Scamming Nigerian Funds to Build Your Time Machine

G’mornin’ Kill Zoners. On Tuesday, Debbie Burke mentioned internet scams and how an old-time con by the name of Eugene Francois Vidocq managed to defraud pre-internetters and become the father of modern criminology. Great story to check out: Eugene Francois Vidocq and the Origins of Criminology

Debbie also wrote “nigerian prince” in that post. That got me thinking of a piece I wrote some time ago on my blog. It’s titled How to Scam Nigerian Funds for Your Time Machine.

I’m a serious writer (nah, not.) and delve into darkness depths with psychotic characters, crime scenes you can smell through the words, forensic fluids that drip off the page so shouldn’t be read in bed, and nothing-good-will-come-of-these plots. But I know a good writer is a rounded writer, and I welcomed the chance to do a little humor when I got another of “those emails”. Here’s the DyingWords post:

———

“If you don’t know about Nigerian scams, then you’ve probably never used the internet. Seems like every couple weeks these West-African crooks drop me an email thinking I’m dumb enough to bite. Some people must, or the cons wouldn’t keep trying. So it was no surprise when I checked my inbox Tuesday morning and found another Nigerian grab at my wallet.

But it was different this round. For a change, I had little on my plate and time on my hands, so I decided to turn the tide on this guy. Here’s what “Mr. Martins Logan Scott” from Nigeria wrote me. Then I’ll show you my reply.

—– Original Message —–
From: “Martins Logan Scott” <voldemars@ngn.lv>
Sent: Tuesday, March 7, 2017 4:24:23 AM
Subject: Investment Proposal

Attn: Sir — We have gone through your country’s investment profile and history and we are interested to invest in it, we will be willing to partner with you and invest a substantial amount of money in your company if you have an existing company or we can also partner with you to set up a new one, provided you have a substantial and complete feasibility study and a well prepared business plan on the business/company you wil (sp) need us to partner with you.

Our group is a major player in investment in the middle east, Africa and the United States of America, we believe in pursuing a positive goal, in which your ideas can be enhanced potentially for mutual benefit.

As we seek new frontier and opportunities, we look forward to partner with you. Your prompt reply will be most welcome.

Best regards — Martins Logan Scott — martin.loganscott@gmail.com

—– Original Reply —–
From: “Garry Rodgers” <garry.rodgers@shaw.ca>
Sent: Tuesday, March 7, 2017 7:48:09 AM
Subject: Investment Proposal

Good day Mr. Logan Scott,

Thank you for your investment interest. I trust this reply finds you well and in accordance with the situation.

I appreciate your due diligence in appraising my investment profile and history. That is the primary mark of a careful and prudent investor as I’m sure you and the major players in your group are.

Your unsolicited offer comes at a timely stage in a current venture I’m working on. I was planning to release investment offerings by-invitation-only prior to a NYSE IPO. However, I’m open to prioritizing your group’s investment of a substantial amount of money during my project’s Research & Development (R&D) stage. Therefore, I’d be pleased to accommodate you and your esteemed business associates in safely appropriating your funds.

With an understanding of your agreement to confidentiality, my project involves a revised form of hyper-velocity, multi-directional transportation. The concept for analogous movement between distant portals, both historic and forthcoming, is nothing new. Space-time dilation based on the Einstein-Rosen bridge theory has been conceptualized for decades. Practical application of Faster-Than-Light (FTL) amplification was bottlenecked due to tachyon condensation which restricted Portal Entrance and Exit (PEE), but there’s now a clear and unique opportunity for a massive breakthrough.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the 1985 works of Professor Emeritus Dr. Emmett Brown and his DeLorean model. Unfortunately, it’s been three decades, going on four, since Doc vanished in a timely experiment. Although I patiently await his return, progress must move forward. With this, I’ve acquired Doc’s patent rights to the Flux Capacitor (FC) – the propulsion device central to warping the Space-Time Continuum (STC). Early technology restricted FC Input/Output (I/O) to 1.21 jigawatts, however… I’ve found a method of quadrupling I/O to 4.84 jigawatts, theoretically making the trip four times faster.

An additional advancement is planned in STC vehicle adaptation. The initial Entry/Reentry Velocity (ERV) difficulties experienced by the DeLorean vehicle proved dangerous. It’s now identified the angular, gull-wing profile created a Disturbance-In-The-Force (DITF). Evolving trials using a rounded VW Beetle prototype was thought to calm FTL/STC/PEE/DITF/ERV vibration – also known as Tolman’s paradox. Quickly, I learned the bulky Punch-Buggie (PB) approach brought no returns and I took a hit.

Compounding the situation is the original 1.21 jigawatt FC only required an 88 mph ERV. With a four-times capacity 4.84 jigawatt FC, it’s boosted the ERV to 352 mph. I realized… Great Scott! That’s a lot of ground speed. Fortunately, I’ve identified the new Aston Martin AM RB-001 Valkyrie as the perfect design. Now—here’s where you come in.

As you know, the Valkyrie is a highly advanced work of technology and produced in 25 unit allotments. I’ve placed an order for one Valkyrie to be refitted as a PEE vehicle, however, the Aston Martin Corporation requires pre-payment in full. With your timely offer of substantial investment capital, in return, I’m offering you the exclusive opportunity to fund my Valkyrie acquisition as the PEE vehicle of choice. It’s noble you believe in pursuing a positive goal and ideas than can be enhanced potentially for our mutual benefit.

Appreciatively, I’m accepting your group’s investment of $3.12 million USD. This covers the Valkyrie purchase, shipping, and handling. Please make an immediate monetary transfer via Western Union for deposit into my account #6105-883-464-0901 at Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada. In lieu of cash, your direct purchase of the AM RB-001 PEE Valkyrie can be delivered to my Vancouver Island R&D facility.

Thank you for your generous offer, Mr. Logan Scott. Once my project is operational, I confidently assure your investment will be returned to you, along with accrued interest, to any point you prescribe in time. Your prompt reply will be most welcome.

I remain, sir, humbly indebted.

Garry Rodgers

———

I’ve yet to hear from Mr. Martins Logan Scott, but I trust he’ll be back in the future.

———

How about you Kill Zoners? Ever written a piece on a whim and were silly enough to send it? Let’s hear other experiences!

+10

Writing Into The Dark

Okay. I expect some typer’s tension from this touchy topic. Plotters gonna hate. Pansters gonna say, “Yay!” And page-by-page cyclers with outline notes gonna go, “Meh. Nothin’ new. Was doin’ this all the time.” Writing into the dark, that is.

What’s writing into the dark? No, it’s not sitting in a room with the lights off and blindly searching for the keys. It’s a writing method that’s been around a long, long time and it involves going beyond seat-of-your-pants production.

That’s right. No outline. No vision. Just as I’m doing right now with pure exploration. Sure, I’ve done my research for this piece and have some crib notes of key points. I can’t imagine writing anything without some knowledge of what the post, essay, short story, novella, novel, or tome is going to be about. At least anything logical, that is.

Back up a sec, Garry, and explain plotting, pantsing, and page-by-paging for the newbies.

Plotting writers make detailed outlines of their work before they start. It’s like making blueprints for a house, and they rigidly follow those plans to a successful conclusion. Sure, there are a few change orders along the way, as there always are in house building. But for the most part, the end is always envisioned before breaking ground and starting construction.

Panster writers literally build by the seat of their pants. They also want a house built, but they love the freedom of working without permits or even drawings, except maybe on napkins. They dig a metaphoric hole, fill it with words, and fly at it—one word at a time until they hit “The End”. For some, pansting works. For others, it doesn’t.

Page-by page cycling? That was a new term to me. It’s outlining as you go, or cycling back to correct mistakes every page or so. It was news to me until I got introduced to Dean Wesley Smith (DWS) and read his book Writing Into The Dark. Or was it?

Two things aligned at the same time to get me going on “writing into the dark”. One was from Harvey Stanbrough who’s a regular commenter here at the Kill Zone. Harvey is a prolific writer, to say the least, and he PM’d me to say, “Check out Writing Into The Dark.” Harvey also told me to check out Heinlein’s Rules for Writing, which I did, and that’s material enough for a whole other post. At the same time, I was video chatting with my good friend and UK indie writer, Rachel Amphlett. Rachel also recommended I read Writing Into The Dark as it’s become her novel-writing method.

Writing Into The Dark opens with Dean Wesley Smith saying this:

He spoke to me, and Dean kept me hooked in the book until the end. What I got out of Writing Into The Dark is realizing I’ve evolved or morphed over time from a plotter to a pantster to a page-by-page drafter who’s learned to speed things up through a process Dean Smith calls “cycling”. I have to say I’ve found my stride, and I’m very comfortable drafting an entire book by outlining as I go.

Before drilling into what page-by-page, cycling, and outlining-as-you-go entails, I want to deal with a very important part of the dark writing method. Dean goes into a bit of brain science and how it applies to plotters and pansters. Plotters generally apply the critical part of their thinking process. They want to know exactly what route they’re taking in driving through the story. Pansters apply creative brain function. They thrive on allowing creativity to flow by putting the creative side first but still allow the critical brain to keep watch. Critical brains stifle creative brains every time.

Dark writers say “Fu*k it. Critical brain stay home. Me ’n ole creativity here are goin’ for a ride and hang on to yer hat maggot, ’cause this is gonna take yer breath away!”

