PD Martin's Blog

December 23, 2011

The life of a hitman

Filed under: Uncategorized — PD Martin @ 3:34 am

bulletA while ago I started a research series on Murderati and somehow it fell by the wayside. Sorry! But I’m back on the research front with today’s blog, this time focusing on some research I did into professional hitmen.

Note: In nearly all the known cases of contract killers the gender of the killer is male. It doesn’t mean a woman can’t be a hitperson, it’s just much, much less likely.

An article I found in the Journal of Forensic Sciences classifies three types of hitmen: amateur, semi-professional and professional. The amateur ones are probably best characterised as the career criminal or drug addict who takes a few hundred bucks to knock off someone’s wife or husband. Planning levels are low and often these amateurs stuff up the job and/or get caught.

But then we have the upper, upper echelon. I uncovered one research study on this type of contract killer, but the number of subjects was extremely low (five killers, all male and covering a large age range). One assumes that the people who practice in the upper echelons of contract killing simply don’t get caught. In the US in 2008, there were 200 murders that were either known or believed to be carried out for money. Of those, 82 were solved and fall into the amateur or semi-professional categories, leaving 118 unsolved. That’s a lot of unsolved contract kills. And how many killers were there? It’s possible there were a handful of busy killers, or fifty or so averaging two jobs a year. Who knows?

The professional hitman (which my research was focused on) is highly organised and plans the kill methodically. He (or very rarely she) is often employed by organised crime and the target is usually a criminal and often someone within organised crime. There is little to no physical evidence left at the scene.

In terms of this type of contract killer’s personality, they see what they do as a job-strictly business. There’s no psychological or emotional need to kill; in their minds, it’s simply a way of living. However, it’s been found that some contract killers see themselves as doing the ‘work of God’, stepping in where the justice system fails. Either way, these individuals are capable of complete compartmentalisation and so it’s possible that they’re married with children and successfully living a double life.

In the small sample study of five contract killers, they also tested IQ. They ranged from 95 to 115, with the average being 108. However, most of them functioned above their overall intelligence and this was because they had highly developed analytical and organisational skills, plus extremely well-developed social skills.

Most of them are highly methodical with an overdeveloped sense of discipline and many have served time in the military. They do ‘stalk’ their victims but it’s purely for functional reasons, to get to know their routines and to find the best place to kill them. The contract killer feels no bonds or ties to the victims, and as a professional killer, it’s also unlikely he’ll feel any remorse.

How to be a hitman…really?

CB006490One of the weirdest (and funniest) things I ran across during my research was a book calledHit Man: A Technical Manual for Independent Contractors. The book was initially published in 1983 by Paladin Press. However, in 1993 a triple homicide was committed by a man who said he’d used the book. The victims’ family sued Paladin Press and in 1999 the case was settled and the book was officially pulled off the market. Of course, it popped up online the next day!

The book details things like: mental and physical preparations; equipment needed; how to make a disposable silencer; different killing methods; surveillance; planning the kill; finding jobs; how much to charge; how to get it right; controlling the situation; and enjoying the fruits of the life of a contract killer. Bizarre, right?

I actually often read out a section at my talks about women. I won’t repeat it here for copyright reasons but I can give you the general gist of it – it my own words. The section reads as a warning against women. I guess you’d call it a back-handed compliment for women, because it says we can be great contract killers but the reasons given are our deceitful natures and because we’re so vicious! It then goes on to say that luckily women are taken off the street because of our nesting instinct…and then we’re busy with babies, laundry and housework. Hard to believe the book was written in 1983 and not 1953 with comments like that.

Merry Christmas
Lastly, I wanted to wish everyone a Merry Christmas. We’ll be celebrating Christmas Day out the back, eating seafood and basking in the Aussie sun – the forecast is for 30C (86F).  And have you heard the Aussie Jingle Bells? My 5yro was taught this at pre-school…although it’s probably cuter when it’s sung by 4-5yros.

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December 22, 2011

Amazon as publishers

Filed under: Getting published,Murderati blogs — Tags: , — PD Martin @ 3:33 am

This was a blog I posted on Murderati for my turn at our “Wildcard Tuesday”.

Books and treeAmazon moved into the publishing realm (sort of) in 2009 with AmazonEncore, a program where Amazon selected self-published titles they felt deserved greater attention and marketed them as AmazonEncore editions. In 2010, the imprint moved into a more traditional role, publishing original manuscripts (some selected via the Amazon Breakthrough Novel award and some via agent submissions). Also in 2010 came Amazon Crossing, an imprint that publishes English-language versions of foreign language books.

However it was in 2011 that Amazon really launched itself as a publishing ‘house’ (as distinct from its offering to authors who can self-publish on Kindle).

In 2011, three new imprints launched from Amazon’s Seattle office:

  • Montlake Romance (romance imprint; launched in April)
  • Thomas & Mercer (mystery/thriller imprint; launched in May)
  • 47North (science fiction, fantasy and horror imprint; launched in October)

Then in May this year, Amazon set up its New York-based imprint, appointing Laurence J Kirshbaum at its helm and focusing on non-fiction and some literary fiction. The imprint made its first acquisition in August, withTimothy Ferriss’ self-help book The Four-Hour Chef (for publication in 2012).

