Mystery Fest Key West 2018 – Part 2

Panel discussions at the Mystery Fest Key West on Saturday afternoon began after lunch with a panel on Co-Writing a Mystery and next on Writing Historical Mysteries. Below are panelists Alyssa Maxwell, Diane A.S. Stuckart, Robert Coburn, John Guerra, and Charles Todd.
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A panel discussion on Audiobooks followed. After an on-site booksigning run by Books & Books from Key West, we took a conch train from our hotel to the Key West Lighthouse.
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At the historic lighthouse, Shirrel Rhodes introduced Ace Atkins and Otto Penzler, who spoke about publishing and the mystery genre.
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The conference concluded on Sunday morning with a brunch at the Schooner Wharf Bar in Key West’s Historic Seaport district. We hit the road heading north for our last view of seascapes on either side of the highway. It was time to return to reality.
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Mystery Fest Key West 2018 – Part 1

The first workshop on Friday afternoon at Mystery Fest Key West writers conference had Debbie Richardson and Shirrel Rhodes speaking about the business of writing. Next, we heard author Lisa Black give an informative talk on fingerprints. I learned there are three types of fingerprint patterns, which are loop, arch, and whorl. Glossy, smooth surfaces like porcelain or marble are good for fingerprints while wet or rough surfaces, upholstery, and laminate aren’t so great. However, no matter the surface, it appears there’s a method for obtaining prints. This is good info to know for any mystery writer.
Photos below include Debbie Richardson, Heather Graham, Michael Joy, Suzanne Baginskie, Olive Pollack, Lisa Black.
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Two more panels followed on How to Write and Sell a First Novel with Dianna Collier and Crisis Negotiation with an expert in the field. Then we met at a poolside room for appetizers and drinks. It was nice to have a chance to circulate and meet my fellow attendees. Heather Graham gave a welcome talk and we all got busy schmoozing for the rest of the evening.
Photos below include Alyssa Maxwell, Michael Joy, Paul Manuel, Richard Cohen, Diane A.S. Stuckart. Second row has Olive Pollak, Suzanne Baginskie, Catalina Egan, Lou Ann Williams, Patrick Kendrick, Carol Tedesco.
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Saturday started early with a panel on the State of the Publishing Industry. Moderated by Diane A. S. Stuckart, the panel included Patrick Kendrick, Dianna Collier, Alyssa Maxwell, and Otto Penzler. The general outlook was positive, and I was happy to hear that cozies are doing well.
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Next I sat on a panel about Promoting Your Book. My fellow panelists were Lewis C. Haskell and Wayne Stinnett with Patrick Kendrick as moderator. We discussed different techniques that we each found useful and exchanged ideas for getting word out about our books.
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Shirrel Rhodes introduced the winners of The Whodunit Mystery Writing Award, who each read from their work before lunch. Prime Ribs was the star feature on the buffet line. Keynote Speaker and Bestselling Author Ace Atkins gave a talk during the meal.
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Key West 2018

We drove down to Key West on the Thursday before the Mystery Fest Key West conference began. Once you hit the Keys beyond Miami and Homestead, you pass interesting little towns on each island along with scenic ocean vistas on either side of the highway. On Ramrod Key, we stopped for lunch at Boondocks. Their creamy New England clam chowder was one of the best. I liked the crabmeat salad and cole slaw that accompanied the soup. A half portion of salad was more than enough.

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After arriving in Key West, we checked in at the Doubletree Grand Key Resort and then took the hotel shuttle into town. Here we meandered around until our friends Alyssa Maxwell and her husband joined us for dinner. We dined at Conch Republic Seafood Company. Richard and I shared stuffed mushrooms and grilled mahi mahi. We were as stuffed as the mushrooms when we’d finished.

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Friday morning, we were free, so we visited the East Martello Museum, a Civil War era fort. Exhibits tell about how the fort was used during the war as well as a bit of Key West lore including ghost stories and the creepy Robert the Doll tale. Doll houses, a treasure chest, and a cannon were among the relics displayed. Then we went outside toward the tower where a spiral staircase takes you to the top. Here are some scenic views.

