Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Re-hydrating Fingers at the Morgue

A lot of people believe that victims are identified by family or friends. We've all seen the movie scene where the mother, brother, or husband looks through the glass window and declares the identity of the deceased. In truth, we don't discount family identifications but we usually don't rely on them either, unless we have no other options.  In order to legally prove a person's identity we typically need more than just some person's word.  This is especially true when the condition of the body may preclude an accurate identification.
Shriveled fingers

Bodies in various stages of decomposition can be very difficult to identify. The pathologist may take x-rays of dentition or other areas. They may search for serialized medical devices like pacemakers, breast implants, or stabilizing plates. Of course the best method for identification is the fingerprint. Fingerprints are unique and permanent (meaning the patterns don't change during life unless seriously injured). making them ideal for identification. Most people in the United States have been fingerprinted to some degree. The most common fingerprint record is the single fingerprint  found associated with the driver's license. CSIs can also search for fingerprints on the victim's belongings (in their home, office, or vehicle).

But what do you do when the fingers have become shriveled or dried out during decomposition? Fingers can become shriveled in a day or two depending on the environmental conditions. The skin is still intact but it contracts and becomes rigid. This condition makes it almost impossible to get good quality impressions. The best way I can describe it is the difference between a raisin and a grape. So the real question becomes...how do you turn a raisin back into a grape? One method is the use of Photo-flo 200.

Photo-flo is a Kodak product used in rinsing photographic film during the development process. It's kind of like a really powerful soap. I'm sure the engineers at Kodak never envisioned how CSIs would someday use the solution. CSIs love to come up with new uses for products we have easy access to and this is no exception. To star the process we have to sever the finger or fingers we want to restore. The fingers are then soaked in the Photo-flo for anywhere from 24 hours to a week depending on how bad their condition is. The main objective is to get the tissue pliable again.

Once the tissue is pliable we have to inject a gel called "tissue builder". This is a semi-clear viscous material resembling epoxy (although not sticky). The tissue builder is injected under the skin using a syringe. The material expands the pliable skin, stretching it out to it's "normal" condition. Once this is done the finger can be rolled just like it would be in life. It only takes one good finger to make an identification so we have to check their records to see which ones might be the best to use. Once that is done it is a simple matter of comparing the fingerprint patterns and ridge detail to make an identification.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Psychic Distance

by Jodie Renner, freelance editor

Steve Berry, in his workshop at Craftfest, the first two days of Thrillerfest, spoke about “psychic distance”—how close the reader feels to the various characters. These days, it’s considered more effective to draw your readers in “up close and personal” to your protagonist, so they get more emotionally invested in him and his plight, and want to keep turning the pages to find out what happens to him. Conversely, it’s best to keep minor characters and walk-ons at an emotional distance proportionate to their importance to the story.

The following list shows examples of ways to refer to your characters in your book, starting way out in the distance, in omniscient point of view (or from the POV of a character referring to another “walk-on”), then gradually moving closer as the characters become more important to the story, until we’re right in their heads, in close third POV (or first-person POV), seeing and feeling what they are, reacting right along with them. This list is based on Steve’s hierarchy, but expanded by me, with more details added.

Starting from furthest out and going down to right in their heads, refer to your characters as:

· Generalities: person, people, kids, teenagers, men, women, office workers, moms, taxi drivers, police officers, man, woman, etc.

· By their title, job, profession, etc. without their name, eg. the detective, the police officer, the reporter, the cab driver, the waitress, the hotel clerk, etc.

· Title plus name, eg. Detective Jackson, FBI Agent Michael Smith, etc.

· First and last name without job title or descriptor – Cotton Malone, Wade Jackson

· Last name only – Malone, Jackson

· First name only – Cotton, Wade

· “he,” “she,” “I”

Steve Berry will start out a book with the full name of his POV character, for example, Cotton Malone, to get us right into his head fast. He doesn’t start with “the former Justice Department operative” as that’s too distancing for the protagonist, whom we’re supposed to identify with and bond with quickly. Then Berry immediately switches to just Malone, and works in later that he retired from the Justice Department. Berry doesn’t use the full name again, as that would put us back at arm’s length from the character. Using their title as well as the name (Detective Wade Jackson) would back up the reader even more, and once we’re in their head and the story is progressing, using the title alone (“the detective”) would probably make the reader wonder who we’re talking about.

But Berry takes it one step further and prefers to just use “he” most of the time when in Malone’s point of view, to keep the psychic distance to a minimum. In this case, “he” is the equivalent of “I” in first-person point of view. For example, Berry uses Malone’s name, then continues for three pages with just “he”, until the beginning of the next chapter, where he starts with his name again. In another novel, Berry starts out with “Tom Sagan” (his protagonist), then switches to “Tom,” then just uses “he” most of the time. As Steve says, “the tighter the psychic distance, the better it is.”

You may not wish to take it this far, but do remember that if we’re in a character’s head, especially your protagonist, you don’t want to use distancing descriptions of him or her like “the PI” or “the doctor.” It makes sense to start the novel with the full name and title, like “Special Agent Warren Cross” for clarity and to orient the reader quickly, but soon after, you’ll likely switch to “Cross” (or maybe their first name) and stay there. If we’ve been in his head for a while and you suddenly refer to him as “the special agent” it will be very jarring to the reader, who may even wonder if another special agent has arrived on the scene. 

Berry prefers to call female POV characters by their first name, and I tend to agree with him, for the most part. If the female is, say a police officer, in a milieu where everyone refers to each other by their last names, then use her last name when she’s at work, and her first name when she’s at home or among friends. In general, though, it seems more natural to call “close” female characters (and even most males) by their first name, especially when we’re in their viewpoint. Along the same lines, Berry will usually refer to the villain by his last name, even in his POV, to create some psychic distance.

Using a related example, disguised from my own editing, say your young mid-20s male protagonist has hooked up with a female in her early 20s and they’re on the run from the bad guys. Very soon, he’s not thinking of her as “the young lady” (if he ever was—he probably thought of her as “the girl” at the beginning) or “the grad student,” or “the tall, thin girl” or whatever. As their bond increases, he’s thinking of her only by her first name or “she.” And to describe something they’re doing, don’t say “the two young companions” as again, that’s too distancing. It reads like someone else talking about them, but we’re in his head and he’s become very close to her. He’s not thinking of the two of them as “the two young companions.” Just use “they” or “the two” or whatever.

On the other side of the coin, you definitely don’t want to get into the point of view of any minor characters like store clerks, taxi drivers, restaurant servers, etc., and best not to give them a name at all, unless they play a bigger role in the overall plot. Naming these walk-on characters can be distracting to the reader, who starts to think they have more importance somehow. So in general, just stick with “the cab driver,” etc.

