Sunday, September 29, 2013

Writer's Digest Self-Publishing Conference

As part of their west coast writer's conferences, the Writer's Digest Self-Publishing Conference was held Friday at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel in Century City.

The conference seemed sparsely attended to me.  It might have been due to it being a weekday, but whatever the reason, it was still a great event.  Very informative with some really great speakers.  I also liked that each session was only 50 minutes in length and that there was a moderator who kept everyone on schedule.  This way none of the sessions ran long or dragged.

Here are some things I learned about self-publishing at the conference:
  • You need a separate ISBN code for each format (hardcover, paperback, ebook).  In addition, some ebook publishers will retain ownership of the ISBN.  Although you retain the copyright, if you move to another publisher you will need a new ISBN.  ISBN codes can be purchased through Bowker, which also provides other services for self-published authors.
  • Even if you self-publish, at some point you will probably need the expertise of an agent for issues such as foreign markets and film rights.  Agents can also help you avoid scams.
  • Good literary agents today are more like literary managers.  It's not enough for them to just be flipping contracts.
  • When selecting an agent or publishing house, be sure they are experienced in your genre.  This seems obvious, but apparently there are people who will sign with anyone just to have an agent or publisher.
  • Self-publishing (or DIY, as guest Roy Carlisle calls it) is where traditional publishers are looking for new talent.  Agents also scope out self-published authors as potential clients.
  • Although there are only now five major traditional publishers, there are 40,000 independent presses in the U.S.  Check them out as an alternative to self-publishing.
  • Audio books are exploding.  Author Hugh Howey has said that he could live comfortably just on the revenue generated by his audio books.
  • The importance of blogging to connect and stay connected with your audience was mentioned several times, which I thought was interesting because it seems like a lot of people think blogging and/or having an author website is passe and has been replaced by Facebook.  Today's panelists did not agree with that idea.
The day went by really fast and I learned a ton of stuff about self-publishing.  The WD conferences were pretty pricey compared to other writing conferences I've gone to, but fortunately they gave the option of attending the self-publishing portion as a stand-alone, and it was worth it.  Highly recommend it if they have it again next year.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Marina del Rey has a film festival?

Apparently so, although it's coming up soon and they don't actually have their titles set yet.  Should be a neat atmosphere to see a movie.

Sailboat school, Marina del Rey Channel, summer 2012

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Picpost: Kailua-Kona sunsets

Pretty much every night was like this.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Bitch and moan. Yep, it's another writing competition.

So I decided to go ahead and enter yet another one of those writing competitions that don't tell you what you're going to be writing about until after you've ponied up your application and entry fee, in spite of the fact that I've had horrible luck with them.  Last time I did this one, they gave me romance as a genre.  I hate romance as a genre.  It's sooooo predictable.  Adorbs couple meet cute, stumble through problems that could easily be solved quickly by just sitting down and talking about it (but then you wouldn't have a 90 minute movie), then eventually it all works out and they adorbs live happily ever after as the credits roll.  Thanks, but no thanks.

I want to write about bad people doing terrible things, and smart, good people figuring out what they've done and making them pay the price for it.  But because I felt like I should welcome the challenge, I did it again anyway against my better judgement.  And what did it get me?

Hello, Group 15.  You bastard.

And the thing is (whine, whine, whine) I can't even think of it in terms of Oh my God, those aren't marshmallows, they're...(dun dun DUNNNNN) BRAINS!!!  Because, sometimes that stuff gets splattered about when bad things happen.  But no.  Because this:
Feel free to interpret your genre, location, and object assignment in uniquely creative ways...we're looking for interesting and inventive stories. But also know that we won't be able to accept submissions that are completely off of the assignments you are given. For example; if your assigned genre is drama, a story that reads as an outright comedy will most likely be disqualified.
So, think outside the box, but don't think outside the box.  Get creative, but don't get too creative or you will most likely be disqualified.  If your assigned genre is romance, don't turn it into a murder mystery.  But feel free to interpret your genre, location and object blah blah blah.  So honestly, with those instructions I don't have the faintest idea in hell how much I can really run with this.  I just know that I want to and need to go nuts with it.  Because that's the truly creative aspect of it, and that's the reason I write.  To go nuts with it.  To tell a crazy and potentially disturbing story.