In Dean Smith’s writing method, he goes hard and fast with only short glimpses in the work mirror. He writes a page or two at a time (page-by-page), then quickly looks back, fixes whatever, and moves on. This he calls cycling through the manuscript. Write a page or two, cycle back, fix or edit, and do it again. Throughout his page-cycle rhythm, Dean keeps a notepad at his side where he jots down ideas and story points. This is his idea of an outline.

Besides reading Writing Into The Dark, I watched a video presentation Dean gave to a writers conference about his process. I also read an insightful interview with him, and I’ll snip some conversation from them. I feel Dean Wesley Smith is a master of dark writing technique (He’s written hundreds upon hundreds of books and pieces) so I’ll let him have a few words right here on the Kill Zone stage.

“Writing fast, writing a lot, and keeping on submitting changed the way I look at writing,” Dean says. “It changed my mindset. It taught me to trust my instincts and trust my voice. I left my voice in my stories because I didn’t rewrite everything into dullness. Rewriting kills your voice and your natural ability to tell a story.”

Dean goes on to say, “I hated the idea of writing sloppy, so when I realized something needed to be fixed, I went right back and fixed it. I developed the habit of cycling back every few hundred words and doing minor revisions, all the while keeping a handwritten outline of points beside me. But when I get to the end of the story, I leave it alone.”

Here is some advice from Dean Smith for emerging writers. “Focus on the story and moving ahead. Write more. Learn. Have fun. Keep learning and experimenting. Stop making it so serious. This is entertainment, so entertain yourself and have fun.”

I know there’s a lot of truth in Dean’s words because dark writing is working for me. I outlined the ever-living sh*t out of my first novel. It was planned like the D-Day Invasion of Normandy. Slowly—over time—I loosened up a bit. But things changed, big time, when I spent two years writing cranking commercial web content for my slave-driving daughter’s online writing business.

That meat grinder doesn’t allow for much outlining. Not if you’re going to make money, that is. It’s research, write, proof, ship, and do it all over with a new topic that you’re really not all that hyped-up on. I wrote about everything from gastroenterology to bruxism to naturopathy treatments for foul-smelling vaginal secretions on a health & wellness site — to stainless steel vat technology in the hipster cottage brew industry.

Trust me. You want to get through this stuff as fast and with as little or no pain as possible. To survive and pay the bills, I got wired on dark writing. And I brought it with me when I went back to novels. Because you’re my friends, I’m going to show you my current writing method which is almost as dark as my subject matter and soul.

I’m working through a based-on-true crime series and releasing a new product every two months. Average lengths are about 52K words, and when I’m on a roll I write 900 to 1,000 words per hour. On a good day, when I’m not sidetracked by squirrels or severely hung over, I get-in about 3,500 words. So the calculator computes I draft a new book in about 15 writing days or 55 writing hours.

I don’t pre-outline anymore. I do exactly as Dean Wesley Smith does, and I didn’t know was it was called until Rachel and Harvey told me to read his book. Whadda ya know? Dean and I have something in common.

My outline emerges as I write chapter by chapter. I know where the story goes and how it ends because I lived in or around these crimes that I’m currently writing on. You gotta cut me some slack on internally knowing this series, but I’ll do the same on the next, which I plan to do in upcoming City Of Danger. What I do is keep a running log, or flow chart, on 11×17 paper. I’ll post the images so I don’t have to do any more describing than necessary. It’s the old picture being worth a thousand words thing.

See how my outline-as-I-go has evolved? I didn’t post pics of my first two in the series, In The Attic and Under The Ground. I didn’t use one for Attic, and I’ve lost the one for Ground. When I look at the progression through From The Shadows, Beside The Road, On The Floor, Between The Bikers, Beyond The Limits, and to my nearly-finished WIP At The Cabin, I see my method slightly changing. Hopefully, improving. I’ll let you know if it ever gets perfected, but don’t hold your breath.

You’re probably wondering what all those blurry swiggles and stimbols are. I outline-as-I-go from left to right and enter the chapter (scene) number, the date and time locaters, main plot points, the chapter word count (in red), and the overall story word count (in red) as it progresses scene by scene. That’s it. That’s how I keep track of a book’s gestation. The rest is mostly in my creative side except for research downloads and general hand-noted points similar to an editor’s style sheet.

I used to do second-day editing where I’d go back over the previous day’s works, but I gave that up for what I figured out is cycling, as Dean Smith calls it. Once I get to the end, I run it through Grammarly and clean it up. Then it’s off to my proofreader who does a remarkable job of finding issues, even teeny-tiny mistakes. Oh, BTW, I write each chapter/scene on a separate Word.doc and assemble them into one full manuscript as I do the Grammarly edit.

That’s it. I’m not saying my way of writing into the dark is right or wrong. It’s just an option I thought I should share. You do what works for you, but make sure you do one thing right. That’s to keep on writing and putting it out there, just as Heinlein’s rules prescribe.

It’s your turn, Kill Zoners. Am I out to lunch with this reckless behavior? Have you tried dark writing? Tell us in the comments what your style is, and your outlining experiences are.

——

Garry Rodgers is a retired homicide detective—an old murder cop—who went on to another career as a coroner handling forensic death investigations. Now, Garry’s returned from the bowels of the morgue and arose as an internationally bestselling crime writer. True story & he’s sticking to it.

Garry is also an indie publisher currently finishing a 12-part, based-on-true-crime series detailing investigations he was involved in. Garry Rodgers runs a popular blog site at DyingWords.net and messes around on Twitter. When not writing into the dark, Garry spends time putting around the saltwater near his home on Vancouver Island in British Columbia on Canada’s Covid free infested southwest coast.

+14

Mentoring For Writers

“Good ole Fred,” I say.

“Who?” you ask.

“Fred. Fred Mahle. My mentor.”

“Okay,” you go.

“Fred was my police mentor. He was a Detective Sergeant on the homicide squad who must have seen something in me as a rookie and thought I was worthwhile mentoring. Because of Fred, I learned the criminal investigation ropes and managed to make a somewhat successful career out of being a murder cop.”

“Nice,” you say.

“Sadly, Fred’s long gone now. But what he taught me stuck. Fred fed me wisps of wisdom like, ‘God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason’ and ‘You get more bees with honey than you do with vinegar.’ Fred was a Columbo character with a Da Vinci brain. He was the one who caught child serial killer Clifford Olson and struck the deal to pay Olson ten grand a piece to turn over the bodies. In the end, Olson got a hundred thousand and a life sentence. Ten families got closure.”

Impressive. “What brought this on for a Kill Zone post?”

“I’m doing a bit of mentoring now myself. Not as a detective, but as a writer. I’m a writer who’s mentoring a detective.”

(Laughs) “Say what?”

“Yeah. It’s come full circle. When I retired from being Doctor Death in the police and coroner business, I reinvented myself as a crime writer. Not necessarily a good crime writer, but I’ve learned a few tricks, and I’m in the position to share them with a real detective who’s just retired and wants to take up this crazy wordsmithing game. Get this. She’s silly enough to turn to me for advice, so now I’m mentoring her.”

“Go figger.”

——

I think all of us have been mentored to some degree throughout our lives—careers if you like. And I’d like to think that as we get older and more experienced in our lines, we mentor others. That may be a formal mentorship as in an apprenticing role or an informal one like touring the new hire around the book factory floor.

And I think you learn a lot on both ends—mentor and mentoree (master/protégé). I’ve been commercially writing for a while now and when I put together a “mentorship” program for the poor sucker nice lady I’m helping out, I was surprised to find just how much I’ve learned about the writing craft and biz. I look forward to this journey with her.

Ever wonder where the word “mentor” came from? No, neither did I until I sat down to rabbit-hole a bit of research for this piece. Here’s the scoop.

Homer, the Greek writer, had a character called Ulysses in his epic work The Odyssey. Ulysses was prepping for the Trojan war and knew he’d be away for a while. (Turned out it was ten years.) So Ulysses entrusted his only son and heir, Telemachus, with being scholared by his wise and learned friend, Mentor. There, you’re welcome.

History shows that people like us—like young trees in an old forest—thrive best when we grow in the presence of those who’ve gone before us. This isn’t new ground. Even the greats like Plato and Aristotle were mentored. Same with Michelangelo and Van Gogh. I’m sure great writers like Hemmingway had some sort of mentor other than a whiskey flask.

I Googled around for mentoring’s best definition and to find some sort of accepted format for a mentorship program. Wikipedia (a mentor of sorts) says: Mentorship is the influence, guidance, or direction given by a mentor to a mentee. A mentor influences the personal and professional growth of a mentee and offers psychological support, career guidance, and role modeling. Mentoring is a process that always involves cross-communication. It’s relationship-based, but its precise definition is elusive.

I found an interesting paper by a mentoring guru. It’s called Skills For Successful Mentoring: Competencies of Outstanding Mentors and Mentorees, and it’s written by Linda Phillips-Jones, Ph.D. She also wrote the book The New Mentors and Protégés.

Dr. Phillips-Jones says that effective mentoring requires more than common sense. Her research indicates that mentors and mentorees who develop and manage successful mentoring partnerships demonstrate specific and identifiable skills that enable learning and positive change to take place. She notes that unless a fairly structured process and specific skills are applied, mediocre relationships occur.

