Steve Rush is an award-winning author who won joint first prize in the 2020 Chillzee KiMo T-E-N Contest and was a finalist in the 2020 Page Turner Awards.
His experience includes tenure as a homicide detective and chief forensic investigator for a national consulting firm. He was once hailed as “The best forensic investigator in the United States” by the late Joseph L. Burton, M.D, under whom he mastered his skills and investigated many deaths alongside Dr. Jan Garavaglia of Dr. G: Medical Examiner fame. Steve has investigated 900+ death scenes and taught classes related to death investigation. His specialties include injury causation, blood spatter analysis, occupant kinematics, and recovery of human skeletal remains.
Do you write in more than one genre? In addition to my latest release, Kill Your Characters: Crime Scene tips for Writers, I write suspense/ thrillers and have three nonfiction books in the Christian market.
What brought you to writing? I began writing after reading multiple novels and watching the masters unfold stories page after page. A homeless man’s murder prompted me to write my first novel (Façade, written pseudonym Shane Kinsey) after I identified the deceased by skin removed from his thumb. (In the novel, a killer uses skin from a dead man’s thumb to leave a bloody thumbprint at his murder scenes.) Wings E-press was accepted and published in 2010. I was hooked.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I write at home ninety-nine percent of the time. I shut off my surroundings and become a spectator in my characters’ world. The other percent is in a hotel/condo while on vacation or a weekend getaway. I get involved to the extent I have no clue of anything happening around me.
Tell us about your writing process: I am a pantser. I tried to outline and found myself deviating from my notes more and more. I have an idea of story and denouement and write as the story unfolds in my thoughts. I like to ask “What if?” and go from there.
What are you currently working on? I am writing about a high-school senior who lost his parents in a fire-bombing.
Who’s your favorite author? Dean Koontz
How long did it take you to write your first book? Several years writing while working a full-time job that required travel across the U.S.
Do you ever kill a popular character? If so, what happens to your story? My latest book is all about killing characters, so, yes, I kill characters when necessary to advance the story and keep the others honest.
What authors did you dislike at first but grew to enjoy? Stephen King. The first novel of his I read left me wondering if he is a writer I should continue to read. I read The Green Mile and others and believe King is in the top five of the best-writer list.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? No.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? Both.
Do you have any advice for new writers? I will elaborate below. Add suspense. Increase tension. Write what you know.
Writers and editors differ in opinion when it comes to book-length fiction. They suggest we turn off our self-editor and get words on the page. Edit the work after we have a first draft. While the advice works well in most cases, some authors prefer to edit along the way. One author reviews and edits the writing done in a previous session. Another author edits while writing. (Both are New York Times best-selling authors.)
Some authors are outliners; others are pantsers. I am a pantser. I find editing along the way works best for me.
Whatever method you choose, the most crucial aspects to remember when writing inciting incidents, especially crime scenes, are authenticity and credibility. This is where more-than-a-few writers see a stop sign. How can we write what we know if we don’t know it?
Facts support our efforts. I learned this from the cases I investigated as a homicide detective and forensic investigator. They prompted me to write, Kill Your Characters—Crime Scene Tips for Writers.
Facts paint images we want readers to see as if everything happens in their presence. We show readers how to kill. We show how to collect evidence, how to investigate deaths, and how to put together a case for prosecution. Each endeavor must embrace appropriate facts.
Elements of story direct readers where we want them to go until a twist of facts proves otherwise. This includes misdirection. Some facts inserted in the story alter the outcome. Details in fiction reflect real-world situations. Unbelievable instances in life frequently prove to be true, although many come as a surprise to us. When readers see events as too easy and convenient, skepticism turns focus away from our story.
The next step begins when the protagonist arrives and examines the scene. Choices rest on their training from that time forward. The difference between a protagonist’s competence and incompetence depends on their level of expertise. That expertise, or the lack thereof, comes from the facts we give them.
As writers, we share ideas visualized in our minds. We invite our audience to see our inciting incidents. We reveal bits and pieces of the story, one scene after another. We perform our job well when we grab their attention and keep them reading.
