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LOST & FOUND: SOLVING COLD CASES ONE MATCH AT A TIME

Reblogged from my initial post (11/24/16) on Sisters of Suspense

When you hear about a mass disaster, what event comes to mind? Earthquake? Tsunami? Terrorist attack?

That was my first thought until I attended the Killer Nashville writer’s conference in October. There I learned about what experts now call “The Nation’s Silent Mass Disaster” or the high number of missing and unidentified persons reported every year in the United States.

I walked into the session titled, Forensic Services for Human ID, hoping to obtain research for a story I was writing about a missing person investigation.  The presenter, Todd Matthews (Director of Communications & Quality Assurance at the Forensics Services Unit UNT Center for Human Identification) did a stellar job highlighting this growing crisis.  He also provided information about a free resource called National Missing and Unidentified Persons System or NamUs.

At the end of the presentation, my goal became more than writing this tool into a story plot. I was compelled to share this information with others.


Here are some alarming nationwide figures I found on a 2014 fact sheet reported on the  NamUs webpage:

    • 4,400 unidentified remains are found each year, 1,000 remain unidentified after one year
    • 90,000 active missing person cases at any given time

 

NamUs, funded by the National Institute of Justice, is an unidentified person database that serves as a clearing house for two separate repositories– one for unidentified persons and one for missing persons. The NamUs database can be searched by anyone, but law enforcement and other agencies have access to more advanced tools built into the system.

This accessible tool works in a couple of different ways:

  • If someone is missing, information can be entered with specific details to be searched such as tattoos, clothing, physical features, and jewelry. Family members can enter this information directly into the system. Law Enforcement can also assist them with this process.
  • The records of unidentified persons can be entered by medical examiners and coroners.
  • Once in the system, the records can be searched for potential matches.
  • The unified system allows investigators to compare a potential match side-by-side.
  • If there is a match, the information is presented to investigators for review.

As of October 2014:

      • 20,917 total missing person cases were reported to NamUs – 7,537 cases were resolved (821 with NamUs assistance) -however 10,546 active cases remain in the database
      • 11,621 total unidentified person cases were reported to NamUs – 1,471 cases were resolved (381 with NamUs assistance) – 9,845 active cases remain in the database

Short Video – The Missing and the Dead: Inside America’s Coldest Cases


Currently there are new upgrades in the works for the NamUs system. One tool will have the capability of reuniting family members during “critical incidents” such as multi-state or large-scale events.  Some other features in development are a central database for victim accounting, a system for the public to self-report and make others aware they are safe during a disaster, and one that provides real-time victim data to assist emergency personnel in responding.

Although the NamUs program has provided several free tools to inform the public, many people are unaware of this resource. Which brings me back to the purpose of my post – helping to spread the word. So whether this information finds a place in one of your plots (which was encouraged during the session), or perhaps on your social media site, we are all playing a small role in helping to solve cold cases one match at a time.

The True Meaning of Memorial Day

*Reblogged from my initial post on Sisterhood of Suspense

In addition to the picnics, sporting events, and a three-day weekend, Memorial Day is a time to remember the brave men and women who died serving our nation and its values.

To show my appreciation for those who risked all ensuring our freedom, I collected a few inspiring quotes that highlight the true meaning of Memorial Day. The pictures are from my trip to Washington D.C. and one I will never forget.


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Iwo Jima Memorial 

“Who kept the faith and fought the fight; The glory theirs, the duty ours.” -Wallace Bruce


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Tomb of the Unknowns – Arlington Cemetery 

“The dead soldier’s silence sings our national anthem.” -Aaron Kilbourn


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War World II Memorial 

“Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude America will never forget their sacrifices.” – President Harry Truman


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Korean War Veterans Memorial 

“The brave die never, though they sleep in dust:
Their courage nerves a thousand living men.” -Minot J. Savage


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Arlington National Cemetery 

“For love of country they accepted death.” -James A. Garfield


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Women in War Nurses Memorial 

A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself. -Joseph Campbell


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THANKS TO THOSE WHO GAVE ALL AND THOSE STILL SERVING.

HAPPY MEMORIAL DAY!