The paper offers a mentoring skills model that’s widely used in many businesses, large and small. It’s as close to a mentorship blueprint that’s out there. Here are the four primary or core mentor skills:

Listening Actively — A mentor must know their protégé’s interests and needs. Active listening is the most basic mentoring skill. When an understudy feels they are being heard and understood, they develop trust and this allows the relationship to grow.

Building Trust — The more the student and teacher trust each other, the more committed they’ll be to building their relationship and mutually benefiting from it. Trust develops over time if partners respect confidentiality, spend time together, cooperate constructively, and the mentor offers encouragement.

Determining Goals and Building Capacity — The mentor acts as a role model. They already have the experience required to lead which is done by setting goals and building competencies. Mentors act as resources or find them for their charge, impart knowledge, help with broader perspectives, and inspire the mentoree.

Encouragement — Dr. Phillips-Jones says giving encouragement is the mentoring skill most valued by protégés. She gives encouraging examples like favorably commenting on a mentoree’s accomplishments, communicating belief in the protégé’s growth capacity, and positively responding to inevitable frustrations.

The paper goes on to give practical advice on building a mentorship program. It states like most relationships, mentoring progresses in stages with each stage forming an inherent part of the next. Here are the four stages that frame a modern mentorship program:

Stage I — Building the Relationship
Stage II — Exchanging Information and Setting Goals
Stage III — Working Toward Goals / Deepening the Engagement
Stage IV — Ending the Formal Mentoring Relationship and Planning the Future

Dr. Phillip-Jones’s paper drills deep into developing each stage. It’s far more than a blog post can handle. If you’re interested, the Center for Health and Leadership has another paper titled Mentoring Guide — A Guide for Mentors which you can download for bedtime reading.

My Google trip took me to a place called Masterclass. You might have heard of it. I found a short but sweet post called How to Find and Choose a Writing Mentor. It opens with a cool definition: A writing mentor is an experienced writer who shares their wisdom with a new writer as they begin their career. The mentor provides support through regular meetings, either in person, on the phone, or online. A mentor will help a new author develop their voice and improve their writing skills by reviewing and critiquing their work. The mentor acts as a resource for ongoing support and creative growth.

How to Find and Choose a Writing Mentor itemizes six benefits of having a writing mentor. They are:

A mentor holds you accountable.
A mentor inspires you.
A mentor improves your writing skills.
A mentor supports your career path.
A mentor helps develop your voice.
A mentor helps you make decisions about publishing.

Besides the benefits, the post lists four things to look for in a writing mentor. These are:

Experience
Commonality
Accomplishments
Availability

And the article ends with four tips for finding a writing mentor. Here you go:

Find a writing community.
Become a member of a writing organization.
Take classes in person
Find a mentor online.

Do, or did I, have a writing mentor? Of course, I have. My number one inspiration has, is, and always will be Napoleon Hill’s classic works Think and Grow Rich. Some say Napoleon Hill was one big con-job, but say what you like—Think and Grow Rich is magic mentorship at its finest. There’s stuff in there that’ll change your life. Believe me, I know.

Stephen King is also my mentor. Now, I don’t pretend to know Stephen King personally, just as I never knew Napoleon Hill. What I’ve got from Stephen King’s works and his classic On Writing is a lifelong course in the craft. Here’s a post I recently wrote on my personal blog at DyingWords.net which is titled Stephen King’s Surprisingly Simple Secret to Success.

The Kill Zone is a mentorship in progress. I think that’s the ultimate goal of the Kill Zone — writers sharing their skillsets with other writers. That’s what I try to do around this place. I find it rewarding to help other writers help themselves, and I’m sure most writers feel the same thing. Especially Kill Zone writers.

I want to call out two Kill Zone contributors who act as mentors. One is James Scott Bell, or JSB, who has a lifetime with his butt in the chair and his fingers on the keys. Jim has a wealth of knowledge in his craft books, and his posts always lift me up. That’s mentorship.

The other is Sue Coletta. This totally unselfish gem is somewhat at the same writing career stage as me, and we act as peer mentors. My wife, Rita, calls Sue my “other wife”.

What about you Kill Zoners? Do you have mentors? Have you worked with mentors? Are you now mentoring someone else? And would you mentor someone if given the opportunity? Don’t be shy with your comments!

——

Garry Rodgers is a retired homicide detective with a second career as a coroner. Now, Garry’s a crime writer and indie publisher of sixteen books including an international bestselling based-on-true-crime series.

Outside of writing, Garry Rodgers is a certified marine captain and enjoys time putting around the saltwater near his home on Vancouver Island in Canada’s Pacific Northwest. Follow Garry on Twitter and check out his popular blog at www.DyingWords.net. BTW, In The Attic is FREE on Amazon, Kobo, and Nook.

+8

Locard’s Exchange Principle for Mystery & Thriller Writers

If you’re a mystery & thriller writer, at some point in your story you’ll have to deal with the evidence. I once heard a judge say, “There’s nothing more unreliable than eyewitness evidence.” There’s a whack of truth in that statement, and that’s why detectives and crime scene investigators always look for the best evidence—hard and indisputable physical evidence, especially trace or fragmentary evidence. They’re well aware of Locard’s Exchange Principle, and you should be too if you’re going to write convincing mysteries & thrillers.

What’s Locard’s Exchange Principle, you ask? Well, it’s fundamental to crime scene investigation or physical evidence processing. Locard’s, as it’s called in the biz, is the cornerstone of all forensic science; the basis as we know forensic science today.

Locard’s Exchange Principle states that in the physical world, whenever criminal perpetrators enter or leave a crime scene they leave something behind (trace evidence) that links them to the scene, and they take something away with them that also connects them to the crime. Trace evidence is the linkage of persons or objects to the scene. Locard’s is best put as, “Whenever two objects come into contact, a mutual exchange of matter will take place between them. The transfer may be tenuous, but it certainly will occur.”

I learned about Locard’s Exchange Principle in the police academy. It’s that elementary—Crime Scene 101. You can take it to the bank that in every crime, digital online offenses included, there will be some form of physical evidence no matter how microscopic.

Dr. Edmund Locard was a French scientist from the early 1900s. He pioneered modern crime scene processing and was known as the real Sherlock Homes of scientific sleuthing. Locard’s mantra was, “Every contact leaves a trace.” This simple phrase was so profound that famed criminalist Dr. Paul. L. Kirk of the National Academy of Forensic Sciences put Locard’s this way:

Wherever he steps, whatever he touches, whatever he leaves, even unconsciously, will serve as a silent witness against him. Not only his fingerprints or his footprints, but his hair, the fibers from his clothes, the glass he breaks, the tool mark he leaves, the paint he scratches, the blood or semen he deposits or collects. All of these, and more, bear mute witness against him. This is evidence that does not forget. It is not confused by the excitement of the moment. It is not absent because human witnesses are. It is factual evidence. Physical evidence cannot be wrong, it cannot perjure itself, it cannot be wholly absent. Only human failure to find it, study and understand it, can diminish its value.”

Trace evidence is also called fragmentary evidence. Trace evidence takes many forms. Sometimes it will be outstandingly unique to a specific scene such as metal filings from a knife sharpener that put a criminal I knew in jail for a long, long time. Common trace evidence examples are hairs, fibers, body fluids, organic compounds, glass shards, mineral deposits, paint chips and smears, sawdust, and fire debris like charcoal, soot, and chemical accelerants.

Writers should know fragmentary or trace evidence generally falls into the circumstantial department rather than direct proof. Individual evidence like DNA matches and fingerprint identifications are hard, solid, and indisputable facts that directly link a perpetrator to the crime. Trace evidence, on the other hand, is part of what’s called corroboration which backs up other factors, adding probative weight to the overall case.

A good example of individual evidence is an accused’s fingerprint in the victim’s blood found at a crime scene. It would be impossible for the accused to deny this or really tough to give an alternative explanation of innocence. Trace evidence such as glass fragments in the suspect’s shoe treads that were consistent with broken glass from the crime scene’s point of entry would be circumstantial and deserve an expert’s opinion or conclusion of the evidence’s value.

Crime scene examination and trace evidence conclusion categories are uniform in the western criminal investigation field. Trace evidence probative value is rated on a conclusion scale set forth by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors Laboratory Accreditation Board and ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board / FQS. The Scientific Working Group for Material Analysis (SWGMAT) supplies a conclusion scale definition which forensic evidence specialists use to assert their trace evidence findings. The Trace Evidence Conclusion Scale is this:

Identified (Type I Association) – A positive identification; an association in which items share individual characteristics that show with reasonable scientific certainty that the items were once from the same source.

Very Strong Support – An association in which items are consistent in all measured physical properties or chemical properties and share highly unusual characteristic(s) that are unexpected in the population of this evidence type.

Strong Support (Type II Association) – An association in which items are consistent in all measured physical properties or chemical properties and share unusual characteristic(s) that are unexpected in the population of this evidence type.

Moderately Strong Support (Type III Association) – An association in which items are consistent in all measured physical properties or chemical properties and could have originated from the same source. Because similar items have been manufactured or could exist in nature and could be indistinguishable from the submitted evidence, an individual source cannot be determined.

Moderate Support (Type IV Association) – An association in which items are consistent in all measured physical properties and chemical properties so could have originated from the same source. This sample type is commonly encountered in our environment and may have limited associative value.

Limited Support (Type V Association) – An association in which some minor variation exists between the known and questioned items that could be due to factors such as sample heterogeneity, contamination of the sample(s), or the quality of the sample. The items may be associated, but other sources exist with the same level of association.