On top of all that, I think the thing that bugs me about this assignment (as well as the one I got the last time I did this competition) is that it just seems to lend itself to something so obvious and cliched.  Last time it was a romance in a bakery with a repair involved.  I probably should have gone the obvious porn route just for laughs.  This time it's a lovey-dovey couple roasting marshmallows at a haunted house.  How adorbs.  Roasted marshmallows = smores.  Smores, romance and ghosts.  What the fuck ever.  I guess I was expecting them to go the Chopped route and throw a bunch of things that don't seem to go together at us and force us to be really clever in pulling it all together.  That's my idea of a challenge.

Then there's this: NYC Midnight was kind enough to post a couple of previous winners and guess what?  Both stories involved murder: I See You, Santa Claus and Without Parallel.  So, my genre.  Also, crazy and disturbing stories.

You know what?  Despite the "color outside the lines but don't color outside the lines lest you be disqualified" instructions, I think I'm going to just run wild with this baby.  I mean, what are they gonna do - disqualify me for being too creative?  I'd wear that like a badge of honor.

At least I'm not alone:

It could actually be worse.  I could have gotten sci-fi.

Update: Written and submitted.  Detectives in love.  Turns out my biggest issue was the word limit (1,000) more than anything else.  Could have used 2,000.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

These people have no shame. And apparently not too many smarts, either.

There's a group in Chicago who are all about the kids.  So much so that they've issued a spelling and grammatically-challenged pamphlet.  From the linked article:
Here are a few examples of butchered statements from the pamphlet.
“Call Mayor’s office and demand him (sic) to return the TIF money to our schools.”
Demand him? That sounds like something a three-year-old would say.
“Call governor (sic) Quinn and tell him to not bite on UNO’s fake shake up: 312-814-2121 or 217-782-0244.”
Um, the term Governor is a title, and titles start with capital letters, folks.
That’s just the first page.
Why is that a problem?  Oh, maybe because they're teachers!!!  And they have demands!!!
The TSJ document also features a cartoon with the title, “An equitable, high-quality public education is a human right!”
Too bad Chicago students won't be getting their rightful equitable, high-quality public education from this bunch.  No wonder Johnny can't read...or write...or balance a checkbook...or think for himself.  Neither can their teachers.

Luckily, today I stumbled across a palate cleanser to this.  Via Sarcasm and Too Much Crap, it's Teachers with a sense of humor.  Also teachers who actually put some thought into their work.  Here are my personal favorites:

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Never forget

This Budweiser ad was creating to honor 
the fallen of 9/11/01. It only aired once, but 
has been watched online millions of times.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Writers' Police Academy - Day 3 - Debriefing

Writers' Police Academy always wraps up with an entertaining Sunday morning debriefing.

  • Lee Lofland (founder of Writers' Police Academy and retired detective) 
  • Sheriff B.J. Barnes (Sheriff of Guilford County, NC)
  • Andy Russell (former PD and Guilford Community College instructor)
  • Kathy Bradley (Assistant District Attorney)
  • Marco Conelli (retired NYPD detective)
  • Bill Hopkins (retired judge turned author)
  • Dr, Katherine Ramsland (forensic psychologist and author)
  • Mike Rhodes (retired Secret Service Special Agent) 

