Sunday, October 9, 2016

In Search of Honor

The week started with a sound bite - a man in his late middle age uttering crude comments about women. Having assiduously avoided reading them, I am not in a position to dissemble the madness. Suffice to say...what a jerk.

The week ended with the murder of 27 year old police woman Lesley Zerebny, who fell beside coworker Jose Vega in Palm Springs. She had returned recently from maternity leave, her child born four months ago.

Irony is for amateurs. I have been blessed to serve in the company of heroes who happen to be woman. We have fought together, bled together, laughed together. I have put my life in their hands - they in mine.

How does one respond to dishonor? 

By remembering heroes. By remembering the best our communities have to offer. By remembering a 4 month old who won't really be able to remember Mom.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

It's Your Secret

Co-worker: "You talk like your characters are real."
Me: "They are."

What would Karen/Amy/Cici do. Or, in more contemporary terms, who would they vote for in the presidential race.

Pat and I have had this conversation. Seriously. The question came up as we were talking through plot lines for "Karen 3." 

None of them are really mine.

My first novel, born in naivete and nurtured through hours of earnest inexperience, featured Flatiron Valley police sergeant Amy Painter. I wanted her to wrestle with a variety of challenges - danger, death and the awful dilemma of options. Several good friends helped me mold her into 3D. She occupied hours of discussion with Pat, often during long beach walks or plane rides.

The "finished manuscript" in hand, I headed for Kinkos, to get copies printed for friends who would read my first attempt at publication. Getting out of the car proved a challenge, the emotions were so strong. Amy would no longer be mine.

She would belong to readers. They would have opinions - some good, some not - about who she is, what she cares about and whether she made the case for women in law enforcement. Some of the input would sting. But... Writers write, said William Forrester, so readers can read.

Karen Sorenson sprang to life at an airshow. The words poured out - lonely, emotionally abused and longing for someone to love, she set that all aside to solve a murder. The manuscript was enormous, unwieldy and a hot mess.
Two writer friends helped me trim it down.

But, writing for publication is a business. I took Karen to the home of a woman fleeing from an unacceptable past. The story concluded after a mere nine thousand words, but it got the attention of Marci Baun at Wild Child. We were off and running.

Cici. She started as a plot line, one dimensional. Drones, death and martial law. The story virtually wrote itself, but my main character had no depth. She wasn't real. Enter a coworker who would become a friend. And Cici took on a real personality.

So who would they vote for?

That's up to you, my loyal readers.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

A Tale of Two Shootings

"The risk of a wrong decision is preferable to the terror of indecision." Maimonides.

Maimonides was a philosopher born in the middle of the 12th Century. He studied the philosophies of we would now call "The Classics." Likely, he never served as a police officer.

Recently, two separate decisions by officers in Charlotte and Tulsa resulted in the use of deadly force. Two men died. Both situations seemed to begin relatively routinely, but did not end that way.

"Relatively routinely." There was a time when we could name on one hand the number of weapons calls to which officers were summoned. Now, they are commonplace. "We're actually getting pretty good at them," a friend said recently. "There are a couple every shift."

One night not long ago, officers responded to a gun call. They were confronted by a man with a shotgun, who fired several shots at them. He missed. Return fire struck the suspect, who retreated into an apartment (and later surrendered, with serious but survivable injuries).

Men and women who work in risky professions continually face critical situations in which lives hang in the balance - often, their own. Four Wilmington firefighters fell through a collapsed staircase last night. Two died. In Westminster (CO) police responded to a robbery. The confrontation ended in the death of one suspect. Douglas County deputies dealt with a suicidal person shooting randomly - the detective wounded in the exchange is just now regaining some semblence of consciousness.

Two years ago several of my coworkers responded to a welfare check. What could be more routine? Someone is acting in an unusual manner and it is law enforcement's role to assess their behavior. My friends came under sniper fire. Two were seriously wounded. 

What makes being a first responder unique - fire service, law enforcement, EMT, HAZMAT - is that we are rarely able to walk away from an unresolved situation. We have to engage. We have to make decisions. Sometimes, it involves people who may be armed. There is that moment, one critical blink of an eye, when the mind says "I"m about to be killed."

What happens next?

I have no firsthand knowledge of either the Tulsa or Charlotte incidents. One officer got to see his city in flames. The other has been arrested.

The risk of being wrong hangs as a dark cloud above. No matter how well trained a human being is, that is a risk we all live with. We saw, we perceived, we concluded. Officers must act.

And, we have to live, or die, with what we do next.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Cars, Bars and Cold Steel

Turk Malloy (Scott Caan): Saul, do you get out to Utah much?
Saul: (Carl Reiner) Not as often as I'd like.
Turk Malloy: Check it out. I think you'd dig Provo. You could do well there.
Saul: I'll look into it.
 Ocean's Eleven (2001).

