A Look Into A Detective’s Most Interesting “On Call” Homicide Case

I have a special guest for you today. Carl Lamberth spent 30 years of his life writing….not novels – police reports!

During his time as a police officer he wrote every kind of police report there is. From simple traffic crash reports as a young uniform officer in the Patrol Division to the more complex and detailed homicide and other major crime investigative reports during his almost 12 years as a plain clothes investigator in the Criminal Investigations Division.

Over to you, Carl…

http://www.suecoletta.com

My career in law enforcement began in 1977.  Right out of college I was hired by my hometown police department. I retired in 2007 with 30 years of work experience in many areas within this police department. When I started writing novels I decided to incorporate my experiences in police work into my stories. Each novel has a crime drama element to it. My second novel in particular has a detective element to it as the story evolves.

Like all new cops, I started as a rookie officer in the Uniform Patrol Division of the department…a street cop. By the mid 1980’s I was promoted and transferred to the plain clothes Criminal Investigation Division assigned to the Major Crimes Unit.

As a detective (or Criminal Investigator – which was the department’s title for officers in this unit), I was assigned to work major crimes, which included burglaries, robberies, rapes, serious assaults, and murders.

Although the normal assigned working hours for Criminal Investigators was between 8:00 am to 5:00 pm Monday through Friday; as would be expected assigned criminal cases for investigation would require at times unusual and long hours in order to track down and locate victims, witnesses, or suspects.  Also, as part of our work assignment, investigators were each placed on an “on-call” schedule for a week at a time, subject to being called out after hours to investigate any major crimes occurring in the city during non-office hours.

TheDevil'sSin [514130]

I will never forget my first call out. 

On a wintry night, the second day of my on-call week around 3:00 AM, I was awakened by the phone ringing. Dispatch advised me to respond to a crime scene where a garbage dumpster behind a store was on fire.

The body of an unknown male was found inside the dumpster burned beyond identification. This discovery was made after the fire was extinguished by the fire department.

Not having a lot of arson experience, I contacted the State Bureau of Investigation for assistance and one of their arson investigators responded to assist in the crime scene.  That night, I heard the term “crispy critter” for the first time; SBI agent’s slang name for this unknown victim.

One thing I learned as a cop is that all police officers develop a warped sense of humor. This twisted wit serves as a kind of emotional defense mechanism to help deal with the constant tragedy and violence most cops see on a routine basis. This humor may pop up at any time to help cope with a horrific situation or scene.

The only time you will not see this joking around is when children are involved.

To make a long story short, there was no foul play involved in the burning body found in the dumpster. The victim was a homeless person who accidentally set himself on fire while smoking in the dumpster he used for shelter. More than likely he was smoking a cigarette and fell asleep, or passed out from alcohol use. The cigarette set him and the trash he was using for warmth ablaze.

As the SBI agent put it, “Smoking in bed can be dangerous!”

However, my most interesting “on-call” response came on an Easter Sunday afternoon.  I was called out to a homicide scene of an elderly woman found murdered in her house. When the victim didn’t show for sunrise church service, her best friend who lived one street over checked on her.

She found the back door unlocked. Upon entering the house, she discovered her friend lying dead in the living room–stabbed numerous times.

I arrived to a scene of numerous uniform officers who had secured the residence. When my supervisor and our unit’s crime scene technician arrived, an initial check and survey of the residence was made.

I observed a complete–and I do mean complete–and total ransacking of the house. All cabinet drawers were standing open, furniture turned over and moved, closet doors were opened, etc.

The unknown suspect or suspects were obviously looking for something.

The victim was lying supine in a rather large pool of blood near the front door, in the foyer/front entrance way. The front door was locked. There was blood spattering along the walls of the long L-shaped hallway, which led from the living room area to the bedrooms. Small amounts of blood were also noted in the victim’s master bedroom, on the carpet and one wall.

We decided to request the assistance of the State Bureau of Investigation mobile crime lab to assist in the crime scene investigation. Upon arrival, the SBI crime scene technician made the decision to ask for additional crime scene help from the main crime lab in Raleigh, NC.

A major crime scene analysis was undertaken in hopes of finding any and all physical evidence. The crime scene investigation would take several days on site to complete.

Keep in mind, this was back before DNA evidence had become a tool for law enforcement. Our biggest hope was to find latent fingerprint evidence or other trace evidence left by the suspect or suspects.

As it turned out, most latent print evidence would be accounted for as belonging to the victim, or people who had legitimate access to the residence. All blood evidence was typed as the victim’s. Physical evidence would not lead to the identity of the murderer or murderers.

The autopsy report revealed the woman had been stabbed 8 times with a large knife, estimated to be 7 to 8 inches long and at least 1 inch in width.

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Similar knife used in the homicide.

She was stabbed 3 times in the back and 5 times in the front chest area, several stab wounds penetrating the heart.