Inconclusive – No conclusion can be reached regarding the association between the items.

Elimination – The items are dissimilar in physical properties or chemical composition and did not originate from the same source.

There’s a common misconception in trace evidence evaluation that every, and any, tiny piece can always be “matched” directly to an individual object. This is what’s sometimes called The CSI Effect where crime shows set unrealistic parameters and expectations from trace evidence probative value. This effect can be dangerous in court cases where jurors expect forensic science to be completely conclusive, and smart defense lawyers plant the seed of doubt in twelve panelists’ minds.

“What do you mean his DNA wasn’t found at the crime scene? Then he couldn’t possibly have been there and done it. Acquit!”

Something writers should also know about trace evidence is how it’s collected. There’s no exact right or wrong way, as variables at the crime scene and what type of trace evidence investigators are dealing with have strong bearings on the collection and examination process. The best scenario is to collect evidence at the scene, package it to prevent loss and cross-contamination, and take it to the lab where examination occurs under controlled and clean conditions.

That’s in the perfect world. Often, crime scenes are cold, wet, dirty, and bloody places. You deal with what you got as a CSI technician. But, for the most part, trace evidence processing is done with these methods:

Visual Inspection — There’s nothing like the human eye to spot something and make a judgment as to its evidentiary and probative value.

Light Amplification — High intensity and alternative scales are amazing amplification tools for spotting fragments like hairs and fibers.

Manual Collection — This involves good old tweezers to pick up something like a cigarette butt and place it in an evidentiary bag.

Vacuum Collection — High-tech shop vacs (with clean bags) are exceptionally efficient at sucking up fines like sand, pollen, and splinters of glass.

Taping — Fussy trace materials like drug residue, cosmetic powders, and costume glitter are easy to lift by using common adhesive tape.

Microscopic Examination — This is where the real CSI science kicks of when the examiner puts trace evidence through a comparison or scanning electron microscope.

Chemical Evaluation — There’s a decades-old process called Gas Chromatography—Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS) that analyzes trace evidence and produces its molecular signature.

Forensic science’s ultimate goal in collecting, analyzing, and reporting trace evidence (obtained through Locard’s Exchange Principle) is to have it accepted or admitted into criminal trial proceedings. To start with, trace evidence has to be legally obtained. The CSI team must have a legal right to search for and seize whatever the evidence is. This usually is covered by a court-ordered search warrant as opposed to common-law grounds.

The evidentiary test at trial is then threefold. Trace or fragmentary evidence has to be relevant, have probative value, and not be prejudicial to the accused person or to the proceeding itself. Relevancy is a straightforward concept. The trace evidence has to someway connect the accused to the crime. There has to be a nexus that’s relevant.

Probative and prejudicial are a bit more complicated. For the best explanation of these legal concepts, I turned to the best explainer. This material is sourced from a trial lawyer’s blogsite:

PROBATIVE VALUE

The probative value of evidence is the degree to which it proves fact(s). The more a piece of evidence proves a fact, the greater it’s probative value. Greater value means a greater potential impact on the outcome of the case.

Probative value considers four main factors:

Inference: What inference can be reasonably drawn from the evidence. Circumstantial evidence such as DNA, forensics, and expert witnesses can infer that a person is linked to specific criminal activity.

Weight: The weight of the evidence measures how persuasive or believable it is. The greater the weight, the more impact it may have on proving facts and/or contributing to the final verdict.

Reliability: The more reliable the evidence, the greater its value. Testimony from a police officer who witnessed a crime, for example, would be more reliable than witness testimony from an untrained civilian.

Other Evidence: Whether other evidence is available to prove the same fact(s). While more supporting evidence can be beneficial in proving a fact, if there is other evidence available, low probative value evidence could be dismissed.

PREJUDICIAL

While both probative and prejudicial evidence can affect the outcome of a trial, they significantly different. Prejudicial evidence is that which negatively impacts the fairness and integrity of the case. This can include evidence that is misused, confuses issues, wastes time, or simply takes up too much time.

Just because a piece of evidence is damaging to the defendant’s case does not necessarily qualify it as prejudicial. The factors that determine it are based on three grounds— Moral, Logical & Time.

Where these factors may create an unfairly prejudicial effect, it is possible to have them excluded. Examples of when this may occur include:

  • Where prejudicial evidence threatens the fairness of the trial.
  • The evidence lacks adequate testing, or cannot be challenged properly
  • There is a significant risk of misuse by the jury, or the use of the evidence may lead to an inability to properly assess the evidence. This can occur where the evidence in question is too misleading, confusing, or distracting.

BALANCING PROBATIVE VS PREJUDICIAL

In determining whether or not to allow evidence its probative value is measured against the potential prejudicial effect. To be admitted, the evidence must have greater probative value. The probative vs prejudicial analysis is constantly occurring during criminal trials.

That does not mean it is difficult for evidence to be admitted. Judges and courts typically weigh more favorably on the side of admission of evidence. The prejudicial effect must be significant to be dismissed, and even then is sometimes allowed with certain restrictions.

The balance is not always consistent across the board. Some evidence is more probative on one count and more prejudicial on another. Where this occurs the court may limit the jury’s use of the evidence rather than exclude it outright.

There’s a lot more to Locard’s Exchange Principle than meets the common eye. In criminal investigation and crime scene examination, Locard’s is as certain as gravity, death, and taxes. For the crime writer—mystery & thrillers—there’s a lot to be learned from understanding how Locard’s applies and the ramification in storytelling from using Locard’s correctly. The takeaway? Every contact leaves a trace.

Kill Zoners — Were you aware of Locard’s Exchange Principle? Have you referred to it in a story? And what creative trace or fragmentary evidence have you cooked up? Real or imagined.

——

Garry Rodgers is a retired homicide detective with a second career as a coroner processing forensic evidence in death investigations. Now, Garry is a crime writer and indie publisher with sixteen books to his credit. His latest in the Based-On-True-Crime Series by Garry Rodgers is Beyond The Limits where Locard’s Exchange Principle led to a first-degree murder conviction.

Be sure to check out www.DyingWords.net which is Garry Rodgers’s popular blog with over 400 posts that provoke thoughts on life, death, and writing. Garry lives on Vancouver Island in British Columbia at the Canadian west coast. He frequently opens his Twitter account at @GarryRodgers1. Be sure to follow.

+15

AI (Artificial Intelligence) for Authors

Anyone remember HAL9000 from Arthur C. Clarke’s 1968 Space Odyssey series? HAL, or the Heuristically Programmed ALgorithmic Computer, was the artificial intelligence (AI) voice that famously said, “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.” That series was set in 2001. Now, 20 years later, we authors are firmly anchored in a world of artificial intelligence.

Think about how AI affects our writing life. I’m pecking away on a laptop with spell check big-brothering me. My smartphone keeps tab of my time and when I text, AutoCorrect interferes—sometimes with hilarious changes. (Sidenote: no form of AI will ever get comma use right.)

I stop writing, more often than not, to fact check or rabbit hole on Google which is one large AI search engine. Same with Amazon and Facebook. They’re loaded with AI features we take for granted.

When I finish this piece, and I have no idea right now how long it’ll be, I’ll plug this AI-overseen Word.doc into my AI-run Grammarly editing program and clean it up the best I can before I pop it into AI-filled WordPress and hit publish so you can read it on AI-induced devices. Like, how cool is this brave new world of artificial intelligence?

Speaking of cool, I once paid top dollar to experience a gyro-ride in an artificially intelligent F/A-18 Hornet flight simulator. How I didn’t puke from being strapped-in and pulling multi-G’s was amazing in itself, and that’s for another story, but part of the thrill was listening to “Bitching Betty” who artificially sits with you in the cockpit and shrieks in an Edith Bunker voice, “Pull up! Pull up!” when you get too low to the ground while exiting an inverted loop.

Okay, back down to earth. Where was I going with this? Oh yeah, AI for authors. I’m a big believer in making work easier. In fact, I’d like to not work at all, but writing is work and it helps pay the bills. So I embrace what AI technology is out there to assist with the income.

I’m keeping a close eye on Text-To-Speech (TTS) technology. I think the next tech wave is interactive ebooks where the reader will have a solid listener option for the device to convincingly turn the text into a realistic voice. That virtual reality already exists. It’s just not perfected yet. But my bet is within a few short years AI will allow a quick tap on your eReader, and you’ll listen to your book as if Bitching Betty was real.

This AI advancement may put the screws to those expensive human narrators or voiceovers who control today’s audiobook production. That’s progress, as they say, and I look forward to an affordable alternative in entering the audiobook market. It’s just that today’s TTS apps aren’t realistic enough to let my book babies play well with them.

They’re getting there, though. What brought on this artificially intelligent post was a recent wave of internet ads by a company called Speechelo. Anyone else see the FB ad-flood offering a 3-step, simple-to-use AI TTS generator for a 1-time low, low price of $49.00? Well, it turns out to be too good to be true, and the AI bots from Google shrieked, “SCAM!”

However, my rabbit hole descent found something else which I think is the real-deal AI writer program. I’ll get to that in a sec. First, I want to say a bit about TTS technology.