What do you think? As a reader, have you ever felt jarred by language that perhaps inadvertently changes the psychic distance between the reader and a character? As a writer, do you have any opinions about this issue?

Copyright © Jodie Renner, July 2012
See also: "Open Your Novel in Your Protagonist's Head"

Jodie Renner, a freelance fiction editor specializing in thrillers and other fast-paced fiction, has published two books to date in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: WRITING A KILLER THRILLER and STYLE THAT SIZZLES & PACING FOR POWER (Silver Medal winner in the FAPA Book Awards, 2013). Both titles are available in e-book and paperback. For more info, please visit Jodie’s author website or editor website, or find her on Facebook or Twitter.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Penguin Solutions? I Don't Think So

by L.J. Sellers, author of provocative mysteries & thrillers
The big news in publishing this week is that Penguin, a major traditional publisher, bought Author Solutions, a major vanity publisher. There are so many things wrong with this deal that I struggled to organize this post.

But I'll start with some terminology and move to revenue sources. I called Author Solutions a vanity publishing company rather than a self-publishing service because it takes control of writers’ publishing endeavors and overcharges them for the experience. In contrast, true self-publishing is when authors retain control of the process and copyright and have an opportunity to make more money than they invest.

Author Solutions (iUniverse, etc.) earns two-thirds of its revenue from charging writers for editorial services, such as copyediting and cover design. (It earns the rest from selling books to the friends and relatives of its authors.) The company supposedly offers marketing services as well, but charging writers $1900 for putting out a press release is about as fraudulent as it gets. A press release takes thirty minutes to write, format, and send—and is practically worthless as a marketing effort.

So what is Penguin saying to writers and readers with this acquisition? We can’t make enough money publishing talented authors, so we’ll squeeze lots of hard-earned cash out of mostly-untalented authors to save our bottom line… rather than implement a business model that supports authors and earns a profit.

I wonder how Penguin authors feel about this. I wonder what this will do to the Penguin brand. Not that readers care about publisher brands.

Penguin is not the first to make this leap. A while back Harlequin partnered with Author Solutions to form Harlequin Horizons, a vanity publishing company. The Romance Writers Association promptly dropped Harlequin from its list of acceptable publishers, and regardless of how it turned out, the publisher suffered from bad PR. 

Penguin probably will experience a similar reaction from other author associations. That will be a blow to new Penguin authors who find themselves unable to join. But author associations have so little value in today’s interconnected world that joining or not joining will make little difference.

But long term, if Penguin and Harlequin are fine with charging some authors for their editorial services, how long will it be before they start charging everyone a reading fee? Then stop paying advances? Then simply move to being an author-funded service provider? 

The lines between traditional publishing, self-publishing, and vanity publishing get blurrier every day. I believe that eventually, it will just called publishing, because all authors will be entrepreneurs who finance their book releases, either through individual contracts for editorial services or from one-stop service providers.

But hopefully writers won’t choose an overpriced shop like Author Solutions, which by then will probably be called Penguin Solutions.

What do you think this means for the future of publishing?
By C.J. West
Suspense. Creativity. Action.

This week I told L.J. that I’ll be leaving the blog as a regular contributor soon.

L.J. and I have been friends for years and it was a hard decision to make. I really enjoy reading the blog and I’ve certainly learned a lot from Hitch’s posts on e-book creation and from Tom’s posts on forensics.

Some things have cropped up for me recently and as I thought about my schedule I realized that while I enjoy reading posts about the business of writing, I don’t enjoy creating my own. Bookselling has always befuddled me. I get a lot more joy writing about family, psychology, and inspiration, which I do on my personal blog.

I’ll come back often to read the blog and chat with you all in comments and once in a while I’ll guest post when I’ve got something to say.

What will I be doing in the meantime?

I’m about 15,000 words short of completing the first book in a new series that explores the lives of two recovering heroin addicts. This will be my first traditional mystery and it hits close to home because it centers on the life and work of my brother. He’s never been an addict if you are wondering, but he does some great work employing people who might not otherwise be able to find a job.

At the same time I’m outlining the sequel to The End of Marking Time. Those of you who read the book will remember the ending. I’ve been thinking for two years about the series and finally I’ve come up with an idea that allows me to continue the storyline and deliver an ending as shocking as the original. I’ve actually got the inspiration for a third book and the evolution of the story world has me revved up to get writing.

I also have two short story projects that I’m committed to writing in the near future.

In the last two weeks I’ve also discovered the Audiobook Creation Exchange, which is an Amazon affiliated company. I’m working to create audio book versions of all my novels. I’ve been told by many readers that they enjoy my voice (from my Blog Talk Radio days) and that they’d like me to read my own books. I’m not sure I’ll publish versions that I read, but I’m going to give it a try and see what I come up with.

With all these things competing for my attention I needed to make some changes to focus my energy. I’m going to dedicate the next several months to writing projects and hopefully I’ll end up with two completed novels and maybe a short story or an audio book as a bonus.

I’ll look forward to seeing you here. Between visits you can always find me on my Facebook page or my blog.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Making Sense of the Senseless

By Andrew E. Kaufman

Photo by David Levy
Like most people, I’ve been thinking a lot about the tragedy in Colorado this past week. Whenever something like this happens, I do, and in my mind, the question that always seems to arise is, how?  How can someone do something so unthinkable, so awful? 

So senseless.

I’ve written about crime most of my life. I worked as a journalist for years, and I’ve seen a lot. I was in San Diego when a man opened fire in a McDonalds restaurant filled with people; many of them died. Many were children. I remember feeling more vulnerable than I ever had before and realizing how fragile life can be when the wrong person enters it. I remember feeling scared.

Many people who write about real-life crime develop a thick skin; they must in order to get through the day, to do their jobs, and I suppose to some degree, I did, too. But I think there was also some part of me that didn’t. A part that was still bothered by extreme acts of cruelty and to this day, still is.

Now, I write books about the same kinds of people: evil ones. Granted, my characters are fictional, but I don’t think that much matters. They represent an element in society that’s very real. You might think it odd that I do this, and people often ask how I can dream up such awful things, and for that, I actually have an answer. I know why. I’m pretty sure that on some level, in some way, it helps me deal with the horrors of real life, much like the one we recently saw. It allows me to create evil, and then it allows me to see evil meet its end. There’s cathartic value there, and for my readers, I suspect the experience is much the same. We all have ways of coping with the dark side of life, and I suppose this is mine. In my books, good always prevails.

Still, you’d think with all my exposure to the bad things that I’d have an answer for what happened in Colorado. But I don’t. I really don’t. All I can think about are the innocent people, the ones whose lives have been permanently changed for the worse, that will never be the same again. People who were doing nothing more than trying to spend a quiet night at a movie.  And in the end, I keep coming back to the same question. How?

