Tom Sullivan here, just letting you know that if this appears under my byline, it’s because the tech gremlins in Bob Jones access to SU are acting up and I’m posting this for him. The following is 100% from our illustrious encyclopedic compatriot Robert C. Jones! …

This essay might be of special interest to writers of detective and mystery novels who would like to enrich their stories by providing their readers with a gift of extra details. It might also be of general interest to many other readers, especially those who are CSI and NCIS fans. The ADDITIONAL INFORMATION section of this essay contains material found during research. It is not always closely related to the main subject of the essay, but is thought to be interesting.


Having been established as a royal burgh in 1186, Dumfries, Scotland, has since been a location where many threads of history have been spun. One such thread is related to forensics. It originated shortly after 1749, when a son named Benjamin was born to a farmer named George. Benjamin served as an apprentice to a surgeon and later studied medicine at Edinburgh University. He then practiced surgery in Edinburgh and was elected to be an attendant surgeon to the Royal Infirmary, a position he held for eighteen years.

Benjamin is generally considered to have been a scientific surgeon, indeed the first Scottish scientific surgeon as demonstrated in his influential, six-volume textbook titled A SYSTEM OF SURGERY. He was admired for his rational thought processes, especially those expressed in his treatise on GONORRHOEA VIRULENTA AND LUES VENEREA. His THEORY AND MANAGEMENT OF ULCERS was published in 1778 and is still considered to be a classic of eighteenth-century physiology.

Benjamin’s son, Joseph, grandson, Benjamin and great-grandson Joseph constituted a family dynasty of surgeons practicing in Edinburgh. All became presidents of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. Joseph was known for his diagnostic abilities and for his ability to catch minute details upon which his diagnoses were based. These abilities did not go unnoticed by a young medical student whom he had chosen to serve as his assistant. In turn, the student based a fictitious detective on him in books that were eventually to become extremely popular with detective story fans. Police actually found the forensic actions of the imaginary detective to be useful in their real world of fighting crime. Of course, the teacher, Joseph, was Dr. Joseph Bell, the young medical student was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and the imaginary detective was named Sherlock Holmes.

Dr. Bell had an effective method of teaching. According to an essay by Dr. Harold Emery Jones, Dr. Bell once presented his class with a tumbler that he said housed “a very potent drug. To the taste it is intensely bitter. Here it is most offensive to the sense of smell. But I want you to test it by smell and taste; and, as I don’t ask anything of my students which I wouldn’t be willing to do myself, I will taste it before passing it round.”

Here he dipped his finger in the liquid and placed it in his mouth. The tumbler was passed round. With wry and sour faces the students followed the professor’s lead. One after another tasted the liquid; varied and amusing were the grimaces made. The tumbler having gone the round, was returned to the professor.

“Gentlemen,” said he, with a laugh, “I am deeply grieved to find that not one of you has developed this power of perception, which I so often speak about; for if you had watched me closely, you would have found that, while I placed my forefinger in the medicine, it was the middle finger which found its way into my mouth.”

Reportedly, upon arriving in a train station, Arthur Conan Doyle, who by then had made few public appearances, was surprised when an attendant handling his suitcase addressed him by name. Having a reputation for having endowed his major character, Sherlock Homes, with almost supernatural capabilities of observation, Doyle sheepishly asked the attendant how in the world he knew his name. The attendant pointed to a name tag attached to his suitcase.


The first recorded reference to forensics comes from a book written in China in 1248. The book, called HSI DUAN YU (which means THE WASHING AWAY OF WRONGS) explained how to tell the difference between a person who has drowned and a person who has been strangled.

There were a few occasions when Sherlock would partake of cocaine. Reference to his use appeared in 1890 in THE SIGN OF FOUR and in 1890 in A SCANDAL IN BOHEMIA. During that period, the drug was legal and could be obtained without a prescription. Oddly, it was even mistakenly used as a potential cure for opiate addictions.

Arthur Conan Doyle kept his pen busy writing more than 20 full-length books and more than 150 short stories. He also wrote many poems, plays and essays.





Fame is infamous. Or at least it should be. Not that I would know. I’ve had very little fame, lots of infamy. But you don’t have to drown in order to understand water.

Virtually everyone experiences the rushes and crushes that come with sudden acclaim, even if they only experience them in microcosms and short bursts, as in scoring a winning goal or getting applause for speaking up at a PTA meeting. The difference is that a microcosm is like a soap bubble. A little time passes and the bubble bursts. But what happens when the bubble doesn’t burst and instead becomes the known universe for someone 24/7/365? Answer: well…it may still result in a bubble. Because that someone is apt to find themselves trapped in a single facet – or maybe a complete fabrication – of their personality. Only this bubble is made of glass instead of soap, with little room to grow, to explore, to be understood. And for better or for worse it is sustainable until shattered by outside forces.

Fame often roars in like a freight train. But even when it builds over years, the realization can be sudden and disorienting. The world turns Technicolor and, as the anointed one, you may find yourself in a redo, a remake of your basic relationships. It’s as if the long-awaited dream carries with it some kind of amnesty for everything – redemption or just freedom. So now you have new-found prerogatives if not actual power (power usually goes to the retainers that surround and insulate someone famous). You can even reinvent yourself. Might as well, everyone else will. Not just calculating publicists, self-serving critics, enthusiastic agents et al, but FANS. Complete strangers! And people who are not strangers, who were once your friends or are relatives, may want to renegotiate the relationship. Heady stuff!

It’s called IMAGE. And it can crowd you out of your home and your head. You have people now – experts – to handle all the decisions and…and stress (bwahaha!). People to reassure you that in fact everything is well, or will be, if you stick to the script. Easy at that stage to believe in fickle fame, in your own press, and in the subtle but pervasive inference that you must be doing everything right. You are indemnified against the negative. But without the blessed sanctuary of small failures that you can recognize and learn from, you are in danger of becoming blind and lost to bigger failures down the road. The irony is that the people who surround you in all likelihood have a more honest perspective than the one they are pushing on you simply because they are anonymous. And if they want to manipulate you, you are duck soup. They know who they are, and that they have nothing to protect save maybe their influence over you, and so you may become dependent on them. You trust them. Over time, inevitable jealousies, defections or betrayals may muddy the picture to the point where you are guessing who really is on your side. In a worst-case scenario the moat around you eventually turns into a quicksand of paranoia and money.

