Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Real Life Crime Scene?

RHYS BOWEN: I know we've all had enough of crime and tragedy in the past week. Sometimes I wonder why I dare to write about crime, when it is so devastating and horrible. But then I think that the kind of mystery stories I write attempt to make sense of the senseless. They bring justice, punish the guilty--which we can't always do in real life.
Anyway, I thought I'd keep it light today and tell you about a real life crime scene. I came into the kitchen the other morning to see a trail of red across the floor. Dark red. Sticky in places, dried and crusted in others. I've written about enough crime scenes to know what blood looks like. Something had died in my kitchen.
Now, my kitchen is good-sized by modern standards, but there's nowhere to hide a body in it, apart from the pantry and that's at the far end. I crept forward, my heart beating very fast. The trail led me around the refrigerator. There were spatters on the white wall. Was I about to find a corpse on top of the fridge?  And then I saw it--the cask of red wine that I'd been nagging John to remove for months had finally given up the ghost and started to leak.
But the incident made me think how cool-headedly our sleuths examine crime scenes, comment on blood spatters and stab wounds. I can assure you I was in no way cool as I crept across the floor, following that blood trail. So I wondered about my fellow Jungle Reds: how do you think you would do in a real crime scene situation? Except for Hank, who has already been involved in quite a few in her career. But the rest of us?
And how do you handle it when you write something really creepy, like Hallie? Can you detach yourself, shut off and sleep well at night?
I'm afraid I'm very impressionable. I could never take horror movies, apart from giant ants that ate New York. That's why my crimes and sleuths are genteel and not very graphic.

HALLIE EPHRON: I confess, when a reviewer called my book "deliciously creepy," I was over the moon. I used to love listening to ghost stories around a camp fire. Loved even more telling ghost stories and scaring the bejesus out of my friends.

I still watch reruns of Twilight Zone with its "journey into the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition . . ." And I'm a huge fan of Hitchcock movies.

I try to write the kind of creepy that earns its thrill because it feels real. Like that just-off moment when you arrive home and realize your front door is ajar. Or you hear water running and running and no one is turning it off. Or something isn't where you know for sure that you left it.

Hold the graphic for me, too.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Yeah, I've had enough of creepy this week. I had to interview the twenty-year old young son  and brother of two Marathon victims--I showed up at his door, and he flung his arms around me, so upset.

I spent lots of Saturday on the verge of tears. It's very disturbing. I'm better now, which is also disturbing.

But to lighten up a bit--our coffee maker keeps coming on, like it's possessed. I kept wondering--WHY is this happening? WHO is turning on the coffee maker?  (Turns out, someone had hit "auto" and it was the timer. Sigh.

And I skip graphic. Just skip it. I even watch TV through my fingers sometimes--I don't want those pictures in my head.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I certainly don't want real life to imitate my books, even though most of the time my detectives are dealing with the aftermath of crime rather than being in the midst of it. How would I respond to the real thing? Well, you don't know, do you, until it happens. But a few years ago, my husband got the end of his finger cut off when our front door slammed on it. (The door is the original four-foot wide arts and crafts door built in 1905. It's VERY heavy, and we were having our house leveled so it was swinging shut with even more force than usual. I was just down the street at the supermarket. He called me, and when I got home he'd found the fingertip and put it in a baggie. I put that in another bag with ice, put him in the car, drove to the nearest emergency room, checked him in. When they still hadn't seen him after nearly an hour (blood dripping all over floor, terrible pain) I called another hospital, put him back in the car, drove there VERY fast, checked him in, got him treated, went to pharmacy to get prescriptions filled, got him home and settled--then collapsed. 

So I think most of us do what we have to do, then think about it afterwards.

ROSEMARY HARRIS: Your husband was able to put his fingertip in a baggie? I hope I'd be able to do something like that. I'm pretty good in a crisis, but dang, I've never been tested like that.
Creepy can be good (like HALLIE-creepy) but I don't write graphic violence and I don't want to see it or read it. No nail guns thank you. that scene in Scarface...can't watch it. The images stay in my head forever. I saw someone get hit by a car twenty years ago and the image is still fresh...the last thing I'm gonna do is watch Saw III. Or write it.

