Use common sense and be aware of your surroundings.
In a restaurant, sit with your back to the wall. Watch the doorway and the cash register.
Before getting into your car, look in the back seat to make sure nobody is lying there. My note: Also be wary if there’s a van or large vehicle parked alongside your driver’s side. Somebody could slide their door open and grab you.
Look inside before entering convenience stores, banks, or other businesses.
Think about where you’re going when you are walking or driving. Pay attention to your surroundings. Is anyone following you?
Don’t go down a dark alley or dead-end street.
Think three steps ahead of everything you’re doing.
When in a room, note where everything is located, including exits. Observe who enters. Do a “threat scan.” Note where to hide and where to escape.
Re Schools: Schools today have codes they can use over the PA system. Teachers may be allowed to lock doors to keep intruders out.
Active Shooter Situation
Be aware of your surroundings prior to, during, and after an event.
Don’t get fooled by “NIMBY”—Not In My Backyard. This can happen anywhere.
Flee if you can. Use all available exits, not just the place where you entered. Follow the exit signs. This also applies to a fire.
Before the shooter takes control of the room, consider throwing anything handy to distract him or tackle him with intent to disarm. Do what feels right and comfortable to you, but don’t try to be an untrained hero. It’s better to be an excellent witness than a dead hero. Also, don’t get in the way by running at the bad guy. You might be blocking another person who is armed and who can fire a clear shot at the shooter until you block his aim.
Obtain cover when possible rather than concealment. Taking cover, like crouching behind a table that you’ve flipped over, may stop a bullet. Concealment will hide you but will not stop a bullet.
Be wary for a lookout or accomplice.
If you’re in a hostage situation, don’t look a shooter in the eye or you might set him off. Better to be a nobody.
When the police come, assume a non-threatening pose. Preferably lie down with arms spread out on floor or hands behind head. Don’t make any threatening moves. Don’t jump up and yell.
Tear gas: Pull clothing over your face.
Flash/Bang grenade: Super bright flash and concussive hearing loss. It’s a “ball-like” grenade. It flashes upward so be on the floor and cover your ears if possible.
Taser range is up to 20 feet. You shoot a wire from a distance. This wire has sharp barbs. In contrast, a stun gun needs physical contact.
Q: Re a taser, if you’ve been shot with one, is it all over? Is there anything you can do?
A: Pretty much. It’s pretty brutal in that your nervous system contracts and shuts down. For a short time afterward, you’re disorientated as well.
Q: How about if someone is following you? Is it better to make eye contact to let them know they’ve been noticed?
A: Again, that’s a situation by situation decision. Sometimes confronting them (even something as simple as eye contact) makes them re-evaluate their goal.
“While I hope this helps someone with their writing, I also hope it helps people become more aware, and less victimized.”
Disclaimer: Any errors in interpretation are my own.
We have seafaring pirates, and we have book pirates. Let’s talk about the former type first.
Last weekend, my husband and I went to an exhibit at Plantation Historical Museum about Florida pirates. The seas off the coast of Florida have seen many shipwrecks along with pirates who’ve taken advantage of our broad coastline. I’ve a special fascination for these highwaymen of the seas as they play a role in Facials Can Be Fatal, my next full-length Bad Hair Day Mystery. This story delves into Florida history as described in my post below, Florida Escape.
After a grand introduction at the museum, the action went outside for a sword fight. Indoors were a variety of exhibits including these clever dioramas. I especially liked reading about the women pirates. Many of them disguised themselves as men and became quite famous. Today we have our modern version of seafaring pirates who steal boats instead of cargo, and they can be just as scary.
From Boats to Books
Then we have pirates who steal books and offer them free to readers. I hope every download comes with hidden malware. Not a day goes by that I don’t get a notice one of my books is available online for free. I don’t bother to send takedown notices, because for every site I would shut down, two more will pop up. It’s an unstoppable plague. What readers need to know is how this hurts us. I’m not talking about my wonderful, loyal fans who follow my work. This doesn’t apply to you, and I am grateful to each and every one of you. But there’s a subculture out there that we all should be aware of since it affects us adversely.
I am not getting paid for these downloads. It robs me—and other authors—of royalties. Would you ask your doctor or financial advisor for free advice? Not really. So why should you expect authors to give away their products for free? We slave over our books for months. Our dedication takes time we could be spending with our families. Then we have certain marketing expenses. And for what? So people can steal our work and give it away without regard for an author’s rights.
