Showing posts with label Dean Wesley Smith. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dean Wesley Smith. Show all posts

18 April 2017

Help(,) Police!


Imagine feeling like every kiss goodbye to your loved ones each day might be your last kiss. Police officers and their families feel this way every single day. Karen Salmansohn

Let me be clear - no one is above the law. Not a politician, not a priest, not a criminal, not a police officer. We are all accountable for our actions. Antonio Villaraigosa


The police feel besieged. Like they can’t get anything right. Everyone wants them to save us from the bad guys, yet never persecute or killing any innocent people. That’s the ideal. They’ll never live up to it.
I feel for police. I relate to them. As an emergency doctor, I also have to deal with the most violent, most ignorant, most manipulative people, and I'm not allowed to make mistakes.
And yet we’re all human. We’re all going to make mistakes. Mistakes that sometimes kill people.
It's so easy for those outside the system to point their fingers and talk about how awful we are, yet those same critics never step in the arena.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. Theodore Roosevelt

That said, I am a Black Lives Matter supporter. I never want to detain or kill innocent people. It is never acceptable.

But I feel for individual police officers who are doing their best, who are trying to save the public, who are literally putting their lives on the line every day and every night, for very little thanks and little pay, and a ton of screaming abuse.
So how do we support the police and make sure that the people are protected?
And how do we write about them?
“Where are the police?” Dean Wesley Smith asked me, about my first draft of Code Blues.
Look, they match!
Please admire my new cover.
The truth was, I didn’t know much about the police, so I wrote around them at first and had to add them to subsequent ones. 

Dead bodies? Check. A daring doctor who solves the crime and saves the day? Check. But the police who’d be investigating the murder? Hmm. They came in and dragged away the bad guys at the end of the book, but what about the beginning and middle?

I tried to correct some of my ignorance by attending Writers Police Academy in August.
I’ve written about some of the seminars I attended, but it really made my day when they critiqued my police interrogation scene in Human Remains. Writing about officers is a balancing act. I want to be realistic and portray the police as neither saints nor Satan, but somewhere in between. I want to create tension and drop clues to the murder, yet stay in Dr. Hope Sze's PTSD point of view.

Paul M. Smith wrote, “In a nutshell, the interview sounds very realistic and I don't really have any suggestions for change. You did a good job.  The only thing I could think of is that prior to any interview/interrogation the officers would have read her her rights, even if she wasn't a suspect. Otherwise, if at sometime she would become a suspect none of the interview would be admissible in court.”

Colleen wrote, “The questions you asked are very relevant and realistic. Cops love timelines and nail down timelines  - for suspects. When the timeline doesn’t match, then we begin to peel back the layers of deception for the truth. Nice job.”

Officer Matt wrote, “It looks good and sounds real. The use of the word Billy club is good. Cops call it a baton, but to the normal citizen, it is appropriate.”

Mike Knetzger wrote, “Yes, these are realistic questions. You might also want to explore the cognitive interview technique for some additional insight into questioning people about what they did before a significant event, such as finding a body.”
When Hope asks for a lawyer, Mike suggested that the officer reply, “I can’t give you legal advice.”
At the end, when Hope points out that they’ll be able to track her and her boyfriend’s footprints in the snow, Mike wrote, “When people mention footprints to me, I often reply, “‘Footprints? Are we looking for Big Foot or are we looking, instead, for shoe prints?’”
It made me realize that language has to be precise, especially when you’re dealing with legal matters. So yes, it would be shoe prints (or boot prints, because we’re in Canada), not foot prints.
Mike Knetzger probably had more to say because he’s an author himself. His stepdaughter was killed by an impaired driver one night when he was on duty, and he was unable to save her life. In response, he wrote the book Ashley’s Story, and he speaks out against impaired driving across the Midwest. You can support his cause by buying his book, as I did.

My profound thanks to these officers, and the ones who keep us safe in our beds every night.

Support our police. Support our people. Surely we can do both.

23 August 2016

Dare to Be Bad: Human Remains


Once upon a time, two writers challenged each other to write a story a week. It didn’t have to be good. In fact, their motto was “Dare to Be Bad.” But it had to be done at the end of the week.
If a writer failed to write a story, s/he had to buy the other a steak dinner. Because they were poor, this was great incentive.

