Don’t check my browser history

Over on Facebook this morning, I commented on my status that I really hoped no one was checking my browser history. (Don’t ask what I’m researching today.) It reminded me of a post I did back in 2009 … so I thought I’d recycle it for those of you who follow me now and missed it the first time around.

IT’S ALL IN THE NAME OF RESEARCH

I often wonder if anyone (meaning government agencies) monitors my emails. Because they must go a little nuts when they start reading mine.

In the past few years, I’ve exchanged emails about:

  • how morphine and other opiates were made in historical times.
  • how a bad guy could sabotage a car to stop it after it’s been on the road for several miles.
  • if a gun has gotten wet, could it be fired without being cleaned
  • could a gun be fired under water
  • how to hack a computer to track a kidnapper/money launderer/Colombian druglord
  • what trouble a lawyer might get in if they have an affair with a witness
  • all sorts of BDSM topics
  • where a good place to crash a small plane in South Carolina would be
  • what type of poison could be used that wouldn’t be traced through a standard tox screen
  • date rape drugs – what are the effects, how easy are they to obtain, how to detect if they’ve been added to a drink
  • the smell of a dead body after it’s been decomposing in a warm closed room for over three weeks. (Actually I answered someone else’s question on that one–yes, from real life experience.)

Let’s see, how many agencies would I have involved there? The DEA definitely, the FBI probably, possibly the CIA for the Colombia reference, Homeland Security? numerous police organizations and bar associations. I have no idea who might keep track of BDSM questions. All of the above?

Sometimes the questions end up taking a lot more time to ask and answer than writing the actual scene. Even if it’s something fairly small and insignificant, I’ll Google until I can find the answer, or fire off a question to one of my “experts.” Sometimes the question is serious, like the ones above, and sometimes, they’re … well, they’re not quite so serious.

Last night, I thanked my lucky stars that I saved emailing my question to BlueSue, who breeds and raises Arabian horses, until late at night…

**WARNING**

I write erotic romance, so the questions and answers may offend some.
For me? It’s all a scientific exploration (and a heckuva lot of fun!)

The question I asked Sue?

Leah: What marks would a saddle leave if the heroine were pressed over one sideways?

Sue: is she leaning forward over the saddle while he takes her from behind?

Leah: Yup (Does Sue know me or what?!!!)

Sue: LOL! ok. English or western tack?

Leah: Western

Sue: leaning over it sideways, even the best of saddles is going to be pretty painful, and probably leave a lot of damage… Bruised boobies from the swell and cantle. probably cuts/deep scrapes from the conches and even from the edges of the leather. her belly would be bruised from the edge of the leather at the bottom of the jockey. It’s thick, heavy leather – for a western saddle, even if it’s well made and soft, it’s not designed to be comfortable from that direction.

Leah: (thinking this but not sending it to Sue) Ouch. That doesn’t sound sexy. I think I may need to re-choreograph this scene.

Sue: if they drop their pants anywhere near the hay, they’ll be picking hay stems out of their cracks for hours. I promise….

Leah starts snickering.

Sue: It would be very awkward and entertaining.

Sue: If the saddles are on free standing racks/stands, if the sex is rough, they’re likely to push it over. LOL. *ahem*

Leah’s snickering changes to chuckles as she ponders how exactly Sue might have determined this bit of trivia

Sue: OH! barn cats. if she has a barn cat, it will be rubbing between their legs. dogs, goats, horses… everything will watch, or be staring eagerly at the door when they finally walk out.

Leah is bent over busting a gut from laughing so hard as her imagination starts crafting the scene.

Writing stops dead for the night. (Which was a pity because I wrote almost 6K yesterday, for a total of 19,042 words in one week – it’s not a record for me, but considering how the words haven’t been flowing lately, I’m thrilled!) The laughter however continued for quite some time afterward.

But OH, what a scene I’ve got planned now! Thanks Sue!

I sure hope whoever is monitoring my emails, if there is anyone monitoring them, got a good laugh out of it too.


