Monthly Archives: April 2017

12 Crime Lab Tidbits

by Vinnie Hansen

In March, I visited the Santa Clara Crime Lab because hey, that’s the kind of thing crime writers do on a lovely spring day.

My husband, Danny, went along. He enjoys police info, too. I guess you better if you’re married to a mystery author.

We were disappointed to learn that we would not be able to traipse about the lab. Even though the event was advertised as a “virtual” tour, when Danny and I visited the FBI Crime Lab in San Francisco, our guide led us right up to the line of weapons waiting for rifling tests. But that was many years ago and our group consisted of just Danny, Cara Black and me.

Criminalist Cordelia Willis

Criminalist Cordelia Willis

The Santa Clara Crime Lab presentation drew over 20 sisters and misters from NorCal Sisters in Crime as well as a whole class from a local college. I was glad that criminalist Cordelia Willis did not try to herd such an unwieldy flock.

But even if there were only a few of us, we could not have entered the lab. Our very breath could contaminate DNA evidence!

Instead, we congregated in the training room for slides and an informative talk.

Here are a dozen fun facts from our two-hour stint:

  • The bane of criminalists: lawyers, lawyers, lawyers, and EMTs who trample evidence.
  • CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) has two parts, the usual one we think of which contains info only from criminals, and another part for unidentified persons, used to match bodies to missing people. The criminal and victim parts do not mix.
  • Red Bull is the drink of choice for burglars (and a nifty way to collect DNA).
  • Thirty is the magic number when a murderer stabs his victim.
  • A slice on the perpetrator’s hand is common in stabbings because the knife handle gets slippery. (Think O.J.)
  • Cordelia worked on a cold case where DNA evidence was taken from 22- year-old semen.
  • If a body is inside a structure, the police have to get a search warrant to call in the lab.
  • Digital/multimedia evidence is most backlogged. One case might yield 15 cellphones!IMG_1418
  • Bullet rifling is unique to each individual gun, but (sigh) many bullets get smooshed and can’t be tested.
  • BUT, cartridges can be compared via the firing pin impression.IMG_1420
  • Gun shot residue disappears quickly — no sense testing after 8 hours.
  • It’s blood spatter, not blood splatter.

Have you ever wondered how much of CSI is true? What’s a question you would like answered by a crime lab? 

 

Posted by Vinnie Hansen.

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Vinnie is a retired English teacher and award-winning author. Her Carol Sabala mystery series is set in Santa Cruz, California.

Her forthcoming book, Lostart Street, is a stand-alone novel of mystery, manslaughter and moonbeams.

Here’s a sneak peak at the cover. If you saw the cover in the last post, you’ll notice the new iteration is slightly different. What do you think?

LostartStreet

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

Love Thy Neighbor

by Kassandra Lamb

easter eggs in basket

photo by Toelstede – Wikipedia-Name Nyks CC-BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons

Sunday was Easter. On a secular level, many of us are celebrating spring and rebirth on this day, with symbols like eggs and bunnies and chicks.

But Easter is one of the two most joyous holidays in the Christian calendar. It commemorates the Christian belief that Jesus rose from the dead after being crucified, after allowing himself to be tortured and killed for the sake of others.

Although the religious components of this holiday are matters of belief, most historians agree that a man named Jesus did live in ancient Israel, around the time of the Roman occupation, and he was crucified.

He could have saved himself. All he would’ve had to do was disavow everything he stood for. He could have lied to Pontius Pilate, told the man what he wanted to hear, and he would have skated.

But then we would have no conscious memory of his teachings, two thousand and seventeen years later. Martyrdom is often required in order to make a lasting impression.

Technically, I’m a Christian. I was baptized in the Methodist Church and I’m a confirmed Episcopalian. I say technically because lately I haven’t felt all that willing to publicly admit that I’m a Christian. Some folks have been giving Christianity a bad name.

One of the most important teachings of Christ is:

Love thy neighbor as thyself.

Well, I don’t know about the “as myself” part. I’m pretty darn fond of myself. But I try to remain benevolent toward those around me. And I know Jesus meant everyone when he said neighbor. But we might as well start close to home.

I live in a college town, so those who are literally my neighbors are a fairly diverse lot.

Benevolence is easy with our neighbor to the left. She’s a white, middle-class, elderly widow who’s lived here longer than we have and loves to garden. Her yard is always neat.

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Directly across from us is a middle-class white man and his twenty-years-younger wife. They were also here before us and we always wave and smile when we see them. He has grown children close to his wife’s age. We don’t know the story behind that, but it isn’t our place to judge.

The family that has been the most friendly lives next door to him. They are a Lesbian couple with one child, a son. They were the first to greet us as new neighbors when we moved here, with a basket of cheese and wine and a lovely card.

Their son, who was 6 when we moved here, is now 20. He has a steady girlfriend now. I get a little teary-eyed when I see him cruising down the street in the pick-up truck that used to be one of his moms’ main means of transportation.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve never officially introduced myself to the slightly swarthy-skinned woman and her daughter, who moved into the house on our right about a year ago. I haven’t even had many opportunities to give a friendly wave. They pretty much keep to themselves. Are they illegals? Or just shy?