It’s just business, you may think. A corporation of eager interests with a spectrum of motives. But behind the façade of fame, guess who has become “the giant tit”? And always there are the fans with their enduring admiration that can become as ruthless in its own way as the clear-headed parasites. No need to write about alcohol and drugs and all the avenues of escape that turn into dead ends.

‘Nough. I’ve given the whole fame thing enough of a nasty spin. Truth be told, there are people who maintain who they are through it all, cohabiting with fame as with a favored houseguest. And there are even categories of artists whose fame is as abstract as their art, whose non-performance art is far enough removed from the limelight to permit them anonymity should they choose to walk solitary lanes. Oh, you know where I’m going now, don’t you? Yes, I refer to…


Scribblers on paper, words on a cyber-screen – it’s an abstract interface that may infer intellectual respect, but you can be a mumbling, fumbling troglodyte, 200 pounds over fighting weight, sporting bad breath and coffee cup eyes and still command intellectual respect. Of course there are pretenders – armies of pretenders now that the digital age has created true self-publishing, meaningless promotion and a glut of mediocre writing or worse. Mixed in with that is a lot of great writing that traditional publishing misses or ignores. A phenomenon of self-contained readers-writers-reviewers has even begun to take hold. These all-in-one groups contain every possible aspect and service of writing from publishing to editing, cover reveals, critiquing, promo and reviewing. And the kicker is that they are their own audience and marketplace, reaching out in their sphere of influence almost like the crafts and subscription guilds of old – unions, closed societies. So be it. Because who’s to say who should be anointed? Who is to tell anyone else what is good or worthy of their attention or how to spend their filthy lucre in the marketplace?

Fame. You don’t have to chase it. Take it or leave it if it’s offered you, but remember what it is: an endorsement, a connection, a surrogate love, but also a pressure to live an unreality. Like I said…fame should be infamous.

Thomas “Sully” Sullivan

You can see all my books in any format here on my webpage:

or follow me on Facebook:


Tom Sullivan here, just letting you know that if this appears under my byline, it’s because the tech gremlins in Bob Jones access to SU are acting up and I’m posting this for him. The following is 100% from our illustrious encyclopedic compatriot Robert C. Jones! …

This essay might be of special interest to writers of detective and mystery novels who would like to enrich their stories by providing their readers with a gift of extra details. It might also be of general interest to many other readers, especially those who are CSI and NCIS fans. The ADDITIONAL INFORMATION section of this essay contains material found during research. It is not always closely related to the main subject of the essay, but is thought to be interesting.


A recreation area resides in the North End neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts. It includes baseball fields, slides, swings and even three Bocce courts. It is a place for persons to enjoy themselves. The area was not, however, always a pleasant place to be. In early 1919, persons there experienced a disastrous event.


To many British, it’s known as Treacle. To most Americans, it’s molasses. It is a dark, viscous, strong-flavored, honey-like substance made by processing cane or beet sugar. Its viscosity accounts for the slowness with which it pours from containers. It also provides the origin of the popular saying that something or someone is “as slow as molasses in January.”

In addition to being used for its flavor and sweetness, molasses is also used in the production of alcoholic beverages, munitions and ethanol. The Purity Distilling Company used it to produce the latter.

In the North End neighborhood, the company owned a large storage tank. It was 52 feet tall, 90 feet in diameter and had a storage capacity of 2.3 million U.S. gallons. A full load of molasses was estimated to weigh 26 million pounds.

Ships from Cuba brought molasses. The storage tank was located only about 200 feet from Boston Harbor, and that facilitated the transfer of Molasses from ships to the tank. Nearby railroad tracks provided ready means for moving the molasses from the tank to other locations.

A shipload of molasses was due to arrive a few days after the tank’s construction had been completed in December of 1915, so the structure had not been tested.

On January 15, 1919, the temperature had risen from a below-freezing temperature of 2 degrees Fahrenheit to an above-freezing temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit. That might have increased pressure within the tank.

Just after noon, the tank, loaded with molasses, burst. It was on this January day that molasses became directly involved in an event that not only resulted in a necessary application of forensic engineering to determine the causes and legal responsibilities for the bursting of the storage tank, but it also proved that the implied slowness of “molasses in January” was not applicable in all cases.

When it was filled with molasses, the viscous fluid leaked and ran down the sides of the tank. The leaks were so obvious that nearby neighbors filled containers with escaping goo for home use. Children rolled the ends of sticks against the leaking molasses to make sweet suckers. Reportedly, to hide the leaks, the tank was painted brown. In addition to the obvious leaks, rumbling noises from inside the tank were being noticed and reported.

When it burst, the storage tank was only three years old. It had been constructed of seven vertical rows of sheets of steel. The sheets were arranged in a circle with their edges overlapping. The overlapping areas were held together by rivets, and the bottom edges were set in concrete.

The sudden deformation of the tank walls, as reported by witnesses, was accompanied by a tremendous cacophony of crashes, roars, rumbles, growls, bangs and the sharp cracks of rivets being shot outwardly like bullets as the tank walls were abruptly forced outwardly and struck objects including the ground. With no tank to restrain it, a wave of molasses raced away from its previous enclosure. Reports of the wave’s height varied, but the actual height would have generally diminished as the wave spread from its original height while within the tank. Based on the damage it had caused, the width of the wave was determined to have reached 160 feet.

Estimates of the speed of the wave also varied, but it might have challenged the top speed of a human runner. A human sprint record found on the internet was less than 30 miles per hour. Having a terrifying specter of a huge wall of molasses bearing down upon one, however, might have inspired a new, unrecorded, human sprint record.