Based on the on-scene Luminol testing for blood, a scenario was developed as to what probably happened that night.

The first stab wound occurred in the victim’s bedroom, probably as the victim attempted to exit the room, escape her assailant.

She ran up the hallway and hung a right toward the front door, where she apparently fell to the floor, transferring a small amount of blood onto the carpet and receiving a carpet burn on her left knee. She got up and made her way to the front door when her assailant caught up to her, stabbing her two more times in the back.

She fell to the floor, on her back. Her attacker then stabbed her 5 times in the chest; a very gruesome end to a sweet lady on Easter Sunday.

Note: During our search of the residence we did observe a dress the victim planned to wear to church on Easter morning. Neatly laid out on the bed in the guest bedroom, she would instead be buried in the dress.

Our investigation would reveal street rumor beliefs that this woman kept a large amount of money in a home safe; money she obtained through the previous sale of a local community grocery store after her husband died.

In truth, however, although the woman was somewhat wealthy and lived in one of the nicer homes in the neighborhood (which had slowly deteriorated through time into a lower economic community), she did not have a safe, nor keep large amounts of cash at home.

A motive of possible robbery was established.

The victim had a grown son who still lived at home. He had a criminal record for various drug related offenses and was rumored to be hooked on cocaine (powder cocaine was prevalent back in those days as the drug of choice). Obviously, he became our first suspect. However, it would be determined he had an ironclad alibi for the time of his mother’s murder.

Our attention then turned to known drug associates of the son. Nothing concrete could be developed on any of them. We were back to square one.

One thing I learned about murders is there are basically two types: the “smoking gun” type, which means a known suspect is developed if not immediately at least within the first 48 hours due to witnesses or other facts. The second is the “who-done-it” type in which no immediate suspect is known or developed within the first 48 hour period.

This case definitely fell into the “who-done-it” category.

Two months into the investigation we still had no suspect or suspects. However, we would soon believe our luck had changed with a development in another murder case…

Would this be the break we were looking for?

Stay tuned for part II.

http://www.suecoletta.comI’ve always been a dreamer. Retirement life has given me a lot more time on my hands….more time to dream.

To quote someone who knows a thing or two:  “Cherish your visions and your dreams as they are the children of your soul, the blueprints of your ultimate achievements.” – Napoleon Hill.

I didn’t give up and here I am – a published writer!

And I’m writing again…but not police reports – novels!

Connect with Carl on Twitter @CarltonLamberth

BUY LINKS:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-devils-sin-carlton-lamberth/1122413864?ean=2940150998582

http://clublighthousepublishing.com/productpage.asp?bNumb=370

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http://www.amazon.com/Carlton-Lamberth/e/B00NP0M6T0/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1439351560&sr=1-2-ent

 

Murder at Cabin 28 – The Suspects, Part I

If you are just joining us we’ve been discussing a gruesome quadruple murder that occurred on April 12, 1982 in Keddie, California. Before reading this analysis you may want to first read the story here.

Now, on to the two main suspects.

First up is Martin Smartt. The following is an excerpt of his statement and Mark McClish’s analysis of the words and phrases Smartt used. Mark McClish is a former Supervisory US Marshall with a background as a Secret Service Agent and FBI. He now runs Statement Analysis to assist and/or train law enforcement. You can find his full bio here.

I have not edited this statement because to do so would ruin its authenticity and voice. As you read notice the language Smartt used. By dissecting the conversation between Crim and Bradley (homicide detectives) and Smartt (suspect) we can mimic the dialogue in our stories. Like I said in my previous post, this is gold for a crime writer, or anyone else who has murder plots in their stories.

I’ve put the interview in color to help separate the analysis from the actual statement.

Here we go…

In this portion of his interview, he [Martin Smartt] is describing seeing an unusual man in the bar the night the murders took place.

Smartt: O.K., we left our house about 10:00, my wife, myself and John and ah, we kept, we were around the bar until about 1:00, like I say it wasn’t real crowded but it was You know, fairly crowded that night, and it was, I didn’t really notice anything unusual except for one pers– one individual came in about oh, I’d say 10:30 or 11:00 that I’d never seen before and nearly the rest of the people you know.

Smartt: But you live here awhile and you see ’em. I used to work in the restaurant here and I become familiar with a lot of the customers and that one individual you know, just the way he carried himself, he looked like trouble. He looked out of place for that type of establishment, is what I mean. He was in a t-shirt and Levi’s and wearing a buck knife, extremely long hair.

Smartt: Ya, like I say about 5′ 7″, 5′ 8, extremely long hair, it was tied in a pony tail and the individual didn’t look like he belonged in the Back Door Lounge, ya know, it wasn’t the type of clientele that they cater to, but he left shortly thereafter. He walked down, sat at the bar where we were, well we went back into the little dance area and went back out and left. As far as I know I didn’t see, notice the guy again. That’s the only person I saw that looked unusual, you know, out of place that night.