None of my business, but I stand ready to wave and smile if I do spot them outside.

The single white guy next to the Lesbian couple doesn’t mow his lawn all that regularly. I find that annoying but try not to hold it against him.

The house on the corner is occupied by three (or more; it’s hard to keep track) students. Two of them drive motorcycles, but other than that they’re fairly quiet. So live and let live.

A middle-aged African-American couple moved in down the street a few months ago. They put on a new metal roof, added a freestanding garage, and repaved their driveway. The place looks really nice and I told them so, when they were climbing into their car one day as I walked past with my dog.

(I should point out here, lest I come across as holier than thou, that I am naturally a very outgoing person.)

photo by Alexscuccato CC-BY-SA-4.0 International, Wikimedia Commons

photo by Alexscuccato CC-BY-SA-4.0 International, Wikimedia Commons

I always feel better when I come home from my walks, and not just because of the satisfaction of good exercise.

All that waving and smiling brightens my own mood.

I wonder what would happen if everyone smiled and waved at everyone they cross paths with every day (yes, even in big cities up north). What kind of ripple effect would that have, internally and externally?

I know it’s been said before, but why can’t we all get along? And why can’t we start today by loving every “neighbor” we encounter?

Happy belated Easter, everyone!

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

To Write or Not To Write Short

by Kassandra Lamb

Someday is Here! book cover

I’m guest posting today over on Janice Hardy’s wonderful site for authors: Fiction University. So thrilled to have this opportunity!

I’m talking about the pros and cons of writing short stories/novellas vs. full-length novels. Please hop on over and check it out!

To Write or Not To Write Short:

Short stories, novellas, novels—what’s the best route to go as a fiction writer? Are there advantages to writing short?

This is a more complicated question than it may seem to be on the surface. There are several factors to consider:

● The definition of a short story vs. a novella
● The appeal of writing short for the author
● How readers feel about short stories and novellas vs. full-length novels
● The benefits of shorts for authors
● The bottom line: how much can you make off of shorts?

In order to give you more than just my take on writing short, I surveyed several authors from various genres. I’ve included their experiences along with my own… Read More

These Kids Today!

by Kassandra Lamb

There are many things about human nature that never cease to amaze me. One is how short some people’s memories are. All too many of my friends and acquaintances seem to have forgotten what it is like to be young.

I wince ever time I hear one of my age-mates complain about “these kids today,” using much the same language that our parents used to complain about us when we were young adults.

When I taught college, I certainly encountered irresponsibility, but I met a lot of responsible young people as well. But they don’t stand out in the crowd. They’re just going about their business, doing what they are supposed to be doing. The irresponsible ones get noticed because they’re screwing up.

My brother escorting his little girl down the aisle.

My brother escorting his little girl down the aisle.

All this is on my mind right now because I just got back from a trip up north for my niece’s wedding. And overall, I was pretty darned impressed with the young people involved.

My niece is an extrovert extraordinaire. She has a high-pitched voice and a bubbly personality, and people sometimes underestimate her. I can relate. I shared the same traits at her age (still do to some extent, although some mellowing has occurred), and I struggled with being taken seriously.

She did a great job of planning and executing this wedding (with no professional wedding planner involved). It was a particularly tough task since they were attempting to blend two cultures. (Thus the red dress which is traditional for Chinese brides.)

The groom had the good sense to provide a sympathetic ear when she needed to vent, but he otherwise stayed out of her way. Both mothers were sweetly but firmly told that she had it under control, thank you very much.

And she did. The whole thing went off with only a couple of minor glitches—both unforeseeable and neither all that earth-shaking.

Bride and groom cutting the main cake, with cupcakes stacked around it.

Bride and groom cutting the main cake, with cupcakes stacked around.

One was when the make-up lady accidentally dropped some makeup on the bodice of the maid-of-honor’s dress. There was a flurry of discussion about what to do, until both her sister and I reassured her that the spot was barely visible and probably wouldn’t be noticed if one didn’t know it was there.

This wonderfully mature young woman then shrugged and went back to the many duties my niece had assigned to her, from making sure the cupcakes were stacked appropriately on the cake table in the reception hall to keeping my niece’s rebellious train pointed in the right direction.

She didn’t seem to give the tiny grease spot another thought, which impressed me, since at her age, I would have been totally self-conscious all evening.

That train had a mind of its own!

That train had a mind of its own!

 

That was one of the things I noted as the reception progressed. These young people didn’t take themselves too seriously, but they did take their responsibilities seriously.

There were plenty of high jinks and clowning around (especially over at the “photo booth”) with the occasional ear-splitting squee. But none of them, that I could tell, got sloppy drunk.

I’ve watched many of these youngsters grow up, and I’ve got to say that I couldn’t be prouder of them.

Bride and groom in the "photo booth."

Bride and groom in the “photo booth.”

 

Adjusting to adulthood isn’t easy, and I wish more of my generation would cut youth some slack. And pay closer attention to the ones who are doing it right, instead of the ones who are messing up.

As one of my young Twitter peeps recently tweeted:

“Adulting is like looking both ways before crossing the street and then getting run over by an airplane.” – unknown

I think my niece would agree. I’ve heard her make similar comments.