Adults and children were swept up and pitched helter skelter. By the time the flood subsided, 21 persons had been killed, and some 150 were reported to have been injured.

The wave itself was not the only impressive sight. Buildings within reach of the wave’s force were relocated and basements flooded with molasses. Much of the latter was pumped out by the fire department.

A portion of the Boston Elevated Railway that passed through the area, and that was to have provided means for moving molasses from the tank, was damaged. Poles supporting wires carrying electric current were toppled, dropping the wires into the molasses. A truck was pitched into Boston Harbor, and a small boat was found to have been driven through a wooden fence.

While being pinned by the wave of molasses against the shed wall of a trolley company with his feet a good distance above the shed floor, a railroad clerk had an experience capable of supplying enough material for a lifetime of nightmares while he helplessly watched a nearby horse drown in the sticky goo. At destroyed city stables, police shot trapped, injured horses.

The ship USS Nantucket was docked near the destroyed area, and its crew of 116 were quick to respond to the catastrophe. They were followed by Boston police, Red Cross workers and U.S. Army personnel. . Rescue and body retrieval efforts continued for four days, but the last body wasn’t recovered for nearly four months.

Thousands of gallons of molasses were pumped from basements by the fire department. In some locations, as the molasses hardened, saws and chisels had to be used to remove it.

That the flood scene was close to the harbor was fortunate. Its water was used to flush molasses from streets. So much was flushed that the harbor enjoyed a brown tint for some time.

Estimates of the time spent completing the entire clean-up ran to some 87,000 man-hours. As if the mess caused by molasses in the flooded area wasn’t enough, molasses was carried about the city of Boston on the shoes, clothes and fingers of workers, residents and sightseers. It made public telephones sticky and sitting on a streetcar seat almost a permanent experience.

An investigation revealed that no plans for the structure had been approved and that the completed structure itself had never been tested, for example, by filling it with water, which weighed only about half as much as did molasses anyway. Reportedly, the metal used in the construction was but half the thickness it should have been. It also lacked manganese, thus making the metal more brittle.

Local residents brought a class-action lawsuit against the United States Industrial Alcohol Company (USIA), which had purchased Purity Distilling in 1917. ASIA ultimately paid $10.7 million in today’s dollars in out-of-court settlements.

A positive result of the catastrophe was that Boston leaders began requiring that construction projects be approved by an engineer or architect and filed with the city building department. This positive action was subsequently adopted throughout the country.

Although the Boston flood happened nearly a century ago, if the temperature and humidity are just right, there are still those who claim to detect a fragrance that bears a suspicious resemblance to that of molasses.



To commemorate the molasses flood, the Bostonian Society installed a plaque at the entrance to what is now Puopolo Park. It bears the following words:

Boston Molasses Flood

On January 15, 1919, a molasses tank at 529 Commercial Street exploded under pressure, killing 21 people. A 40-foot wave of molasses buckled the elevated railroad tracks, crushed buildings and inundated the neighborhood. Structural defects in the tank combined with unseasonably warm temperatures contributed to the disaster.

During the years of Prohibition (1930-1933), in the United States, molasses bore an adversarial relationship with bootlegging and organized crime. Rum was a primary base for the production of illegal rum.

Not very far from the storage tank were the homes of Paul Revere and Thomas Hutchinson, the latter having been a colonial governor. The area also included homes, shops and freight sheds of a trolley company.

Bocce is an ancient game played on an elongate court upon which balls are thrown or rolled underhand in an attempt to place them as close as possible to a smaller ball called a jack, boccino or pallino.


The dog days of August are featuring a different breed every 24 hours here in Mini-soda. Such unusual people seem to be crossing my path these days. But then, I hang out in unusual places. And then there’s my Inbox where people write fantastic things, sharing their lives, whispering secrets or…asking questions. Lots of Qs. For which I am most grateful, even though I struggle to keep up and to be candid when responding to daunting stuff. I try to maintain a balance of your interests, despite the fact that the questions go overwhelmingly towards heavier things – life crises, human interest, relationships. Must keep it light. So, a little of this, a little of that for you in this late summer Q&A…

Q: [? UK] May I ask what you are reading now?

A: Recently found myself with some precious reading time and the only thing at hand was a box of old books from my high school days. Reluctantly dove in and came up with Zane Grey’s RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE. Despite its somewhat dated style, am loving it…again. Has me wondering if my romantic nature owes something to that and similar novels.

Q: [Bloomington, IN] I’m an Eagles fan too and I know you and Glenn Frey are friends but what other music do you listen to including old and new? Didn’t you mention ABBA once and was there another singer or group?

A: The Eagles are simply the best, and if you know Glenn’s eclectic nature and drive for perfection, you understand why. My musical tastes run wall-to-wall. And, yes, I love new music and listen to it daily. Don’t remember the post you cite, but I am a Bjorn again ABBA fan for their energy, joy and romantic poignancy. I think Benny is a musical genius in a wonderfully simple and unschooled way, and Agnetha channels unadulterated hormones and urgent longing. You can kid about ABBA’s campiness, but I think that started because they were pure romance when Sweden was pure message music (we had just left the 60s). A prophet (make that “profit”) is without honor in his own country. So their success was sneered at by many in Sweden, reinforced by deliberately campy production values, e.g. glitzy outfits/sets dreamed up by their producer. After that stigma took hold, it was upstream globally – except in Australia. But you have to come back to the fact that they have somewhere north of 400 million records sales, and like Glenn and the Eagles, they are in demand across generations even decades after breaking up, having turned down $1 billion in 2000 for a reunion tour. … Many, many other songs, singers and groups I could write about. Ask me about some specific music and I’ll respond. (But the Eagles OWN the anthems of America. J )

Q: [Boston, MA] Your writing doesn’t seem to fall into any one category, but your characters are often in dysfunctional families. Is that autobiographical?