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Hungry from our exertions, we drove into town and lunched at Pinchers Crab Shack on Duval Street. Then it was back to the hotel for the start of the conference.

 What’s your favorite place in Key West?

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Mystery Fest Key West

Mystery Fans, don’t miss this fabulous event in Key West!

 

Key West

Register Now for Mystery Fest Key West
June 22-24, 2018 in Key West, Florida
Panels, Workshops, Speakers, Meals, Fun!

Two Dozen of Your Favorite Mystery Writers
Featuring Ace Atkins, Otto Penzler, Heather Graham
Friday – Sunday Only $195

Celebrated mystery writers, acclaimed storytellers and the fans who love them are set to infiltrate the tropical island where so many have found their inspiration during the 5th Annual Key West Mystery Fest, set for June 22-24, 2018 at the DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Grand Key in Key West, Florida. You’re invited to join them!

Why is Key West such a popular incubator and setting for generations of authors – from Hemingway to Heather Graham, Tennessee Williams to John H. Cunningham to Roberta Isleib? Maybe it’s the archipelago’s history as a haven for pirates and drug-runners, its salty off-the-grid renegade energy – or simply the hypnotic effect of swaying palm trees reflected against water on a tiny island surrounded by endless miles of ocean. Whatever it is, the locale has spawned a multitude of tales and a small army of authors.

Mystery Fest Key West was founded in 2014 and while it has grown in fame since then, “It still has the intimacy of a boutique-sized convention with lots of direct interaction between authors and audience,” commented author, publisher and Fest co-founder Shirrel Rhoades.

During the weekend’s series of panels, presentations and social events, Mystery Fest attendees will have the opportunity to learn first-hand how to craft their own tales of crime, murder and mystery from a stellar line-up of high-profile mystery and suspense luminaries and true-crime experts.

2018 headliners are Keynote Luncheon Speaker Ace Atkins, the multi-award winning, New York Times bestselling author of twenty-one novels, including the recent Robert B. Parker “Spenser” mysteries…

Special Guest of Honor, the multi-award winning editor and publisher Otto Penzler – proprietor of the famed The Mysterious Book Shop in New York City…

And Special Guest Presenter, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Heather Graham.

Other featured presenters include New York Times bestselling author Lisa Black, bestselling and award-winning author Nancy J. Cohen; New York Times bestselling author Diane A.S. Stuckart; New York Times bestselling author Charles Todd, award-winning authors Patrick Kendrick, Lewis C. Haskell and many others.

Event highlights include presentation of the 2018 Whodunit Mystery Writing Competition Award, workshops on the business of being an author, how to write and sell a first novel, crisis negotiation, the forensic use of fingerprints, as well as panel discussions on subjects ranging from the state of the publishing industry to book marketing and promotion, along with author book signings, a Conch Train mini-tour of Key West, an ice-cream social event with Ace Atkins and Otto Penzler at the historic Key West Lighthouse, and a Bloody Mary Morning breakfast at Key West’s historic Schooner Wharf Bar.

Sponsored by the Key West Citizen daily newspaper, Mystery Writers of America – Florida Chapter, the Helmerich Foundation, the Monroe County Tourist Development Council, and the Florida Keys Council of the Arts, all panels and presentations will take place at the DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Grand Key in Key West. Event registration is $195 and includes all panels and presentations, a luncheon and a brunch at Key West’s historic seaport. For a full Fest schedule, online registration, and links to accommodations visit MysteryFestKeyWest.com.