What we learned at debriefing:
  • Marco Conelli is not a fan of the recent ruling striking down NYPD's Stop & Frisk policy.  He said that taking this right away from police is like blindfolding them.  Feels that chaos will ensue.
  • Regarding the stereotype of Feds vs. local law enforcement - the reality is that they operate more as partners.  Local cops have charges they can file that the Feds can't.
  • When judges or attorneys request a sidebar ("May we approach?") both attorneys are always brought up.  You don't want to keep them up there too long because the jury will gets curious.  If it's going to take awhile the judge will call a recess.
  • Cases are prosecuted in the jurisdiction where the crime occurred, regardless of where the suspect is caught.
  • Repeat offenders are known in law enforcement circles as "frequent flyers".  When suspects are publicly described as "person of interest", it's cop-speak for, "We don't have enough evidence to charge him/her yet."
  • Local law enforcement (Greensboro, NC) buys the local high school yearbook each year so as to have photos of possible future criminals.
  • Social media has become a tool of law enforcement, especially with juveniles.  It makes it easy to get information on suspects.  They have also been successful setting up fake accounts.
  • The Guilford County Sheriff's Department has a policy that officers cannot be on Facebook in uniform.  This came after a prosecutor used an officer's "I love arresting bad guys" post in court. 
  • Cybercrimes are relatively new but increasing.  There are both state and federal laws for internet crimes, so jurisdiction depends on the actual law being broken.  Officers working cybercrimes tend to be younger.

Writers' Police Academy - Day 2 (Part 2) - Women in Law Enforcement, Murder Typology, Forensic Anthropolgy

What I learned at Writers' Police Academy:

Women in Law Enforcement (Instructor: Sgt. Catherine Netter, Guilford County Sheriff's Department)
  • In the U.S. women have served in law enforcement since the late 19th century.
  • Female officers are allowed to pat down and supervise male prisoners, however male officers are not allowed to do the same with female prisoners.
  • Dress attire still geared to men: Ties, bulletproof vests (not designed with breasts in mind) and heavy shoes.
  • "Jackets" = files.
  • Judges are not okay with detectives using P.O.'s (Parole Officers) to do warrantless searches on parolees.

Murder Typology (Instructor: Dr. Katherine Ramsland)
Dr. Ramsland is a prominent forensic psychologist and the prolific author of more than fifty books covering forensics, psychology and the paranormal.  The session covered what she described as "extreme offenders" - serial, mass and spree killers.
  • Historically the definition of a serial killer was at least three offenses at three different locations, with "cooling off" periods between murders.  However, the problem is that not all serial killers fit this description - John Wayne Gacy fit the multiple offenses and cooling off periods, but committed his offenses in one place, his home.  Examples of serial killers include Gacy, Ted Bundy, Richard Ramirez and Jeffrey Dahmer.
  • The cooling off period can be any length of time (hours/months/years). 
  • 15-20% of serial killers have partners or another person who is complicit.  Examples: The Hillside Strangler (Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono), Karla Homolka/Paul Bernardo.
  • Contrary to popular belief, some serial killers can stop on their own.  Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer, stopped when the state of Kansas (where he lived and killed) reinstated the death penalty in 1994.
  • While serial killers frequently consider themselves to be of superior intelligence, studies have shown they are generally no more or less intelligent than the general population.
  • The most common cause for a mass killing is anger/retaliation.  They carry a grudge (sometimes for years) until something causes them to snap. School shooters are usually bullied or feel like outcasts.
  • The definition of spree killing (an extension of mass killing) is a minimum of three victims, spread out geographically, over a period of time.  Examples: Christopher Dorner, Charles Starkweather and Andrew Cunanan.

Forensic Anthropology: From Crime Lab to Crime Fiction (Instructor: Dr. Kathy Reichs)
Dr. Reichs is a world renowned forensic anthropologist who has participated in the recovery of remains at Ground Zero after 9/11 and in the exhumation of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. She is the author of the Temperance Brennan novels, which were the basis for the Fox television series Bones.  She is also the owner of an awesome sense of humor.  Her presentation was about her forensics work and how she takes lab experiences and spins them into fictional stories, starting with real cases then asking, "What if?"
  • A forensic anthropologist is called in when - for whatever reason - a body cannot be autopsied normally.
  • The primary questions for a forensic anthropologist are: 1)Are the remains human?  2)When did the individual die?  3)Who is the individual?  4)What was the manner of death?  5)What happened after the death?
  • The biographic profile will include sex, age, height and ethnicity.  This information is given to police, who will go through missing persons reports and take it from there.
  • Skulls help determine ethnicity (the big three are Negroid, Mongoloid/Asian and Caucasian.  Pelvic bones help determine sex.
  • The younger the deceased, the easier it is for her to determine age.  In children she can ID age plus/minus a year or two.  With adults the plus minus can be as much as ten to fifteen years.
  • Reasons a perp will dismember a body: Packaging, moving, prevention of identification.
  • During the second season of Bones, producers offered her a chance to appear on the show.  She was about to turn them down when she was told David Duchovny would be directing the episode.  She took the role.
  • When Mozart was exhumed, he was found to have sheet music and a pen with him, prompting Reichs to quip, "Mozart was decomposing."