There are no synonyms in Statement Analysis. Every word has a different meaning if only slightly different. A truthful person’s language will remain consistent through out his statement. For example, if a person views a firearm as a “gun” he will always call it a “gun.” He will not refer to it as a “pistol” because to him it is a “gun.” When there is a change in language, it is an indication of deception unless there is a justifiable reason for the change. Perhaps when the gun is fired it now becomes a “pistol.”

Smartt used three different words to describe the unusual man he saw in the bar: “individual,” “guy” and “person.” It is unlikely there is a justification for using three different words to refer to a man in a bar. This is an indication Smartt is making up the story about seeing the unusual man.

In describing the unusual man, Smartt states the man had a, “Mustache, dark heavy mustache, and his hair was dark brown and of course it was dark in there, I couldn’t, I didn’t, pay enough attention to him to get a lot of description but I did know he had a mustache but no beard.”

When people use the phrase “of course” they often want us to take for granted what they are saying is the truth. However, we take nothing for granted and only believe what people tell us.

Smartt states, “I couldn’t” as if he was going to say, “I couldn’t tell…” He then changed his statement to, “I didn’t.” There is a reason why he changed his language. Perhaps he could tell what the man looked like. Perhaps the man did not exist which caused him to change his language.

He states, “I did know he had a mustache but no beard.” He uses the wrong verb tense. He should have stated “I do know” because at the time of the interview he would have still known this.

Smartt: Ya, in the area, should be a street light in there, I didn’t notice but I thought it was awful dark in the area. But ah, like I say, we were involved in a conversation and we really didn’t pay any attention.

People use the word “really” to add emphasis and bolster their statement. However, this word weakens the statement. “We didn’t pay any attention” is a good definitive statement. By using the word “really” Smartt is telling us they did pay some attention to what was going on.

Smartt: And likewise, when we came back it was oh, ten minutes later, we had enough time to take off our, we were wearing three pieces, so we had enough time to take off our jacket and vest and then put our jackets back on, came back down and ah, once again, we were in conversation, I can’t think of anything at all during that period, we came back down, that was out of place.

The shortest sentence is the best sentence. Extra words give us extra information. The words “at all” are not needed for us, the reader, but Smartt needed to add them to his statement. These words are usually used to get us to believe what the person is saying is true.

In talking about leaving the bar after it closed, Smartt stated, “We had about enough time to drink one drink, which, about a half hour, must have been, oh, I’d say 1:45 when we left there and started back up. And, again, cuttin up jackpots and talking.”

The word “started” means the act was interrupted or never completed. When he said he left the bar the first time, he stated, “Then we walked back home.” That is what he should have said this second time he left the bar, “We left and walked back up.” The use of the word “started” is a strong indication they did something else before they went home.

After getting home, Smartt states, “I went to bed about ten after two. After, well, we keep the medicine put up because of the kids, I had to get John’s medicine out, and I gave him two phenobarbitals, and a delantin, two phenobarbitals and two delantins, to go to bed on. That’s what the doctor prescribed.”

The word “after” means Smartt has skipped over something in his story. He wants us to believe he went to bed after he gave John his medicine. However, never specifically states that. His language tells us he went to bed after doing something.

Crim: Then you went to bed.

Smartt: Then I went to bed and woke up again around 3:00, stoke the fire.

Crim: Nothing unusual woke you up, you just…

Smartt: Matter of habit. I always wake up around 3:00 or 3:30, stoke the fire. I got up, ya know, checked the house, and ah, stoked the fire, and ah, matter of fact, I opened the door and went outside and got a piece of wood, came back in, I didn’t notice anything.

Crim: Just nice and quiet?

Smartt: Quiet, as a matter a fact, usually about that time, a train is going by, I didn’t notice the train, then go to sleep. Very peaceful and quiet. I can’t think of anything.

Although Smartt does tell us that after giving John his medicine he went to bed, it appears this was suggested to him. The transcription shows Crim making a statement and not asking a question. Even if it was formed as a question, it would be a suggestive question.

When deceptive people have to come up with a number, they often choose the number three. The appearance of the number three (3:00 or 3:30) does not mean the person is lying but it is an indication of deception.

It is interesting that he tells us that he went outside in the early morning hours. He places himself outside of his cabin.

He said he did not notice the train go by which usually goes by at that time. Did he not notice it because he was in Cabin 28 committing the murders?

The word “then” is usually used to transition from one thought to another thought. Deceptive people will use this word to skip over something in their story. This is because the word can mean “immediately” or “soon afterward.” If it is used as “soon afterward,” we have some missing information.