I can understand if you’re on a budget. My response is to tell you to go to the library. You can get plenty of books there for free, and you can even ask your librarian to order a title you want. That counts toward an author’s sales. Or subscribe to BookBub or The Fussy Librarian and get their daily newsletter of free reads that are paid promotions by authors. Many authors offer free reads on their websites or books as giveaways. You can find plenty to read within legal means.
But don’t steal an author’s work by downloading her book from a dubious site. Or pretty soon, your favorite author will determine the negative return to her investment is going to put her out of business. Free books have their place. They help us gain new readers. But not when our work is pirated without permission. What can you do about it? Don’t support these sites. Support your authors instead! And again, my heartfelt thanks go to those readers who do value and respect our work. Hugs to you all!
Romance the Summer Contest Enter June 7-21 to win a gemstone necklace from Effy plus a signed copy of Shear Murder, my wedding mystery. Two runners-up prizes of signed proof copies Permed to Death Author’s Edition. https://nancyjcohen.com/contest/
Do you know how fast a fire can become deadly? At a talk by an arson investigator at SleuthFest 2016, we saw a film that demonstrated the minutes you have to exit a burning building before everything ignites.
Firefighter personnel include rescue, emergency medical services, special ops, hazardous materials, fire prevention and investigation. The arson investigator may carry a gun and have arrest powers. He conducts interviews and identifies suspects. He can develop charges and arrest the bad guy right there if arson is suspected. The arson investigator will follow a case from beginning to end, from the initial investigation through court appearances. The ideal clearance rate on cases is at least 20 to 30%. These investigators are multi-trained in various disciplines, including post-blast (explosion or bomb) response. The International Association of Arson Investigators has stringent requirements. The investigator’s job includes identifying consumer safety issues regarding fire risk and notifying the authorities.
“People think everything burns up in the fire, but it doesn’t. Everything burns differently. Patterns are left, and evidence is left, at the fire scene.”
a. Cooking fires are the Number One cause of fires right now in the U.S. Unattended cooking in residences can lead to fires. This type accounts for 49.4% of all residential building causes.
b. Heating causes may include careless use of smoking materials or candle use. Post-hurricane, you leave the window open. The draft reaches the candle and blows the flame toward a nearby drape. Or else the candle falls over.
A portable lighter in the hands of a curious child poses a danger. So do cell phone cigarette lighter connectors in your car. These can heat up and then the plastic melts, burns, and causes a car fire. Knockoffs from China are more likely to heat. Make sure to unplug these devices when you leave the car.
c. Electrical malfunctions are another cause. Overloaded outlets and surge protectors are a hazard.
2. Natural, i.e. hurricanes, earthquakes, floods
This is a fire that is deliberately set with the intent to cause a fire to occur in an area where the fire should not be. In Florida, you don’t have to prove intent, only that the person willfully and unlawfully set a fire.
If a fire should occur on a bed, for example, look at the people and the objects. A pile of clothes burning on the bed is personal. Study the spouse, boyfriend, relationships of the people involved. If the fire occurs in a closet, it might be that a child has flicked a lighter to see what it does, and the flame ignited nearby materials.
Mobile homes are “baked potatoes.” These usually cannot be saved.
Step one is to determine the origin. Where did the fire start? You want to look at the area of origin, which is the general region, and the point of origin, which is the exact physical location where the heat source and fuel interacted.
Step two is to examine the possible cause. This can be overloaded circuits. Coffeemakers can start a fire because sometimes the burner stays on even though it’s supposed to shut off. Investigators look for patterns at a burn scene.
Step three uses the scientific method. The investigator will identify and define the problem; collect and analyze the data; develop and test their theories; and select the final hypothesis.
Fire requires a heat source, fuel, and oxygen. Take away the heat, fuel, or oxygen, and the fire goes away.
Fire travels the path of least obstruction. “As things burn, their chemistry and composition changes.” The upper levels will get heated vapors and gases that occur when furnishings and synthetic materials burn. The smoke heads up to the ceiling and then banks down the walls. So when you are in a fire, do not stand up and breathe. Drop to the floor and crawl.