There’s some good AI reading apps out there, no doubt. Amazon’s Polly is remarkable. Word on the street is that AZ has an experimental TTS program on the go that aims to perfect NGL (natural language generation) on Kindle devices. Currently, AZ has a Kindle text-to-speech enablement that’s terribly inefficient. Here’s a quote about the new TTS program from an Amazon side channel I found in the r-hole:

The second-generation Kindle and the Kindle DX have an “experimental” feature that converts any text to speech and realistically reads it to you. Calling a feature experimental means that it’s a peripheral Kindle feature that Amazon is working on;  they’re available for “test driving” by certain Kindle owners to use but they might not be fully featured. There are some features that Amazon could choose to discontinue before they’re available to the open market.”

I don’t have a Kindle, so I can’t apply for a test drive. What I’ve done is plug some of my WIP text into Polly, and I have to say it sounds pretty good. From a voice perspective, that is. However, the AI still doesn’t have convincing NGL where the pace, accent, pronunciation, pitch, and infliction is that of a human narrator who brings emotion to the audio experience. That’s coming, believe me, and I’ll welcome its arrival.

Okay, on to what I found in AI for authors and the takeaway from this piece. It’s an AI novel critique program called Marlowe from a new company called Authors A.I. I found this software by rabbit-holing, and I was as skeptical as a sailor being offered a discount date. Marlowe is a next-generation AI critic (not so much an editor) who works for peanuts compared to the flesh and blood word scalpel. Here’s their sales pitch:

Marlowe* is an artificial intelligence that helps authors improve their novels and long-form fiction. She was born in January 2020 as the creative child of Matthew Jockers, Ph.D., co-author of The Bestseller Code, abetted by a surrounding cast of bestselling authors who have been contributing ideas and enhancements to her reports.

Here are a few fun facts about this brilliant reader.

She’s fast. Marlowe can read your book and deliver a 25+ page comprehensive critique within an hour.

She’s inexpensive. Priced at a fraction of the cost of a human editor, Marlowe allows you to run multiple versions of your report and can be used at every stage in the life of your manuscript. Let Marlowe identify and help you solve early issues before your manuscript reaches an editor or beta readers.

She doesn’t play favorites. Marlowe doesn’t have a favorite genre. She doesn’t judge, whether your book is a light-as-air fantasy or a thriller filled with gore or violence. She reads all fictional genres and sub-genres and returns equal and unbiased feedback, though she will tweak her results based on her specific genre norms.

She knows what goes into a good story. Seriously. Marlowe can critique character traits, plot arcs, narrative arcs, pacing, punctuation, sentence structure, reading level, and more.

* Why Marlowe?
Marlowe is named for both Christopher Marlowe, the Elizabethan tragedian who inspired Shakespeare, and Philip Marlowe, Raymond Chandler’s hardboiled private eye who plays chess and reads poetry. We like to think she has Philip Marlowe’s intellect and investigative skills and Christopher Marlowe’s pioneering spirit and love for the written word.

Marlow offers a free trial. Not being one to turn down something for free, I entered my manuscript for Beyond The Limits which is my latest release in my based on true crime series. I have to say I was impressed with the results. The freebie gave me twelve pages of professional-looking feedback on:

Sentence stats and readability score
Clichés
Dialogue vs narrative
Explicit language (aka profanity)
Frequent adverb and adjective use
Verb choice and passive voice
Punctuation data
Possible misspellings

This was all for free and the feedback provided excellent suggestions. It also offered the upsell that would give me information and criticism on:

Plot structure
Story beats
Pacing
Personality traits
Subject matter
Repetitive phrases

Now I’m not on the Marlowe affiliate program or getting some sort of kickback for promoting Marlowe. I just found this AI tool interesting enough that I think I’m going to buy their Pro version which runs at $89.00 for a single complete report or a monthly pass at $29.99. A full-year subscription will set you back $199.00.

And that is what AI is to authors—a tool. AI assistance is a valuable tool for writers. I’d say it’s an invaluable tool that’s only going to get better. However, I don’t believe AI will ever replace the human brain and the imagination it produces. As Kevin Kelly says in his 2016 book, The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future, “It’s not a race against machines. We’ll lose. It’s a race with machines. You’ll be paid in the future based on how well you work with machines. Let them take your existing job and let them help you dream up new work for the robots.”

I’m good with that take on AI. I’m not about to let some bot steal my story. As HAL said, “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

What about you Kill Zoners? What feedback can you give on AI for authors?

——

Garry Rodgers is a retired homicide detective and coroner. Garry’s expertise is investigating human deaths which led him to his third career in crime writing. His newest release in his 12-part Based-On-True-Crime Series is Beyond The Limits which covers an incomprehensible tragedy. The tagline is, “You never know what goes in in people’s minds.”

Garry Rodgers also hosts a popular blog at DyingWords.net. Besides writing ventures, Garry also holds a marine captain certification and uses it on the Pacific waters surrounding his home at Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada.

+11

Is Blogging Worthwhile for Thriller and Mystery Writers?

To blog or not to blog? That is the question. (For thriller and mystery writers, that is.) Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous troll comments or bravely take pens against a sea of **crickets**.

If Shakespeare were alive in this internet day, my bet’s the Bard would blog—despite the extraordinary effort required to consistently publish and the resounding risk of no return. He, himself, said so: “The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation.”

We writers on the Kill Zone, and we followers of our blog, are not Shakespeare. We’re resilient mortals, albeit with self-doubt and insecurities, and consumed with pursuing the written word. Including weakly weekly words pounded out on WordPress.

Is blogging worthwhile for thriller and mystery writers? My take? Absolutely!

I hit the blog publish button on June 30, 2012, and I have no regrets. I’ve put out 400+ pieces on DyingWords.net, and it’s returned more satisfaction than I can count. Money? No, not directly. But there’s a much bigger picture to author blogging than direct monetary reward.

Let me count the ways. Blogging has helped build my writing and technical skills, it’s allowed me considerable craft experimentation, it’s educated me in so many ways, it’s forced discipline and motivated me to meet deadlines, and blogging has let me network with like-minded writers on an international scale. I’ve built a brand through blogging, I’ve met influencers or force-multipliers, and I’ve been humbly invited to guest post on prominent sites.

Looking back, I see blogging has done one overall and invaluable thing for my writing adventure. It’s given me discoverability. Being discovered on a global scale loops back to indirect commercialization—making money by having readers buy my books. Blogging has been so, so worthwhile, and I will not lose momentum.

“And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought
And enterprises of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action”
~William Shakespeare / Hamlet

Running a regular blog isn’t for every thriller and mystery writer. Quite frankly, it’s a lot of bloody work. Many writers see blogging as a time suck with a low entry barrier where they compete with hacks who pollute the blogisphere with, well… shite.

I don’t worry about that. I’ve learned to do my own thing, and it’s slowly paid off. I look at blogging as a long-term venture—not some sort of a get-rich-quick scheme. (Spoiler Alert — nothing quick about getting rich with writing, and even Wild Bill Shakespeare made little money during his world-changing career.)

However, none of us are Bards, yet there’s never been a better time to be a writer. I sincerely mean this. We have amazing tools and resources to build our skills, cull our craft, network, and get discovered. Let’s look at why thriller and mystery writers should blog.

Improving Skills

Practice makes perfect. Although there’s no such thing as perfection—as far as I know—writing is a skill to be learned. It’s not Shakespearean-God-given talent for almost all of us. Whether you aspire to quill the next great American novel, outsell Rowling and King, or stack readers to your mail list, serious writers strive to improve. It’s a daily slog through other blogs and seeing what currently works.

What currently works for others may not work for you. “Current,” in blog terms, is as recent as a whale sighting. Blog things change fast. They surface and dive, but writing basics really don’t. Many times, blogging is about making old things seem new.

My experience in improving skills? Practice by publishing. Polish Erase the purple prose. Edit with efficiency. And keep on learning.

Experimentation

What’s writing without experimenting with your voice? “What’s voice?” my cow’s milk cheese, white bread, and raw leek sandwich once asked. Until I started blogging, I had no concept of “voice.”

Blogging taught me to free my voice. No, it’s not like free as in clothes-dropping and whirling-around-the-stripper-pole that my new neighbor Pamela Anderson performed in her video with Elton John. And yes… seriously… I’m not messing with you. Pam Anderson is my new neighbor, and that’s for a blog at another time.

See. I just experimented with my writing and my voice, and I know you’re going to read it when I post What I See With My Cabala’s Tripod-Mounted Bushnell Telescope When Pam’s Bedroom Blinds Slightly Crack.

Education

My blog has a tagline. It’s “Provoking Thoughts on Life, Death, and Writing.” Life. Death. Writing.

The blog–trogs of yesterday and the top-bloggers of today say, “Stick to your niche.” I didn’t know what a niche was when I started blogging. Till then, I thought a niche was my sister’s daughter.

But I learned what a niche was, and I found it. Education is a good thing. Education is something you’ll learn in spades when you blog. Continual education has let me learn to blog a lot about life, death, and writing. From that, I’ve learned a ton.

Discipline, Motivation & Deadlines

This is where my cop training came in—long before I was a writer. I was humiliated and soul-crushed in basic training—never mind physically worked to the mat—but I learned mental toughness and the power of teamwork.

Teamwork, motivation, deadlines, and discipline invoke mental toughness. It’s the underscore or underline of personal achievement. To put out blogs or articles, writing pieces day after day, and believe in yourself as a professional scribe, you have to psychologically put yourself in a winner mentality.

Discipline is putting your butt in your chair and your fingers on the keys. Motivation is personal—motivation is believing in your purpose and knowing you have deadlines. Deadlines are having this post up on the Kill Zone every second Thursday morning.

