Day 1 of Crime Scene Investigation for Writers: 5 Major Activities

CrimeSceneTapeI started writing mysteries and thrillers way back when. Writing the detective procedural is one of my favorites because they involve so much detailed information.

I’m sure a bunch of you crime and mystery writers know a lot more about this subject than I do. But to help others I’ve listed some of the information below for those writers who may not know the 5 elements to “attack” a crime scene–for real and in your novels. The first step below shows detailed info about the process of the first step when arriving at a crime scene. I’ve only summarized each other activity but, in the coming days, I will further flesh out (ew) the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th activities with actual step-by-step processes for crime scene investigators.

So, here we go. First you must know that there are several levels of Crime Scene Investigators (CSI) and I’m sure that with every city, county, parish, and state they have their own way of setting up these designations differently. I’ve researched most of my information about different employment levels of CSI from the Phoenix Police Department’s Crime Scene Response Site because my next novel is set in Phoenix. For Phoenix, there are 5 levels of CSI and they are designated as “specialist” levels 1, 2, and 3 with an additional two supervisory roles called Shift and Scene Supervisors.

The First Step involves the initial response when CSI arrive at crime scene
Paperwork – There will always be paperwork. When we write about governmental entities such as the police department and crime scene units (CSU) someone will be asked to fill out some paperwork for the receipt of information and for legal entry into the premises.
Safety Protocol – Everyone at the scene will be expected to follow safety procedures set out by their departments.
Emergency Care – Emergency services for living victims will be given.
Secure and Control Persons at the Scene – There should be investigators at the scene who will act to keep the scene as close to as it was when the crime was first committed. These people are responsible for boundary control. They will tape off the areas deemed pertinent areas of the crime scene and will protect the boundaries they’ve set up. Which leads to the fifth protocol.
Identify & Establish Boundaries, Protect and Secure – Need I say more?
Turn Over Control of the Scene and Brief Investigator(s) in Charge – Detectives or other levels of police will arrive at (or enter) the scene after the initial responders “lock down” the crime scene. Once they go through, they will then turn the scene over to the investigators of the scene, such as detectives in charge or other branches of the police department (note: typically murder scenes are given the highest levels of attention where a breaking & entering scene might get less attention and even lower CSU investigators arriving at the scene)
Document Actions and Observations – Someone in the CSU will be charting what is being seen by the knowledgeable CSI. Usually, lower level CSI who are working up to higher grades of pay will take these notes.
Set-up a Command Post and Take Notes Throughout – This step could well be done upon arriving at the scene and is used in circumstances where a major crime has been committed. Think a bomb going off, here or a plane crashing (the National Transportation Safety Board would handle a plane crash). A truck careening into the side of a bank would initiate authorities to set up of a command post.
Manage Any Witnesses at the Scene – Of course, people who actually witness the scene are only required to remain at the scene as their consciences will allow. There are those people who will not become involved. But more often than not, witnesses will step up and help police with their investigation. When they do, they need to be controlled. For one, they should be separated from the scene and other witnesses–in order to avoid homogenizing their statements. Then, they should be questioned and paperwork should be drawn up for each witness statement.

The 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th Steps are outlined below and will be covered in the coming days. These 4 additional steps are:

  1. Preliminary Documentation and Evaluation of the Scene
  2. Processing the Scene
  3. Completing and Recording the Crime Scene Investigation, and
  4. Crime Scene Equipment

As well, I will be listing several equipment items used by the CSU. For now, I’ve listed 10 interesting items that a proper CSU will use on a day-to-day basis. In fact, there are hundreds of items. But, I will list the equipment in shorter, more digestable amounts.

Initial Responding Officer(s) should bring with them items such as:

  • CrimeSceneEquipmentConsent/search forms,
  • Crime scene barricade tape,
  • First-aid kit,
  • Flares,
  • Flashlight and extra batteries,
  • Paper bags,
  • Personal protective equipment (these are items are considered items of high importance and should be kept in police vehicles or readily available for the initial responding CSI),
  • Audiotape recorder, and
  • Camera with flash and extra film, if not digital camera

I love writing procedural mysteries, if not for the research alone.

I write books and you can find them all here on my website or on Amazon and B&N or simply click on the image below to zoom over to Amazon.