By the way, does anyone recognize what book and scene I used that information in?

I couldn’t do it. Could you?

Last Saturday as part of the Writers’ Police Academy, I took part in FATS training — that’s a Fire Arms Training Simulator. At first I thought it would be like one of those FBI training sessions where we’d actually have to run around a room and chase suspects, with innocent civilians popping up at various times. It turned out that it took place in a classroom with a huge screen at one end, and an officer controlling the video on a computer.

The videos below weren’t filmed at the Writers Police Academy I attended, but they’ll give you an idea of what I and other participants faced. The second one gives you a quick shot of one of the actual scenarios I faced–a hostage situation taking place in a school.

The week before, we’d been sent instructions on the “Use of Force” that instructed us to use direct verbal commands to get control of a situation. The sheets said it’s better to use an alpha command such as “Stop!” and “Drop the weapon” instead of a beta command such as television actor’s favourite, “Freeze!” or “Give it up!” Now I’m a mom, and I’m used to telling my kids no, but it’s a totally different matter to be faced with a guy who may or may not have a weapon who is willing to kill you to escape. Was it ever tough trying to come up with the right thing to say when standing up there.

We got to sit in on the session before our scheduled time (thank heavens! it made me a lot less nervous in a way.) There were various scenarios you could be faced with, and each team got different ones than the last team. You might be standing guard at an airport when someone gets agitated about being searched and pulls a hostage to them, with a knife at her throat. Or you may be called to a workplace environment where two co-workers have been involved in an altercation. (Hint, watch out if one reaches into a drawer.) You might be called to a mall where someone is dressed in a white jumpsuit like the pesticide people use — he’s spraying shoppers with something that’s making them sick. (That’s when I learned that if I’d actually voiced the thought that a hazmat suit might be nice, one would have been provided with the click of a button. But I didn’t say it, so yup, I died.) There were hostage situations, and domestic disputes as well.

We used real guns but they didn’t use real bullets. Thank heavens. While I did shoot a few guns when I visited a friend in Texas a few years back, I needed their instruction again. (It was also slightly weird to listen to many of the civilian participants compare the guns they carried or used at home, and some of the incidents when they’d had to use them, or felt they should have, all in a casual conversation over lunch. Talk about a mild culture shock.)

In one scenario I watched, the participants were breaching a home that had hostages–the first suspect immediately surrendered, but a second one emerged from a door armed & actively shooting. The participants shot him at least six times before he finally fell to the floor. When the question was raised about the necessity of the number of shots fired, the instructors replayed the scenario and pointed out only three seconds had passed from the first shot to the last.

Our instructors talked about how it takes three quarters of a second to process what’s going on–if a subject moves, you’re likely to be aiming for where they were rather than where they are so your shot might miss them. (ugh, going on memory here, so I hope I’m getting them right.) So they’d already shot him before their brain registered that he was on the floor. And even then he still held the gun so could still have posed a threat.

By the way, you have to aim for center mass, those shots aimed at a suspect’s hand or leg are trick shots only good for television. Or for snipers–who don’t aim for hands or legs; they aim for the T-box (the eyes and nose) in order to drop the suspect so they don’t have time to get off a shot and endanger their victim.

I tried to give commands but found myself struggling to come up with something to say while my partner was silent but deadly with her weapon. I noticed that I was more likely to shoot in the first scenarios than I was the subsequent scenarios. I was struggling with trying to think of what I should be saying to control the situation or questioning myself when I needed to make decisions in a split second. Usually a split second I wouldn’t have in real life. Obviously my partner and I both needed a heck of a lot more training sessions to work on our verbal skills, and the ability to think on our feet.

