Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Just do it

I always enjoy a good article on procrastination, because it's nice to know I'm not the only lazy, procrastinating slug out there. Courtesy of Coffitivity, please avoid what you really should be working on right now and enjoy this post on The Art of Procrastination.

Which reminds me, I need to go start a pot of coffee to go with Coffitivity's ambience.


Sunday, August 21, 2016

Writers' Police Academy 2016 - Wrap-up


A few more items to wrap-up my Writers' Police Academy experience:

  • The ongoing spate of police shootings and the whole Blue Lives Matter issues was very much on everyone's minds over the weekend. During the orientation Thursday night a moment of silence was observed for fallen officers.
  • I really liked our new hotel, the Radisson Hotel and Conference Center Green Bay. In addition to being ideally located right across the street from the airport and only ten minutes from the college, they also provided us with a really nice complimentary breakfast each morning. Highly recommended if you're in the area.
  • Props also to everyone at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College. They were wonderful hosts and the neon yellow-shirted volunteers were beyond helpful. Just a great group of people. Like I said in my previous post, it's looking like this is the new home of WPA for the foreseeable future and I think it's a great match. They seemed to be having as much fun as the attendees.
  • And a huge round of applause for Lee Lofland and everyone involved in putting on this year's academy. Every year I wonder how they're going to top previous years, and every year they do it. Can't wait to see what they come up with next year. I swear, this thing is like an addiction.

Baking tips from the pros

Some seriously good ones here. Some of them, like using a scale and mise en place, are pretty basic, but sometimes people need a friendly reminder/whack with the obvious stick. The ironing board is a new one to me and I might just try it one of these days.

19 Life-Changing Baking Tips From Professional Bakers.

H/T to Tasty on FB for this one.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Things I learned at Writers' Police Academy (Day 2)

Saturday started off with a bang - we were getting a lecture about terrorism when we were terrorized ourselves with an active attacker. Several "victims" staggered in, where they were helped by NWTC staff as well as some attendees who I believe were recruited during a first aid class Friday. Then the cops showed up.

There we were, minding our own business...

Man down!

The bodies are starting to pile up.

The calvary arrives!

I didn't get a lot of pics of the cops in action,
because we were ordered to keep our hands on
our heads - with our fingers interlocked - while 

they got things under control. For real.

These guys are actually recruits here at NWTC.
And they are serious badasses.

One of the things we learned in this class is how fast a person can bleed out: as little as 3-5 minutes, so tourniquets can be a lifesaver if pressure isn't enough to control serious bleeding.

The recruits came in on their day off for us. They didn't screw around, either. These guys are tough. If you hadn't known it was a demo, you would never have guessed.

More pics are here in my Writers' Police Academy 2016 album on Flickr.

Mashed Potatoes of Death: Are You Going To Eat That? (Instructor: Dr. Denene Lofland)



You know, it's actually pretty terrifying how easily you can poison someone just by feeding them. I'm not saying you'll get away with it, just that it can be done.
  • One of the biggest offenders is mushrooms. People who forage for their own mushrooms are taking big risks, as poison mushrooms can closely resemble non-poisonous ones. They may even taste the same, so the person never knows they got the wrong kind until it's too late. We got a couple of examples of that in the class. Death Cap Mushrooms = slow, agonizing death.
  • There are good molds and bad molds. Molds in certain types of cheese are good. Mold on bread, not so much. There is no antidote for this type of poisoning, so once mold has been ingested, the person is going to get sick and the illness will have to run its course.
  • There is no general screening for "poisons". A doctor would have to have an idea of what they're looking for and specify the particular poisons they're screening for.
  • A lot if not all of the poisonings we reviewed in class are hepatotoxic, meaning they are toxic to the liver. One of the things your liver helps with is blood clotting, so if it gets knocked out, internal bleeding becomes an issue. A big fat serious issue.
  • We learned how ricin is made. It's terrifyingly easy. Ricin can come in the form of powder, mist or pellets. It's also tasteless, just to make it even more dangerous. There is no antidote and the victim will be dead in a couple of days. And a very, very small amount goes a long way.
  • Not all bacteria can be killed by cooking or freezing food. One of the more bizarre things I've ever learned at Writers' Police Academy was this: A 20 year old college student decided to microwave a container of spaghetti that had been sitting out on the counter for five days. He became ill later that evening and was dead before noon the next day. Nuking it didn't kill the bacteria that had taken up residence in the food.
You can visit the Center for Disease Control's website for information regarding food recalls (or as Dr. Lofland called it, "What's poisoning us this week."). They will even give you the lot numbers of the products. Good resource, because by the time you hear about recalls on the news, people are already sick.