Maybe there is no answer. Maybe evil is just evil.  

In the days to come, I’m sure we will hear about selfless acts of courage and of people who lent a hand to those in need, ones who chose kindness over evil. I guess if anything good can come from something like this, it would be that the best in people often materializes during the worst of times. That’s what I’ll choose to focus on.

And I’ll keep writing.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Broken Detective?

Broken Harbor (Dublin Murder Squad #4)  by Tana French (Viking hardcover, 24 July 2012).

Two years ago, we met Mick "Scorcher" Kennedy in French's Faithful Place.  Frank Mackey, the protagonist of that book, thought Kennedy was a "pompous, rule-bound, boring git".  Of course, he's more complicated than that, as we learn in Broken Harbor.

Like Faithful Place for Frank Mackey, Broken Harbor (now known as "Brianstown") is a part of Kennedy's past.  He remembers it as the location of idyllic summers when he was a teen, renting a caravan on the beach with his family.  Now, it's a failed attempt at an upscale housing development, begun at the top of the real estate boom, and unfinished as a result of the recession.  Only a few of them are inhabited, and most of the others are half-built and used by children and teens to "play" in.

Along with his trainee partner Richie Curran, Mick Kennedy is assigned a multiple murder case, where victims are a father and his two young children.  The mother is alive, but critically injured.
Although it first appears to be a straightforward murder-suicide, there are too many pieces that don't fit the puzzle, including evidence that someone broke into the house.

On top of having a life-consuming case, Kennedy suddenly has to deal with his psychologically troubled younger sister Dina,  who is spinning out of control as she does periodically.  Since they have an unspoken agreement that they will care for Dina themselves, Mick and his older sister Geri take her in when her illness takes over.  Unfortunately, this time Gina's husband and daughter have the 'flu, and she's too overwhelmed to take on an unbalanced sister.

This story is written in the first-person, from Scorcher Kennedy's viewpoint, and French inhabits him masterfully.  Although we can only see what he allows us to see, we are definitely using his eyes and mind, and only at the end of the book can we sit back and attempt to be objective.


It's not necessary to read the Dublin Murder Squad books in order, but if you enjoy one, however, you must definitely read them all!

*FTC Full Disclosure: Many thanks to the publisher, who sent me a copy of the book for review purposes.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Paying it Forward With Crime

by Peg Brantley, author of RED TIDE

I'm very proud to belong to a community of writers who are involved and engaged. We care.

I want to take just a moment of your day to begin to outline to what extent.

Colorado has recently suffered some terrifying losses due to fire—horror beyond anything we've ever experienced. Particularly devastating, in terms of proximity to populated areas and the resulting loss, was the Waldo Canyon Fire near Colorado Springs. Terry Odell was the first (that I know of) who came up with the idea of contributing a portion of her royalties over a given period of time to help the victims of that fire. Terry offered to contribute 5% of her royalties over a period of time to the Red Cross. I followed suit. At the end of the period of time, I elected to donate mine to the Pikes Peak United Way, and in the end I opted for 100% of my royalties.

I'm blessed to be part of an anthology put out through the Indie Chicks where a portion of the proceeds (right now it's FREE) goes to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. If you're interested, our travel anthology is very aptly titled: Ms. Adventures in Travel.

Tim Hallinan released another anthology, Bangkok Noir, the proceeds from which went to benefit others. Tim also contributes a portion from his Poke Rafferty series (in my opinion one of the best ones out there) to a charity he has researched well and believes in. 

My own tribe here on Crime Fiction Collective joined forces to help a family in Joplin, Missouri after the devastating tornado that leveled that town. That was the first time I was exposed to the idea that as an indie author, I could make some business decisions that were inspired by altruism.

As readers, does it make a difference to you to know that the author you support extends that support to others? Does the concept ever induce you to purchase a book you may not have otherwise?

Who are some other writers you know of who have paid their royalties forward? I know there's more.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

An untitled teaser

By Gayle Carline

As usual, I'm up to my clavicle in alligators, but I own this alternate-Thursday space and I'm not about to let you down. I'm busy writing, which is at least a good excuse. For the past week, I've been 10,000 words from the end of my third mystery. This equates to that dream in which you are running toward a door and the more you run, the further away it gets.

Or am I the only one who dreams that?

I can see the final conflict in this book as if it's a movie reel, playing in my head. I even know how the last scene works. I just have to get there, and it seems there's always one more place Peri needs to visit and one more person she needs to talk to and one more piece of information she needs before she gets there.

Only 10,000 more words.

After it's completed, I'll put it away until I've nearly forgotten about it, then drag it out for editing. In the meantime, I thought I'd show you the first chapter. I won't claim it's raw - I tend to write fairly clean and I have been through a little fine-tuning in one read & critique session. But I feel comfy enough with you to pull it out and let you drive it around the block, kick the tires, etc.

I don't have a title for the book yet. The working title is "Burning Mad" but I don't care for that. Here's how it starts:


The drugs raced through the teenager's mind. On his back, on the floor, he watched the ceiling above him swirl into a dark velvet expanse, dotted with stars. His arm stretched out to grab a handful but they eluded his grasp, preferring to settle on his fingertips. He smiled, the corners of his mouth stretching away from their usual pout.

Dad complains I'm grumpy, but it's his fault. He barely speaks to me, anyway. Good thing. "Why can't you just," whatever, it's all he ever says. Straighten up, go to school, be normal. What for?

Mom's always yelling at me one second then saying it's okay she understands the next. What does she know? She doesn't know what school is like, all those crappy teachers, whining crappy assignments. Homework is useless. I already know what I want to know. If I don't, it's because it's boring.

My friends are all I need.

He scowled, his hand lowering to his chest. His friends hung out with him because his parents were so generous. Mom and Dad fed them, let them swim in the pool, and were kind enough to leave beer where they could get at it. He supplied the video games and kept his parents at bay by apologizing each time the bar was raided.

These drugs are fine, def wicked. For several minutes, he focused on his breath. He felt his bones move apart to give the air somewhere to go, then relax back into each other when he no longer needed that gulp. In… out… in… out…

Dylan said it was some kind of cocktail. Alex giggled. Cock. Tail. Cock tail. He laughed out loud. That Dylan was a riot.

His hallucination shifted, from night to day. Now he saw blue skies and white clouds above him. Reaching up to a cloud, he felt mist run through his fingers, and saw a trail of white follow his hand.

The clouds in front of him began to turn grey and dirty. The air coagulated in a brown haze around him. His ribs no longer spread, although his lungs fought for oxygen. The air they drew in smelled of smoke and stung all the way down. He coughed himself out of the dream and looked around.

