Friday, July 18, 2014

Issue #29, July 21, 2014

Title:  The telltale clue

By Author:  Kendra Yoder


Tag line:    The killer mistakenly believed he’d left no evidence behind…

Police characters:   Detective Jillian Bennett and her partner Ed Mackin.

The gist:    A divorce attorney, after a struggle, was felled from a head wound and died.  His receptionist told police she arrived at work at the usual time, began to log into her computer, then heard a loud thump coming from her boss’s office.  Before she could get up to check it out a tall male, wearing sunglasses and a baseball cap, burst through the door, ripped his raincoat from the wooden coat hanger in the closest and ran out the door. He was not wearing gloves but had a handkerchief and opened the door with his forearm.  Video surveillance captures this man using the stairs instead of the elevator but he was slick enough to hide his face when in camera range.  Hoping for a fingerprint, Detective Bennett asked crime scene to sweep the office and reception area, but they were unable to find any prints, even on the large paperweight which was the murder weapon.  The CS techs told Bennett the place has been wiped clean; paperweight, doorknob, chair arms, etc.

Detective Bennett realized there was one place that he didn’t wipe.  Can you figure out where?

Crime scene:    Divorce attorney’s office.

Clues:    The raincoat.

Suspects:   One of the attorney’s disgruntled clients, or one of their husbands.

Red herrings:    None.

Solution:   The killer arrived at the office, hung his coat on a wooden hanger in the closet, and went in to have it out with the attorney.  Things went bad.  The killer wiped off every spot he could think of but in his haste to leave forgot that he had handled the hanger when storing his coat.  

My two cents:     This story had a clever clue.  Where oh where could that fingerprint be?  What did he forget?  Except the timing is off here.  The receptionist heard a loud thump, presumably her boss hitting the floor, and in the next second the killer bursts out the door.  He didn’t have time to wipe the door knob, the desk, the arm chair, the weapon, etc.   This altercation was planned.  He dressed like a man who didn’t want to get caught and wanted to keep his identify unknown, he snuck in up the stairs -- yet he takes the time to hang up his coat?

The story was well paced.  The police details were good.  But the timing and the fact that he even stopped to hang up his coat in the first place marred the story.

Three stars.


Tamara said...

You're right, Jody. Too bad the story had those problems; the clue was clever.

Jody E. Lebel said...

It didn't work very well here, but it's not a total loss for WW mystery writers. Using that logic figure out an odd place (that's believable) to leave a fingerprint and then form your story around it.

hmmmph. Easier said than done. :)

Chris said...

I suspected the receptionist, since she was really the only character we were introduced to, so it wrong footed me completely. But you're right, the time scale needed work. Perhaps she could have gone for a comfort break and then returned to the office to be nearly bowled over by the man making his escape. He could have done the cleaning up of his fingerprints in that time but still have forgotten the ones of the hanger in his rush to get away before she found the body.

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Chris. Yes, good idea. The bathroom break, or a run to get the morning coffee in the cafeteria, would have given the right amount of time. I still don't believe a man who is bent on sneaking in and confronting another would stop to hang up his coat. Perhaps painting him as not so sneaky could work. Maybe he's just an early morning appointment (where he left a fake name) would do it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your information, Jody, about Bauer's changes in rights.

Am I right in thinking that if you sell a story to Woman's World you are now selling them ALL the rights to your story and that you cannot sell it on to any other magazine?


Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Janice. I believe that is correct. They used to have a 6-month time frame before you could resell the story. No more. My understanding is you can't sell the story to another magazine and you can't self pub in any form. They now have all rights forever and ever and ever, amen.

Chris said...

It's becoming increasingly common for mags to demand all rights in all fields, not just printed but electronic. Not so much a problem if, like Highlights for Children, they then sell the stories on and pay the writer a percentage. That can make for a very nice additional cheque now and then. But often all rights are demanded for very little money, which is cheeky to say the least. However, there's nothing to stop you changing the characters' names and ages and putting them in a new location (swap the restaurant for a classroom, for example) to give a different slant on things. As long as it's not recognisably the same, I have no qualms about doing that. It just needs a little bit of lateral thinking sometimes.

Jody E. Lebel said...

"A bit of lateral thinking" I like it. It's so --- sneaky. :)

Mary Jo said...

Now, my question is, can a writer plagiarize her own work? Chris, just changing a location or a name does not change the story as it was written. You must have made other changes.

I read somewhere that even taking an original IDEA and using it is grounds for plagiarism, which sounds kinda like over-reach to me.

How many times have any of us had a story rejected and then see a published story that is essentially the same thing? No plagiarism involved, just that devil synchronicity.

Jody, do you have any wise words on this subject? What is the legal issue?

Jody E. Lebel said...

So, you want to talk law, huh? Just remember I’m not a lawyer. This is information I’ve gathered in my job as a court reporter and from doing research on-line. So author beware. Just like the surgeon general's warning, if you have any legal concerns contact an entertainment lawyer. With that said, yes, I do have some info I can share.