Fingerprinting (Instructor: John Flannery)
I didn't get as much actual dusting and lifting as I did at this previous WPA class, but I did finally learn about the actual patterns, something I'd always found confusing. Some fun factoids about prints:
  • Identical twins do not share the same fingerprints. That's one thing about them that isn't identical
  • No identical prints have ever been found.
  • One of the things the CSI shows got right was AFIS (Automated Fingerprint Identification System), which is available to all fifty states.
  • Each of your fingers has a different print.
  • Salt, amino acids and oil are what cause prints to be left behind.
  • Some things you can't tell from observing prints: gender of the person who left it, or how long it's been there.
  • Water does not wash off prints. Police can get prints off a weapon that has been thrown in a river.
  • Ridge detail can also be found in toe, heel and palm prints. They are also unique, but there is no AFIS-type database for them.
We dusted in a room that I think was being used for the Death Scene Investigation Classes. The guy on the floor is Deadhead Joe. He's very dead. We just worked around him.


Prints on the stove. Somehow I need to tie this
in with the previous class.

PIT Maneuver (Instructor: Colleen Belongea)
I was really excited for this class, which made it even sadder that I didn't pull off the maneuver. I was the second person to go, and we were advised to back off around curves, then gun it to catch up on the straightaways. In the final turn, the guy driving the other car slowed way down to let us PIT, but I didn't realize that until I'd already had my chance, then watched most of my classmates doing it. I gunned it after the final turn and blew past him. Twice. Once I figured that out, I was hoping to get another shot at it, but the next class showed up and we had to leave (the PIT track was at a separate location from the rest of the classes). Still, it was fun and strangely bonding, as we cheered each other on. And Colleen is a rock star instructor among a field of rock star instructors. We just loved her. I do feel kind of like a jerk that I don't remember the name of the guy who drove the other car, because he took a lot of abuse. He must have been dizzy as hell after being spun around all day.

The approach.

Backing off around the turns. And gosh, look at
that sky.

The touch on the straightaway. I was really good
at this part.

Colleen showing us how it's done.

PITTED!!!

10 Common Mistakes Writers Make About the Law (Instructor: Leslie Budewitz)
I only caught maybe the last 15 minutes of this class because of coming in late from the PIT track. How good was this class? In the brief time I was in it, I took three pages of notes.

Leslie is the current President of Sisters in Crime and I met her very briefly at the Thursday Guppies lunch (at which she told us the class was expanding to twelve common mistakes). She is a lawyer in Montana and writes cozies. Crazy, huh?

Some of the common mistakes:

