Friday, February 26, 2016

Forensic Friday: Bugs!

Forensic Friday: Bugs!

I don’t mind snakes, but I hate bugs. How about you?

However, insects can play an important part in crime solving. The field of forensic entomology goes back almost a millennium. In 13th century China a book titled “The Washing Away of Wrongs” describes the first known recorded incident where insects were used in a criminal investigation. A farmer was found murdered in a field of an apparent stabbing. The suspects were told to place their sickles on the ground. Only one sickle attracted blow flies to the trace amounts of blood hidden to the naked eye. This led to the confession by the murderer.

Advancements continued. In 166, Italian physician Francesco Redi disproved the theory of spontaneous generation. French physician Louise Francois Etienne Bergeret published a report in 1855 about the life cycle of insects that he used to prove his hypothesis on how and when the victim died.

How does medicolegal forensic entomology work?

·         Technicians collect insect evidence from the corpse and the crime scene. Depending on which insects’ eggs appear, and where they are located on the body, the medical examiner can determine the approximate time of death (also known as post mortem interval or PMI).
·         Because many insects occur only in certain places or are active only in certain seasons or time of day, potential links can be made to times and locations where other events may have occurred. This information can also indicate if a body has been moved.
·         Medical examiners must keep in mind that rain, humidity levels, sun exposure, and air exposure can impact the presence (or not) of insects.

Photo courtesy of
A new subfield is entomotoxicology – the analysis of toxins in the insects found on the corpse – helps investigators determine whether drugs were present in a body at the time of death. In addition, new techniques have been developed to more accurately gather evidence at crime scenes.

Who knew bugs could be so important?

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Guest Post: Fairy Tale Proposals

Fairy Tale Proposals: A Guest Post by Ginger Solomon

If you’re married, how did your husband propose? Mine did it in his parents’ den before we left for a wedding. Not my definition of a fairy tale proposal, by any means. Of course, a marriage is not defined by the question or by the wedding. That’s a different post for a different day. Wonderful proposals are fun to read about or watch. I’ve seen a number of them on Facebook, but when I looked online as I prepared for this post, I found a website with a post called “25 Creative Marriage Proposals.”

Number one on the list was a sidewalk chalk proposal. The man had saved all the text messages from their three-year relationship and made a path of those messages, leading to him sitting on a bench. When she arrived, he proposed. She said, “Yes” in sidewalk chalk.

Some others included a scavenger hunt, a puzzle, a fake movie scene, and there’s even one where the woman proposes (followed by his proposal—he already had the ring).

One of the videos I saw a while back is of this guy making a movie trailer, which he manages to get the theater to show before a movie his girlfriend attends. It shows him asking her father for his blessing, and then his trip into the movie theater. He times his entrance to coincide with the trailer, at which time he proposes.

These are all wonderful examples of creativity, but what if you’re expecting a proposal, and it doesn’t come? Heart-break, disappointment, and a fair amount of humiliation—maybe.

In my story, Broken Valentine, prior to the beginning of the novella, Sarah, my heroine, is asked to a “special” dinner by her boyfriend of eighteen months. She thinks… well, we know what she thinks, right?

In comes me, the writer, barging into her story. She’s waiting in the restaurant where they’d planned to meet. It’s also where he took her on their first date. A special place.

Except dear boyfriend doesn’t show. At all. When she logs into her Facebook page, she sees a post from him on her newsfeed, announcing his engagement. To someone else. Imagine her feelings.

In comes her very attractive waiter, ready with a cloth napkin to wipe her tears… And the rest is written in the book. 

Suffice it to say, she didn’t get the fairy tale proposal she expected. Did you?

Ginger Solomon is a Christian, a wife, a mother to seven, and a writer — in that order (mostly). When not homeschooling her youngest four, doing laundry or fixing dinner, she writes or reads romance of any genre, some sci-fi/fantasy, and some suspense. She’s a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, president of her local writing group, and writes regularly for two blogs. In addition to all that, she loves animals, likes to do needlework (knitting, crocheting, and sometimes cross-stitch), and is a fan of Once Upon a Time and Dr. Who. 

Visit her at:

Monday, February 22, 2016

Mystery Monday: Meet Clyde B. Clason

Although less well known than S.S. Van Dine, Dashiell Hammett, or Raymond Chandler, Clyde B. Clason published ten books between 1936 and 1941. An advertising copy writer and editor, Clason was born in Denver, Colorado in 1903. Little is known of his personal life. In fact, every reference I found provided the exact same information word-for-word.