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Mystery Fest Key West

Here are notes from some of the workshops I’d attended at Mystery Fest Key West. Any errors are mine due to my misinterpretation.
Friday started off with a talk by a representative from the Bomb Squad. The bomb squad in Monroe County gets about thirty calls a year. Lots of them involve old military ordinance like torpedoes and grenades, and about eighty percent are still live. Once a mortar round was dug up in a fellow’s yard and it dated back to 1887. Other finds might include acid bombs, pipe bombs, vehicle bombs, flares, and other old explosives that turn up in people’s backyards.
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The investigators want to know: What is it? Why is it here? How can we disrupt it? Compressed water will tear the devices apart but won’t set them off. They have to make sure it’s safe while preserving the evidence.
When the guys respond, they keep a distance of three hundred feet or more and stay behind a protective barrier. If they have to go in closer to determine if an object is safe they’ll don helmets and flak jackets. Or they’ll send in the Robot.
The Robot is used for recon and demolition. It costs approximately $265,000 and can run up to seven miles per hour. It has six cameras, some of them encased, and it can climb stairs as well as go in and out of planes and buses. The Robot can take X-rays and can drag up to 300 pounds. It is remote-controlled at a five mile range. The machine runs on dual motorcycle batteries.
Police Myths
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James O. Born spoke about police myths and how to make our law enforcement officers more realistic in our stories. He distinguished between the uniformed Highway Patrol officers and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement that’s more of an investigative agency. He spoke about pay and pensions and how patrol is the main job for a cop. They are taught to shoot in order to stop a suspect, not necessarily to kill. Deadly force would be a last resort. Plainclothes is not the same as undercover which involves deception.
I missed some of Lisa Black’s excellent talk on Blood Spatter as I had to prepare for my “Writing the Cozy Mystery” workshop coming next. Then it was time to head over to Hemingway House for an outdoor reception with drinks and appetizers.
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On Saturday, Randy Rawls moderated a panel on “Where I Get My Ideas” including John H. Cunningham, David Beckwith, Charles Todd, and Paul Sinor. Next came Heather Graham moderating the interesting discussion on “How to Commit a Perfect Murder” with Lisa Black, Rick Ollerman, Robert Coburn, and Siera London. Here’s how: 1. Don’t Get Caught. 2. Is it really a murder if there’s no body? 3. Poisons have worked well throughout history, especially before modern forensics. 4. If there’s trace evidence, you will get caught. There really isn’t a right answer to this question.

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Honored Guest Clifford Irving gave the keynote luncheon speech. Here he is with conference chair, Shirrel Rhoades.
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I skipped the next panel, “It Takes a Crook,” to get ready for Cozy Mysteries and Female Sleuths. I moderated a panel about female sleuths where we touched upon many subjects. One of the main points that came across was that women sleuths are more intuitive and compassionate, and these stories often involve interpersonal relationships or family issues.
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The evening continued with a special dinner party held at the historical Custom House Museum, which houses displays on the island’s military history.
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This is always a fun conference in a relaxed atmosphere with fellow authors and fans who are eager to learn about our books.
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The Road to Key West

