#Kindle Countdown Sale March 1-7, 2015! A Lawyer's Primer for Writers: From Crimes to Courtrooms

Put together with the user in mind, this intelligently organized handbook for practicing writers will make you sound like a practicing lawyer. Use it to transform your courtroom characters from stereotypes into engaging people.
— Warwick Downing, former DA in Colorado and author of The Widow of Dartmoor, a sequel to Hound of the Baskervilles

A Lawyer's Primer for Writers: From Crimes to Courtrooms is a Kindle Countdown Deal, starting March 1! The earlier you purchase it, the more money you save. For example, if you buy it on the first day (March 1) the price is only #99cents, a 88% discount. Buy it the second day (March 2), the price is $1.99, a 75% discount. 

Below is a breakdown of dates and sale prices:

March 1, 2015: 99 cents (88% discount)

March 2, 2015: $1.99 (75% discount)

March 3, 2015: $2.99 (63% discount)

March 4 + 5: 2015: $3.99 (50% discount)

March 6, 2015: $4.99 (38% discount)

March 7, 2015: Back to regular price $7.95


#writetip Witness Interviews: Tips from a Private Investigator

Interviewing is more than asking a set of questions. It’s an art. Even with all of today’s whiz-bang technology, people’s words are still the most powerful declaration of where they stand – and what they know. Even the words a person chooses not to speak can still speak volumes to his/her motive, who they might be protecting, and what they're hiding.

Interviewing People Who Don't Want to Be Interviewed

Maybe a person is angry to be dragged into somebody else's problem, or frightened to give testimony in court, or even scared that what they know will hurt someone they care about. There's also the possibility that the individual is nervous about being subpoenaed to court because he/she has failed to show up in the past for their own court date, and therefore might be taken into custody for their own issues, right there in the courtroom, which is a very real concern. 

Which means a private detective must be attuned to people and skilled at persuading them to share what they know. We've all seen the private eye movies where the PI rants and threatens or even slams some guy into a wall to get him to open up. In real life, if a PI wants someone to open up and spill the beans, the investigator needs to be part shrink, part confidante, part actor -- all with the goal of gaining that person's trust.

"I Don't Care That He Said No -- Get the Interview!"

Years ago, I worked for a tough-taskmaster defense attorney who taught me that my job was to get the interview. Period.  Didn't matter if someone had just slammed a door in my face.  Didn't matter that I was nervous about interviewing a subject who had possible ties to organized crime and who also had a pit bull for a pet, I was never to say, "I couldn't get so-and-so to talk," because he'd snap, "I don't care -- get the interview."

Of course, I could have simply stopped working for this lawyer, but he remains to this day one of the top defense lawyers in the state and I didn't want to lose my spot as one of his investigators just because I was too chicken to nail an interview. As to the guy with the pit bull, we made arrangements ahead of time that the pit bull was to remain in the backyard, and although the dog stared at me the entire time through a window, the interview itself went quite well.

Several years ago, I wrote a column titled "P.I. Confidential" for Novelists, Inc.'s newsletter NINC that offered tips to writers crafting sleuth characters/stories. Below is a link to one those articles about interviewing witnesses that covers such issues as:

  • What might a PI do if the interviewee later claims the investigator misrepresented his story?
  • What does the interviewer do if the recording device decides to die just as the interview starts?
  • What if the subject starts talking about something that is seemingly off-topic?

Article link:

The Art of Interviewing: The Pitfalls, Pratfalls, and Shortfalls










What Librarians Tweet About on Saturdays...Get Ready to Laugh

How some of these librarians apparently feel...

How some of these librarians apparently feel...

This morning on Twitter, I discovered the hashtag #saturdaylibrarian...then spent the next few minutes laughing at librarians' snarks while at work on Saturday. To be fair, not all librarians were snarking, but those who did had some really good reasons for why they were. 

Below is a sampling, enjoy!  Oh, and give your librarian a high-five the next time you visit a library.  

#Saturdaylibrarian Tweets

From @LousyLibrarian: Opened the doors and nobody came rushing in. Are we supposed to be open today? Has it all just been a horrible dream? #saturdaylibrarian

Another from @LousyLibrarianHardest #saturdaylibrarian question today: Did Janet Evanovich's "Fearless 14" come before or after her "Top Secret 21?"  #letmethink

And one more from @LousyLibrarian: "Are you guys open today?" "Nope. I'm just answering the library phone because my doctor said I needed a hobby." #saturdaylibrarian

From @librarianbrie: I was just asked for tweezers.  #saturdaylibrarian

From @bobtimmermann: Today I discovered that the people who set up events at library are shadowy figures who can't be reached by normal means #saturdaylibrarian

From @curmudgeonylib: "Can you domesticate Walruses?" "How about Manatees?" Yup it is one of those afternoons... #saturdaylibrarian #librarylife

Another from @curmudgeonylib: & now the ques "Is it still scrimshaw if you don't use whalebone?" I'm helping a 19th cen sea capt, it seems #saturdaylibrarian #librarylife

From @Superdan042: Yes it is all our fault that the IRS tax prep service is down nationwide. #SaturdayLibrarian Also we told the IRS to not send out tax forms.

