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How do you write about death when you don't work in that area? How do you get your details right when it comes to autopsies — human, alien, or perhaps even paranormal or fantasy creatures? I discuss this fascinating subject with Geoff Symon today, as part of his Forensics for Fiction series.
In the intro, I discuss what I learned from Ian McKellen's 80th birthday tour, and why you should “Measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or failures.” [Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert].
My thoughts on ambition after listening to the fantastic Michael Anderle interview on SPF Podcast 164, and why you need to decide on your own definition of success. Plus, why the indie community is a ‘scenius' [Austin Kleon].
This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets through the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.
Geoff Symon is a federal forensic investigator and has participated in high profile cases including 9/11 and the Iraq War as well as murder cases and other crimes. He's certified in the collection and preservation of evidence, blood spatter analysis, autopsies, and laboratory techniques. Geoff is also a certified federal polygraph examiner and highly skilled in the psychophysiological detection of deception.
He has books on Forensics for Fiction writers and today we're talking about Autopsies.
You can listen above or on iTunes or your favorite podcast app or watch the video here, read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.
- Performing the job of autopsies while respecting the dead
- The three scientific methods of identifying a body
- And why tattoos aren’t one of those methods
- Differences between TV/film forensics and the reality
- On the different stages of body decomposition and how those are reflected in literature
- On an added speciality of working as a polygraph examiner
- The impetus for writing books on blood spatter, autopsies and crime scenes
- Solving your literary crime first so you can seed your mystery or thriller novel with clues
You can find Geoff Symon at GeoffSymon.com and on Twitter @GeoffSymon
Transcript of Interview with Geoff Symon
Joanna: Hi, everyone. I'm Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com, and today I'm here with Geoff Symon. Hi, Geoff.
Geoff: Hi, Joanna.
Joanna: It's great to have you on the show. Just a little introduction.
Geoff is a federal forensic investigator and has participated in high profile cases including 9/11 and the Iraq War as well as murder cases and other crimes. He's certified in the collection and preservation of evidence, blood spatter analysis, autopsies, and laboratory techniques. Geoff is also a certified federal polygraph examiner and highly skilled in the psychophysiological detection of deception.
Geoff: Well done.
Joanna: Which is possibly the best bio I've ever read.
Geoff, tell us a bit more about your background and how you got into this work.
Geoff: That is actually a story. I get asked that a lot, but it actually fell into my lap. I used to teach forensics at George Washington University and the number one question I would always get from my students is, ‘How do I get into this? How do I get to do what you do?'
It's the hardest question for me to answer because I was in Korea…how many stories start that way? I was in Korea, working for the State Department, basically admin, doing filing and that sort of thing. And there was a U.S. Air Force person who died. And when you are somebody who works for the American government and are in that position outside of America, if something happens to you, our government says that you will have an autopsy. Next of kin does not have a say in that.
And where they do autopsies in the Asian theater for Americans is Okinawa. And so the remains had to be transported from Korea to Okinawa. And I was the newest one in-country and so I got volunteered to do that.
I had to escort these remains and be in that autopsy. And I didn't want to do that. I didn't want to be a part of it, but I had to.
The pathologist was really, really good with where I was in with my personality and my hesitation and whatnot. And he just would give me little tasks throughout the entire autopsy. And as I did little tasks, little tasks, little task, before I knew it, the autopsy was done.
I went back to Korea, had my little life, it was fine. And about six months later I got a call from this pathologist and he said, ‘Listen, the government is putting together a specialized forensics program. We're looking for volunteers. We'll send you to school, but then your payback will be time served with the government. Would you be interested? If you put a package together, I'll back it.'
I said, ‘Sure.' And that is my origin story. When someone asks, ‘How can I do what you do?' I was like, ‘Well, you know, go to Korea.' I don't know what to tell them.
Joanna: But surely it comes from, presumably, this guy noticed that you weren't freaking out. You weren't like throwing up in a corner or something.
There must've been something about your character that worked in that situation.
Geoff: I guess so. I guess because he set it up for me where I was very task oriented during that time, that fit well with what I could handle during that procedure.
