Thursday, December 22, 2011

'Tis the Season

Maybe it's the season.  Perhaps too much eggnog or one Christmas song too many.  Regardless, I got to thinking about friends.  Not in an intoxicated "I love you, man" kinda way, but an honest to goodness reflection of how enriching certain people are in my life.

I recently relocated 2200 miles from a town where friends were a phone call or a bike ride away.  Prior to that, I moved 1000 plus miles from an area I spent the majority of my adult life.  I have literally moved from one coast to another, spent months in other countries, and lived on the Quantico Marine Base.

The price for my wanderlust?  Relationships that I thought could withstand anything, withered.  Others became stronger because of the effort expended to keep them meaningful.  Much of my success in life is because of the support of others; people who believed in my ability, who stood by me when I challenged the status quo, those who picked me up, dusted me off and shoved me back into the ring when I got knocked out.

I have incredible friends.

Some friendships were forged in the lonely nights of patrol where secrets were shared over a cup of tea while waiting for the next radio call.  Other friendships were born in the Boardroom in Virginia.  Still others developed because of a shared interest in the written word, or music, cycling, hiking, or the consumption of good food and stomped grapes.

So maybe it is the season that reminds me that the best gift of all doesn't need to be wrapped unless it's in a hug.

My friends, I thank you.  May you find love, good health and happy travels this season and beyond.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Pet Peeves and Giving Thanks

I should have known better.  Really.  It played on the Lifetime Channel and an adventure story on Lifetime usually has issues...  Still, I got sucked in.  After all, what could go wrong with a television movie made from a compelling crime novel with engaging characters and spot-on research?  Yup, rhetorical.

First.  When an officer carries a gun, it's loaded and ready to go.  No need to drop the magazine and check for bullets, no need to rack the slide and chamber a round.  That takes time, and when a cop needs a gun, time is a valuable commodity not to be squandered.

Second.  Air support and patrol cars rarely arrive at any rally point simultaneously.  Forget for a moment that helicopters and cars travel at different speeds, just ponder the path of a crow and then muse a second about a road peppered with traffic lights.  Don't even get me started on the likelihood of a small department owning a helicopter.

Third.  If the protagonist is being stalked and her boyfriend is in law enforcement, he is not going to hide in her house to "surprise" her--especially, since she's recently taken up the habit of carrying a gun.  That combo makes for a very messy reunion.

Fourth.  If officers announce themselves to a crook from a half block or more away, the crook will run.  It's in the genetic makeup of criminals the world over.  Only the greenest rookie would be surprised.  Once. Which is why the hotshot hero would be within grabbing proximity before telling anyone he's just won a oneway trip to the GreyBar hotel.

Finally.  On the day before Thanksgiving, I want to point out that Lifetime is taking compelling crime novels with engaging characters and making them into television programs that reach an audience that may not already be familiar with a particular writer's work.  Which is exactly what happened with me.  Although I poke fun at some of the inaccuracies of the movie, the story intrigued me enough to buy the book, and then the next one and the one after that.  I have several more novels to read before catching up with the author.   For that, and so many other blessings in my life, I am thankful.

Friday, November 11, 2011

On The Other Side

I worked as a police officer for over two decades.  I've arrested, helped and annoyed a lot of people.  Fortunately, I've rarely had to utilize emergency services personally.  That changed this past Monday.

Last Saturday, my mother was involved in a car collision where she was rear-ended while stopped for a red light.  Major damage to both cars.  The police officer drove her home despite the fact that she lived in another city.  Score one for the police.

I flew to California from Florida to assist my mother.  On Monday she had a doctor's appointment.  As we were driving home from that appointment, my mother had a medical emergency in the car.  Her head lolled, one eye dilated, she couldn't speak.  Fortunately, we were within a couple blocks of an emergency room and--more importantly--I knew where to turn.  As we pulled into the ambulance bay, she snapped out of it with no recollection.  I got her inside and told the nurse I thought my mother had just suffered a stroke and was handed a clipboard to fill out, then a pager that would go off when they could see us.  As I worked myself into a ballistic froth, Mom had a seizure.  Triage revealed a heart rate in the high 30's and an abysmal blood pressure rate.  That got their attention.  Mom moved to the top of the list.

