Monday, September 29, 2014


Downside: Indulging internet trolls. Upside: THE LAUNDRY ROOM IS MINE!!!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Words of wisdom on writing

Whenever you write, whatever you write, never make the mistake of assuming the audience is any less intelligent than you are. (Rod Serling)

Serling spent a few years teaching writing at Antioch College and Ithaca College.  Can you imagine having to turn your stories in to a six time Emmy winner and creator of The Twilight Zone for critique and grading? 

The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress.  (Philip Roth) Agreed. If I had a Native American name, it would be Works-In-Progress. 

I think the greatest teacher of writing is reading. (Michael Connelly)

The difference between fiction and non-fiction is that fiction must be absolutely believable. (Mark Twain) It's funny because it's true.

Talent is helpful in writing, but guts are absolutely essential. (Jessamyn West)

The great thing about revision is that it's your opportunity to fake being brilliant. (Will Shetterly) One of the first things writers are taught: Writing is rewriting.

Artists don't talk about art. Artists talk about work. (Paddy Chayefsky) 

I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter. (James Michener)

My favorite words to hear in a writer’s room: "What if…” (Shawn Ryan)

Images snicked from the internets.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Women and crime

This shouldn't really be all that surprising. I'd guess 95-98% of the attendees at WPA were women. Yeah, I know it's Salon, but it's also a goldmine of women authors to add to your Goodreads and Amazon wish list: Why today's most exciting crime novelists are women.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Writers' Police Academy - Wrap up

Some stuff that's been keeping me from blogging much lately seems to have worked out, so here (finally) is my final installment of my experience at this year's Writers' Police Academy.

Best-selling author Michael Connelly was this year's Guest of Honor and was interviewed after dinner at the Saturday night banquet. He attributed his discipline as a writer to his previous career as a journalist and the deadlines that were part of that job (you don't get to claim "writer's block" in that line of work) and briefly discussed the upcoming Amazon show Bosch, based on his famous LAPD detective who first appeared in the 1992 novel The Black Echo and next in the upcoming The Burning Room.

That's Connelly on the right.

I didn't make it to the Sunday morning debriefing because I was so damn tired (a combination of the schedule and my annoying insomnia). I did sleep in and felt great. The flights home were pretty uneventful, except for the part where my luggage didn't make it onto the same flight from Dallas to LAX that I was on. It showed up shortly on the next flight in from DFW and thanks to a combination of quick service on the part of Super Shuttle and being the first one dropped off, I was home a little after midnight.

It was tough to leave North Carolina. Every time I go there - and keep in mind I'm only seeing a very small part of it, Greensboro and Jamestown - it gets harder and harder to come back. Everything is so green, so lush and so sparsely built up and the people are so normal and genuinely down to earth. I was taking pictures all weekend trying to capture the beauty of the place, but none of the pictures did the place justice.

Finally, a big shoutout to everyone at Guilford Technical Community College, whose police, fire and EMT programs host the Friday and Saturday sessions. It's a gorgeous campus and the students and staff are a big part of making WPA a fun and unique experience. There's talk of moving the event to another city next year and if that happens, good luck to whoever has to fill in for GTCC.

My online photo album for WPA 2014 is here (right now it's incomplete and will be updated).

Friday, September 19, 2014

Serial killer Lassie

If Lassie used her talents for evil...

H/T to Donna Blanchard McNicol on FB.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Writers' Police Academy - Saturday

Some real life obligations have kept me from blogging much, so here - rather belatedly - is the next installment of my experience at this year's Writers' Police Academy, which took place September 4-7.

Demo: Explosive Breaches (Instructor: Captain Randy Shepherd, Guilford County Sheriff's Office)
Prior to heading off to classes, we were treated to a demo of explosive breaches, which basically involves attaching explosives to doors in order to enter a building. The first explosion fizzled, prompting Captain Shepherd to quip that we had the privilege of witnessing a rare "fail breach". But the second one...the second one went BOOM!!!

