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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: http://www.thomassullivanauthor.com

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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 mn333mn@earthlink.net 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:




Not sure how this is going to appear when I hit the Post button, but let me make clear that for technical reasons Bob Jones is posting through my (Tom Sullivan’s) portal this month. Wish I could claim his excellent article for my own. Alas, no one can do the inimitable job that Bob does with his wonderfully entertaining/informative/compelling forensic series. If you haven’t checked out the collected Forensic 101 and later series available on Amazon under Robert C. Jones’ name, I highly recommend it. Indispensable for writers! And here is his latest column:

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.


Utah’s Provo River is popular for its rafting, fishing and beauty. It was upon its rocky bank, in late December of 1995, that a nude, battered and bloody body of of a dead prostitute was found. She had been but 17 years old. It appeared that she had been struck with a rock that crushed her skull, and a number of nearby granite rocks were collected as being possible evidence. Unfortunately, means for extracting DNA from rocks did not exist at that time.

As shown in crime detection television programs, swabs have commonly been used to collect DNA material from the inside cheeks of criminal suspects. That method has had some success, but the sample areas are relatively small, and surfaces being swabbed might be rough or porous. Fibers in the swab can be shredded or might even fail to reach DNA material lodged within them. Less often shown are sponges and plates used to extract DNA material.

During the 18 years following the body’s discovery, the sheriff’s deputy that had originally investigated the murder had become a county sheriff, but had not forgotten the case of the murdered girl. He said it haunted him, and he checked for any progress regularly.

Meanwhile, a microbiology lab was searching for improved methods for the food industry to collect pathogens from food surfaces. A wet-vacuum device, namely M-Vac, was eventually developed that could extract even touch DNA from a wide variety of surfaces. Touch DNA is genetic material left when someone touches or leaves saliva on something. That something can be material including, among other things, nonporous surfaces, porous fabrics and rough surfaces such as bricks, carpets, concrete, pavement, plants, rocks and wood. From the genetic material, a full DNA profile can be obtained. Rather than collecting material from a small area with a swab, material can be collected from an area of several square feet.

An M-Vac is used to apply a sterile, DNA solution to the surface of an area of interest while simultaneously vacuuming the area. The vacuumed material is directed into an attached collection bottle and poured through a filter. The filter and its remaining contents are then sealed and sent to a lab for analysis. The M-Vac was applied to the rocks that had been collected 18 years before and analysis discovered DNA. The CODIS database provided a match for the DNA. The matching DNA was that of a 46-year-old male who had served a prison sentence for second-degree, felony murder in the 1980s. He had been released on parole a number of months prior to the discovery of the murdered girl’s body in 1995.

He was subsequently traced to a Sarasota,Florida residence he shared with his mother. Florida law would not allow his extradition to Utah based on the evidence gathered. It required proof that the man traced to Florida was indeed the past owner of the matched DNA. During surveillance, he was observed smoking a cigarette. When he threw the butt away and had moved on, it was quietly seized as evidence. DNA extracted from the butt provided the last bit of evidence required to extradite him. The sheriff who had originally been assigned to the murder case flew down to Florida. One can only imagine the broad, satisfied smile that must have been on his face as he finally snapped a pair of handcuffs onto the murderer’s wrists.


Human DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid) comprises molecules each of which contains biological instructions that make each of us similar, but unique.

A DNA profile is a small set of DNA variations that are extremely likely to be different in persons that are not related.

CODIS refers to the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System.

A buffer solution is generally defined as a solution that resists changes in pH when small quantities of an acid or an alkali are added to it.

Pure water has a pH of 7. A solution having a pH greater than 7 is alkaline, or basic. If it has a pH less than 7, it is acidic.

DNA analysis has improved from the1980s, when analysts required a blood or semen sample that was the size of a quarter. A decade later, a sample needed to be only the size of a dime. By the late 1900s, a sample that could be seen, could usually be analyzed. A single DNA molecule can be used to replicate another DNA molecule, thus a small number of cells can now be replicated to provide sufficient material with which to create a highly specific genetic portrait of a person being profiled.