Those of you looking to read about unusual protagonist might enjoy any or all of Clason’s novels. They feature amateur sleuth Theocritus Lucius Westborough, an elderly scholar of the Roman Empire. Westborough is cultured, highly educated, and has an extensive knowledge of art. In each book, Westborough assists the police, stereo-typed as good natured, honest, and a bit “bumbly.” The stories themselves contain intricate plots, most of which are locked-room mysteries. Most of the crimes take place in high-end, museum-like homes which are described in great detail.

In his article comparing Clason to Van Dine, blogger Mike Grost postulates that “Clason, like Van Dine and many other writers of his school, was sympathetic to racial minorities, and his books contain protests against racism. In both writer, the anti-racist theme is linked to a respectful, knowledgeable treatment of world art, with equal admiration being given to art created by all races.”

A reminder that novelists have an opportunity to edify and influence their readers through well-crafted, entertaining story-telling.

What authors have you read who weave social causes into their writing?

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Selah Saturday: What plans, Lord?

What plans, Lord?

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord, “plans for welfare
and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11) NASB

I love that verse. But if I’m honest, I also hate that verse.

Okay, maybe hate is too extreme, but I definitely had a strong negative reaction when the verse came to mind recently in response to an incredibly disappointing situation.

I am the Chairperson of the Pastor Search Committee for our church. We have been working for months to find the right person to fill the role of our next pastor, and we thought we had found the perfect individual. We were making arrangements to hear him preach when I received an email notifying me that he had withdrawn himself from consideration.

I was stunned. What had gone wrong? Had we missed a sign from God that the man wasn’t the pastor for us? Why didn’t the man want us? Why would God allow us to get to this point in the process before bringing everything to a screeching halt?

Then Jeremiah 29:11 came to mind, and I mentally rolled my eyes. “Really, God? That’s what you have to say? I don’t want to start over. I want this man as our new pastor. Maybe he’s not hearing you correctly. Perhaps, I should call him.”

The verse came to mind again, (admittedly a bit louder) and I slumped back in the chair. “Forgive
me, Lord. You do know what is best for us, but this hurts. It feels an awful lot like a breakup, and I need you to help me get over it.”

I’m still not sure why this situation happened like it did. Maybe I never will. But I’ve chosen to rest in the fact that God knows the needs of all parties involved as well as His plans for each of us. It will all work out in the end.

How has God ministered to you during a difficult time in your life?

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Talkshow Thursday: Meet Clarice James

Talkshow Thursday: Meet Clarice James

I am pleased to introduce you to my friend Clarice James, winner of Jerry Jenkins's Operation First Novel Contest. Her debut novel, Double Header is a fantastic story. It released in November 2015. At the end of the interview there are links to where you can purchase print or electronic versions of Double Header.

LM: How long have you been writing, and when did you know you want to be a published author?

CJ: My high school English teacher made stories come alive, which made writing seem fun and important. When my children were young, I managed to write a few non-fiction pieces for local publications. But it was the response I received when I began a church newsletter that made me feel I might be using a gift God had given me. I didn’t try writing fiction until about eight years ago.   

LM: Are you a "sports junkie?" Where did you get your story idea for "Double Header?"

CJ: No, I would not classify myself as a “sports junkie.” What I do love is seeing how my children and my grandchildren make watching games together a family event. That’s where I got the idea for Double Header. Then, when I learned that 43% of today’s sports fan base is made up of women, I thought I might have a viable idea.
LM: Are any of your characters based on real people? 

CJ: The protagonist, Casey, and her brother, Griffin, have many of the same interests as my own three children—-and the same quick wit and sense of humor. The two Red Sox players, Mike Hennessey and Darin Flynn, have both the physical characteristics and mannerisms of two of my grandsons. I even used their real names.

LM: You were a winner in Jerry Jenkins's Operation First Novel Contest. Tell us a bit about that.

CJ: Twice, I submitted my first novel, Party of One, to the Operation First Novel Contest. It was chosen a semi-finalist then a finalist. When it came time to enter again, I decided to try Double Header instead. I was at the Writer-to-Writer Conference in Hershey, PA last February when Jerry Jenkins announced the three winners. I was literally sick that weekend, so it’s all a blur.

Mountainview Books, LLC was the publisher Jerry chose. They did an excellent job editing my manuscript and creating a book that made me proud. 

LM: The age old question to writers - are you a pantster or plotter?

CJ: Maybe I fall somewhere in between. I’ve tried writing with no outline and with a detailed outline. I’ve settled for a loose outline, and then sort of feel my way through it. I keep a running record of each scene, which helps.

LM: What projects are you working on at the moment?

