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Sunday, February 28 2010

Writer's Digest, probably best known for its magazine, also produces a series of "HowDunit" books to assist authors in accurately reflectin gpolice procedures and poisoning methods in their writings.

As a cozy mystery writer with an amateur sleuth protagonist, I probably won't include much of the information in Police Procedure and Investigation in my own books, but the book is a fascinating read, nonetheless. I just finished the chapter on fingerprinting and how police officers use the IAFIS database system to identify the individual to whom the prints belong. You can see this method in action on various cop shows ranging from CSI to Fringe. However, as Police Procedure and Investigation points out, the detectives on these shows enter the fingerprints into the system and within five seconds, the perpetrator's picture, usually a mug shot, pops up on screen with his name, last known address, and favorite dessert.

In actuality, IAFIS doesn't return the hit in mere seconds. On a good day, the detective might get a list of hits back in as few as ten minutes, with "hits" being the key word. According to the book, IAFIS provides a list of the most probable matches, not just one definite match. While this reality doesn't work well for an hour TV show (forty-three minutes without the commercials) or an action movie, where time is always the enemy and the world must be saved before the closing credits, such a method opens up endless possibilities in the book world.

Imagine your detective receiving five potential matches for a print found at a murder scene. He or she must then track down each name, one at a time. Every visit can eliminate a suspect or the visit might create even more questions as to the suspect's involvement in the crime. As the list shortens, the tension rises, until the detective has narrowed the list to only one possible person. Case solved!

Or, better yet, that final suspect might be indisputably innocent after all. The detective must revisit the list to determine what he missed or how he was duped. Only after uncovering his mistake does he discover the true identity of the killer. All that plot from just one little fingerprint.

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 06:06 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, February 22 2010

"Are you published?" So marks the dreaded question of any writer who is, in fact, not published but would like to be. Rest assured, if I was published, you would already know. I would have shouted it from the nearest mountain top. I would have hired a biplane to fly a banner over the next baseball game. I would have hounded you to post the book title on your Facebook wall and Twitter all your friends to buy my brilliant tome. Yes, you would have definitely heard by now.

I waited several years before openly admitting that I write mystery novels. A select few were aware of my craft, including a coworker, who prompted me to stop talking about writing fiction and actually start writing it, and my husband, who wanted to know why I was always secretly typing in our home office.

To everyone else, I was merely a technical writer by day and avid TV watcher by night. I didn't keep it a secret out of embarrassment. But once I told people, they wanted to run to the nearest Borders and buy a copy of my book. When I explained that I'm not yet published, they'd offer up a hundred and one possibilities for seeing my name in print and start sending me links to self-publishing companies and articles about publishing. I certainly appreciate their enthusiasm and assistance, but it's not the method I envision.

I prefer the old-fashioned route. Write a book, painstakingly format the first three chapters after consulting fifteen different web pages on the preferred font and margin size, write a killer query letter, rewrite the killer query, then send it all off to the first five agencies listed in Writer's Market. Then receive five rejection letters before the glow of accomplishment has even faded (who knew mail could travel that fast?). And start the process all over again -- Send off five more query letters, which are promptly rejected, take up drinking, burn the manuscript in a spectacular display of self pity, and vow to never write another word because these big-time New York agents wouldn't know a best-seller if it bit them on the butt.

So, please, don't ask me if I'm published. I'll let you know.

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 03:05 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email