Never ask yourself if your day can get worse.  Invariably, it can. I left my mother to move the car from in front of the ER.  I arrived to find a security guard trying to jimmy the locks to tow it.  Thirty-five dollars and a lecture later, I found a new parking space.  The guard did, however, say that he would pray for my mother and in times like this, any help is appreciated.

Mom spent the day in the ER and the nurse and doctors there showed far more attentiveness and compassion than the triage nurse, although to be fair, that nurse came in after my mother regained consciousness to tell Mom that she had given her quite a scare.  Not exactly what a daughter wants to hear.

Emergency surgery, ICU, a different doctor every hour--I got to experience the whole gamut from an outsider's perspective.  I am happy to say that Mom is a tough cookie and is recuperating at home now with a brand new pacemaker to keep her company.

As a writer it is easy to paint characters in broad strokes.  Nurses are modern day Florence Nightengales, cops are either rotten to the core or as altruistic as Ghandi. It's not that easy-- and if your characters are portrayed so black and white, they become unbelievable caricatures. Readers need to connect with the people who live in your story.  There were people I wanted to strangle and those I wanted to hug throughout my mother's ordeal.  I'm pretty sure that there were people who wanted to strangle me, too. 

Guess that makes us even.


Sunday, October 30, 2011

Deadlines

Some people fear deadlines.  Maybe it's the ominous first part of the term.  But I have to admit, I love them.  I love knowing they are there to keep me focused, and occasionally, I love the whooshing sound they make as they rush on by.

I'm a writer.  That means I am distracted by every shiny thing known to man AND I've relocated to the Florida Keys for the next six months giving me a whole palette of new things to gaze upon with wonder.  Today, I accomplished a considerable amount considering I woke up hungry (not an unusual occurrence) and decided I must make waffles.  Then I found myself lamenting the horrible writing setup I have in the new abode.  Problem solved with a new office chair from the local Big Box office supply.  Too cheap to have it assembled for me, I spent the next half hour deciding what constituted Tab A and how it fit in Slot B.  Thank goodness my better half knows his way around furniture assembly far better than I do.
Aahhhh.  Just what I needed to buckle down and polish my manuscr--

Sweet!  New email!  Zombie pumpkins, Publisher's Weekly, Airfare Watchdog, writer's group....
Okay, that's finished.  Wow, is it lunchtime already?  Who wants pasta salad?
Settling back into my new chair, I marvel at how comfortable it is.  It's so comfortable that I think I may zzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Refreshed and reinvigorated, I return to the manuscript.  I reflect on the alliteration of the last line.  Isn't it delightful?  I dwell on the literary devices open to writers.  Maybe I should inject some of that in my --Holy cow!  My manuscript!

Focus.

Hard to believe that today I addressed all of the remaining formatting issues--especially since the pizza guy is almost here....

Monday, October 24, 2011

I'll Be Write Back...

I spent the last weekend at the Florida Writers' Association Conference in Orlando and hobnobbed with over 400 like-minded individuals.  For those who have never been to a major conference, the energy is phenomenal. I participated in a pitch session that resulted in a request for my full manuscript.  When I can wipe the grin off my face, I'll be back for a proper post.  Until then....

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

...And Justice For All

Why do people need social artifacts?  What is it about a structure that can capture the essence of an idea?  How can a statute take away our breath and leave in its stead the resolve to accomplish great things?  Where in a reflective pool do we find the memories of our culture?

Law enforcement is a culture of artifacts:  badges, patches, oaths, uniforms and memorials honoring fallen partners.  We are quick to call each other brother and sister.  Yet, like a family, we squabble and compete for attention.  We unite in grand scale adversity, and bicker in the doldrums of the shift.  

