Thursday, October 8, 2015

Bouchercon 2015 - Welcome to Raleigh!

Bouchercon 2015 is upon us and so is my first trip to beautiful Raleigh, North Carolina. More about the panels later, but first up, pictures!

Gotta have the obligatory "view from my room" pics:

View to the right.

There's a lot of construction going on in downtown
Raleigh. This building, right across the street, is
either new or being remodeled - notice the empty floors.

View to the left.

Morning view.

Wandering around.

The Sir Walters Apartments for seniors.

Why thank you, Marriott Raleigh City Center!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Writers' Police Academy - a wrap up

I didn't get the names of all the participants of Sunday morning's debriefing panel, plus I had to leave before it was over to catch my shuttle to the airport, but here's some interesting info I picked up while I was there:

  • The Feds coming in and taking over investigations from local law enforcement is largely a myth, at least in the trenches. Might be an issue with higher-ups. In fact, the Feds have money and resources many local municipalities don't have, which makes them welcome.
  • Some mistakes newly-minted detectives often make that can cost them their jobs: So excited, they barge into a scene and can destroy evidence or rushing into an interview unprepared, and getting romantically involved with witnesses. 
  • Can take hours for the medical examiner to arrive on scene.
  • Facial recognition software is easy to beat with makeup, hats and sunglasses.
  • Arrests have been made because idiot criminals like to post pictures of themselves on social media, bragging about their actions. Apparently it happens a lot.
  • Cold cases: Once leads stop coming in, they have to close it down until something new comes in, however cases are never officially closed, but are considered "unsolved", unless the statute of limitations is reached.

This was WPA's first year at this facility, and we were told several times that the local voters had approved a $60 million dollar plan to build it. It's pretty new, so everything is very state of the art. And have I mentioned they have a plane?

Also, I'll be adding more pictures to Flickr (including a truckload of K-9 pics) over the next few days.

Here's a great post about how the new location/facility came about: The Making of the WPA. Kudos to the volunteers - it's amazing that so few people put this amazing event together. And we're going back to Appleton next year! Next WPA is August 11-14, 2016.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Writers' Police Academy - Day 3, Part 3 (Saturday)

Sorry for the delay, this one kind of got lost. Plus, I had to go through a couple million K-9 pics. He's really photogenic.

For me, one of the highlights of WPA is getting to see a K-9 unit in action.

K-9 (Instructors: Bob Zill and Franz)

Franz. Putting the "German" in German Shepherd.

  • Bill and Franz work for a a neighboring police force. There are three dogs in the department - one for each shift - and they aren't friendly. Three alpha males do not equal BFFs. Franz is also not interested in being friends with Officer Zill's wife's pug.
  • Bill and Franz have been together about a year. Franz is three years old and barring injury or illness should be able to work until he's nine or ten. He was imported from Germany.
  • Vests worn by K-9s offer the same level of protection as those worn by officers. They're expensive, but it's a show of the regard in which the dogs are held by the public that a local teenage girl staged a dance and raised the funds for Franz's vest in 45 minutes.
  • Franz is trained to search for a number of narcotics, apprehension by bite (the dogs are taught to grab the nearest body part available and hang on), tracking via scent and ground disturbance, building and area searches and handler protection.

We got to see two demonstrations, one in which Franz looked for and found drugs that had been planted in a vehicle, and apprehension/bite.

That pot never had a chance.

This did not turn out as bad as it could,
but once we knew the guy kept his balls,
it was funny.

A job well done.

Friday, September 18, 2015

It is to laugh

Assignments for the second challenge of the first round are up for NYC Midnight's Flash Fiction Challenge. And I think my group's assignment is hilarious:

My last few trips through LAX's baggage claim have not gone smoothly. Perhaps I can find the humor in them. And a tuna sandwich.

Update: Sorry to have to report that I came up empty on this one. That's only happened once before with this competition. Usually, I'll come up with something at the last minute, but not this time around.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

You know, I felt sorry for the Texas breifcase clock kid until facts

When I first heard about this story (and by heard about, I mean just the headline), I thought it was going to be another example of this kind of crap. You know, knee-jerk PC crap over a kid doing innocent, unintentional kid stuff. Then I actually read the story and saw a picture of the "clock" he built.

This is a picture of the clock in my dining room:

This is the clock on my stove:

And the clock on my microwave:

You get the idea.

Now, this next picture is not of a clock. It's a picture of a suitcase bomb:

Pic snicked from here.

And now, the "clock" made by that kid in Texas:

Pic snicked from here.

Go ahead, tell me what time it is according to that thing.

