Sunday, February 27, 2011

On Balefire II ... the next book that never happened

Bantam didn’t want me to write The Alchemist.  What they wanted me to write was Balefire II … that is, Balefire I, only different.  In retrospect, I can certainly understand their point of view.  A lot of very nice people bought copies of Balefire I, so it stood to reason that these hopefully-satisfied readers might want to pick up a very similar story with the same characters.  All I had to do was sit down and write it.

And yes, I suppose I could have done exactly that, thereby making my dismayed editor and ever-skeptical wife happy; but there were a couple of inherent problems in the project that would make the writing effort difficult at best.

Let me try to explain.

First of all, let me start by saying that I try to write my stories as realistically as I can in terms of police and federal agent procedures, tactics, weaponry and … well .. impacts.  In real life, if a person gets hit by a hollow-point pistol bullet at pretty much any significant -- but not lethal -- spot on their body (we’ll ignore finger and toe wounds) including any ‘bullet-resistent’ vests they might be wearing, they will almost certainly go down hard … mostly because of hydrostatic shock.

Re hydrostatic shock: what we’re talking about here is the momentum (mass times velocity) of the bullet impact causing 1) serious local tissue damage (ripping, tearing, smashing and/or breaking) at the impact point, and 2) a high velocity pressure wave traveling from the impact point through the blood stream and right up into the brain.  Having attended an unfortunate number of autopsies during my 12 years of assisting in homicide investigations, I often got to see the results of such bullet impacts first-hand.  Nothing quite like seeing the masssive -- and often fatal -- brain-hemorraging resulting from a supposedly non-incapacitating arm, shoulder, or leg wound to make you laugh when the TV and movie characters bounce right back up from multiple gunshot wounds and continue fighting as if they’d been hit by nothing worse than a few well-aimed baseballs.

And it’s a rare movie that accurately deplicts the stunning imact of a high velocity bullet against a Kevlar® vest, the real-life end result being a stunned cop (the crooks aren’t supposed to have access to such vests) with a ‘half-orange' or even 'half-grapefruit’ sized internal chest bruise that almost certainly broke or cracked his sternum and ribs before going on to seriously bruise his heart.

You going to bounce right back up and re-engage in the firefight after something like that?  No, probably not … especially if there’s any possibility at all that you can just lay there and moan while your partners deal with the bad guys and save the day.

And we won’t even go into the oft-shown scene where a person (cop or crook) fires a handgun inside an enclosed space – such as a car or room – without ear protection, and then continues to function as though his eardrums hadn’t been blown out with brain-stunning effect.  In point of fact, the simple foolish act of firing a pistol out at an open-air practice range without ear protection is enough to leave you with ringing ears for several hours … and probably  some degree of high-end hearing loss in the bargain.  I know.  I did it once, unintentionally, one shot.  Won’t ever do it again!

So what does all of that have anything at all to do with me writing Balefire II?

Well, the main problem I was facing was that – in trying to write Balefire I as realistically as I could – the casuality rate (defined as death or serious injury) amongst the good guys turned out to be pretty high … much to the dismay of my Huntington Beach cop buddies, I might add.  Setting aside the possibility of massive literary reserection and/or pulling some of the characters back out of likely medical retirement, Balefire II wasn’t going to be ‘Balefire I only different.’  Out of necessity, it would have to be a different story with mostly new characters.  Not exactly what my editor had in mind.

Having said all of that, I suppose I should confess that the real reason I didn’t want to write Balefire II had a lot more to do with Ian Fleming than the good-guy casuality rate in Balefire I.  I’d read an article in which Fleming was quoted as saying that he never wanted to write another James Bond novel again, mostly because he was sick of the character … but he really didn’t have any choice in the matter because his publishers kept offering him scads of money to churn out yet another James Bond episode.  Poor fellow.

I tried to explain all of this to dear wife, but she wasn’t even remotely sympathetic about Fleming’s supposed mental problems, much less mine …. even though she did concede that nobody was offering me scads of money to write Balefire II.  But the idea of getting pigeon-holed into writing about a single character was a little chilling from my admitted niaive POV.

And besides, I had a great idea for a completely different story with a completely different set of characters that I really couldn’t resist starting to write … mostly because the real-life events that inspired the story had resulted in a much more dangerous situation than I’d expected when I volunteered for the assignment.

In the next blog segment, I’ll try to explain why.

Friday, February 25, 2011


Okay, now that I'm back from some work- and granddaughter-soccer-tournament-related travel, it's time to re-engage with this Blog.

I probably should explain that I intended the next post to be about the origins of my second book, THE ALCHEMIST; but a recent article about Arizona Senator Gabrielle Gifford's amazing recovery from a gunshot wound to the head caught my attention.  The article explained how her therapists were using music to help her recover her memories.