I have to say I'm loving writing a book that doesn't have a murder in it.

RHYS: So have you ever had to handle a real-life crime scene, dear friends? Do you think you could?

STOP PRESS: We just learned today that Writers Digest has named Jungle Red Writers as one of its top sites for writers for 2013.


  1. Terrific news about Jungle Red Writers being one of Writers Digest’s top sites!! Congratulations!

    Always the aftermath of crime scenes for me . . . we’ve had our house broken into in California and one attempted break-in here . . . John [now retired from the Los Angeles Police Department] is the one in our family who did all the crime scene handling. But that yellow crime scene tape . . . the police used it to block off our church parking lot when a wire was down in front of the church after a storm and once, when we were traveling, a truck crunched into my poor little Saturn . . . the investigating officer used that yellow crime scene tape to temporarily “fix” the car so that we could continue on to New Jersey . . . that yellow tape definitely garnered some double takes . . . .

  2. Congratulations, Reds! So well deserved.

    I can tell you how I reacted to a fake crime scene. I attended the Writers Police Academy last fall and got to be part of the workshop where we learned how to clear an apartment in a team, with shields and fake guns and all. Our team was doing great, helping each other, checking corners, behind doors, under counters, yelling, "Clear!" I was clearing the last room, a bathroom, and opened the last door. Someone was standing in the closet. I shrieked and jumped!

    Lee Lofland stood behind me laughing his head off, because he had planted the person there. He said, "You're dead." Sigh.

  3. Edith, I can just envision Lee! Oh, dear. I'm sorry, it's funny...


  4. Congratulations on the Writer's Digest nod. Couldn't happen to a greater group of women.

    As for the rest, I'll take creepy over graphic any day. My mind is more than capable of filling in the blanks in a way that will scare me without sending me into therapy.

    But "too graphic" is of course subjective and can change for a person depending on what is happening around them. I can usually read a Val McDermid book (which many consider too graphic) without a problem, but I wouldn't choose that to read after the past week. I need something lighter for a bit.

  5. Hooray for Jungle Reds! That's fantastic news! And well deserved.

    I've been a sports car racing official for over 25 years. I have been on the scene of serious accidents. We were in a seminar once discussing PTSD and it was said that our experiences are different from police in that we actually see the event happen and police arrive after the fact. And, in many cases, the people involved are known to us.

    A friend of mine ran to a car following a crash and the driver's helmet rolled toward him. He was deathly afraid to look at it not knowing if it was JUST the helmet. Thankfully, it was.

    But murder scenes? I'm glad you're all so good at writing about them because we love reading it.

    And Hank, I bet you needed that hug as much as the family did.

  6. Congratulations to the Reds! Well-deserved honor.

    I've never had to deal with something really bloody and icky, thank God. I do know that I can deal with blood and such, unlike my husband who goes into shock *for me* if I cut myself (thanks, dear, mighty helpful). But I expect I'd be like Deb, and do what I had to do in the moment, and certainly collapse later.

    But I'm with many of you: I don't like taking in (reading, TV) graphic stuff. Creepy is great in books, but I don't like the visual.

  7. Hey all,

    I was working 80 hours a week, and in the middle of the night, stocking shelves in a large closed store, I suddenly realized I hadn't heard or seen the other people on the clock for a while.

    I left my area and walked the aisles. Nothing. Went down the hall to the breakroom, and found a bloody knife on the table. "Hello?" Nothing.

    I went downstairs in the basement, walking the maze of cardboard boxes. Nothing.

    Came back up, and people were coming down from the manager's office, the hand of one employee wrapped in gauze after having sliced himself in the break room.

    I still can't believe I didn't freak at some point.