Another from @Superdan042: Also it's my fault you don't know your passwords.  

From @helgagrace: 9:15 on a Saturday seems like a great time to try to understand reference services models. *eyes cross* #saturdaylibrarian #librarylife

From @hek5598: Ma'am, I told you we don't have the DVD you want. I'm not sure how you thought driving here would change that. #saturdaylibrarian

From @farre: "You've seen Deliverance, right?" "No." "But you know about it right?" "Yes, that's why I have never seen it." #saturdaylibrarian

From @amydieg: Shouting across the room for your kid to be quiet is kind of counter productive.... #saturdaylibrarian

Another from @amydieg: this kid is mere minutes from meltdown and i can tell he's the 'pull everything off the shelves' kind of fit thrower #saturdaylibrarian

And another from @amydieg: These two families here on winter vacation are killing me. KILLING. #saturdaylibrarian

Valentine's Day Articles: Private Eyes, Lawyers and Nick & Nora

"Lovers - Richmond CA 1942" photo by Dorothea Lange, Digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program

"Lovers - Richmond CA 1942" photo by Dorothea Lange, Digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program

During the decade when my husband and I worked full time as private investigators, Valentine's Day, and the days surrounding it, were some of our busiest. Girlfriends, boyfriends, wives, husbands would call, wanting to hire us (typically for surveillance) to catch evidence of their significant other or spouse cheating. A few years ago The Journal of Private Eyes reported that 80 percent of cheaters spent at least part of the day with someone who was not his/her spouse/significant other.

Happy to say, however, that sometimes our clients' worries were unfounded. 

Valentine's Day Articles

Below are several articles my husband and I have written over the years about Valentine's Day, from how to avoid turning your romantic date into a court date, to real-life private eye couples whose romance stays alive despite chasing cheaters for a living. Click on the link to read the article.

#WriteTip Crafting Crime Fiction Stories: Motive, Opportunity & Means

(I originally wrote this article for mystery writer Beth Groundwater's blog, which I've updated here. Enjoy!)

Recently a writer friend of mine who’s written dozens of romance novels landed a book contract where the publisher asked for a “complex crime” at the core of the story. My friend contacted me, worried. “I’ve never written a crime!” she said, “can you give me any advice?” “Sure, think M-O-M,” I answered, “which stands for motive, opportunity and means.”

Besides being a writer, I co-owned a private investigations agency for a decade with my husband/PI partner, who has since returned to being a criminal defense attorney. I tell you this because our lives are full of M.O.M., from crafting stories to trying homicide cases.

M.O.M.: Three Sides of a Crime

In U.S. criminal law, M.O.M. encapsulates three sides of a crime necessary to convince a jury of guilt in a criminal proceeding. Did the defendant have a motive to commit the crime? Did the defendant have an opportunity, or chance, to accomplish the deed? Did the defendant also have the ability (means)?

Ways a Character Might Use M.O.M.

Below are four examples for how a private eye/sleuth character might employ motive, opportunity and/or means.

#1: Conduct Witness Interviews

An investigator might ask questions about a character, which could shed light on motive.

An investigator might ask questions about a character, which could shed light on motive.

There’s the direct questions a sleuth might ask, and which we often hear in movies, such as “Where were you at nine o’clock on the night of April 12, Miss Smith?” (opportunity). But also think about your sleuth asking questions that delve into a suspect’s character (motive), history of violence or peacefulness (means/motive or lack of means/motive), or knowledge about using a certain type of weapon (means). A sleuth might also interview other people who’ve seen that suspect use the same type of weapon or conduct certain violent acts.


#2: Examine the Murder Weapon

Let’s say your sleuth wants to prove the killer was someone other than the person charged with the crime. Your sleuth might looks for clues that show lack of means on the murder weapon (such as bloody hand imprints that are larger than the defendant’s or a strand of hair stuck in blood that's a different color than the defendant’s).


#3: Recreate the Homicide Event

A young lawyer named Abraham Lincoln once reconstructed a crime scene to prove a witness was lying

A young lawyer named Abraham Lincoln once reconstructed a crime scene to prove a witness was lying

Your sleuth might reconstruct the event at the scene of the crime to prove a person had access to a weapon (means) as well as opportunity. For example, the reconstruction might show how easily a suspect could have reached for the murder weapon. Or, conversely, that the suspect wasn’t tall enough to reach the weapon, strong enough to lift it, or maybe even literate enough to have read the instructions on how to use the weapon. As a lawyer, Abraham Lincoln once reconstructed a crime scene to prove that a witness couldn’t possibly have seen what she claimed to have seen because there wasn’t ample lighting to clearly see at the time the incident occurred.