It was the last situation I faced that stuck with me. We were on a ride along with another police officer who recognized someone who had a warrant out for them. He pulled over the truck, the driver climbed out and the two of them talked at the side of the road, the officer informing the driver that he was going to have to take him in. The suspect asked the other officer to let him take his eleven year old daughter home and then he’d come quietly. When the officer declined and had the guy turn around in preparation to handcuff him, I expected the suspect to reach beneath his shirt for a gun. He didn’t. The truck’s passenger door opened, the passenger climbed out and aimed a shotgun at me. I had my weapon aimed at the passenger then realized she was only a kid, and remembered the dad had said she was only eleven. She was so little, with pretty, long blond hair. She looked so innocent. Even with that shotgun’s barrel aimed at me.

I should have said something. I didn’t. I knew I should fire, but I couldn’t. I was struggling with how I could live with myself if I’d killed her. In the replay, you could see the track of my weapon as I lifted my weapon skyward as I struggled with my decision.

She fired.

I didn’t.

My partner fired a round dead center in the girl’s chest. Our instructors agreed that the girl would have died from the wound. But I would have been dead too. Gizmo Guy and the boys would have had to answer a knock at the door, or answered a phone call, telling them I’d never come home again. There’s no way I could be a police officer. I met some fantastic examples this weekend — men and women who have to make that decision on a daily basis. They have my utmost respect.

What would you have done? Could you have pulled that trigger?

Countdown: 5 days

One of the things that slows me down when I’m writing (aside from self-doubt and plot issues) is the need to research my subject.  Talk to any author and they’ll tell you how easy it is to get lost in researching your topic. While I once worked with a security firm, one of only two woman amongst almost a hundred former military men (who often were armed), things have changed a lot since then. From the types of weapons they’d carry to the modes of transport to the types of threats.

In Deliberate Deceptions, Chad and Lauren are being threatened by a rogue operative from Lauren’s clandestine hostage-negotiation/rescue group, The Light Brigade.  So they are spirited away to one of Hauberk’s safe houses. But what measures would be taken to get them there? Would they be taken together or separately? I figured they’d be taken separately since they were being threatened by one person, and that gave at least one of them the chance to stay safe for the journey.  But would they be driven to the safe house? Well, first I had to figure out where the safe house was…

“We can provide a safe location for her to stay—” Sam glanced at Chad, who nodded his agreement, “—complete with armed bodyguards, and a state-of-the-art security system with around the clock coverage. But you’re going to have to let us in on the investigation she was running.”

“Fair enough.” Weir nodded.

Chad left Sam to discuss the monetary details while he considered which safe house to use and who to assign as their principal’s guards. He discarded the house in Fredrick as unsuitable. It worked fine for partners seeking distance from a vengeful ex, but with this case, they were talking a more sophisticated threat. The estate in Texas Sam had bought and fitted out the previous year was a possibility, as were the penthouse in New York, the farm just outside Atlanta, or the compound in Vermont. They’d each been set up with a state-of-the-art alarm system, along with a panic room that would be secure even if someone hit it with a hundred pounds of C-4 explosive. For some reason he couldn’t name, he ruled out Arlington. New York was out too. It had seen enough terrorism, thanks very much. He checked with the Atlanta office only to discover their safe house was in use. Which left Vermont.

(By the way, the house in Arlington Texas Chad decides not to use? That’s the house featured in Private Property.)

Next question I had to answer was, if they’re going to Vermont would they fly or would they drive?  I had them drive Chad up, but they flew Lauren around the country. But in what type of plane? A public plane? A private plane?  Or a helicopter? And what type of helicopter? I did a variation of all of the above as I followed Lauren’s route, finishing up with them picking her up in a helicopter to deliver her to the safe house. But what type of helicopter would they use?  And was it important to say what type of helicopter? Is it enough to say “the helicopter”? To me when someone says helicopter, I think of the old fashioned bubble type helicopter like they used in Magnum PI, which really wouldn’t offer much protection.

So I decided yes, I would name a specific type. But what type? Some of it depended on how many people would be accompanying Lauren. So it came down to a choice between a couple different types.  Did I have them fly in on a Sikorsky 76 civilian helicopter?

or would they use a Bell Jet Ranger?