Policing Back in the Day (Instructor: Lt. David Swords, ret.)
Most of the differences between modern and not so modern police work pertains to technology and equipment, although Lt. Swords did put up a rather amusing slide showing pre-1970's policewoman uniforms. The skirts and hats made them look like WACs from World War II.
  • If your story takes place prior to the mid-late 1980's, do not include DNA evidence. The first DNA conviction was in England in 1986. The first case that used DNA to get a conviction in the U.S. was a rape case in Florida in 1988.
  • One of the most changed pieces of equipment is the gun belt. The old belt carried a gun, holster, ammo pouch and handcuff case. Modern gun belts will carry a gun, holster, ammo pouch, handcuff case, pepper spray, mic, flashlight, baton, walkie and latex case.
  • Pretty much the only piece of equipment that hasn't changed over the years are handcuffs.
  • Prior to computerization, existing warrants were stored on a rolodex. An officer would call in to dispatch and ask them to "check the wheel" or "spin the wheel on (name of suspect)".
  • Before women in law enforcement started to mainstream (around mid-1970's) they would carry their firearms in a purse that was part of their uniform.

K-9 Demo (Instructor: Corporal Moser, Guildford County Sheriff's K-9 Unit)
How stupid am I? I didn't get the first name of the officer/instructor, but I've got the dog's name, no problem. It's Miki (pronounced Mikey).  I think Corporal Moser was a last minute addition, because he's not in the official program. 
  • Breeds most commonly used are Belgian Malinois, German Shepherds, Czech Shepherds, Dutch Shepherds (described by Moser as "crazy"), Labrador Retrievers (good for arson and explosives), Bloodhounds and Plott Hounds. Miki is a four year old Czech Shepherd.
  • The dogs stay with their handlers 24/7 and are usually adopted by the handlers when they reach retirement. The dogs also have a pension of sorts: All of their food and care is paid for by the department both during their active careers and after they retire.
  • There is no mandatory retirement age for the dogs. They are retired when their handlers feel they are no longer up to the work, or if they are injured or become ill. I found out during this class that Reno, the bomb-sniffing dog from last year's demo, retired recently due to some sort of muscle problem. It made me sad - he was so into his work.
  • Police dogs are not usually sent in the water after a suspect, because they can be held down underwater and drowned.
  • The dogs are not taught to attack, but to "bite and hold".
  • In building searches, one dog can do the work of ten officers.
Here's Miki!

Cold Case Protocols (Instructors: Dr. Katherine Ramsland & David Pauly)
  • Probably the number one way a cold case is solved: A now-ex decides to talk and reveal info they had previously withheld. Others include new info from witnesses and new witnesses.
  • Some methods used in trying to solve cold cases include exhumation and requestioning witnesses.
  • Dr. Ramsland recommended the book The Skeleton Crew: How Amateurs Are Solving America's Coldest Cases.

Cool Stuff I Learned As a Prosecutor That You Can Use in Your Books (Instructor: Alafair Burke)
Burke is a former prosecutor, a current Professor of Law and an author. Some of the topics she covered included:
  • Myths surrounding courthouse culture. A couple of examples: Myth 1: Trials. About 90% of criminal cases are resolved by plea. Pleas can include a reduced charge (murder to manslaughter) and bargaining over length of sentence. Myth 2: Police and prosecutors are one big happy family. She used Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner, and Charlie Brown and Lucy as a couple of examples of the reality of the relationship between the two.
  • A large part of the presentation dealt with the Fourth Amendment and when cops do and do not need warrants (tip: not always) and ways to get around the need for a warrant, should your fictional detective or PI not be able to get one. 
  • She also discussed various types of search and seizures, especially in regard to idea of a person having a reasonable expectation of privacy. Example: If something is in plain view, finders keepers.
  • Refusal to speak to law enforcement or submit to a search cannot legally be considered an admission of guilt. And if you do consent, you can withdraw it at any time.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Employment Opportunity: Latent Print Examiner

These jobs actually exist outside television. We did it last year at Writers' Police Academy and it was a blast. But in this case, this is someone's real life.

For some reason I'm blown away by that. Maybe because I wasted so many years at boring office jobs. Who knew these jobs existing in real life before CSI?