On our way to Mystery Fest Key West, we took the turnpike extension south toward Homestead. Note the Mutineer Restaurant at the corner of SW 344th Street.
There’s a Starbucks in this vicinity too. From this junction, you head south. A long, boring stretch of swampland and mangroves follows until you leave mainland Florida. Or you can travel the scenic Card Sound Road that leads to upper Key Largo instead. Then it’s about a three hour drive to Key West. Right before the bridge to Key Largo is Gilbert’s Restaurant.
Traffic travels at speeds from thirty-five to fifty-five miles per hour through a series of islands. The scenic wonders will make you glad for the slower pace so you can enjoy the sights along the way. Allow extra time for pit stops and to fill your stomach. It took us five hours total from Fort Lauderdale. State parks abound if you want to stop for a swim or stretch your legs.
Key Largo is the first big island after you leave the mainland. Their inviting Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center just past Shell World is a good place to stop and use the restroom. Here also are a Publix and Winn Dixie, where you can grab a snack or use the facilities. There’s even a Starbucks, a rarity in the Keys. Full service restaurants include Fish House, Snappers, Skipper’s Dockside, Conch House, Island Grill, and Sundowners. We ate at the latter on our way home. Admiring a lovely view of the Gulf, we sipped creamy clam chowder in a bread bowl.
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Or you can take the scenic Card Sound Road instead and stop at Alabama Jack’s, if it still exists. Resorts on Key Largo include a Hilton and a Marriot. There’s a Botanical State Park at the north end. Or, if you like snorkeling or diving, check out John Pennecamp Coral Reef State Park with an aquarium, glass-bottom boat tours, museum exhibits, nature trails. On the way home, be sure to stop at the Florida Keys Key Lime Products on the east side of the road past mile marker 97. Good place to pick up some last minute frozen Key Lime pies, lime barbecue sauce, salsa, and other products.
On Tavernier are a Winn Dixie, Dairy Queen, CVS drug store, Dunkin Donuts, Chevron and Shell gas stations.
Islamorada is a popular weekend retreat. Stop by Hooked on Books at 81909 Overseas Highway and browse the bookshelves. Numerous restaurants claim their fame here: Islamorada Fish Company, Marker 88, Island Grill, Hog Heaven, Pierre’s Restaurant, Wahoo’s Bar and Grille, and Shula’s 2. The Postcard Inn, Amara Cay Resort, and the Chesapeake Resort look like nice hotels. From here, it’s two hours more to Key West. There’s a Visitor Center if you need a pit stop. Tourist attractions include Theater of the Sea, a marine mammal park with exhibits, animal shows, beach, grill, gift shop; and a History of Diving Museum with exhibits and gift shop. Look for a Starbucks before Whale Harbor Channel bridge.
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Marathon has a Publix and Winn Dixie, Walgreens, IHOP, gas stations and fast food places, the Island Fish Company restaurant, along with another visitor center. There’s Crane Point Museum and Nature Center with historic home, nature trails, tram ride, gift shop; and a Turtle Hospital with 90 min. tour and gift shop. if you’re looking for places to explore. Further along on Grassy Key is a Dolphin Research Center. We made it to Marathon three hours after leaving home but traffic was slow on I-75 due to construction.
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Big Pine Key has a gas station if you need it.
We stopped for lunch at Boondocks Grille at Ramrod Key around mile marker 28 on our way south. This restaurant opens for lunch at 11am. They have good clam chowder, sandwiches and salads, and a nicer gift shop than most of the souvenir stores in Key West.
Pigeon Key has a visitor center and a Sunset Grille and Raw Bar.
When you hit Key West, you face Roosevelt Boulevard going in two directions. Heading to the left will take you to a bunch of hotels and Southernmost Point. This latter is Mile Marker 0 on our country’s east coast and is 90 miles from Cuba. The opposite direction will take you past strip shopping centers, fast food restaurants, more hotels, and into downtown.
Duval Street hosts bars, restaurants, and gift shops. During the day, stroll along and soak up the tropical ambiance. Visit Hemingway House, Truman’s Little White House, Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, historical sites, and more. Take a ride on the Conch Train. Charter fishing, glass bottom boat rides, and various other boat tours are available. Or stroll along the Historic Seaport District for a number of waterfront restaurants by the marina. We’ve eaten at Alonso’s Raw Bar and Conch Republic at Harborside, and also Schooner Wharf. Here we saw a cook chopping up fish to feed to the sea life.
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At night, check out Mallory Square for street performers and a blazing sunset. Things come alive on Duval Street in the evening, when hordes of visitors ply the cafés and bars where live singers entertain the crowds.
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We recommend our favorite restaurant, Louie’s Backyard. This historic site faces the Atlantic Ocean and is a great place to enjoy fine dining. Prices can be expensive, but if you’re on a budget, just order an appetizer or share a meal. At the Upper Deck wine bar on the second level, you can get small bites if you don’t feel like a full meal.
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Come to the Keys to decompress. With its slower pace of life, it’ll help you relax. There’s only one negative. It’s hard to leave this island and return to reality.
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Mel Fisher Maritime Museum

During the 1500s to the late 1600s, Spaniards would collect gold, silver, jewels, and rare spices from the Caribbean islands and the South and Central Americas. Sometimes, they’d stop at a mint in Mexico before grouping together to return home. Or they’d gather in Havana and leave from there under convoy. Not all of their ships made it. They ran aground on coral reefs, floundered during hurricanes, or got attacked by pirates.