#4: Find an Alternate Suspect

Your sleuth might research other people who had motive, opportunity and means to commit a crime. For example, the sleuth might analyze someone’s character for motive (such as his/her history of outbursts toward the victim), look for clues tying another person to the murder weapon (for example, his/her knowledge of how to use that weapon), or establish someone had opportunity (by analyzing a person’s timeline).

Keep in Mind: A court cannot convict based solely on motive, opportunity and means. A lawyer must provide convincing proof of all three. Obtaining this proof is, of course, what your sleuth (a detective, private investigator, amateur sleuth) has been doggedly investigating, with the help of MOM, throughout the course of your story.

Setting Writing Goals for 2015

Here's my screen saver - keeps me on point :)

Here's my screen saver - keeps me on point :)

I'm currently on deadline, trying to finish a novel by February 1, 2015. At this point in writing the book, my only wisdom about accomplishing one's writing goal is short and sweet: "Plant your behind in a chair and write."  Period.  Forget waiting for the muse, or feeling more rested, or happier or being thinner or...doesn't matter, just write.

I've noticed, however, that other writers have written thoughtful, in-depth articles on how to set writing goals, so I'll list those links below. Good info from the pros.

Articles by Writers on Setting Writing Goals

Articles listed in no particular order. Click on title to go to article and, of course, forget years in titles--these tips are good for any time, any year.

How to Set Writing Goals for 2014

(by Leah McClellan)

She describes how to apply the acronym SMART to set goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Bound.

Setting Effective Writing Goals

(by Moira Allen)

In defining writing goals, she lists three criteria: Measurable, Meaningful and Attainable (similar to Measurable, Attainable and Relevant in the above article). The latter half of the article looks at short- and long-term goals, and measuring success.

How to Set Achievable Writing Goals for 2014

(by Charmaine Clancy)

She starts out with a simple, but important, task: Know your writing goals. Following this are tips for culling your goals, measuring your progress, reminding yourself to achieve, and eliminating excuses. Personally, reminding myself to achieve hits home. 

Stick With Plan A. Writing Goals for 2013

(by Cynthia Penn)

Using her own writing goals as examples, she offers tips on focusing, and how social media & professional speaking support her writing goals. 

Happy writing! Colleen

Christmas Day Fun for Homebodies, from Mel Brooks Movies to Decadent Desserts

What are you doing for Christmas? My husband and I plan to be homebodies and take it easy. Watch movies. Read. Eat Christmas Eve leftovers (that's our big holiday blow-out meal). I have a book due February 1, so I'll probably spend a few hours writing, too.

For any fellow homebodies, below are some fun things to watch/read/bake on Christmas Day

Mel Brooks Movie Marathon

TCM is throwing a Mel Brooks movie party on Christmas evening and will be showing five of his movies in a row, starting with High Anxiety (1977), which starred Brooks, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman and Harvey Korman. Check out the movies at the below link:

Mel Brooks movie schedule

Ever Wonder Who First Realized that No Two Snowflakes are Alike?

The GIF on the right side of this screen is comprised of hundreds of snowflakes that were photographed by a self-educated farmer named Wilson Bentley who combined his camera with a microscope to take the first picture of a snowflake in 1885.

Ever hear the comment that no two snowflakes are alike? That stems from a report by Bentley who noted that "Every crystal was a masterpiece of design and no one design was ever repeated. When a snowflake melted, that design was forever lost." Scientists of his time didn't take Bentley seriously, and his father thought his study of snowflakes was silly, but today he is recognized as breaking new ground in meteorology and microscopic photography.

Story link: The Snowflake Man of Vermont

Radio Detective Story Hour

This old-time radio show podcast is the Christmas-themed "Broadway Is My Beat."  Click here to download the podcast.

Pecan Pie Bread Pudding

Christmas is a time for festive meals...and decadent, delicious desserts. The creator of this dessert, Ashton, is the owner/author of Something Swanky Desserts and Designs, and swears that this recipe is phenomenal (italics are hers). Check it out here: Pecan Pie Bread Pudding.

Sarah Millican Hosts Twitter #joinin on Xmas Day

For the fourth year, writer/comedian Sarah Millican is hosting an all-day drop-in chat-a-thon on Christmas for those in need of company. She was tweeting and retweeting so many messages last year at her #joinin, that Twitter blocked her account (they thought it was some kind of spam, but this year they're aware that she's hosting a Christmas Twitter party,and are wholeheartedly supporting it). Click here to read an article about how she started #joinin.

Merry Christmas, everyone! Colleen

I love this GIF, which I call "Deadline Dog." Lillie Le Dorre, who hails from Wellington, New Zealand, created the GIF from a 1919 postcard.