Tag Archives: Best new thriller

Book Research

Moonrise Over Taos

Main Character

Darcy McClain is a former FBI agent-turned-private investigator. Although her former position with the FBI plays a minor role in my thriller series, I still researched the subject in detail. I started at the library, poring over nonfiction material. Then I conducted research on the FBI’s website. I was also fortunate to interview several agents at writers’ conferences. There is an FBI agent named Jack in Clonx, and I will definitely contact the FBI field office in Dallas to learn more about how local agents work as I flesh out Jack’s character. As for private detectives, Darcy is licensed in the state of California. Years ago, prior to writing my thriller series, I attended several courses at the Screen Actors Guild in Los Angeles, along with a friend who happened to be a retired LAPD detective. He gave me some unique insights into the daily lives of officers and detectives that work street crime. I’ve used his information as a foundation for Darcy’s experiences.

Bullet

Nothing compensates for writing about a giant schnauzer like owning one, but I do not advocate buying or adopting a giant unless you have owned one before or if you are well educated on the breed. Please do your homework prior to even considering a giant schnauzer. I’ve been asked to “include more of the dog” in my series. I intend to do just that. In Clonx, Bullet plays a major role as a scent detection dog. How will I do my nose work research? I’ll begin with online sites and books dedicated to the subject, and then I will attend nose work classes. In addition, I plan to consult with fellow giant schnauzer owners who are active in the nose work field, as well as confer with a friend whose lifework has been search and rescue. The greatest reward that comes from all of this research is knowledge, on so many subjects.

Secondary Characters

I was once asked what I disliked the most about research. I don’t like researching topics such as child abuse. It ruins my day and drags me down emotionally, but I stuck with it, doing so in small doses, until I felt I had an understanding of Paco’s hatred toward his abusers and his need for revenge. After several self-edits of Gadgets, I gave the book to a fellow writer to read. She had “some insights into child abuse,” she informed me, but never went into detail and I did not pursue the subject with her. My research and her editorial comments proved invaluable. As for Charlene, her character is based on a combination of research, personal observations, and direct interaction with teenagers.

Settings

I rely on firsthand experience. Brainwash and Gadgets are set in New Mexico because I love the state and have traveled extensively throughout the area, and we own a vacation home there. The setting for Genocide is California. I lived in the southern part of the state for over sixteen years. Clonx is set in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, where I’ve been a resident for more than twenty-five years. I plan to set several novels in certain locations abroad, places I’ve lived in or have visited on many occasions. While online research might be a good place to start when scouting out settings, nothing substitutes for walking in the footsteps of your characters. Google Maps is a great tool, but it covers only the visual. For instance, after I wrote my first draft of Blind Revenge, I spent a week in Palm Springs, California, where the novel is set. I ran the exact route my main character ran every morning. In my first draft of the manuscript, I made no mention of the pungent smell of manure that permeated the desert air as I neared the horse stables that bordered the drainage culvert. Nor did I write about the distant hum of vehicle traffic from the main thoroughfare. Some things Google just can’t capture.

Technical Material

While doing scientific research for a particular thriller, I am not only delving into one specific topic but am also constantly on the lookout for the next technological advancement that will appear in the book. So my research efforts are ongoing. I read a lot of nonfiction, most technical in nature, subscribe to several science magazines, conduct extensive online searches, interview experts on the technical subject matter I have chosen for a book, and I draw upon personal experience, as I did in Gadgets. While working for CooperVision Surgical, an ophthalmic company, I held the position of product manager for their laser line.

Firearms and Knives

I learned to shoot at a fairly young age and was taught, early on, about the responsibility and safety issues of gun ownership. But writers who aren’t inclined to own a firearm should visit a gun store and ask questions, talk to weapons experts, and interview police officers and/or FBI agents. Many writers’ conferences and writers’ workshops host speakers and panel discussions by various law enforcement agencies. Attend those courses and ask questions. Another resource is The Writer’s Guide to Weapons, by Benjamin Sobieck.