Yeah, suddenly this story takes on a whole new dimension. Like, it was completely understandable that they thought it might be something other than a clock. In fact, if my kid was at that school, I would be pissed that they didn't evacuate the school and call the cops and bomb squad immediately.

Then you know who had to weight in:

Maybe next time Mr. Science Genius decides to build a clock, he can make it actually look somewhat clock-like, as opposed to decidedly bomb-like. Maybe something that doesn't look like an item that would send the Secret Service into a panic.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Holy shit - 13 points = third place!!!

Psychological horror worked! This is the highest placing I've had in this competition.

I'm heartened by this for so many reasons. I want to advance in this competition, because I haven't been able to do it before; it's been a challenge. I didn't do a predictable slasher story. I thought it was actually a good, frightening story. I colored outside the lines and it didn't backfire on me. I'm really happy about this.

This weekend is part two of round one, and this score gives me a good chance to make it to the next round if I can score decently on my next story (top five combined scores in the group get to advance).

One, two three.

Wow. Just so boggled by this. All smiles.

Feedback should be available next week. Can't wait :)

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The adventures of Sophie at the vets office

Seriously. I mean, look at that. Adorbs.
In tonight's episode, we put a cat on a bland diet! Don't forget to set your DVRs!

Despite being as ridiculously adorable as ever - and not acting sick at all - in the past few weeks Sophie has been doing her best impression of a world-class barf machine. It seemed like every morning during the past several weeks, I awoke to a new pile of extremely unwelcome kitty barf on my carpet. Her range seemed to be limited to the hallway and part of the living room right off the dining room, but we're still talking a lot of kitty barf and a lot of cleaning up to do. It didn't help that I got sick myself last weekend. We were both hurling like champs, although I managed not to mess up the carpet. But cleaning up kitty barf on a good day is stomach churning, having to do it when my stomach was already churning on its own just added insult to injury.

Most of the kitty barfing appeared to be taking place during the night so that there would be a fresh deposit to greet me in the morning, but Sunday evening around 7pm Sophie started up with the heaving and I decided that enough was enough. She was due to go in for her annual checkup this month anyway, so as she furnished my carpet with a few new spots of bile, I got online and made an appointment with the vet.

I honestly thought her problem was just overeating. I switched her to Iams a few years ago on the vet's advice, and she seems to like it just fine. She gets two cans a day (am and pm) and sometimes she eats it all, sometimes she picks and leaves quite a bit of to be thrown out. She also has dry food out all the time, so no matter what, she's not going to go hungry, especially when you consider that she clocks in at around ten pounds and also gets more excited about dry food than any other animal I've ever seen. A few months back Iams came out with a new and apparently delish line of food, because next thing you know, she's polishing off every bit of it. And although the new food has been around for a few months and the puking didn't really start in earnest until the last few weeks, in my infinite wisdom I figured that was the cause - she was eating herself sick. Which is probably why I'm not a veterinarian.

So we scored a quick Monday afternoon appointment. Fun fact: Our vet always requests a fecal sample. First vet I've had that did that. So I raided the cat box, but who wants to carry around cat poop in a clear plastic bag? Not this girl. So I cleverly hid it in a festive Brighton bag:

The only time you'll ever find something
inexpensive in a Brighton bag. No kidding, 

there is actual cat shit in there.

Then Dr. Thatcher, who is awesome by the way, gave her a very groping abdominal exam but didn't find anything out of the ordinary. In fact, he told me that if I hadn't mentioned her recent barf factory activity, he wouldn't have noticed anything off about her.

Awesome Dr. Thatcher also didn't seem to put much stock in my overeating theory. Apparently excessive vomiting in cats can be caused by any number of issues, but since he didn't find any visible physical causes, he decided to start with her diet. Maybe the new line of food has an ingredient that not only makes it uber-tasty going down, but triggers it to come back up. So he started talking about putting her on a bland diet.

I had never heard of a bland diet for cats. And I wondered how, exactly, do you put a cat on a bland diet? Well, now I know:

That's right: Baby food. Meat flavored
baby food.

Turns out Sophie won't eat baby food straight, so I'm mixing it with the canned food. Also, I've been instructed to dole her food out to her in small, frequent meals, so Sophie is officially high maintenance. No simple twice-a-day feedings for her anymore!

The good news is, the first day has gone well. She hasn't barfed since Sunday night and Dr. Thatcher called this afternoon to let me know her blood, urine and Brighton kitty poop tests all came back clear. So we're going to see how the diet thing goes, but happily, it seems that despite the kitty vomit orgy of the past few weeks, Sophie is apparently good to go as she enters the second decade of her ridiculously photogenic life.