Other items in the room start to heat up and burn. A flashover is when the heated gas and vapor ignite. This situation is not survivable.
The closer to the floor on the walls that you see the smoke level, the closer you are to a flashover. A flameover is another warning sign. This is when the flames roll across the ceiling. They’re seeking oxygen and will break through windows and walls.
Do not run back into a burning building. You must get out before the flashover.
Another sign is the color of the smoke. It starts out white as Class A materials burn. These are papers, magazines, books. The smoke turns gray when plastics and petroleum products start to burn, like your furniture cushions. Then finally, the smoke turns black. Heat is transferred to other objects in the room via conduction, convection, and radiation.
A flameover to a flashover takes seconds. We saw a film wherein newspapers ignited inside a plastic trash can, which could happen if somebody threw a cigarette butt inside. The papers ignited, and the plastic can melted. The fire leapt to a nearby sofa. We watched the smoke turn from white to dark gray. Other items of furniture caught fire as the heat transferred. Flames rolled across the ceiling. It took minutes for the entire room to be engulfed in a flashover.
My takeaway from this session? Don’t plug one surge protector into another. Don’t overload your electrical sockets. Make sure the burner on your coffeemaker cools down. Don’t leave your cell phone charger plugged in inside your car once you depart. Don’t leave candles and cooking pots unattended. If you’re in a fire, drop and crawl. Don’t inhale the deadly gases. Know your exits and get out of the building fast.
Located in downtown Bradenton, Florida, the South Florida History Museum offers two levels of exhibits. Short on time, we bypassed the Bishop Planetarium which is included in the admission price ($19 adults, $17 seniors). Our first stop was the Parker Manatee Aquarium, where a guide demonstrated the qualities of several manatees under their care. These huge, intelligent creatures were impressive. They prefer warm water and can be sensitive to cold temperatures, pollution, and boats that get in their path.
From here, we moved on to dioramas and displays of native habitats, shell collections, and pine uplands with a pioneer cabin.
There’s a Spanish house with a chapel that has a lovely stained glass window.
My favorite was the Medical Gallery with an ancient operating room, dental suite, torturous looking instruments, and an apothecary shop.
You could easily spend a couple of hours here or more. It was an unexpected bonus of our trip to the west coast, and I’m glad we could enjoy this attraction. Note there’s a gift shop but no café on premises.
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ONE MAN’S SHORT, SKETCHY CAREER AS A PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR IN TRAINING by Tom Turner
I thought Contop Investigations was kind of an odd name for a private investigation firm when I went there for an interview thirty years ago. Turned out the head of the West Palm Beach P.I. firm had a romanticized idea of what he did for a living. What he did– Contop’s bread and butter, that is– was cheating spouse investigations. That entailed putting a GPS device on a suspect’s car and following him/ her– usually him– to a No-tell Motel, then getting out his hire-powered Nikon and snapping off a few rolls of incriminating photos. (To his credit, he never actually went so far as to shoot a couple in compromising positions.) How do I know? Because I worked there for four months. When you’re twenty-five and broke, well, your standards maybe aren’t as lofty as they might be.
Anyway, so back to the name. The head of Contop– let’s call him Art– was a prodigious reader, particularly of detective novels, and confided in me once, after about nineteen Budweiser’s, that he named his company after the Continental Operative, Dashiell Hammett’s cunning master of deceit. He told me it was between Contop or Black Dahlia Investigations, which he’d lifted from a James Elroy noir novel. My tenure at Contop was mercifully short because Art had an explosive temper and a seriously sleazy side. The latter became readily apparent in a phone call I overheard between Art and a prospective client: “Yeah,” Art said, “it’s just me and my wingman, Tom, here at Contop. He’s specializes in background checks and technical surveillance and put in sixteen years with the FBI.” Oh, really? So that meant I was nine when I joined up and…. “technical surveillance?” What’s that all about? But the actual reason I quit was when he told me to “put a tail” on a cheating spouse– who turned out to be the father of a girl I had, coincidentally, dated the year before. I mustered up all my courage and told Art I wasn’t going to do it. He stormed around and told me I wasn’t cut out for PI work. He was right… thank God.