In 1622, the Tierra Firme fleet set sail from South America. Twenty-eight ships headed home to Spain. They ran into a fierce storm off the Florida Keys. Both the Nuestra Señora de Atocha and the Santa Margarita were lost. In 1985, salvage expert Mel Fisher discovered the Atocha’s resting place and its treasure.

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Unlike the Atocha that sank in deep water, the Santa Margarita lay amid shifting sand dunes due to undercurrents. This ship broke apart in a wide debris field. Through the years, people have discovered many of its relics, including a lead box filled with sixteen thousand pearls. Samples of the treasures from both ships are on display at the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum.

You can read the history of the era, horrifying descriptions of slave ships, tales of pirates, and preservation tips for relics found in shipwrecks. Various tools, implements, and small articles show what life must have been like in those days.

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Moving from the ordinary to the extraordinary, you get a glimpse of silver coins and ingots, gold items, jewelry and more. It’s hard to imagine all that wealth.

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Mystery Writers Key West Part 2

Mystery Writers Key West Fest Part 2
Saturday, August 15, 2015

This conference is different than others in that it’s held in one big room, and there’s only one panel at a time. The morning started with “Choosing Your Point of View” with John Cunningham, Heather Graham, David Beckwith, and Carolina Garcia-Aguilera. Shirrel Rhoades moderated.

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Next was “The Mystery Umbrella” where we spoke about genres. Don Bruns moderated. This panel included myself, Chuck Van Soye, Libby Fisher Hellman, James O. Born, and Mike Dennis.

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Before lunch, Sandra Balzo awarded the first annual Jerry Award, named after the late and beloved author Jeremiah Healy.

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Jeffrey Deaver gave an excellent keynote speech during lunch, at which he offered spot-on writing advice.

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“Does Sex Sell?” woke everyone from their post-meal lethargy. Moderated by Heather Graham, this panel included Don Bruns, myself, Jeffrey Deaver, Laurence O’Bryan, and Vicki Hendricks. We held a lively and sometimes awkward discussion. I mentioned that reader expectations matter in this regard, as in cozies where graphic sex is not appropriate. These scenes have to take place offstage in a cozy mystery, although a degree of sensuality and sexual tension are okay. Erotica is different from romantic sex in terms of genres and language used, and being too clinical in a romance novel can be a turn-off to readers. The focus should be on the emotional reactions of the characters more so than their physical actions. As for the question at the topic header, obviously the answer is yes if you consider the popularity of “Fifty Shades…” One theory put forth was that this response was due to the female empowerment issue in the story. I haven’t read it, so I can’t confirm. I like to read romance, but I don’t consider this book to be a romance novel.

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Next up was “Character vs Plot” with Robert Coburn, Sandra Balzo, Sharon Potts, and Chris Kuzneski. Libby Fisher Hellman moderated.

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We all convened at the Smokin’ Tuna Saloon downtown for a buffet dinner, where it was nice to hang out and chat in an informal setting. James O. Born gave an interesting talk to a rapt audience. Late nighters hustled afterward to the Tropic Cinema for screening of a movie short titled “Swingers Anonymous”.

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Sunday morning found us at the Historic Seaport District and a breakfast buffet at Schooner Wharf. We sat and visited with our friends while overlooking a sunny marina. It was a pleasant way to end a fabulous weekend. Note the dog on the bar stool and the parrot on the boater’s shoulder.

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You can view the photo album on my Facebook page. Please Like the page while you are there.

 Contest Alert!
Name a Character in my next Bad Hair Day Mystery! Or win one of two runner-up prizes: a signed paperback of Hanging by a Hair and a deck of Marco Island Playing Cards, or a signed paperback of Shear Murder and a deck of Tropical Drink Playing Cards. http://bit.ly/15SmIi0

 

Mystery Writers Key West Part 1

Mystery Writers Key West Fest
Friday, August 14, 2015

Mystery Writers Key West Fest started on Friday with a presentation by a crime scene investigator and a detective. “We witness what other people shouldn’t have to witness.” Regarding crime scene shows, the detective said they have most of the technology right but not the timing for things like DNA results.