Resistance is futile.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Writers' Police Academy - Day 3, Part 2 (Saturday)

Saturday, continued.

Overview of Forensic Psychology (Dr. Katherine Ramsland)
Dr. Ramsland again, and if I had my life to live over, this is probably the field I'd think about going into, or at least giving it a shot over being an office drone. Some points from the session:
  • When the legal system and psychology intersect, you have forensic psychology.
  • To serve as an expert witness, one must be credible, competent, prepared, objective and know the procedures and expectations of the court.
  • Sanity is a legal term, not a medical one. Regardless of an individual's mental state, the only question legally is whether or not they know that their actions were wrong and would have consequences. She cited notorious Canadian killer Luka Magnotti as an example - despite the heinousness of his actions, he fled and used fake names, a sign he knew police would be after him and was trying to avoid detection.
  • Not guilty by reason of insanity = not responsible for actions, so the person is not held criminally accountable. Not used as often and doesn't work as often as the public perceives.

In a famous murder case, 15 year old Tim Masters was
wrongly convicted because of his violent drawings.
DNA evidence exonerated him after he served nine years. 

They actually use these. I see seahorses,
so I'm probably harmless.


Advanced Fingerprinting (Instructor: Dan Feucht)
Super Glue fuming is a real thing. It was discovered that one of the ingredients, cyanoachylate, when warmed, reacts to fingerprint residue, leaving a visible print that can not only be lifted, but can also provide DNA. However, you don't want to heat it above 270 degrees - it will produce cyanide.

Bottle fuming in progress.

Next up: The obligatory five thousand K-9 of the year pics.

Monday, August 31, 2015

August reading

So I've decide I need to stop buying books and filing them away for some other nebulous time when I'll be able to get to them, and actually get to them. And of course, blog about it at the end of each month. Welcome to August!

Final count: 6 books.

The Shape of Things (Neil LaBute)
I love reading plays, but for some reason I have a lot of trouble envisioning how they might have looked on the stage. So after reading this I had to see the film version, which kept the play's quartet of original actors (Rachel Weisz, Paul Rudd, Gretchen Mol and Frederick Weller) intact. Having read it, I knew what to expect at the end, but it was still wretched. The Shape of Things is an unpleasant tale of heartless manipulation masquerading as the work of a pretentious, self-absorbed "artist", but it was still fascinating, in a train wreck kind of way. LaBute's refusal to use upper-case letters in the play's text was also kind of annoying.

"as for me, i have no regrets or feelings of remorse for my actions, the manufactured emotions...none of it. i have always stood by the single and simple conceit that i am a artist. only that. i follow in a long tradition of artists who believe there is no such concept as religion, or government, community or even family. there is only art. art that must be created, whatever the cost."

Honeymoon (James Patterson and Howard Roughan)
Patterson's original outline for this 2005 novel was included as part of our text for his MasterClass, which I started this month. Reading the outline made me really want to read the book. It's a black widow story and although the international espionage sub-plot kind of lost me, it was addictive - I had trouble putting it down and got through it in just a few days.

"The police didn't suspect a thing. She had committed the perfect murder. Again."

On Writing (Stephen King)
Considered one of the best writing books out there, On Writing was originally published in 2000, with an updated version issued in 2010. I'd bought it some time ago, but never got around to reading it, so when the MasterClass had an online book club meeting to discuss it, I busted it out and plowed through it in two sittings. Amazing book. If you have any interest at all in writing, this is a must-have.

"I can't remember many cases where I felt I had to describe what the people in a story looked like - I'd rather let the reader supply the faces, the builds, and the clothing as well. If I tell you that Carrie White is a high school outcast with a bad complexion and a fashion-victim wardrobe, I think you can do the rest, can't you? I don't need to give you a pimple-by-pimple, skirt-by-skirt rundown."

We Don't Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy (Caseen Gaines)
This is about as comprehensive of an insider's history of beloved 1980's franchise Back to the Future as you could hope to find. We Don't Need Roads goes all the way back to when "The Bobs" (writer Gale and writer/director Zemeckis) were first trying - initially unsuccessfully - to sell their concept to a studio, any studio, all the way through the sequels and everything in between.

