Sunday, August 29, 2010

Setting as Character: Ipswich locations

They say that a setting can be a character in a book. I'm trying for that in Speaking of Murder. Ipswich, Massachusetts, is a real town in a real state. I happen to live in it. And it is a character with character. We celebrated the 375th anniversary of its founding last year. I even hand-sewed an outfit to match the year of our house, 1718, and walked in the parade.

Not all the quirky parts of town are historical, but a lot of them are.
In my book, you'll find references to the Choate Bridge, and the Choate Bridge Pub.

The bridge, adjacent to the busy downtown intersection and for more than a hundred years one of the only ways to travel south, is the oldest stone arch bridge in North America. Colonel John Choate funded part of the construction and supervised the building of the bridge. According to Ipswich Historical Society publications, when the bridge was opened in 1764, Choate was on horseback ready to flee north to New Hampshire if the radical new method of construction failed.

The Choate Bridge pub is on the corner next to the bridge. It features locally brewed ales, friendly waitstaff, lots of locals, and really excellent fried clams, also harvested locally. And is also the site of a pivotal scene in my book.

My protagonist walks and runs on Labor in Vain Road. She finds someone near death from a drug overdose just over the Labor in Vain Creek Bridge. According to legend, probably true, when the Ipswich River silted up, locals would try to row up the river, but at about the point when they encountered the creek, they realized they were "laboring in vain."

Lauren walks in the historic cemetery. She watches an antique boat shop burn down. Her friend lives in a house built in the 1700s.

The next book in the series already features Crane Beach and the Crane mansion, a stately residence that sits atop a hill overlooking the beach. It involves a real-life conflict between the Feoffees of Little Neck and the local School Committee. Stay tuned

What is your favorite locale-as-character?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Video Forensics

One of the key tools used to solve the crimes in Speaking of Murder is video forensics. What's video forensics, you might ask?

JB, Lauren's boyfriend, works as a civilian video forensics expert at the local police station. The tool he uses is dTective from Ocean Systems, developed by Grant Fredericks and used by police departments around the country, to clarify surveillance video and present video evidence in court.

The dTective software just happens to sit on top of Avid Media Composer, for which I wrote technical documentation for 14 years. Hmm, coincidence? You decide.

I knew I wanted to feature this software in my books. I was fortunate to be able to consult with the Raynham, Massachusetts police department, and also the Bristol County District Attorney's office. They each use this software in their daily crime-fighting. Chief Lou Pacheco of Raynham (and his video analyst Tim), and Kelli Hutchings of the DA office each spent a half day with me, demonstrating the software and talking about how they use it.

It was a fascinating look into some of the inner workings of the criminal justice system. I hope I've done justice to their expertise.

Several of the things you can do with this software:
  • Apply a standard to see how tall someone is
  • Lighten a dark image of a license plate
  • Zoom in on a tattoo or other unique physical characteristic
  • Compare a fingerprint left on a counter to one taken after arrest
I'll a couple of images here. It's very cool stuff. Pix from the Ocean Systems web site.

  • Note: I should have included (and now have) that Grant Fredericks developed the dTective software and was the generous soul who pointed me to Chief Pacheco in the first place. Thanks, Grant!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Convergence of Interests

Life brings a convergence: Fave blog posts about portraying historic and regional dialects in fictional dialog.

Language Log is a group of linguists who blog on a wide variety of topics, usually in a way accessible to any educated reader, not just to linguists. But they rarely blog about writing fiction, so this was a fun read.

It's hard to write characters producing realistic-sounding dialog, contemporary or historic, without annoying the reader. For example, I have a young college student speaking to Professor Rousseau. Now, I happen to know that many 20-year olds out there use the word "like" as a high proportion of their total word counts. I wanted to get that across in her dialog. But if you have to read more than a line or two, you might be tempted to put that book down and never pick it up again. It's as irritating as hearing it in person. So I used frequent "like"s in the first line or two and then let them subside.

Because my protagonist is a linguist, she often notices how people around her say things, and uses her ear for that to identify a suspect in an overheard conversation. It's an interesting challenge to slip in language-related clues wherever I can without making it obvious.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Short Story Acceptance

Late-breaking news: I'm delighted to report that my short story, "Reduction in Force," has been accepted for publication in Thin Ice, this year's anthology of crime fiction by New England writers, published by Level Best Books.

"Reduction in Force" tells a timely tale of conflict and revenge when a software company lays off employees.

The anthology will be out by early November.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

One Page a Day

I'm participating in a six-week writing challenge. On Jungle Red Writers, Jan Brogan challenged readers to write one page every day before checking personal email. Sounds simple, right? It's just one page.

Many writers, me included, have found the Internet to be a big black hole of distraction. There's that blog to read. That Facebook to catch up on. That Twitter feed to update. The email Inbox containing daily digests from three different Yahoo groups. All of which can be about writing: the craft, publishing, upcoming events, pitfalls, celebrations. We also hear that many publishers do little to promote 'mid-list' books, so these activities are crucial for getting name recognition and building a following, even before publication.

But when does that leave time to actually write? It's hard to carve out the time, especially when you hold down a day job, like I do. I often write only on my non-work Fridays. My most productive period, however, was when I participated in another challenge in February. That one, the Guppies Chocolate Challenge, was to write as many words as you could in the month of February. The winner was to be sent chocolate by all the other participants. Well, I didn't win the challenge, but I did win by writing 28,000 words and finishing the first draft of Speaking of Murder.

How did I write an average of 1000 words a day? I squeezed it in around the edges. I wrote after work. I wrote before work. I wrote every weekend day. I wrote in the passenger seat on a trip to New Jersey. And it worked.

One important component, though, was concentration. And you really can't focus on following your characters around and writing down what they do if you're always taking little side trips into cyberspace and answering email, reading what Sisters in Crime is up to, responding to a fellow Guppy's recent success or a question from Crime Scene Writers group, doing a little research on blood splatter.

So the practice of this page-a-day thing BEFORE INTERNET TIME is already working. In two days I have produced four pages, on a brand-new book, the next in the series. Stay tuned! It's easier than it seems.

Saturday, August 7, 2010


Reporting in from Ipswich, Massashusetts, with Blog Number One. Welcome! 

I'll be writing weekly on topics pertaining to my Speaking of Murder mystery series: writing, Linguistics, video forensics, the Society of Friends, and small-town life in New England. And whatever else comes to mind. I appreciate your dropping in here, and would love to hear your comments on any posting. Feel free to pass the link along, too.

A note of thanks to all my writer friends who blog regularly and who have provided a model of how to do this. Thanks, too, to Allan and John David, my very excellent sons, who blog with insight, clarity, and humor about life weekly (or more often).