CSI

Author Pat Krapf's ResearchIn Brainwash, Darcy and Ed Clark, a forensic scientist, investigate a crime scene in an arroyo (a steep-sided gully cut by running water in an arid or semiarid region) on Darcy’s land in Taos. As a starting point, I read Forensics: A Guide for Writers by D.P. Lyle, M.D., as well as Police Procedure & Investigations: A Guide for Writers by Lee Lofland. Both books are part of a Howdunit Series published by Writer’s Digest Books. Another good source was sitting in on panel discussions and listening to qualified speakers at writers’ conventions who gave workshops and talks on CSI work. Fascinated by the topic, I spent months researching anything CSI related, most of the information gleaned from material I found online or from books I had purchased on the subject. Only then was I ready to break down the information that applied to the scenes in Brainwash. As for types of crime scene searches, I researched overlapping zone searches, strip searches, spiral searches, and grid searches. I opted for a grid search as the most thorough technique for hunting for evidence in the arroyo. I did some in-depth reading on lifting shoe prints, dusting for fingerprints, collecting evidence, and how best to protect that evidence from contamination until it could be analyzed by a test laboratory. Because I anticipate that Darcy will be involved in future CSI work, my research is ongoing. Another valuable site has been the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, and last month I read Marilyn T. Miller’s book, Crime Scene Investigation Laboratory Manual. Ms. Miller is a former crime scene investigator and forensic scientist. And lately, I finished digesting the Texas Law Enforcement Explorer Training Guide. In closing, true firsthand knowledge can’t be beat, but acquiring it isn’t always practical, and today via certain social media sites and other online resources, there is a wealth of information at your disposal. All you have to do is seek it out.

Glossary/Photo Blogs

I plan to devote several blogs to a glossary. I will give a detailed description of each term and include a photo for easy identification. I also plan to do a series of photo blogs showing the exact locations I chose for scenes in my novels, such as the Brainwash crime scene in the arroyo on Darcy’s land in Taos. Until then, Happy New Year and best wishes for 2016!

Next week: “Why Did You Self-Publish Your Thriller Series?”

Fort Moultrie: Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina

Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge

In my last post, I blogged about my alma mater, Lincoln Memorial University (LMU) in Harrogate, Tennessee, in the Cumberland Gap, near the junction where Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia meet. Proud of the university’s continued success, high college rankings, and flourishing private school, I satisfied my renewed curiosity in the campus and the history of the region by doing some in-depth research on the school and eastern Tennessee in general. This delving led me to Dr. Earl J. Hess’s book, Lincoln Memorial University and the Shaping of Appalachia. I immediately placed my Amazon order, only to discover that the book is temporarily out of stock. Dr. Hess is a student of Civil War history and grew up in rural Missouri. Since 1989, he has been at LMU and is an associate professor of history. He is also well published. I am eagerly awaiting my copy of his book.

The morning after we visited LMU, a heavy smoky-blue fog hung over the mountains, and mist specked our jackets as we prepared to leave the Inn on Biltmore Estate for the drive from Asheville to Charleston, South Carolina. Although the hotel staff in Charleston had assured us the city hadn’t experienced severe flooding, we decided to leave Asheville early, giving ourselves plenty of time to make the four-hour drive south, especially since Columbia was one of the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Joaquin. As it turned out, we experienced no high-water delays along Highway 26 but did lose an hour stuck in two accidents. One involved several cars—no one badly injured, thank goodness—and the other, unfortunately, was a deer hit by an SUV.

Fountain at Waterfront Park

Fountain at Waterfront Park

Charleston is a charming, colorful town, steeped in history. Although I love all things modern and thrive on being a minimalist, I have a fascination for historic buildings—their architecture and their stories. The moment I threw back the curtains in our hotel room at the Belmond Charleston Place, I immediately noticed all the church spires. Other loves of mine are houses of worship and cemeteries, so a church tour was definitely on my agenda. But first Dave wanted to see the waterfront, so we put our church tour on hold until the next day.

Waterfront Park Promenade

Waterfront Park Promenade

We stepped out of our hotel to a humid, subtropical afternoon, but as we neared Waterfront Park a soft breeze coming off the coast squelched any real heat. The park has great views of the Charleston Harbor and the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, a white, cable-stayed suspension bridge with two diamond-shaped towers that spans the Cooper River. It connects Charleston to Mount Pleasant and is an impressive 573 feet high and 2.7 miles long, and it has eight lanes in addition to a shared twelve-foot-wide pedestrian/bicycle path.

After we strolled Waterfront Park and snapped shots of the water fountains and a sailboat cruising the harbor waters, we took a leisurely walk through the cobblestoned side streets, just soaking in the sunshine and our surroundings, and working up our dinner appetites. That night, we had reservations at McCrady’s Tavern, built in 1778. The restaurant’s entrance is located down a narrow cobblestone alley off East Bay Street. The service was excellent and the food good.


On our first full day in Charleston, we drew straws, figuratively, and agreed to take our island tour in the morning and our house of worship tour in the afternoon. We both wanted to visit Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island. We grabbed coffees to go, hopped into our rental, and sped away toward the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge.

Plaque at Fort Moultrie

Plaque at Fort Moultrie

Fort Moultrie, a coastal fortification, was built to guard the harbors and shores of the United States from as early as the first European settlements until the end of World War II. Fort Moultrie has defended Charleston Harbor twice: during the American Revolutionary War when it was attacked by the British fleet, and again nearly a century later during the Civil War when federal forces bombarded Charleston from land and sea. In 1776, after a nine-hour battle when Charleston was saved from British occupation, the fort was named for its commander, William Moultrie.

In early March of 1776, Colonel Moultrie, a former militiaman who was later promoted to general, was ordered to Sullivan’s Island to build a seacoast defense on the shielded harbor. The purpose was to make an invasion as costly as possible, or better still, to prevent invaders from landing. It was unrealistic to think that such a fort, even one well armed with troops and cannons, could annihilate the enemy, but it could certainly slow them down. Any large vessel entering Charleston had to first cross Charleston Bar, a series of submerged sandbanks lying about eight miles from the city. Most ships ran aground and became stuck, and were then more vulnerable to attack.

Fort Moultrie (foreground) with Stella Maris Catholic Church (background)

Fort Moultrie (foreground) with Stella Maris Catholic Church (background)

Work on the square-shaped fort began by cutting thousands of spongy palmetto logs, which became the foundation for an immense pen, five hundred feet long and sixteen feet wide, filled with sand to stop the shot. The workers constructed cannon platforms and nailed them together with spikes. During the construction, George Washington dispatched General Charles Lee and two thousand soldiers to assist in Charleston’s defense. Lee’s appearance alone boosted morale among the South Carolina troops. But after Lee viewed Charleston’s defenses, his worries mounted. Moultrie commanded only thirty-one cannons and a garrison of less than four hundred men. And the fort was hastily erected, with only thick planks guarding the powder magazine, and the curtain walls on the north side of the fort weren’t even finished.

US Flag over Fort Moultrie

US Flag over Fort Moultrie

In mid-May, Charlestonians received word that the formidable British fleet was massing at Cape Fear. On June 1, the fleet finally appeared, about fifty sail in all, and anchored outside of the bar. Moultrie termed the battle “one continual blaze and roar,” and it raged on for hours, until the garrison was running out of powder. Word was sent to Lee, and seven hundred pounds of powder reached the fort defenders later in the day, allowing them to fend off the enemy. The British had used thirty-two thousand pounds of powder and the Americans less than five thousand. Within days of the battle came the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Next week: “Houses of Worship: Charleston, South Carolina.”

Europe 2013: The Prado Museum – Madrid, Spain

 

Stained Glass Dome, Westin Palace, Madrid

Stained Glass Dome, Westin Palace, Madrid

Friday morning, I made a second pass through the breakfast buffet while Dave mapped out his must-see list for our visit to the Prado museum. Polishing off a croissant, I skimmed a short history of our hotel—The Westin Palace, Madrid. The building was commissioned by King Alfonso XIII in 1912 and has an enormous stained glass dome that tops the regal structure. However, the hotel entrance was an understatement in comparison to the grandeur of the interior with its sweeping marble floors and ornate staircases. Dave’s sudden declaration that he had completed his Prado list broke into my idle musings. He ushered me through the lobby and out the front doors for the Museo Nacional del Prado. The current collection has around 7,600 paintings, 1,000 sculptures, 4,800 prints, and 8,200 drawings. We definitely had a lot to see.

The warm, morning sun felt good as we strolled to the corner and crossed the street to the museum, a mere five-minute walk from our hotel. Tickets in hand, we queued up, ready to go through security. From behind us, someone called out, “Hey, you two.” We turned to see the British couple we had met in Toledo, the day the four of us got lost trying to reach the railway station. We cleared security, exchanged a few pleasantries, and went our separate ways.

Palacio de Cristal

Palacio de Cristal

For hours, we traipsed through what is unquestionably the largest and finest collection of European art. But in the third hour, I left Dave with El Greco, de Goya, and Titian and went in search of Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas (1656). Like many who know the painting, I had been charmed by a child I had never met, as was Velázquez, the court painter commissioned to paint Margarita Theresa, the privileged daughter of Philip IV and Mariana of Austria. Always the center of attention, Margarita was destined, one day, to be an empress. In several of Velázquez’s paintings, she appears to revel in her appearance; the rich brocade gowns and elaborate hairdos were all mandatory fashion for any grand lady. As a child of the Spanish Habsburgs, she was betrothed to her maternal uncle and paternal cousin, Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor. It was required that she maintain her succession to the Spanish throne and that her succession rights pass to her descendants. In 1665, the fifteen-year-old Margarita left Spain for Austria and was married in Vienna in 1666. Despite the couple’s eleven-year age difference, she and Leopold were supposedly very happy together, sharing a love of music and theater. Tragically, at the age of just twenty-one, Margarita Theresa died, debilitated after giving birth to four children and enduring many miscarriages. She is buried in the Imperial Crypt in Vienna. Her only surviving child, Archduchess Maria Antonia of Austria, gave birth to three children, all of whom died in childhood. Maria herself died at age twenty-three.

The Habsburgs were one of the most powerful dynasties of Medieval and Renaissance Europe, reigning over huge territories from the mountains in Switzerland to swaths of Austria, Hungary, Italy, France, and Spain, even controlling land from the Philippines to the Americas. But they maintained sovereignty by rarely marrying outside the dynasty. From 1516 to 1700, an estimated 80 percent of the marriages were consanguineous, or between close blood relatives. Most often, these unions were between first cousins, double first cousins, and uncles and nieces. As a direct result of this inbreeding, infant and child mortality rose 50 percent among the Spanish Habsburgs. In 1700, an entire dynasty of kings came to an end when Charles II of Spain died from a panoply of health defects. Physically disabled, mentally challenged, and disfigured, he died senile and plagued with epileptic seizures. He had two wives but no offspring. Of the thirty-four children born to the Spanish Habsburgs, half died before their tenth birthday and ten died before their first, most likely the result of generations of inbreeding. Could the same marital practices that built a powerful dynasty have also caused its demise?

Dwelling on this sad conclusion, I sought out the works of Hieronymus Bosch, who produced at least sixteen triptychs, of which eight are still fully intact. The Last Judgment, created after 1482, currently resides at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, Austria. Having seen this triptych on a prior European visit, I was interested in viewing more of Bosch’s work. In the late sixteenth century, Philip II of Spain acquired many of Bosch’s paintings, so the Prado owns The Adoration of the Magi, The Garden of Earthly Delights, the tabletop painting of The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things, The Haywain Triptych, and The Stone Operation. Although Bosch signed several of his pieces, he dated very few. The Haywain Triptych dates back to around 1516, the date established by means of dendrochronological research. The Garden of Earthly Delights, dated between 1490 and 1510, is his best-known and most ambitious complete work. It has been housed in the Museo Nacional del Prado since 1939.

Palacio de Cristal

Palacio de Cristal

From the triptychs, I moved to the piece I had come to see—The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things, completed around 1500 or later. The oil-on-wood panels are a series of circular images—four small circles surround one large circle in which the seven deadly sins are depicted. In the center of the large circle is a pupil, possibly the eye of God. Below the image of Christ emerging from his tomb is the inscription Cave Cave Deus Videt (Beware, Beware, God Sees). The painting was intended as a deterrent to those who were tempted to engage in sinful acts. “Greed” depicts people being boiled in gold pots. In “Pride,” a demon holds a mirror for a vain woman. In “Wrath,” a man is about to murder a woman. “Gluttony” shows everyone eating or drinking more than their share. “Avarice” depicts taxpayers trying to squeeze more out of a hardworking man (or that’s my interpretation). “Envy” shows a man dressed in expensive white garments who appears to be the object of jealousy. “Sloth” depicts a nun standing and a woman sitting. Though greedy people were shown being boiled in gold pots, I wasn’t quite sure what the punishment was for the remaining six sins, and really had no idea what “Lust” depicted, until I did some research on Bosch’s work. In an article written by Sally A. Struthers, “The Seven Deadly Sins of Hieronymous Bosch,” she states, “Next Luxuria (Lust). Two pairs of lovers dawdle inside a tent. Outside a jester is beaten with a big spoon, in those times an emblem of illicit love. Musical instruments litter the foreground, illustrating the Flemish proverb that “music-making leads to love-making.”

But the four last things appeared to be pretty straightforward. “Death of a Sinner” shows a dying man receiving the last rites from a priest. In “Glory,” the saved enter heaven. In “Judgment,” angels are waking the dead, while Christ is shown in glory. Finally, in “Hell,” demons torment the sinners. What bothered me most about this work was not its subject but knowing that recent dendrochronological dating had revived the controversy that the painting was done by a student of Bosch, not Bosch himself.

Boating Lake at El Retiro

Boating Lake at El Retiro

I checked the time. I had agreed to meet Dave near another of my favorite artists, Albrecht Dürer. I fell in love with his work the first time I laid eyes on his self-portrait in the Louvre, Paris. Nearing the end of the fourth hour, my mind began to wander to things other than art, such as whether the Prado would be a good setting for a scene in a future Darcy McClain thriller. My imagination was running wild when Dave tapped me on the shoulder. I said goodbye to Dürer and accepted Dave’s suggestion of some shopping. I had just the place in mind—Lola Fonseca.

Lola’s small retail shop/workshop offers a variety of hand-painted silk scarves, foulards, shawls, and beautiful fans. We entered the store to find Lola at work hand-painting a turquoise silk scarf, her dog Lana sprawled on the floor. With Lola being friendly and not pressuring me to buy, I perused the scarves for a good twenty minutes before making my purchases. It was a tough decision with so many wonderful colors and designs to choose from.

Paella

Paella

After this brief shopping spree, we took a leisurely walk to Parque del Buen Retiro (Park of the Pleasant Retreat)—or simply El Retiro, as the locals refer to it. The park is one of the largest in Madrid and belonged to the Spanish monarchy until it opened to the public. We paused at the boating lake to snap photos of a few rowers enjoying the warm day and carried on to what I really wanted to see—Palacio de Cristal. The palace, modeled on London’s Crystal Palace, was designed by architect Ricardo Velásquez Bosco and made almost entirely of glass set in an iron framework on a stone base. It was built in 1887 to house exotic flora and fauna as part of an exhibition on the Philippines, which was still a Spanish colony. Today it is used for contemporary art exhibitions. Not far from the park, we spotted people sitting at tables under a grove of trees. As we drew closer, we noticed they were eating paella. We ordered one to share, as well as one icy cold beer. We didn’t want to spoil our appetites for dinner by eating too much that late in the day.

El Barrill de las Letras, a recommendation from our hotel concierge, was a good dinner choice. We started with clams on the half shell, followed by grilled octopus, grilled asparagus, and an order of sole “roasted in its skin.” To wash down our delicious seafood, we chose a good Spanish white wine. Full, we walked off the meal with a short stroll, then retired to our room to pack, for the next day we were flying back to the US.

Next week, I am taking a short break from blogging before I begin a new series of posts on October 22nd. These will focus on book and writing-related topics, as well as comment on and answer questions from my readers and blog subscribers.

Next week: “Boucheron 2015: Murder Under the Oaks – Raleigh, North Carolina.”