CJ: I’m working on my third contemporary women’s novel called Manhattan Grace. Set in New York City, a nanny and aspiring actress is mentored in her faith by an older Messianic rabbi. While she helps him pursue an unlikely romantic relationship with a famous Moldovan opera soprano, they find themselves in the middle of a jewel heist at the Metropolitan Opera House.

LM: What other passions do you have when you are not writing?

CJ: When I want to get away from the computer, I love to do home decorating projects—usually for my daughter. I do the design and shopping then put it together. But no painting or construction for me! 

LM: Is there anything else you'd like to share about yourself?

CJ: I write a weekly blog at You can also find me on Facebook and Twitter.

If you’re a member of a local book club, I’d be pleased to come and talk about my book. Or, if you’d like to hold an Author Meet & Greet event, email me at

To get a copy of Double Header, ask your local bookstore (or library) to order it, or purchase it online here: AmazonNookKoboiPad Books, or Barnes and Noble.

Thank you, Linda, for the great questions! 

LM: A pleasure to be with you today! Thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Traveling Tuesdays: Disciplinary Training Centers

Traveling Tuesday: Disciplinary Training Centers

Recently, I was conducting research and stumbled on a story about Ezra Pound, a expatriate American poet who was paid by the Italian government during WWII to make radio broadcasts criticizing the United States and President Roosevelt. Pound was arrested in 1945 on charges of treason and sent to the Disciplinary Training Center in Pisa for incarceration.

In addition to traitors such as Pound, these facilities held the more than 65,000 U.S. Army soldiers who received a general court-martial (one of three kinds of court-martial). According to a general court-martial consists of not less than five members and a military judge, or an accused may be tried by a military judge alone upon request of the accused. A general court-martial is often characterized as a felony court, and may try all persons subject to the UCMJ, including officers and midshipmen.

Each theater of operation has several of these facilities in which prisoners were divided into four groups:

  • Those who were deemed suitable for rehabilitation.
  • Those who were considered incorrigible.
  • Those who warranted solitary confinement.
  • Those who were condemned.
Upon his arrival, a prisoner received a handbook that outlined what was expected of him during his incarceration. The introduction to the manual reminded the prisoner that he had deprived the Army of two soldiers - the prisoner himself and his guard.

The facilities typically contained enough land to provide the rigorous and often harsh training the prisoners would undergo. Rehabilitation took many forms, including an orthopedic shoe repair program at the center in Somerset, England.

After Japan surrendered in September 1945, the War Department ordered that all Disciplinary Training Centers be inactivated as soon as practicable.  By December of that year, all prisoners had been transported to the U.S. on modified liberty ships.

Like many people, I had not considered this aspect of the war - that not all those in the armed forces would serve with honor and distinction. A sobering thought.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Forensic Friday: Botany

As noted in previous blog posts, forensics has numerous specialty areas. One of those specialties is botany. Forensic botany is the application of plant sciences to criminal investigations. Similar to DNA and fingerprinting, plant material (seeds, leaves, flowers, spores, wood, fruits, cells, hairs and glandular hairs) is often unique to certain plant species and ecological areas. This allows a forensic botanist to narrow down the possibilities surrounding the who, where, and when of a crime.

An example of this is the comparison of pollen at a crime scene and on a suspect. Because even common plants have their own unique combination of pollens at different locations, the botanist may be able to link the suspect to a particular crime scene or determine that the victim has been moved from the original crime scene. Another example is the use of botanical evidence to find “clandestine” graves by examining the changes of disturbed soil. Botanists are knowledgeable about the plants that typically invade disturbed surfaces.

The study of trees and roots is also helpful in an investigation, often for determining the elapsed time of death. Growth rings can be counted to provide the timing of an event, and even partial damage to root growth can suggest the period since an interruption occurred.

The first reported trial that used the expert testimony of a botanist was the Lindbergh baby kidnapping case. Dr. Arthur Koehler was an expert on wood anatomy and identification with the United States Forest Service. He studied the ladder used by the kidnapper, and subsequently presented three kinds of information – identification of the wood used, physical marks left by tools on the wood, and comparison of the wood structure. By matching the annual rings on the wood, Koehler was able to show that the attic board in Bruno Hauptman’s home and the ladder rail had once been a single board. This was one of the most incriminating pieces of evidence in the trial that led to Hauptmann’s conviction.

In the eighty years since the Lindberg trial, the value of botanical trace evidence in criminal and civil cases has been used to bring justice to innumerable victims.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

B-29: The Ultimate Bomber?

Wartime Wednesday: B-29: The Ultimate Bomber?