Pretty much everything is covered. Music, effects, stunts, makeup, costumes, marketing...just when you think every topic has been addressed and every player has been heard from, there's something new. The book pulls back the curtain on the notorious casting issues, mainly the firing of Eric Stoltz six weeks into filming (there are a couple of color photos of Stoltz as Marty, and it's jarring), plus the Crispin Glover situation. There's also an early poster design that would be jettisoned in favor of what would become the iconic image of Marty McFly, one foot on the ground and the other in the DeLorean/time machine, gawking at his watch. If you are a fan of the BTTF films, you will devour this book.

"Although Fox's marathon workdays have since become the material of cinematic lore, at the time, burning the candle at both ends didn't faze the actor in the slightest. As he told the Bobs when he first met them after accepting the role, he relied on his youth and enthusiasm to compensate for his lack of a good night's sleep."

My Gun Has Bullets (Lee Goldberg)
I've seen Lee Goldberg at a number of writers conferences and he's alway hilarious. He has great stories about working in television, including one about an experience with a lead actor that was so stupid and frustrating that he was prompted (or perhaps driven) to write My Gun Has Bullets, a story of murder in a world of fictional networks and TV programs, and the ridiculous and morality-free people who reside therein. It was originally published in 1995 so it's a bit dated in a couple spots, but the story makes up for it in sheer fun.

Some examples of the shows on fictional networks UBC (United Broadcasting Company), MBC (Monumental Broadcasting Company) and DBC (Dynamic Broadcasting Company): Boo Boo's Dilemma (a wildly popular sitcom about a vaudeville comedian trapped in the body of a dog), FrankencopYoung Hudson Hawk, Blacke and Whyte (a PI show that is retitled Two Dicks in an attempt to boost ratings), Honeymooners: The Next Generation, Aunt Agatha (Miss Marple meets Jessica Fletcher), Broad Squad and the titular My Gun Has Bullets. It's worth it just for the Frankencop pitch, but really, the whole thing is a riot.

"He's no ordinary man, and he's no ordinary cop. He's Frankencop and he's serious about fighting crime. Dead serious."

The Stranger Beside Me (Ann Rule)
Ms. Rule passed away recently and I was struck by the terrifying descriptions of this book that came with warnings not to read it alone at night. I did it one stupider and started it alone at night at my hotel in Appleton during Writers' Police Academy and continued it on my flight back to L.A. (also at night). I finally finished it on a bright afternoon while coming down with a nasty head cold.

Ann Rule was a former cop turned author/journalist who knew Ted Bundy as a caring, gentlemanly young man who she had bonded with when they worked alongside each other at a suicide hotline center in Seattle. A few years down the road and Bundy became infamous as a vicious serial killer, something Rule simply could not reconcile with the brilliant, wonderful person she had known. Even as the law and evidence caught up with Bundy, Rule remained a sympathetic friend, helping out when and where she could (usually sending him a few bucks for the prison commissary). The experience of being so completely deceived by Bundy and having to see a friend receive the death penalty was an devastatingly bitter pill for her to swallow.

The most recent edition includes a number of updates to the original text, including Bundy finally being executed. Thanks to an avalanche of legal maneuvers he had managed to delay his sentence for about seven years, long after the original edition of The Stranger Beside Me had been published.

"And so the answer to the question put to me so many times is yes. Yes, I believe Ted Bundy attacked Joni Lenz, just as I now am forced to believe that he is responsible for all the other crimes attributed to him. I have never said it out loud, or in print, but I believe it, as devoutly as I wish I did not."

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Writers' Police Academy - Day 3, Part 1 (Saturday)

Saturday was our second day at Fox Valley Training Center and we kicked off the day being treated to a pursuit and takedown of a bank robbery suspect after a few laps around town:

Larceny Laurie, not going down without a fight.

Larceny Laurie goes down...


Cast of characters, with our host/Fox Valley 
liaison Joe LeFevre.

You might notice a couple things in these pictures. First, the presence of Dan Feucht (who taught the Bloodstain Pattern and Advanced Fingerprinting classes) hanging out in a doorway in the "hotel", along with his adorable grandson, who helped him out in the classroom as well. And yes, that is a plane in the background of the first pic. The training center includes a Boeing 727 and WPA used it for a session called "Tactics for Handling the Unruly Plane Passenger". Needless to say, my fear of flying made that one easy to pass up. This plane has been used for training by the TSA and FBI.

Yep, there it is. Just sitting there.

The CSI Effect: Real vs. Reel (Instructor: Mike Black)
The differences between how things work in the world of CSI and its spinoffs versus the real world is always a hot topic at crime writing conferences. Since they do actually call it CSI in Appleton, it seemed like they embraced it a little more than usual.

And what are the major differences? Well, they can be summed up with these slides:

More photos from WPA 2015 can be seen here.