Palm Beach Nasty
New York homicide cop, Charlie Crawford, burns out, goes south and ends up in glitzy, glamorous Palm Beach. Problem is no one ever gets killed there…until one day Crawford is first on scene and finds a young guy swinging from a stately banyan tree. With that gruesome discovery, Palm Beach Nasty is off and running, with crisscrossing plots involving a billionaire with a thing for young girls, a far-reaching art scam with Crawford’s ex-girlfriend playing a starring role, and a ruthless hustler passing himself off as the long lost son of one of the richest men in town. Add to the mix a sultry real estate broker who knows where all the bodies are buried, a gorgeous forensic cop who’s got her eye on Charlie, a Mutt n’ Jeff combo of stone cold killers and you’ve got Palm Beach Nasty. Fast-paced, funny and a ton of fun… plus everything you ever wanted to know about the most scandalous town in America.
About the Author:
A native New Englander, Tom Turner ran a bar in Vermont after college, then moved to New York and spent time as an award-winning copywriter at several Manhattan advertising agencies. A few years later he made a radical change and ended up in Palm Beach, buying, renovating and selling houses. On the side, he wrote Palm Beach Nasty, its sequel, Palm Beach Poison, and a screenplay, Underwater, now in development with a Hollywood production company. While at a wedding, he fell for the charm of Charleston, South Carolina, and moved there. He recently completed his third novel, Killing it in Charleston.
Thursday at SleuthFest is a day of special workshops. I got there after lunch and ended up at The Art of Embalming talk by George Rafaidus from Ford Funeral Home in Michigan. Attendees were treated to slides and descriptions of the embalming process, plus other behind-the-scenes details of how funeral homes prepare bodies. While it was a morbid topic, it was also a fascinating one. We received many handouts along with a show-and-tell of various props.
The Art of Embalming
Disclaimer: These notes are based on my interpretations. Any errors are unintentional and are mine alone.
Bodies are refrigerated from hospitals but not nursing homes. There’s more than one type of autopsy. There’s a partial wherein the thoracic cage is carved in the classic “Y” or there’s a cranial, like for Alzheimer’s patients or for medical studies. And then there is the double or complete autopsy. There may still be slight rigor mortis after 48 hours but that’s generally how long it lasts. Through washing of the body and manipulation, the stiffness lessens. The morticians need to know injection and IV sites, medical waste issues, birthmarks, and more, about the deceased. A trocar is a tool used to release gases and fluids from the body in the belly button area. Morticians shave people so they’ll look better for relatives.
How does the embalming work? They make an incision in the carotid artery, bring up the artery and inject embalming fluid. This part is done by machine. Up to 3 gallons of a formaldehyde and water mixture are injected in through the carotid and out through the jugular. This may take a couple of hours. The blood that is replaced goes through a filtration process before it’s released.
A dye in the fluid helps give the person a more natural complexion. Cosmetic enhancements may include a tissue fluid that works like Botox to fill in areas under the skin, so if the victim is emaciated or ill, they’ll look better for viewings. They may prepare the face with eye caps and mouth-formers. Look in the upper right corner of this photo to see these items.
If the person is being cremated, they could still have a visitation and viewing prior to the cremation. They could have a memorial service and embalming as well. Even if it’s a closed casket funeral, they would do the same, because a relative has to come in to identify the deceased. Difficult cases are trauma or accident victims. Regarding cosmetics, normal cosmetics have bluing agents that may distort a person’s color. So they use special makeup that’s like a foundation and brush it on the skin. (It’s sort of gummy and has an unpleasant odor—we tried it on). Waxes may also be used.
The state may dictate when embalming has to take place. Usually it’s at 48 hours. Embalmers are licensed. There are 38 mortuary schools throughout the country. A vault holds the casket to protect the body from the elements. The casket is labeled with the deceased person’s name, its burial location in the cemetery, and the name of the funeral home. In cases of flooding, this helps to identify the casket and where it belongs.
After the lectures finished, we were welcomed to Sleuthfest by Conference Co-Chairs Joanne Sinchuk and Vicki Landis.
Then publisher Neil Nyren spoke on Myths and Truths About Publishing.
Sleuthfest 101 Dinner followed, where we got to meet and mingle over a meal.