“Go to sleep” is missing a subject. He did not use the pronoun “I” to tell us that he went to sleep. Also, this phrase is in the present tense. It should be, “I went to sleep.” The use of present tense language is an indication the story is not coming from memory but the person is presently constructing their story.

The sentence, “I can’t think of anything” sounds as if it is an afterthought.

This portion of his statement shows a lot of deception.

Bradley: Was your wife still in the sack when you got back? In bed?

Smartt: Yeah, when I got home she was just gone, slept right through.

In Boubede’s interview, we find the following:

Bradley: When you got back to the house, was Marilyn up or in bed or what?

Boubede: No, she was up.

Smartt says his wife was in bed when he and Boubede returned from the bar. Boubede states she was up.

Smartt states that his wife “slept right through.” What did she sleep through? It does not make sense he is referring to him giving John medicine. The implication is she slept through some type of incident such as the murders. His language indicates she slept through it but he did not. This means he was awake when the murders were committed.

Smartt had a 12 year old step-son named Justin who was sleeping in Cabin 28 the night the murders took place. He and two other boys were in another room. They were unharmed and slept through the night. In talking about the possibility that Justin witnessed the murders, Smartt states,“He is quiet enough to where he could have noticed something without me detecting him.”

The murders allegedly occurred in the early morning hours while Smartt was asleep. Since Justin was sleeping in Cabin 28, there is the possibility that Justin woke up and heard or saw something in regards to the murders. Since Smartt was still asleep, we would expect him to say that Justin may have “noticed something without me knowing it.” By saying, “without me detecting him” implies that Smartt was awake and suggests that he participated in the murders. He did not notice that Justin had detected him.

Smartt: Ah, I don’t know, I’d like to see the hammer; I’ve been in Sue’s house. The only hammer I ever knew that come out of there was a wooden handled one. Ah, my hammer is missing.

The victims were struck with a hammer. I don’t know if the hammer used in the murders was ever proven to be Smartt’s missing hammer. However, it is odd perhaps coincidental that he mentions his hammer is missing.

In talking about the missing hammer, Smartt states, “I haven’t noticed it layin about, so we can’t, I thought of that this morning, ya know, cause this guy come right by my house, ya know, geez if that was true, he would have picked up my hammer, why in hell not my hatchet, a lot better.

The word “this” indicates specificity but it also shows closeness. He could have stated, “the guy” which would distance himself from the killer. Instead, he used a word that brings him close to the killer.

Based on his language, there is a strong indication that Martin Smartt was involved in the murders that took place in Cabin 28.

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keddie28.com

Stay tuned for part II, when we read the analysis from the other main suspect, John “Bo” Boubede.

Determining Death

After reading an article by D. P. Lyle, MD entitled “Timely Death” I approached him about republishing it here, and graciously he agreed. Not only is Dr. Lyle a practicing cardiologist he is also the author of numerous non-fiction books on forensics, including Forensics for Dummies and HOWDUNNIT – A Forensics Guide for Writers. Because I often refer to his site, The Writer’s Forensics Blog, when writing it is already listed in my Crime Writer’s Resource, along with links to his books. If you have a forensics question, this is the place to go.
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TIMELY DEATH

The timing of death is both an art and a science. 

Unless the death is witnessed, it is impossible to determine the exact time of death. The Medical Examiner (ME) can only “estimate” the approximate time of demise. It is important to note that this “estimated time of death” can vary greatly from the “legal” time of death, which is the time recorded on the death certificate, or the “physiologic” time of death, which is when vital functions actually cease. The “legal” time of death is the time the body was discovered or the time a doctor or other qualified person pronounced the victim dead.

These “times of death” may differ by days, weeks, even months, if the body is not found until well after “physiologic” death has occurred. For example, if a serial killer kills a victim in July, but the body is not discovered until October, the “physiologic” death took place in July, but the “legal” death is marked as October. The ME’s “estimated time of death” would be July.

That said, the ME can estimate the “physiologic” time of death with some degree of accuracy. He uses the decompositional changes that occur in the human body after death to help him in this endeavor. These changes consist of measuring the drop in body temperature, the degree of rigidity (rigor mortis), the degree of discoloration (livor mortis or lividity), the stage of body decomposition, stomach contents, and other factors. Bodies found in water present special problems in this regard.

Body Temperature

Normal body temperature during life is 98.6 degrees F. After death, the body loses heat progressively until it equilibrates with that of the surrounding medium. The rate of this heat loss is approximately 1.5 degrees per hour until the environmental temperature is attained, then it remains stable. Obviously, this measure is greatly effected by location. A body in the snow in Minnesota in January and one in a Louisiana swamp in August will lose heat a widely divergent rates. These factors must be considered in any “estimate” of time of death.

The criminalist who processes the scene should take a body temperature and measure the temperature of the surrounding medium–air, water, snow, earth (if the body is buried). Ideally, the body temperature is taken rectally. Obviously, the sooner after death the body is found, the more accurately time of death can be assessed by this method. Once the body reaches ambient temperature, all bets are off.