A: I suppose that was true of my 23-year marriage. DUST OF EDEN, THE PHASES OF HARRY MOON, BORN BURNING, THE MARTYRING, especially are centered around families trying to come together. And CASE WHITE, SECOND SOUL, THE WATER WOLF and DIAPASON all have central characters who are in some way orphaned.

Q: [ ? ] You deserve a lot of credit for your honesty for writing about your personal relationship so beautifully. I’ve followed that for several years now and I’ve taken a lot of hope and inspiration from you. I think I get it that you found true love with someone in an impossible circumstance so I’m not asking to know what that was or is, but for once and for all will you clarify your relationship status?

A: I am free. Which is to say, no one has any claims on me. But that doesn’t mean I don’t savor a dream that could have been. Yeah, I know, the world regards such faithfulness with a sneer. That kind of fool is never repaid in kind or with kindness. Sometimes, when the magic of your dreams comes true, you have to respond, and I was distracted. I may always be distracted. Romance is the core of my being, and for such a person a soulmate is forever. But I’m sorry, world, for what I haven’t given back to you. Hopefully, I’ll do better in the future.

Q [Brampton, Ontario]: You wrote that you have trouble with quantum. Do you mean understanding it or accepting it?

A: Mercy. Tune out, those of you who aren’t into theoretical physics. Well, I suppose it’s the latter. One of the troubles I have with quantum is that despite Einstein’s qualifying of his statement that everything is happening at once and the disclaimer of many physicists, quantum really does seem to me to infer inescapably that everything IS happening simultaneously. And if that’s so, then the concepts of Time and of Cause & Effect are meaningless. Because what is the unit of measuring everything happening at once? As long as there is a divisible duration for events to unfold – an eon, a second, a nanosecond – things are not happening simultaneously because you would have to wait for that duration to complete in order to be defined as an event. No matter how small the duration (or large in commonly perceived human terms), it could still be parsed like a film in which an infinite number of frames play out. Without units of measure the notion of time has no meaning. Similarly cause and effect would have no application in a universe with zero sequences and therefore no consequences. This may come down to mathematical semantics, but being a person of words I believe in the power of any generalization to be expressed verbally. Mathematicians invariably trust the symmetry of formulae over the subjectiveness of words. I cannot quite do that to describe reality. There is always an assumption in a mathematical expression. And I’m going to stop here before we get to Schrödinger’s cat…

Q: [Lake Wales, FL] How did you sell your first book?

A: If you mean did I have an agent, no. A British editor who had previous interest in a short story of mine came into a position with an American publisher and requested a novel from me. I wrote it in 23 days (and had the stupidity to add while being interviewed on a famous radio show, “…it would have been 22, but I couldn’t think of a title”). In any case, DIAPASON is not my one letter to the world. I wrote it in a pique of cynicism, because the world hadn’t shown interest in my good stuff, so I gave it popcorn. Sold immediately, of course and was on that publisher’s bestseller list (I think I put them out of business). So then I looked in the mirror and said, “Point proven about giving the world what it wants, Sully – now what?” and went back to writing what I wanted to write. It’s nice if the world loves you, but if you have to pander to get that, they aren’t really loving YOU, are they? You might as well dig ditches or cross-dress and walk 8 Mile Rd in Detroit. Though I kinda like digging ditches…

And that’s it for August, dear friends and fans. May it rain sunshine on you, and may you reflect the light.

Thomas “Sully” Sullivan

You can see all my books in any format here on my webpage:

or follow me on Facebook:

Robert C. Jones: A SHOT IN THE ARM

Tom Sullivan here, just letting you know that if this appears under my byline, it’s because the tech gremlins in Bob Jones access to SU are acting up and I’m posting this for him. The following is 100% from our illustrious encyclopedic compatriot Robert C. Jones! …

This essay might be of special interest to writers of detective and mystery novels who would like to enrich their stories by providing their readers with a gift of extra details. It might also be of general interest to many other readers, especially those who are CSI and NCIS fans. The ADDITIONAL INFORMATION section of this essay contains material found during research. It is not always closely related to the main subject of the essay, but it is thought to be interesting.

  • •••**

John Schneeberger was born in 1961 in what was Northern Rhodesia but is now Zambia. How it came to be Zambia is quite interesting, but it is not sufficiently related to forensics to win a place in the ADDITIONAL INFORMATION section of this essay. Dr. Schneeberger obtained a medical education from the Stellenbosch University, a world-class university in South Africa. In 1987, he moved to Canada and practiced in the Kipling Medical Center in Saskatchewan. He married and had two daughters. In 1993, he became a Canadian citizen.

During the preceding year, Dr. Schneeberger had sedated a 23-year-old patient named Candice using Versed. While his patient was under its influence, he had sexually assaulted her. Although Schneeberger had expected her to have no memory of the assault, Candice did; and she reported it to the police. A comparison of DNA in Schneeberger’s blood was compared to that in the alleged rapist’s semen, but they did not match. In 1993, Candice requested that another DNA test be conducted. but blood samples drawn from his arm also produced no match. The case was closed in 1994.

Refusing to quit, Candice hired a private detective to continue the investigation. He obtained a sample of Schneeberger’s DNA from inside the doctor’s car that matched that of the previously compared semen. A third official test was conducted, but the blood sample used was too small and of insufficient quality to qualify for analysis.

Finally, in 1997, Schneeberger’s wife, Lisa, discovered that he had repeatedly drugged and sexually assaulted her 15-year-old daughter by a previous marriage. Lisa reported this to the police, and they ordered yet another, fourth, DNA comparison. The fourth comparison used a set of DNA samples taken from Schneeberger’s actual, finger-tip blood, a swab of the inside of his cheek, a follicle of his hair and and the alleged rapist’s semen. All samples matched, and he was subsequently found guilty of two counts of sexual assault, of administering a stupefying drug and of obstruction of justice.