Wet-vacuum devices also find applications in the nuclear, biological and chemical protection fields.

Midway, Utah is a city located some 28 miles southeast of, and opposite the Wasatch Mountains from, Salt Lake City.



Thomas Sullivan: Stubbing my TOE

Going with a little difference in April’s Q&A. I’ve been dodging questions about politics and religion for years now, but this month I will include a ubiquitous question that won’t go away. A long late-night discussion while in Idaho recently has inclined me to take it on. It’s a question I receive regularly and it asks in so many words if I believe in God. I don’t pitch my beliefs, but clearly some people want to know what they are in a genuinely curious way rather than out of religious zeal, so maybe I should have answered this before. Let me generalize a little – LOL, well, as superficial as my answer is, it ain’t all that short, so I’ll generalize a lot. But please…no predicant replies or evangelizing email. Not challenging anyone else’s faith here, just trying to explain generally how I came to terms with existence and purpose.

A couple of Qs to warmup with first…

Q: [Maple Grove, MN] And you needed snowshoes to walk in two inches of snow? Help me understand that concept.

A: LOL. Busted!…this question is from a true Nordic aficionado born in Norway and refers to those snowshoeing photos I posted a couple of months back. Actually, my trail companion in the photos said the same thing and took her snowshoes off! I tried to make the journey more difficult by going off trail, but we ended up having a picnic in the nearly snowless reeds.

Q: [Rockford, IL] Do you make appearances?

A: Well, I’ve been known to leave the house now and then – usually after dark. Oh…those kind of appearances. I do. Sometimes I make more money speaking than writing (how sad). Increasingly I’ve been doing book clubs for free by phone across the country, a format I prefer because it eliminates travel and is spontaneous. That said, I’ve traveled as far as Norway (the House of Literature in Oslo) to give a talk, and I’ve spent as long as 5 days doing an author-in-residence workshop.

Q: [OK, with apologies to the many who have asked over the years without getting an answer from me…] Do you believe in God?

A: Do I believe in a created universe? Yes. A universe of architecture and design? Yes. A First Cause, Prime Mover? Yes, yes. And getting down to my moment in the vastness of cosmic evolution, do I believe in purpose and meaning – which is to say God-consciousness – in the lives of my species going back at least 200,000 years and arguably as much as 7 million years into the 4.7 billion year old history of this planet? I do. So what about the details and trappings of any Johnny-come-lately institutionalized religion? Not so much. The fact that every religion believes that every other religion has it wrong says more about our need to explain creation than the truth of any one explanation itself.

So maybe you could say I believe in them all, since the central idea which connects them is to explain and celebrate creation. But “the devil is in the details” – so to speak. And while I can find universal principles in almost any man-fashioned religion, I also find much more that only fits the egocentric designs and limitations of specific peoples in specific places at specific times in history. They are predictably similar and invariably begin with an enlightened figure (figures, if you are not monotheistic) who either directly or posthumously evolves into a gestalt of ethical beliefs. The trouble is that many ethical beliefs do not travel well across geography or ages; and the dust of ages is important in making a religion sacrosanct. They become embedded in narratives that are either historically naïve or scientifically irrational. Some religions simply tough it out by ignoring scientific/cultural enlightenment and clinging to fundamentalism to the point of absurdity. Others perform moral gymnastics in an endless process of reinterpretation, pick-and-choose science, and politically correct accommodation. Both strategies lend themselves to self-righteous intolerance, barbarity and the horrors of war – humans controlling humans through force or fear and guilt. That is not to say that institutionalized religions do not serve a greater good. Most obviously do. But popping up as they have so late in human history and in unconnected cultures whose generations had no access to their differing “revealed” truths, it is fair to ask why one religion’s narrow path for all humans in all ages is any better than another’s. Someone once said that he could not believe that the God who gave him reason intended him to forgo its use in the matter of belief. Is that what life is about? Figuring out whose truth is truer? Or do none of them have a monopoly on truth? One wonders why God took so long to come on the scene and then came down so colloquially on regional matters, losing his temper, changing his mind, weighing into battles with state of the art weapons that are primitive in retrospect. Still sounds very anthropomorphic to me – the beginning of all man-made myths and explanations.

