A Dream Visit to SVU –by Elexa Nosonchuk

SVU is on a hiatus this week, but this story will make you love the show even more.  This guest post is by Elexa Nosonchuk, one of the biggest SVU fans on the planet.  She visited the set last year via the Dream Foundation.  Here is her inspiring story.  Thanks for sharing this with us, Elexa!  You made me laugh, cry, and … breathe.

elexa mariska breathe pic


I have a progressive lung disease that will eventually kill me. The only things that have kept me alive for the last 2 years are experimental treatments, including chemotherapy and steroids. They each have their own side effects which wreak havoc on my body. One of the few things left in my life that I’m able to enjoy is television, and my favorite show is Law & Order: SVU!! I love the show and the inspiring, encouraging message it gives. SVU reruns are constantly on TV and I never get tired of watching them! A few years back, when asked to figure out what one thing I would like as a life wish, it was an easy answer, and thanks to the amazing people at The Dream Foundation (an organization that gives dreams to adults with life threatening illnesses) I was given the opportunity to visit New York so I could go to the filming of the 300th episode of SVU and meet Mariska Hargitay and the cast! Mariska, the driving force behind the show’s message – that sexual assault and domestic violence are never ok – is the show’s star, and my favorite TV actress! When I asked to meet her, I thought I might get to say hi to her for a few minutes and experiencing the city would be the biggest part of my trip, but the people at Dream Foundation and SVU made it so much more!

It started with a private tour of the set at Chelsea Pier. The entire way into the building I was freaking out; I even took a picture of the floor of the elevator. I was able to see each part of the set and got to sit in the judge’s seat in the courtroom. I sat in the interrogation room and watched segments of the episode film. I had multiple moments where I freaked out because I was so excited about everything I was seeing! Every time I passed by one of the actors on set they would stop and take a picture with me and talk to me! Everyone was so extraordinarily nice!! I must have been beet red the entire visit. One of my favorite parts of the visit was meeting the puppies – the actors bring their dogs to work – and I am definitely a dog person!! After meeting most of the cast and crew, there was a little party with cake and photo opportunities for the 300th episode. I was allowed to take a picture with the cast in front of the cake, during which I’m glad I didn’t pass out! I met Dick Wolf, who I didn’t realize was going to be there. I told him all about how I have seen every episode and he indulged my star-struck, wide-eyed freak out.


We started walking toward Mariska’s dressing room to see if I could finally get my meet and greet with my hero, and we ended up accidentally running into her as we turned a corner. I literally ran into her. I started giggling uncontrollably and doubled over because I couldn’t breathe (remember, I have bad lungs) and she asked, jokingly, if she needed to walk away so I could breathe again. Obviously, I said no!! We were able to sit and talk for a little while and it was so amazing. She wanted to know all about my disease and she took such a real interest, even tearing up multiple times. I was in total disbelief at how amazingly well the day was going. After hearing my story, Mariska got an idea and asked us to follow her to her dressing room. On her wall she had a frame with white paper in it which had the word “Breathe” drawn on it. She told me the story behind this drawing – she made it during an incident where she had a collapsed lung, and she hung it above her door so she could see it whenever she left her dressing room. She took it down, signed the back of it (ending with, “You are a badass. Never forget that”) and gave it to me. We both cried. She also gave me the ‘Fearlessness’ necklace that she was wearing!!! She wears it in every episode, and is a symbol of her Joyful Heart Foundation – and she gave it to ME!!! Again, we both cried. It was such a surreal feeling to be anywhere near her; I couldn’t believe how perfect the day was.

elexa mariska breathe

I was also able to bring the cast some bracelets that I had been selling that say “Just Breathe.” I was sure none of them would actually wear the bracelets, or that the bracelets would break too easily because they were just made of stretchy string, but I still watched every episode after that looking for the bracelet on one of their wrists. It took me about a year – I don’t know how I missed it the first time I saw the episode – but I finally caught a glimpse of my bracelet on Mariska’s wrist in the episode titled, “Vanity’s Bonfire” from 11/14/12 (have I mentioned how much I love Mariska?!). I haven’t noticed the bracelet on any other episode, but I may have just missed it. The last thing I left with my mark on it was a Dream Foundation hat that Kelli Giddish asked me to sign for her. I was so excited that she wanted my autograph, and she said she would wear the hat in her next marathon. I’m not sure if she ever did, but I hope so!!

Elexa Nosonchuk & Danny Pino

I don’t think it’s possible to explain what that trip meant to me. I’ve been trying not to ramble while I type this because I just want to say all of the incredible things that happened in my quick-talking, excited way that makes everyone tell me to calm down. I was invited back, but since I don’t live in New York, I’ll just have to cherish the memories I already have. Danny Pino has been awesome enough to keep in touch with me on Twitter. Every time I get a message from him it makes my stomach jump and I feel the excitement of being on the set all over again. I wish I had taken more pictures, but I was way too excited to think straight. I don’t know if any of the SVU cast and crew remember that day for anything other than it being the 300th episode. I like to think someone other than Danny might remember me, but I understand that they meet fans all the time. I am so grateful for my trip and the memories I’ll always have! I wish I had a word to explain how excited I was all day, but no words exist.

The Emergency Sasquatch Ordinance

What have you been doing with SVU off the air? Watching a lot of hockey?  I’ve been desperately trying to finish writing my next book (the deadline is in  nine days — gulp!) and reading an awesome legal humor book during breaks (while standing at the counter eating peanut-butter bagels).

“The Emergency Sasquatch Ordinance” is the first book by lawyer/blogger Kevin Underhill, the man who consistently wins the “Fun” category in the ABA’s legal blog rankings.  If you’ve read his blog, Lowering the Bar, you know he has a hilarious, clever take on the most absurd legal happenings every day.  If you don’t read his blog, go do it now.  I’ll wait.  Funny, right? [Read more...]

Win 2 Tickets to the Icing Smiles Gala

My friend Tracy Quisenberry is an amazing woman who started a nonprofit called Icing Smiles, which delivers custom cakes to families impacted by the critical illness of a child. To date, they’ve provided cakes and treats to 2,000 families.


icing smiles cake at hospital icing smiles cake



icing smiles i kicked cancers butt

Tracey Quisenberry, founder of Icing Smiles

Tracy Quisenberry











On Saturday, February 2, 2013, Icing Smiles will throw its Second Annual Gala at the Oak Room in Sandy Spring, MD, from 7:00-11:00 p.m.  The event will feature light hors d’oeurves, live entertainment, a silent auction, and dessert (believe me, these people know how to do dessert!).  My husband and I can’t wait to go!

Icing Smiles Gala Poster

I’m giving away two tickets (normally $150), to one of my readers. If you’re interested, leave a comment here noting your favorite cake flavor. One reader’s name will be randomly drawn from a hat next Tuesday.

Need Inspiration? Take a Vacation.

Many of my writer friends are, like me, working parents: juggling literary careers and the intense, non-stop logistical operation that is running a family.  We’re good at keeping dozens of balls in the air – but the first one dropped is usually time for ourselves.

That’s a mistake.  Taking a moment just for yourself – doing what you love, what makes your blood rush, what makes you grin like an idiot – is key to everyone’s sanity.  I think this is especially true for folks in creative jobs.  It may be a key to inspiration.

I’d been searching for that inspiration for the last two months.  I finished my third novel (“Speak of the Devil”) around Thanksgiving, and had been brainstorming my next book’s concept ever since.  But I was exhausted from rushing to meet my deadline and getting ready for the holidays.  In two months, I’d outlined several decent ideas, but none were inspired; none had that Big Book feel.

So I planned a vacation.

swimming with the fishes

Back in the day, my husband and I were adventure travelers: trekking to remote outposts, drinking snake-blood martinis, scuba diving among sunken army tanks. But now I have two little sons.  This time, I bowed to parenthood and booked a Jamaican resort featuring roving Sesame Street characters. [Read more...]

New Year’s Resolutions – for writers and their protagonists

It’s New Year’s Eve!  Time to reflect on the past year – goals met, triumphs won, mistakes made, lessons learned.  Despite their short shelf life, I like New Year’s resolutions.  They hold an optimistic sort of grit – each year presents a new opportunity to remake ourselves through the act of sheer willpower.

Plus, when you think about what you’d like to change, you may just learn something you about yourself.  That’s why writers should consider resolutions not only for ourselves, but also for our protagonists. [Read more...]

Lawyers and Prostitutes: A Comparative Analysis

What’s the difference between a lawyer and a prostitute? (Seriously.) (Actually, not that seriously.) Check out my comparative analysis on Above the Law.

How To Write Realistically About Crime

Last week, Pocket editor Abby Zidle stopped by to talk about the top 5 mistakes that crime writers make.  So, how can a crime writer make her story sparkle, while getting those authentic details right?  Here are some suggestions.

1. Talk to real-life sources.

Know a lawyer or police officer? Ask her about your scene. Don’t know one? Most police stations have a public relations branch that will put you in touch with someone who can answer your questions. Many will allow you to do a ride-along, going in the marked cruiser while a patrol officer does his shift. This is a wealth of how-to information.

Most cops and prosecutors love telling war stories. Be respectful, ask questions, follow up with thankful emails. You may find you have more stories than you can use!

2. Tour your local police facility

Many police stations offer the public the opportunity to visit the station and tour the facilities. For many years, the Baltimore City Police Department had a whole series of tours set up where you could see the coroner’s office, police station, or crime lab. You’ll see the kind of details you simply cannot get anywhere else.

3. Visit a courthouse, watch a trial.

Trials are public, and they can be good entertainment in addition to a wealth of information. Go for a specific trial, or simply poke your head into a bunch of different courtrooms. Each one will have its own ambiance. Some courtrooms are cattle calls of a dozen misdemeanor cases, while others may be holding a major homicide trial or a multi-defendant federal racketeering case. You’ll get a sense for how lawyers ask questions, how witnesses answer, and how the courtroom feels.