Blogging does this.

Networking

That’s why we’re all here at the Kill Zone. Not just the regular contributors who always have to constantly improve, experiment, educate, discipline/motivate, and meet deadlines. We network. And we critique each other. Often silently.

Blogging—and in my opinion—no better media lets you network more than blogging. I don’t mean just following my blogsite, or TKZ, or the hoards of SM-listed blog sites. There’s a whole wide world of blogging out there, and there’s a secret. That’s to tap into the blog community you want to be recognized by.

It’s by commenting.

Everyone in this TKZ thriller and writing community wants to network. Bloggers and followers inclusive. Sure, some contributors are prominent names and some commentators are new. Putting your comment on a TKZ post is a powerful networking move. Be assured prominent people are reading your comment, and they’re influencers who’ll help lift you.

Influencers/Force Multipliers

Writing. Blogging. Publishing. Marketing. This is a cooperative community. Not a competitive one. We help others to help themselves.

Influencers are folks who have gone before. They may be writers who’ve “made-it” as traditional publishing names. They may be teachers who go above and beyond to help other up-comers in indie publishing. And they may be peers who share what currently works, and what doesn’t for all of us in this crazy biz called writing, regardless of how you’re published.

Force-multipliers are big hitters. They have the success, credibility, and presence to endorse new-comers and guys like me. That might be an encouraging return comment on a blog post comment, or a SM shout-out reaching thousands.

Discoverability

Your return—your magic reward—from thriller and mystery writing blogging is discoverability. Yes, there’s a learning curve and a lot of work, but it’s so, so worth it.

I’ve blogged for over nine years. My followers aren’t huge by some scales, but I’ve amassed 2,100 qualified email list followers. My website clicks are around 800 a day. And when I send a DyingWords.net post out every second Saturday morning at 8:00 PST precisely, I get about 350 faithful readers clicking through.

These faithful readers discovered me through my blog. I look at it this way—if I called a town hall meeting every second Saturday morning and 350 showed up—with my bookselling table at the back of the room—I’d be happy with my blogging audience.

I don’t have a town hall, but my table is virtual, and my venue is open 24/7/365—internationally. It keeps growing as my blog keeps feeding it, and the spin-offs from my blog help discover me.

My secret sales sauce? Discoverability. It used to be called, “Word of Mouth.” Now it’s, “Word of Mouse.”

To me, as a Thriller and Mystery writer, “To blog or not to blog” isn’t the question. It’s the answer.

What about you Kill Zoners? Is blogging worthwhile?

——

Garry Rodgers is a retired homicide detective with a second career as a coroner responsible for investigating unexpected and unexplained human deaths. Now, Garry has reinvented himself as a crime writer and indie publisher.

An avid and active blogger at DyingWords.net, Garry Rodgers has also guest written for many sites including commissioned articles for the HuffPost. Garry lives on Vancouver Island in British Columbia at Canada’s southwest coast.

+10

Crime Writing — Do You Like Yours Hardboiled or Noir?

“Your crime writing is dark. Very dark. Do you consider it noir? Hardboiled? How do you slot your sub-genre?”

A podcaster recently put this to me. I was stumped. I knew my stuff was tragic and gore, but I had no strong concept of what noir and hardboiled really were—although I’d heard the terms many times. I thought they were just for the marketing department, but I made it my mission to find out.

What’s old is new again, hardboiled and noir. That certainly seems the case in resurrecting old crime story classics. Look at the resurgence of Agatha Christie. Netflix writers now idolize Elmore Leonard as the dialogue man. Say the names Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, or Mickey Spillane, and you’ll find an old-style legion of fans ready to tear this book house down.

Women aren’t excluded from the Hardboiled &Noir Club. No, ma’am. Besides Dame Agatha (I kneel before her), there are Dorothy Sayers, Dorothy B. Hughes, Patricia Highsmith, and (still going) Sara Paretsky. In their footsteps today, we have Megan Abbott, Val McDermid, and the intriguing hardboiled/noir writer Christa Faust.

So what’s the difference between noir and hardboiled, if there is any? From what I’ve just read, I’d say hardboiled is dark and noir is much darker. Noir is the French word for black. The term “noir” is somewhat more recognized in film, where hardboiled (hard-boiled) is common to print.

Either way, each term has its tropes and sub-genre idiosyncrasies. At its core, noir is dark and grim. Noir is urban gothic—hopeless. Hardboiled is gritty and unsentimental. Hardboiled is more like an action movie with a character-driven plot where the protagonist triumphs as best as they can.

Megan Abbot is one smart lady. She’s considered one of today’s masters in noir and hardboiled. I read a fascinating interview with Ms. Abbott where she defined “hardboiled” vs “noir” crime fiction. Here’s her quote:

Hardboiled is distinct from noir, though they’re often used interchangeably. The common argument is that hardboiled novels are an extension of the wild west and pioneer narratives of the 19th century. The wilderness becomes the city, and the hero is somewhat of a fallen character, a detective or a cop. At the end, everything is a mess, people have died, but the hero has done the right thing, or close to it, and order, to a certain extent, has been restored. ‘Law and Order’ is a good example of modern hardboiled.

Noir is different. In noir, everyone is fallen, and right and wrong are not clearly defined and maybe not even attainable. In that sense, noir speaks to us powerfully right now when certain structures of authority no longer make sense. We wonder, ‘Why should we abide by them?’ Noir thrived in the 40s after the Great Depression and during the war. It was popular during Vietnam and Watergate and is on the rebound again. ‘Breaking Bad’ is a good noir example.

It’s hard to sum-up noir and hardboiled better than this. Maybe another quote adds to clearing the smoke-filled alleys. The protagonist in noir must himself (herself) be part of the scummy world. The protagonist in hardboiled is a white knight in a world of scum.

Historically, hardboiled crime writing set itself on the perpetually-rainy, mean streets of American cities that were darkened by something more than night. Conventional tropes were the loner detective with a fedora and trench coat whose oak-desked, ceiling-fanned office operated in the low rent district. He looked out on the city of danger through Venetian blinds, chain-smoked, and was never far from a bottle of Scotch. The rebel gumshoe with a moral code spoke in nuanced dialogue saying “dames” for women, “gams” for legs, and “gat” for his gun.

Noir, on the other hand, sees little good in the world. Basically, everything and everyone is F’d. Noir crime writing examines psychological instability in people and their institutions. Being dangerously unstable is the key characteristic of noir protagonists. It might be a key characteristic of successful noir writers, too.

Examining noir and hardboiled isn’t complete without looking at these sub-genre’s origins. This isn’t a chicken-or-egg thing. It’s generally accepted that hardboiled came first and expanded into noir. Some may argue differently, and that’s what the comment section is for.

A hundred years ago, Brits were the kings and queens of crime fiction. Edgar Allen Poe paved the way for Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle to refine the cozy mystery genre. Here, scenes took place in confined trains and enclosed mansion libraries where the sleuth deducted the facts and announced the villain.

Americans, being the troublesome colonists they’ve always been, rebelled against criminally-correct plots and characters. America was shaped by an unregulated frontier that found its way to the roaring speakeasies of Chicago and the cold, cold heart of the Big Apple. Naturally, the North American public wanted a new brand of perpetrator and a hardboiled crime-fighter to match.

A Pinkerton detective shaped the hardboiled crime fiction world in the 1920s. Dashiell Hammett’s protagonist, Continental Operative, fought crime in the streets without sentimental emotion or official sanction. In 1923, Hammett teamed with a pulp magazine called Black Mask. This opened the door for hardboiled-cum-noir greats like Raymond Chandler with his Philip Marlowe character and Mickey Spillane with Mike Hammer.

Today, we have unique twenty-first-century hardboiled writers and characters. Michael Connelly has done well with Harry Bosch, to say the least. So has Lee Child with Jack Reacher.

And there’s a new girl on the block who writes about as dark and action-packed as you can get. Christa Faust has the chops to make her hardboiled noir, and she’s got the creds. Christa grew up riding subways and walking New York streets. She worked Times Square peep shows and practiced as a professional dominatrix. Now, Christa Faust is published by Hard Case Crime.

Yes, what’s old is new again. Hardboiled and noir are alive and well in crime writing city. That’s a good thing. And to answer the podcaster’s question, “How do you slot your sub-genre? Hardboiled or noir?” I have to say poached on the soft-runny side with a slice of dry, whole wheat toast. I’m an optimistic sort with a healthy infection of unorthodox attitude, and I’m not a psycho noir-person.

What about you Kill Zoners? Do you like your crime writing hardboiled or noir?

——

Garry Rodgers is a retired cop and coroner. Now, he’s an indie crime writer whose personal experiences with the light and dark side of life find their way into the pages of his books. Garry is about to release the seventh publication in his twelve-part, based-on-true-crime series. Watch for Beyond The Limits on ePlatforms this month.

Garry Rodgers lives on Vancouver Island at the Canadian west coast. He hosts a popular blog at DyingWords.net and occasionally checks his Twitter account @GarryRodgers1. Garry’s Amazon Author Page is open 24/7 as well.

+14

Book Reviews:  Are They Useful to Writers?

“Don’t read your reviews.” “Don’t read your reviews.” I had the same advice given to me twice by two different writer acquaintances. Both are million-plus sellers, and both are people I highly respect. Despite their experience and financial success, I don’t necessarily know if they’re right about this. That leads me to this rant post about book reviews and the question of ‘are they useful to writers’.