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Rigor Mortis

Rigor mortis is the stiffening and contraction of the muscles due to chemical reactions that take place in the muscle cells after death.

It typically follows a predictable pattern. Rigidity begins in the small muscles of the face and neck and progresses downward in a “head-to-toe” fashion to the larger muscles. The entire process takes about 8-12 hours. At that time, the body is completely stiff and is “fixed” in the position of death. Then, the process reverses itself, with rigidity being lost in the same fashion, beginning with the small muscles and progressing to the larger ones. This process begins 18 to 36 hours after death and is usually complete within 48 hours. So, rigor is only useful in the first 48 to 60 hours after death.

The reason for the rigidity, is the loss of adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, from the muscles. ATP is the compound that serves as energy for muscular activity and it’s presence and stability depend upon a steady supply of oxygen and nutrients, which are lost with the cessation of cardiac activity. The later loss of rigidity and the appearance of flaccidity (relaxation) of the muscles, occurs when the muscle tissue itself begins to decompose.

Rigor is one of the least reliable methods for determining time of death because it is extremely variable. Heat quickens the process, while cold slows it. Obese people may not develop rigor, while in thin victims it tends to occur rapidly. If the victim struggled before death and consumed much of his muscular ATP, the process is hastened.

Lividity

Lividity is caused by stagnation of blood in the vessels. It lends a purplish color to the tissues. The blood, following the dictates of gravity, seeps into the dependent parts of the body–along the back and buttocks of a victim who is supine after death. Initially, this discoloration can be “shifted” by rolling the body to a different position, but by 6 to 8 hours, it becomes “fixed.” If a body is found face down, but with fixed lividity along the back, then the body was moved at least 6 hours after death, but not earlier or the lividity would have “shifted” to the newly dependent area.

Body Decomposition

At death, the body begins to decompose. Bacteria go to work on the tissues and by 24 to 36 hours the smell of rotting flesh appears and the skin takes on a progressive greenish-red color. By 3 days, gas forms in the body cavities and beneath the skin, which may leak fluid and split. From there, things get worse. Add to this, predation by animals and insects and the body can become completely skeletonized before long. In hot, humid climes, this can happen in 3 or 4 weeks.

Stomach Contents

The ME can often use the contents of the victims stomach to help determine time of death. After a meal, the stomach empties itself in approximately 4 to 6 hours, depending on the type and amount of food ingested. If a victim stomach contains largely undigested food material, then the death likely occurred within an hour or two of the meal. If the stomach is empty, the death likely occurred more than six hours after eating. Additionally, if the small intestine is also empty, death probably occurred some 12 hours or more after the last meal.

Floaters

“Floaters” are corpses found floating in a body of water. They present special problems for the ME in determining the time of death. Water temperature of course has an effect as do local tides and predators. The general rule regarding decomposition is that one week on dry land equals two weeks for a submerged body.

To become a “floater,” a body must to be in the water long enough for tissue decomposition from bacteria to begin. This process forms gas as a byproduct, which collects beneath the skin and in body cavities. Bodies tend to sink, then rise again in several days when the gas forms, adding buoyancy. They thus become “floaters.”

Under these circumstances, the hands and feet swell (several days), the outer layer of skin separates from the underlying tissues (5-6 days), the skin of the hands and the nails separate (8-10 days), and entire body  swells shortly thereafter. Tissues become extremely fragile and are easily damaged during removal from the water.

Timing of the “floating” depends upon several factors, including water temperature, currents, the size of the victim, and other variables. For example, a body will “float” after 8-10 days in warm water and 2-3 weeks if in colder water. Cold slows the process of decomposition.

As you can see, the timing of a victim’s death is a very inexact science and is greatly altered by the environment. In cold areas, body temperature changes are magnified, but decomposition changes are slowed, The inverse is true for hot, humid climes. Add to this, predation by insects and animals and the ME’s job can become difficult.

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Searching for a way to commit murder? Check out my FREE .pdf 50 Ways To Murder Your Fictional Characters.

To all US followers: Happy Independence Day!

To all others: Have a wonderful weekend!

How To Use Emotion Memory

Brandilyn Collins’ has a fantastic craft book entitled Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets A Novelist Can Learn From Actors. I contacted Brandilyn to ask if I could share a ‘secret’ from her book, and she graciously agreed.

This ‘secret’ is about using your Emotion Memory. As crime writers we often have to pull from real life, twisting facts to suit our needs. For example, I’ve never murdered anyone, but I can certainly make you think I have. And this is exactly what Brandilyn discusses in this scene. She can turn anyone into a murderer, including you.