Friday, September 12, 2014

More from Writers' Police Academy - Friday

I'm embarrassed to admit that I decided to drop out of the highly anticipated Felony Murder Investigation. After the first two sessions I realized that it was going to be more information and interview driven than evidence and forensics driven, which is what I had thought it would be going in. The good news is that this freed me up to take several other classes. Here's a recap from last Friday:

Romance Behind the Badge (Instructor: Secret Service Special Agent (ret.) Mike Roche)
Agent Roche took a lot of good-natured ribbing about this course, earning the title "The Love Doctor". Some of the points he touched on about relationships in law enforcement:
  • Women make up about 12% of the law enforcement. It is difficult for them to have relationships outside of the first responder community (cops, fire, medical) due to civilian reaction to their career. When they join law enforcement, they're being dropped into a male dominated world, leading to what Roche referred to as "bees to honey". 
  • Male officers are more likely than female officers to marry outside of law enforcement.
  • Badge Bunnies: Women attracted to the uniform and what it infers: A man who is tough, fit and not a serial killer.
  • Control issues can torpedo a relationship. In law enforcement, you become used to taking control of situations and it can hard to turn it off when you go home.
  • Divorce in law enforcement is higher than in the civilian world.
  • Roche had numerous stories about relationships that ended careers. This usually resulted from the officers in charge having sex while on the clock. "If you have sex on duty, you're toast". 

Domestic Murder (Instructor: Corporal Tracy Fulk, Greensboro Police Department)
Corporal Fulk discussed domestic murder and violence cases and the Greensboro PD's domestic violence program, victim advocacy and non-police based support groups. 
  • The department uses a "lethality survey" for domestic violence victims made up of 16 questions. The more "yes" answers, the more likely a relationship will end in homicide. As few as 3-4 "yes" answers could indicate a problem.
  • 14% of officers killed in the line of duty lose their lives on domestic violence calls. 97% of them are killed with guns (7% of the time with their own firearm). Officers face a one in three chance of being injured on a domestic violence call.
  • Domestic violence is about power and control. Most victims know their partner's triggers.
  • We asked if restraining orders actually do any good. Per Fulk, they can sometimes serve as a wakeup call, causing the person served to check their behavior.

Researching Exotic Crimes (Instructor: Dr. Katherine Ramsland)
Dr. Ramsland is a forensic psychologist and the author of over 50 books and 1,000 articles. She recently finished a book on the serial killer Dennis Rader, aka the BTK Killer, with whom she is also conducting on on-going chess game. 

This class is not for the faint of heart. Some of the topics covered were paraphilia, bizarre suicides (including an attempt with a chainsaw - the person survived but did manage to cut off both her arms in the process) and cannibalism. At one point Dr. Ramsland showed a slide that looked like pieces of chicken on a baking sheet. It wasn't chicken. 

Just to make the experience a bit creepier, a bunch of our smart phones went off during class, giving off a weird tone that turned out to be a flash flood warning (the area had been having storms). WPA attendees are usually hyper interested in any and all crazy stuff the instructors can throw at us, but I think this class may have been a little much for some of them.

From Fact to Fiction: How To Turn Chilling Research Into a Thrilling Novel (Instructor: Lisa Gardner)
Best-selling author Lisa Gardner was the Guest of Honor at last year's WPA, and she was so impressed with the event that she returned this year on her own dime. A fun and engaging speaker, she shared her experiences seeking out ideas and information that made their way into her novels. Some of her advice:
  • Cold calls are okay - she got into the Body Farm this way.
  • Potential sources: Hands-on events like WPA, classes, articles, the internet, law enforcement, lawyers, ride-alongs. 
  • When contacting an expert, be professional, polite, and emphasize that your interest is solely for fiction.
  • In your book, when acknowledging the contributions of sources and experts, include the statement that, "All mistakes are mine".
  • When reading or watching crime fiction, note inaccuracies that bother you as a member of the audience. Don't repeat these mistakes in your own work.
Lisa Gardner

Next up: Saturday recap.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Friday, September 5, 2014

Friday morning at Writers' Police Academy

Here's the scenario: A suspected drunk driver flees a stop and crashes into a group of people setting up a yard sale.

The victims were played by EMS students. I had previously raved about their performances last year. Today, someone near me in the crowd told us that these exercises are part of their schooling and grades, and in addition that they also compete in collegiate competitions for staging scenes.

The "injured" laid scattered about, while dummies played the fatalities pinned under the car.