Then I found this page and once I saw how the insides were done up, I knew that’s the type of plush interior that Hauberk might hire for its higher priced clients. (Although I’m betting in actual fact, they’d rather go less for plushness and more for functionality and practicality.)

So now my characters have arrived at this remote safe house what would they find surrounding them?  Guards, of course. Armed guards. Probably equipped with Night Vision equipment along with all sorts of serious kick-ass weaponry. So off I went to research guns…including the Carbine M4 from Colt.

What else did I need to consider?  Would they be required to wear bulletproof vests every time they went outside — especially since Lauren mentions she wants to go jogging.

She opened the closets, frowning as she examined the various track suits, T-shirts and khakis.

Her frown deepened as she fingered a black leather quilted vest. “This is all bullet proof, isn’t it?”

“Yes.” They’d protect her from close arm fire. Or a sniper. As long as it wasn’t a head shot. “For the duration of your stay here, those are the only clothes you’ll wear.”

That’s when I stumbled upon a feature CNN featuring  Miguel Caballero clothing. I had no idea there was bulletproof clothing that didn’t resemble the bulky units you see the S.W.A.T. teams wear in the movies.

Other parts of my research meant emailing people on one of my crime writer loops about scenarios and specific details. Thank heavens there are so many informed and intelligent people who so willingly answer my emails. Like the incredibly generous author and pediatric ER doctor CJ Lyons who confirmed some details about postpartum depression (backing up details I’d remembered from when I was in nursing school, and others provided by a couple friends who had been diagnosed with PPD) but CJ even provided a link. (I love having places I can save/point to later in case I forget, or in case my editor questions my research.)

Thank heavens for Microsoft’s One Note that lets me keep copies of webpages and photos and such all in one place. Those Hauberk files are getting pretty full. So yes, lots and lots of research has gone into these books…

Read Excerpt

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“Rigor Me This” with Heather Long

On Friday, everyone was talking about the Super Bowl and the teams and whether they were going to a Super Bowl party.  Super Bowl madness was sweeping the country. When asked what I was going to be doing, I replied, “I am going to learn about dead bodies.”

Football.

Corpses.

Yes, you can imagine the looks I got.

Fascination with Death

Dead bodies are fascinating whether you write romance, romantic suspense or urban fantasy. You’re probably wondering what could possibly be so fascinating about a dead body.  I don’t have a dead body in my first book, but I have a couple in my second. In my third, dead bodies will make a likely appearance. This past weekend, I attended a workshop led by the Chief Medical Examiner of Dallas and it was everything you ever wanted to know about dead bodies, but didn’t know you wanted to know.

You may wonder what I could possibly want to know about bodies.  Did I want to know what inappropriate rigor was? (That’s what happens when a body goes into full rigor in a position indicating they were moved, because you wouldn’t naturally find someone dead with their hand stretched to the sky.) What about instant rigor?  (Instant rigor can occur when the ATP in your muscles is already expended and death robs them of the chance to form anymore – in other words, shoot someone who is running full out and they will go into rigor a lot faster than someone who wasn’t . Almost before they hit the ground in some cases.)

Did I want to know whether you could tell how long a body has been dead based on liver temperature? (Sadly, the answer to that one is nope.) Did I want to know how you could tell the difference between a bruise and a wound? (The close up images of bruised tissues and a fresh wound are vividly different in blood pooling patterns.)   What about the signs of abuse? (Horrifying what consistent and regular physical abuse can leave on the body, much less the mind.) 

Would it amaze you to know how clever some victims can be?  Or whether a body can be dressed after it is killed? Or how many criminals force their victims to redress themselves before they kill them?  (To answer all three of these, one woman who was raped and brutalized and forced to redress before being sent to brush her teeth by her attacker, wiped her mouth on the shoulder of her sweater, trapping his DNA before he made her wash it away from her mouth.  Brave and smart lady that.)

Yeah, me too.  But as a writer, when you strive for authenticity, these are the kinds of questions you have.

Writing About What You Don’t Know

These aren’t things you can learn by doing it yourself.   At least, I can’t learn how to do them myself. I can’t go and perform an autopsy and I’m unlikely to go to a crime scene to see the actual body. It’s one thing to objectify the dead in a story or to think about it as a mental exercise, it’s entirely different to look at photos of dead people, found in various different positions and to answer the question of how they died, where they died and when they died.  It’s not always clear, not like it is on television.

In fact, liver temperature is total bunk and here I really trusted Dr. Mallard on NCIS when he inserted the thermometer into the liver and pronounced when time of death likely occurred.  So many factors can affect what the body’s temperature is that there is no slide rule to go by.  A body can be frozen, it can be found in the desert (while hardly a desert, did you know a body can skeletanize in a week in Texas? I didn’t) and a person could even have a fever before they died. All of these factors affect the temperature the body is found at and without all of these precise data points, the coroner or medical examiner cannot give you the details that we are used to seeing on our favorite forensic shows.

Understanding Death

Death is a vital part of many novels, particularly in mystery, suspense and even urban fantasy.  People die in urban fantasy and they may not be killed with a gun or a knife, but death is death.  By understanding what death can do to a body, we can get a better understanding of life and how that death may affect our characters.  We also learn that death is a horrible thing and when I say horrible, I mean terrible, awful and irreverent of life.

In Prime Evil, a serial killer haunts Chance.  He uses a knife to kill his victims and he leaves them to bleed.  Chance survived that attack.   However, in many ways, what happened to her that fateful night continues to haunt her.  As a writer, you want to find the truth in your story – that nugget, that moment that changes the lives of your characters forever.

Death is, too often, that moment.

Feel free to check out my novels Prime Evil (Urban Fantasy) and Remembering Ashby (Sweet Romance). I promise, the dead bodies are rare.

So, rigor me this – what did you think inappropriate rigor was? S’okay, you can tell me.

Prime Evil (November, 2009)

Prime Evil

In her first full-length novel, Heather Long takes readers to the farm rich countryside of Northern Virginia as hedge witch Chance Monroe fights for her way of life when serial killer Randall Oakes returns from the dead.  Chance must confront a troubled past, a supernatural adversary and a sizzling passion that’s lain dormant for years.

Nearly a decade ago, Randall Oakes left hedge witch Chance Monroe for dead.  Now he’s back along with her ex-lover, Jack. The FBI wants Chance in protective custody, but Chance knows it won’t be enough to protect her from Oakes.  Connected to the earth, Chance must rely on her supernatural senses and her own wits to survive this game of cat and mouse.

Remembering Ashby (April, 2009)

Photobucket

Peace among the clans has been nonexistent for the past centuries.  But now that clan Lairds have decided to summon the God-touched people from their magical Isle to perform the rituals of Beltane to bless the peace talks between the clans, peace is within reach.

Melanie is honored to be chosen as one of six maidens to represent the Goddess at this important event.  She is meant to be a vessel for the power of the Goddess while forgetting the failures of humanity during the festival.  She knows should be concentrating on her part as a Maiden of the Hunt, yet she cannot banish the handsome Scot from her mind.  Running in the Hunt is as sacred as the Goddess herself, and should her desires be known, there could be dire consequences for her and the clansman.  However, she can’t find the will to deny his pull.

The mists of the Black Mountains enhance the excitement of their forbidden love while providing an escape from the Islanders encampment.  Can they give in to their desires at the expense of their destinies?

Especially once The Sorcerer discovers their dalliance…

About Heather Long
Heather Long lives in North Texas with her husband, daughter and their menagerie of animals. As a child, Heather skipped picture books and enjoyed the Harlequin romance novels by Penny Jordan and Nora Roberts that her grandmother read to her. Heather believes that laughter is as important to life as breathing and that the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus are very real. In the meanwhile, she is hard at work on her next novel.