Once I actually got into forensics and learned the science and reason behind things, it became much less gory for me. It became much more academic and a job that needed to be done. If that makes sense.
Joanna: That's fantastic. that leads me into my next question. We mentioned that in your bio, you were involved in 9/11. That job was accompanying human remains. Obviously, you're doing a job, as you say, but there's an emotional side of working with death, especially in these mass death situation.
How do you practically do your job while still respecting the dead?
Geoff: That's another popular question I get and how it's mostly phrased to me is, ‘Do you have a switch? Do you turn it on and off? How do you deal with the emotions of it?'
I was thrown into the deep end of the pool when I started my forensics career in that my first specialty, my first focus in forensics when I actually started doing investigations was in the realm of crimes against children. And so it was through there, through those types of cases that I developed the way I approached this very quickly, and that is you have to look at what you're doing.
I don't want to say that it's a switch that I can turn off my emotions so much because the emotions are still there and the emotions are valid and actually I believe the emotions are needed, but it's a way of looking at the task at hand.
When I was working with children, the task at hand is these little, young people are a victim here and I'm the one tasked to help them. And if I'm an emotional mess crying in the corner, I'm not helping them.
I've got to take my emotions and channel them in a way that I can do my job for them. And then when I started autopsies, it was basically the same thing.
I am the last person involved with this person here, with this deceased person, and this is this deceased person's last medical exam. This is this deceased person's chance to get any sort of justice, and if I become emotional about it, I'm not fulfilling that task. And in a way of honoring them, it's channeling those emotions so that you can do your job.
Joanna: That's a great way of putting it. And of course, a lot of people write books in order to deal with a lot of this stuff and it brings up emotions. But I wondered about the stereotypes of people who work with death.
Now it's so funny because you get the kind of creepy bug guy or the goth woman in the corner with the black makeup.
Geoff: Listen, you say creepy and goth, I say attractive.
Joanna: I'm with you, and I call myself a vanilla goth actually because I'm goth on the inside. I feel like as writers we do often write these stereotypical people dealing with death.
What types of people work in the death arena as such, so we can write more authentic characters?
Geoff: I think I'm going to answer that two ways if you don't mind. And the first way is write them as normal people because the coroner doing the autopsy is still a mom who has to get to soccer practice. And the medical examiner who's trying to deal with the latest mass shooting is also somebody who is hoping that he gets the date he wants or whatever.
So we are normal people, but also we are people who are able to remain calm in an emergency and are able to do what I was talking about before, and use our emotions instead of being controlled by our emotions. I think that's how I would answer that.
Joanna: So you're basically saying just write normal people.
Joanna: Do you think there's anything special? Because I think there's something special.
Geoff: Oh, I think I'm darn special. No, I'm kidding. We're also very funny if you haven't noticed.
Is there anything special? Well, talking about funny, we tend to have a specific sense of humor. I believe if you boil it down, it is sort of a defense mechanism, but we are able to find the humor and the joke in most situations, and probably the more emotional, the more humor is used.
And so we may be a little bit more on the morbid side, but we don't sleep in the basement.
Joanna: In the coffin.
Joanna: Okay. So that's one issue with stereotypes.
The other thing, and when I was reading one of your many books about forensics, talking about stereotypes of identifying the body, now I thought because of TV, obviously, that tattoos could be used to identify a body.
What are the real methods of positive identification?
Geoff: There are three scientific methods of identifying a body. And when I say scientific, that's what we call having a positive ID. It is scientifically backed and we can say, therefore, this is this person.
Those three methods are DNA, odontology, which are teeth, so if you have previous dental records, you can identify them through their teeth, or fingerprints. And those are the only three positive identification methods.
Now, can you identify people by other means? You can, but we don't say it as positive. So you can use tattoos but the problem is a completely different person can go to the same tattoo artist and happen to get the same tattoo in the same area of their body. So how can you say that this is, in fact, that person?
And because of decomposition effects and different types of states that the bodies can be found in, we no longer rely on visual ID. We no longer rely on like family members coming in to identify the body. Either the body can look different because of decomposition or the family member can be in an emotional state where they're not seeing what they think they're seeing.
It's just not reliable, and there are too many misidentifications by using those methods. You can use those methods to help in your identification, but there are only three positive IDs.