Although I sometimes wonder about the sanity of some of my age-mates, I’m not all that worried about the younger generation. They’ll do just fine.

Bride and groom serving tea to groom's grandparents

Bride and groom serving tea to groom’s grandparents

 

How about you? Do you have some young people in your life who make you proud?

Chinese good luck character projected onto dance floor.

Chinese characters for “good luck” were projected onto the dance floor. (The stiff lace of the red dress made it hard to move; thus the white dress for the reception.)

 

 

 

Two Quick Notes:  I presented at the Writers Alliance of Gainesville this past Sunday, on the topic of Integrating Social Issues into Fiction (pics posted under Author Events and on my Facebook page).

And I’ll be posting this coming Friday, 4/14, on Janice Hardy’s Fiction University on the pros and cons of “writing short” (i.e. short stories and novellas).

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

Honolulu Havoc: The Pros and Cons of a Conference in Paradise

Left Coast Crime 2017 convened in Hawaii. The allure is almost too obvious to mention. There’s—well—the setting, the elaborate Hilton Hawaiian Village on Waikiki. Warm weather, sunsets on the beach, Diamond Head in the distance.

Beach in front of hotel.

Beach in front of hotel.

For many attendees the conference was a great excuse to escape a March roaring in like a lion. Almost every participant I talked to had extended his/her stay. Sisters in Crime Guppy President, Jim Jackson, and his wife, Jan Rubens, planned a month in Hawaii! Even Danny and I, who hale from temperate Santa Cruz, stayed a week. A conference in a vacation destination clearly entices writers to take a break.

The Hawaiian flavor permeated the conference from the POG (pineapple, orange, guava) juice served in the hospitality suite to the braided leis given to each award nominee at the reception—held outside on the Great Lawn. Toastmaster Laurie King literally let her hair down, releasing her famous bun into a cascade of silver. As we strolled around in our muumuus and shorts, Ghost of Honor, Earl Derr Biggers, and his creation Charlie Chan, haunted the setting. The first panel I attended, Real-Life Experience: Authors Tell All opened with free mimosas. Now there’s a ploy to get people to talk.

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As usual, the conference gave me an opportunity to see writing buddies from other parts of the country and to meet and read authors new to me, like Maia Chance who participated on the Eye to Eye With the P.I. panel with me. I am thoroughly enjoying the first book in her series, Come Hell or Highball. Our panel was moderated by my crime writing idol, Allen Eskens! As moderator, he read a book from each panelist. He liked  Black Beans & Venom enough to give me this blurb, “It is the mark of true talent for a writer to be able to deliver her readers completely and believably to another world, and in Black Beans and Venom Vinnie Hansen has done just that. Set in the vibrant and gritty back streets of Cuba, this cat-and-mouse hunt for a missing woman is full of intrigue, suspense and authenticity.I found it to be a thoroughly enjoyable read.” That alone was worth the price of admission.

Me with Allen Eskens. Check out his thrillers. The first is The Life We Bury.

Me with Allen Eskens. Check out his thrillers. The first is The Life We Bury.

So what could possibly be wrong?

It’s difficult to organize a conference in a place where one poached egg costs $4.25! Compare the room-rate of $209-$249 a night to that for next year’s LCC in Reno–$82. And the room-rate in Honolulu didn’t even include room Wi-Fi or parking, both part of the package in Reno.

The time and expense of getting to Hawaii and staying in Hawaii clearly lowered attendance. Quite a few authors appeared on three different panels, good for them perhaps, but not as stimulating for the audience. And maybe its just my guilty conscience speaking, but I feel tourist distractions pulled attendees away from conference events. Usually the Liar’s Panel, a perennial favorite, packs the room. Not so this year, in spite of a stellar line-up–Rhys Bowen, Donna Andrews, Lee Goldberg, Parnell Hall, Catriona McPherson.

Finally, Honolulu isn’t my idea of paradise. It’s a bustling city, thick with tourists. Danny and I took a morning off to follow the ant trail of people up Diamond Head. I’m glad we did it, but wouldn’t necessarily recommend it.

View from Diamond Head through edge of pillbox.

View from Diamond Head through edge of pillbox.

The Sunset Pillbox Trail on the North Shore, where we spent our first few days on the island, was much more satisfying. On that hike, we encountered only a few locals, the vistas were just as spectacular, and the brightly graffitied pillboxes were more interesting than the structures atop Diamond Head.

Pillbox on North Shore.

Pillbox on North Shore.

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I have no regrets about attending Left Coast Crime 2017, but look forward to the more economical Left Coast Crime 2018. If I win enough at blackjack, it may not cost me a thing. 🙂

 

 

What’s the best or worst conference you’ve attended conferences? What made the conference that way? 

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Posted by Vinnie Hansen. Vinnie is a retired English teacher and award-winning author. Her Carol Sabala mystery series is set in Santa Cruz, California.

Her forthcoming book, Lostart Street, is a stand-alone novel of mystery, manslaughter and moonbeams.

Here’s a sneak peak at the cover:

LostartStreet3

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )