, that’s quite a scientific and technical background. I would have guessed you’d write technical books, textbooks, or articles for scientific journals. Why fiction?

TT: Much earlier in life I wrote and sold some science-fiction and humorous stories, was an active SF Fan, and a spare time lecturer for the British Interplanetary Society. After many business adventures, including the development of AI computer software for business applications, and animated computer graphics set to music, I now write quirky speculative yarns; mostly Science Fiction and Macabre tales, with a novel and over 100 short stories on file. Most of the latter are available in different collections.

I’m really a short story writer but Harry Harrison said I should write a novel if I want to be really successful … so I’ve recently completed one. Incidentally, Harry wrote the introduction to my Tenerife Tall Tales SF collections.

Most of my quirky SF and Macabre Tales are set in, on and even under, that magical Canary Island of Tenerife, where I spend every winter. Apart from those, I like to scan the science news for the latest developments and then write a tall tale about the possible consequences.

MA: So, tell us how you blend your science and technical background into your novel.

TT: In my novel, POINTS OF VIEW, the hero is a young blind boy, named Horace Mayberry, who gets fitted out with some nanotronic eyes. They are intelligent and can develop various functions to suit whatever scrapes the lad gets into. He is recruited into a secret government agency as an assistant to an experienced agent and embarks on a series of adventures, including being abducted twice by an international gang of crooks. Each situation causes his eyes to develop something new, and enables his introvert personality to evolve, too.

The finale covers an attack on the crooks hideout in Tenerife … where else! I had a lot of fun writing it.

MA: I love fiction that embraces technology like this. Tell us about your hero and villain.

TT: Horace is a cautious lad, very introvert initially. Then as his abilities develop he becomes impulsive and somewhat headstrong. The main crook, Rudolph Beckman, is an international billionaire financier who is after the secret of the company that developed the nanotronic eyes. He uses a trio of henchmen to do his bidding.

MA: Now, I’m sure your real-world exposure to emerging technologies influenced the plot in Point of View, but was that all? Did any other life experiences factor into the story?

TT: That’s a very interesting question. Yes, part of Horace’s training mirror’s some of my experiences when I joined the army, so many years ago.

MA: So what’s next in your fiction future?

TT: I’m currently working on a couple of new short stories and also finalizing a collection of quirky short tales and some poems which are to be published in the USA next year, entitled INSIDE INFORMATION. They’re items I’ve performed in costume, at SF Conventions and various other events.

I am also thinking about a sequel to the novel … there’s plenty of scope in the idea. Other than that, some of my short Tenerife tales feature common characters, and will continue to do so.

MA: I know your love of science drives you, but what else?

TT: It can’t be for the money, but more of that would be nice … I guess it’s really an insatiable craving to be recognized.

MA: (Chuckling). Thanks, Tony, for being my guest today. I encourage my readers to visit Tony’s website for more information about this intriguing author: www.tonythorne.com. Read More

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