Joanna: I'm really surprised now because you said you don't have the family member come in and ID the body, which has to be one of the most regular scenes in films and books.
Geoff: Well, it's dramatic, right?
Joanna: Totally dramatic. It's far more dramatic than you entering some little cell into a computer.
Joanna: What are the other things that are completely wrong or that you see and go, ‘Oh, that again,' in a book or film?
Geoff: Mostly, if anyone is writing a scene in the morgue, what typically I find the scene is, is the law enforcement person going to the pathologist to get the update or to talk. And when you go to the morgue, the pathologist is always in the morgue and there are always bodies about, and that's not how it happens.
Every doctor that works in the morgue has his or her own office and that's where they do their meetings, and when they go to the actual morgue part of it, they're there to do the autopsy. And the bodies don't just lie out. The bodies are stored in a refrigerated room that is put away until those remains are needed. And so, you never have a consultation with a law enforcement person over the body.
Joanna: Everyones just going, ‘Oh my goodness, how can it possibly be dramatic then if there's no body?'
Geoff: Wait, there's no drama in sitting across the desk from someone? Yeah, I know.
Joanna: That's crazy. In ‘Bones,' I mean ‘Bones' the TV show, they sometimes have the body in the middle of what looks like the Smithsonian, right? It's in the middle of the whole museum.
Geoff: Well, let's also remember in ‘Bones,' isn't that the show that they have that wonderful holograph, image maker thing? Yeah. We haven't quite gotten to that stage yet.
Joanna: Anything else that people regularly get wrong?
Geoff: Yes, but in most of these situations I bring up, I understand why fiction, you can fudge it a little, and that, I'm a firm believer in.
Your story is what's important. That's what your readers are buying your books for, and if you need to fudge a little bit, it's totally okay. You don't have to be 1000% realistic.
I say, what's more important than realism is consistency. And so if you're going to write it, if this is your world and in your world building, it's not exactly as it is in real life, that's fine. Just be consistent with it and have it be that way in your world, but then don't claim that you're completely realistic.
During an autopsy, we take what we call personal protective equipment very seriously. We cannot chance adding our hairs or whatever as evidence onto the body but also we need to protect ourselves health-wise because you're dealing with blood and body fluids and whatnot.
But on screen, it's very difficult to have your actors with masks on all the time. And so what we typically have on TV shows and movies is these beautiful actors standing over the body, fixing their hair, doing whatever, and you don't really see that.
But I also understand why it is that way because you need, in a very short amount of time, the audience to be able to identify what person is doing what. And so, you can fudge it a little bit, but that's not realistic.
Joanna: No, that makes sense. But if you're writing a novel as opposed to a TV show, you can definitely put on some protective equipment.
And in fact, a little off topic, but I've just read ‘The Hot Zone' by Richard Preston about Ebola and a whole load of people doing autopsies on monkeys and stuff. And it was so scary.
Geoff: Yeah. So you take that protection very seriously in the real world.
Joanna: Definitely. You know a lot of writers, you speak at a lot of writer's things, and you have some great examples of decomposition, the difference between a zombie and a mummy and a lot of people now will have zombies and mummies in their heads.
Using those examples, can you talk a bit about decomposition?
Geoff: The three main characters you see in fiction that relate directly back to decomposition are, you said two of them, zombies and mummies and vampires, and how we view each of those different creatures literally has a direct path back to actual decomposition.
Vampires, for example, we often visualize as very white-faced and sometimes with black veins. And that comes from an early stage of decomposition when the blood seeps out of your arteries and veins, you become quite pale.
That's typically depicted with having a white face. And as the decomposition starts, one major factor of decomposition is the bacteria in your body. As the blood leaves the veins and arteries, those become passageways for the bacteria. And as they are leaving their waste behind, it darkens the veins. And that's where you get those black veins in for vampires.
Zombies and mummies tend to be on opposite ends of the spectrums for different types of decomposition. Decomposition really is environmentally based. Whether it's a wet environment or a dry environment, a cold environment or a hot environment, whether it changes environments because somebody moves the body, all of those have a great effect on the rate and type of decomposition.