4. Consult books on criminal law.

An excellent book on getting the legal details right is Leslie Budewitz’s “Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law and Courtroom Procedure.” It won an Agatha last year and is a thoughtful, easy-to-understand how-to manual.

5. Check your terms.

In New York, the main trial court is confusingly called the Supreme Court, while highest court is called the Court of Appeals. A writer unsure of terminology can call the court, check its website, or consult the National Center for State Courts website (www.ncsconline.org) – its  directory shows the structure and names of all state courts.  Another trick: call a law professor in the state you’re writing about.

6. Read the local papers.

Once you’ve chosen the jurisdiction where your story is set, read the local papers for that area. You’ll quickly get a sense of the terminology for that jurisdiction. The stories also reveal local quirks that give a story a sense of place and realism.

7. Walk your city.

Go behind the scenes, beyond the parts you’d see on a bus tour. Touch the pavement and see the streets you’re writing about. Visit the real places where your scenes are set. Ask for a tour. When organizations hear that you’re a writer, they’re often happy to chat with you and get the free publicity.

8. Talk to people.

Strike up conversations with people you wouldn’t normally chat with. Have the courage to ask questions. And then really listen to their answers. Get to know them, where they’re coming from, and what makes them tick. Then use what you’ve learned to create your characters and make them real.

9. Use the Internet

There’s nothing like the experience of actually being in the real place you’re writing about. But if you just can’t make it there, you can find information online covering everything from police terminology, forensics, government sites, and guns. Here are a couple sites that have a great database listing lots of different sources:

Internet Research Resources for Mystery and Crime Writers:  http://www.writerswrite.com/journal/feb99/gak12.htm

Exploring Web Resources for Crime: http://bloodredpencil.blogspot.com/2010/04/exploring-web-resources-for-crime.html

Good luck and have fun!


Five mistakes that can make a story look criminally stupid — by Abby Zidle

The wonderful Abby Zidle is the paperback editor of my first novel, “Law of Attraction.”  Abby and I recently went to the Romance Writers of America national conference, where we presented a seminar called “Criminal Mistakes: what crime novels and TV shows often get wrong.”  I spoke about many of the topics we’ve covered here on this blog.  Abby discussed the mistakes that make her cringe when reading a manuscript.  I’ve gotten lots of requests to post Abby’s speech, so here it is —  with thanks to Abby for letting me reprint it here.  

Crime writers, take note of Abby’s Top 5 mistakes, and avoid getting these things criminally wrong!  

1. I have a secret, but I can’t tell you.

When your protagonist overhears the bad guys explaining a key plot point, but chooses not to share that information with anyone. When the victim tells the investigator he has no idea who’d want him dead, and leaves off that business partner we saw threaten him two pages ago. If you’re going to let us know that one of your characters is keeping a secret, you’d better have a good reason for it.

2. I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.

So you’re at the climactic scene in your book, and the protagonist has been captured by the villain. All the baddie needs to get away scot-free is to shoot your guy in the head and skip town. So what does he do? Decides to have a little chat in which he confesses every detail of his plan because “What does it matter? I’m going to kill you anyway.” Ok, Dread Pirate Roberts, thanks for sharing. Please, try to find a way to avoid or overturn this cliché—your readers will thank you.

3. Oh noes! My cell phone/GPS/Interwebz is down!

I know, I know, these things happen. They do. But when they happen in your book, it can’t feel like they happen just so that you can get to page 384. If you need your person to be incommunicado, establish a good reason for it. Did she flee the bad guy and was forced to leave her purse behind? Is she living in a remote mountain cabin to get away from it all, and has to drive down to the general store when she wants to make a call? If you set it up well, I’ll believe you. But if your protagonist is a type-A perfectionist who dots every i and crosses every t, no, she didn’t just forget to charge her phone last night!

4. Don’t go in the house!

We’ve all seen them—the “too stupid to live” characters. Just like in your favorite bad horror movies, these protagonists are constantly ignoring advice, orders and common sense in their efforts to dash headlong into trouble. When the cops tell the “plucky” journalist at the crime scene, “Let us do our job,” and she starts investigating, only to get snagged by a crime ring? I say, “She had it coming.” Mind you, there are good reasons for your protag to strike out on her own—just make sure you’ve established them.

5. Too many red herrings in this tank.

You know whodunit—great! And you also know you need some likely suspects who didn’t do it. But we don’t need to meet every single one of those suspects in one overstuffed chapter. And we do need to meet them occasionally thereafter. Nothing says “guilty” like the snippy secretary who gets a really long scene in Chapter 3 and then disappears until Chapter 27.

Abby Zidle is a senior editor at Gallery and Pocket Books, where she acquires a variety of commercial fiction and nonfiction. She always charges her cell phone.