One of the topics I’d researched for Hair Raiser was pre-need funeral plans. I firmly believe people should address this issue before their demise. It saves your loved ones from having to make these choices during a difficult time. You get to choose what you want, and when the time comes, all your heirs have to do is make a phone call. You can pay off the cost in installments, instead of your surviving family members having to come up with a lump sum later on. So don’t avoid the issue and put off for tomorrow what you can do today.
Marla interviews a suspect in Hair Raiser who happens to be a funeral director. Her excuse for seeing him is ostensibly to get information on a pre-need plan for herself. I hope you find this interview to be useful for your own planning needs.
Excerpt from Hair Raiser by Nancy J. Cohen
“Let’s talk about funeral plans,” Marla said.
From the way Stefano glowered at her, she figured he was wishing she could make use of one right now.
“Is this going to be a package for two people?” he snarled, pen poised in his fingers. His glance dropped to her ringless left hand.
“No, this is just for me.”
“You should think ahead. At some point in your future, there may be a significant other. I assume we’re talking about a traditional ground burial rather than a mausoleum?”
“I guess so.” She had no wish to be preserved for eternity in a tomb like Romeo and Juliet. Besides, she believed her religion required a ground burial.
“Purchasing two plots now will save you money because land prices keep rising. In the event you don’t need the second plot, we’ll buy it back from you. Consider it a hedge against inflation.” Pushing a chart in front of her, he pointed to various sites marked out in squares. “Which cemetery section appeals to you?”
Marla moistened her lips. “It doesn’t matter, whichever costs less.”
“That would be the newest section.” He circled two spaces. “Do you prefer a chapel or graveside service?”
She gave it serious consideration, mortality being on her mind after viewing Riley’s body and being shot at herself. “A graveside service would be easier on my family, so let’s go with that one. Is there a price difference?” Squinting, she tried to read what was on the upside-down form.
“It’s $420 for use of the chapel as opposed to $275 for a graveside service.” At her nod, he continued. “Next there’s a basic charge for the professional services of the funeral director and staff. That’s $1870. This includes arranging conferences between family and clergy, filing necessary permits, planning the funeral, placement of obituary notices, and coordination with other responsible parties. It also includes administrative expenses for the use of our facilities.”
“You have a choice about embalming. May I ask your religious preference?”
He nodded sagely. “Jewish people usually don’t embalm unless you’re going into a mausoleum. It’s my understanding, and correct me if I’m wrong, that the religious directive is to return to the earth as quickly as possible.”
“Okay, no embalming.” She felt uncomfortable discussing these choices, but it made sense to do so before you needed them. What a relief for your relatives to make one phone call in the event your prearrangements became necessary. Ma had paid for a plan, and Marla was grateful. She dreaded the day when she’d have to use it, but that was better than having to make hasty decisions later while coping with grief.
“You’re going to have other expenses.” Stefano reversed the general price list so she could see for herself. “Transfer of remains to the funeral home is $290. Use of a hearse will be $275. Dressing and casketing is $145. Since you’re not embalming, refrigeration is required, which costs $395.”
I’d always wanted to die broke, she told herself sardonically. “What’s this opening and closing that you’ve circled?”
“That’s for opening the gravesite and closing it after the service. Also, I recommend a concrete vault. It gives more protection than a concrete liner, which is more porous. Now let’s discuss choice of caskets.” He stood, gesturing for her to follow. “We have a casket room so you can see the selections.”
Oh, joy. She couldn’t wait.
Trailing behind, she entered a room where up to twenty coffins were on display. Detaching herself emotionally wasn’t hard. She didn’t want to think about herself lying in one of those boxes.
“The Jewish religion calls for your casket to be made of all wood, meaning pegged and glued with no metal parts so the body can get back to the earth quickly.” He showed her a few samples. “See, no nails or metal hinges. Or, if you go into a mausoleum, embalming is required along with a sealed metal casket. Choices include steel, copper, and bronze, like this one here.”
Her eyes bulged. The price tag of $37,995 made her throat constrict. Hopefully the ones made from wood were more reasonably priced. She surveyed the different styles ranging from solid mahogany with a polished finish and a champagne velvet interior at a cost of $19,995 to a plain pine box for $795.
“How about this one?” she asked, pointing to a solid poplar design with a polished maple finish and beige crepe interior. It ran mid-price range at $2,695.
Stefano ran his fingers lovingly over the smooth service, his dark eyes gleaming in appreciation. “Beautiful, isn’t it? Of course, if you prefer a velvet interior, we have a similar one for an extra $800.”