Other sites with great crime scene and forensic information can be found at the following links:

5 Essentials For Writers While Travelling

Old_Alaska_Airlines_logo_on_a_DC-3_(6194350906)I’m travelling this weekend, 2,000 miles south from where I now live. It’s not what I would call a happy trip although I’ll be seeing people who will make me happy just by seeing them–my sister, a girlfriend from times past, and my aunt who I feel is like a second mother to me. We grew up with her sons who were like the brothers my parents didn’t have. I remember these times with fondness and ennui. One of my “brothers” died years ago and my aunt is ill and this may be the last time I see her. So it goes…

But this post isn’t about why I’m travelling, it’s about how to travel… as an author.

I cannot impress to you enough, and above all else over clothing, food, or funds, take something handy to write on. Whether your writing equipment is your peripheral (smartphone, iPad, or other) or simply a memo pad and that old-fashioned thing we used to call a pen, always make sure to bring something handy with you to write on. You will inevitably find yourself waiting in lines or sitting at a terminal. Whenever you can, take plenty of notes. Doing so will help you with the following elements in a future story.

Characterization–Watching people interact and how they do so is key to characterization. I once saw a man in front of me yell at the security person checking people through. He asked her why she couldn’t hurry up and chastised her for her job, that it was a ridiculous job and worthless. He was demeaning and nasty. I think he might’ve been an author! I’m making that up. I have no idea what he did for work but I can feel sorry for those people he had to work with. I added my two cents about him and felt sorry for the gal he was giving it to. Now, here’s the thing: I have no idea what he was going through personally. All I saw was his treatment of other people. As an author (and a human being), I should ask questions of my characters, of what they might be going through that the reader isn’t aware of presently. Questions like these can add great subtext to your story.

sstein-140-exp-Sol_photoScene-setting–Airports are great for scene-setting because they are usually so utilitarian. Airport settings make it difficult to use words other than loud, sterile, harsh. But these words are general terms. What if we used words and phrases like echo-chamber, surgical, bitter as descriptors? These are words that make readers sink their teeth into your writing. Sol Stein goes into great detail about word choice and scene-setting in his book “Stein on Writing.” Grow your scene-setting and you can build great, new worlds for your reader.sstein-140-exp-Sow_jacket

Tension–Tension is the thing that makes our heads turn and causes our skin to prickle. Tension makes our hearts beat faster and our palms become sweaty. Tension is a reaction to something that may or may not erupt in seconds–whether an actual bomb, a fight, or a sudden sorrow. Tension can lead to conflict but doesn’t necessarily have to. Sometimes tension is deflated. Sometimes it’s aggravated. Either way, tension makes us react physically to a situation that may become bad fast.

Taxis and airports are great for observing tense moments. In the taxi, and I don’t care how many times I use one, the taxi driver never fails my expectations of him–to drive like he’s the stunt man in the final scene of Thelma & Louise. Swerving the cab, back and forth, to the each side of the white lines as he tries to shimmy in-between two buses–both flying at sixty mph and so close to each other that they could be one bus. Or… the child on the airplane in the seat just behind you who will not stop chattering, crying and kicking your seat. Or… the man who has fallen asleep and is listing toward your soft shoulder as he breathes out last night’s garlic dinner into your air space.

The taxi ride becomes heart palpitations. The child becomes clenched fists. The man becomes nausea. Write that. Let things happen to you and write them down.

ClanoftheCaveBear-51eWZxrwarLConflict–Conflict is the thing that happens (and usually swiftly) after initial feelings of tension. Although sometimes conflict can happen quite suddenly and without forewarning. I remember reading CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR by Jean Auel. After the first page of scene-setting comes, in an instance, sudden, unexpected conflict. It’s awesome. If you have read this story, you know what I’m talking about. Auel leads the unsuspecting reader along by the nose and then, Boom! she drops the bomb. I love this story and use it often as an example in my writing workshops. For one, it’s a perfect way to start a story and two, her conflict is utter disaster. Utter. Disaster. The reader has no other choice but to continue reading to find out what happens.

Conflict is the thing that makes a character choose either the right path or the wrong one. In novel-writing, we must make the character fail at least two times until the final conflict choice is set–always against our hero’s foe–and one our character has no other choice to do but to choose–to end all of the trouble, whether to live–think of my latest story The Deer Effect. Or, to die–think of Thelma & Louise.

Voice–Voice is one of my favorite elements of writing. It distinguishes authors. It creates sound and sets theme and can even be metaphorical if used correctly. Voice will separate your writing like nothing else. Ernest Hemingway was what I call a “voice-y” author. But his voice was found in authorial voice, not necessarily in character voice although he employed character voice as well. No, his voice can be found in his writing style, his word choice, his sentence structure, his poetics. I love the first line in his great novel A Moveable Feast. It goes like this: Then there was the bad weather.