They wrote a story a week. They mailed the stories to editors instead of obsessively rewriting. They got better and better. You may recognize their names today as Nina Kiriki Hoffman and Dean Wesley Smith. I met them when I was a winner in Writers of the Future in 2000 and found both of them inspiring.

Karen Abrahamson,
Jay Lake,
Dean Wesley Smith,
Leslie Claire Walker
After going to Writers Police Academy this month, I realized that part of the reason that I was locked up on the fifth Hope Sze book, Human Remains, was that I wanted it to be amazeballs.

Now I still want it to delight, entertain, shock, and thrill, but I also want it to be done. And I want to loosen up about making it perfect.

William Stanford, Ph.D.
I also got a jump start in June when I visited the stem cell lab of William Stanford, in Ottawa. He kindly gave me a tour and okayed the science in the following excerpt, which may or may not make the final cut of the book, but will probably teach you about CRISPR and other awesome innovations.

Rough draft excerpt of Human Remains, by Melissa Yi

“Do you know what CRISPR is?” said Tom, the head of the stem cell lab. He pronounced it crisper, which made me think about my parents’ overstuffed refrigerator and/or the best potato chips.
“I do.” I swallowed and tried not to look obvious about it. Medicine teaches you not to show fear. Tom’s eyes were kind and steady on mine, but I’ve seen preceptors act super understanding to your face and then sabotage you with a substandard evaluation. “At least I understand the concept of cutting genetic code with ‘scissors’ made of clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats.”
That’s another evaluation trick. If you can spout jargon immediately and correctly, they’re more likely to nod and leave you alone. I wasn’t getting the vibe that Tom was hostile—quite the opposite, actually—but I needed a good evaluation on this rotation, or Ottawa wouldn’t accept me and McGill might fail me, both of which would torpedo my career.
Tom rubbed his chin and gazed out his window. Of course, it was a sign of status that he had a corner office with a window, but I got the feeling that he would’ve hung out in a sun-free basement for decades as long as it meant he could research stem cells. I relaxed a smidgen. He said, “Do you know the back story? I wouldn’t expect you to, but it’s fascinating.”
I nodded and smiled. Yes, please. Tell me the story. If you get them talking while you ask intelligent questions, they recall you fondly on your evals, and there’s less of a chance you get tripped up on weird questions about DNA sequences.
He said, “Yoshizumi Ishino first noticed these repeating DNA sequences in E. Coli in 1987. They were separated by short unique clusters of DNA, which was strange, because repeated DNA usually appears consecutively.”
My mind was already ping-ponging around. E. Coli causes a lot of urinary tract infections and is therefore considered my personal enemy. But I tried to contribute to the conversation. “Yes, I listened to a podcast on it. They compared it to sounds. So the repeat DNA sequences sounds like”—oh, God, now I was going to have to do it. I honked. Tom stared at me while I honked like a duck, five times, my cheeks burning. “And the sequences in between are all different. Like…” I honked, made an eee! sound, honked, oohed, honked, clicked, honked, oinked, honked, and meowed.
Tom stared at me. “I have never heard it explained it that way before. Which podcast was this?”
“Radiolab.” My friend Tori had sent me the link. Thank you, Tori. “They had better sounds, of course.”
“No, I like yours. I’m going to use that in my next lecture. That should wake ’em up.”
“I’ll send you the link.” I don’t know if I’ve ever been more embarrassed in a professional lab. But I could also tell I’d won him over within the first hour of arrival, which boded much better for me getting a stellar reference letter. I resisted the urge to cross my fingers.
“Did they also explain what CRISPR does?”
“They said CRISPR was like a mug shot of the bacteria’s enemy viruses. Like, when a virus attacks, the bacteria send out the ground troops of their immune system, but most of the troops die”—just like marines. Just like Tucker and I almost did—“and so do the bacteria. But if the bacteria survive, their enzymes cut the viral DNA up and then store short sequences—the CRISPR—interspersed with their own DNA. That way, they can carry around mug shots, or most-wanted ID’s, of the viruses that almost killed them. So if they ever run into the same viruses again, they can ID them right away from the CRISPR and send out targeted forces to vanquish them, in the form of enzymes that will slice up the viral DNA.” Faster than cutting off a zombie’s head during the upcoming apocalypse, I wanted to add, but didn’t. He already thought I was weird enough. 