The room was dark and unfamiliar. He remembered; this was not his home. They had broken into this place, thinking it was abandoned. Each over-filled room told them they were wrong, but no one was home, so they explored it before the pills and whiskey took effect. Alex had ended up in what looked like an old lady's bedroom. A vanity held fancy glass bottles, and a porcelain doll nestled in the pillows that were covered by a tufted bedspread.

He heard his name being called. "Alex. Hey, Alex."

Opening his mouth to answer, he coughed again. The air was getting thicker with smoke. He saw shadows pass by the doorway, and tried again, but his throat was too raw for noise. One of the shadows paused.

"Dude… we gotta… get… out of here." Whoever said it was coughing, hard.

"Come on." Dylan's voice sounded hoarse but loud. "Alex is probably already out."

He didn't hear anything after that, so he rolled to his stomach and began to crawl. The smoke swirled around his body, much like the imaginary stars. He wished the smoke was the illusion.

Dragging his body around the corner of the bed, he looked down the hallway. Red-hot light sizzled upon his face. He backed into the bedroom again and saw curtains. With an effort, he pushed to his hands and knees and scooted to the lacy ruffles. He pulled them open and yanked on the window. It was locked.

The room continued to fill with smoke and heat. His breathing felt like a fish gasping for water, and his head grew light. He felt around the frame, searching for a latch. Finding one, he slid it, the only direction it would go, and felt the window casing spring up. He reached both hands forward to remove the screen and slide to safety.

Wow, am I going to have a story to tell the guys.

That's when he felt the security bars. His last bit of effort was to grab them and prove their immobility. He slid down, to the floor beneath the window, and listened to the pretty glass bottles exploding on the vanity, as they shattered from the heat. Rolling to his side, he looked at the shards on the carpet, lit by the flames around the doorway.

He reached out his hand to them, sparkling like stars.

* * * *

I don't know about you, but I can't wait to see how it ends.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

It's all about revenge

by Jenny Hilborne

What is your motive? For me, it's all about revenge.

Every day, I plot murder. I fantasize about the evil things I, I mean my characters, would do to their victims if given the chance. I plot how they’ll get away with it, at least for a while. During this process, I noticed a trend, which caused me to examine my own personality.

In real life, I’m not the type to hold a grudge. At least, I don’t think so. However, in my fictional world, almost all my motives seem to revolve around revenge. I gravitate towards it. Quite frankly, I find it the purest and most satisfying kind of motive, both to write and to read. Characters driven by revenge are obsessed and determined, with a single-minded goal. They must settle the score at all costs, and their conduct shocks me the most.

Other motives seem weaker in comparison and more difficult to understand, especially in mysteries and thrillers. A villain bent on revenge is exciting to follow; his target, or someone close to that target has already hurt him, and we want to know how he’ll retaliate. Is the punishment deserved? Unless the villain is entirely bad, with no redeeming qualities, I’d say quite often it is. I love a villain who provokes empathy in me as a reader. This compassion adds to the drama and conflict going on inside me as I read. It raises questions in my mind about fairness, and righteousness, the validity of his actions, and how he should be handled when he’s caught.   

Other popular motives for pre-meditated murder include jealousy, robbery, and crimes of passion. More unusual motives might include boredom, or for fun (thrill kills). With these types of plotlines, I find I have less empathy for the villain and more for the victim, which seems more conventional, and; therefore, the stories don’t move me as much. The unconventional is more interesting and more troubling because deviant behaviour defies societal norms. It makes us question our own character. Is it normal to side with the villain? What would we do under the same circumstances?

Which motive do you find the strongest and the most satisfying, and what does our choice reveal about our own personality?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Making Silencers Silent

 A hit man just wouldn't be hit man without a silenced firearm. But, silencers (technically referred to as suppressors) affect only one aspect of sound. You see, in order to properly use a silencer in your writing you need to understand how sound works following the discharge of a gun. Sound is important evidence. Whether writing about a barking dog or a gunshot it's important for writers to understand how sounds will be heard by various characters. Sound is basically produced by disruptions in the air causing pressure waves. Modern firearms create two distinct sounds when fired. 

The first sound is created when the cartridge is fired. A modern cartridge is comprised of a casing which houses the powder and seats the bullet. On the bottom of the cartridge is the primer. This is a small disc in the center of the head stamp. When the firing pin strikes the primer it ignites the gunpowder in the cartridge and the pressure forces the bullet down the barrel. The gases produced by this small explosion are also forced down the barrel. This is the first source of sound produced from a gunshot.

Suppressors are screwed or seated onto the muzzle of the barrel. You're probably very aware of their appearance. They look like a thicker tube (usually twice as thick as the barrel at least) sticking out the front of the gun. Suppressors have a variety of proprietary designs but they all function in basically the same way. Baffles inside the cylinder "dampen" the gas pressure and sometimes even slow the velocity of the bullet. By dispersing and dampening the gasses the suppressor reduces the disruption of air; which reduces sound. The more the baffles dampen the air the less sound produced.But the use of a silencer (suppressor) may not eliminate the sound of a gunshot.

That fact is due to the second main source of sound in a gunshot; the sonic boom of the bullet traveling through air. This is an independent act that occurs after the bullet has left the suppressor. It is well known by shooters that the bullet strikes the target before the sound wave does.  Most modern cartridges are capable of reaching super-sonic speeds. Putting a suppressor on the end of a gun doesn't usually change this fact. I've worked for law enforcement agencies that used suppressed weapons in a variety of tactical assaults. One "benign" use would be to shoot out the tires on a suspect vehicle parked outside his residence while the SWAT team is preparing to make entry.

In order to do that the shooter must use "sub-sonic" ammunition. This ammunition is designed to have a muzzle velocity below the speed of sound. Still powerful enough to shoot out a tire but not enough to make a sonic boom. Most authors don't get into this level of detail but it wouldn't hurt to mention that your character is firing sub-sonic ammunition with their suppressed weapon. You'll demonstrate your knowledge about how sound works and might keep a couple of critics at bay. Sub-sonic ammunition is easy to find and some bench shooters use it for plinking so as not to disturb their neighbors or damage their ears. Now there will always be some level of sound from the mechanical function of the slide or dropping of the hammer but for all practical purposes the weapon will be "silent".

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Emotion Thesaurus

a wonderful new resource for fiction writers,
recommended by Jodie Renner, freelance editor

Fiction writers are always hearing this critical advice from writing gurus and editors: "Show, don't tell." And for good reason. Showing is bringing a scene to life on the page, so the reader feels they're right there with the characters. Telling the readers what's going on or how someone is feeling falls flat, doesn't engage the reader. Don't tell us your character is sad or angry or frustrated or delighted - show us through their actions, reactions, and emotions.