“No, I like this. What’s next?” Uncomfortable in the confined space with Stefano looming beside her, she headed through the door and back toward his office.
“Clergy fees, death certificates, prayer books, yarmulkes, acknowledgment cards, a guest sign-in book. Then there’s an archiving fee and sales tax on the merchandise.”
He’d been writing everything down on a proposal form, and now he pulled out a calculator to get the total. “Here’s the best package I can give you,” he said circling a number that made Marla cringe. “We have a payment plan available if you’d like to stretch this out over four years with no interest. It includes our personal protection program. If, God forbid, something happens to you after a year, the rest of the premiums are waived.”
“Terrific. Can I take this home to study?” She’d contact another funeral home to compare prices. Babs had told her Stefano charged exorbitant fees. Upon his approval, she folded the papers and stuffed them into her purse.
“Who handled the arrangements for Ben’s funeral?” she asked, knowing the answer but wondering how he’d react.
He grimaced. “One of the Levinson places took care of him.”
“They weren’t the ones involved in that voodoo case, were they?” She’d read a news article about a mortician convicted of performing voodoo rituals by stuffing dolls stuck with pins into a dead man’s chest cavity and chopping off his hand.
“No, that was somewhere in north Florida.” Thrusting stiff fingers through his gray hair, Stefano regarded her from beneath heavy brows. “Levinson’s is a nation-wide chain. Conglomerates now own more than fifty percent of the mortuaries in this county. Most people don’t realize it when they choose a place. Ownership may have changed hands, but the old names remain on the signs.”
“Doesn’t that hurt your business? Yours is one of the few family-owned firms left.”
“We still provide more personal services than the chains, and their prices tend to be higher. Did you know they charge up to sixty-two percent more than independents for the same items?”
Yeah, right, pal. Like your prices are cheap? “You’ve managed to stay viable.”
“I heard a rumor that Ben was suing you on behalf of some former customers,” she said, switching topics glibly to provoke a response. “Did that have anything to do with Pre-Need plans? What guarantee is there that I’ll get what I pay for?”
He shifted uneasily. “You have to trust me, Marla.”
No problem. I’d trust you like I would a snake.
NOTE: Hair Raiser (Bad Hair Day Mystery #2) was originally published by Kensington Publishing Corp. This Author’s Edition has been revised and reformatted with added bonus material.
What did the early peoples of southeast Florida find to eat? Recently, Michelle Williams from the Florida Public Archaeology Network gave a talk about “Weeds and Seeds: Dining on the Riches of Southeast Florida.” Any errors in this report are due to my interpretation.
She mentioned how the early people build pyramidal shaped mounds as symbols of power. About 2000 years ago, papaya could be found here, although it probably came to these shores via bird poop. Zoo archaeology is examining animal bones to study our history. She is a paleoethnobotanist. This discipline studies plant remains to understand how people lived.
In southeast Florida, we have environmental interfaces where there’s an overlap of more than one type of ecological environment (if I understood this correctly).
The Everglades has tree islands. The trees there have a specific orientation in a teardrop shape based on water flow. Every island has evidence that people used to inhabit the land. Animals lived there, too, and provided food. Plants and trees provided wood and other resources including a type of flour. Among other things, people ate tubers, alligator meat, fish and birds.
Another environment here is the Ocean, including the ocean’s edge and mangrove swamps. There people ate conch, dolphin, seaweed, seagrapes, and cocoplums.
Another system includes Rivers and river banks, with turtles, fish, muscadine grapes and prickly pear cactus.
Lake Okeechobee is another region with snakes and fish. Catfish was popular there and now it’s bass. Elderberries and other plants grow there. The Kissimmee River feeds Lake Okeechobee, and this in turn feeds the Everglades. So Southeast Florida had hunting and gathering but no agriculture. Yet the abundance of plants and animal life supplied enough provisions for these early peoples.
Your experiences and travels provide fodder for future works and should be recorded. When I wrote travel journals years ago, little did I realize that I’d be mining those notes decades later for my Drift Lords series. I’d been to Hong Kong in 1978. Yet today, many of the sights, sounds, and sensory impressions remain the same. Thus I sought my notes for Warrior Rogue, where a scene takes place in that great city. Ditto for the other locations around the globe for my paranormal series—Los Angeles, Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, and Arizona. You never know when a bit of research will come in handy.