  • In a criminal case, the defendant is never found innocent. The verdict will be either guilty or not guilty.
  • In real life felony trials, sentences are rarely handed down right after the verdict is announced. There's usually at least a few weeks between the verdict and sentencing.
  • Regardless of how they feel about a verdict, in real life lawyers and defendants don't argue with the judge. It's, "Thank you, your honor," pack up and leave.
  • The police don't actually have the authority to tell a suspect not to leave town. Doing so would be a de facto arrest.
  • The purpose of bail is to ensure that the suspect shows up in court for their trial. It can't be used to punish them. In cases of a violent crime where bail isn't offered, it's usually due to state laws/statutes rather than the judge's decision.
  • Just because a victim doesn't want to press charges (which most often comes up in domestic disputes) doesn't mean the state won't proceed with the case. I know they do this in California because it came up once when I was called for jury duty (I wasn't picked for the jury).
  • Don't assume the rule of common law marriages exists in every state. Some states recognize them, some don't.
  • The burden of proof is lower in civil cases than in criminal cases, where the prosecution must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.  
  • Jurisdiction isn't necessarily the pissing contest film and television would have you believe. Although egos and turf wars can be involved, most prosecutors take keeping the public safe seriously and will pursue the angle most likely to take a dangerous criminal off the streets.
  • A plea deal must always go before a judge, and the judge isn't bound to agree to the sentence made in the deal. Also, it's a plea deal. Lawyers hate the term plea bargain.

Later that evening I attended the WPA banquet, where Guest of Honor Tami Hoag spoke to us. I also won this in the raffle, and needless to say after the Mashed Potatoes of Death class got all sorts of unsavory ideas about Killer Tomatoes. In fact, I think I've got a short story out of that one.

New York Times bestselling author Tami Hoag
addresses the troops.

Gotta say, as much as I hated to say goodbye to WPA's North Carolina location (I have a crazy love for that place) Northeast Wisconsin Technical College rocked, plus having the hotel right across the street from the airport and ten minutes from the college was really convenient. Looks like Green Bay is going to be the home of WPA for the foreseeable future and I think it's a great fit.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Things I learned at Writers' Police Academy (Day 1)

Why thank you, Northeast
Wisconsin Technical College!

We got a great demonstration this morning of how emergency personnel respond to a car crash. Not only did the usual suspects show up (fire, paramedics and ambulance) but we got a helicopter too!



I took about 100 pictures of the whole thing and they can all be found here. I'll be adding more from the rest of the weekend soon.

Expert Witness and Grand Jury Basics (Instructor: Robert Willis)
This class was taught from the point of view of law enforcement charged for actions taken in the line of duty.
  • Cops acquitted at one level (ex: state) can be tried again at another level (ex: federal) for the same incident. The LAPD officers involved in the Rodney King case were acquitted at the state level, but then the Feds decided to send a message and go after them. When this happens, the Feds get around double jeopardy by charging them with a different crime for the same incident. For example, if the original charge was murder or excessive force, the federal charge will be violation of civil rights. As usual, the federal government finds a way to make themselves exempt from the laws that apply to everyone else.
  • If convicted at the federal level, the death penalty can be executed even if the state the incident took place in doesn't have the death penalty.
  • An expert witness is there to provide information that will benefit the jury in making their decision that the average person can't provide.
  • The expert witness's job is to educate the jury but not give an opinion. It is the jury's job to form an opinion based on testimony. In the past, the Frye Standard was used an expert witnesses could give opinions, but that was replaced by the Daubert Standard, which makes the judge the gatekeeper as to whether a theory or technique can be introduced. There are four considerations (not all of which need to be met): 1) Whether the theory/technique has or can be tested; 2) Whether the theory/technique as been subject to peer review and publication; 3) Is there a known or potential error rate for this particular technique; 4) Whether the theory/technique is generally accepted in the relevant scientific community.
  • If an officer is tried for an incident in which departmental policy was violated, this doesn't automatically guarantee a guilty verdict. Every situation is unique and that is taken into consideration.

Why They Were Bad: Nuances for Characters, Psychopaths and Other Disorders (Instructor: Dr. Katherine Ramsland)
Dr. Ramsland is a forensic psychologist and prolific author. Her latest book (to be released August 30) is Confessions of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Dennis Rader, The BTK Killer. She described the book as a "guided autobiography" and proceeds from the book will benefit the families of Rader's victims. 