He begins the story as though the reader has just walked in on his conversation with someone else. The phrase doesn’t particularly make you want to know what’s going to happen. Not really. What this sentence does do is make you want to know what you missed! Brilliant. You feel like saying to Hemingway, “What were you talking about?” But you’ve already missed that part of the story so you have to sit down and hear the rest. That’s genius.

Hemingway’s authorial voice distinguished him from other lesser authors of the time. How do you distinguish yourself in your writing?

Anyway, writing while you’re travelling will also give you something to do during the down times. And, life, as we know, can be filled with dull moments between the conflicts and tension. And, aren’t we blessed for those dull times. They are what allow us for introspection and meditation, for prayers.

But also writing while travelling is a means for you, you lovely authors, to get away from your usual writing spot. Writing while travelling will focus your writing, in ways your usual environment will not. You won’t have the cat wanting in or the dogs barking. You won’t have to stop to prepare the kids’ lunches and you won’t have to clean up the kitchen. What you will have is free time. Time to observe your new environment and all the new bodies taking up space in that environment. An airport, a train, a taxi ride are author’s smorgasbords. So, enjoy the variety. Taste how good these new sights can be. When you do, your travel will fly by and, hey, you will be writing. Go figure.

I write books. ~Susan.


5 Healthy Ways to Increase Your Productivity as a Writer

Make sure you get plenty of quality rest — I’m a big believer of sleeping 8 to 10 hours a night. I learned to sleep longer when I read about the benefits of sleep in cancer patients. In 1997, I was diagnosed with melanoma. I basically changed my lifestyle. Sleep was part of that lifestyle change. So, when I recently read about a study posted in The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine about sleep and productivity, I wanted to share it. This study found that groups with at-risk sleep patterns, insomnia and insufficient sleep syndrome had significantly poor productivity, performance, and safety outcomes. It also goes on to state that: “Fatigue-related productivity losses were estimated to cost $1,967/employee annually.” And the study’s conclusions stated that sleep disturbances contribute to decreased employee productivity which in turn creates a high cost per employee to employers.

Exercise is shown to increase productivity — This isn’t new information but I like the results from this study. The latest research shows that a regular exercise routine can make you happier, smarter, and more energetic. An article in the Huffington Post states that you don’t need to overdo to get your brain working better. In fact, it showed that the low-intensity exercise group was less fatigued than the higher-intensity group. But both benefited from brain cell stimulation equally. As writers, we can sit for hours without blinking but when you do, you will become sedentary and I’m not just talking about our rear-ends here, I’m talking about mentally sedentary. It behooves a writer to bolster their creative juices through a daily routine of exercise–whether that is a walk around the block or a set of controlled calisthenics. You don’t need to over exert to maintain healthy brain activity through exercise. Just make it regular.

Play, produce or both? — As parents we see kids benefiting from controlled mind-stimulating play. We just had our grandsons over and they brought with them a game called Snap Circuits by Alenco. You snap all of these pieces together where the pieces have sensors that you arrange in a circuit that connects everything together. The outcome when you finally flip the on switch is anything from a whirligig spinning, to a siren, and to flashing lights. This is organized play. Much like Legos is but with whistles and bells. The kids end up building something. Well, adults have these sorts of games too. Such as Wii products, Luminosity and Brain Age. These “games” train our brains to problem solve and by doing so help us with memory and retention, even creativity. Aha! Writers can use that, right? So, think about pulling out a game (I don’t mean throwing dice at a wall and yelling “Sevens!”) and working through it. Give yourself a mentally-stimulating challenge.

Eat more whole foods that help spur on brain activityWebMD lists these foods as “brain” foods: blueberries, wild salmon, nuts and seeds, avocados, whole grains, beans, pomegranate juice, freshly brewed tea, and (wait for it…), DARK CHOCOLATE! Yay! To me, this list of foods sounds like an awesome meal all on its own and with dessert, no less. The article goes on to state why and how these foods work well for brain function. Such as with blueberries, “researchers have found that blueberries help protect the brain from oxidative stress and may reduce the effects of age-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.”