At their core, book reviews are sales tools. Publishers have long promoted good reviews as social proof of a book’s value. They want to positively influence readers to buy a copy. That leads to the issue of why expose negative reviews when they probably hurt sales, but that’s for a different philosophical discussion.

The problem with book reviews, as I see it, is subjectivity. Reviews are based on the reviewer’s opinion. Reviewers are readers, and readers have an enormous variety of takes, tastes, and tolerances. What is a good read to one may be bad to another.

I suppose an objective review would be thoughtful and helpful. It does no good for a writer to be lavishly praised or mercilessly trashed without the reviewer stating why they liked or disliked the work. We, as writers, learn from our work, and constructive criticism or accurate feedback is a wonderful learning tool.

I have to say I’m a bad reviewer. I don’t mean I leave bad reviews. (I won’t write a review if I can’t say something positive—that’s my nice guy nature). I mean, I rarely leave even a good review after I finish a book, and that makes me a hypocrite when I ask readers to leave a review on my publications.

Back to subjectively. We writers are readers, too, with personal likes and dislikes. When it comes to reading genre fiction, I’m on Team King, not Team Patterson. In my subjective opinion, Stephen King blows James Patterson out of the water when it comes to talented storytelling. However, I understand Patterson makes more money selling books than King, so who’s the better writer?

Not everybody likes J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter series. I read there are nearly 200,000 one-star Harry Potter reviews on GoodReads. Twilight  apparently got eviscerated over there. So did Fifty Shades. Even Garry Rodgers takes the odd dart in the eye on the GR site.

Speaking of me, let’s see how I’ve fared on Amazon. I’ve worn everything from the crown of honor to the cone of shame. Here’s a review snapshot of my book In The Attic which has 262 Amazon reviews (ratings) that average 4.2 on the 5-Star scale. 51% are 5, 29% are 4, 15% are 3, 1% are 2, and 4% of my reviewers (raters or haters) think I suck and awarded me a 1-Star.

But what do these Amazon stars actually mean? GoodReads uses a 5-Star rating system, too. I haven’t looked under that bridge in over two years, but out of curiosity for this post, I checked the Amazon-affiliate site. GoodReads has 184 hits on In The Attic, and they give it an average of 3.77 out of a possible 5.0.

I Googled around and found a subjective article titled How Are Product Star Ratings Calculated? The author tells me that Amazon is more generous than GoodReads when it comes to the stars aligning. Here’s how the writer says Amazon and GoodReads interpret ratings:

5 Stars — On AZ “I love it.” On GR “It was amazing.”
4 Stars — On AZ “I like it.” On GR “Really like it.”
3 Stars — On AZ “It’s okay.” On GR “Liked it.”
2 Stars — On AZ “I don’t like it.” On GR “It was okay.”
1 Star   — On AZ “I hate it.” On GR “Did not like it.”

I found another piece where the contributor equated star rating to a school report:

5 Stars — B+ to A
4 Stars — C+ to B
3 Stars — C to C-
2 Stars — D or D-
1 Star   — F for Fail

Fair enough. The star rating is obviously subjective. What about written reviews? Is this where the rubber meets the road and we writers can find useful criticism? Let’s look at In The Attic again and take the ice cream with the ugly sweaters. At least the way Amazon sees it.

Reviewed in the United Kingdom on November 25, 2020
***** Brilliant story.

Reviewed in the United States on January 5, 2020
* Horrible. The worst book I have ever read, I tried to like it but could not get past the first few chapters. This is the only book (in my life) I could not finish.

Reviewed in the United States on May 13, 2020
***** Caveat: This is not for the faint of heart. And that it is a true story just blows my mind. The author does not lie about the content being graphic. If you are prone to nightmares, this is a warning. I literally prayed last night that I would not have a nightmare (thankfully, I did not).

Reviewed in the United Kingdom on June 26, 2020
* All I can say is thank goodness I didn’t pay for this book. Author wasted many chapters on absolute rubbish. At least I know not to read any more from him. A true story but he so missed the mark and could have had a winner if told only from his perspective. Sorry but true.

Reviewed in the United States on September 10, 2020
*** Mr. Rodgers, are you are (sp) of your subject matter? And that it’s based on TRUE events? Sir, only true psychopaths would get decent entertainment value from this book. (I just needed to point this out while I remembered!).

One tool every writer needs is a hide thickener. We can’t always get ego-praising, “If I could give it 10 stars, I would” reviews as one reader left for me. We have to endure comments such as, “Never have I given a bad report on a book because it really is a huge undertaking and hard work for the author… but THIS book… OMGosh…talk about sensational drivel. I’m speechless. Most of it was hard core fluff to fill out a book that should have been 30 pages instead of 155, with sexual content jabber, sensationalism, and …well…let’s just say Do yourself a favor and pass this one by. Or…go ahead and read it and then hit yourself in the forehead for not paying attention to an honest one star rating. Sorry, author…. “I wish I hadn’t….” I’m sure your other books are better.”

The problem with reviews like these, good-neutral-bad, is they’re not particularly useful to improve my craft. I want to know why my writing is brilliant on one hand and horrible on the other. Why do I appeal to psychopaths and blow people’s minds? How is it my senseless drivel leaves a reader speechless? A little elaboration would be handy.

I know the trolls are out there. I also recognize a butt-kisser, and that goes with travelling in writing country. As an online crime writer, I’ve had everything from marriage proposals to death threats (not joking). By the way, In The Attic is 167 pages and contains no hardcore sexual stuff. The reviewer must have read a different In The Attic.

I’m still early in my writing travels. I might be a “C or D” on the popularity list, and I have no problem with honest criticism that’s meant to be helpful instead of hurtful. It’s somewhat comforting to know that A-listers who’ve gone before me have worn sweaters uglier than my driver’s license photo. Here are some slams I found on the net:

On Herman Melville and Moby DickSheer moonstruck lunacy.

On J.D. Salinger and Catcher In The RyeThe greatest mind ever to stay in prep school.

On George Moore’s work — He leads his readers to the latrine and locks them in.

By Samuel Johnson to an aspiring writer — Your book is both good and original. Unfortunately, the parts that are original are not good, and the parts that are good are not original.

On James A, Michener and ChesapeakeTwo recommendations. First, don’t buy the book. Second, if you do buy the book, don’t drop it on your foot.

By Randall James on a poetry book — This reads like it was written on a typewriter—by a typewriter.

By Mark Twain on Henry James — Once you’ve put down one of his books, you simply can’t pick it up again.

By Oscar Wilde on George Meredith — As a writer he has mastered everything except language; as novelist he can do everything except tell a story; as an artist he is everything except articulate.

How about you folks on the Kill Zone? Do you read your book reviews, and are book reviews useful to writers?

——

Garry Rodgers is a retired homicide detective with a second career as a coroner responsible for investigating unnatural and unexplained deaths. Now, Garry is a crime writer and indie publisher working on a based-on-true-crime series. His seventh book in the collection, Beyond The Limits, is coming out this month on Amazon, Kobo, and Nook.

Garry Rodgers lives on Vancouver Island at Canada’s left coast. When not writing, Garry putts around the Pacific Ocean and drinks boxed wine—not necessarily at the same time. Check out DyingWords.net (Garry’s blog & website) and follow him on Twitter.

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What’s on Your Nightstand?

There’s a saying that goes, “Where you’ll be five years from now depends on the people you meet, the conversations you have, and the books you read”. I don’t know who said it, but I say it holds truth. Especially books you read… like the ones on your nightstand.

I’ve always been a reader. Not sure if the right adjective is voracious, avid, or anal, but I love to read. It’s in my blood, and the blood I begat, and the blood I married. My family members are all readers. So are most of my friends and colleagues.

My dad got lost for hours reading everything from newspapers to classics. My sister, who’s a lioness of a reader, said if my dad were alive when the internet arrived, we’d never have gotten him off it. My mum held a Masters in English Lit, and she wrote her thesis on Thomas Hardy. To no surprise, mum was a teacher who loved to teach kids to love to read.

Our kids were very young when they were born, so it was easy for my wife and I to mould them into our reading cult. I turned Aesop’s Fables into “stupid stories” to get bedtime bladder-relieving belly laughs from Emily and Alan. Rita, my wife, sensibly read Harry Potter to them so convincingly that they hated the movies because they didn’t sound like their mom’s character versions.

Now our kids are all growed up. Thankfully, they turned out all right because they’d rather read than work, and that’s proven because both took leave from their jobs and went back to university. At least this time, mom and dad aren’t paying.

Now mom and dad are empty nesters who love nothing better than hang around and read. Rita and I read a lot. We have so many books that our insurance provider required a structural engineer to approve our book cases for fear of someone being killed in a catastrophic collapse.

Seriously, though, we have serious stuff on our nightstands. But as close as Rita and I have been during our 37 married years, we have significantly different reading interests. Same with our kids—Emily, 32 and Alan, 30—and that’s a good thing because we all keep on reading.

My wife and kids stepped up for this Kill Zone piece. I polled them on their nightstands. I asked them to list five books they recently read, were currently reading, or had purchased and intended to read next (the TBR list). Here’s five reads on each of the Rodgers family nightstands.