I’ve been journaling my travels ever since I can remember. And I never related this talent to my father’s writing ability until I edited his 1929 true life travel adventure titled Thumbs Up. Who knew this is where my drive to write everything down came from? Thanks, Dad. And from my mother came the attention to detail. She described every scene in a way that made me more observant.
And now, for my latest Bad Hair Day mystery, I’ve turned again to my notes. Years ago, I accepted an invitation to go backstage at a fashion show to observe the goings-on. In particular, I took note of the hairdressers and their role in prepping the models. I used all this info in a chapter I just completed for my current WIP.
How did I find this material? I write my observations, travel journals and on-location research notes in various small notebooks. I use colored tabs to divide the sections. Then I sticker them with a number and detail the contents on a separate list. Conference notes, on-scene research and experiences that may someday be relevant to my work go into these journals. So this time, I looked on my list and saw Fashion Show under number two. I pulled out this notebook and there they were: copious notes that would prove highly useful for my scene in progress.
Here’s an excerpt:
Marla had brought four stylists plus herself for eight models. She’d let her staff do the actual work while she supervised. She had supplied each of them with Luxor products specifically for this event. The fashion designer had sent pictures of each woman ahead of time so her staff could consult on the look. Yolanda wanted a sleek, elegant appearance to go with her gowns.
In another corner, the makeup artist was laying out her cosmetics. Each model would head over there for a touch-up once her hair was done.
Marla glanced at the racks of gauzy, glittering dresses, wishing she had time to examine each gown and drool over the creations. Sparkling burgundy, bright yellow, sexy black, tropical turquoise, sublime coral, chocolate and lime stood out in satins, silks and chiffons along with sequins, seed pearls and intricate beading. A separate rack held a dazzling array of wedding gowns. Who else but a wealthy socialite could afford these outfits? Each one cost thousands of dollars. With a sigh, Marla realized this was the closest she’d ever get to high society.
Yolanda bustled about, greeting each person and keeping her tote box at hand. What was in there? Needle and thread for last minute repairs? Jewels to go with her gowns?
“Thirty minutes per person, ladies,” Yolanda shouted. “That’s the goal.”
Marla winced. That wouldn’t give them much iron time. “The guests have to eat dinner yet. It’s still relatively early.”
“Our show starts before the entrée course to get people in the mood for dancing. We have to get the models through makeup and into their gowns by eight-thirty at the latest.”
“How many changes does each girl have to make?”
Yolanda pursed her lips. “The show is divided into four segments, although the bridal procession at the end requires only four models. So some girls will have three changes and some will have four. You’ll have mere seconds between scenes to fix any stray hairs, so make sure your stylists do their jobs right the first time.”
The lesson here is for you to pay attention to your surroundings and experiences. Take notes on ANYTHING that might become useful to your writing. Chronicle your trips and record the sensory impressions along with unusual observations, sights and experiences. Take notes during conference workshops. Then organize the material so you can find it later. Consider it a legacy to pass down to your kids. They might throw out your journals, or they might treasure them like I do my parents’ writings. Never miss an opportunity to record a slice of life.
Do you take random notes when you go places, even if you can foresee no immediate use for them?
Don’t forget to visit me over at The Kill Zone, where I blog on alternate Wednesdays. This week my topic is Attending a Writers Conference, very appropriate since I’ll be at the Novelists, Inc. event in St. Pete Beach.
Nautical archaeologist Lindsey Hall Thomas (writing as Linsey Hall) spoke at a recent meeting of Florida Romance Writers. She told us about the role of an archaeologist and how we might use this information in a novel. These notes are my interpretation and any errors are my own.
The field started with Antiquarianism in the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries in Europe. Wealthy Europeans collected artifacts to display in their curio cabinets. Later in the nineteenth century, this turned to Nationalism and treasure hunting for great museums became popular.
William Flinders Petrie was the father of archaeology. He began the study of dirt layers and pottery dating. With his methodology, the field became a scientific discipline.
The two primary types of archaeology are prehistoric or historic. These can be further divided into underwater and land archaeologists. People involved might be students, avocational hobbyists, government types, professors, private research foundation scientists or contract archaeologists who survey construction sites and often try to underbid each other for a project.
