Thursday, April 30, 2015

Write Away: Z is for Zowie! and Zugzwang

Zowie! The End! And I did it! Another year completed in the A-Z Blog Challenge. Time to start planning next year! If you are looking for another great blog to read, hop on over to  Great book reviews, and Diane’s mystery posts were very interesting and informative this month!

Now as to my final mystery term, I considered zany mysteries, sometimes called capers, but I already did a post on them.  

I also considered zip gun as another weapon for you to use in your mystery. These improvised weapons cobbled together by crooks are pretty interesting. And not terrifically reliable, as you might imagine. But if you want to know more, there’s plenty out there to mine.

But what got me going was zugzwang. What a cool word. And like xenogamy, it’s not really a mystery term at all. So, borrowing from the chess world, let’s see how zugzwang might play out in your mystery or crime fiction book.

Zugzwang is a chess situation. One side is forced to make a move resulting in a serious disadvantage; a disadvantage that might well determine the outcome of the game.

In your novel, perhaps your law enforcement officer is compelled by an uptight new captain to go strictly by the book. No intuition allowed. No niggles followed up on. It’s all about the evidence trail with your captain, no room for the LEO’s extensive experiences to direct actions.

So your LEO brings a guy in for questioning. The LEO can tell he done did it! He asks for an arrest warrant so he can get the bad guy off the streets or keep him from running to ground while he investigates more. This is a judgment call. Some evidence, not conclusive evidence. The time the suspect is in custody would allow the LEO to get the conclusive evidence. The captain says “Nope. Let him go.”

Your LEO is in zugzwang. The LEO knows and the reader knows this is the right bad guy. But the LEO is forced to release him. Of course, in your book, this is merely a plot twist that you will rectify. In real life this kind of zugzwang might not have a happy ending.

Or consider your amateur sleuth getting in over her head by arranging to meet in with the murder suspect. She thinks she’s got it under control, but he only agrees to meet her in an isolated location. Of course, her ego doesn’t allow her to tell anyone or get back up. She shows up and finds herself out-maneuvered. Uh, oh! Zugzwang!

Zugzwangs make terrific plot points for those decision times in the plot. Zugzwangs are "The Black Moment". How bad can you make it for your detective? Pretty bad if you go the zugzwang route. The stakes, in chess lingo, are death to the King.

Hmm. Maybe xenogamy and zugzwang will make it into the mystery terms lexicon. And you read it here first. Thanks so much for sharing this journey with me. Please come back every Tuesday to see what else pops up on Write Away.

Here’s how “The List” ends, too. 

Zooming in as she rapidly typed the list ending, Fran felt a release. With this table of contents done, the book was write itself! She’d make her deadline. She’d be back on top. She’d show Mort who was washed up!

   “And the number one way to stay happily married is:
1.              Never take him for granted. It’s easier to walk out than to stay around and work it out.”

            Reflecting on what she had listed several months ago, Fran reached over for her Magic 8 Ball. She shook it well, and turned it over to read the floating message.
“Without a doubt”
            Fran began giggling. The giggles turned into uproarious laughter. And the tears fell in great blotches on her pink silk slacks.

The End--or is it???

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Write Away: Y is for Yegg


I couldn’t resist, for this penultimate post, a fun term I learned in crossword puzzles years ago.

Yegg (or yeg) is a burglar or safecracker. It’s a slang term, and often refers to an itinerant, or hobo, burglar. The origin of yegg is obscure but seems to date to the early 1900s in America. Yegg-men, made popular by the Pinkerton agency, is another term one might encounter.

Some think the term yegg originated with a letter signed by “a tramp named John Yeager”. However, that story is suspect. Maybe the term is a perversion of “eggs” since safecrackers break into safes to get the good stuff inside. Maybe. Or maybe it represents when a clever thief among gypsies is chosen as “yegg” or chief thief. Maybe.