Read books — I’m shaking my finger while I write this so that you know how important it is to read other author’s works. Stephen King reads something like 2 books per week. It’s part of our job as writers to learn from the classics and to understand what is driving contemporary readers to contemporary authors. Reading books should be a no-brainer but, I guess one might assume that your lack of exercise, play, sleep and proper food makes you not want to read as much as you should. Joking, of course, but you get what I’m saying. To know your business is to know other people working in your business and to know their product. I’ve been reading two books this week, Amy Hatvany’s Heart Like Mine and Frank Peretti’s The Oath. Hatvany’s is what I would classify as women’s fiction. Peretti’s is Christian thriller. Both are subjects I enjoy reading and enjoy writing. Plus, they’re both awesome storytellers so this part of my job is one of my favorites.

I hope this list has helped motivate you to eat better, play well, exercise more often, to sleep longer and to read. If it has then my work here is done.

I write books. ~Susan.

#1 Amazon Bestseller Christian Fantasy Metaphysical  Visionary

Classic Noir Mystery Novel Dark Gritty fiction

Mystery/thriller collaboration with the Prime 5 Authors

Writers! 18 Awards in Four Fiction Genres

Writers! Winning awards can launch your career. Below, I’ve listed four different fiction genres and a few awards within each genre. You might want to check these out.



Science Fiction/Fantasy

Christian fiction

Hoping you win a few of your own. And you can find my award-winning titles at: or simply click the image below! ~Susan.


10 Great Opening Lines from Novels I Love

Waking, my feet remained stuck under the covers, in a dream about a story, this morning. The story’s first line warbled into ether and left an inkling that colors my morning making me wish I could drag back details as the dream-film played against my eyelids.

The chill of the morning prickled my skin and shook the dream out. Reality began. Get the dogs out. Put the tea on. Feed the deer–who, by the way, were absent most definitely because of the chilly morning. The deer were too cold to eat? Now, I’ve seen everything.

But the dream is playing hide-n-seek with me in my subconscious. It has shifted from story to first lines of stories. My subconscious perhaps speaking to me? Whatever my subconscious intended, I decided to snag 10 books off the bookshelf and offer up to you the books’ 10 opening lines. The books are in no specific order they are simply listed for your reading pleasure. I’ve added a link for each book title and for each author.

  1. “Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.” Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston.
  2. “Later, I would look back and wonder what I was doing the exact moment Kelli died.” Heart Like Mine by Amy Hatvany.
  3. “of things–when is it exactly?” The Accidental by Ali Smith.
  4. “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.” Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.
  5. “There was no hope for him this time: it was the third stroke.” Dubliners by James Joyce.
  6. “Then there was the bad weather.” A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway.
  7. “She did not intend to steal anything that day.” A Town of Empty Rooms by Karen E. Bender.
  8. “She gave a startled cry.” The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham.
  9. “We are at rest five miles behind the front.” All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque.
  10. “The year 1866 was signalized by a remarkable incident, a mysterious and puzzing phenomenon, which doubtless no one has yet forgotten.” Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne.

I think you’ll agree that the author gave great consideration to these first lines. No one line was left to chance. It makes me wonder when they wrote their lines. Did they write them at the very beginning of writing the novel or after the novel was written in order to apply a smidgen of hindsight?

What do you think?

I write books. ~Susan.


A Listing of 43 California Literary Agencies and their Website Links

Here is a listing of literary agents you will find in California and the Pacific Northwest. This list may exclude other agents found in this state however it is fairly complete. And, if you’re an agent and you wish me to include your agency’s name on this list, send me a note to and please provide your website link. If you do not have a website, you will not be listed.

Also, writers! Remember to do your due diligence when researching if an agent is legitimate or a predator. Go to sites such as Preditors & Editors ( who have researched a thorough list of good publishers and agents and bad publishers and agents.

Wisdom: Make sure you check out any agents on before agreeing to be represented by them.