Readers are probably wondering why the first number of DNA tests failed to find a match. Schneeberger revealed that during his trial. He had implanted a 15 cm Penrose drain into his arm. Penrose drains are soft, flat, flexible tubes commonly inserted into wounds to prevent fluid such as blood from accumulating and possibly providing a home for bacteria. The implanted tube contained blood previously taken from a different person. Schneeberger would direct a blood taker to extract a blood sample in a manner that would withdraw “borrowed” blood from the tube for testing.

Schneeberger lost his freedom, his medical license, his Canadian citizenship and his wife, who divorced him.


Versed is a central-nervous-system depressant commonly administered to patients to relax them prior to medical procedures such as surgery. It can also produce a loss of memory of any following discomfort.

Fifteen centimeters (cm) is just short of six inches in length.



After having drafted this essay, I discovered that the actions of Dr. Schneeberger had been the subject of a 2003 Canadian film titled I ACCUSE and of an episode of FORENSIC FILES titled BAD BLOOD on Tru TV. It also reportedly inspired a fifth-season episode of LAW AND ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT and the first episode of a 2009 Japanese drama titled KIINA. Additionally, in 2001, it was featured in a seventh HBO episode on AUTOPSY titled DEAD MEN TALKING. I have not yet seen any of the foregoing, but their titles indicate that that they would make interesting viewing.



I can tell already, that title isn’t going to seem funny to me in the morning. But it’s late, and I must get this posted. Anyway, you all expect me to be a little off-the-wall, right? OK, a lot off-the-wall. I blame your questions. Wonderful questions, of course, but no one is asking “What’s your favorite color?” or “Where do you get your ideas from?” Guess I should be grateful for that. Onward…

Q: [Canton, OH] What’s your favorite color?

A: Dang. Purple.

Q: [?, MA] What did you study in college?

A: Study? Bwahahahaha! That’s that zoned out state that requires textbooks and stuff, right? I bought a textbook once. Needed it to get the right height for a desk chair. Oh, oh, shouldn’t joke. My lack of academic commitment was almost criminal. Still a painful memory. Started out in chemical engineering and emerged about a decade later with virtually nothing. Enough credits beyond a Bachelor’s for a Doctorate, but they were all over the map. The hopscotch began when they let me comp out of my freshman year by taking the final exams at Michigan State University. Waaaaa-ay too much freedom for a jock on athletic scholarship who only cared about swimming (went to MSU because they had three world record holders – Bill Stuart from South Africa in the 1500, Tom Patterson in the hundred free, and Frank Modine in the 100 and 200 breast). Anyway, I jumped around from chemistry to math, art, history, English lit, psych, soc. studies, philosophy, and from university to university, undergrad to grad school, always impervious to formal learning. Self-educated with a major in Worthlessness and a minor in Everything Else, graduating w/BA without Distinction. It is a sad commentary that thereafter I somehow A-ced 99 credits in grad school. The more abstract it got, the easier it became to just mail it in. Institutions from high school through college returned the favor, because they didn’t bother to mail diplomas or certificates to me after I didn’t bother to pick them up. I may hold the record for ordering transcripts. Dunno. Dunno nothin’. I r edumacated.

Q: [Pensacola, FL] Do you use a pseudonym?

A: If you mean is Thomas Sullivan my real name, guilty. I have, however, used pseudonyms. And if I tell you more, I’ll have to kill you.

Q: [Alexandria, MN] Are you as cynical about marriage as you sound? What is the thing you look for most in a woman?

A: The potential for fidelity. I’ve never responded to anything less than unimpeachable love. A while back I almost played house permanently with a very magical woman – the love of my life. So, if I was cynical, it was before that. To even know that sharing life’s grand adventure with a true soulmate was possible still fills me with awe and excitement.

Q: [NE?] I’m going to teach creative writing this fall and wonder if you have any tips I could use.

A: The idea of acquiring uniqueness by following an instructor’s guidelines is a bit contradictory, don’t you think? My experience on both sides of the desk has been that “teaching” creativity is a non sequitur (if not an oxymoron) between the two words “teaching” and “creativity.” That said, we all begin by imitating. But imagination and individual exploration must play large from there. To my way of thinking, a group setting for creativity should be more like group therapy. The instructor’s opinion is no more valuable than anyone else’s as to whether a work…works! So, orchestrating a feedback atmosphere should be your job as teacher. Let the responses come from all quarters. Caveat: certain stereotypes always emerge in freelance critiquing, often for ulterior motives, so you have to manage that. Being candid but still supportive is an art in itself that includes but is not limited to conjugating the whole range of creative alternatives and possibilities. A fundamental guideline you might adopt for yourself is that nothing is ever without merit or without the potential for change in order to develop and reach different audiences.

Q: [Ann Arbor, MI] Lovely photos; have you thought of doing a calendar?

A: Thank you! This refers to Sullygram newsletter photos, I think. Wish I had time to invest in photography, but it’s all I can do to pause when I’m on the trails and push a button on the cell phone camera while nature does the posing. High-end calendar photography would just emphasize the frustration I feel over what CANNOT be captured: that sense of space, soothing sounds, a rush of air, the galvanizing smells and tastes and textures of life at full flow. Experiencing nature as a two-dimensional image is like making love to a mannequin – not that I’ve ever made love to a mannequin (…I can explain that inflatable doll).

Q: [Australia] Do you ever start a book and then forget the plot or part of the plot?

A: Oh, my best ideas are lost before they ever get down on little scraps of paper. Happens. Thing of it is, a novel’s character flow should make psychological sense and therefore the options lend themselves to a do-over, if you have to retrace that logic. On the other hand, things & events, gimmicks, twists of the tangible, or specific descriptions may be unique and, alas, the loss becomes real if you forget. Sometimes I hear writers lament losing some character reaction, as if they don’t have a handle on that person’s motivations and temperament. While major characters can and should change in the course of a book, I never pursue a story unless I feel thoroughly certain how that character would react/act in any circumstances.

Q: [Tacoma, WA] I think you’re naïve for thinking romance can last in a marriage. Do you actually know someone for whom it has?