[Disclaimer: These statements are my interpretations of what I heard or scribbled down and may not be totally accurate.]

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Who shows up first at a crime scene? The lead investigator, civilian techs, detectives, and responding officers. The latter’s job is to secure the scene, identify and control any dangerous individuals, and assess the environment. Approach/Survey/Notify. They’ll call for emergency care of injured persons without contaminating the scene. Crime scene work “is almost like an art when you do it for a long period of time.” The team must secure and control people at the scene and document everyone who is present in a crime scene log. They must gather physical evidence to aid in prosecution.

Processing the Scene

The team’s composition is decided. This may include a dive team, SWAT, K-9, M.E., State Attorney, other officers or affiliated agencies. A command post is set up. “We document every single step in a crime scene.” Documentation includes photos, video, sketches, notes, and measurements. The purpose is to collect, preserve, inventory, package, transport and submit evidence.

Different types of sketches are done. A Perspective sketch depicts a view of the scene along with positioning of evidence. “It’s like pieces of a puzzle that you put together for your best guess at what happened.” A Projection sketch is a viewpoint from above. A sketch or photo of blood spatter on a gun can be revealing as to whose blood it is, the angle, etc. Another sketch may be taken using two fixed objects and measuring the distances to various pieces of evidence and/or the body.

When searching an area, methods deployed include the Lane or Strip Search, Grid Search, Zone Search, and Spiral Search.

Biological evidence will be collected after photos are done. The investigator has to keep changing gloves so as to not cross-contaminate the scene.

Investigators following up on a burglary will look for the same types of evidence. Unattended deaths are treated as a homicide until signed off by a personal physician or the M.E.

The M.E., and not a coroner, determines cause of death. [I think this is what was said, but you’d better verify my statements before using them in a novel. And different states might have different laws.]

The Sheriff’s office supersedes the local police, but they work together. Everyone in CSI is cross-trained to engage and work in different situations.

Physical evidence can include body fluids, blood, ignitable liquids, bombs, stains detected by forensic light sources, sexual assault kit results, ammo, tool marks when there’s been a break-in, tools found in the trunk of a car. Footprints, shoe and tire impressions. Electronic and digital items. Documents that can be checked for sweat, blood, and prints. And of course, fingerprints.

Plastic degrades DNA. Use paper bags to hold evidence. Shelf life of DNA is 500 years. There are only three types—black, white, and Asian.

“Love, hate, and greed are the three reasons for murder.”

Social Media with Irish Author Laurence O’Bryan

Laurence said he’d acquired blog and Twitter followers before he got published. When he sold a book, his publisher put the number of followers on his sell sheet. So get started tweeting and blogging before you’re published. “Authors must be online and accessible.” Extend your novel via maps, pictures of locations in your novel, research posts, and other online extras. Tweet items of value. Re blogging: Show pictures with your posts, use short paragraphs and a bigger font. “Engagement with other people is the Holy Grail.”

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I didn’t stay for the talk on Audio Books as I had to catch the shuttle downtown to make the opening ceremonies at the Smokin’ Tuna Saloon. This was a pleasingly informal setting to chat with friends and meet new ones. So many people to greet! Florida chapter MWA members present included myself (chapter president), Gregg Brickman (chapter treasurer), Heather Graham, Don Bruns, Britin Haller, Sharon Potts, Sandra Balzo, Michael Haskins, Vicki Hendricks, Carolina Garcia-Aguilera, Becky Swope, and more.

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As we got rained out, I passed on the subsequent bar stroll. It was getting near my bedtime anyway. More in the next post.

See the photo album on my Facebook Page. Please Like the page while there.