So why then do I believe in a created universe? My answer in a word is… overtness. When I quit wondering why God took so long to declare himself – okay, herself if you believe we are in the image of God and the deity has ovaries or a prostate (though only God knows why, and I don’t even want to think about who God would mate with) – in the ages of humans, I looked for something more universal that didn’t shut out hundreds of thousands of years of human history or ignore isolated venues where the revelations of one prophet or another never reached. The only universal I am certain of is not a narrative or an alleged fact. It is rather a purpose or meaning underlying all approaches to a creator, whether taught by man-made religion or simply the experience of living itself. Which is to say, that I’m full willing to believe in my own flaws and to accept whatever the truth of creation is.

I can’t imagine a God who expects me to sort through the competing versions of creation all of which are so clearly localized to a person’s culture or geography or era. Add to that the lies, deceptions, rationalizations, stubborn orthodoxy, misguided zeal and self-righteous errors that humans use to control one another or to justify horrors and tragedies of one sort or another throughout history in the name of God, and I’ll take the direct approach, thank you very much. No regional trends of time and space for me. I was born into Christian traditions. As a teenager I struggled with all the conflicting details and obvious man-made constructions of the Bible voted on with color codes as 66 books at the Council of Nicea. Similarities to pagan sources were troubling (e.g. Psalm 104 being virtually identical to a much older Egyptian poem or the unmistakably related narratives of earlier cults like Mythra); but I had no trouble believing in the historical Jesus – amply attested to, as far as I was concerned, including by non-Christian near contemporaries like Josephus, Tacitus etc. I believed that Jesus came to believe he was a Messiah (else he was willfully committing the ultimate blasphemy) and that his followers believed, and that Mary took one gigantic risk (because what if her baby turned out to be a girl…or twins), and that the crucifixion happened and was witnessed (else why do accounts include details that aren’t easy for Christians to deal with – “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”). But the troubling variations and contradictions still bothered me until I recognized what I’ve already described – that the narrative details of any religion are not the acid test for what a person must accept.

If the will behind the universe has a test for faith, it can’t be content based. I’m quite convinced that what matters is only my willingness to believe whatever the truth is. I seek universal truths that never change or require reinterpretation out of political correctness. The omnipotent God of my youth – creator of the universe(s) in which parallel lines meet and time may not even be linear – does not have to change to fit historical limitations after all. What a relief! No more irrational narratives couched as tests of blind faith or planted fossils. The details matter not. It isn’t God who has to change; it is me. I just have to believe in the potential of everything or anything to be true – or not. It is my humility, my subjugation, my willingness to accept that matters. I must prove myself, not the uncertain and fluid world around me where humans construct laws and legalities, mores and morals, covenants and codes to protect their own self-interests. Why would God act on anything but the truths of the human heart?

On the question of creation, dunno whether it’s a couple of naked people in a garden eating apples and talking to snakes, or a pile of turtles each smaller than the other on each other’s backs, or something much more cosmic whose colossal mysteries are oh so gradually being revealed through scientific discovery, i.e. God’s method – really doesn’t matter. If the truth is in my heart, as so many man-made religions declare, and if details matter, this is my truth: overtness. That single word sums up the proof my intellect requires. This is how I reason it. THE ABSENCE OF AN OVERT ACT OR AN OVERT CAUSE IS NOTHINGNESS. THE UNIVERSE IS NOT NOTHINGNESS. THEREFORE THE UNIVERSE IS THE RESULT OF AN OVERT ACT OR AN OVERT CAUSE.

Just as an exercise, I love to explore the dynamics of creation and talk about theology (have read the Bible cover to cover three times, as well as most other religious dogma – everything from the Hindu Vedas to the Code of Hammurabi). My life is a celebration of creation, because after all I didn’t create myself, so whatever created me (you can call that God, though I favor the term Wizard Divine), that’s what I serve. But it still comes back to the fact that the default state should be “nothingness.” And it isn’t. It’s overt. Expressed as matter and energy. That’s all wrong. Shouldn’t be. Yet it is. Speaks to me of deliberate purpose, meaning. I believe in willed creation – Creation. There is much more. I love to speculate on the mechanics – divine method, if you will. My thoughts on that are fed in part by astrophysics, quantum, string theory, M-theory et al. Call it a TOE (Theory Of Everything). But that is just fun to me, not an understanding necessary to my purpose for being here. I find God by whatever name or concept everywhere, including within man-made religions. It’s the baggage and misuse of the latter that spurred my search for a more comprehensive explanation of existence. The order of being is first God and then myself; the order of knowing is first myself, then God.

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.


According to a recent, widely accepted calculation, some 13.82 billion years ago there was a Big Bang. During the following billions of years, among other things, tiny organisms known as mitochondria are thought to have been formed by complex chemical processes. Mitochondria earn their places among the cells of our bodies by supplying energy required by the cells to perform their specific functions. Mitochondria dwell within cells but outside the cell’s nuclei. Each of these mitochondria contains only 16,500 base pairs of DNA. Each cell’s nucleus contains some 3 billion.

As most readers probably know, DNA contains instructions that determine how we are to be constructed. Since DNA is unique to each person, it has played a key role in the field of forensics. Its uses include identifying persons who might have committed a crime, exonerating innocent persons, identifying unknown dead bodies, etc.

A murder case that included dogged investigation was opened following the kidnapping and murder of a 16-year-old girl in Yorkshire, England. Her body was found in a densely wooded area near a busy car park. Nine green, plastic bags had been wrapped about her body and tied with twine. A black bag had been placed about her head, and a leather dog collar and a dark scarf had been respectively fastened and tied around her neck. Her wrists had been bound with plastic ties and her body had been placed within a duvet cover that sported a floral pattern.

The investigation discovered that the dog collar had been made by a Nottingham manufacturer. Unfortunately, the collar had been sold to 220 different wholesellers. One hundred and twelve companies were contacted before the one sought was found. It had sold a collar to each of three persons in the area of the murder. One of the three persons lived less than a mile from the victim’s home, which made him a suspect in the murder case.

The type of twine that bound the green bags was found to be unique and to have been manufactured by an English company that sold it to the Ministry of Defense. A small number however, had been sold to the public for rabbit catching. Analysis revealed that the unique twine matched that of the twine used to bind the victim and also matched that found later at the suspect’s home. Pieces of green plastic were also found in the suspect’s home, and they matched the green plastic of the bags that had been used to wrap the body.

The ties used to bind the victim’s wrists were found to have been manufactured by an Italian company that sold 99 percent of them to the Royal Mail. The suspect’s employer was a subsidiary of the Royal Mail, and such ties were also found in the suspect’s home.

When investigators attempted to compare distinctive nylon carpet fibers found on the victim with those of carpets in the suspect’s home, they discovered that he had recently taken out and burned every carpet. Small bits of carpet fibers were, however, found clinging to nails in the floorboards; and they matched those found on the victim.

The suspect had a garden. A forensic pollen analysis expert demonstrated that the victim had been in the suspect’s garden just prior to having been killed. This was indicated by the finding of distinctive types of pollen still remaining on her skin and in her nasal passages and hair.

As if there was insufficient evidence to warrant an arrest of the suspect, yet another bit was to be added. A hair had been found caught in a knot in the scarf tied around the victim’s neck, and the hair had been submitted for analysis of DNA in its root. Unfortunately, conventional DNA tests were not able to extract a DNA profile from the root. Therefore, a mitochondrial DNA test was performed within the shaft of the hair. The DNA matched that of the suspect.

The detectives thus won an important murder case, and the suspect won a sentence of life in prison.


In reference to the energy produced by mitochondria and mentioned in the foregoing, readers might recall that energy exists in two basic flavors: potential and kinetic. One of the forms of potential energy is chemical energy, which is stored in bonds of atoms and molecules. That is the type of energy provided by mitochondria.

Other forms of potential energy are gravitational, mechanical and nuclear. Forms of kinetic energy are electric, motion, radiant, sound and thermal

There have been studies that discovered correlations between biochemical properties of mitochondrial DNA and the longevity of species.

DNA is often used to confirm or disprove biological parent-child relationships.

Mitochondria are surrounded by two membranes. This supports a theory that they were once not inside other cells as they are now and that they gained a second, outer membrane by invaginating another cell.

Reportedly, if you were to unwind all the DNA you have in all your cells and connected them end-to-end, they would reach a distance 6000 times that of the distance from here to the Moon, but they would be only 50 trillionths of an inch wide.


Scat your prose! No-no…not rat scat, bat scat, cat scat – not THAT kind of scat. You know, jazz scat. Ella Fitzgerald type (or to put it in the modern idiom, Pentatonix – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mn3Zkq9PP_Y ). Scat your prose, only instead of vocalizing instruments, go for the rhythms and rhymes and alliteration – the repetitions or poetic effects. Just read your stuff aloud and put some music into your voice! Let it flow, let it flow, let it flow…hear that? Did you let the word flow FLOW-WWW? Did you triple down the repetition so that it cascaded like water? Well, that’s the difference between language that reads like a shop manual from Taiwan and the exquisite writing of a wordsmythe. The latter fashion stories that engage you not just with things & events but with the meaning, the emotional tone and the spirit behind them. The music. The poetry. The insights. The beauty and the soul.

Pity the half of the world that is tone deaf to that. Srsly. Roughly that many of us function at a mere literal level, grasping little beyond “and then and then and then…” as a story unfolds. Nothing wrong with that – God bless the popcorn readers. I do try to connect with them at the same time that I write for the other half. It doesn’t always work. Literal readers suspect I’m doing something behind the scenes, but they aren’t sure what. At best it annoys them and at worst it makes them uneasy about themselves. Sorry for that. Don’t mean to be condescending or effete or obscure for the sake of being obscure. Simplicity really is a virtue. But the simplest song is probably a Gregorian chant or a Buddhist “Ommm.” And when is the last time that topped the Billboard charts?

We speak or write to be understood, but there are grunts and scribbles and then there are communications layered with expressions of the heart, mind and soul. Somewhere between those two extremes is a line you cross as both a reader and a writer that separates the literal black-and-white story from an enchanting Technicolor universe. Communicating on the literal side of the line is like taking a vitamin pill: you get the nutrients but you never savor the flavor. Dining on the other side of the line will jangle your taste buds. There you will digest a 4-course meal that connects the dots of experience, insight and nuanced patterns. I try to cross that Rubicon. If I can convey the literal and still invest the description and characterization with some unobtrusive wit, beauty and wisdom, the story has a chance to reach out beyond narrowness and clichés. It’s never an unqualified win for any writer, however. You will always lose some readers just by rewarding others. Different strokes for different folks.

What’s dismaying, though, is the fact that tone deafness to language exists at virtually every level of readership. There are even editors who can’t hear the rhythm of language, and yet if you go into any elementary school classroom you’ll find that 50% of humans who pick it up in an instant. Read Edgar Allen Poe’s very literary story “The Masque of the Red Death” out loud to third-graders who won’t understand a thing of what’s going on and – if you read it right – they will still remain rapt to the music. For me the ideal in writing is to create something that can be accessed on either track without the literal reader being distracted or the broader reader being bored.

Here’s a simple example: one of my 2012 columns is titled WHITE CATHEDRAL, ROSE CATHEDRAL, GREEN CATHEDRAL, GOLD… Some readers will take that in simply as a list. They will understand when I explain in the column that for me those cathedrals are a metaphor for the seasons of the year as well as the seasons of life, and they may further connect the white with winter, the rose with spring, the green with summer, and the gold with fall. Ditto the metaphor itself – the ages of a person’s life from birth through physical prime, maturity and death. But still other readers will “hear” the rhythm of that title. They will unconsciously “hear” the fact that each color is one syllable and that the three-syllable repetition of “Cathedral” separates them. They may even connect it to the poetic, “One potato, two potato, three potato, four…” which is how I wrote it. I think the title works because the literal reader is not made to feel they missed something and the poetic reader feels enhanced.