True-to-life facts support and give credibility to our stories. What better way to intrigue our readers?
Kill Your Characters—Crime Scene Tips for Writers
There’s a dead body on the floor, and your detective character has to learn every detail about the crime in order to solve the case and bring the murderer to justice. If you’re not an experienced forensic investigator, how can you describe the manner of death accurately so that the evidence means what you want it to mean?
Kill Your Characters by former detective and forensic investigator Steve Rush gives you the tools you need to pass the inspection of all the armchair detectives (and more than a few real ones) out there. Discover your ultimate empowerment source for writing the page-turning inciting incident you have always wanted to write. Become a master and save hours of research effort searching elsewhere for accurate information.
This book will help you answer: How did your character die? What were the circumstances of the murder? What weapon did the killer use? What evidence was left behind? How can you build a rock-solid case against the suspect?
Kill Your Characters will help you answer these questions and more with facts to back up your fiction. When plotting the next murder scene for your story, you may run into obstacles such as how the detectives determine the time of death or the forensic evidence left by a gunshot wound. Steve Rush’s extensive experience is accumulated in a series of writing tips that will significantly improve your story. Kill Your Characters is for any author looking to elevate their murder scenes with credible and authentic details.
Order your copy here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1947521780
Good morning. I am Albert vande Steeg, an immigrant from the Netherlands. My careers include ranch hand, police officer (detective) contractor, and a builder of missionary buildings in fourteen foreign nations; Europe, Africa, South America, and the South Pacific.
Cops have many stories that relate humor, intrigue, serious crime, and danger. Most of these stories are told when cops get together and they “one-up” each other. Others are told at family gatherings. When the stories are good and told well, someone will say, “you should write a book.” That is what my former partner said, and six months later, The Black Band had its first draft.
Yes, it was a struggle to get published. Having no experience and no writers club or conferences to guide, I found the Writer’s Market with all the publishers and agents listed. Reading this taught me how to persevere. Six months later, the contract was offered, and nine months later, The Black Band was published by Oak Tree Press.
The Black Band has been rewritten and titled “The Canopy.” Many of the stories found in the book originated at the cop bar, The Canopy. That is where stories were told and retold over mugs of beer and giant “Texas” cheeseburgers.
Writing about places is easier if one is familiar with the setting, so the descriptions are natural and real. Maps are used to correct street names and create a community the reader will identify as genuine.
Finding names for characters posed a real difficulty. Remembering created names of people not known brought a memory fog to writing. The solution was to name all the good and liked characters the first name of a friend or person that is admired and the last name of another such person. The bad guys then became people who are not liked or admired, again mixing first and last names. That is easy to do when doing police work.
For instance, there was a particular thief who stole calves from farmers. Knowing that many farmwives use the cash they receive from selling calves for their grocery fund, I was offended because my early years were spent in hunger during WWII. His name and that of a Sergeant who stole a pistol from the evidence locker became the name of the calf thief.
Speaking of hunger reminds me of that time enduring the pangs of hunger and the fear of living under the Nazi occupation, a story told each year to the fifth graders at our local elementary school. Having heard the war and immigration story, these students and their teachers suggested that it would be a good read if written.
That was the birth moment for writing The Dutch Winter. I knew how it started and how it would end; the plot and stories would flow as writing began for a historical novel. It had to be a novel in order to include the many stories told by parents, uncles, and aunts and historical accuracy for locations and events. The research was done by touring the sites in Holland and subscribing to a group that publishes Dutch war events, and I interviewed people who lived during that time.
Since there is a retirement home with many Dutch residents nearby, it is easy to find people in their nineties who would tell their stories over a nice lunch at their favorite restaurant. There I found a spry ninety-three-year-old lady who carried messages for the underground resistance as a girl of sixteen. She was a lovely lady with great humor who cried when telling of the horrors she experienced.
The Dutch Winter is not limited to one hero or heroine. The Dutch were patriotic and brave in their zeal to resist Germany and protected the lives of the underground fighters and Jews from capture and extermination in concentration camps.
Another main character is a Dutch patriot that returned to Holland from Minnesota to fight the Nazis. He is paired with the girl who delivered messages, and they fight side by side, and, as every story needs some romance, they marry.