Amazon’s most recent foray into publishing came earlier this month, when the company moved into the children’s publishing book market through its purchase of Marshall Cavendish Children’s Books. The trade publishing list includes over 450 children’s books and the deal was made via Larry Kirshbaum’s publishing unit. One can only assume that acquisitions will follow.

Certainly there’s no arguing that Amazon has been a powerhouse since it launched amazon.com in 1995. As a retail player, it’s revolutionalised the book buying and selling business and of course Kindle has changed the way we read books — forever. And is it even necessary to mention what Kindle and ebooks have done for an author’s ability to self-publish?

So, has Amazon brought its transformation skills into the more traditional publishing sphere? Will its move into traditional publishing be a Midas touch for authors or the kiss of death? I believe that Amazon still requires ebook exclusivity – so an author’s book is only available online via Kindle. Will this change? As an author, I hope Amazon’s new imprints bring a new opportunity — there’s a new publisher in town, another publishing ‘house’ that agents can approach. At least, I hope that’s how it will turn out. But often when it comes to things like this, I lack insight :)

What do you think? And will other book retailers following Amazon’s footsteps?

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December 9, 2011

The allure of the short story

Filed under: Murderati blogs — Tags: , , — PD Martin @ 11:44 pm

Angela Savage and PD MartinToday I’d like to welcome Aussie author Angela Savage to my blog.

I’ve met Angela a couple of times on the mystery ‘scene’ and ran into her again at Sisters in Crime Australia’s Scarlet Stiletto Awards – Angela won the top honour of the night and I was there as the official presenter. You may also recognise Angela from my ‘photoshoot to kill for’ blog.

Given Angela’s first novel was written after an award-winning short story introducing her main protagonist, and that she’s written extremely successfully in both the short and long form, I asked Angela to blog about the short story and the novel. What attracts her to both forms? Does she approach them with a similar mind-set?

I’ve entered the Sisters in Crime Australia Scarlet Stiletto Awards short story competition twice, once in 1998 and again in 2011.

The first time I was an unpublished writer with an abandoned manuscript burning a hole in my filing cabinet. Short story competitions provided me with focus, opportunities to practice my craft and try something new. The Scarlet Stilettos held the particular appeal of being exclusively for women writers, with stories required to have an active woman protagonist.

In what was my first foray into crime fiction, I submitted a story called ‘The Mole on the Temple’ about an Australian expatriate detective called Jayne who exposes a card scam in Bangkok.

Behind the Night Bazaar coverMy story won third prize. More valuable than the prize money was the confidence this gave me to persevere with both the crime genre and the main character. Jayne went on to acquire the surname Keeney and became the hero of my first novel Behind the Night Bazaar published in 2006. The second book in the Jayne Keeney PI series The Half-Child followed in 2010 and I’m currently working on the third, working title The Dying Beach.

Funnily enough, Behind the Night Bazaar started life as a short story that just kept growing. I’ve since ‘cannibalised’—to use Raymond Chandler’s word—several of my early short stories for scenes or subplots in my novels.

I’m not the only author to have kick-started my writing career with a prize at the Scarlet Stilettos. So far 15 women, including category winners like me, have gone on to publish novels. But I’m the first established novelist in the 18-year history of the Scarlet Stiletto Awards to return to the scene and take home the coveted Scarlet Stiletto trophy.

scarlet-stiletto-2011So what made me decide to enter the competition again after a 13-year break?

Part of the motivation stems from a crisis I had earlier this year about whether I could call myself an ‘Australian writer’, when everything I’d written was set in Thailand in the 1990s, albeit featuring Australian characters. I challenged myself to set a story closer to home and the result was my winning entry for the 2011 Scarlet Stilettos, ‘The Teardrop Tattoos’ set in contemporary Melbourne. The plot, involving a restricted breed dog, became inadvertently topical when a four-year-old-girl was tragically killed in an attack by a pit bull terrier only weeks after I submitted the story to the competition.

As in 1998, the short story form gave me an opportunity to try something new. But this time around I have no desire to develop the characters or plots into a full-length novel.

Pound for pound, I find short stories harder and more time consuming to write than novels. Short stories and novels have different centres of gravity. Both need to hook readers in at the start, but the narratives have different arcs. Short stories are less forgiving. There’s no room for superfluous adjectives or adverbs.

With novels you can loiter a little, while the nuances of the story and characters play out. Short stories have to maintain the pace or they’re dead in the water.

Secretly, like an actor who longs to direct, I’d really like to write songs—to tell a whole story in three or four verses and a haunting refrain.

I’ll just have to keep practising.

Angela’s first book, Behind the Night Bazaar, won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award as an unpublished manuscript in 2004 and was shortlisted for the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Book in 2007. Her second novel, The Half-Child was shortlisted for the Ned Kelly in 2011 for Best Fiction. The Half-Child is available in Kindle version on Amazon or in hard copy through Text Publishing.

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December 8, 2011

The importance of cake

Filed under: Murderati blogs — PD Martin @ 11:43 pm

Yesterday was my daugther’s 5th birthday. We have a tradition in our family of celebrating birthdays for many days…and her 5th is no exception. So we started off on Sunday with my family coming over to celebrate. Then on the actual day (yesterday) she had ‘Cake in the Park’ with her pre-school friends. And on Sunday she’s having a fairy birthday party. Anyway, I decided to use yesterday as the practice run for my Fairy Princess Cake. I spent quite a bit of time researching this – recipes, cake tins (Dolly Varten) and decorating options.

I will post the recipe below, but first I wanted to show you the many stages of the cake decorating that went on early yesterday morning!

Stage 1: Banana cake baked and cooled (night before)


Stage 2:  Stick fairy Barbie into the cake (and also line the plate). Note: I’m afraid some of Barbie’s legs had to go. I know…cruelty to dolls is NOT a good sign! But it was off at the knees for this Fairy Barbie.


Stage 3: Pink cream cheese icing.


Stage 4: Fairy Barbie’s dress is iced!


Stage 5: Decorations (flowers)

Stage 6: Take a step back and bask in the glory. Especially when your husband laughed – loudly – when you first told him of the task at hand and showed him photos you were aiming to replicate!


So, the recipe:
4 oz butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp baking soda
3 tbsp milk
2 mashed bananas
1 ½ cups flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder

Cream the butter and sugar.  Add egg and beat well.  Dissolve soda in warm milk and mix in. Add mashed bananas.  Lastly, fold in the flour and baking powder.  Bake (45 mins) in a moderate oven (180C).

I doubled the recipe and cooking time for the Dolly Varten tin.

This video was extremely helpful:

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Too good to be true?

Filed under: Murderati blogs,Uncategorized,Writing — Tags: , , — PD Martin @ 11:17 pm

While I’ve never been one of those writers who paces for hours to come up with one sentence or spends six months planning out every detail of a book before I start writing, I’ve still always thought of writing as hard work. It is hard work.

CB064552Sure, there’s the fun stuff…writing in your pyjamas, the long commute from bedroom to study, tax-deductible trips to various destinations for research and/or promotion (although you have to be able to afford the flights in the first place), not to mention sitting in a café and writing. And sometimes cake does need to be involved! I don’t think anyone can argue that the above perks of the job are cool…way cool.  But it’s still bum on chair, thinking, creating and writing. And while it’s tempting to get up and procrastinate every time the flow stops, it’s not something I do.

In a post some time ago, I mentioned that I was working on a new book that’s not crime fiction. It’s not even a thriller or remotely related to my past work. I’m still getting my head around what I’d call it, but I think ‘mainstream fiction/drama’ is pretty accurate. The book is about relationships and how people deal with different traumas. I’m also entering another new world, using multiple viewpoints. And some of my subject matter is tense and issues-based…controversial, I guess.

keyboard1I started writing this book at the beginning of the year, and then it was on hold for months as I took corporate gigs to pay the bills. I started on the project again in October and soon found myself zooming through it. My writing week is often very fragmented as I fit it in around being a full-time mother (to a pre-schooler) and freelance writing gigs. But I’d find I’d have an hour to write…and write 1,000 words. And every Saturday I have four hours to write while my daughter is in classes. The last two Saturdays, I’ve written 5,000 words during each of those four-hour blocks. Two productive sessions, to say the least.

So, a couple of weeks ago I found myself asking the inevitable question. Is this too good to be true? Can writing really be this ‘easy’? Am I writing dribble that I won’t be able to edit into shape? I’m a write first, edit later kind of girl, so that’s fine. But will my bare bones be barer than usual? Or is it because the subject matter is close to my heart? One of the characters is experiencing something that I went through about eight years ago and I’m finding it easy to tap into that character and the others too for that matter.

I know my fellow Murderati,  Gar, wrote a post two weeks ago with pretty much the polar opposite sentiment of this one, and I think that highlights the different working processes of writers. But then I’m still left with the question: Too good to be true?

This feeling is compounded by the fact that I came to this project after six months off my own writing altogether, then writing a thriller that I found incredibly hard-going. The writing didn’t seem to come naturally to me and I wasn’t sure if it was the idea/characters or the fact I’d had six months off fiction writing. This new project certainly provides a stark contrast to writing the thriller.

So now I’m torn between two polar opposites.

  1. I’m writing what I’m “meant” to write. (Although this sounds a little cliché or dramatic…or something.) The flow and ‘ease’ is just an indication of that.
  2. It’s too good to be true.

Obviously the proof will be in the pudding. I’m now 70,000 words into the first draft, so the end is nigh and soon the major, major editing will start. Then I’ll have a better idea of how bare the bare bones are.

In the meantime, I wanted to throw this out to the Rati. Does good writing HAVE to be a hard slog? And if it flows incredibly easy, is that too good to be true?

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