So when you're thinking about a zombie, how they're typically depicted are green and squishy and whatnot. And that is a pretty valid depiction of a later stage, normal decomposition. The body changes color, typically greenish color until it ultimately turns more like a blackish color, and it's very wet.
But in mummification, and when I say mummification, I don't mean the Egyptian procedure of taking out the organs. It's literally called mummification as a stage in decomposition. It's a very arid, a very dry environment in which the moisture is out of the air and because the moisture is out of the air, the bacteria can't function or live as well as in a normal, I say normal environment, but in an environment we're used to.
And so mummies tend to be more brown and brittle instead of squishy. And we see that when you depict them in fiction and so I love that each of these have their base in an actual decomposition.
Joanna: Which is pretty cool.
Are there any other creatures made up of the stages of decomposition?
Geoff: I'd have to think about that for a minute. I'm not sure. I'll get back to that one.
Joanna: Well, one could ask the more supernatural question.
In terms of ghosts do you feel like the dead body is a dead body and there is no person left? Do you feel like that or have you experienced any kind of supernatural or ghostlike encounters?
Geoff: I haven't had any personal extra experiences like that, but how do I answer that? I feel like I do treat each all remains as with respect. I guess that's how I want to say that.
I think there are various beliefs throughout the world on what happens to a person after death. And some beliefs are the eternal soul is linked to the condition of the body, some beliefs are once the person's dead that their essence is elsewhere and the vessel no longer is that person. And there's everything in between.
I think that remains need to be treated with respect just so that everybody is honored, if you will, and all beliefs are honored. And I think we find that even at least in the United States, all of my experience forensically is United States just to make that clear.
If we have a body that is unidentified, or better yet unclaimed, so you can't find next of kin or the next of kin just outright refuses to take responsibility for the body, what do we do with those bodies? A body is released to a mortuary and they normally release it to a funeral home but what if you don't have that permission or even know what the family would wish for that body?
The counties or states all have laws in that any unclaimed remains will either be buried or cremated and buried by that county or state. So they still respect the remains. And I have the same outlook on that, so that there is respect involved.
Joanna: I think the other thing I was thinking of then is, in America, from what I've read, embalming is very common, whereas in the U.K., certainly, it's not very common at all. It's just not something people do.
Many of the listeners are crime writers, and there's often the scene of digging up the remains to do some tests and in Britain, that will be a decomposed body, whereas in America, is that true about embalming?
And does the embalming, for example, get rid of evidence or keep evidence or what would be that difference?
Geoff: Well, there are explanations in the United States, but I was going to say is one of the steps in an autopsy is to take samples of every tissue and organ for storage, and the entire purpose is if you need to do tests later on, you would have the actual tissue preserved for that purpose.
Embalming slows down decomposition greatly, but it doesn't stop it. And so if we were to do an exhumation, even here in the United States on remains that have been embalmed, they are not in pristine condition from that point on. It's just greatly slowed.
Joanna: It's so interesting. Coming back to the mummies. You've traveled in Europe, right?
Joanna: So there's a lot of sites in Europe, Italy particularly, of skeletons and mummied monks and things in catacombs and crypts and things.
The mummification process can happen in a natural environment as well, right?
Geoff: Absolutely. The whole thing with mummification is the arid conditions of when the body is going through its decomposition and decomposition is typically furthered by that bacteria that's inside of us and in a very, very dry, moistureless environment, that bacteria dies out and is unable to go through that decomposition process.
And so what you have is a very brittle result. But even though the body, the skin, and the organs and the bones are very brittle, they're really well preserved because they're not being eaten away as we would think in normal conditions.
That is why you can see these mummies throughout the world on exhibit because the drying out process has actually preserved that body. But they all look withered because there's no moisture. They literally are withered.
Joanna: Very cool. Okay, so back on the fictionalized stuff, because I loved the examples that you had of the different autopsies by genre.
I wondered if you'd give us a couple of examples of those because they are brilliant.
Geoff: Thank you. My books are a series called ‘Forensics For Fiction' because my goal is to help out authors. And so when I'm writing about a particular topic, I want all authors to know that, hey, this could apply to you as well.