That required that I know where he came from and be familiar with his hometown. I chose a small country town where a friend was born and raised. Along with a map and internet search of the town, Pease, Minnesota became real.
To ensure that the cities, streets, and places in Holland were spelled correctly and placed geographically, I secured maps of these places to verify accuracy.
All my writings bring the characters to life with their beliefs and practices. During WWII, it took faith in God and strength of character to survive hunger and fear. Thirty thousand Dutch died of starvation during the winter of 1944-45. The majority were grandfathers who gave what little they had to their children and grandchildren and then searched for food and died on the streets, too weak to continue.
That patriotism and spiritual strength is evident in The Dutch Winter.
The Dutch Winter and The Canopy are available to order at any bookstore or Amazon.
My website is Albertvandesteeg.com and my email is email@example.com
Vicki Weisfeld’s short stories have appeared in leading mystery magazines and various anthologies, winning awards from the Short Mystery Fiction Society and the Public Safety Writers Association. She’s a book reviewer for the UK website, crimefictionlover.com.
The crime/mystery/thriller genre is what I like to read, so that’s what I write. Puzzles, seeing justice meted out, preventing catastrophes. Some thirty of my short stories have been published, and this summer, my first novel, the murder mystery Architect of Courage, comes from Black Opal Books. I especially enjoy stories about ordinary people in difficult situations where they must use their wits and skills in new and unexpected ways. And I like a story with a bit of a lift at the end. Not necessarily a happy ending, but one trending toward better days.
My novel’s protagonist, successful Manhattan architect Archer Landis, is one of those ordinary people. Ordinary, that is because he doesn’t have any martial arts training or obscure weapons expertise. No experience tracking ne’er-do-wells. He is a Vietnam veteran, but his service was decades before this story takes place in the summer of 2011.
People often ask where I get my ideas. The short answer is: everywhere. Real-life events, interesting people, or amalgams of several of them, tricky situations born in my imagination can be an initial spark. Architect of Courage is a 350-page novel that started with a specific imagined situation. I envisioned a married man (Landis) entering his girlfriend’s apartment and finding her murdered. It’s all I had, and I covered it in the first two pages. 348 to go!
The threads that eventually worked their way into the story—his marriage, his troubled relationship with his son, how the police treat him, their suspicions about the dead woman, her faked identity, whom he relies on among his friends and colleagues, the succession of mysterious attacks—all that developed later.
If you know the terms “plotter” and “pantser,” you’ve probably already pegged me as a “pantser.” I could no more plot out all my scenes before I begin, as some excellent writers do than I could fly to the moon. I write by the seat of my pants, letting the story grow organically, and the relationships deepen as it moves forward. I throw in bits of information (potential clues) as they occur to me and keep those that ultimately fit. Yes, it’s a little messy at times, but I enjoy that thrill of discovery.
For example, early in the story, the police show Landis shocking photos of scars on his girlfriend’s wrists, evidence of a serious suicide attempt. He hadn’t known about that. The explanation of the scars isn’t revealed for 258 pages, when it emerges as a significant piece of evidence, totally unanticipated those many pages earlier. I credit my subconscious mind with figuring out that problem and giving me the answer when I could use it!
Truthfully, I do make some efforts to organize the chaos. When I get to a place where I can’t easily answer the question, “now what?” I take a big sheet of paper, write the main character’s name in the center, and array all the other characters around, maybe with a few notes about their conflicts or characteristics. Then I draw lines to show how they intersect. Opportunities for new and unexpected connections emerge and points of possible conflict. Perhaps a superfluous character is revealed—someone with few connections to anyone else. That person may best be edited out!
One strategy I’ve found helpful in moving from short story to novel is to keep a list of “story questions.” I can’t reveal everything upfront; it is a mystery! Unresolved issues may be, “Where did the gun come from?” or “How did he know she’s allergic to shellfish?” Making sure all those questions or clues have answers—artfully buried, I hope—means that when readers reach the end, they feel satisfied. Television programs too often do not do this. The credits roll, and it’s “What just happened?”