Monday, September 9, 2013

Writers' Police Academy - Day 2 (Part 1) - Bomb Squad, Undercover Cops

What I learned at WPA:

Bomb Squad (featuring Reno, the bomb-sniffing dog)
After we all disembarked from our busses at GTCC, one of the instructors led us across the parking lot to the driving track, to what we believed would be safety instructions and some sort of demonstration like last year (which was awesome).  However, before we reached our destination, the instructor, who had drifted toward the back of the crowd, called for our attention.  A child's backpack was laying on the ground and he wanted to know who it belonged to.

Of course no one claimed it and that resulted in the calling in of a bomb-sniffing dog and his handler. We were sent to watch from a safe distance as Reno (of course I didn't get his handler's name) checked out the suspicious package.  We were told that Reno's signal that he smelled explosive material would be to lay down.  Sure enough, after sniffing around the backpack a bit, Reno hit the pavement.

That brought in the bomb squad, who sent a robot out to pick up the backpack and escort it to the far end of the lot, where it was detonated.
  • The robots are costly, running about $125,000 each.
  • Not all dogs signal by laying down.  Each has its own way of alerting their handler to the presence of explosives.
  • The dogs are taught not to be deterred by the planting of food in suspicious packages. 


This suit costs $125,000

Concealed and Confidential (Instructor: NYPD Detective (ret.) Marco Conelli)
Conelli is a former undercover officer and regaled us with tales from his experiences on the job.
  • Undercover responsibilities: Infiltration, relay accurate information, provide rock-solid testimony. They do not make arrests so as to not blow their cover.
  • Disguises are a big part of the job, along with the personality to match it.
  • Undercover cops refer to their locations as "sets".
  • They use carbon paper to dirty their hands, nails and clothes when making drug buys.  Transactions are close and junkies don't have clean, well-manicured hands.
  • "Try this.  I want to make sure you're okay."  If necessary, undercovers can do whatever is necessary, including ingesting drugs.
  • Real cops only pull  their guns as a last resort.
  • Even a minor drug bust can lead to bigger things. A guy busted for a bag of weed was able to give police the name of a guy who had short an off-duty officer who was working a second job at a check cashing place.
  • Gun jamming is not actually that far-fetched.  "These people aren't really knowledgeable."

Writers' Police Academy Day 1 (Part 3) - EMS and the Crime Scene

What I learned at WPA:

EMS and the Crime Scene
Instructor Joe Yow and students from the EMS program at Guilford Community College in Jamestown, North Carolina (where WPA is held) put on an amazing enactment of how EMS assesses and processes a scene with multiple victims and varying levels of injuries.  The premise was that a small bomb had gone off in a cafe.  The injuries ran the gamut from cuts and scratches to loss of limb.

  • The first thing they do when assessing is check ABC - Airway, Breathing, Circulation.
  • A national "Smart Triage" tagging system was put in place following 9/11.  Highest priority is a red tag, which signifies severely injured but salvageable.  A yellow tag signifies serious injury with no imminent danger, but would become dangerous if left too long without treatment.  A green tag is issued if the victim is injured, but not so badly that they can't walk on their own.  If a victim is not breathing on their own EMS will clear their airway and attempt to resuscitate, but if the victim doesn't start breathing on their own, they are black tagged and EMS moves on.

This might sound silly, but one of the most impressive things about the presentation was how well-acted it was.  None of the students involved ever broke character.  A couple of the victims in particular (the mildly-injured girl whose boyfriend turned out to be the bomber and another young woman who lost an arm) were so good that one of the questions asked afterward was if they were drama students.  Several of the police academy students were also on hand, demonstrating how they handled victims who were mobile, but badly shaken and sometimes hysterical.

I couldn't help being impressed by the sheer caliber of character and poise the students showed, both during the enactment and after when we were peppering them with questions.  I think it's also a testament to Guildford's EMS, police and fire programs.  I didn't see the whole thing because I was in the driving simulator at the beginning of the session and triage was well underway when I got there, but it was just amazing.

More EMS pics can be found here.

Writers' Police Academy Day 1 (Part 2) - Mass Shooters, Driving Simulator, DNA

What I learned at WPA:

Conducting Threat Assessment of Pre-Incident Mass Shooters (Instructor: Secret Service Special Agent (ret.) Mike Roche)
  • Mass shooter profile: Age 16-88, 89% male, 87% Caucasian, 87% have education of high school or beyond.
  • School mass shooter profile: Age 11-21, almost 100% male, 76% Caucasian, 63% from two-parent families, 5% failing in school and have exhibited behavior that causes concern.  A vast majority are fans of violent video games.  
  • These are not people who just snapped.  There is a discernible path of violence leading to the act (these are not crimes of passion).  Their actions are well-planned, including attempts to acquire weapons.
  • Possible motive: Avenging a perceived wrong, or bringing attention to a perceived problem. Example: Christopher Dorner and his grievances with the LAPD.
  • Possible motive: Fame: Arthur Bremer, who shot then-presidential candidate George Wallace, wanted to take down President Richard Nixon, but Nixon's security was too tight.  Bremer lamented that he wouldn't be as famous for shooting Wallace instead of Nixon.
  • Possible motive: Personal revenge. In the case of school shooters, the student often feels like an outsider, may have been bullied and resents his more popular and well-adjusted classmates.
  • Some background/personal circumstances: Depression, suicidal, a major loss or life change, stalking/harassment.  Cyber bullying has become an issue the past few years, and part of the reason it's a major problem is that it's 24/7 - there's no getting away from it.

Driving Simulator
I thought this was going to be a police pursuit simulator, but it turned out to be a fire engine.  The instructor gave me a brief run through and then I had to drive the simulated beast to a scene.  I don't know how they drive those things - it felt more like I was wrestling with it than driving it.  Part of it is you have to maneuver around traffic and when you come up on cars you have to make a judgement call as to whether or not they're going to pull over like they're supposed to, or if you need to go around them.  I took out a couple of vehicles, but eventually made it to the scene.

The Science (and Pseudo Science) of DNA Profiling (Instructor: Dr. Dan Krane)
This presentation had a lot of scientific aspects that were way above my head (and, I suspect, a lot of others) but also provided a lot of usable info that could be used in stories. Dr. Krane is one of the top DNA experts in the world and we were fortunate to have him with us.
  • DNA is a relatively new tool in solving crimes.  The first time it was used in a court case was in the late 1980's.  Dr. Krane first testified in court as a DNA expert in January, 1991.
  • Just because DNA is present does not mean a crime has been committed.  The presence of DNA does not establish the time frame or circumstance under which it got there.  An example would be in the case of sexual activity - the presence of DNA itself does not determine if it was consensual or rape.  DNA can also be planted (innocently or otherwise), contaminated or misinterpreted.
  • Although a DNA match is not necessarily a 100% guaranteed match, the odds of another, random person having the same DNA is 1 in 79,531,528,960,000,000 (about 1 in 80 quadrillion).  This has proven to be good enough for juries, who tend to accept a solid DNA match as irrefutable proof.
If you're interested in the subject, Dr. Krane's website has a ton of information.

Writers' Police Academy Day 1 (Part 1) - Fingerprinting

Yesterday was the first full day of Writers' Police Academy 2013 and I had a great time.  It really is an exceptional event, especially if you want to write about crime and law enforcement but don't have the luxury of having any cops in your family or circle of friends.

What I learned at WPA:

Fingerprinting (Instructor: Michelle Davis of the Greensboro, NC Police Department)
  • Latent = invisible to the naked eye.
  • Latent prints are collected by crime scene techs and delivered to the fingerprint tech.  Elimination prints (PD, EMS, witnesses) are also collected, as are post-mortem prints from the victim.
  • Cases are prioritized, with homicides getting top priority, followed by B&E's (breaking and entering) and vandalism.
  • Can get a hit in as little as 2 minutes or as long as two days.
  • Expungements: If prints have been entered into the system and then the charges are dropped or the suspect has been found not guilty, the prints must be removed from the system.  
  • Pattern classes of fingerprints are described as arches (rarest), whorls, and loops (most common). 
  • Women and children have finer fingerprint ridges than men.
  • Fingerprints are made up of sweat/water and oil. The sweat evaporates, the oil does not. Clean, dry hands result in lesser prints. Too much lotion on hands can result in a smudged print.
  • Identical twins have identical DNA but not identical fingerprints.
  • Certain types of work (brickwork, handling certain chemicals) can result in poorer quality of prints.
  • Fingerprints are very delicate, so wiping them to hide your crime is actually very effective.
  • Scars on fingertips are very helpful in making an ID. Law enforcement loves it when scars turn up.

We got to watch a fingerprint identification program search for a match to a print Michelle entered into the system.  It looked nothing like the graphics-happy systems on TV shows, rather it's a very plain, Windows based pane.  No picture of a driver's license or criminal record information pops up. Just a single line of text per match.

What a match really looks like.  If you want to be 
a CSI like on TV, study acting, not forensics.

We also got to dust and lift our own prints from a piece of tile and a jar that we touched.  Here's the evidence of my criminal activity.  Busted!

Prints dusted.
Prints lifted.  You have the right to remain silent...

More fingerprinting pics can be found here.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Grauman's Chinese Theatre converts to IMAX

I have to admit I haven't paid much attention to the old neighborhood since moving last year.  I'd pretty much burned out on living in Hollywood and my return to the beach (and blessedly cooler weather) was a long time coming, much longer than I'd ever anticipated.  By the time I finally left, my enthusiasm for the area had sadly evaporated and I haven't been back since. 

This news, however, will definitely get me back for a visit: Via Curbed L.A., behold the glory that is one of the largest IMAX screens in the world being installed in the Chinese Theatre.  Per Curbed:
The theater will reopen on September 15 with the world premiere of the Imax 3D release of The Wizard of Oz--those flying monkeys are gonna be so huge and comin' right for ya.
I haven't said this in quite some time, but hooray for Hollywood!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The 8th Industry Insider Screenwriting Contest is off and running!

This go-round, the logline comes from Oscar winning screenwriter Roger Avary (Pulp Fiction, The Rules of Attraction, Beowulf):
"Three neurotic hit-men, each with troubled pasts, are separately enlisted by a highly secretive client to assassinate each other."
As usual, you submit up to the first fifteen pages of a feature script based on this logline.  Genre is up to you - you can write it as comedy, drama, sci-fi, horror or anything else that floats your boat.

Apparently the early deadline has come and gone, but I don't remember seeing an email for this one before.  Final deadline is October 31, so still plenty of time to get 15 pages written.  The rest of the gory details can be found here.

Image snicked from their website.
Looks like we don't need to take "hit-men" too literally.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Of pool noodles and pet rocks

Awesome words of advice via The World of Steam:

Which reminded me of this thing: The legendary Pet Rock, which made its creator a millionaire.  And guess's back!!!  But only as a limited edition, it would appear.  So tempting.  So very, very tempting.

My Dad had a Pet Rock back in the day, but it's long gone.  Too bad, that thing must be worth a freaking fortune.  I mean, it was an original Pet Rock, not one of these new cheap knockoffs that probably come from Tijuana.  Or China.  Harvested by child labor.

Although the "owner's manual" was famous for its humor, my favorite part was the packaging:

It's got holes in the box.  So it can breathe.

In my version, the pool noodle inventor is a totally dorky guy who is now laughing all the way to the bank and getting ALL. THE. CHICKS!  So yeah.  Let people laugh at your dreams all they want.  Just don't let them stop you.  Remember, success is the best revenge!

Pet Rock carrier image snicked from its Wikipedia page linked above.