There were a lot of problems with my explanation. It was super basic. I wasn’t talking about B-cells or T-cells because Radiolab hadn’t. I couldn’t even talk intelligently about RNA. I was sketching the surface. If he asked me to dig deeper, I was pretty much toast. At least I got to sneak in the word “vanquish.”
“That’s pretty good,” said Tom, drawing his eyebrows together and pursing his lips. I couldn’t tell which way he was going, i.e. if he liked my explanation because it was understandable, or if it pained him because it was too low brow. “Did they talk about Cas?”
“Not so much, but I know they’re the enzymes that do the actual cutting.” On of the online science articles, a commentator had lamented that Cas9 and other enzymes do all the work, but CRISPR gets all the credit. Another commenter said that CRISPR had the sexier name. They were a team, though. CRISPR identifies the bad guys, and then Cas9 or another enzyme will step up and do the slice and dice. Like a sheriff and an executioner, although I don’t know the legal or immune system well enough to give a proper analogy.
“And do you know how CRISPR and Cas are revolutionizing research?”
My turn not to grimace. He was a tougher customer than I thought. “I know that this technique is faster, cheaper, and more precise way to cut a gene sequence than we’ve ever had before. I know that once you cut out the sequence you don’t want, all you have to do is plant another sequence you do want, and the bacteria will help mend it by replacing the bad sequence, so the media is already fantasizing about designer babies. I know that zinc finger nuclease and transcription activator-like effector nucleases can handle longer DNA sequences, but they’re slower and less likely to work.”
“And knockout mice?”
I was starting to sweat. I’ve never worked with mice. It’s a miracle I ever got into medical school. Luckily, Tori had told me a little about her research with mice whose genes that have been disabled, or knocked out. “You used to have to inject altered DNA from embryonic stem cells and hope that they’d get incorporated through homologous recombination.” He didn’t blink. Using jargon didn’t impress him. I guess, for him, it was about as jaw-dropping as an ingrown toenail was to me. Damn
it. “The mice that successfully incorporated the altered DNA were called chimeras. Then you’d hope that the chimeras would breed and make more mutant DNA, so by the third generation, maybe you’d get a mouse with both copies of the mutant allele. But with CRISPR/Cas9, the system edits the gene right away, and the first generation has the mutation.”
Tom smiled. “Why stop with one mutant gene? We could do five at the same time. CRISPR is also the best cross-species technique so far. We used to confine ourselves to mice, rats, fruit flies, zebra fish, and C. elegans, but right now, I’m waiting to see if there’s a species that CRISPR doesn’t work in.”
I hesitated, checking his eyes to see if my explanation was good enough. I held my breath, praying that he wouldn’t ask what C. elegans was. Dear Supreme Being, should you happen to exist and care to hear my pleas, if Tom doesn’t ask me about C. elegans, I promise I’ll look it up later.
He high fived me. “Good enough! You’re the first person who ever honked at me to explain CRISPR.”
I sighed, a mix of relief and despair, while he reached for the doorknob of the pale wooden door behind his desk. It opened directly into his lab. He said, “That’s great. You’re going to fit in here just fine.”
He waited for me to enter, so I did, and he said to my back, “You’ll have to tell me about the dead body another time, though.”

There you have it. I am officially daring to be bad. I'm posting the opening chapter of Human Remains on my website as well.

How about you? Dare to be bad?

03 November 2015

Do you like to read, but you're leery of buying bad books? I can help.

by Melissa Yi


Q. What the heck is a StoryBundle?

A. Jason Chen, founder:
I started StoryBundle because back in 2012, video game bundles and app bundles were extremely popular, and no one had yet applied the same idea to ebooks. When I looked around (because I’m a reader myself) to try and find a way to discover lots of new-to-me authors in genres I already like, it was pretty difficult without spending hours reading reviews and trudging through sales lists. Plus, since these are authors I haven’t tried before, I may be left with hit-or-miss quality. Having curated bundles where quality is guaranteed AND readers can set the price solves both these issues.