Nor can I withhold some key piece of information and plop it on the last page. Readers have to have reasons to at least suspect that two characters are brother and sister, for example. They need “Aha!” moments. As Aristotle pronounced a long time ago, the best endings are both surprising and inevitable.
I’m also asked what it was like to write a male protagonist. I’ve spent a lot of time around confident, assertive men. I know how they act. Landis is a busy, successful professional. He’s not rude, but he’s direct. It saves time. He’s also a mentor to the people working for him in a profession that requires creativity. He can’t squash their inventiveness, and he’s full of praise when it’s merited. Typically, he makes clear his expectations about end results and lets them figure out how to get there.
I did pick over his dialog to make sure it wasn’t laden with weak phrases like “I just want,” “If you don’t mind,” “May I suggest,” and qualifiers like “somewhat” or “kind of,” which I consider waffle-words. If Landis wants something, he says so. And I usually substitute “need” for “want.” There’s a website where you can paste in your manuscript—any length—and run it through an analyzer to find out whether it reads “masculine” or “feminine.” Architect of Courage is “weakly male,” but at least it’s male! I found that aspect of writing this book interesting. Fun, too.
A few words about the publishing journey. Long. Hard. Exhausting. Though I’ve internalized all the advice about crafting pitch letters, synopses, etc., my queries to agents rarely received a response. I gave up on that and turned to smaller publishers who take unagented queries and are open to genre literature, especially crime. Architect of Courage was professionally edited twice. While, on the one hand, I hoped this would suggest to prospective publishers they wouldn’t have to invest a lot of editorial time, on the other, I didn’t want to give the impression I considered the book perfect and would resist their ideas and suggestions.
The best advice I have for wading into the publishing waters is to develop a long—and growing—list of prospects and send queries (strictly adhering to their wildly varying requirements, of course) in batches of three to five. Two weeks later, send another batch. An Excel spreadsheet helps, and save a copy of each cover letter to be sure of what you sent. Having additional prospects in the wings keeps the job from being too disheartening. I handle my short stories the same way. Rejection? Fine. Next! At least it has worked for me thirty times!
Vicki blogs at www.vweisfeld.com.
Nick Chiarkas grew up in the Al Smith housing projects in the Two Bridges neighborhood on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. When he was in the fourth grade, his mother was told by the principal of PS-1 that “Nick was unlikely to ever complete high school, so you must steer him toward a simple and secure vocation.” Instead, Nick became a writer, with a few stops along the way: a U.S. Army Paratrooper; a New York City Police Officer; the Deputy Chief Counsel for the President’s Commission on Organized Crime; and the Director of the Wisconsin State Public Defender Agency. On the way, he picked up a Doctorate from Columbia University, a Law Degree from Temple University; and was a Pickett Fellow at Harvard. How many mothers are told their child is hopeless? How many kids with potential simply surrender to desperation? That’s why Nick wrote “Weepers”—for them.
Weepers: The murder of an undercover cop in a New York City Housing Project in 1957 has unexpected ties to the unsolved disappearance of a young father walking home in those same Projects with his son, Angelo, on Christmas Eve 1951. The only witness to the cop killing is Angelo, now 13, as he was on his way to set fire to a grocery store at 2:00 am. The killers saw him. These events forge a union between a priest, a Mafia boss, a police detective, and Angelo, a gang member. In Weepers, we see that if you drop a rock into the East River, the ripples will go all the way to Italy. In the end, Weepers shows us that the courage of the underdog—despite fear and moral ambiguity—will conquer intimidation.