IS YOUR WORKSPACE CREATING A HEALTH HAZARD?

Reblogged from my initial post (1/28/16) on Sisters of Suspense

I am sure this won’t come as a big surprise to anyone when I say – we sit a lot these days. But did you know the length of time we spend at our workspaces, and how we sit there, can actually create several health hazards?

In an article from The Washington Post, four experts outlined what really happens to our bodies when we sit for eight hours a day. They mentioned a variety of problems including heart disease, an overactive pancreas which can lead to diabetes, soft bones, poor circulation, muscle degeneration, and a host of orthopedic problems like neck and back strain to name a few.

So what’s the solution?

Here’s a 5-tip checklist with several quick and easy solutions to create a “healthier” workspace.


TIP #1: OVERALL SET-UP

  • Is your computer monitor or laptop screen at eye level? Close enough you don’t have to lean forward or squint to see what’s on the screen?
  • Can your elbows rest on the arms of a chair or are your forearms supported on a flat surface?
  • Is your keyboard on a pull-out tray? If not, is it placed at an angle that keeps the elbows bent at 90 degrees and the wrists slightly flexed?
  • Is your computer mouse located close to your keyboard?
  • Do your feet touch the floor while sitting in the desk chair?

Solution: Here’s a short video with great tips on how to set-up an ergonomic deskspace.


TIP #2: POSTURE

  • Are your shoulders rounded or head leaning forward to look down at an electronic device or a computer screen?
  • Is your lower back pressed firmly against the chair?

Solution: It is important to maintain the natural curves of your spine. Leaning forward with slumped shoulders can lead to headaches and neck problems. Try sitting on a physioball, switching to a standing desk, or adding a rolled towel to maintain the natural curve at your lower back while seated in a chair.

Take frequent stretch breaks to sit up tall, stretch your arms overhead, and roll your wrists clockwise/counterclockwise.


TIP #3: DRINKS/SNACKING

  • Are you fueling your creative process with energy drinks or massive amounts of caffeine?
  • Are your go-to snacks high in sugar?

Solution: Balance the consumption of caffeine with plenty of water. Keep a water bottle handy and infuse flavor with fresh fruits like lemon, lime, or even strawberries and sliced cucumbers for a creative twist.

Picking a snack high in sugar and a low nutritional value may give you a power surge for about 15 minutes, but then you will crash soon after. Choose snacks that nourish your mind, as well as your body, and ward off hunger.

I found six interesting brain foods to consider: blackcurrants, nuts, broccoli, sweet potato crisps, fish, and dark chocolate (my favorite).


TIP #4: ACTIVITY/FITNESS 

  • How often do you stand and take breaks?
  • Are you unable to fit exercise into your busy work routine?

Solution: Set a timer as a reminder to stand and move around. Go for a walk, do the laundry, or even schedule an exercise sprint with a friend. There are several cool computer apps designed to help get you moving. I recently downloaded the Stand up! The Work Break Timer to my phone.  This app allows me to set several time intervals, and a  notification pops up saying, “Take time to stand up. We want you to live longer!”

Need more ideas? Here’s 2 short videos demonstrating great ways to incorporate exercise at your desk and to prevent overuse injuries often found with computer work.

 


TIP #5: DESK SPACE HYGIENE 

When is the last time you cleaned your workspace surfaces? How about your keyboard and mouse? Your phone?

According to Medical Daily, there are millions of bacteria lurking around on our keyboards, computer mice, and telephones, actually more than the average toilet seat.

GROSS!

In a study performed by University of Arizona professor Charles Gerba, women’s workspaces might look cleaner, but they carry more germs, three to four times more than men. The reason might be “prime germ-transfer agents” such as hand lotions, purses, knickknacks, and cosmetic cases.

Solution: This one is easy to fix . . . clean the workspace regularly. Keep a bottle of hand sanitizer handy and use disinfectant wipes on keyboards, the computer mouse, and all desk surfaces.


One of my resolutions this new year was to revamp my work space, both at my day job, and my home writing space. As a daily reminder, I created an infographic to hang near my desk.