But one of the biggest challenges facing fiction writers is to find just the right words and imagery to convey characters’ emotions so the readers feel what the character is feeling. Trying to think of different ways to show characters’ reactions like fear, rage, worry, amusement, doubt, rage, joy, embarrassment, confusion, anxiety, shock, relief, jealousy, anguish, impatience, and so on can be a lot of work and very time-consuming, even exhausting as we try to recall similar situations and how we felt.

As a content editor, when I read a scene, I’m constantly trying to visualize the movements, body language, facial expressions, physical sensations, and inner reactions of the characters in various situations, and analyze whether the words and phrases the author has chosen really capture the emotions expressed. For example, a client might have someone’s eyes widening in anger, where to me they should have their eyes narrowing or glaring in anger, and widening in shock or surprise or fear. And when I question something, I always like to offer alternative examples. But I feel I’m no expert, so often I have to really think about situations I’ve been in and how people acted when they were indignant or angry or nervous or depressed or whatever.

The good news is, my job has suddenly become much easier—and so has yours, as a fiction writer. Recently I discovered the perfect resource to find just which facial expressions, actions, and body language are best for expressing various emotional states, as well as likely internal sensations and mental responses.

It’s called THE EMOTION THESAURUS, A WRITER'S GUIDE TO CHARACTER EXPRESSION, by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, and the way they’ve laid it out makes it quick and easy to choose from a variety of spot-on actions, mannerisms, voice inflections, attitudes, and facial expressions to portray any given emotion. The book has a list of 75 different emotion entries, each with pages and pages of both external and internal indicators for each emotion. For the A’s alone, we have Adoration, Agitation, Amazement, Amusement, Anger, Anguish, Annoyance, Anticipation, and Anxiety.

For ANNOYANCE, here are just some of the indicators on the list:

DEFINITION: Aggravation or mild irritation


• A pinched expression
• An exaggerated sigh
• Taking over a project due to impatience: Here, I’ll do it.
• Narrowing eyes
• Crossing the arms
• Tapping a foot, fidgeting
• Swatting at the air
• Lips pressed into a white slash
• Clenching the jaw
• Folding the arms across the chest
• Hands that briefly clench
• Tugging at clothing
• A gaze that flicks upward
• Holding the head in the hands
• Pacing
• A sharp tone
• Speaking in short phrases
• Sarcasm
• A sharpening tone, using short phrases when speaking, clipped answers
• Rigid posture
• Nodding, but with a tightness to it, like one is holding back from saying something
• Throwing the hands up
• Rubbing the brow as if to ward off a headache
• Avoiding looking at the person, staring downward
• Pressing a fist to the mouth
• Fidgeting

… and lots more, followed by these other subcategories, still under Annoyance:





And they’ve even added a writer’s tip at the end of each emotion.

I bought the Kindle edition and like it so much I've ordered the paper version. One of my clients pointed out that it’s also available as a PDF from Ackerman and Puglisi's blog, The Bookshelf Muse. My novelist friend really likes the PDF as she can have that right up on the screen when she’s writing scenes, and flip to it easily for ideas.

This book is available in both Print and Digital formats through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, the iBookstore, and Smashwords. Or, download the PDF straight from their blog (sidebar). They also offer a free companion PDF called Emotion Amplifiers, which covers fifteen conditions (Pain, Stress, Attraction, Exhaustion, etc.) that can compromise your character's mental and physical state, ensuring they become more emotionally volatile. You can find it in the sidebar of their blog.

Jodie Renner, a freelance fiction editor specializing in thrillers and other fast-paced fiction, has published two books to date in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: WRITING A KILLER THRILLER and STYLE THAT SIZZLES & PACING FOR POWER (Silver Medal winner in the FAPA Book Awards, 2013). Both titles are available in e-book and paperback. For more info, please visit Jodie’s author website or editor website, or find her on Facebook or Twitter.



Friday, July 13, 2012

7 Great Websites for Publishing Info

by L.J. Sellers, author of provocative mysteries & thrillers

I hear from writers all the time wanting to know about resources and how I keep up with everything. Keeping up not only with writing and promoting, but also staying informed about the publishing industry—which is very competitive and constantly evolving—is critical to success. With that in mind, here’s a list of my favorite websites.

The Passive Voice: This is an aggregate site that collects and links to blogs about the industry, with intelligent commentary from the site owner, who is an ex-entertainment lawyer and book formatter.

Publetariat: Another great aggregator site with a lot of how-to articles from writers about writing, promoting, and formatting.

Digital Book World: A collection of news, blogs, and commentary about everything happening in the electronic publishing world.

A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing: Joe Konrath always has great blogs and guest bloggers about self-publishing and often discusses pricing, a critical piece of the process.

For Crime Fiction Authors:
The Crime Fiction Daily: I also subscribe to this daily newsletter, which is specific to crime fiction and often includes real crimes stories, from which ideas spring.

The Graveyard Shift: I love this blog for news about police tactics, events, and more (such as its Castle reviews).

Writer's Forensics Blog: Fun blogs about death and crime scenes. What else can I say?

I know there are a lot more  terrific sites (and I could spend all day perusing them). What are your favorite sites for staying informed or developing your craft?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Thank You For Unsubscribing

By C.J. West
Suspense. Creativity. Action.

Several years ago I had a conversation with a woman that really changed the way I think about how I relate to people. What she said was simple and elegant and probably one of my first memorable exposures to a Zenlike philosophy.

She said, “Do you want everyone to like you?”

What a stupid question. Of course I want everyone to like me.

I’m a people pleaser. I like doing things for people and I have a terrible time saying no to a request.

But there is more to me than that. I have my share of strong opinions and an overactive sense of justice. Some people disagree with me based on what I believe. That’s only natural. So even as I go through life trying to make everyone happy, I invariably find some people I don’t get along with.

Another thing I’ve realized is that I am very slow to anger. Very few people annoy me and usually when someone annoys me they are annoying a whole lot of other people, too. So I’ve decided that sometimes it is okay to act on those feelings of annoyance.

Last week someone on Facebook taunted me about a spelling mistake in my status (with three derogatory posts). I reflected for a moment and realized a few things. This person is highly unlikely to buy my work. They might prompt others to decide not to buy my work as well. And I certainly was not enjoying their company. So why have this person on my page?

I’m not a public service. I’m just a guy trying to make a buck and have some fun.

The solution... I blocked them. I never have to hear from that person on Facebook again. Ever.

That got me thinking about what’s been happening with my newsletter lately.

I’ve been running a Kindle Giveaway called CJ West Fires Me Up. Each month I send out two or three newsletters to contestants. At the end of each month I give away a Kindle Fire in the form of a $200 Amazon Gift Card.