Retired now, the Boeing B-29 Superfortress was a four-engine propeller-driven heavy bomber flown primarily by the United States during World War II and the Korean War. The Boeing website indicates the plane was one of the largest aircraft operational during World War II and very advanced for its time. Its guns could be fired by remote control, and two crew areas, fore and aft, were pressurized and connected by a long tube over the bomb bays, allowing crew members to crawl between them. The tail gunner had a separate pressurized area that could only be entered or left at altitudes that did not require pressurization.
The Boeing site also reports that the earliest B-29s were built before testing was finished, so the Army established modification centers where last-minute changes could be made without slowing expanding assembly lines. Those associated with the B-29s were well aware of the lack of testing conducted on the planes.
In World War II Remembered, intelligence officer John M. Jenkins says “The veteran pilots distrusted and feared the B-29s. With good reason. The planes had several engine problems that could lead to sudden fires and, all too often, to the crash of the planes. A few times I arrived at the airfield to find a huge crashed plane on fire at the end of the runway. Sometimes the crews escaped. Sometimes they did not. The problems were not entirely resolved before the planes departed for Asia in the spring of 1944.”
It is these kind of stories and impressions that are often missing from official reports, and why projects that capture the memories of “The Greatest Generation” are so important.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Mystery Monday: Vera Caspary and Laura

The 1944 movie “Laura” was based on the book by the same name authored by Vera Caspary. The movie was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 1999. It was named one of the ten best mystery films of all time by the American Film Institute, and Roger Ebert included it in his “Great Movies” series.

However, according to Wikipedia, Vera didn’t consider herself a "real" mystery writer. She began her career as a copy editor in an advertising agency then eventually moved into journalism then playwriting.

 An article in The New Yorker claims that the writing of “Laura” was a kind of accident, done for money. The writer indicates Caspary did not like murder mysteries herself, and she saw in them a structural flaw. “The murderer, the most interesting character,” Caspary wrote, “has always to be on the periphery of action lest he give away the secret that can be revealed only in the final pages.” If she was going to write one, she decided she needed to do it differently.

And different it is.

Detective Mark McPherson investigates the murder of Madison Avenue advertising executive Laura Hunt in her fashionable apartment. The detective reads her diaries and letters, and interviews her friends, eventually becoming obsessed with the Laura. When she returns from a trip, the police realize the victim is one of the advertising agency models. This casts suspicion on Laura who denies any knowledge of the murder.

The film was nominated for five Academy awards, and won for “Best Black and White Cinematography.”

Vera continued to write publishing nearly twenty novels after “Laura.” A fascinating aside about Vera’s writing surrounds the claim she made in her memoir that she rewrote and resold the exact plot of her story Thicker than Water eight times over her career. Who says formulaic writing doesn’t work?

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Selah Saturday: But God

Selah Saturday: But God

I wrote this devotional for the ABC-VT/NH online newsletter. I'm reprinting it here for followers of my blog.

We all have favorite passages in the Bible. Perhaps you love the 23rd Psalm, Mary’s Magnificat, John 3:16 or Paul’s writings about the Fruits of the Spirit. As much as I treasure those verses, the words I cherish most in the Scriptures are “but God.”
The phrase occurs numerous times throughout the Bible. A situation is going a particular direction, and then God intervenes, often quite dramatically.
“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish now what is being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20) Joseph is speaking to his brothers who came to Egypt for help during the famine. Even though Joseph had been wronged by his brothers, God used the incident as part of his plan to save the Israelites.
But God promised him that he and his descendants after him would possess the land, even though at that time Abraham had no child.” (Acts 7:5) Have you ever received a promise from God that you thought was absolutely outrageous? Abraham must have felt that way when God gave him this promise – yet it was fulfilled when Abraham least expected it.
"You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.” (Acts 3:14-15) If not for the fact that God resurrected Jesus, none of us would have a personal relationship with him. Because of our faith in a risen Savior, we are saved from death and destruction. 
Try to remember that it doesn't matter if we are being opposed or threatened, or waiting an interminable time for something to happen, or it seems that the task ahead is insurmountable, we can rest in the words "but God." 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Talkshow Thursday: Meet Terri Wangard

Talkshow Thursday: Meet Terri Wangard

I am very excited to introduce you to debut author Terri Wangard. Terri has won numerous contests, and her first novel Friends and Enemies came out on January 5, 2016. It is a fascinating story with characters who will stay with you long after you've turned the last page. You can pick it up on Amazon.

LM: Terri, you've been writing for a while! Your website indicates your first Girl
Scout Badge was the Writer. When did you realize you wanted to write
Christian fiction?

