Guest Blog: About Fur People by Vicki Hendricks

Vicki HendricksFor the past twenty years, I’ve been immersed in crime—reading, writing, and learning. I fell into that genre and made a quick splash. But it was not the complete me—a life-long interest in animals begged to come alive. My crime novels and stories have always been peopled with iguanas, cats, dogs, apes, dolphins, horses, snakes—probably many I’m forgetting—but now, finally, I’m writing specifically about my dearest subject, and I have recognized a dark truth about myself in the process.

In Fur People a young woman, Sunny, whose sensibilities are not far from my own, gathers her fur family, a busload of dogs, cats, a couple of ferrets, and rabbits, to travel back to her hometown in central Florida. Forced by lack of money to live in the woods, she struggles against nature and the authorities.

Thirty years ago, I came close to choosing that sort of life. I lived in a house, but had nine adopted cats and sixteen rabbits. I thought they were well taken care of, but now I realize they were my captives, living on the edge. Like Sunny, I couldn’t afford to keep them in the comfort and safety they deserved. The rabbits were confined to hutches most of the time and got little exercise. The cats ate cheap food, ran free outside, and didn’t get their shots on a regular basis. They probably suffered from fleas, as well, since flea protection was unavailable at that time, except for dipping. I did try that once—I have the scars to prove it. Yes, I loved my animals to death, a phrase that gives me chills. Over the years, I was lucky, and most of them lived out their natural life span. But not all.

Even now, I still want every dog and cat I see—and ferrets, skunks, a mini-horse. (They can be house-trained!) Chickens, of course, and I would love a pig. YouTube videos and animal photos fill me with the desire to intermingle species. I can’t go to the humane society because of my lack of will power. I suffer, seeing the trapped, neutered, and released cats in the woods near the beach close to where I live. They rub their faces on my ankles, and their need for love is overwhelming. I am always on the verge of adopting, and it’s like alcohol or heroin—the more I get the more I need. I’m angry with people who allow these animals to breed unchecked, yet I bred those rabbits, and I still have a compelling desire to raise baby animals. It’s inborn, the same as for my character Sunny.

These conflicting emotions have gone into the writing of Fur People. It’s not a tragedy, and there are many light moments and humorous animal anecdotes. But the ironies of natural struggle and nagging questions of how we should relate to the nonhumans with whom we share our homes and the earth hover in the background. There’s a heavy motif of bacon in the novel. Bacon, yum,—how can we keep eating it? How can we stop?

They say when you get older all of your tendencies become more condensed, more obvious, less flexible. Hoarders we see on reality shows are mostly old, probably because young hoarders have the capacity to hide their obsession, like I did. I was a hoarder on a small scale. I might have come to a horrible end. I might still. But describing the sting of flea bites and a puppy’s hunger pangs have made me acknowledge the sad results of love taken to the extreme. Fur People has helped me to dig into my psyche and accept what I didn’t want to know. I hope it helps some animals.

Vicki Hendricks is the author of five noir novels, including Cruel Poetry, a finalist for the 2008 Edgar Award, and several short story collections. She teaches writing at Broward College. Her plots and settings reflect participation in adventure sports and knowledge of the Florida environment. Her love of animals, apparent in her earlier novels, comes to the forefront in her new novel, Fur People.

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Guest Blog: The Truth About Crime Scenes by Lisa Black


Lisa Black

Crime scenes are the most interesting part of forensic science. You get to actually see the setting instead of individual, out-of-context pieces of evidence, and picture how it all went down. And it gets you out of the bloody lab.

They’re also the biggest pain in the neck. They’re never anyplace fun like a shopping mall or a museum, they’re places that are cold, muddy, or unbelievably filthy. They’re abandoned apartments crawling with cockroaches, streets where you automatically keep your head ducked just in case anyone decides to take a shot, houses that make you tsk and say, “I can’t believe anyone lives like this.”

I could write a book on houses. If you ever think your own place is a little messy, you should see the places I’ve seen. This crosses all ethnic, cultural, gender, psychological and economic lines. I guess some people are comfortable with clutter—imagine if you took everything out of all your closets and all your drawers, scattered it over the floor, and lived like that day in and day out—and some aren’t. This may sound like simply a pet peeve, but it actually complicates the investigation. How do you tell if something was ransacked? How do you tell what’s out of place?

In short, crime scenes should be glamorous, but they’re not. For one thing you usually don’t have more than a two-minute warning. Dispatch calls, and you’re given a sketchy summary (half of which will, more often than not, be wrong) and an address. For another, all the work that you planned to get done that day is not done by someone else in your absence—it’s still waiting for you when you come back, and your boss doesn’t care that you had to go.

The fun thing about crime scenes is that each one is different and, again, it gets you out of the lab. The pain-in-the-neck thing about crime scenes is that each one is different, and you can’t be positive that you’ve gotten every piece of relevant information. How do you know if the matchbook sitting on the windowsill was put there by the teenage son three weeks ago, or if the killer set it there while he waited for the victim? How do you know if the oversized pair of shorts on top of the laundry pile was for the victim’s ‘fat days’ or if they were left there by an irate, departing boyfriend? How do you know one of the forty thousand cards in the victim’s collection doesn’t contain the killer’s fingerprint? Answer: you don’t. You have to collect what seems reasonable to collect, and leave it at that. You can only do your best. Remember that during the exhaustive investigation of the Charles Manson murders, there was a pair of glasses left in Sharon Tate’s house that no one ever identified.

You never get all the answers.

Lisa Black spent the five happiest years of her life in a morgue. As a forensic scientist in the Cleveland coroner’s office she analyzed gunshot residue on hands and clothing, hairs, fibers, paint, glass, DNA, blood and many other forms of trace evidence, as well as crime scenes. Now she’s a certified latent print examiner and CSI for the Cape Coral Police Department. Her books have been translated into six languages. Evidence of Murder reached the NYT mass market Best Sellers list.

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