Why would this catch my attention?  Because a year or so ago, a friend sent me a book titled 'THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON MUSIC' (The Science of a Human Obsession) by neuroscientist Daniel Levitin.  To say I found the book fascinating barely describes my feelings ... although I have to confess that a goodly part of my fascination dealt with the fact the Levitin was a rock musician who decided to begin studying neuroscience (just as the former rock musician friend who sent me the book had done), and ended up at UCSD with Dr. Watson of DNA-discovery fame a year or so before I was there.  In fact, the book describes his interaction with Watson in a small library/conference room that I was studying in a year or so later ... so I felt a weird sense of 'kinship' with Levitin, even though my own knowledge of neuroscience and music is, to put it mildly, minimal.

Another reason I was fascinated: several years ago, at the suggestion of another (author-type) friend, I started using music as a way of quickly 'getting into the flow' of writing -- a common problem of most authors I know who are frustrated by the time it takes them to actually get their creative processes going once they plant themselves in front of their computers.  Note: I pay no attention to my author friends who write their manuscripts with pens, pencils or typewriters, figuring that anyone who is that masochistic probably has other problems that I don't want to dwell on either.

Anyway, I quickly discovered that 60's rock music played by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra works great for me ... no vocals, just the wonderful music!  I've got 3 DVDs of their classic rock songs that I mix before playing so my brain doesn't anticipate the next song.  All I have to do is pull up my latest manuscript on the computer, put of the stereo headphones, hit 'PLAY' ... and 30 seconds later, I'm deep into my writing.  Have no idea why this works (my theory is that the lazy part of my brain that really doesn't want to write -- because writing is actually hard work -- quits complaining because it's soothed by the music), but I don't really care as long as it does.

So why are rock musicians (at least, presumably, the ones who haven't fried their brains with an assortment of illicit/home-made drugs) drawn to neuroscience?  After reading Levitin's book and talking with my friend, it seems apparent that their possession of 'perfect pitch' is the thing that drives them to figure out how and why the brain obsesses on music.  So what they do in the way of research is hook up a test subject to a fMRI (a machine that, among other things, measures the change in blood flow to specific areas of the brain), put on different types of music, and thereby learn how difference parts of the human brain respond to rhythm, tone, beat, resonance and all of the other components of what we call 'music.'  And then they branch out into researching how music (even a couple of notes) can trigger memories much in the way that smells do, only musical notes seem to have far more complexity (see rhythm, tone, beat, resonance, etc) ... the idea being if you hear a couple of notes with the precise set of 'harmonics', it can trigger a memory of a song you heard played many years ago.

All of the above was suddenly interesting to me because I was trying to figure out how to write FINAL DISPOSITION (the third book in my FIRST EVIDENCE series) in a way that provided some crucial suspense and uneasy anticipation --- difficult because an awful lot was given away in the first two books --- when I realized that it would work great if my hero, Henry Culver, woke up with a huge void in his memory ... which allowed me to use music and the sound of familiar voices to gradually trigger his past memories and help keep him alive and more-or-less upright to the finale.

This also gave me an opportunity to add a sensuous nurse with a very resonant voice into the mix, along with an off-the-wall-nutso radio host, a hellfire-and-damnation televangelist who froths at the very idea of visiting ETs, a homeless vet with a ear for voices, and a bunch of crazy Oregon folks who really want to believe.  It was a lot of fun to write.  Hope you all enjoy it.

Side note: FINAL DISPOSITION is currently only available as a eBook (via,, Apple, etc); but my literary agent is hopeful of finding an agreeable publisher to print it out in paperback form some day.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


A 'balefire' is a signal or warning fire, often placed on high ridges on fearsomely stormy nights to warn ships of impending danger ... an apt title for my first published novel because it was all about fear and impending danger in which fire played a key role.

The theme of BALEFIRE is terrorism ... or, more specifically, the idea that a lone terrorist is perfectly capable of blending into the population of a relatively small beach community (like Huntington Beach, CA) and taking on the local police department with ease as he prepares to ignite a highly visual demonstration against the coming Olympics in LA.

As it happened, I was the chief criminalist in charge of the HBPD's Scientific Investigation Bureau at the time I began writing BALEFIRE.  The inspiration: a highly educational lecture by Chief Earle Robitaille --- a former federal agent and expert on terrorism --- who was annoyed because he didn't think we were taking his concerns about terrorist activities on the outer perimeter of the Olympics seriously.  After reading some of his books on terrorism, I had a sense of what a terrorist might be and might need in the way of resources ... but I couldn't understand how one individual --- no matter how skilled and daring --- could penetrate our security, much less take all two hundred of us on and win.  Robitaille smiled, asked for my badge and credentials, and then told me to put myself in the mind of a lone terrorist, go out into the city as a civilian, and see how easily it could be done.  Twenty-four hours later, I was a believer.  And by forty-eight, I was ready to start digging a moat around the police building ... and our house.