And so when you think of an autopsy, a police procedural is a pretty common genre that you would expect to find those in. But autopsies could be in really any genre.
I like to use the example for a thriller in any sort of contagion type storyline or even like ‘The Da Vinci Code,' an autopsy is very important to start that clock, that ball rolling in the thriller. So you can think of that there, but you can use an autopsy in romance or a more emotion-filled story.
Death is a very emotional experience and depending on how you're writing, you could have your main character question why she's flirting with the doctor when she should be mourning her husband. I don't know.
Joanna: Evil husband. Mourning evil husband.
GeoffYeah. Right. Exactly, but you can have autopsies in paranormal. How does your paranormal character have a different anatomy and how does that affect your autopsy?
You can have autopsies in science fiction and fantasy for the same reason. Is this an alien creature or is technology different? And in historicals, how was the autopsy done back in that era? And was religion more of a factor back then? Were the tools limiting back then?
I think that you can really apply it in any genre to work through either furthering the story technically or furthering the story emotionally.
Joanna: It's just reminding me, there's this very creepy thing in Europe where they put bells on coffins that linked down into the grave because, of course, they didn't have the technology so sometimes people were buried alive and, of course, you don't want to be buried alive. So the historical stuff is fascinating.
I loved this anatomy of a goblin, which is brilliant. I've never read the anatomy of a goblin in a goblin autopsy.
Geoff: I think very few people have.
Joanna: It's such a good idea. So, anyone who's read my fiction will know I'm particularly obsessed with medical specimens and human body parts in jars. I have it in a lot of my books.
And talking about history, the medical history is fascinating. I was in Philadelphia, went to the Mutter Museum last year. Which is fantastic. Really fascinating.
You've talked about respect and that's taken as a given, but what are your thoughts on anatomy museums, the physical body being used after death for research?
Geoff: Like I said, I think respect is important, but I don't think that using a body for scientific or just plain basic educational needs has to necessarily mean that you're not being respectful. I think it's incredibly important for us to continually learn and to understand what happens to our bodies so that we can understand what needs to be done to help us while we're still alive.
I don't have a problem with that. I think we do that when we're alive anyway. If somebody develops a new medication, they go through all these trials and they ask for your consent to go through these trials. Understanding that this may help this, there may be side effects, we don't know yet, this is all for experimentation.
I think it's the same idea with someone who's passed. The only problem is they are no longer present for the consent part, but many, many people get around that by having the consent be done prior to the person passing. And so I feel like if you are doing it in a respectful manner, I'm for it. I think it's beneficial.
It's interesting if you go into the history of autopsies, they didn't always follow the respect rule and often were referred to as butchers because that's sort of what it was. The earlier people studying anatomy did it because they were curious or morbid or whatever, but I don't think that they were really considering the consent side of things. But I don't think it has to be that way. I think it can definitely be respectful and still beneficial scientifically.
Joanna: I was just thinking that criminals often used after hanging. Here in Britain, the Hunterian Museum is full of criminals. Well, supposed criminals, who knows. But it is fascinating.
There are so many things I wanted to ask you and you've got a book on blood spatter as well, which is particularly cool.
But I do want to ask you about the polygraph side because that really caught my eye. It seems to me that the polygraph side of your work is completely different to your other stuff, that kind of forensic stuff.
Why the polygraph side of your work as well?
Geoff: Well, because my entire career has been in law enforcement and has been on the scientific side of law enforcement and that is the next scientific endeavor that I entered. I should be clear that I don't do all of this at once.
Joanna: Because you can't really do one on a dead person.
Geoff: Exactly. But I was involved with autopsies when I held a position with the Armed Forces Medical Examiner's Office. And so that's specifically what we did was autopsies. I am no longer in that position.
Now I go to crime scenes, I deal with the preservation of evidence and I do interviews, and then the interview side of my job is where I was afforded the opportunity to get certified and become polygrapher.
I don't want you thinking that one person does all specialties at all times. It depends on what job you have and what your focus is. But the reason I looked into polygraph and then ended up going to the school and becoming certified because it's a scientific technique used in the investigation of criminals. And so that's what I did.
Joanna: Again, all of us think in our heads of the person sitting in the room with the thing around their arm and someone pressing buttons or whatever.