Federally funded archaeologists share their findings with the public.
When to dig depends upon several factors: weather (summer mostly); availability of labor (students and professors are out of school in the summer); money (get more funding in the summer over the winter) and research (goals or grants?).
The procedure is to choose a site, find the site, create a team, and get funding. Funding can come from the government, private donors, university grants, or documentary filmmakers, who pay for a project so they can film it. Next, you set up a base camp then begin excavating and recording.
To find a wreck, you can ask the locals. Use remote sonar sensing. Dive on the target. Drop a camera. Or use a remote-sensing magnetometer that looks for magnetic signals and picks up iron. Manned submersibles are not often used because they’re too expensive. You can deploy an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle or AUV. You can program the AUV for where you want it to go, plus add sonar and video cameras.
After discovering the site, you go home to plan. You’ll need to acquire funding, permissions and permits, and equipment.
The team consists of archaeologists (1 to 2 for an average of 14 people), volunteers, technical specialists for the sonar, photographers for documentaries and other publicity, a conservator to deal with artifacts, boat skipper, medic, dive master, and film crew.
The objectives are to fully record the construction features of the shipwreck; photograph and record all artifacts; record a film documentary. You might recover a small amount of artifacts, but then you’re responsible for taking care of them.
The depth of the shipwreck makes a difference. It will cost a lot more if you have to go deep. Diving is done from small boats because they don’t attract sharks like larger vessels.
First record and measure the shipwreck and recover artifacts. Draw a diagram or picture of the wreck using underwater paper. Take notes, photos, and sonar. Build 3-D models of the ship online. Shipwreck artifacts must stay in water for preservation purposes.
An example: They excavated a wreck in Spain eighty feet deep. They created a grid with string underwater and recorded where everything was located. Air lift bags and dredges were used to move rocks and clear sediment from the water. They took pictures. Photogrammetry can take measurement images but it is expensive technology. Air bags can help clear water of fish, sludge and seaweed. It’s used on deeper sites and harder to do than dredge. Pottery is put into mesh bags and tagged as to where it is found.
In warmer weather, they can dive two times a day with four hours in between dives. During breaks, they may sunbathe or snorkel. The boat gets crowded and messy with lots of gear. They take all artifacts to the base camp to record the measurements, weigh them and then store them in water. In the evenings, they review their notes and photos. Up to sixteen people might cram into a three bedroom house, so some folks have to sleep outside. The project director has his own room. They’ll hold barbecues, throw parties in the evenings, go to Wi-Fi cafés to use the Internet.
For every hour in the field, you spend about 9 to 10 hours of processing. You’ll create a site plan, which is a record of how the ship looked. Conserve small artifacts, like buttons. For these, you need to get the salt out and stabilize the metal. As a larger example, the speaker showed recovery of a turret from the USS Monitor submersible. It’s stored in a water tank. Archival research can shed light on discoveries. The job includes education and outreach and may involve seeking designation for the site as a historical place.
Keep in mind that air, water temperature and depth limit your dive. You can dive for only forty minutes in a dry suit in cold water. Deep diving doesn’t offer enough time to work and is too costly. The best sites for preservation are the Great Lakes, the Baltic, and the North Atlantic. Wood gets rotted from ship worm. In Florida, you can see piles of rocks that were ballast, which may be indicative of a wreck.
Archaeologists may run into treasure hunters who can spoil a wreck site. In contrast to these salvage types, archaeologists want the artifacts preserved in a museum. Sharks are a danger. Black water diving is muddy water and so black that you can’t see. It’s more common in slow-moving, shallow rivers. You can run into bombs underwater left over from battles. Ferry boats can be a danger, and you must coordinate your activities with them. Or you could become trapped inside a shipwreck. Thieves can be another danger. There might even be one on your team as a volunteer. The dive boat capsizing would be another danger.
Lindsey Hall Thomas is a nautical archaeologist with an MA from Texas A&M University who has worked for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and ProMare, a non-profit nautical archaeology research foundation. She’s studied shipwrecks and submerged settlement sites from Hawaii and the Yukon to the UK and Italy. In Autumn 2014, she will release (as Linsey Hall) three books in a paranormal romance series inspired by her work as an archaeologist.