Some disorders:
  • A psychopath knows what reality is and knows what they're doing and will plan out their actions. They have delusions of grandeur.
  • Psychotics suffer from a mental disorder that distorts their sense of reality and they suffer from delusions.
  • Narcissistic disorder: Exaggerated opinion of their own importance. Others must be punished when they don't get what they want (looking outward to solve their issues, rather than looking inward). When they lash out, it's to make a statement. Dr. Ramsland used the case of Elliot Rodger, who killed six people and wounded fourteen others near the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2014 before taking his own life. He felt rejected by society in general and girls in particular. He posted YouTube videos ranting about girls not wanting to date him despite the fact that he considered himself quite the catch. Girls apparently didn't agree.
  • Paranoid Schizophrenia: Disturbed thinking, fear, agitation, personal neglect, withdrawal, pre-emptive agression, distorted thoughts, babbling incoherently ("word salad).
  • Personality disorders: Symptoms may include distorted thinking, problematic emotional responses, over or under-regulated impulse control, interpersonal difficulties.
  • Children as young as three can be diagnosed as fledgling psychopaths.
There was a group that did a study of movie and television psychopaths. They wanted to determine who of them were actually psychopaths and who was the "best". Among the candidates were Hannibal Lechter, Dexter Morgan and Colonel Hans Landa. The winner was Anton Chigurh (No Country For Old Men). 

Some myths about psychopaths: They're not your ex who wants to stay friends. You can't ID them from their Tweets, handwriting or the look in their eyes. And they're not all serial killers.

She also spoke about dealing with Rader over a period of several years to draw out the information for her book. One of the things he told her to do was watch Bates Motel. She binged it and got hooked. Said the show did a great job of developing Norman's deterioration and development. Rader also showed her plans he had designed for a torture house inspired by H.H. Holmes

Dr. Ramsland also highly recommended Conviction: The Untold Story of Putting Jodi Arias Behind Bars by Juan Martinez (the man who did it). At one point in her trial Arias wanted to act as her own attorney. She didn't, but Dr. Ramsland seemed to think it would have been entertaining as hell if she had.

Clinical Interview: Getting the Goods (Instructor: Dr. Katherine Ramsland)
The objective of this class was to learn components of psychological evaluations in a forensic context.

In clinical interviews you look for themes even if the interviewee is trying to hide things. The thing I got out of this class, which I think some of the other people involved may have found confusing, is that you're not there to interpret, you're there to observe. You're there to interview, not interrogate. 

When interviewing subjects Dr. Ramsland observes gestures, posture, speech, expressions, clothing, anything in how the person presents themselves to the world that might invite social judgement.

There is no one thing that indicates that a person is lying. A group of red flags may indicate lying. You also need a baseline to judge against - many people have nervous habits or expressions that are normal for them and shouldn't been interpreted as something else.

Private Investigation: Or How To Be a Dick For Fun and Profit (Instructor: David Corbett)
This was an extremely popular class - we were packed into the classroom like sardines.
  • The basic job of a PI is to find people, interview them and then write up the conversation. In real life it is not a crime-solving job.
  • Woman make great investigators, because people trust women more and are more willing to talk to them.
  • You may not impersonate a lawyer, cop or a man/woman of the cloth. It's also not advisable to impersonate someone from a real company because it's too easy to be found out.
  • You also cannot harass a subject. If they ask you to leave, it's time to leave. You can persist gently, but not forcefully. Once the door is closed, you're done.
  • You can record a personal only with their knowledge and consent, unless you have a reasonable fear of violence and/or extortion. Corbett always recorded for accuracy, then destroyed his tapes after he wrote up his reports.
  • Some things you can dig up about people that is helpful in investigations: Former addresses, social security numbers ("a goldmine"), divorce documents, because ex-wives have an axe to grind and love to talk about their exes. 
  • "Unpacking the witness" is a phrase that describes making the interviewee comfortable in order to get as much info as possible out of them. 
Corbett has worked several high-profile cases. His firm was employed by the insurance company that had issued life insurance policies to Jose and Kitty Menendez, after the couple's sons Erik and Lyle filed claims while being investigated for the murder of their parents, crimes for which they were eventually convicted. Because the insurance company had a reasonable belief of a fraudulent claim, they were able to sit on it while the investigation played out. He also worked the first Michael Jackson sexual abuse investigation and very calmly referred to the late pop star as a serial pedophile.