Contest Alert!
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Key West Revisited

On our way to Mystery Writers Key West Fest, we took the turnpike extension south toward Homestead. I noted the Mutineer Restaurant at the corner of SW 344th Street. From this junction, you head south. A long, boring stretch of swampland and mangroves follows until you leave mainland Florida. Then it’s about a three hour drive to Key West.

Traffic travels at speeds of forty to fifty-five miles per hour through a series of islands. The scenic wonders will make you glad for the slower pace so you can enjoy the sights along the way. Allow extra time for pit stops and to fill your stomach. It took us five hours total from Fort Lauderdale. State parks abound if you want to stop for a swim or stretch your legs.

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Key Largo is the first big island after you leave the mainland. Their inviting Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center is a good place to stop and use the restroom. Here also are a Publix and Winn Dixie, where you can grab a snack or use the facilities. There’s even a Starbucks, a rarity in the Keys. Full service restaurants include Fish House, Snappers, Skipper’s Dockside, Conch House, Island Grill, and Sundowners. We ate at the latter on our way home. Admiring a lovely view of the Gulf, we sipped creamy clam chowder in a bread bowl. It was a filling meal. Or you can take the scenic Card Sound Road instead and stop at Alabama Jack’s, if it still exists. Resorts on Key Largo include a Hilton and a Marriot. If you like snorkeling or diving, check out John Pennecamp Coral Reef State Park.

On Tavernier are a Winn Dixie, Dairy Queen, CVS drug store, Dunkin Donuts, Chevron and Shell gas stations.

Islamorada is a popular weekend retreat. Stop by Hooked on Books at 81909 Overseas Highway and browse the bookshelves. Numerous restaurants claim their fame here: Islamorada Fish Company, Marker 88, Island Grill, Hog Heaven, Wahoo’s Bar and Grille, and Shula’s 2. The Postcard Inn and the Chesapeake Resort look like nice hotels. From here, it’s two hours more to Key West. There’s a Visitor Center if you need a pit stop. Tourist attractions include Theater of the Sea, a marine mammal park, and a History of Diving Museum.

Marathon has a Publix and Winn Dixie, Walgreens, IHOP, gas stations and fast food places along with another visitor center. There’s Crane Point Museum and Nature Center, and a Turtle Hospital if you’re looking for places to explore. Further along on Grassy Key is a Dolphin Research Center.

We stopped for lunch at Boondocks Grille & Draft House at Ramrod Key on our way south. This restaurant opens for lunch at 11am. They have good clam chowder, sandwiches and salads, and a nicer gift shop than most of the souvenir stores in Key West. Don’t forget to order Key lime pie while in the Keys.

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Pigeon Key has a visitor center and a Sunset Grille and Raw Bar.

When you hit Key West, you face Roosevelt Boulevard going in two directions. Heading to the left will take you to a bunch of hotels and Southernmost Point. This latter is Mile Marker 0 on our country’s east coast and is 90 miles from Cuba. The opposite direction will take you past strip shopping centers, fast food restaurants, more hotels, and into downtown.

Duval Street hosts bars, restaurants, and gift shops. During the day, stroll along and soak up the tropical ambiance. Visit Hemingway House, Truman’s Little White House, Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, and more. Take a ride on the Conch Train. Charter fishing, glass bottom boat rides, and various other boat tours are available. Or stroll along the Historic Seaport District for a number of waterfront restaurants. At night, check out Mallory Square for street performers and a blazing sunset. Things come alive downtown in the evening, when hordes of visitors ply the cafés and bars where live singers entertain the crowds.

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We dined at our favorite restaurant, Louie’s Backyard. This historic site faces the Atlantic Ocean and is a great place to enjoy fine dining. Prices can be expensive, but if you’re on a budget, just order an appetizer or share a meal. At the Upper Deck on the second level, you can get small bites if you don’t feel like a full meal. Here I am with Deni Dietz, my editor from Five Star.

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Come to the Keys to decompress. With its slower pace of life, it’ll help you relax. There’s only one negative. It’s hard to leave this island and return to reality.

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