I found this description in a footnote for a book, Banking in Oklahoma, 1907-2000:
The etymology of “yegg” takes us back to the turn of the twentieth century when a Californian by the name of John Yegg spawned a new breed of criminal. Yegg, a drifter with a distaste for honest work, came across a report about burglar-proof safes circulated by the Treasury Department. Yegg was particularly interested in nitroglycerine , and he had plenty of time on his hands to become an expert in its properties. Under his tutelage, hoboes across the land known as “yeggmen” relied on explosives to commit brazen bank robberies. “Yegg” eventually entered the common vernacular as a catchall term for desperadoes who had little regard for human life. Their pillaging became the bane of law enforcement and, predictably, fodder for legend.
See  “A Bank Burglars’ Union”, New York Times, September 15, 1901

An interesting word. If you use it in your book, you will probably be referring to a low-level crook. No high-level burglar would allow himself to be called a yegg.

Frieda is under stress and hard at work on her book, trying to meet the deadline.

“Your Top Ten Ways to Stay Happily Married
10.            Men are genetically incapable of reading minds. Tell him what’s on yours.
9.            Be the first to say you’re sorry. And mean it. But if he never interrupts to be the first to
            say, “Sorry”, have a chat about that.
8.            Decide early on who will do which jobs around the house and flip for the ones no one
            wants or, better still, do them together.
7.            Be a lady in public and a slut in the bedroom.
6.            Occasionally tuck tiny surprises and notes into his briefcase or lunch bag.
5.             Never say good-night or leave one another without a hug and telling him how much you
            love him.
4.             Kidnap him for an adventure you planned, and be up for doing things he likes not just
            what you like to do.
3.            Never, ever criticize him in public, and don’t let him do it to you, either.
2.            Keep yourself mentally and physically fit so you are at your very best for him and for

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Write Away: X is for Xenogamy

Okay, so maybe I am cheating just a tiny little bit with this one, but, hey! Give me a break. Other than “X marks the spot”, what would you do for X and mystery terms? Also, this is another quickie for you! Are we getting tired yet?

Xenogamy is a botany term that means fertilization of a flower by pollen from a flower on a genetically different plant.  I suppose that would create a new species, yes?

Imagine that with mysteries and other crime fiction. We began with traditional mysteries and in the “Golden Age of Mystery” (Agatha Christie and others) defined the modern mystery their way.

Move along the timeline a bit, and we have people creating romantic suspense, culinary mysteries,
police procedurals, private eye mysteries, urban fantasy mysteries steampunk mysteries  , caper mysteries and more. I’ve written about these varieties in multiple blog posts. Just click on the links to go to some of them.

What are those sub-genres but the literary equivalent of xenogamy? Take one genre and modify it with elements from another genre, voila! New sub-genre looking for readers! Do you have any ideas to create a new xenogamous mystery sub-genre? Give it a whirl! Just consummate the relationship of two disparate genres. Xenogamy! (Don’t you love saying that word?)

Frieda figures out where Mort got it wrong! More of “The List”.

        Xanthippe! That’s who Mort had confused her with. The shrewish wife of Socrates. Well, that wasn’t who she was. And for certain, Mort was no Socrates! She’d show him she wasn’t washed up and that she could survive, no thrive without him. One good thing would come of this. She could be totally “Fran” now with no constant reminders of her past identity. She’d never have to hear “Frieda” again.
Fran laced her fingers and stretched them in front of her, arching her bony back in preparation for long hours in her seat. Her column was done for the week. That left her book to work on. Much as she’d like to avoid it, her deadline loomed ominously.
            She opened the folder, removing the sheets of notes she had previously prepared. She began to read through the title and chapter titles arranged Letterman-style as her editor had cutely suggested over her objections. And she knew from long experience with editors that their suggestions were mandates.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Write Away: W is for Warrant

Here we are in the final stretch for mystery terms in the 2015 April A-Z Blog Challenge. It is satisfying to know I’m going to complete the challenge again. And congratulations to the 1500+ other hardy souls who are also on their way to the finish line.

Warrants appear in lots of TV shows, movies and books, but they are sort of rushed and not often explained. When identified as to type of warrant or the process to get the warrant or even why a warrant is needed, little info is given because that’s not the exciting part of the story, right? But knowing the information allows you to sprinkle in accurate information and details so you do a public service by educating your readers.