I won't go into the details of what Chief Robitaille told me, or what I found in my 'covert civilian' wanderings around the city.  You'll have to read the book to find that out.  Suffice it to say I became progressively more fightened as I wrote the book ... wondered if I should even try to get it published (Robitallie said yes, do try, because I wouldn't be telling the professional terrorists anything new and the public needed to know) ... watched in amazed disbelief when Bantam published the story and it became a NY Times best-seller ... lived thorough the 1984 Olympics in dread fear of some idiot trying to replicate the events of BALEFIRE with a copy of my book tucked into his backpack.

I relaxed when the Olympics were finally over .. and stayed that way until a federal agent buddy of mine sent me an eye-opening review of a new book:

From the non-fiction book THE SILENT BROTHERHOOD (The Chilling Inside Story of America’s Violent Anti-Government Militia Movement):  “When the FBI entered the house, it was like hitting the Comstock Lode.  As the agents swarmed through the house, Anderson was invited to join them.  Inside, he saw an open book on a bed.  The book was Kenneth Goddard’s BALEFIRE , about a terrorist planning to strike at the Los Angeles Olympic Games.  Certain sections were underlined in red.”

Not what I wanted to hear at all.

It's been many years since THE SILENT BROTHERHOOD came out, and as far as I know, no terrorist or wanna-be idiot has tried to replicate the events in BALEFIRE.  And, in retorspect, I don't think they'd want to.

Why do I say that?

Well, without giving too much away, let me explain that as a young kid living in San Diego (CA) county, I spent a lot of time at the local beaches body surfing ... and trying not to think too much about the White Sharks that roamed the very deep waters of the near-by Continental Shelf.  And since BALEFIRE is all about fear, I didn't see anything wrong with including some of my own fears into the plot.  So there is a shark theme and analogy in BALEFIRE ... the general idea being if you're out in the water, and the shark comes at you on the surface, you've got a chance to fight back; but if it comes at you from beneath the surface, your chances of survival are slim to none.

That would be Thanatos, the shark in cold human form.

There are a couple of 'water' scenes in BALEFIRE that still make me twitch a bit, often causing me to think that it would be great if some movie company bought the book and filmed those scenes ... even though I probably wouldn't be able to watch them in a darkened theater ... so I was only vaguely disappointed to learn that it was highly unlikely they ever would be filmed because of the cost.

That was before AV Pictures (UK) bought the rights to film BALEFIRE in 2010, and just recently teamed up with Stewart & Wall --- an Australian Film Company that has already produced some scary shark-themed movies --- to actually film the movie in Australia.

So will I actually watch the film version of BALEFIRE in a darkened theater if they make it as realistic as the book version ... which, I gather, they're perfectly capable of doing?

We'll see...

Greetings ...

2011 is undoubtedly going to be an interesting year for me, mostly because I've started doing things that I swore I'd never do ... starting with buying an eBook reader, and moving right on to Facebooking, Tweeting and Blogging.  Took the combined efforts of dear wife, daughter and granddaughter to drag me out of my simple fiction-writing 'cave' where I've been more-or-less happily writing my novels over the past twenty-five plus years and into the social networking world ... much as the young forensic scientists are doing with us 'dinosaurs' at the National Fish & Wildlife Forensics Lab where I maintain a day job.

So I bought a Kindle, and love it ... and I've tried to maintain two personas on Facebook (Ken Goddard & Ken Goddard Novels) with the help of my cheerfully tough soccer goalie granddaughter, and really enjoy the ability to keep up with the activities of distant family and friends old and new ... and cautiously tried tweeting a couple of times (jury is still out on that one) ... and am now taking that final step 'over the edge' with a blog to try to explain a lot of things regarding my work (wildlife forensics & coral reef CSI) and my books.

Is this a good idea?  Yeah, I'm sure it is ... at least to the extent of hopefully getting new readers interested in my novels, and to force myself into yet another new 'unknown environment' ... which is what CSI is really all about.  And it's probably a good way of reaching out to the people around the planet who know something about the problems we're trying to resolve at the lab ... like how to apply land-based CSI techniques (something I've done a lot of over the past 40 years) to damaged coral reefs.

So, here's my plan: in the blogs to follow, I'm going to talk about some of the real-life people and incidents that were the basis for my gory/violent stories ... and I'm going to describe some of the things I'm doing with my day job, such as trying to figure out how to come up with a floating evidence location tag that will do everything I want it to do underwater in in moving ocean currents ... and how I'm gradually adjusting to the idea that things that bite will continue to show up at my underwater crime scenes.

So, if those sorts of things interest you (I've come to understand that a goodly number of my long-time friends have taken a cheerfully morbid interest in my activities, especially if pain, suffering and cussing is involved), please stay tuned ... don't hesitate to offer cheerful suggestions.

It should be an interesting year ...