  8. Woohoo, JRW! A well-deserved honor from Writers Digest.

    As a consummate klutz, and the mother of daughters who always seemed to be trying to follow in my accident-prone footsteps, I've witnessed my share of homegrown gore. When one daughter fell over her new little bike's handlebars and split her lip open, I had to grab the dishtowel, throw her into one of our cars, and drive her to the ER because my husband was green. He followed, but did not come with me into the room, and I had to be the one to soothe the terrified six-year old while they stitched her back together.

    We have had one break-in at this house, on a Friday evening. I brought one daughter home and we saw someone darting back into the house. I had just gotten a cell phone but had not started using it yet, and no one in our neighborhood was home. It was unnerving to know someone was in the house and I couldn't do anything about it. (They left through another door, and had not had a chance to take anything.)

    You never know, I guess, until it happens. Hope none of us are ever tested in any real way.


  9. Congratulations on Jungle Red Writers being granted its due by Writers' Digest. The writing ladies here are royalty!

    Hank, I imagine it may take you quite a while to get over what you've had to do for work the last week. I feel for you!

    My son chopped the end of his big toe off when he was mowing the lawn at about age thirteen. After he came in the house and told us, I wrapped up the bleeding toe and grabbed a handful of aspirin with codeine (available over the counter in Canada), while my husband went outside to get the toe cap. We waited four hours in the ER, and I kept popping codeine into my son's mouth. No nurse wanted to look at the lopped off toe complete with bits of grass.

    Once people with serious heart attacks were tended to, a doctor finally came in, then a plastic surgeon was called. He was ecstatic to see the toe cap and happily sewed it back on.

    Later my son expressed delight that something "interesting" had happened to him, on the level of a broken bone. I was stunned to hear that since he is not a typical gung ho type guy, rather cerebral. He still has not broken a bone, but is it any wonder he's chosen a career as an army officer? His military experiences have not been gory, knock on wood.

    I saw a woodchuck run over once and it was very hard to get that vision out of my head, likewise when the bad guy In one of Bruce Willis’s Die Hard films got sucked into a jet turbine on a plane. Ugh. Not my scene at all. I’ve had to stop watching Body of Proof on television as each season the depiction of corpses has become more graphic.

  10. Karen, so right: "You never know, I guess, until it happens."

    That's what crime novels do, they put ordinary people in extraordinary situations and then we get to watch what they do. So much better than the real thing.

  11. Thanks everyone for the kudos--we're over the moon about WD, but we couldn't do it without you!

    Edith--so funny, I'd shriek too!

    Kristopher, know exactly what you mean. I'm reading something with no mystery in it at all this week.

    Stephen, one thing I think I learned from the Key West citizens police academy is don't hesitate to call the cops. I would have, seeing that bloody knife!

    and Marianne, a rolling head? I would have died!

  12. I echo all the congratulatory comments on JWR's well-deserved accolade. Those of us who regularly visit already knew this was a great site. And those of us fortunate enough to be friends with the JWR ladies might be just a bit prejudiced *wink, wink*.

    Hmmm, handling crime scenes--I've helped create a few imaginary ones, can't remember ever being the initial one on the scene, but did either transport victims of crime or provide care for them in the ED. At 14, I cleaned up a pool of blood after my idiot nephew (who was older than I) had put his fist through a glass window and cut his arm. Preparation (by the universe) for all the blood I would see in my future career?

    I love Val McDermid, but can only read her darker books when I've prepared myself. I do like when writers engage my imagination. I don't watch graphic violence on TV or at the movies; trust me when I say I saw way too much of the results of the real thing during my career.

    And Hallie, you are so right, too, when you say reading crime/mystery novels is so much better than the real thing.

    So now the WD has tagged our ladies, does that mean we'll be fighting hoards of newcomers for those few free books? :)

  13. I know I'm fine in situations like sliced fingers. I've had to be strong and efficient for my kids when they broke arms, bashed foreheads etc. But if I really entered a room with a body on the floor? Would I calmly look around for clues or run, yelling "There's a dead guy in there!"

  14. Congrats on being a top site!

    I have absolutely no idea how I'd handle it. But as part of my Citizen's Police Academy, I'm doing a ride-along, so maybe I'll find out!