***
I’m giving away a PDF copy of Heather’s Prime Evil to a commenter — tell me what things you see done wrong on your favorite crime television show or book (please don’t name the author or the title of the book) that drives you nuts– like where the hero thumbs off the safety on his revolver (revolvers don’t have safeties!). Or if you have some obscure scientific fact you’ve learned in your travels…

The winner will be chosen and announced next Tuesday, February 16th.

It’s all in the name of research

I often wonder if anyone (meaning government agencies) monitors my emails. Because they must go a little nuts when they start reading mine.

In the past few years, I’ve exchanged emails about:

  • how morphine and other opiates were made in historical times.
  • how a bad guy could sabotage a car to stop it after it’s been on the road for several miles.
  • if a gun has gotten wet, could it be fired without being cleaned
  • could a gun be fired under water
  • how to hack a computer to track a kidnapper/money launderer/Colombian druglord
  • what trouble a lawyer might get in if they have an affair with a witness
  • all sorts of BDSM topics
  • where a good place to crash a small plane in South Carolina would be
  • what type of poison could be used that wouldn’t be traced through a standard tox screen
  • date rape drugs – what are the effects, how easy are they to obtain, how to detect if they’ve been added to a drink
  • the smell of a dead body after it’s been decomposing in a warm closed room for over three weeks. (Actually I answered someone else’s question on that one–yes, from real life experience.)

Let’s see, how many agencies would I have involved there? The DEA definitely, the FBI probably, possibly the CIA for the Colombia reference, Homeland Security? numerous police organizations and bar associations. I have no idea who might keep track of BDSM questions. All of the above?

Sometimes the questions end up taking a lot more time to ask and answer than writing the actual scene. Even if it’s something fairly small and insignificant, I’ll Google until I can find the answer, or fire off a question to one of my “experts.” Sometimes the question is serious, like the ones above, and sometimes, they’re … well, they’re not quite so serious.

Last night, I thanked my lucky stars that I saved emailing my question to BlueSue, who breeds and raises Arabian horses, until late at night…

**WARNING**

I write erotic romance, so the questions and answers may offend some.
For me? It’s all a scientific exploration (and a heckuva lot of fun!)

The question I asked Sue?

Leah: What marks would a saddle leave if the heroine were pressed over one sideways?

Sue: is she leaning forward over the saddle while he takes her from behind?

Leah: Yup (Does Sue know me or what?!!!)

Sue: LOL! ok. English or western tack?

Leah: Western

Sue: leaning over it sideways, even the best of saddles is going to be pretty painful, and probably leave a lot of damage… Bruised boobies from the swell and cantle. probably cuts/deep scrapes from the conches and even from the edges of the leather. her belly would be bruised from the edge of the leather at the bottom of the jockey. It’s thick, heavy leather – for a western saddle, even if it’s well made and soft, it’s not designed to be comfortable from that direction.

Leah: (thinking this but not sending it to Sue) Ouch. That doesn’t sound sexy. I think I may need to re-choreograph this scene.

Sue: if they drop their pants anywhere near the hay, they’ll be picking hay stems out of their cracks for hours. I promise….

Leah starts snickering.

Sue: It would be very awkward and entertaining.

Sue: If the saddles are on free standing racks/stands, if the sex is rough, they’re likely to push it over. LOL. *ahem*

Leah’s snickering changes to chuckles as she ponders how exactly Sue might have determined this bit of trivia

Sue: OH! barn cats. if she has a barn cat, it will be rubbing between their legs. dogs, goats, horses… everything will watch, or be staring eagerly at the door when they finally walk out.

Leah is bent over busting a gut from laughing so hard as her imagination starts crafting the scene.

Writing stops dead for the night. (Which was a pity because I wrote almost 6K yesterday, for a total of 19,042 words in one week – it’s not a record for me, but considering how the words haven’t been flowing lately, I’m thrilled!) The laughter however continued for quite some time afterward.

But OH, what a scene I’ve got planned now! Thanks Sue!

I sure hope whoever is monitoring my emails, if there is anyone monitoring them, got a good laugh out of it too.