Monday, September 26, 2011

Cool Info Bites from Writer's Police Academy

ATF agent Rick McMahan and Maggie
by Maggie Toussaint

When it comes to learning about police lore, the Writer’s Police Academy is a font of useful information. Held at a Greensboro, NC police training academy and organized by Lee Lofland, this recent event was packed with hands-on knowledge writers need to know.

Hollywood cops have more technology than you can shake a stick at, and our everyday law enforcement groups would love to have a fraction of those gadgets. From TV, we expect DNA results in minutes or hours when the reality is more like months. For a rush DNA job, it takes about a week, though new procedures and tests are in development.

Barbara Graham and handcuffing instructor Stan Lawhorne

Sound intriguing? Read on for snips of other cool stuff:

Locard’s Principle – when two objects come into contact, an exchange of material occurs.

All people shed skin cells and hair every day, about 150 hairs a day.

CSIs turn the room lights out and use those itty bitty flashlights because it helps them see better. Footprints, hairs, and other bits of trace evidence really pop under these conditions.

If a bioterrorist comes to your neighborhood, don’t opt for the white dusk mask at the hardware store, get yourself a N95 respirator mask.

One key fits all handcuffs. Enterprising crooks hide keys on or in their bodies.

CJ Lyons takes down a suspect for handcuffing,
 with Cpl Dee Jackson

Bleach cleans up bloodstains, but its use is detectable. Blood can be detected even under multiple coats of paint.

Blood spatter is dependent on on velocity, directionality, and point of origin. Unless dripped straight down, the spot more resembles an infinity symbol, with some excursions.

A sniper can shoot a one-inch square at 100 yards. As they increase distance, say 200 yards from a target¸they can hit a two inch square and so on out to 1,000 yards.

At the crime scene, from left, Dr. Denene Lofland, Dr. Katherine Ramsland, and Maggie

In 97 % of homicides, the suspect is interviewed in the first 30 days. About 61% of homicides are cleared.

Witnesses lie.

Suspects give faulty confessions.

Ego is bad for investigations.

Moisture and higher temperatures accelerate decomposition. Don’t add garden lime to that shallow grave; it’s a plant nutrient.

Our gun laws derive from social and historical events. Only the US has a gun tracing system.

SEMWA's Stacie Allen, green shirt, takes super pictures

When undercover, a cop relies on personality, attitude, and persistence to get the job done.

At the Writer’s Police Academy, I experienced the FATS, the Firearms Training Simulator. They stuck a gun in my hand and showed me how to use it. Moments later, a scenario played out on the screen before me. I learned firsthand that it takes a special person to rush headlong into danger, that suspects don’t respect cops or guns. It’s easy for your brain to freeze, or for you to get tunnel vision and ignore the rest of your environment.

Guilford Co. Sheriff's Office Ltc Randy Shepherd

I’ve barely scratched the surface of my notes, but I hope I conveyed how valuable this experience was to me. At Writer’s Police Academy, writers get firsthand information, experience a micro-window into this law enforcement world, and receive answers to their policework questions.

I highly recommend it.

Maggie Toussaint
mystery and romance author
PS don't forget - my award winning  HOUSE OF LIES is still on markdown at Kindle for 99 cents.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Favorite setting for my mysteries

by Maggie Toussaint

Since my Cleopatra Jones amateur sleuth series focuses on Cleo's family, I tend to write scenes at her home, her office, her ladies nine-hole golf league, her car, and her church. On the Nickel, the second mystery in the series, has several church scenes, but they don't have much to do with a church service. Most of the scenes involve activities that occur in a church building.

For instance, when Detective Radcliffe bars Cleo and her friend Jonette from the church parking lot crime scene, they race around to the back, to the thicket, where for years they watched the Sunday School ladies hide Easter eggs. While vying for the best vantage point, Cleo falls through the thorny bushes, landing smack dab in the middle of trouble - ending with her being led away in handcuffs.

Other church scenes involve a funeral reception, a church ladies meeting, and a bulletin-folding morning. In this book, Cleo tries to prove her mother didn't kill the church lady, her arch-rival, even though her mother's car is the murder weapon.

Cleo is Episcopalian, which is a Protestant church, just south of Catholicism and close kin to Methodists and Lutherans. Like the church, Cleo's life has seen upheaval in the last few years. Like the church, she is somewhat resistant to change, but life has a way of changing anyway, doesn't it? The conflict of new versus old, of time-honed prayers and joyful noise, of joy found and lost - those distinctly different yet eternally connected viewpoints are all rolled into a woman trying to cope in a world she can't control.

While I try to paint her into a corner with setting, character, and plot points, Cleo finds a way to cut through all the noise and triumph. She's my hero.

Want to read more? This post is a stop on a rolling blog tour. KT Wagner shares her thoughts on favorite settings at  and Kathleen Kaska expounds on the topic at while Ryder Islington talks setting at and Nancy Lauzon adds her two cents at

Have a great week!

Maggie Toussaint
Mystery and romance author

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Flying on 9-11

It was sobering to get on a plane this morning. In both the Philadelphia airport and the Atlanta airport, televisions broadcast the anniversary remembrance of those who'd lost their lives during the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001. Young children intoned names; children of victims told of ten years without their loved ones. Musicians played somber music.

As I glanced at my fellow passengers, it was easy to see they were as moved as I was. Tears welled and spilled and I made no move to stop them. That day took away the innocence of so many.

On the final leg of my journey, the pilot spoke to us, reassuring us that today's flight would be routine, but his voice broke a bit too as he said, "we'll never forget."

It's true. I remember the exact moment I heard at work. We gathered in the conference room, watching, and then we were sent home for safety. At home, the TV came on again as the events replayed over and over like a nightmare onscreen.

If you'd like to share a remembrance about this day or the 2001 date, please feel free.

God bless all our heroes.

Maggie Toussaint

Monday, September 5, 2011

What's your Labor of Love?

My labor of love: books!
 by Maggie Toussaint

Today, Sept. 5 is Labor Day, a holiday celebrating the end of summer in the U.S. First celebrated on Sept.5, 1882 by the Central Labor Union in NY, it became a national holiday in 1894. Early on, this day celebrated the strength of labor unions with a parade and speeches followed by family time.

Through the years, the tradition among most Americans has changed to a day of relaxation with family and friends. The summer of 2011 has been harsh with its earthquakes, hurricanes, and heat. Frankly, I'm glad to see it go.

Art is a labor of love

Since I'm mostly self-employed, I tend to work most holidays, including today, but the topic of Labor Day caught my fancy. I stated thinking about the word "labor" and the various associations I have with it: working to pay the bills, of course; working at various chores which are a real effort; pregnancy labor; and working at something I love.

Because when you work at something you love, the hours fly by. I imagine the sense of timelessness that overcomes writers like me when we are "in the zone" is shared by other artisans and laborers. I'd love to know about your "Labor of Love."

Proceeds benefit children

Here's an example to get you started. My friend Adelle Laudan compiled a charity cookbook: Sweet Sunshine: baking sweet memories. The cookbook is meant to be shared with children as it's chock full of yummy recipes, cooking stories which feature children, and adorable childhood pictures of authors with their recollections of cooking as children. (Quick plug: available at ) The cookbook benefits the Sunshine Foundation for kids in Canada.

Please post a comment about what you love to do, about your labor of love. One lucky commentor will receive a digital copy of my Bed and Breakfast Romance - Seeing Red - which was a true labor of love - twice! Be sure and leave your addy if you want to be included in the drawing! I'll post a winner by 9 pm eastern time tonight.

Maggie Toussaint