A: Granted, the magic that comes with newness and respect in a relationship can become rarer than a steak cooked in a refrigerator. And if you think romance is just one variation or another of a man giving to a woman to reassure her of her value and a woman rewarding him to reassure him of his, then you’re right, the relationship can turn into a hollow obligation and a yawn. But if at least one person in such a marriage brings a romantic view in all things to it, and if the other person can at least be inspired by that, then they have already transcended token gifts and clichéd rituals. I used to call it CIA – communication, imagination and adventure. For me, that’s what feeds growth and anchors attraction. I’m not knocking practical marriages that endure out of habit and appearances. But I don’t believe marriage has to be like some marathon dance contest where a couple stumble around to canned music until they are dead on their feet. Should what started out celebrated with gold rings end up celebrated with a gold watch?

Live large, my cherished fans and friends. Everyone has a bell to ring and a song to sing!

Thomas “Sully” Sullivan

You can see all my books in any format here on my webpage:

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Tom Sullivan here, just letting you know that if this appears under my byline, it’s because the tech gremlins in Bob Jones access to SU are acting up and I’m posting this for him. The following is 100% from our illustrious encyclopedic compatriot Robert C. Jones! …

   This essay might be of special interest to writers of detective and mystery novels who would like to enrich their stories by providing their readers with a gift of extra details. It might also be of general interest to many other readers, especially those who are CSI and NCIS fans. The ADDITIONAL INFORMATION section of this essay contains material found during research. It is not always closely related to the main subject of the essay, but is thought to be interesting.
   Alec Jeffreys was eight years old when his father gave him two items that would provide an initial step toward a career that would influence not only his life but the lives of an exponentially increasing number of others. The items were a chemistry set and a microscope. As did many amateur chemists, he began experimenting along a path he refers to as “stink and bang.”
   He demonstrated an early interest in biology and dissected a bumblebee at age twelve. Having discovered a decaying, dead cat, he cleared the family house of its residents with the fragrance released when he exposed the cat’s decomposing innards. Having chosen to dissect the cat on the dining room table in advance of a Sunday lunch didn’t exactly promote the popularity of his experiments either.
   Jeffreys later won a four-year scholarship to attend Merton College in Oxford, from which he graduated with a first-class honors degree in biochemistry. Additional study earned him a Ph.D. from the University of Oxford. He did research on specific genes at the University of Amsterdam and then lectured on genetics at the University of Leicester. While there, he studied DNA variations and the evolution of gene families. This led to his developing a method of revealing variations between the DNA of different individuals. The method became popularly known as “genetic fingerprinting,” and it represented a tremendous advance in forensic capabilities.
   In 1983, a 15-year-old student was raped and murdered on the ground of a psychiatric hospital in Narborough, Leicestershire. Forensic analysis of semen indicated that its type was found in only ten percent of men and that the rapist had type A blood.. Unfortunately, the police had no suspects. In 1986, another 15-year-old student was sexually assaulted and strangled in a nearby village. Semen samples were of the same blood type. A local 17-year-old had been seen near the scene of the latter student’s murder. He had learning disabilities and worked at the psychiatric hospital. He also had knowledge of unreleased details of the body. He admitted murdering the second victim, but not the first.
   DNA from a blood sample of the 17-year-old confessor was compared with that of the semen samples using Jeffreys’ genetic fingerprinting technique. It was probably expected to be a match, but it did not match that of either sample. It did, however, prove that both murders were committed by the same man. It also made the confessor the first person to have been exonerated using DNA.
   Another first followed when a mass DNA search was launched in areas near that of the two murders. Blood and saliva samples were taken from some 4,000 men between the ages of 17 and 34 who hd no valid alibi. The turn-out rate was 98 percent, but no matches were found. The search was expanded to include men with alibis. Again, no matches were found.
   In 1987, a woman reported having heard a fellow worker bragging about having provided a test sample for a friend. A local man also heard someone bragging about having been paid $200 to provide a DNA sample for a friend. The friend’s DNA profile matched that of the murderer, who was consequently arrested and convicted.
   Although there had been a previous rape case conviction based on DNA profiling evidence, this was the first murder case based on it.
   DNA suitable for profiling can be extracted from samples including those of human cells in blood, hair roots, perspiration, mucus, saliva, semen and skin.
   It has been customary to present various awards and honors to scientists in recognition of their useful discoveries and inventions. Jeffreys collected a few of these himself. They include, in chronological order, the following:
Fellow of the Royal Society
Midlander of the Year
Appointed as a Royal Society Research Professor
Honorary Freeman of the City of Leicester
Albert Einstein World Award of Science
Australia Prize
Stokes Medal
Honorary Doctorate awarded by the University of Leicester
Royal Medal of the Royal Society
Pride of Britain Award for Lifetime Achievement
Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine
Albert Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research (jointly with with Edwin Southern)
U.S. National Academy of Science membership
Honorary Doctor of science Degree by the University of Liverpool
Morgan Stanley Great Britain Award as the Greatest Briton of the Year in Science and Innovation
Dr. A.H. Heineken Prize for Biochemistry and Biophysics
Honorary degree from Kings’s College London
Graham Medal of the Glasgow Philosophical Society
Honorary Doctor of Science by the University of Huddersfield
Edinburgh Medal
Annual award of the Association of Biomolecular Resource Facilities
  In view of the foregoing, kindly remember to now address Alec as Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys.
   A Lasker Award Overview states that “The Lasker Awards are among the most respected science prizes in the world” and that “Eighty-six Lasker laureates have received the Nobel Prize.”
   The Lasker Award was given to Alec Jeffreys jointly with Edwin Southern, who invented a technique for identifying DNA sequences in a human genome. This technique led to Jeffreys’ developing the the genetic fingerprint.


Name your poison. Literary poison, that is. What fiction do you hate? You do know that your poison is someone else’s cup of tea, don’t you? And your literary duck soup is someone else’s poison. In any case, I don’t have any antidotes for what you don’t like. Whether you’re a writer or a reader, I’m shooting for how you can expand your range without losing what you do like.