Awards for Weepers:
• Firebird Grand Prize Best Book Award (2022)
• Best Mystery Novel for 2017 the John E Weaver Excellent Reads Award by Earthshine. https://www.speakuptalkradio.com/nick-chiarkas-firebird-book-award-winner/
• Award Winner – Best Novel of 2016 by the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA)
• Award for Best Book Award by Midwest Independent Publishers Association (MIPA)
• Award for Best Young Adult Novel for 2016 by Bookvana
• Award for Best Crossover (Mystery & Young Adult) Best Books Award for 2017
• Award for Best Young Adult Coming-of-Age by Readers’ Favorite for 2018
Nunzio‘s Way: Nunzio drifted back to his childhood there on the Lower East Side. The narrow, trash-lined streets and alleys weaved together decaying brownstone tenements with common toilets—one per floor. Alone at ten years old, after his mother died, he learned to survive in one of the most notorious neighborhoods in the city. He shoveled coal and guarded the produce stored there by the ships docked off South Street to pay for living in the cellar at 57 Canon Street. After school, Nunzio mostly walked the streets. He recalled the putrid smell of decomposing cats and dogs covered with a trembling blanket of insects, rats, and things he didn’t recognize. And lying in the gutter against the sidewalk on Pike Street was a horse, with old and fresh whip wounds, shrouded in a cloak of flying and crawling insects. Only three years later, at the ripe age of thirteen, Nunzio killed his first man, a hulking longshoreman people called “the bear.” His life and the lives of four of his friends changed forever. Plenty of other horrors and hardships confronted him throughout his life, but when he closed his eyes, Nunzio saw the horse.
“Nunzio’s Way” In 1960, Declan Arden, an ambitious New York City lawyer, asked his boyhood friend and client, Nunzio Sabino, the most powerful organized crime boss of his time, to help him win the election for mayor. Nunzio agrees to help Declan, telling him, “In this city, you can have anything you want if you kill the right four people.” In Italy, after killing a top member of the Gomorra, Heather Potter, arrives in New York City seeking vengeance on the people who murdered her family. Those people include Nunzio Sabino and Mac Pastamadeo. Mac is the father of Angelo, the leader of the Weepers gang.
NICK’S FAVORITE WORKSPACE
Five fun facts most people don’t know about me (Nick Chiarkas)
- I received the Law Enforcement Commendation Medal from the Sons of the American Revolution, and I received the Equal Justice Medal from the Legal Aid Society – These two awards are not in conflict but in harmony. I believe that no one is above the law’s enforcement nor below its protection.
- I raised my two oldest children mostly as a single dad – just the three of us. They taught me a lot.
- I was one of a handful of NYPD cops sent to Woodstock in 1969 to provide security – it was incredible.
- While in an Army hospital, I received a very kind letter from J.D. Salinger.
- I was in the movie The Anderson Tapes (Starring: Sean Connery, Dyan Cannon, and Christopher Walken).
Available at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, University of Wisconsin Bookstore, Mystery to Me, other local independent bookstores, and from the publisher.
Frank Scalise (Frank Zafiro) served with the Spokane Police Department from 1993 to 2013, holding many different positions and ranks. He retired as a captain. He writes gritty crime fiction from both sides of the badge. He is the author of over thirty-five novels, including the River City series of police procedurals and his hardboiled SpoCompton series. In addition to writing, Frank hosts the crime fiction podcast Wrong Place, Write Crime. He is an avid hockey fan and a tortured guitarist. He currently lives in Redmond, Oregon.
I spent twenty years and a day as a police officer. Along the way, I had a lot of the experiences that many police officers encounter, from the mundane to the extraordinary, from the sad to the scary, from the frustrating to the satisfying.
As a lifelong writer, I saw these experiences through that additional artistic lens. So when I started publishing short stories in 2004, it was no surprise that most of them were crime fiction. By the time I retired in 2013, I’d written dozens of stories and ten or so novels. Since then, I’ve added to that catalog, putting my novel count at around thirty-five.
But the latest one, The Ride-Along, may be my most important one yet.
Before you think that is an ego-driven, self-promoting bit of hyperbole, let me add that I don’t think everything I have to say is important. Most of it is just like the things we all say—in other words, the stuff of daily life. My books are meant to entertain and make readers feel and occasionally think a little—this one is different.
As police-involved deaths gained more and more public attention and this subject became a consistent (and loud) part of public discourse, I found myself in an uncommon position.
On the one hand, I’d done the job of law enforcement for two decades. My roles were many and varied, including the heavy lifting of patrol and investigations and leadership. Almost immediately after retiring, I embarked on a four-year mini-career teaching police leadership all over the US and Canada. As a result, I knew the profession well.