A month or two ago I came across a guy named Ben Settle who professes to be a master of email marketing. I read a bit of his advice and changed the way I write my contest emails.

My new messages are snarky and fun. Sometimes flirty. Almost always sarcastic. Basically I’m having fun writing a quick email and delivering some news to my contestants.

The response has been very interesting.

First there was the older woman who accused me of trying to start a fight between her and her husband.  I got a good laugh out of that one, but I was concerned.  I didn’t want my female readers to think I was hitting on them. (I’m writing suspense not romance.)

A dozen other people have unsubscribed in the past two months. Reading between the lines of their messages I could tell they were not entertained.

I became concerned so I started paying close attention to feedback.

Several friends on Facebook complained they didn’t get one of my messages when I had a database glitch. One woman actually requested that I resend a message because she deleted it too soon. She wanted to reread it. Really?

And nearly fifty people have written to say how much they enjoy my contest emails.

How cool is that? I’m sending marketing fluff and people enjoy it so much they thank me.

What I realized in the end is that I should thank people who unsubscribe. They give me the freedom to be my authentic self. My new messages are fun for people who enjoy my writing and my sense of humor. And I enjoy writing them, too.

How do you feel when someone quits your list?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

How do feel you have progressed as a writer over the past few years?

By Andrew E. Kaufman

That’s the question someone posed to me in a recent interview. It’s a good one, but I have to admit that it caught me a little off guard. It wasn’t that I didn’t know—I just hadn’t really paused to think about it in quite some time. The past year has been a whirlwind of activity, and the recent success of my latest novel took me by surprise. I feel as though I’ve been spinning ever since, sometimes with excitement, sometimes with anxiety, sometimes with fear, sometimes with pure exhaustion.

And admittedly, sometimes with I-don’t-know-what.

At times it’s felt as though the bulk of my progress has taken place during this accelerated period, but I know that’s not really true, that it’s been moving on a steady continuum for several years now. The bigger events do tend to cloud the smaller ones, but all are equally important.

But I’m really glad they asked me this question because it’s one we should all ask ourselves from time to time no matter what we do. It’s good for us to stop, to look back, and to measure just how far we’ve come, and it’s important to recognize our accomplishments, our failures—everything—no matter how big or small those things might be.

I remember putting my first book on Kindle and having no idea where it might lead. All I knew was that I wanted to get it “out there “ in the readers’ hands. I sold a total of four copies in the first month, and I soon realized I still had a great deal to learn, and I was thrilled when I finally did. I had very little understanding of how this industry worked at the time. Now I feel like I know a lot. More progress.

And my writing has changed over time as well. I’m the kind of person who likes to keep learning new things. I love to stretch and grow, and I feel as though I have. I look back at some of my earlier work—even my first book—and I can see how much my writing style has changed over the years. Even as I work on my third novel, I have a strong sense that I’ve improved my craft in a way that makes me feel proud. It’s great to be see myself in that place.

My confidence level, while certainly not to the point where I feel fearless or invincible, has risen right along with my writing. Let’s face it, to be a writer means to be vulnerable, and admittedly, that was a tough one for me. Most of us pour our hearts and souls onto the pages. It takes time to build a tough enough skin to where we’re able to use criticism to mobilize us instead of paralyze us. But it’s important. It’s part of The Process. I feel as though I’ve finally reached a point where I can look at criticism objectively instead of emotionally, to sort out the things I feel can help me from the ones that don’t, and then use them to propel my work forward. I don’t worry or obsess about it as much, and that also feels wonderful. Yet another sign of growth.

How about you? Whether you’re an author or not, do you stop every once in a while to take a good look at where you came from, where you are now, and how far you’ve come? If you do, what do you see?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Is Amazon's Punctuation Punctiliousness Persnickety?

By:  Kimberly Hitchens is the founder and owner of Booknook.biz, an ebook production company that has produced books for over 750 authors and imprints.

(The second part of this post appeared in the Booknook.Biz newsletter, newly renamed The Booknook Beacon [sorta]--yes, I'm a sucker for alliteration--so if you've read the newsletter, feel free to skip that bit.  If you skipped the Newsletter--for SHAME!--then read on.)

Amazon Attacks

No, sorry--if you're awaiting a single-breasted woman with a quiver full of arrows to come out swinging, you're to be sadly disappointed.  For those of you earning your filthy lucre by writing, however, nose up:  we had another one of our clients harangued by mega-publisher Amazon about "errors" in her book--with a politely-worded demand that the book be taken down, fixed and re-uploaded.

The history?  We're speaking here of a widely-respected woman author, Edgar-nominated, legacy published, who's put up a handful of her backlist titles on Amazon, as well as on Barnes & Noble's self-publishing platform, PubIt, with our assistance.  Over the past few years, she's put these books up one at a time, each taking some effort, as all of her backlist had to be scanned and OCR'd (have Optical Character Recognition run) first, then proofed,  then edited a skosh (oy, none of you are immune from the rewriting addiction!), and then converted and magically (ahem) made into ebooks.  Her titles aren't wee shorties, but hefty, good-sized books.  We recently received an email from her which contained the Amazon missive, which instructed her as already related, for--wait for it--a whopping TWELVE (12) missing periods (and one word with--gasp!--a space in it).  Yes, Virginia--missing periods, and, no, you're not pregnantTwelve missing periods in 90,000 words

Now, the part that slays me is--where is this editorial oversight when it comes to other titles?  Heavens, I wonder, am I the fool to bite the hand that feeds me?  But--I'm compelled to ask:  if editorial oversight and curation is to be imposed by Amazon, then what about titles like these?  Broken Bones, Cheryl Taylor and this beauty:  JFK VIP2RIP .  Twelve missing periods, compared to these, just as two exemplars?

My Theory, however, is:  

My theory runs like this, and I doubt it's an earth-shattering epiphany:  only those who get read, and who have fans, actually get audited.  In other words:  only those of you lucky to be talented enough, who have worked hard enough, have studied the craft enough, to write well enough to attract readers who care about your work, get these types of letters from Amazon, because it's your readers that send them the correctionsThe truly awful don't get read; don't attract readers; don't have fans that care about the quality of the work--and thus, slip through Mighty Amazon's Gates.  However, all that being said, the inequity of one author--who's paid a  lot of good money to get her (backlist) books up on Amazon, and in fine format, if I do say so myself--being told to "fix" the book and republish it, when books like those I've pointed out run about freely, like varmints gamboling on a newly-turfed lawn, seems grossly unfair.  I'm all for some curation--heavens know, you've all heard me whinge about it often enough--but if Amazon's going to police well-respected authors, then I think she needs to spend a little time looking beneath her own skirts, as well.   Self-publishing is self-publishing, regardless of whether it's Neil Gaiman or Cheryl Taylor, and inequitable enforcement seems a gross miscarriage for those who've done all the necessary heavy lifting, versus those who have not.  Why the discrepancy?