The extremes of genre fiction tend to run along gender lines (though there are plenty of exceptions). And in today’s open marketplace where anyone can self-publish, the polarization in gender terms has become increasingly pronounced. Whether or not this is due to amateurishness in writing and arrested development in reading, mountains of forgettable fiction now seem to glut book commerce in ever smaller readerships almost as if they are gang insignia – like Indie status in music. Permit me the following archetypes – Abigail and Buck – to make a point:

Abigail likes sensitive portrayals. Her prism on the world filters out the crude and the crud in order to get to the crux. The crux. For Abigail, that would be feelings! Meanings, motives, merit, dishonor – that’s what she wants described in hints, veiled language and slowly dawning realizations. The tension must build two steps forward, one step back to a “climax” that warms her blood or leaves her with bittersweet memories and faint rays of hope. Blunt, tasteless, super obvious, inane and immature action with too little underlying emotional quandaries need not apply. She doesn’t need to get hit between the eyes with a two-by-four in order to feel the emotions.

Buck, now he don’t need no niceties. All that hysteria and self-absorption play small on his radar. Endless parsing of emotions is like walking on egg shells, and you have to swat saccharine triteness away like mosquitoes when the tsunamis of adrenaline start to roll in. What matters is real life and death described in the most visceral terms. The sabertooth tigers are what’ll getcha, or the clever and insidious psychology of the hunt that builds inexorably – not the neurotic shadows that flit through trivial imaginations where nothing actually happens.

If your demographic is Abigail’s cloyingly sweet grandiose fantasies or Buck’s blood-and-pus epics, fine and dandy. But if you are trying to avoid those extremes in search of more substantive fiction, the answer for both reader and writer is the same: try something new. Take a peek outside the box you’re in – the one that resembles your sock drawer where everything looks the same and nothing is designed to cover more than your extremities, leaving the rest of you to languish “buck” naked. Find some clothes, maybe even some new styles. You are a whole person. You might want to read/write about more than just your argyle socks.

Tell you what. Let’s have Abigail and Buck get married. Bwahaha – dear God, kill me now! No. Srsly. Abigail and Buck get married and decide to make a…novel. (Puh, puh – sometimes I’m so funny I just crack me up.) Forgive me…straight arrow now – the novel by Abigail Buck: Abigail vetoes spiders, zombies and gushing bile; Buck nixes powdered poodles, fashion descriptions, slow tears and long sighs. Can this marriage be saved? Will their nascent novel gasp its first breath and live?

Only if they both grow in scope and vision, and only if they both open their minds to what is valid to enduring storytelling in each other’s fiction. Because the thing of it is that virtually every classic is a story about love (some kind of love) while endless soft “telling” without hard “showing” is like trying to savor a meal with just your nose and your eyes. The love may be love of country, love of nature, a boy’s love for his dog, a girl’s love of music, but if the writer doesn’t bring out the characters’ passions, the reader’s investment may be no greater. By the same token, a story that flows beautifully on ethereal emotions but never lands on real and tangible Earth will evaporate equally quickly in the reader’s memory. So, both emotional exploration and palpable action have something to offer.

Hope this doesn’t come off as a diatribe against popcorn reads/writes. I, who eat entire lemon meringue pies at a sitting, am loath to dictate what makes a meal. But I see a lot of floundering fiction out there written by newbies who want to reach for something more than one-dimensional, and I’m just suggesting a way. Ditto readers who are immersed in cliques of mutual admiration too timid to say what they really think. You can have your cake – make that lemon meringue pie – and eat it too.

Thomas “Sully” Sullivan

You can see all my books in any format here on my webpage:

or follow me on Facebook:


This essay might be of special interest to writers of detective and mystery novels who would like to enrich their stories by providing their readers with a gift of extra details. It might also be of general interest to many other readers, especially those who are CSI and NCIS fans. The ADDITIONAL INFORMATION section of this essay contains material found during research. It is not always closely related to the main subject of the essay, but is thought to be interesting.

The term “forensic science” has a number of definitions. A definition listed in Wikipedia fits well into the general form and scope of these essays. It defines forensic science as being “the scientific method of gathering and examining information about the past which is then used in a court of law.”

Many unidentified human remains not buried in a cemetery and investigated are linked to crimes. The subject of this essay was not a criminal, but an important, historic character whose discovered remains took forensic-like efforts to identify.


Archaeologists were excavating a site on an island in Virginia’s James River in 2002. During the early 1500s, there had been a narrow isthmus joining the island to the mainland, but it has since been washed away and replaced by a causeway connecting the island to Glasshouse Point. Just outside of and parallel to what had been, some four centuries ago, the western palisade of a fort, they unearthed a human skeleton. It was found near a gate that gave access to what had likely been a parade ground. Other fort graves had been found in the general area, and not a few had no coffins.

The resident of the newly found grave, however, had been put to rest in a gabled coffin. A captain’s staff had been placed next to his coffin. These items provided evidence that the person buried there had garnered respect while alive.

Subsequent analyses of nearby artifacts indicated that the body had been buried prior to 1630. An examination of the skeleton failed to identify a cause of death. It did, however, determine that the body had been that of a European male that was a few inches more than 5 feet tall and between 30 and 36 years old.

Records indicate that four persons had died near the time Bartholomew Gosnold had, which was in 1607. He had been a lawyer, privateer and explorer and had played an important role in establishing the first permanent English colonization of North America. He had also been a popular member of the early colonists.

Colonizers had come to America on three ships: the Susan Constant, the Godspeed and the Discovery. Gosnold had been the captain of the Godspeed. He was also vice admiral of the expedition and had helped design the fort at Jamestown. Although there remains some doubt about the identity of the discovered skeleton, evidence leans heavily in favor of it being that of Gosnold.

By this time, readers might be wondering how the original configuration of the centuries-old, deteriorated coffin had been determined. It involved a clever forensic procedure that included using a computer to create a perspective image of the coffin based on the positions of remaining iron nails used to construct the coffin. Copper pins used to position a burial shroud were also located.