Q. Okay. Why should I buy this StoryBundle?

A. Kristine Kathryn Rusch, editor:
The Dark Justice bundle comes as close to crime fiction perfection as possible.
It boasts one Grand Master, several award-winners, bestsellers who've hit lists like the New York Times and USA Today with multiple books, household names, and writers who've just entered the mystery field—sometimes with a bang.

We also have a lot of diversity here. Our investigators include an African American detective, a Canadian doctor of Asian extraction, a disabled stockbroker and a group of retired cold case detectives. Throw in a few amateur detectives, a disgraced ex-cop, a female bounty hunter, and the famous Matthew Scudder, who has appeared in film (most recently A Walk Among The Tombstones), and you'll encounter the full range of characters the mystery genre has to offer.
I've read and loved the work of each and every one of these writers. Some of them I've read since I started reading mystery and some I've read since before they ever had a book published. In one of my other incarnations, I'm an award-winning editor, so believe me when I tell you that if there were some kind of Kristine Kathryn Rusch Gold Seal of Approval, the books in this bundle would receive it.
Q. Hmm. Well, I'm cheap. I don't know if I should buy it.
A. Kris: For those of you who have never purchased a bundle from StoryBundle before, welcome! StoryBundle makes ordering and downloading these books spectacularly easy.
The initial titles in the Dark Justice Bundle (minimum $5 to purchase) are:
If you pay more than the bonus price of just $15, you get all five of the regular titles, plus these outstanding books:
Q. I'm REALLY cheap. What if I don't want to spend $5?

A. Win the Dark Justice StoryBundle just by commenting on this blog. One winner will be selected tomorrow. To multiply your chances, subscribe to Melissa Yi's newsletter and comment on her related blog and Facebook post. Quadruple your chances by doing all four!

Q. I want to hear from the authors themselves. Why do you write mysteries?

Julie Hyzy: I know this isn’t an original answer, but I have to credit Nancy Drew. She was my gateway to mystery reading and also – in many respects – to writing. My first novel (at about age 10) was The Case of the Whispering Hills. I illustrated the book myself, too (natch).

Melissa Yi: As an emergency doctor, I occasionally confront evil. Mystery allows me to fictionalize it and deliver some form of justice in the end.

Patrice Greenwood: I like reading them, so I thought I'd give writing them a try. Turns out that's fun, so I've kept at it.

David DeLee: First of all, mysteries are what I grew up on. From the Hardy Boys to Ross MacDonald’s Lew Archer to today’s masters like Michael Connelly and Robert Crais. It’s a genre I’ve always adored. The other reason is that mysteries try to make sense of what in real life is often senseless. Violence. Murder. Serial killers. Mysteries are about a larger than life character who will risk it all to seek answer, to explain the unexplainable, to get justice for these horrible acts. What’s not to love?

Kris Nelscott: I love mysteries. I think they're my favorite genre. I put mystery—crime, really—in almost every genre I write.

Rebecca Cantrell: Because I am fascinated by worlds where characters wrestle with the question of what’s right and what’s wrong. My characters like to see justice done, but justice is never as simple and straightforward as I would like, so my books spend a lot of time looking at shades of gray.
As a kid my family referred to this as my “overblown sense of justice” and “belief that, all evidence to the contrary, the world should be fair.” Guilty.

Q. Hmm. Well, what's so great about your bundle book?

Rebecca Cantrell: The World Beneath introduces Joe Tesla. He’s a complicated guy—a brilliant software engineer who started a multimillion dollar company but is struck by agoraphobia on the day he’s supposed to ring the bell on Wall Street to take his company public. The agoraphobia is so extreme that he can’t go outside at all, and he spends the series trying to determine what caused it while exploring the tunnels under New York City. Since he can’t go outside, he makes the inside bigger. Since he can’t find justice for himself, he starts to search for justice for others. The book also won the International Thriller Writers award for Best Ebook Original. Oh, and he has a service dog named Edison who steals every scene he’s in (note: the dog does not die in the books).