In the justice system, a warrant is a document giving the police (or other body in the justice system) authority to arrest someone, search an area, or execute some other need in the justice system (like extradition or failure to appear in court).

To obtain a warrant, police submit to a judge or magistrate an under-oath written affidavit documenting facts of a probable crime. The affidavit names the person of interest. The judge/magistrate reviews the information and issues the warrant or not. If the description is too general, the warrant will not be issued. “Probable cause” requires specificity. Probable cause means that given the stated facts and circumstances a reasonable person would think the suspect guilty of the crime.

Sometimes clerical errors appear in warrants. These will not obviate the warrant and while they should be cleared up when first noticed by the suspect, sometimes the suspect does not see the warrant. Such errors are cleared up later.

The types of no-knock and knock-and-announce warrants are: arrest (bench) warrant, search warrant, civil warrant, state and federal warrants, anticipatory warrants, seizure warrants, extradition warrants, and nighttime warrants. The most common warrants are arrest and search and those are explained in some detail further down.

Anticipatory warrants are issued for execution at a specified future date. Seizure warrants are reserved for confiscation of materials or stored data. Federal warrants are issued to federal agents. State warrants are granted to or on behalf of the state. Extradition warrants ask to arrest a fugitive in another state or country and dispossessory warrants are used to evict a tenant. Nighttime warrants are for a specified evening time period.

Arrest warrants, or bench warrants, are typically issued prior to an arrest. They allow police to arrest a suspect and hold the suspect in custody until trial. An arrest warrant must include: the suspect’s name/and or specific description so the right person is being arrested, description of the crime, an order to arrest, and the judge/magistrate’s signature.

Generally speaking, police cannot break into a home to arrest someone; they must “knock-and-announce” who they are. If not let in voluntarily, the police may enter forcibly. There are exceptions to “knock-and-announce” (allowing police to enter forcibly without knocking and announcing): if there is evident danger, evidence might be destroyed, or the suspect might escape. The person being arrested can request to see the warrant.

Search warrants allow law enforcement officers to search people or private property to gather evidence of criminal wrongdoing. These warrants have to specify the person and/or property for which the warrant is sought. A sworn affidavit is required for issuance. If other incriminatory evidence is revealed during the execution of the warrant, an additional warrant can be obtained for the new evidence.

Civil warrants are generally the purview of small claims court as someone tries to recover personal property wrongfully obtained. Plaintiffs have to pay filing fees and sheriff fees to serve a civil warrant. The civil warrant must include the defendant’s name and address, claim amount, and the basis for making the request for the warrant.

When creating scenes of seeking or serving warrants, make sure you have the lingo and actions right for the kind of warrant you are serving. Don’t have an FBI guy serving a civil or dispossessory warrant!

What is Frieda going to do with Mort gone? Read on in “The List”.

When she awoke the next morning, later than normal, Frieda pulled herself out of bed feeling drugged. Maybe it was the extra wine last night sans food, maybe the night-long thrashing about, maybe the incessant sound of the damnable pounding surf. Whatever.
            She threw her exercise mat down on the floor and went into her routine, so practiced she didn’t need to count reps anymore. Her body let her know with each exercise when it was time to switch to the next. Shower. Dress in silk pants suit. Black coffee. Half a bagel with a schmear. And then back to the typewriter.
            Something niggled about her conversation with Mort the day before. He had a wrong-headed view of her. He imputed someone else’s personality to her. Who was it? It was driving her crazy.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Write Away: V is for Villain

Due to volition, a villain perpetrates violence on a victim. Lots of V word options for mystery and crime fiction writers to know.

I’ve been fascinated with the word “villain” ever since I learned of its etymology. A vilein (Old French) was a boorish rustic from the villa. This is an example of pejoration in language use. In pejoration, the meaning of the word takes on negative connotations over time. Today a villain is a nasty piece of work, not just an unsophisticate. (The opposite of pejoration is amelioration in which the word’s connotation becomes more positive over time. “Nice” originally meant “simple, foolish” and has come to mean “kind, considerate”.)