The site of the fort marked an area that was the first permanent English settlement in North America. Jamestown itself was abandoned in 1699, when its inhabitants resettled in Williamsburg.

While in England, Gosnold had a patron, one Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex (1566–1601), who was a favorite of aging Queen Elizabeth. Unfortunately, Devereux tried to remove the queen by mounting a coup. The queen responded by having his head removed instead.

The word “palisade” might conjure an image in one’s mind of something fancy. Generally, however, it refers to a simple barricade comprising laterally contacting tree trunks of various diameters set vertically in the ground and often sharpened to points at their tops. They were commonly used to form small and sometimes temporary fortifications.

Virginia was so named in honor of the “Virgin Queen,” Elizabeth I. During the early 1600s, the name “Virginia” referred to all the territory in North America that was not French or Spanish. Since Virginia was once a dominion of the British Crown, it’s nickname is “Old Dominion.” Since eight presidents have been born there, it is also often referred to as “Mother of Presidents.” It became the tenth state in 1788. Gosnold named two areas that still bear the names. He named one Cape Cod in view of the numerous fish found there, and Martha’s Vineyard after his daughter.


COVER su sondoongcave-6Last month’s response to the long-avoided question about spirituality brought in a long ton of email, so I’m going with another Q&A for May. I deeply appreciate your always interesting questions whether they are standard author stuff or daunting and probing about life in general. If you send something and it doesn’t appear within a month or so, it may still show up in a future column. Your queries and comments are always valuable, and I choose and use them for balance in reader appeal as best I can. This month’s installment…

Q: [UK] What is your favorite genre?

A: Don’t have one. Good writing is good writing, and that’s what I like. Number one for me is always an engaging intelligent style full of art and wit and wisdom without slowing down the narrative. Believable characters whose lives say something with or without the plot is also primary. A good plot is next, to be sure. But I want to stress that engaging characterization well told IS a plot, while a good plot that assembles superficial characters with uninspired language is just a thin soup of things and events played out with hormones. When you’ve read enough plots, they reduce down to a few well-worn patterns and boilerplates anyway. A mature reader (and writer) has learned to recognize the common denominators of plots and has stopped churning out adrenalin for clichés. Such a reader/writer looks to the intricacy of characters and their relationships to be central to the plot.

Q: [Madison, WI] What’s your biggest failure?

A: I’m still working on it (bwahaha – sob, sob). Well, maybe you’re a struggling psych student working on your Master’s, so I’ll give your Q a serious shot. You might think it strange for someone who calls themselves a writer, but I guess I’d rank failure to communicate pretty high up the list. At least failure to open up about myself face-to-face. I see people who make their chops attracting sympathy and nurturing. T’aint me. And anyway, I don’t think people want me to be vulnerable. Maybe that’s a kind of compliment, but it’s still an omission in my life. If I thought I could be understood, I would want to be. The one time I trusted that I was, I was astonished at how ironically I was misunderstood. Trusting either beats down the door or seals it shut.

Q: [? Texas] You like adventure so where would you recommend traveling to?

A: The planet Pandora (movie “Avatar”). But if it has to be on Earth, I’d like to spend a week in the fabulous Hang Son Doong cavern, Vietnam, which is about as close to Pandora as you can get on terra firma.

Q: [California] Someone told me you were in the Olympics but they didn’t know what event.

A: No. Not in the Olympics. Never made the team. Not good enough in swimming – and by today’s standard you’d have to call me a joke. Was told I had two of the necessary three votes in water polo for one of the four open slots that were picked at large from all the players in the Olympic trials (the first 7 selections were the team that won the Trials – my team was dead last). Have been All-American NCAA, AAU, NAIA and YMCA) in both swimming and water polo and was a selection on an All-Star team in water polo picked at large across the U.S. for the Pan-American games, which is why I think the Olympic story gets told. Have also represented the US in international meets a couple times. The Olympic credit would be nice if it didn’t detract from America’s world-leading athletes who DID go to the Games, so I need to set this straight. Maybe I’ll try out for tiddlywinks in 2016…

Q: [Billings, MT] Do you have an agent?

A: I’ve teamed with agents in the past and no doubt will again, but e-books/audios have changed that dynamic for me and allowed for straightforward negotiations. The complications that come with print editions (set-up, storage, distribution, promo and sales) are more apt to benefit from working with an agent. Ditto film and foreign rights. Meeting/listening to an agent is always worth your while, and I wouldn’t hesitate to follow through with one who had a definite opportunity for us in the works. In fact, at least twice I have turned over sales I had made to an agent for negotiations. But unless they have active connections that are a fit for you, you may be wasting their time and yours.

Q: [Niagara Falls, NY] …by the way who’s the pretty lady…is there a Mrs we don’t know about?

A: Love that this Q about a “Mrs.” comes from Niagara Falls – makes me wonder if it’s somehow commercial! And I’m not absolutely sure which Sullygram photo you are referring to, but I’ve probably posted more pictures of my all-weather trail friend Mickey in recent months. We share many adventures along with incredible conversations and PB&J sandwiches. Oh, yeah…she also saves my life every now and then when I get a little too foolhardy. Have put a sketch of that in May’s Sullygram newsletter (email me at if you’d like to be on the free mailing list). … In case I have who you are referring to wrong, the second most photos I’ve posted of a female friend is probably Lisa – another regular trailmate. Have included photos of each in the May Sullygram and you can see for yourself. Both are good friends of mine, and what Mickey is to caring for dogs, Lisa is to horses.

To your Q about a secret “Mrs,” that nearly happened about a decade ago when fate threw me a wildcard with a could’ve-been-would’ve-been-should’ve-been wife, but irony trumped and games of chance are not currently on my radar. Never say never, though I like living my own agenda.

Thomas “Sully” Sullivan

You can see all my books in any format here on my webpage or follow me on Facebook: