‘The Criminalist’ put the characters you care about in danger | Bookends

In many of the mystery and suspense books we like to read, the bad guy is proven guilty because of the forensic evidence. The police scientists might look at blood spatter or foot prints or lots of other things the criminal left behind at the scene of the crime. And these clues helps them, and the readers too, to understand and follow the process of the investigators … and then, viola, the bad guy or girl is found.

When I met with John Houde, I was excited to learn he is a forensic scientist from California, now retired and living locally. He has been published several times before, but these works were nonfiction and geared to help educate students at universities, juries at a trial, and investigators and attorneys in the various topics of forensic science.

In 1998, Houde published “Crime Lab: A Guide for Nonscientists.” This is a nonfiction book which he wrote as a response to what he felt was the mis-information in the media following the O.J. Simpson trial. It became adopted by schools and colleges as a textbook.

“So I updated it in a second edition in 2006 with more technical information,” he said. “It’s still my bestseller.”

One of the questions I ask authors is ‘when is the best time of day for you to write?’ John said that there is no time in particular but “whenever ideas hit me, I immediately jot them down. This book (“The Criminalist”) is full of plot twists and I’m a stickler for accuracy and believability so I’d be agonizing over plot holes constantly. If I felt I’d written myself into a corner, I’d mull over the solutions for days.”

I also asked how long it took him to write this book and he told me he “spent several months on the storyline and then used a system of rewards to force myself to write every day. The remainder of the time was spent editing and rewriting. All told, about one year.”

Many authors tell me, as Houde did, that when they face the blank page, “the sky is the limit” and “starting to write a full-length novel is exhilarating.”

And, getting to know the characters as they developed made him feel like he “was merely an observer and simply watching what they did next, and then writing it down.”

Houde’s book is available on Amazon.com and at Calicopress.com, Eagle Harbor Books and if you ask at Liberty Bay Books, they can get it for you, too.

When I asked if there was anything else he wanted me to tell his readers he said, “I’ve never had such fun! When the book (writing) was over I was truly sad to say goodbye to these ‘people.’

“I hope that I’ve accomplished what I think is the most basic duty of a good storyteller: Create characters that you care about. Then put them in danger.” I, for one, think you did accomplish this in “The Criminalist” and am looking forward to your next story.

Quote for today: “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” Vincent Van Gogh

Donna Lee Anderson writes a weekly literary column. You can reach her at welltoldtales@aol.com.