Julie Hyzy: My bundle book, Playing With Matches, is very special to me because it’s not the least bit cozy. For the past seven years or so, I’ve had some success [Editor: NYT-bestselling success] writing cozy mysteries. I love them, I truly do, but I started out with edgier themes, and Playing With Matches brings me back to my writing roots. Riley Drake (my protagonist) is a female PI in Chicago. She swears, she drinks, and she beats up a troublemaker by page 2.

Melissa Yi: CODE BLUES introduces the world to Dr. Hope Sze, my alter ego who discovers murderers within the decaying medical system of Montreal, Canada. When I was a resident doctor, I barely had time to tie my shoes, let alone solve crimes and romance two different guys, but that’s the beauty of fiction.

Patrice Greenwood: It's set in Santa Fe, New Mexico, one of my favorite places in the world. The main character is just opening a tearoom in a Victorian house there, so there's lots of history, tea and its rituals, and of course a dash of murder.

David DeLee: FATAL DESTINY features a strong half-Latina, half-Irish female bounty hunter who takes on the world in her own way, and with a pretty cynical attitude toward people and the criminal justice system—with good reason. In FATAL DESTINY Grace faces a defining question: Are people, including herself, defined by their past or can they escape who they were and what they’ve done and become something better?

Kris Nelscott: The book I've contributed to the bundle is the very first Smokey Dalton novel. Honestly, I wrote the novel as a classic mystery—a rich blond walks into a detective's office with a strange problem that needs investigating. The detective, Smokey Dalton, is an African American who grew up with Martin Luther King. I thought the setting was the unusual bit—Memphis in 1968, just before King's assassination. Imagine my surprise when everyone decided the entire story was unusual. I bow to readers. Apparently I hit something with this series, which explores American history from a perspective not seen often enough in fiction—that of the African American community. The series has hit bestseller lists, won awards, hit recommended lists from libraries all over the country (including the New York Public Library) and has a rabid following.

Q. I might take a look. How do I get it?
A. https://storybundle.com/crime until November 19th.
Plus, one lucky winner will be chosen from each of the following lists on Wednesday, Nov. 4th:
1. One Sleuthsayer. Comment now, on this post, to win.
2. One subscriber to Melissa Yi's newsletter. Just sign up on her website landing page--link at the top & form at the bottom.
3. One commenter on Melissa Yi's Dark Justice blog post.
4. One participant on Melissa Yi's Dark Justice Facebook post.
5. Audience member at Vanier College. Claimed!

Happy reading!


11 August 2015

No Plot. Mo' Problem.

by Melissa Yi

Do you like to plot your story, point by point?

Fantasy writer Tim Powers advocated this method at my Writers of the Future winners’ workshop. He outlines his novel meticulously, sells it on proposal, and then never gets writers’ block because he just follows the outline he already wrote.

Sounds perfect, right? Except I like to just run to the computer and type madly, before my kids wake up and/or I have to run to work. Sometimes, I have almost no idea what came out of my fingers, except it was up to 1000 words and I’m done for the day.
My kids need supervision.

It means I’m a pantser (as in “flying by the seat of”). I let my characters shoot off their mouths, and possibly other body parts. They run into and out of danger. It’s a lot of fun. My characters really do surprise me, and my subconscious brain comes up with a lot of bizarre plot twists.

So the good news is that I’m 66,000 words into my latest Hope Sze novel, Human Remains.

The bad news is that I haven’t decided on a plot.

For me, if I don’t have a good plot, I don’t have the backbone of my mystery. Even though Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith teach that character and setting are the keys of mystery, especially important in a series character, I just can’t get a handle on a book when I’m constantly spinning new plot points and antagonists. It’s CRAZY.

Usually, I end up punching a bunch of words out, throwing half of them in the garbage, then stitching the survivors into a slamming good story, but it takes me so much time and energy that I spend a year or longer writing each mystery and I’m wrung out by the end of it.

So I probably should plot more.

What about you? Do you like to write into the darkness, or craft each scene in advance?A lil’ bit o’ both? Or just check out some illustrious suggestions from Jan Grape, which I discovered after I’d already written this column….