Copyright Infringement
In copyright infringement, you need to be concerned with avoiding having your work infringed upon and avoiding infringing upon others' works which includes even your own work when it is under contract. Copyright law protects against the copying of the expression of a work, not of your ideas. The difference between the expression and the idea of a work is a difficult concept from a legal perspective. Even if someone does not copy a work exactly, the "expression" of your work may have been copied. If the allegedly infringing work is "substantially similar" to your copyrighted work, copyright infringement exists. Now what does substantially mean? There is no percentage of changes that I know of to quote you. This is where the lawyers come in and argue.

Perhaps the most important thing to realize, however -- and keep Harry Potter in mind when you read this -- is that you cannot copyright an idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery. In other words, you cannot copyright the idea about a boy wizard going to a magical school. You can only copyright your own expression of that idea, meaning your specific story in your specific words. If someone else takes that story and copies it word for word it would be copyright infringement, but if that person just wrote a story that features a similar predicament to yours, it may not be. How many times have you seen a Cinderella story? Or a take on Romeo and Juliet? Dozens. It all may depend on who wants to make a fuss over it.

I have to leave this in two parts because of length issues.

Jody E. Lebel said...

To plagiarize is to use the words or ideas of another person as if they were your own words or ideas. Plagiarism is not a crime per se but in academia and industry, it is a serious ethical offense and cases of plagiarism can constitute copyright infringement. Self-plagiarism (also known as "recycling fraud) is the reuse of significant, identical, or nearly identical portions of one's own work without acknowledging that one is doing so or without citing the original work. Articles of this nature are often referred to as duplicate or multiple publications. In addition there can be a copyright issues if copyright of the prior work has been transferred to another entity such as through a magazine contract. Typically, self-plagiarism is only considered a serious ethical issue in settings where the author asserts that a publication consists of new material. Plagiarism is also considered a moral offense against anyone who has provided the plagiarist with a benefit in exchange for what is specifically supposed to be original content (for example, the plagiarist's publisher) . In such cases, acts of plagiarism may sometimes also form part of a claim for breach of the plagiarist's contract, or, if done knowingly, for a civil wrong suit. You could change all of the words and names and still be guilty of plagiarism if it was an easily recognizable rip-off. There isn't a set amount of changed words that you can get away with. It depends whether readers recognize where you nicked it from, and whether the copyright owner feels like making something of it. There are programs on the internet that search for this sort of thing. When I self published my how-to-write book, Amazon quickly informed me that that information was easily accessible on the internet and did I still want to proceed? As it was my own writing works that were coming up, I was free to assemble it into a book form and Amazon allowed it once I signed off on it.

Changing your story and resubbing it somewhere else is not such an easy thing to do and stay strictly within the law and the code of ethics authors follow. Again, it’s all about who is offended by it and who wants to do something about it. I’d say it’s not as big of a deal in the short story market as it would be if you changed the names and location but still wrote The Shining and tried to publish it.

Mary Jo said...

Amazing commentary, Jody. Thank you for taking the time to share all that information.

If I recall correctly, Shakespeare took his Romeo and Juliet plot from another story. Well, they are all gone now, so I guess no one is going to sue him.

Chris said...

And West Side Story is entirely based on Romeo and Juliet. There is no copyright on ideas, just on the words the author uses to put them down on paper. Yes, I have re-jigged my same story and sold it on, Mary Jo. I did so with one called The Memory Scarf. Originally, it was written as an adult story, with gran looking after her bored granddaughter while Mum is in hospital having a new baby. I then wrote another version from the child's perspective - exactly the same storyline but switching the emphasis to the child instead. I've sold that story to adult mags and children's. It just required a bit of that good old lateral thinking again.

Jody E. Lebel said...

I'm quite comfortable with plagiarizing my own stories. I change them until I'm satisfied it's a mere ghost of the original. I have borrowed ideas from other authors and revamped them. But when I do that, I see all the glaring similarities and it bothers me, and I fuss with it and fuss with it...until sometimes I don't submit it anywhere.

Mary Jo said...

Isn't that the thing, Jody? I have a story I really like, but I know very well that it is a first cousin to a long ago story by a famous author. So it is not going anywhere ever.

Chris said...

I wrote a story based on the 'girl driving alone at night being followed by a stranger' scenario that had previously been done by a well known UK author, but I gave mine a completely different upbeat ending. It sold. You are not doing anything wrong in putting your own slant on an existing story.

Jody E. Lebel said...

I think guilt holds me back. I feel guilty that it's not my original story line. I have Romeo and Juliet syndrome. lol. But I realize that every story has already been told, and it's just how I want to tell it. I need to get over that. And frankly, even if I believe it is my own original idea, somewhere someone else has already thought of it and written about it...I just don't know it.