If you’d like to find out more about Brandilyn Collins and her “seatbelt suspense” novels or craft books, you can find her at: http://www.brandilyncollins.com. To buy your copy of Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets A Novelist Can Learn From Actors go here or on Amazon here.

GIC

Now sit back. Get ready to transform into a killer…

Finally, the time has come. The time set aside just for you, when the guests have waved goodbye after their weekend stay. You are alone in the house and exhausted. You don’t care that you have work to do. All you can think of is: The Book.

You were reading it, loving it before the guests came. But all during the week you could only catch bits and pieces of it after falling into bed each night, your eyes fighting sleep. Last night you managed to read for almost an hour. You only have fifty pages left, and you can’t wait to see how it all turns out.

Your guests now gone, you make a beeline for the book, grab it from the nightstand and hurry to the family room. There, your steps slow. You want to enjoy this long-awaited time to its fullest. Tossing the book on the couch, you head for the kitchen to make your favorite hot drink to sip and savor as you read.

You hum a little tune as you make the drink. Its wonderful aroma tickles your nose as you carry the hot mug into the family room and place it on an end table. You pick up your book, settle into the couch with a sigh. Smiling, you open the novel, slip out the bookmark and begin to read.

Your eyes glide over the pages, your muscles relax, your mind empties of all but the events in the novel. Once in a while you pick up your mug, sip your drink. The house is quiet save for the distance ticking of a clock in the kitchen. You wish this time would never end.

The scene you’re reading heats up. Oh, no! The heroine can’t do that; whatever will become of her? And what about her nemesis — you know he’s still up to no good. Surely he’ll leap from the pages any moment now, aiming his intended miseries at the characters you are cheering. You turn the page. Aha. There he is. Oh no, surely he won’t–

A fly cruises across the room.

Your eyes flick at it distractedly, then back to the book. You continue reading, devouring the words. Oh, the passions. You feel the scenes. They sweep you off your feet, transport you. You want to hurry and finish the story to see what happens; you want the story to never end. You’re almost done with the chapter. The evil adversary is turning to the hero and heroine, opening his mouth–

The fly buzzes against the family room window, backs up, then buzzes into it again.

Your eyes lift with irritation from the page, first to stare unseeing across the room as you listen, then to blink into a narrowed gaze at the fly. He is annoying. He is big. He is disturbing your peace, your moment. Why won’t he go away?

He buzzes, smacks the window repeatedly.

You pull your eyes back to your book. You continue reading, your forehead etched in a frown of concentration.

A few minutes pass. Purposefully ignoring the fly, you finish the chapter. Oh, what a hook! What will happen now? You turn the page, eager to continue. Without missing a word you grope for the mug with your left hand, raise it to your lips. Ah, the drink’s still warm.

You read on. The book’s main secret is about to be revealed. You can sense it coming. You think you know, but you’re not sure. You read on, swept here and there as your characters run for their lives. Now through a forest, now facing a raging river. How will they cross? The hero is too weak–

The buzz-against-the-glass abruptly stops. Zzzzzz. The fly cruises the room again. He circles your head. You wave him away, still reading. He circles once more, exploring, coming in for a closer look, invading your space. You smack at him — and miss. He circles. You glare at him now, your eyes following his route. Your mouth tightens; the muscles in your thighs tense. You tap a thumb against the page of your book, reading momentarily forgotten. The fly lands across the room on the television set. You stare at it, half daring it to move.

It doesn’t.

You inhale. Shift your position. Your eyes return to the page, flitting until they find where you left off. Ah, yes, the river.

You start reading. Within seconds you are again engrossed in the story. The water is rising above the couple; their nemesis is closing in. You’re still not sure of what he wants, what he will do when he reaches them. He is yelling something over the boiling waters, his voice fading in and out of the torrents. The heroine screams at him–

The fly buzzes from the television and right by you. The sound reverberates in your ears. Then stops. You swivel your head to see the fly crawling, fleeing his way with his nasty little legs along the rim of your cup. Your cup! Anger kicks across your nerves. Your arm flashes out and scares him back into the air. The buzzing resumes — right in front of your nose.

“That’s it!” You throw down your book and push off the couch, seething. The ugly creature flies around the room — your room — like he owns the place. Who does he think he is, disturbing you like that? Can’t you have even one hour of peace in your own house? After all the company and hostessing and work? Can’t you just be allowed to read your book and enjoy yourself for one lousy minute?

Muttering, you swivel on your heel and head for the kitchen, in search of something, anything, to get rid of this creature once and for all. You grab a newspaper section of the kitchen table, roll it, and pace back into the family room, smacking it against your palm. The fly still cruises. You lurch to stop, your head on a constant swivel as you follow his flight. From the corner of your eye you notice that your book has fallen shut on the couch. Fresh angers jags up your chest. Now that wretched beast has caused you to lose your place!