Are there any issues with the way that type of thing is portrayed?
Geoff: Oh, sure. Absolutely. When most people think of polygraph, they think of daytime TV and who's your baby daddy? And I will just say there are different types of polygraph tests and it is a valid science that is overdramatized greatly in popular thinking.
Joanna: I just found that fascinating. Is the thread through your work that it's all about solving the crime?
Geoff: Correct. Yes.
Joanna: Tell us about the other books or all of your books in the forensic series so everyone knows what you have.
Geoff: I started this series called ‘Forensics For Fiction.' And how that came about was I live with a writer. I was constantly being asked, ‘Well, how would this work?' or, ‘How long does someone need to be poisoned before…?' or, ‘If I was gonna dispose of the body…' and so I got used to answering those questions.
And as he would then travel and go to his different conferences or talk to other writers, I would get more questions from more writers.
It didn't take me a lot of research to discover that there were two ends of the spectrum if a writer wanted to do research. You could either get the really technical, like, schoolbook version of it, which is really hard to read and slog through, or you could get kind of fluff piece that sort of didn't really touch on much of what was realistic or how things were done, but just barely glazed over a lot of it.
I found very few books that had that median of it was accessible on one side but realistic and technical enough on the other. And that's what started the idea of my ‘Forensics for Fiction' series. And that's literally what it is.
I'm trying to take the realism of what I do, what my partners and other agents do in real life and make it accessible for the writers so that they understand what the realism is, but better yet decide what works for their story.
Because again, I don't believe that all stories have to be 1000% realistic. If you're going to be 1000% realistic, then you're going to have the cop talking to the pathologist across the desk. And again, I don't know how dramatic that is.
I want to provide a platter that you as authors can pick from for what works for your story and give it a base that is absolutely based in realism. So, that's how that started. And my first book was blood spatter, and from there, I wrote my book on crime scenes, and then I did autopsies. The next one that will come out will be on arson.
Joanna: Will you be doing anything on polygraphy and deception or is that just going to give people too many tips?
Geoff: Well, I was joking with you a little bit before this interview and there is a line actually. There is a line of how realistic am I comfortable with you all being, and then at what point does your fiction become an instruction manual for an actual criminal?
I figured that out for myself and then I present it to you all. But if there's a genuine interest in any subtopic of forensics or investigation, I am more than open to either talking about it or if there's enough material writing about it. Sure.
Joanna: I think my interest in that deception side, it's because I think that most fiction writers are, well, we are liars. We lie and we make things up for a living. I'm really interested in the psychology of people who make stuff up.
I don't know if you have any thoughts on whether we'd be much better at polygraph tests than people who aren't so imaginative.
Geoff: Yes and no. The deal with polygraph is its entire premise, its scientific base is based on something internally. You guys don't have to remember this, but it's called the autonomic nervous system, which is something that we can't control with our brain.
They are physical responses that occur separate from our cognitive thought and because they're automatic and we can't control them, that is where the polygraph comes in and is monitoring those reactions within your body. So even well-versed liars still can't control the reactions have with inside their body.
But to take a sharp left turn here real quick, I think what I would say for people writing that is the same thing that I say about people writing crime scenes. And that is if you want to write about lying or solving a crime, the best way to do that is to figure out how you're going to resolve that issue before you get into writing the issue itself.
When I'm talking about crime scenes, I say, solve your crime before you commit it. Because the trap that most authors fall into is they have an exciting idea about a crime scene. You've never heard about this crime scene before, I've got the best idea ever, and they're writing it and writing it. And they make the evidence very vague because they don't want it solved in chapter two. They need a whole book worth of investigations and they're great, they're great, they're great.
And they get to the second to the last chapter and they're like, ‘Now I've got to solve it. How do I solve it?' And so they opened themselves up to logic leaps because they haven't peppered their story with the evidence that's actually there so that the reader can look back and say, ‘Oh.'
If you solve it first, if you know what you're smoking gun is before you do the actual crime, then you can write your story in the direction of that smoking gun.
And the same thing with deception. If you know how they're going to get caught in their lie, then you can work that lie in so that you can craft it so that it's a humdinger of a lie, but it's not a logic leap for them to get caught later on. Does that make sense?