Garry Rodgers

  1. Podcasting For Dummies — Tee Morris / Chuck Tomasi (Take note, Sue Coletta) 🙂
  2. Profiles in Folly – History’s Worst Decisions & Why They Went Wrong — Alan Axelrod
  3. Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind — Yuval Noah Harari
  4. Fortunate Son — John Fogerty
  5. The Cobra — Frederick Forsyth (re-read)

Rita Rodgers

  1. The Blue Moth of Morning — Poems by P.C. Vandall (Rita’s friend)
  2. If It Bleeds — Stephen King
  3. The Goldfinch — Donna Tartt
  4. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine — Gail Honeyman
  5. The Alice Network — Kate Quinn

Emily Rodgers

  1. The Flames — Leonard Cohen
  2. The Story of the Human Body — Daniel E. Lieberman
  3. Saints for All Seasons — John J. Delaney
  4. Ten Poems for Difficult Times — Roger Housden
  5. The Bible

Alan Rodgers

  1. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People — Stephen R. Covey
  2. How to Win Friends and Influence People — Dale Carnegie
  3. The Daily Stoic — Ryan Holiday
  4. Rogue Trader — Andy Hoare
  5. Johnathan Strange & Mr. Norrell — Susanna Clarke

That’s the Rodgers reads. What about you Kill Zoners? Let’s read what TKZ contributors and followers have on the nightstands. Go ahead and list five books you’ve recently read, are now reading, or have on the TBR list. That includes paper, digital, or however you like to read.

———

Garry Rodgers is a retired murder cop with a second career as a guy no one wanted an appointment with — Dr. Death, the coroner. Now Garry passes himself off as an indie crime writer who checks his Amazon sales stats every half hour.

Speaking of crime writing, Garry Rodgers has six books out in a twelve part Based-On-True-Crime series. Garry’s first one, In The Attic, is available for FREE on Amazon, Kobo, and Nook. Help yourself to one for the holidays!

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Is Speed Reading Efficient for Writers?

There’s a famous quip from Woody Allen that goes like this, “I took a course in speed reading. I read War and Peace in twenty minutes. It was about Russia.” There’s a lot of truth in those lines because when writers read for research (and pleasure) they need to find that balance between speed, comprehension, and production. It all comes down to efficiency.

Some folks naturally read faster than others. During my research for this Kill Zone piece, I sourced statistics that the average person reads at the speed of about 200 to 250 words per minute (wpm). That’s like a typical 12 point page spaced at 1.15 inches in 60 seconds. Speed demons can go as high as 400 wpm, but there’s a distinct line where speed becomes counter-productive, and the ability to comprehend and retain those words drastically diminishes.

Other stats I found compared reading speed to conversation cadence. Most of us talk at about 150 wpm which, I read, is the optimal spacing for podcasting and audio books. Cattle auctioneers bark at around 250 wpm, and I once worked with a cop who spoke so fast that no one could understand him—probably blurting out about 300 or more. It was a thing of beauty to listen to his evidence in court.

Here are some other speed reading tidbits.US President John Kennedy reportedly read three major newspapers before his morning coffee cooled. JFK’s rate was around 1,100 and he, himself, said it was his ability to skim for what he was interested in. The World Speed Reading Championship has a six-time winner, Anne Jones, who read at 4,200 wpm with a recorded comprehension at 67 percent.

Then there’s Kim Peek. He’s a savant who has memorized over 9,600 books. No one knows how he does it because Kim’s corpus callosum has been missing since birth. That’s the nerve bundle connecting the right and left cerebral hemispheres.

Anyway, back to us mortal writers. We have to read to be able to produce writing. Most of us, myself included, are bookies. We love to read as well as write. Like me, you’re probably a closet bibliomaniac who practices the art of tsundoku. (I linked these words to Wikipedia—you’re welcome.)

Another quote, while I’m in quoting mode, is from Stephen King himself who savantly said, “To be a good writer you must do two things. Read a lot and write a lot. If you don’t have the time for reading, then you do not have the tools for writing.” I’ll take King’s advice any day, but the 64-thousand dollar question is, “How do I read quickly but still write efficiently?”

To start with, there are certain limitations built into us writing mortals. They involve interactions between the eye and the brain. Brains are linguistically programmed through instinct. We naturally learn to speak. However, we have to be taught to read, and then we have to practice. A lot, if we’re going to be good readers who can efficiently transpose information into intelligible writing.

When you look at images on a page—letters, words, sentences, paragraphs, and symbols—light reflects from the page or screen to the back of your retina. Here a tiny, dot-like feature called your fovea centralis takes the information and passes it to your cerebral cortex for processing. Your cortex decides whether to use the information, store it, or chuck it.

As amazing as your fovea is, it has a limited capacity to function with speed. Foveas are focused fellas, and they only see about three words at a time. That’s because only so much light passes into cell cones in the center of the fovea. Light coming from peripheral page regions, like words to the left and right, fades into the fog of cell rods that aren’t so good at transmitting useful reading information.

There’s more to this reading science than meets the eye. You’re programmed to read in small chunks at a time. Reading scientists call this fixations and saccades. Fixations are the spots where your fovea stops and saccades are the jerk actions between the stops that keep your eye moving across the page.

From what I read and retained, your fovea fixation lasts from about a quarter-second to a full-second. This depends on your mental focus and how much your brain decides that particular info-bit is worth to you. A saccade period is about a tenth-second. Saccades are pretty predictable, and the only control you have is to decide how much you want to skim.

You can’t will or teach your fovea to act faster or look farther. It’s only going to take in about three words between stops. What you can do, however, is to exercise your cortex to retain more, and that comes from reading lots.

When you read a lot, you become more familiar with words that your brain can find useful. You expand your vocabulary as well as your overall knowledge. More understood and informative words equals higher efficiency when it comes to reading fast and retaining more. However, there comes a point where you’re reading too fast and miss too much.

So, is there such a thing as efficient speed reading? A balance? Well, let’s look back to where this craze came from and went to. Travel back to 1958 and meet Evelyn Wood who wrote Reading Skills. She was a Utah school teacher who used a three-point system to make her kids better readers. Evelyn recognized these three efficient reading methods:

Method 1 — Take more information in at a time. She encouraged scanning by moving a finger or pen across a page to increase saccade action.

Method 2 — Eliminate subvocalization. This is the little voice in your head that wants to read out loud rather than be still and absorb information.

Method 3 — Eliminate regressive eye movements. Evelyn encouraged students to read it right the first time and not to keep going back over things.

Evelyn Wood was probably the mother of all speed reading courses. She went on to offer Reading Dynamics and made a ton of money by teaching adults to read faster and absorb better. Some historians question Wood’s effectiveness at significantly improving speed, but you can’t argue with her worldwide exposure.

Forward to 2020 and the app age. This speed reading thing hasn’t gone away. Google “speed reading” and you’ll find tools like Spritz, Spreeder, Outread, Acceleread, and Reedy to help reduce your TBR pile. Do any of these apps really work? I don’t know, because I have my own system for researching and writing that I’d like to share with you.

As I mused, there’s a balance between time and efficiency. It depends on what you want to do with your reading material. I’m not one to “speed read” a novel, but it pays to rip through resource material as quickly as possible to write an article like this.

Case Study: Is Speed Reading Efficient for Writers?

I spent five hours researching this post. I have a fair amount of experience doing online articles, as I spent two years working with my daughter in her content writing agency. That business pays by the article. Not the word count or by time. A typical content piece is 2,200 words and to make a decent hourly return, you have to be somewhat speedy in reading your research.

I used the keywords “Speed Read” to “Google” information. I found 14 suitable articles online ranging from Psychology Wiki (which I had no idea existed—you’re welcome again) to Wired, Lifehacker, and the BBC. I copied the content and pasted it on a Word.doc which is what I religiously do for research. I formatted the doc in Ariel 10 point with 1.15 spacing and set the color on black with a white background.

Then, I printed each article on 8 ½ x 11 and went at them with a yellow highlighter and a red pen. I used a side page for black-inked notes. By this time, my cortex knew what it was looking for so, as my fovea followed my saccade spacing, I yellow-highlighted interesting stuff and red underlined really interesting stuff. I then made black notes of key points and I moved it along.

The printed 14 documents contained 21,823 words. That’s an average of 1,559 per piece. Out of the 5 hours in research time, about 2 ½ were spent in reading the printed docs and making notes. 2 ½ hours is 150 minutes, so my words-per-minute was 145. That’s no speed demon by any measure.

However, my comprehension, retention, and piece production were (in my opinion) reasonably efficient. Sure, I could probably have scanned the stuff at 3 times the rate. But, I wouldn’t have been able to efficiently write this 1,593-word article in 1.75 hours. That’s composing at 906 words per hour or 15.1 words per minute.

Do I have room to increase my writing efficiency? Certainly. Probably we all do. But is speed reading to save research time worth the reduced value of the final product? I say no.

What about you Kill Zoners? What’s your view on speed reading, and what tips on writing efficiency do you have? Please drop them in the comment box.

___

Garry Rodgers is a retired homicide detective with a second career as a coroner investigating sudden, strange, and unexplained deaths. Now Garry has reinvented himself as an indie writer who’s working on a series of based-on-true-crime stories. His latest venture, Beyond The Limits – Book #7, is scheduled for release in early January, 2021.

Besides writing at the Kill Zone and on his popular blog at www.DyingWords.net, Garry Rodgers spends his spare time putting around the saltwater near his home on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. To his aghast, there was a skim of frost on Garry’s windshield this morning.

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