OK, like I said…a simple example. But, of course, communication can be infinitely subtle, rich and textured. It depends in part on the depth and complexity of who is taking it in. And it’s not necessarily verbal. It has more to do with music, rhythm, and the ability to observe patterns – repetitions – that invest every detail of living from the sophisticated to the absurd. So, I want to ask you a question, if you don’t mind being part of a survey.

Whenever I shake a bottle or a can, I’m aware of the rhythm of the sound and invariably I will avoid stopping on the wrong beat. And it isn’t as simple as just shaking the can an even number of times as opposed to odd. I know a dozen shakes ahead of where I’m going to stop. Every day in the shower or bath I shave my head, and shaking the shaving cream can is like the percussion of a song. Moreover, what’s in the can matters. As my tight-lipped pharmacist used to note, I sometimes buy shaving gel more suited to shaving legs. And as it turns out, gel doesn’t have the same song as the cream. No need to call in Taylor Swift for a chorus of “Shake It Off,” but does ANYONE ELSE OUT THERE IN THE WHOLE KNOWN UNIVERSE do this?

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 1930s were banner years for crime in the United States. Newspapers were filled with details of the exploits of criminals. They often included pictures of the most notorious, and St. Paul readers sometimes thought they saw the worst of them walking their hometown streets and eating in their restaurants. The gangsters included Alvin ”Creepy” Karpis, “Babyface” Nelson, John Dillinger, “Machine Gun” Kelly and even some of Ma Barker’s sons.

Minnesota was a state that was hit hard by criminal activities. It had suffered four straight years of unbridled crime. In 1932, it was host to 20 percent of all bank robberies in the United States. There was, however, a period during which, in spite of there having been a large number of bank robberies across the country, St. Paul had not experienced even one.

John J. O’Connor, former detective, chief of the St. Paul Police Department and then mayor of the city, had much to do with that record. Under pressure to rid the city of crime, he reorganized the police force and, in 1900, had hatched a bizarre, but apparently effective plan that quickly reduced major crime … at least temporarily.

He spread the word throughout the Midwest that criminals were welcome to use St. Paul as a safe refuge without being arrested if they committed no major crimes within the city limits. They had merely to check in when they arrived and pay required bribes. The plan was referred to as the O’Connor Layover Agreement. It brought an almost immediate end to serious crimes within St. Paul. In one of his autobiographies, gangster, Alvin “Creepy” Karpis, stated, “If you were looking for a guy you hadn’t seen for a few months, you usually thought of two places. — prison or St. Paul. If he wasn’t locked up in one, he was probably hanging out in the other.” So, some of the newspaper readers’ sightings that looked like infamous criminals might well have been sightings of the real infamous criminals.

One can only imagine the amount of crime this deflected to neighboring cities. In addition, although other crimes were discouraged within St. Paul, gambling and prostitution were not. Reportedly, O’Connor’s wife, Annie, was the owner of a bordello.

Aware of what a good deal they had in St. Paul, visiting criminals policed each other. No criminal wanted to bring down the wrath of other criminals by being responsible for putting an end to the O’Connor Layover Agreement.

Under such a system, the police were free to respond to petty crimes while criminals policed each other. While O’Connor was in charge, he managed to minimize crime within the city, but he retired in 1920 and died in 1924. His successors were either not able or not disposed to maintain his record, and crime crept back.

Ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment, which repealed the Eighteenth Amendment in 1933, marked the end of prohibition. It also cut off the flow of money made from illegal liquor, which resulted in criminals having to make money by other means.

Criminals making and distributing illegal alcohol had often been regarded as modern Robinhoods who provided what a respectable portion of the public craved. For example, even Al Capone was greeted with applause when he attended a major-league baseball game. When crimes got more serious, however, the public got increasingly outraged and demanded that something be done about it.

Crimes that contributed to the outrage included the infamous 1929 Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago, when seven persons were lined up against an inside wall of a North Clark Street cartage garage in Chicago and riddled with bullets. One victim, namely, Frank Gusenberg, had 14 bullet wounds, but survived for some three hours, maintaining that he had not been shot.

The 1929 attack was reportedly meant to kill only a Capone rival gang leader, George “Bugs” Moran. Ironically, Moran was the only one who managed to survive. Upon nearing the garage, he had spotted what appeared to be a police car parked outside and had retreated to a nearby coffee shop.

In 1932, details of the infamous kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh’s, baby became headlines of a vast number of newspapers. The abduction and murder of his son resulted in Congress enacting the Federal Kidnapping Act, often referred to as the Lindbergh Law. It enabled federal authorities to pursue kidnappers who had taken their captives across a state line. A number of states enacted “Little Lindbergh” laws covering kidnappings that did not involve crossing state lines. Some states enacted laws that, if a victim was harmed in any way, allowed capital punishment. During the 1970s, the United States Supreme Court revised the laws so that kidnapping alone no longer constitutes a capital offense. The law includes a special provision to be applied in cases when minor children are abducted by their own parents.

The kidnapping of the President of the Theodore Hamm’s Brewery, William Hamm Jr., in 1933 and, in 1934, the kidnapping of the president of the Commercial State Bank, fed the printing presses of many newspapers. Both the brewery and the bank were located in St. Paul, Minnesota.

In 1933, a group of gangsters tried to free another, one Frank Nash, whom they discovered was being returned to Leavenworth Penitentiary, from which he had escaped in 1930. The group included Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd. The attempt took place outside the Union Railroad Station in Kansas City and cost the lives of two Kansas City Police Officers and two federal agents. Ironically, the person they were trying to free was also killed. The skirmish became referred to as the Kansas City Massacre, and its details were the subjects of debates for some time. Floyd was killed the following year. Woody Guthrie wrote a popular song about him.

The O’Connor Layover Arrangement remained in place for nearly 40 years, but unrestrained crime gradually returned to St. Paul. That finally forced action by some of its citizens and the federal government.


When asked about his Layover Agreement, O’Connor stated, “Under other administrations, there were as many thieves here as when I was chief, and they pillaged and robbed; I chose the lesser of two evils.”

More information about Alvin “Creepy” Karpis is available in my previous essay dated September 19, 2014 and titled FORENSICS 181: IT PAYS TO BE WELL INFORMED. It may be found in the Storytellers Unplugged archive. Karpis was called “Creepy” because he had an extremely sinister smile.

Bugs Moran was born Adelard Cunin in 1893 in St. Paul, Minnesota. He died in 1957 of lung cancer in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. He had once been considered to be the wealthiest gangster in Chicago. When he died, he was reportedly worth only about $100. He was given a pauper’s burial in the prison cemetery.

Gangster tours are available in St Paul. The sites include locations where infamous criminals stayed and where they played.


Thomas Sullivan: CPR FOR WHACK-A-MOLES

Your emails are an inspiration and an education – thank you very much – especially after a Q&A such as last month’s. I’m tempted to make whole columns out of single questions, but my answers seem to cause new Qs to pop up like whack-a-moles, so here are eight more. As usual, the questions range broadly, and I’m honored by your confidences whether you are struggling in your own life or just curious about some trivia in mine.

Q: [UK] How do you bring characters to life?

A: Helps to remember that your work is a world entirely of your making, so play God – and the devil too. Breathe into your characters. Give them CPR. Create, create, create those purely human markers like thoughts, feelings and actions (or inactions) that reveal motivation. I’m not saying to stop the movement of a story in order to do this, but do not let things and events take over without being filtered through the values/flaws/personality of your characters. Trust the reader to get on board by latching onto familiar emotions that you write into new and unfamiliar journeys that lead somewhere. Also keep in mind that real life makes us dynamic, not static. The drivers of plot should CHANGE characters just as life changes people.

Q: [NY?] How long does it take you to write a novel?

A: DIAPASON 23 days. CASE WHITE 39 years. All my other novels somewhere in between.

Q: [Ann Arbor, MI] I love your photographs in the newsletter and I even save some. Did you ever publish a picture of the woman you call the-love-of-your-life, how about it? You must have some. Just curious.

A: What…you think I’m wearing a trenchcoat lined with postcards? Well, OK, of course I have a number of photos and many have asked since I wrote about her three years ago, but I thought my verbal description was more than skin deep. Tell you what, I’ll give you some musical matchups. Think of a cross between Taylor Swift and a young Olivia Newton John for the eyes and the resonance of Swift’s speaking voice (especially when she does all those little “mms” and “hmms” in her songs). You could add ONJ’s radiant but slightly shy smile for another visual – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6qtrLr5T0-Y .

Q: [Canton, OH] I’ve just finished your novel CASE WHITE and I feel like the whole world has changed for me. I would love to know exactly how much of it is true?

A: Generally speaking, my publishers thought that everything I made up was true and everything that was true they thought I made up. All of the background is documentable, as are the historical figures. Most of the personal interactions (such as the romance between Krantz and Lutka) are fiction. The missions and bizarre quests, fantastic as they are, really happened. The culminations of the plot are my invention – a synthesis, really – in order to give coherence to how a nation could go insane for 12 years. What’s frightening is what’s left over from that era in today’s world.

Q: [Zephyr Hills, FL] What are you reading now?

A: I’ve long been fascinated by the daughter of playwright Eugene O’Neill and her incredible marriage to Charlie Chaplin, so I finally picked up the definitive biography OONA: LIVING IN THE SHADOWS.

Q: [?] How much can I expect a first novel to sell for?

A: Nothing. Don’t want to be crass here, but few writers sell any novel, fewer still a first novel. If you write because you LOVE writing, I’d say that’s worth the effort, sale or not. And of course you can self-publish, in which case the question should be, “How much do you want to spend?” If you do make a sale, it will depend on what rights you’ve licensed (digital, traditional print, POD print, audio) and what the publisher offers if anything for an advance. Few epub/POD/audio publishers offer any kind of advance, but they pay better royalties. Traditional print publishers that have an actual print run as opposed to POD (print on demand) usually pay a guaranteed advance against royalties. An advance for a FIRST novel is likely to be only a few thousand dollars up to perhaps $15K. Most releases never earn past the advance, first book or otherwise. The adage used to be that seven out of ten novels lose money, two break even, one pays for the rest. Marry rich or keep your day job is always good advice…

Q: [Boston, MA] I consider myself an intelligent person, so why can’t I work out the relationships in my life? Everyone I trust comes up short. Please don’t tell me my expectations are too high, because then I’ll have to ask you how is it you always write about idealistic expectations.

A: Maybe the first thing to do is to make sure you’re interpreting everything right. You say no one lives up to your trust. That may have more to do with emotional security than intelligence. Here’s something I posted on FB a while back: There are people who turn everything inside out looking for a negative reflection on themselves, and the more intelligent they are, the more they find until paranoia beats them into a corner and self-destruction wins. In other words, it may not be your expectations that are too high but your walls. Fear of being hurt can stunt your life. I don’t know if that applies to you or not, but I do know that people who would rather overestimate threats than risk being fooled are often fooled and seldom satisfied. Think about it. If someone wants something from you and your defenses are unrealistic, would they scale your walls out of compatibility with your fears? They may be skilled at scaling those walls or attracted by the challenge itself, but their object isn’t sympathy with what’s unreasonable; it’s to get whatever it is they want from you. Now, maybe that still works out for you in the long run, if satisfying your defenses is your only criterion. But IS that your only criterion? Doesn’t sound like it, and as you already know, the vetting process for something more is disillusioning. Ask yourself, though, if someone who accepted all your demands COULD fulfill your other criteria; or would accepting them in itself contradict the other things you want?

Thomas “Sully” Sullivan

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