How to Use - Or Not Use - What You Learned at Writers' Police Academy (Lee Goldberg)
I've seen Goldberg at a number of events (Bouchercon, Left Coast Crime, California Crime Writers, L.A. Times Festival of Books) but I believe this was his first appearance at WPA, and it seemed like he had a blast. Aided and abetted by his brother Tod (they both recently made the New York Times bestseller list at the same time), Goldberg was his usual hilarious self. Some advice he gave us:
  • His main piece of advice was not to overuse research. Every last thing we discover does not have to go into the story. We're writing fiction, not a travelogue.
  • He described researching foreign cities and countries as being like location scouting for film and television.
  • Give your reader enough cool facts, but reveal like a magician - don't show everything.
  • Talk to experts and ask a thousand questions.
  • Exposition is death. Let things reveal themselves in action and dialogue.
  • When you do research right, it's like seasoning a dish.
  • Less is more. Don't show off your research.
Goldberg also said that the best thing that ever happened to his novel writing was writing for television, because it forced him to tell stories through action and dialogue, rather than exposition. And as always, he had a great story from his TV writing days, this time about working on Hunter and how Fred Dryer reamed him because he failed to include the "drive-up" in his scenes (Dryer: "The 'drive-up' is the scene where I drive up.")

Since I hadn't slept on my Wednesday/Thursday red-eye and barely slept Thursday night, I skipped the evening festivities (Sisters in Crime Reception and Live-Action Scenario). I actually dozed off around 6:30 for a couple of hours. I really wish I could sleep on planes.

Next up: Saturday classes and my PIT maneuver epic fail!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Killer Tomatoes

Won this raffle prize at last night's Writers' Police Academy banquet:


And now I shall return home and grow KILLER TOMATOES!!!

Funny thing, I took a class yesterday on poisoned/poisoning food and look at this logo:


Crazy, huh?

Weirdest story out of that awesome class? The guy who poisoned himself with old spaghetti. Not intentionally of course, but still.

Also, speaking of heading home, looks like home has been without power since 3am this morning California time. Supposed to be back on by the time I get there. We'll see.

Also also: Green Bay is gorgeous.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

This is happening (Writers' Police Academy 2016)

I've got my assignment:


Writers' Police Academy in once again upon us, and that means all kinds of cool stuff. We're in Green Bay, Wisconsin this year. Beautiful place. So very, very green. I guess that's why they call it Green Bay, ya think?

And so very, very cheesy. At the airport, on my way to pick up my luggage:


The Packers play tomorrow night and apparently we're in the hotel everyone stays at for their home games, so I'm hoping to spot an actual, for real cheese head in his or her native habitat. You know, just to have the full-on Green Bay experience. 

Friday, August 5, 2016

Write in a cafe without leaving the comfort of your home

Check out Coffitivity! From their website:

Coffitivity recreates the ambient sounds sounds of a cafe to boost your creativity and help you work better.

Apparently research has backed up their claim that a certain level of ambient noise does in fact boost creativity.

Now you can work in a coffee shop or cafe without all the annoying people! Win win.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

This is a great approach to submissions and rejections

From Literary Hub, Why You Should Aim For 100 Rejections a Year. There are some great observations in the article. I especially liked the idea of shellacking a desk with rejection letters. I just might start with the rejection letter I got from the Guppies for their upcoming anthology Fish Out of Water, along with the scorecard that showed one judge loved my story, one liked it a lot, and judge number three flat-out hated it. Needless to say, when I got the acceptance email from Sisters in Crime L.A. for LAst Resort, it really went a long way in easing the pain. But at least I got a rejection. It meant I tried. You can't be accepted or rejected if you don't submit.

Thanks to The Write Life on FB for this link.