Villain is an interesting word on many fronts. Often it is used as a synonym for “antagonist”, but they are not necessarily interchangeable. An antagonist is the foil for the protagonist. “-agonist” is “actor”, so a “protagonist” is the leading actor/character. The “ANTagonist”, is the hostile opposition to the “protagonist.” That doesn’t necessarily make the antagonist the villain. It might, but it’s not a given.

Villains ring of melodrama, lashing the maiden to the railroad tracks, and all that kind of folderol. We view them as cruel, evil, conniving, and capable of committing crimes. The villain of the piece is the acknowledged bad guy. The antagonist only tips over into villain with the commission of or attempt at major felonious crimes.

We often see the villain as someone who manages to evade the law and justice for long periods as opposed to the day-to-day criminal activities of crooks. To be a villain implies long-standing criminal activity over time. Villains are usually seen to be highly planful and vindictive in their crimes. I would call sociopaths, villains.

Villains at their best are likely to immoral or amoral, cunning, visionary, intelligent, powerful and committed to a course of action without second guessing themselves. They believe they are above the law and above detection. Authors typically build in an explanation in back story to explain how the villain became villainous.

The best villains foil the detective by having strengths in the areas of the detective’s limitations. Just like sidekicks provide a positive counterpoint, villains provide a negative counterpoint to the detective’s strengths.

When writing your baddie, decide whether he is truly a villain before labeling him as such. He has to be bad through and through with no redeeming social graces. Or is he just an ordinary crook?

Some would argue villains fall along the line of a continuum from mastermind sociopath to knave. Is your bad guy a thug, trickster, an assassin, a rogue, a traitor, a fanatic, a nemesis, or just a bad boy? Define the kind of traits your villain possesses so you can write him or her coherently, convincingly, cogently, and consistently. This site provides descriptors todefine your villain.  

Is it really over in “The List”? 

            Vacantly, Mort stared out at the crashing surf, high tide now.  Turning toward Frieda, he said,  “I’m going now. You have this place until noon Saturday. Turn the key into the office on your way out of town. I put a map on the passenger seat showing the route to take back to the City.”
            “You can’t be serious! This is absurd, Mort!” Frieda followed him into the living room and yelled at his departing back at the stairs to the ground level. “Come back here immediately!”
            Mort turned at the top of the stairs and blew her a kiss before descending to the parking lot below. “Bye, Frieda.”

Friday, April 24, 2015

Write Away: U is for Undercover and Use of Force

I hope you are enjoying this month of terms that mystery and crime fiction writers might need for their stories. It’s hard to believe there are only a few letters left to uncover!

Undercover is a favorite staple of mystery and crime fiction writers. These operations are more likely to occur in police procedurals than in cozies, but being a cozy doesn’t obviate the possibility. Undercover operations are used to obtain insider information that is not possible to obtain through normal surveillance or questioning techniques.

The first undercover agents were used in France in 1811 by VidocQ. In England, Sir Robert Peel instituted a plainclothes unit in 1829. Though I have no evidence, I suggest it’s possible that the unofficial and sporadic use of officers as undercover agents predated these formalized units.

An undercover agent typically assumes a disguise of appearance or identity in order to gain the trust of suspects and/or their organization. From within the organization, the undercover agent gathers evidence and confidential information to build a case.

Undercover agents separate themselves from their normal lives and live within the structure they are observing. They can’t carry police credentials or an assigned service weapon. The undercover agent has a handler for communicating needs and concerns during the operation. Hiding that contact adds additional stress. Living in the criminal world also creates opportunities to engage in illegal activities. Any of those must be approved in advance (like a planned bank robbery) as necessary to maintain the undercover agent’s identity and gather data.

However, police officers can NEVER use drugs (for a raft of reasons), and that is one way you see fiction writers revealing the undercover officer as a plant. It is a myth that the agent must admit to being a police officer if asked by suspects outright. Some undercover agents play on the myth by saying, “Nah. I’m not a cop and, you’re right. If I were, I’d have to tell you.”

Undercover carries with it a cachet of danger. Why else hide in plain sight within a possible criminal group? People who study these things say there are two main dangers: keeping the undercover identity secure and going back to real life after the operation ends.

An FBI agent told us in a session that it is very difficult to reintegrate. Many officers enjoy the thrill of being undercover and find normal police work not nearly so stimulating. Some officer’s marriages break up. Some turn to alcohol or drugs. It is hard to switch off an identity that you worked hard to develop and maintain. When one has been so secretive, it’s hard to open up and share again. Being an undercover agent is generally recognized as being one of the most stressful positions to engage in.

Whereas local undercover operations typically last no more than a few months, federal operations might last years. On the Internet, there are lots of stories on being an undercover agent. Reading them could give you a feel for the life if you are writing those scenes in your book.

The Use of Force by a law enforcement officer involves physical restraint to get control of a situation or an out-of-control person. Generally speaking, use of force is “the amount of effort required by police to compel compliance by an unwilling subject” (as defined by International Association of the Chiefs of Police, Police Use of Force in America, 2001). But a 1999 Bureau of Justice Statistics report found that of 44 million police contacts, less than one-half percent resulted in use of force. But the ones that make the news make use of force sound endemic. And those darn TV shows …

How much force to use and when to use force is left to department training. One can imagine the inconsistencies with that approach, but defining specific guidelines is tricky.

With the “split second syndrome”, even officers who don’t normally use force might, under pressure, resort to it in specific, high-tension situations. The National Institute of Justice LINK
recognizes that since situations vary, it is difficult to come up with a uniform set of guidelines. They also recognize that the use of excessive force is sometimes “difficult to estimate”.

As you know from listening to the news and reading periodicals, that definition is often called into dispute in situations requiring use of force. Thus, the call for body cams on officers to document situations is on the rise. This strategy is intended to protect all parties, because just as some officers use too much force, so do some suspects unjustly cry excessive use of force.

Interestingly, officers with some college education are less likely to use force. Whereas the amount of experience the officer has shows inconsistencies among studies as to the effect on use of force. Studies find neither age, gender, race, class or other demographics is a factor in use of force.

The kinds of use of force are:
1)   Presence of an officer (as a brake on activity)
2)   Verbally commanding a subject to comply
3)   Empty hand control to search, disarm, or control the suspect
4)   Intermediate weapon use includes electronic, impact, or other non-lethal weapons
5)   Deadly force is using force that can result in death or permanent injury

It is incumbent upon a professional mystery or crime writer to properly depict activities in the performance of an officer’s duties.

Mort sets Frieda straight in "The List".
            Uh, yes, I would.,” Mort responded. “Haven’t you been listening?” There was a long pause before Mort lifted his head. “Yes, Frieda or Fran or whoever the hell you are. I would be better off without you. In fact, I’ve really been ‘without you’ for a lot of years. I just want to make it official.”
            Frieda stared at him, appalled at the implications. She narrowed her eyes. “I’ll sue you for every penny you have or will ever make,” she spat out venomously. “I’ll sue you for ruining my professional career. Who would take advice from a woman who can’t hang onto her own husband? You can’t do this to me, Mort! I won’t let you ruin me!”
            “Do whatever you have to do, Frieda,” Mort muttered, leaning wearily into the lounge seat beneath him. “Whatever.” He opened his eyes, swung his feet to the side, and lifted his body from the chair.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Write Away: T is for Timeline

I considered doing TV cops and TV cop shows for this letter, but I didn’t really have much to say except what I’ve said in earlier posts. Law enforcement officials and judicial officials don’t much like what passes for crime fiction on TV. VERY few shows make the cut for accuracy. A CSI person said “Dexter” got it mostly right. One prison counselor told me that “Oz” was largely accurate for an experimental prison model. A former police officer friend has said his wife hates to watch TV shows with him because he jumps up and yells at the screen when they portray aspects of his career inaccurately.