Policing is often an individual endeavor, and many officers find comfort in traditions.  Some wear medallions of Saint Michael, the patron saint of law enforcers, around their necks.  Others slap challenge coins down in a bar and tell war stories over beer.  Some lose themselves in the stress of the job as the years tick by.  Artifacts help people hold onto a collective identity.  The best officers never forget that they are a small part of a greater good.

When I attended the FBI National Academy, I had the opportunity to wander the mall in Washington, DC.  There on the expansive lawns and in the shadow of marble monuments, patriotism positively thrummed through my bloodstream.  Yet, I suspect that it is really a sense of ownership that makes all the monuments, memorials and tributes stirring.  After all, isn’t there a connection, a basic recognition of self and the goals of heroism and strength that each of us holds within ourselves that flares when we cast our eyes upward or stretch our fingers to stroke the cold marble?  

It is only worthy because we deem it such.  

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Guilty Pleasure

I have a confession.

I love Castle. The television series, not the stone and mortar fortress--although to be fair, there's nothing like a medieval stronghold to launch the creative muse into overdrive. But no, I'm talking Nathan Fillion as best-selling mystery writer Richard Castle shadowing New York Homicide Detective Kate Beckett as she investigates the nefarious side of the Big Apple. It is also the perfect example of how an improbable situation (and I'm being kind) in real life makes for great entertainment.

Writers strive to bring realism to their work, but let's face it; life is often tedious and realism at the expense of story is just plain boring. The writers who craft Castle understand this. Their reel life bears a strong semblance to the real world, but never lets truth get in the way. This is a critical component for writers to grasp and incorporate into their story. Castle gets a lot right. It is the screenwriters' ability to spin a yarn, however, that prompts their viewers to suspend reality, lean back and enjoy the show. Having escorted scores of people on ride-alongs, the premise of a novelist conducting research by shadowing a detective is absolutely grounded in reality. When I worked in California, I facilitated a Citizens' Police Academy attended by best-selling mystery writer Sue Grafton. Life imitating art or art imitating life? Answer? She attended first. What isn't realistic about the show is that NYPD continues to allow him to play at being a sleuth for 4 years. Do you care? That's how you winnow out the nuggets of truth that distract or damage your story. Just make sure you get all the other details right.

Oh, and he really is ruggedly handsome.

Friday, October 14, 2011

And So It Begins....Again

Every endeavor must have an inspiration. Mine bloomed 22 years ago when I held up my right hand and swore to uphold the public trust. Since then, I have served in two states, and either held or supervised every rank in a municipal police department. But this is only half the story, the other half reveals a little girl who climbed the family Mimosa tree and wrote bad (really, really, bad) poetry while cradled in the boughs. Since then, my love of word has only grown, and the creative outlet of writing kept me grounded when the realities of my profession grew heavy.

Today, I am fortunate to be able to merge the duality of my life.

Law enforcement has long been a favorite topic in the media, and its portrayal has ranged from spot-on to dismal. Today, the proliferation of television shows such as CSI, SVU, The Closer and more have created savvy viewers. Crime writers such as Lisa Gardner, Jeffrey Deaver, Michael Connelly and others infuse their writing with details of the trade that invite their readers into the lives of their characters. But what about the other genre writers who need to craft a scene involving law enforcement? How can a person who has never sat in a patrol car, served a warrant, or processed a crime scene write a scenario that won't destroy the credibility of their audience?

Getting arrested is not the answer. (Although to be honest, being handcuffed, stuffed in a tiny plastic backseat that smells of --wait, I digress.) The internet has its value, but nothing beats talking with someone who has lived it. Go on a ride along and experience how cramped a patrol car is when it is outfitted with a computer. Talk to the officer. Ask questions. The more specific the question, the better the answer.

This blog is also a resource. The inspiration behind it is to help other writers create realistic scenes and characters. Check back for future blogs. Who knows, you just may find the very tidbit you need to make your story shine.