That's my primary note for this week; for those of you still equivocating about whether to spend that money on an editor, or whining about how "critique groups are mean," pay attention--suffering those crits may just save YOU a letter like this some day--and yours might be warranted.  

1st Annual WNBA National Writing Contest

No, guys, that is NOT the "Women's National Basketball Association," but, rather, the Women's National Books Association, and it has recently announced its first annual Writing Contest. The WNBA is a 90+ year old venerated organization of women and men across the broad spectrum of writing and publishing. Membership includes Editors, Publishers, Literary Agents, Professors, Academics, Librarians, Authors, Book Marketers and many others involved in the world of books.

Works may be submitted now until September 15th, and include unpublished fiction (short stories or novel excerpts) and poetry.

Interested?  They want only your "highest caliber work!"  Click here to find out more information.  

 Until next time, to mooch a phrase from someone worth mooching:  Good Night and Good Luck.  

Monday, July 9, 2012

Breaking Glass

A City of Broken Glass by Rebecca Cantrell (Forge hardcover, 17 July 2012).

Reviewed by Marlyn Beebe.

Since we met journalist Hannah Vogel in A Trace of Smoke, she's lost her beloved brother Ernst, adopted a boy named Anton, and messed up several relationships.

This time around,  writing fluff pieces for a Swiss newspaper called Neue Zürcher Zeitung, she's in Poland to write a feature about the town of Poznań's November 11th St. Martin's Day Festival.  Although her editor has given this assignment in order to keep her from harm after some anti-Nazi articles she wrote resulted in a spate of threatening letters, Hannah is unhappy.  

Thinking that her son might enjoy the Festival, she's brought Anton with her, and almost immediately she regrets it.  She learns that the Germans have arrested a thousands of Polish Jews and forced them back across the border.  Certain that she can get a story out of this, she instructs her driver to take them to the village where the refugees are being held.

And just like that, Hannah once again lands herself in the middle of trouble.  Questions raised by her talks with the refugees lead her back into Germany, where she's persona non grata, and where Anton has no identity.  Hannah is determined that news of the German's injustices be made public, and since she's ideally situated to do this, she does, regardless of what danger she lands in. 

Although the story is  fictional (it's based on the real Kristallnacht), Cantrell's prose is so vivid that the reader feels involved in incidents that could quite easily be real, especially since the narrative is written in the first person from Hannah's point of view.  

The next book in the series is in the works, and it can't come soon enough!

FTC Full Disclosure: Many thanks to the author, who sent me an advance copy of the book for review purposes.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Focused or Blurry? Five Tips for Clarity

By Peg Brantley, author of RED TIDE

I'm a person who loves excitement and spur of the moment interruptions. I appreciate involvement and interaction with others. I treasure conversations with friends and I can feel twenty years younger just by hanging out with my granddaughters. The freedom of disorganization and flexibility. The freedom to Just Be.

I'm also a person who craves routine and solitude and the gift to follow my plan for the day. I like knowing this is going to happen now and that will happen then. The organization of my time and the confidence in what I can accomplish during a given period of said time. That wonderful opportunity to focus on the task.

Say what???

I don't know about you, but events can pull me out of my coveted routine. Sometimes those events are amazing and wonderful and memory-makers. They're part of life. Sometimes those events are filled with anxiety and distraction. These are also part of life. And sometimes I don't know what the hell happened. I'm just off.

But how do I regain focus? How do I get back to work? Because other than my husband and family, work is what grounds me. I happen to be a writer, but it wouldn't matter what I did, as long as it was important to me.

Here are some things I've found that work:

  • Within my morning pages routine (three pages of handwritten stream of consciousness writing) I include my goals for the day.
  • A To Do List in no particular order but which includes things like scene completions and word count (often taken from my morning pages). Personally, I love striking lines through the items on my list. That simple act imparts power.
  • Trust the process. Sometimes it's important to be pulled away and unfocused. We all require breaks from time to time. Let it happen. Maybe I need to give in and curl up with a book. Or watch a movie on Lifetime.
  • Mentally prepare to get down to business by doing something completely unrelated—like watering the plants or playing a game of Free Cell—with the understanding that once I'm finished, I'm into the project.
  • Take the plunge. Start in willy-nilly and let go. Again, trust the process.

What about you? Are you always one hundred percent focused: 20/20? Or do you sometimes experience blurred vision or floaters that distract you? If so, have you discovered a technique that helps get you back on track that you're willing to share?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Me and my sidekick

By Gayle Carline

When I started my first mystery novel, I invented Benny Needles, picturing him as an amoral man who collects memorabilia in order to sell it, because he'll do anything to make a buck. Once I began figuring out why a grown man would have an ice cube tray autographed by Dean Martin, and why he'd hire a detective to find it in his own house, it put a different spin on Benny's world. Suddenly I had a sympathetic, if annoying, man who needed a pallie - Dean Martin.

I like to write journals in my characters' voices. It helps me get to know them. However, when I went to write a journal for Benny, I struggled. It finally dawned on me: Benny is not a journal writer. What "Benny" wound up writing was a sixth grade essay, "My Hero." It took me awhile to decipher it, since Benny's handwriting was mostly illegible (at least in my head), and Benny as a twelve-year old is no Hemingway. But here it is.

* * * * *

My Hero by Benny Needles

My hero is Dean Martin. Dean Martin sings and acts and is a big star. He was born in Steubenville, Ohio on June 7, 1917. His real name is Dino Paul Crocetti. Dean Martin has sang lots of songs and made lots of albums. He has starred in many movies. My favorite is Rio Bravo. He plays Dude who starts out drunk and pretty dirty but then takes a bath and helps John Wayne shoot the bad guys.

Dean Martin is my hero because he is the King of Cool and gets to do fun things, like singing and making movies. He is really funny on his TV show that my mom and me watch every Thursday night. Everybody likes him and they call him Dino which is funny because its his real name even tho he changed it to Dean.

My dad has been gone for two years, so sometimes I get sad and miss him. When my mom says I look like Dean Martin it makes me happy. Sometimes I wish Dean Martin was my dad. Then I could see him every Thursday on TV and maybe we would have a secret sign, like he could wink, to say hello to me. When I grow up, I want to be cool, just like Dean Martin.
* * * * *

When I wrote my latest Peri Minneopa Mystery, Hit or Missus, I originally didn't plan to have Benny in the story. He was a client in Freezer Burn, so I thought he wouldn't fit in. I planned to bring him back in the third or fourth book, again as a client. But I had so many readers ask, "You're bringing Benny back, right?" I was surprised. So I found a way for him to return, in a most effective yet annoying role.