I’ll say it one more time: DO NOT get your crime scene/court scene/arrest scene and other scenes from television. It’s entertainment, folks, not training vids. Make friends with police officers. Go on ride-alongs your police department sponsors. Ask attorneys for information. People are very generous, in my experience, and they want you to get it right.

What I did decide to cover today (see how sneaky I am!), is timelines. Many a writer of mysteries or other genres has run afoul of the timeline. In that regard, the mystery writer resembles real life detectives.

Timelines are a big piece of nailing down who had opportunity to commit the crime. In real life and in fiction, the timeline must be consistent with the other clues. The best scenario is if the timeline corroborates other facts gathered.

But in real life, the timeline doesn’t move. Okay, it might get fuzzy because of some missing pieces of data. But what happened when is set by the events.

In fiction, however, authors move stuff all around all the time. We tweak here, we move paragraphs or even whole chapters there. You see what I mean.

After a few revisions like that the inattentive author could have the perpetrator buying the weapon after the murder occurred. Not so good.

During my planning, I construct a big picture timeline for each of the potential suspects and other major characters. That gives me a structure to fill in as I plan each scene more deeply.

I have not found an easy way to keep track of who is where when. The hard way I use is a scene-by-scene list of each major character and suspect (whether in that scene or not) and where they are during that time period. I put the day and the time at the beginning of each scene list to keep track against my original timeline. (Which is always subject to revision itself)

I use taped-together paper because I can stretch it out over the floor. The computer doesn’t allow me to see the timeline all at once. By color-coding on paper who is where doing what when, I have a hope of keeping the timeline straight.

But you know, of course, that the best way to catch your errors in timing is to read through the completed manuscript with the timeline as the focus. Will Gina’s alibi that she was at work hold up? When did the clerk at the pawn shop record the purchase of the hunting knife? When did the bus driver stop at Elm and Oak that day?

Build your timeline as a way to reveal your clues and red herrings. You know where the pinch points are. Take that list of clues, false and otherwise, and distribute them along the timeline. Those clues should be the seeds from which your scenes grow.

Authors have total control over their timelines. Detectives in real life could get envious of how easy your detective has it.

Frieda takes steps to control her new reality in “The List”.
            This is about you, isn’t it?” she smiled thinly. “You’re having a little mid-life crisis, late admittedly, but the principle is the same. For God’s sake,” she barked a laugh, “you’d think I, of all people, would have recognized the signs.”
            Frieda felt better now that she was in control again. Aunt Fran would help Mort work through this. She leaned back, templing her fingers beneath a thrice-lifted chin.
            “Darling, there’s no need to be so drastic. Of course I understand your need to kick up your heels, thumb your nose at the world, and, let’s see, what other anatomical part can I find a trite expression for?” Frieda simpered at him as she continued.
            “What you’re feeling is normal for a man your age! Why, Heavens, even I have had some of those same urges. You just need to ask yourself, as that hack advice columnist in the other paper would say, would you be better off without me?”

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Write Away: S is for Sidekick and Subpoena

Welcome back to the April A-Z challenge in which I am posting 26 days of mystery terms for mystery and crime fiction authors.

S is rich with options for today’s post. I rejected sleuth because I already detailed sleuths on D-Day (the other D-Day). I also felt I had covered suspect enough in previous posts.

Suicide-by-cop remained a possibility right up to the writing of this post. There are two kinds of suicide-by-cop: the one you probably think of (a suspect who draws/appears to draw a weapon on the police so they will kill him) and the scenario of the police officer who kills himself. Since I recently wrote this post on suicide-by-cop, I decided not to take it on again so soon.

That left me with the two options in the title.

Sidekicks are really important in certain subgenre mysteries. But even if not intimately involved, almost all mystery and crime fiction has a sidekick, a counterpoint character necessary to the crime solving or involving.

The sidekick character (or sometimes characters) allows the sleuth to discuss the crime, tries to hold the sleuth back from rash actions, and sometimes is the reason the sleuth is involved at all.