Joanna: That is great. And I must say, this interview was mainly about the autopsy one but your books are, like you say, detailed technically, but not so detailed that they're not really readable.
Geoff: Thank you.
Joanna: I zoomed through the autopsy book. I was just like, this is so cool and there's a lot of ideas. I'd love people to check that out. Also, you speak around the world at many writers conferences.
Geoff: I do.
Joanna: We met at NINC, which was really cool. If anyone listening sees your name, then they should definitely go.
Where can people find you and your books online?
Geoff: Oh, thank you so much for that. I am everywhere online and luckily nobody has my name yet. So if you look up Geoff Symon, Geoff with a G, Symon with a Y, you should be able to find me. But my website is geoffsymon.com and the website that goes to my books, which is part of my main website, is forensicsforfiction.com. All of my books are sold on all the major areas. If you want to go Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, wherever, you should be able to find them there as well.
Joanna: Fantastic. Thanks so much for your time, Geoff. That was great.
Geoff: Well, thank you for having me. This was great. It really was fun.
William Ablan says
So interesting. It always amuses me that the only film I’ve seen get the forensic team right was Hot Fuzz… funnier that it was Cate Blanchett under the mask and hairnet.
Barb Woods says
I thought I would find this topic a bit creepy, but it turned out to be one of my favorite episodes of your podcast!
Joanna Penn says
Glad you enjoyed it 🙂
Lora Lewis says
I purchased Geoff’s Blood Splatter, Autopsies & Crime Scenes when I made the decision to write a crime novel. His books are very well written and broken down to understand them. I have several post-it-notes marking areas in each one. Thank you for having this pod cast!
As a psychiatric nurse, I’ve had the training and education to understand alot about the human body. As a Hospice nurse, I’ve dealt with death from my first Aids case in 1980 through to 2016, with my last patient. I get the mechanics of death and dying and how autopsies are how the body gives clues, like the dead telling us.
I crack up at the medical shows, CSI shows, etc, how no protection worn, unrealistic scenes with an M.E. talking with a detective or CSI, over the body, discussing and showing what he’s looking at. So many mistakes with looking for evidence at crime scene, but I can attest how frequently, many mistakes are made. Untrained staff, no money or time for 50 CSI to look and gather evidence, and time…a major factor.
I don’t that an author should skim over the facts, depending on the scene, who’s in it and what the author is trying to exemplify. A pathologist, an M.E. doing an autopsy can’t be skimmed; a generalization on findings can be.
It depends on how much knowledge the writer has or hasn’t about the subject and what they are exposing the reader to and why. Not every writer should get into an autopsy scene, a gathering of evidence like trace evidence, etc. Stay in your lane.
I do agree, a totally textbook explanation is often boring and too technical for an average reader, but, again, a skilled writer can do this without the boring long-winded approach.
I don’t think writing about an autopsy should be considered, just from reading about how it’s done. Just like writing about any topic one isn’t experienced with, being a soldier, a carpenter, a doctor or even a mother, unless you’ve been there done that! Method acting is a great example.. actors put themselves in that role, doing it, living it, to experience it, so realism and truth comes through.
When I directed plays, ( yeah, did that stint and acted) my actors had to dissolve into the experience of their character as much as possible, and become that character. Alot to ask, but my actors became fantastic actors and learned from this
Method writing is my go to. I won’t ever write about training a horse, by hanging at a stable. Get my point?
Too many writers believe they can write about anything because of their ” talent”; it’s easily deciphered, who’s a writer and who’s a skilled writer, readers want to read more of.
My genre is Mystery, lite, tongue in cheek, YA and lately thriller and horror. The main difference now, is authenticity of my scenes. Not prolonged descriptive scenes, but enough of the true raw facts, to have the scene come to life with realism. I want a reader to check my authenticity, and not find 1 thing that isn’t fact. I’m particular like that, as a reader as well. When I read an inaccurate scene, or non-facts, I feel the author was insincere, sloppy and doesn’t care enough to know what she writes.
We are all told from Day One as writers, Write what you KNOW.
The best advice ever given!