The fly lands on the coffee table. You stride three steps and bring down the newspaper hard. Thwack. The fly lifts into the air, buzzing even harder. You exhale loudly, cursing under your breath. You were too mad, moved to quickly. You’ll have to do this steady-like, smooth. Have to think before you move.

You draw up straight, stand perfectly still, except for your head, which still follows the fly’s path. The newspaper rests in your palm. You like the feel of it, the deadly force it promises. Now if only you can sneak up on that fly. You even breathe quietly lest it hear you. You command control of your own body, centering your focus on killing the fly — nothing else.

You don’t stop to think that the fly is merely foraging for food he needs to exist. It doesn’t occur to you that he means you no harm, that he’s probably seeking a way to get out of your house. You certainly don’t stop to think that he may have family, that he may be missed once he’s dead. Such an absurd notion would not last one second within your brain. Who could possibly care about this disgusting creature? And even if someone did, he has invaded your space. He deserves to die.

The fly lands on the window. Your eyes narrow. You are careful this time — oh, so careful. Stealthily, silently, you creep across the carpet. Your fingers tighten around the newspaper. You hardly dare breathe. Three more steps. You arm begins to draw back. Two more steps. Your shoulder muscles tighten. One more step. You glide to a halt, eyes never leaving the fly. You swallow. Pull back your arm further, fingers sinking into the newspaper. Every sinew in your upper body crackles with anticipation.

Your arm snaps forward. The newspaper whistles through the air. Thwack!! The force of the hit sends shock waves up your arm.

The fly drops like stone.

Yes! You’ve killed him!

You stand there, breathing hard, eyeing the dead fly. Your arm lowers, your fingers relax their grip. A slow, slick smile twists your lips. Your head tilts slightly, your eyebrows rise.

“Hah!” The words echo in the room, hard and snide. “That’ll teach you!”

You survey your handiwork, gloating some more, vindictiveness and satisfaction swirling. The fly is such an ugly thing. Black, mangled, dirty. Couldn’t even die with dignity. It lies there, trashing up your nicely painted windowsill. Your lip curls. How disgusting.

That fly deserved everything it got.

One thing’s for certain. If any other fly comes along, you won’t waste precious time trying to ignore it. Oh, no, you’ve got the actions down now. Next time, one tiny buzz, and you’ll be off that couch, newspaper ready. It’ll be so much easier next time…

But for now you must get rid of your victim. Its very sight nauseates you. You tear off a piece of the newspaper, and use it to pick up the body — gingerly, being careful not to touch it. No telling what sort of germs and filth it carries. You walk into the bathroom, throw it into the toilet. Flush it down. You watch it swirl faster, tighter, until it finally disappears. You smack down the toilet lid.

Now you are done.

You take a breath. Where were you? What was going on in your life before you were so rudely interrupted? Ah, of course! Reading! You hurry back to your book, your mind already racing to remember where you left off. You throw yourself back onto the couch, pick up the novel, flip through pages, find your last-read sentence.

Two minutes later you are once again engrossed in the story, living and breathing along with the characters. Your house is so peaceful. Life is wonderful. You are happy.

You settle back, devouring the words. Reveling in your contentment. The fly is forgotten.

Almost.

Except for within that one part of you. That one separate part that cocks an ear, stands guard over your space, protectively listening for — almost anticipating — the buzz of the next fly…

See? Killers, all.

And it’s not just the killing. It’s the sneering, cold-hearted emotion that leads up to it. Then the smirking when it’s done. Followed by the focus on the aftermath — what needs to be cleaned up?

If I can turn you into a murderer, you can turn yourself into any character you need to write. Remember, there is no emotion known to man that you have not experienced.

What did I tell you — fabulous, right?

Looking for a way to commit fictional murder? Sign up for my FREE booklet 50 Ways To Murder Your Fictional Characters. Or, get a taste of what you’ll find inside here.

It’s Official… I Did It!

The last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind of excitement, fear, anxiety, angst, and overwhelming joy all rolled into one enormous feeling of upheaval. Why? Because I landed a publishing deal for my novel MARRED!!!

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Now that the legal issues are out-of-the-way, the contract signed and sent back, I can finally share the news. MARRED will be released this fall.

And it terrifies me.

The world will see my words, experience my story.

What if no one likes it? What if readers shred me in reviews? What if it doesn’t sell?

These are real fears, albeit probably foolish ones. I have to wonder if other authors feel this way, too. Not many talk about this aspect of publishing. Perhaps it’s because they don’t want potential readers to know. Whatever the reason, I believe admitting that I’m human with real fears about failure is just being honest. How can that be a bad thing? Actually, I feel a little better saying it out loud writing it.

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When I started taking my writing seriously I had one specific goal in mind, to find an agent and get traditionally published by a large house. I stuck to that goal until it blinded me. Because when you have your heart set on one specific way to get published you tend to shut out other opportunities. Looking back, I realize how one-sided this line of thinking was. In today’s publishing world there are many ways to turn your dreams into reality. Don’t be like me and waste years on only one path. Branch out, consider your options.