We all know our sleuths strengths and limitations. We designed them as specific personalities. When designing sidekicks for my culinary mystery series, I made a list of personality traits and quirks and aspects for my detective. Then, next to each I listed an opposite trait, when possible. That list of opposites is what I mine when creating counterpoint characters, sidekicks, for my heroine, Alli.

The main sidekick for all the books in the series is Gina, best friend since elementary
school and current partner in their personal chef business. Like sisters, these two have an extreme closeness which allows for problems when they are in a significant disagreement or misunderstanding situation. Alli is impulsive; Gina is reflective. Alli is so creative and intuitive she misses steps; Gina is methodical so she sometimes doesn’t see the big picture.

I also use other minor sidekicks to illustrate other aspects, good and bad, of my detective’s personality. Alli has a police officer on-again, off-again boyfriend. She makes friends with an investigative reporter. She colludes with Gina’s mother and best friend behind Gina’s back. Sidekicks allow for the flawed detective to succeed.

I see my sidekicks as completing the detective. They mesh, each satisfying things missing in the other. Together the sidekick and detective are better than each alone.

Subpoena is both a noun and a verb. It is a writ (formal written command) ordering someone/something to court or it summons someone/something to court. You can get a subpoena or be subpoenaed. The term comes from Latin sub poena which means “under penalty.”

The “b” is silent, and the “oe” is pronounced like the long e in “keep”--suhpeenuh. Don’t ask me why as I have no clue. In other sub- words, the “b” is voiced.

A subpoena is used to get someone to court to testify or it is used to compel evidence be produced. The most common types of subpoenas are subpoena ad testificandum and subpoena duces tecum. The first orders a person to testify or be punished. The second requires physical evidence be produced or be punished.

Subpoenas are issued by a clerk of the court (my son is currently clerking, so I know that doesn’t mean a secretary) in the name of the judge. Court rules may also allow attorneys, as officers of the court, to issue subpoenas to compel testimony. You’ve seen the scene dozens of times: A process server posing as a floral delivery guy asks, “Are you Joe Schmoe?” At the yes response, the delivery guy hands him the subpoena, not flowers, and says, “You’ve been served.”

What is Frieda’s response to Mort’s bombshell? 

            She breathed a sigh of relief. There would be no degradation. There was no “other woman”. She hadn’t expected of herself that she would want to hold onto Mort. In fact, she thought of him so rarely that she was frankly surprised she even wanted to figure out what was causing his defection at this late stage. But at least she wouldn’t be humiliated by a replacement woman one-third her age. Still, she had her image to consider. She willed her fingers to relax and cradled one hand in the palm of the other as she considered how to manage the situation. Because she would manage this.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Write Away: R is for Red Herring and Reveal Clues

A shorter one today, lucky you! I couldn’t do mystery terms without Red Herrings, but I already did write about these misleading clues on another one of my blogs. Here’s the link to the post on red herrings.    

Red Herrings, in a nutshell, are clues strewn throughout the mystery as distracters, clues meant to take you down one road so you don’t figure out the mystery too early. The author figures out the red herrings after coming up with a list of potential perpetrators. For each one, the author has to figure out red herrings and then what information will be revealed clearing each one.

For example, the gardener has access to the house when he’s not supposed to be there. It turns out that he has a strong motivation to commit the crime because he needs the money for a daughter’s operation. He can’t account for his movements because he is hiding information about meeting with his brother who is secretly attending AA meetings. All of these red herrings cause the police to consider the gardener as a suspect. Of course, because they are red herrings and not the actual clues needed to solve the mystery, the author has to counter each red herring so the wrong person is not convicted.

Reveal Clues is what the mystery writer does. Some are red herrings and some are factual. Some of the factual clues don’t make sense until put with other clues. It is the creation of clues and the revelation of clues that makes mystery writing so much more difficult (for me, anyway) than any other genre I write.

Surely there are twists and turns and plot pinch points and denouement and all that other stuff in romance and historical fiction and women’s fiction. But the amount of deception the author must create with false and actual clues (twists and turns) is in high gear for mystery and crime fiction.