So I was frustrated by the lack of understanding shown by much of the public when it came to the job. By this, I mean everything from the ludicrous “shoot ’em in the leg after you kick the knife from his hand” crowd to those with more grounded criticisms. It wasn’t necessarily that they didn’t sometimes have valid points. It was that they were uninformed when it came to the realities of actual police work, and this lack of understanding often resulted in a wide swath of cops being seen in a bad light. Since I’ve known, and sometimes worked closely with, hundreds of men and women in the profession, I knew the high quality of dedicated people doing this difficult job. So that frustrated me.
At the same time, as I got a little distance from the day-to-day workings of the job—and, frankly, outside of the echo chamber of the profession—I saw places where we didn’t do things well. A fair chunk of this revolved around poor communication, or the lack of, with the public. In other words, we don’t do ourselves any favors with the attitude of “we don’t need to explain this to you.”
Some of the prevailing attitudes in the profession seemed wrong to me, too. Same with some of the overarching strategies that have been in place for decades. It seemed clear to me that law enforcement needed to change.
To be fair, we ask a lot of our cops. Some of those tasks would be better done by other professionals, with the result being a) better service delivery to the citizen and b) better use of our law enforcement resources elsewhere.
These two competing frustrations combined to create the most significant frustration of all. That was, I saw hardly anyone actually discussing the issue with the goal of understanding and problem-solving. Instead, things devolved into entrenched political positions. People debated with sound bites and chanted slogans. The best you could hope for was that they’d wait until the other party had finished speaking before launching into a diatribe… but most people sought to drown out the other instead. This tendency existed all across the opinion spectrum.
That wasn’t merely frustrating. It was maddening.
No one was listening.
So I wrote a book that forced people to listen to each other. I put two characters—a police officer and a police reformer—into the same patrol car for an entire graveyard shift. Due to their opposing views, sparks fly… and not the romantic kind.
Make no mistake; this is still a procedural. The officer and the ride-along go on calls for service. But they also talk. They get angry. They are challenged. But… they also listen a little bit.
My goal in writing this book was to fairly present the ideas of both characters. Both are good people with strong convictions. Neither is a straw man for the other to beat up on and then convince of his/her views. Both get the opportunity throughout the book to tell their own truths.
It’s a bit of a spoiler here, but both also have moments in which they pause and actually consider what the other has said.
his isn’t a Pollyanna, Kum-bay-yah novel. There are ragged edges. After all, it is a Charlie-316 novel, and anyone reading the first four containing the Tyler Garrett arc will know better than to expect something utopian. But it does represent two people doing something I wish more of us would do, myself included.
Have an honest, hard conversation that includes listening as much as—or more than—speaking.
I’ve outlined the premise of The Ride-Along already, but for the sake of clarity, here’s the description:
The Tyler Garrett scandal rocked the Spokane Police Department two years ago. Now, a consent decree governs the agency, with Washington D.C. directing its reform. It’s a tumultuous time in the city, and public outcry over local and national events is high.
Change is in the air.
Officer Lee Salter is a third-generation cop who bleeds blue. Amid the departmental chaos, he does the only thing he can—be a good officer. That means showing up for every shift, responding to calls for service, and always doing the right thing. All the while, the Department of Justice and its local supporters hope to catch another officer in its net of reform.
Salter refuses to be that officer.
Melody Weaver is a teacher and activist who believes in a better way. Despite her demanding profession, she dedicates herself to the cause of reshaping policing in her city so that the terrible events—both local and national—can stop. To understand what needs to change, she needs to see the reality of the job up close.
That means a ride-along on the graveyard shift.
And a nation's problems
As you can imagine, it’s a big night for both of them.
If you are looking for a police procedural, it’s in here. If you’re looking for something to make you think. No matter where you are on the opinion spectrum, there will be times you’ll pump your fist in agreement and others where you’ll shake your fist in disagreement. And I suspect there’ll be a few times where you might drop that fist entirely, cock your head, and consider something in a way you hadn’t before.
And that’s why I think this might be the most important book I’ve ever written.