  15. Big congrats to Jungle Reds for the WD honor! So well-deserved!

    I've had to be involved with various levels of gore and a couple of times crime scenes or death scenes over the years. I've found I go into hyperefficient drive to do whatever needs to be done, including a couple of times trying to fight off violent men until the cops come, and then afterward, I crumble like a stale cookie.

    I prefer the creepy to the graphic in books and movies, also. I don't want to be on the scene when the violence is happening, especially if there's torture or rape involved. I'd rather come in on the aftermath.

  16. All my years of mystery reading makes me always think I'm going to come across a body when I go into a place alone. Finally, a friend of mine admitted she never opens a public bathroom stall without thinking there might be a body in there. Silly me - I thought I was the only one!

  17. Congratulations on the Writers Digest top sites recognition. Well deserved.

    If I found a corpse, I'd first puke and then forget all about not messing up the crime scene and check it out. Then I'd finally remember to call the cops.

    And I'm laughing with not at Edith.

    ~ Jim

  18. Congratulations...a well-deserved honor. Dee

  19. Congratulations to JRW! (We fans already KNEW you were special:-)

    I think I would freeze if I found a body and I was all alone. I probably would not scream -- but only because I'd be too frozen to open my mouth. Lots of people think I'm very calm in stressful situations. I am NOT. It's called "being frozen to the spot!" (But I DO tend to take charge as well as I can once I start moving again:-)

    When I was a freshman in college I lived in a brand new apartment building operated by the college. There had been some shortcuts taken in the construction, and the fire alarms had not yet been installed when the students had to move in. About a month after school started, a couple of alert students smelled smoke coming from the basement. One called either the police or the fire dept...this was before the 911 system existed...and the other started buzzing all the apartments and yelling over the intercoms for people to leave the building. I thought it was a sick joke but when my apartment mates and I looked out into the hallway and saw other girls running down the stairs, we left, too. About halfway down I began to smell the smoke. And I could barely get my legs to continue moving. It was pretty frightening. I was convinced I wouldn't make it out to the parking lot. It had a happy ending: although it was an electrical fire, the fire department arrived in time to contain it to a very small section of the laundry room. There were no injuries, although I think heads rolled over the missing fire alarms. In other situations I've had a similar inability to get my legs to move: when my purse was snatched as I walked to my car after work, when I was in a bank where someone came in and announced "this is a robbery". (It wasn't. It was a horrible practical joke and I still believe he should have been arrested. He was a friend of one of the bank officers.)

  20. W.D. can also stand for Woman's Day magazine.

    I got my toe caught in a car door when I was ten years old. Me and some friends were playing in her mother's car, which was unlocked. Luckily my ankles were crossed so it was my big toe that got caught instead of my little toes. I was screaming and everyone heard me. A neighbor told my mother I should get my toe X-rayed but we didn't go to the hospital. My toe wasn't broken. It got wrapped up in gauze and I remember later that night sitting in the recliner with my foot elevated. Later my toenail did come off when I was playing. I was wearing my Dr. Scholl's exercise sandals and the gauze got ripped off and bye-bye toenail. It grew back but I still have a wrinkle in that nail.

    I only saw a pool of blood once and that was when I had a sick cat, Polly (Pollyanna). She was in the window and there was the pool of blood. I'm not sure if it came from her rear end. She had been sick and then died maybe three to five days later. She had gone to the vet twice but the medicine didn't help. I remember it was Memorial Day. A few days before she died we were trying to give her her medicine and I thought I hurt her arm. I was able to pop it back in place.

    When my dad had a urinary tract infection we didn't know what was wrong with him. He kept falling and twice he hit his head and it was really bleeding. I had to keep calm and help him. He was also seeing things. Later we got him to the hospital E.R. and they saw him right away. My mother told them his doctor's office said it might be a stroke, but luckily it wasn't.

    I don't read Val McDermid. I love cozies; a shout out to Rhys and her books.