Keeping track of all the clues, red herrings and otherwise, revealing them at the appropriate points, and ensuring that the mystery has internal integrity with that set of clues revealed in that order is a honking big deal!

What will Frieda’s reaction be in “The List”?

            Rising to her feet, she smoothed her pantsuit. “You realize my attorney won’t be fooled by this little ploy to buy your way out of alimony, don’t you? Once I get her name, I’ll clean your clock, Mort!”
            “I already had my guy do some talking with your guy. They’re workin’ out the details now. And there isn’t a ‘her’ to get, or at least not a special ‘her’. I tried that a few times. I can’t handle the pressure of the cover-up. Nah. I’m just tired of sharing space with you, Frieda. I’m gonna smoke my cigars and put my sweaty socks up on the white velvet upholstery and spill beer on the Berber. Just me. No more nagging for you to do. No more nagging for me to listen to.”

Monday, April 20, 2015

Write Away: Q is for Questioning

Questioning breaks down into two main categories, legally speaking: interviews and the interrogation. (So many I words, so little time!)

Interview questioning is conducted with people not charged with a crime (yet or ever). Interrogation is the questioning of a suspect in custody.

Interview questions can either be with suspects (before they are taken into custody) or to gather information from witnesses or possible witnesses. If questioning someone police suspect of the crime, there is no need to provide a “Miranda” warning. Mirandizing is only done when the suspect is in custody with the intent to question. More on this below.

The interview is procedural, and while there may not be formalized rules for conducting interview questioning, each department will advise law enforcement officers of their expectations for conduct. So that turning off the camera thing so the officer can intimidate the suspect? Not gonna happen.

After a homicide or other felony, detectives question others to try to amass information those people have. Most questioning via interviews is with non-suspects. The purpose of interviews at the scene of the crime is to identify who saw what when and where.

Follow-up questioning by interviews might be with those same witnesses as new information is revealed or interviews might be conducted with people not at the crime scene but who are thought to have pertinent facts about the case.

Interrogation questioning occurs when the suspect is in custody and has received a “Miranda” warning. The intent of the interrogation is to determine if the detectives can gather enough information to prosecute this suspect.

Some law enforcement officers tell amusing stories about full confessions coming about before the suspect is charged. Uninformed suspects think they can say anything they want and it won’t count unless they received the “Miranda”. However, if someone volunteers information to an officer prior to being put into custody, it counts. Dumb crooks!

The “Miranda” warning originated with a case in my state of Arizona, named after the suspect in the case. The Supreme Court ruled that you can’t question  a suspect in custody without providing a “Miranda” warning:
  • You have the right to remain silent.
  • If you do say anything, what you say can be used against you in a court of law.
  • You have the right to consult with a lawyer and have that lawyer present during any questioning.
  • If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed for you if you so desire.
  • If you choose to talk to the police officer, you have the right to stop the interview at any time.

There are exceptions to questioning while in custody the Court allowed stemming from later cases. If the suspect is in custody for one crime, you are allowed to question him/her (sans “Miranda”) about a different crime if it is in the interest of public safety. A second exception is it's allowed to ask standard booking questions. The third exception is when a jailhouse informant talks with the suspect.

When writing scenes of questioning people, authors need to get it right. Again, do not rely on TV shows for your models of questioning, either interviews or interrogations.

Read More:

In “the List”, things are not looking so good for Frieda’s future with Mort.

Quietly he said, “You know we’ve never really . . . what? Meshed? I suppose it’s as much my fault as yours. Hell, it’s nobody’s fault. We been married, what? 45 years?”
            “Forty-three,” she responded, tight-lipped.
            “Forty-three then. For 42 and a half of ‘em, you been miserable. Or acted like it anyway. I thought I’d be the one, finally, to make the move. But I wanted to make sure you had good transportation and a place of your own. I didn’t want to leave you cold.”
            Frieda sat silently, stonily still, processing what he had said. She roused herself, running a hand through her red, chemically curled hair to hide its trembling.