I think Benny is now part of the recurring case of my Peri mysteries. This means Dino will be there, too, guiding Benny toward the everlasting light of Cool.

This leads me to a question: What are some of your favorite secondary characters in books you've read?

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

What are you saying?

by Jenny Hilborne, mystery/thriller author 

“What is the main theme or message of the book?”

I heard this question quite a bit on a booth I shared with 5 other authors at the LA Festival of Books this past April. I’ll admit it had me a bit stumped and I had to scramble for an answer. Madness and Murder has a theme of second chances woven through it, although I wasn’t actually aware of this until a reader pointed it out in a review. 

When I start writing a new novel, I have a main plot in mind and a possible working title, and that’s it. I definitely don’t have any kind of message or theme on my mind. If I'm honest, I don’t intend to convey any kind of message in my novels. I write to entertain rather than to educate. One reason for this is that I can’t be sure my message, should I decide to send one, would be interpreted in the way I intended.

I’d like to pose a question to readers: how important is it for a novel, a work of fiction, to carry a message? Does it need to be moralistic? 

I read fiction (thrillers) because I like to be entertained and I enjoy trying to solve the mystery. I’ve never thought much about whether there was a message in the books I read, and it doesn’t spoil my enjoyment if there isn’t one. Having just read (and loved) To Kill A Mockingbird, I’m not so sure anymore. I believe books with a message are more memorable and stay with the reader for longer. These are the books that generate conversation, which creates interest and spreads the word among the reading community.  Without a message, does the book stand a chance of breaking out from the ever-growing crowd?

I’ve read books by authors who use their work to express themselves and their personal opinions, be it politics, religion, whatever. I tend to shy away from those. As a reader of fiction, I don’t want to know the author's opinion on a subject and have it slant the outcome of the novel, or have it shoved down my throat. I just want a good story. After a little thought on the subject, I'd say I'm of the opinion a message is fine, good even, as long as it's not too intense, but I don't care if there isn't one. How do you feel about it? Do you feel let down if there is no underlying message? 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Real Challenges for Cold Case Investigators

by Tom Adair
Investigating cold cases is, in some ways, like searching out your family genealogy. New technologies have helped us mine data from public records but the data has to exist in the first place right? I have worked on many cold cases; some old, some not so old. They can be very challenging. Some might think that the greatest challenge is the passage of time. While that can be a major obstacle affecting things like memory, there are other issues that can be far more damaging. Cold cases can languish in archives for decades (even longer). They may be passed among dozens of detectives over the years and reside in multiple buildings and locations (as agencies relocate or reallocate space). They may transition from a state of acute institutional knowledge to one of complete unawareness. Like family lore that dies with the passing of a generation.

These issues can lead to massive frustration for the investigator. As authors we should consider how these challenges may influence our storyline and character evolution. Even the most advanced forensic analyses  may fail to provide meaningful answers. It's hard to comprehend future environments. Laws can change, rules can change, people can change. Knowing what critical issues will arise decades from now is an impossible task for criminal investigators. There are some cardinal principles, of course, but rarely does a case boil down to those broad points. The devil is in the details as they say and details have a stubborn habit of getting lost in time. Here are some of the most frustrating.
  1. Illegible Reports: Old police reports were largely hand written. Some officers have very poor (illegible) handwriting. If you can't read the report, or the language is unclear, then it may as well not exist. Sometimes you luck out and the deputy is still alive, or perhaps a child can read it but other times you can't. The chicken scratches just taunt you. Do they hold the missing key or are they just redundant case data?It's not just reports either. Notes, crime scene measurements, even the reporting officer's name may be illegible! How do you get a writing standard from someone you can't even identify?
  2. Outdated Storage Devices: This is a big one. Since the 1950's police agencies have been utilizing various technologies to store data. In the early days it was microfiche. Today we have terabyte imaging drives. In between these two technologies are a vast number of devices. Some had mass market appeal and others were a flash in the pan. How does a modern agency "read" a 5 1/4" floppy disk? Even if you could find the hardware do you have the software needed to open the file? Imagine a crime scene sketch and measurements done with a program written by some detective's neighbor's kid. How do you open it now? How about old cassette drives or processing 110 formatted photographic film?  Let's say you could find the correct device. Do you have the cables and connections necessary to link it to modern equipment?
  3. Evidence Handling: This is huge. DNA didn't exist thirty years ago. Fingerprints weren't recoverable from surfaces that today we can process. I have seen numerous old crime scene and autopsy photos of individuals handling evidence bare handed. I know that sounds terrible but it was just how things were done back in the day. Prosecutors, detectives, officers, doctors, even the media sometimes handled items without gloves. Knowing that, how valuable will any DNA or fingerprint evidence be? Can you even get standards from the old employees and how do you know who even touched the items? This situation also raises concerns about the chain of custody for these items when they are eventually submitted at trial. 
  4. Incomplete reports: I hate these. As writers we love to depict the detective taking the case file home and spreading it out all over their coffee table or kitchen counter. Today, we don't do that stuff but forty years ago was a different story. Most of the time the missing data is obvious. You may open a suspicious death inquiry with no autopsy photos. They had to take them but they aren't there! It may be that the Coroner was the custodian and when they left they took their "records" with them. Sometimes old documents are just purged to make space. It sounds crazy but it happens. You may have crime scene photos that were taken but filed under an incorrect case number (maybe the photographer is dyslexic). You can use your imagination because virtually anything that could happen, has happened somewhere. 
  5. No trail: Cold cases are called cold for a reason. Time has a way of hiding the trail as they say. Today we can track and identify people much more easily than we could forty years ago. People today leave an enormous data footprint. Back then, everyone in town may have know "Old Man Hitchens" but today it's not much to go on. Phone numbers don't exist and police may have never jotted down things like a date of birth or social security number. A detective on the case may have been able to look at a photo and tell you exactly who was in it. No need to write that information down right? Thirty years later however there may be no one left who is familiar with the case or is able to identify who certain witnesses are. Then there's the issue of identity theft. You can run commercial database searches for "Tom Adair" in Colorado and come up with a dozen different records, many of which are not me. That's a lot of leg work to track all those people down and figure out who is who. 
I wish I could tell you that cold case investigations are hampered only by faulty memories but the truth of the matter is that administrative "systems" and decisions made decades ago can have devastating effects to a case file. Today, many police agencies see the benefit of doing a yearly audit of cold case files. They can identify what "gaps" may exist in the information and try to get them filled. Likewise, investigators working active unsolved cases realize how important it is to dot the "i's" and cross the "t's".  If you are writing about a cold homicide case you should try to incorporate some of these obstacles into your storyline. The average reader may not identify with the frustrations but and cop that reads it will give you a thumb's up.