The guilty party still in the car.

Badly injured victim.

The police arrive to start taking stock of the situation.

Fire and rescue to the rescue.

Firefighters begin the process of getting the car up off the victims.

Officer demonstrates the "heel toe" method to the suspect.


One victim out from under the vehicle.

It wasn't until a paramedic simply lifted the other fatality up in her arms that I could tell it was a child. Throw the book at this guy!


All photos from this session are here.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Stumbling out of the gate and into Writers' Police Academy

Dateline: Greensboro, North Carolina, 
September 4, 2014, 2:02 pm.

This weekend is the always awesome Writers' Police Academy and the third year in a row that I've attended.

Here's a taste of what I have to look forward to this weekend: A six-part felony murder investigation (that starts tonight after orientation and ends Sunday morning just prior to the debriefing panel), K9 demo, a cold case session and appearances by best-selling authors Michael Connelly and Lisa Gardner.  There's a lot more going on, but the murder investigation is monopolizing most of my time.

That's the good news.

The bad news is that when it comes to flying I'm a total coward and drama queen (although most of that is internalized, I try not to inflict my quirks on the world at large). I live in Los Angeles. Writers' Police Academy is held in Greensboro, North Carolina. There are no direct flights from LAX to the airport in Greensboro. You do the math.

So last night at around 10:45 pm (PDT) the shuttle showed up to take me to LAX and shortly thereafter I parked myself by gate 46B. Per my ticket, we would start loading at 12:35 am for our 1:05 am departure. 12:35 came and went and I kept waiting for them to call, and nothing. I watched the minutes tick by, and then around 12:50 realized that the big group of people seated in a section off to my right had pretty much cleared out and then it hit me - I was sitting by gate 46A, not B. Keep in mind they shut the doors to the plane 10 minutes before departure, in fact when I first arrived I saw a woman arrive a few minutes too late to board a flight to O'Hare. Luckily I was close by, so I grabbed my stuff and headed over and just made it under the wire. I never heard them call the flight even though other announcements had been coming through loud and clear.

The funny thing is that whenever I fly and I'm sitting in the terminal at LAX, agonizing over having to get on a plane, all I can think of is that I still have time to bolt for home. All I could think of was chickening out, grabbing a cab and going home and climbing into my big, comfy bed I love so much. Flying terrifies me so much that the first year I attended WPA, I actually looked into taking the train, but it just wasn't timely or practical. But no, I ended up on the plane.

Then, just to add insult to injury, the pilot comes on the intercom and announces that we're slightly delayed due to a repair...(cue my heart stopping)...on a broken latch on one of the overhead compartments. I almost bolted out of my seat and out of the plane when he said "repair".

Because there's no direct flights I had booked my flights to go through Dallas-Fort Worth, because it pretty much breaks the trip into two equal length flights (unlike the past couple of years, when Travelocity had me come home through Chicago, then Atlanta, leaving me with a short hop and then a long ride home).

So I made it to Dallas and after taking a mercifully short ride on their Skylink people mover or whatever the hell that awful thing is, I made it to my next gate (the correct one this time). My phone updated to the new time zone (two hours earlier than L.A.) but I needed to reset my watch. Oddly, it was only off an hour and a half, not two hours, and after staring at it for a bit I realized why. It had stopped working. So I don't have a watch for the entire weekend. At an event that's pretty much scheduled every hour on the hour.

It didn't feel like a particularly promising start to the weekend, and I still had another 2-1/2 hour torture session flight ahead of me, and in a much smaller (therefore scarier) plane.

Somehow, I managed to make it to Greensboro in one piece, despite all the drama. Oh, did I mention that yesterday I was up at around 7:30 am and can't sleep on planes, and therefore at this point I haven't slept in well over 24 hours? Yeah, poor me.

I've got a couple hours until orientation and part 1 of felony murder, so I'm going to try and catch a quick nap, but I'm not holding out much hope. I'm too keyed up about WPA and I'm running on adrenaline and excitement (or fumes) at this point. If nothing else, the Insomnia Queen should sleep well tonight.

Wed: Updated to correct a couple of typos. Like I mentioned in the post, I wrote this having gone 24+ hours without sleep.