 

Click here for a downloadable copy: Tips for Healthier Workspace

“THAT’S WHAT HE SAID”: 3 CONCEPTS FOR WRITING THE MALE POV

Reblogged from my initial post (2/25/16) on Sisters of Suspense

Have you ever read a novel written from the male point of view so realistic it was hard to believe the author was a female?

I think this every time I read a novel by Suzanne Brockmann, Emma Chase, J.M. Darhower, Tiffany Reisz, and Helena Hunting, to name a few. Although I love writing from the male perspective, I find it to be very challenging.

So what’s the best way to develop male characters who are realistic, and intriguing, but without defaulting to the usual stereotypes?

After reading countless tips from several blogs, I narrowed down my list to three key concepts.

1. DIALOGUE:

Dialogue and conversations are to the point. If a guy has something to say, then he’ll say it.  Conversations are usually a means of exchanging information.

Also word choices are something to consider. Men typically don’t refer to something with flowery, expressive adjectives (i.e. marvelous, gorgeous) or give details of a woman’s clothing (i.e. crimson red A-line dress) unless this is specific to their role. They won’t describe something as being delightful, but more accurately as fine or okay.

2. EMOTIONS:

There are many misconceptions about guys and emotions. Guys DO have feelings and emotions. They tend to push them down and choose not to discuss their problems with others. A good tip for writing a male POV is to explore their feelings and ask the tough “why” questions. For example, I wanted to know why my hero harbored so much resentment toward those who are wealthy? Did this stem from something that happened in his past or was it an outcome of his upbringing? Why was he so against accepting help from others?

Another key concept is to balance the internal and physical traits. Not every male character has to be the hunk with chiseled abs and bulging biceps. But even those guys need flaws and weaknesses. As a reader, it’s fun to peel away the layers, see their inner thoughts, and learn what drives them or what they fear most. Make him grow from those flaws.

Generally speaking, it takes a lot for guys to break down. Simply taking something away in a scene might elicit anger, but developing conflict that breaks them psychologically will elicit a stronger emotional reaction.

 “Men are different, but not complete robots.” Brett Michael OrrInk and Quills

3. DECISION-MAKING:

When making decisions, they tend to stick with their original decision. Changing their minds is viewed as a blow to the ego, giving the impression their first decision was a wrong one.

Men are typically problem-solvers and tackle situations with an action-orientated approach. If they perceive a problem, their first instinct is to fix it. Many times they prefer direct action over talking.


Regardless of what type of male character I choose to write, the biggest take away for me is to focus on developing the character first. Create an intriquing hero with depth – a person with goals, desires, and fears, as well as someone the reader can root for and emphasize with. The male characters who are complex and written with those traits always become the most memorable to me.


Do you have any tips for writing realistic male characters?
What are your favorite novels written from the male point of view?

RESOURCES:

Kaitlin Hillerich with guest Brett Michael Orr, How to Write from a Guy’s POV 

Adrienne Giordano,  Anatomy of the Male Mind: Women Writing in the Male POV

Roni Loren, Man Up: Writing Male POV

Keri Arthur, Male POV

Advanced Fiction Writing, On Writing Convincing Male Characters

Derby Day Snacks: Brown Sugar Bourbon and Buttered Pecans

 

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It’s Derby week in Kentucky.

You don’t have to make a trip to Churchill Downs to enjoy all of the long-standing traditions that embody the Kentucky Derby.  This year, I’m going to break out my wide brim hat and celebrate in the comfort of my home with several “Derby-inspired” dishes and drinks. Over the next few posts, I will be sharing them with you.

For one of my snacks, I’m making Brown Sugar and Buttered Derby Pecans. These delicious pecans are perfect for any party, added as a topping to a salad, or during those endless writing sessions.

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I added 2 tablespoons of Buffalo Trace bourbon to the original recipe for a different twist. A little shot of bourbon makes everything better, right?

Just stir in the bourbon (of your choice) when adding the pecans, brown sugar, and rosemary.

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Serve warm in a decorative bowl for big groups or in shot glasses for fun individual portions.  They can also be stored in an airtight container to savor long after the party.

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Get the full recipe: TASTE. SAVOR. SHARE

Enjoy!