Which is exactly what I did this year. Instead of querying agents I decided to go direct to publishers, a frightening venture indeed. I sent my manuscript to four publishers. If you decide to go this route here’s what you need to keep in mind: agents do NOT want a manuscript that’s been “shopped around”. Meaning, if you send your manuscript to every small and medium press and then get rejected, you’ve effectively tied their hands. Very few debuts get picked up by one of the Big Five. I think the statistics show 1% out of 100. You have a better shot of winning the lottery. Which is why agents look at these small to medium presses as great alternatives.

Does this mean you shouldn’t try? Absolutely not. Just don’t close your eyes to other options, like I did.

I sent my manuscript to my top three choices and to one imprint I’d never heard of (still don’t know who they are). And then — BAM, an offer. By email. As I read and reread the email I kept waiting for the word “unfortunately” to pop up, certain I had missed it along the way.

Hearing about a team of editors who LOVED my story nearly knocked me off my chair.

I glanced up at my husband, Bob, who was on his way upstairs. “Honey, I think I just scored a publishing deal.”

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He twirled back to me. “What? How?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Remember when I told you I was sending out a few submissions to test the waters? Well, one of them already wrote back. They said they loved my story. A whole team of editors loved my story.”

“What do we do? Ask for a contract?”

“It’s here. Now. Along with all kinds of other stuff, including a sheet for the Cover Art Department asking me for my input; how I want the cover to look.”

Bob didn’t move, shock registering on his face. A pause. And then his brow furrowed with confusion. “But I thought you’d get a call.”

“Me too. And fireworks, a marching band, a plane skywriting the news above our house.”

“Maybe you should read the contract before we get too excited.”

He was right. And so I did.

Moments later, an unintentional shriek escaped from somewhere deep inside me. “It’s true! I’m officially a published author!”

Hooping and hollering ensued.

Next, came the writing of emails to ask advice from other authors I respect who’ve been through this process, followed by running outside to tell the neighbors (we live on a mountain with two other houses so we’re all extremely close).

I then buckled down, went over all the material my new publisher sent and wrote letters to the other houses thanking them for their time. I was now committed. This was it. My dream was becoming a reality right before my eyes.

Sue Coletta, Published Author.

It seemed too good to be true. Something must be wrong… that little bugger self-doubt creeping in, again.

Now came the hard part… I couldn’t tell anyone. Not until I had signed the contract, the deal official. Although, if someone happened to cross paths with me during that period, virtually or in person, I felt compelled to share my news, but swore them to secrecy. A few friends who’d been fighting along with me, down this road called “the traditional path into publishing”, got an email too.

awesome

A release this fall is extremely quick, even for a small press. For some reason, that I am trying very hard not to question, the publisher had a few spots open for their fall release and want to include MARRED. To complete everything in time will be a lot of hard work, but hey, that’s nothing new. I worked three straight years without ever taking time off, even a half-day. That’s how focused I was in achieving my dream; it meant everything to me. Still does.

Without missing a beat, I set a new goal, a new dream, one I will work just as hard for, if not harder. In my opinion, this is one of the many aspects that’s so great about this whole writing gig. You never know everything; there’s always more to learn, strive for, look forward to, a focal point to zero in on. I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it a gazillion more times. Set a goal and then rejoice when you accomplish it. The more small goals you achieve along the way to your big dream the more confidence you build. In theory.

This is a huge win for me. Now it’s time to work toward my next goal, and the next, and the next. It’s a never-ending cycle that ebbs and flows as your craft reaches new heights.

No other business that I’m aware of can say that, just as no other group is as supportive as the writing community. Without all of you, I could never have made it this far. You’ve been my rock when rejections stung, my cheering section when I achieved small successes, and my inspiration when I felt like I should hang up my keyboard. Writers are the most caring, generous people in the world, and I feel blessed to be part of this community.

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Before I let you go enjoy the rest of your weekend, I wanted to also let you know that I bought a new domain for this site: http://www.suecoletta.com. Crimewriterblog.com will still work too. I’ve heard horror stories about successful authors who couldn’t buy their own name because others bought all the sites to profit on their success, writing posts, selling books, basically posing as that author. So before I ever sell one book I wanted to make sure this could never happen to me.

I’m sure I’ll share what I learn as I work with the editors, artists, etc., and show you my cover once it’s available. This is such an exciting time in my life. I never thought I’d be so happy to do the little things, like updating my PayPal to a business account to sell books at signings, conferences, and the like. If you haven’t experienced it yet — it’s awesome!

I’m riding this high for as long as possible. I even took most of the day off yesterday. It felt so weird being away from my keyboard.

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Ready or not, here I come!