TW: I read a lot of the early Christian romances that came out in the 80s. Many seemed so similar, like they were written according to a formula. I decided to see how I could do. My first manuscript was with Heartsong for a year in the early 2000s before they said, “No thanks.”
LM: How did you get interested in WWII?

TW: The first Christian WWII stories I read were in Davis Bunn’s Rhineland Inheritance series. Loved them! I also enjoyed Michael Phillips’ Secret of the Rose series and Judith Pella’s Daughters of Fortune series.

LM: I loved those books. Where did you get the idea for your story?

TW: When I decided to write again in 2008, I thought of those WWII books. MyFriends and Enemies. I used what I gleaned from the letters: they lived in Hagen, owned a factory that made heating and air conditioning apparatus, the ancestral town of Bickenbach, and a brother who was a POW in Russia.

LM: Are any of your characters based on real people?
grandparents had been sending care packages to distant cousins in Germany, and a series of postwar letters from them gave me the idea for

TW: The letters came from a brother and sister. He and his wife had three children, one son and two daughters. I used that family, but made the children older. The sister and her husband spent three years in Canada in the mid-30s. That allowed my family to spend three years in Milwaukee. I gave them a stronger reason for returning to Nazi Germany; his father died and he had to take over the business. In real life, the couple returned because she was homesick. An editor said that wasn’t believable that they would go to a worsening police state for such a flimsy reason.
LM: The age old question about writers - are you a plotter or a pantster?

TW: Mostly pantster. I’ve been trying to start out with better plotting, but then I reach a point and just start writing. A fully plotted outline would have helped with my current work in progress due to the interruptions as I edit the books in my series now being published or work on promotion.
LM: I was intriqued to hear that part of your research included flying in a B-17. Tell us about that.

TW: I was the only woman in the group. Two of the men were WWII veterans who flew on B-17s. My biggest impression was the noise. In TV or movies you see the men casually talking to each other without headphones. Forget it. I couldn’t hear someone who stood right in front of me. The second impression was how cramped those planes are. To get into the navigator’s compartment in the nose, you have to crawl in. I banged my head. The airmen must have suffered lots of bruises to their heads, shins, arms, everywhere. I went home and changed my manuscripts to reflect the true nature of flying in B-17s.
LM: What an amazing experience! Besides writing, what other passions do you have?

TW: Sea shells. I love going to the beach, particularly Florida’s Gulf Coast, and searching for shells. I’ve done a bit of craft work with them. I used to do a lot of cross stitch, but in my pre-bi-focal days, I had to give it up. Now I could manage again if I had the time, or more wall space to hang my “masterpieces.”
LM: You've got two more books coming out this year - what are you working on

TW: It’s another WWII story about a sailor, his Rosie the Riveter wife, her WAC sister, and a grasshopper pilot.
LM: Anything else you want folks to know about you?

TW: Since I don’t have a family of my own, I’ve been sponsoring children for years through Compassion International. Presently I have three girls in Central and South America. And one former sponsored child is now a Facebook friend. I wholeheartedly recommend Compassion.

LM: Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing a bit about your yourself and your books. I look forward to your next release in May! To find out more about Terri and her stories visit her website.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Traveling Tuesday: Picatinny Arsenal

Traveling Tuesday: Picatinny Arsenal

A thirty minute drive from the house in New Jersey where I grew up is the Picatinny Arsenal, originally called the Dover Powder Depot when it was established on September 6, 1880. (Factoid: Four days later, the arsenal was renamed Picatinny Powder Depot. Makes me wonder why it wasn’t called that immediately – must be some kind of story there!)

Before the Civil War most of the powder facilities were located in the South, and hence confiscated by the Confederate Army at the beginning of the war. At the conclusion of the war, the U.S. Army searched for a more centralized location and settled on Morris County, NJ. In 1907 a manufacturing plant was constructed to produce gunpowder and heavy munitions. Around 1911, a school was started that instructed officers in weaponry sciences. Testing laboratories were added during WWI and by 1919 a small facility was constructed for research and development. By 1921, the arsenal was experimenting on fuzes.

With the advent of WWII, research was set aside when the facility was converted to a large-caliber-round loading plant. At its height, the location ran three shifts and employed over 18,000 people. Today, covering ten square miles, the arsenal develops new technologies for all the U.S. Armed Forces and builds various munition, weapons and armor systems. According to the Arsenal’s website there are 1,000 permanent structures including sixty-four laboratories. More than 5,000 civilians, 1,000 contractors and 160 military personnel are employed there.
Check out the arsenal’s Facebook page for more information.