  1. Above the Line Agency,
  2. Books & Such Literary Agency,
  3. Bookstop Literary Agency,
  4. Bradford Literary Agency,
  5. Brown Literary Agency, Inc., Andrea,
  6. Cameron & Associates, Kimberley,
  7. Castiglia Literary Agency,
  8. Catalyst for the Arts,
  9. Cine/Lit Representation,
  10. Corcoran Literary Agency, Jill,
  11. Cornerstone Literary, Inc.,
  12. Dijkstra Literary Agency, Sandra,
  13. Dreisbach Literary Management,
  14. East/West Literary Agency, LLC,
  15. Energy Entertainment,
  16. Evatopia, Inc.,
  17. Felicia Eth Literary Representation,
  18. Fielding Agency, LLC, The,
  19. Fresh Books Literary Agency,
  20. Full Circle Literary, LLC,
  21. Grayson Literary Agency, Ashley,
  22. Heacock Hill Literary Agency, Inc.,
  23. Hidden Value Group,
  24. Hill Bonnie Nadell, Inc., Frederick,
  25. Keller Media Inc.,
  26. LA Literary Agency, The,
  27. Larsen/Elizabeth Pomada, Literary Agents, Michael,
  28. Levine Literary Agency, Paul S.,
  29. Manus & Associates Literary Agency, Inc.,
  30. Marsal Lyon Literary Agency, LLC,
  31. McBride Literary Agency, Margret,
  32. Newman Literary, Dana,
  33. Niad Management,
  34. Red Fox Literary,
  35. Rinaldi Literary Agency, Angela,
  36. Ross Literary Agency, Andy,
  37. Secret Agent Man,
  38. Sherman & Associates, Ken,
  39. Venture Literary,
  40. Veritas Literary Agency,
  41. Waterside Productions, Inc.,
  42. Writers House (West Coast Office),
  43. Yates & Yates,

Again, this list is no way is a listing of preferred agents nor is it complete. These 43 selected agents have been chosen randomly and would not be included if the agency had no website. However, having a website is not a stamp of approval, it is only my requirement to have their link on this post.

I repeat! Do your due diligence on reseaching each and every literary agency you approach.

I write books. ~Susan.

#1 Amazon Bestseller Christian Fantasy Metaphysical  Visionary
#1 Amazon Bestseller Christian Fantasy Metaphysical
Mystery/thriller collaboration with the Prime 5 Authors
Mystery/thriller collaboration with the Prime 5 Authors

Industry News: “Edgar” Short List of Candidates & A Reading Challenge

Today’s Publishing News!

Crimespree Magazine ( announced the short list of candidates for the venerable Edgar Award. The winners will be announced April 29, 2015 at the award ceremony. It’s a big deal, this award.

As many of you know, each spring, the Mystery Writers of America present the Edgar® Awards, widely acknowledged to be the most prestigious awards in the genre,” be the stories fiction or nonfiction. And, as you might suspect, one of my faves, Mr. Stephen King, sits among an esteemed set of authors in the category for Best Novel.

Here’s the short list of books selected for this category:

What a group, right? Holy cow.

So, here’s my challenge to you, should you choose to accept…

I intend to read one of these books and finish the entire list by the 29th of April. So, who wants to join the challenge? Then, after the ceremony, we will discuss the winners–all kindnesses extended–and whether the judges were right or wrong. Of course, I’ll be rooting for Mr. King. Which begs the question, “Who will you be rooting for?”

Even if you don’t finish reading these books by the April 29th, it will still make for some great reading, won’t it?

And, don’t forget… I write books (too). 🙂

You can locate all of my books on Amazon at:

Here’s the list of 2015 Edgar Nominated Authors and links to their websites:

This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash
Wolf by Mo Hayder
Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King
The Final Silence by Stuart Neville
Saints of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin 
Coptown by Karin Slaughter


Two Free Stories for a Nearing Weekend

No obligations. No hassle. Just click the links below and you’ll be zoomed over to the site where you can either download the stories or you can read them online.

One is a funny story. One is serious.

Funny Story link: JUNE, HIDDEN BY THE MOON, Click Here to Review on Amazon.

Serious Story link: STILL A HOLIDAY, Click Here to Review on Amazon.

I hope you like them. If you do, please post a review!

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Two Free Stories for a Nearing Weekend

No obligations. No hassle. Just click the links below and you’ll be zoomed over to the site where you can either download the stories or you can read them online.

One is a funny story. One is serious.

Funny Story link: JUNE, HIDDEN BY THE MOON, Click Here to Review on Amazon.

Serious Story link: STILL A HOLIDAY, Click Here to Review on Amazon.

I hope you like them. If you do, please post a review!

Thanks bunches for reading my work.

09232014-ShortStory12-StillAHoliday-Cover-eBook 09232014-ShortStory3-JuneHidden-Cover-eBook

Freebies Give Me the Jeebies

Not really. I love freebies. Freebies make me smile. That’s why I’m giving away two items:

  • A paperback copy of THE DEER EFFECT, and
  • A one-hour writing consultation on how to bolster your novel’s first chapter.

You can read more about these two offers on my latest newsletter. Just click the link below.

I write books!


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