Fresh from Action Target's four-day Law Enforcement Training Camp in Provo, Utah. Here are a few glimpses into a 9-5 world of shooting, shooting and more shooting.

  • It is said that the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. The only way to load two thousand rounds of pistol ammo is one at a time. I developed a hot spot on my right thumb, and a definite appreciation for a contraption my friend had that made loading those last few rounds spectacularly easier.
  • There are a lot of great shooters in the LE community. There are people who almost never miss what they are shooting at. I met several who never miss.
  • Shooting is 80% mental and 20% a well-trimmed beard.
  • "You have to be hungry to eat a donut? I never heard of such a thing." Danny Devito (Other People's Money).
  • The satisfaction derived from hearing a steel target ring when struck by a bullet you fired cannot be understated.
  • Cold beer is an antidote for nearly any form of dehydration. Two cold beers is a hydration investment.
  • The Rifleman's Creed - "This is my rifle. There are many like it but this one is mine" was one of my favorite parts of Full Metal Jacket. It does not apply to the $8000 rifle I had the privilege of shooting. It was a .338 Lapua Magnum (If that makes no sense to you, wait until A More Perfect Union comes out). The barrel alone costs two grand. I fired five shots at an old clunker we were using for a class.
  • Speaking of old clunkers, shooting out of a moving vehicle isn't easy... No, actually it is easy as can be. Hitting anything - that's the hard part.
  • A Boston accent is still very pleasant to hear.
  • Two long drives, four days of shooting and my coworkers are still my friends. That's something right there.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Contract Talks

"Do we have an accord? Drinks all around!" Captain Jack Sparrow.

The offer of a contract from a publisher to a writer...

The first was for A Parasol in a Hurricane. I had submitted the short story to Wild Child Publishing - our oldest daughter was our wild child and I thought "What the hell, perhaps that's a sign." It was. I received an email from the acquisition editor and, later, one from from Publisher (and now, friend) Marci Baun, that I would be assigned an editor and would receive a contract offer.

It was around 0415 - just past four in the morning - eating breakfast and getting ready for work. Heart pounding, huge grin, only one other person in the world needed to know, someone who had supported my writing "career" since my vast array of published works was a letter to the editor.

Yes, I woke up my non-morning person wife at zero-dark. 

Last weekend, Marci signaled that another contract would be forthcoming, for the manuscript A More Perfect Union. If all goes well, it will be my forth novel, fifth published work. But, there are no guarantees.

First, there is the contract to sign. For me, this is a formality. Marci sends me the document, I read it and sign it. Perhaps if I was Dan Brown (who sold millions of his novel Da Vinci Code) there would be something to talk about. There isn't. While I have a robust and growing readership, you'll know I've hit it big when I trade in my gun, badge and vest for a new job - porch watcher. I promised Pat I would guard the back porch while I write.

Each competent publisher has a guidebook containing their writing standards. WC is no different. The placement of commas, how many periods in a ..., whether body parts can move in a non-standard fashion (can one "cast an eye" without actually removing it?) It is amazing to ask Word to highlight every instance of just, to see how repetitively one writes even a polished, privately edited 99,000 word manuscript. After a main character has smiled 745 times, maybe we have her grin, smirk or turn her mouth up at the edges?

All of this before the editor goes to work. They are easy mistakes to make, and to fix. No one pays an editor to point those out.

The editor is there to wreak mayhem on your hours of blood and sweat. They lay waste to the very idea of the work, tear out your heart and, before your very eyes burn it to a cinder.

Okay, it's actually not like that at all. Learning how to be professional during the editing process generally separates those who write, and those who are authors. Accepting changes, even wholesale ones, is a skill that one masters in the spaces between "You have got to be fucking kidding me" and "I think I understand, (editor). Does this work better for you?" It's no fun to eliminate scenes, drop a character and/or rewrite dialogue that seemed inspired when written. 

It becomes a matter of trust. "Writers write so readers can read," said fictional novelist William Forrester. Editors edit so publishers will publish, and publishers have a keen sense of what readers will not just read, but what they will buy. "Don't fall in love with the words," I was once counseled. "Fall in love with release day." I have had the good fortune to be edited by people I trust.

Book covers matter. Finding just the right combination of strength, sincerity and allure in stock photos of police women has been challenging. Fortunately, friends to the rescue. On two occasions folks have dropped everything and agreed to an hour of photo shooting. Heather Leider at Leider Photography and Jen Rohling at Rohling Photography put together photo shoots that resulted in an impressive array of choices for the artist to massage. Allison Nishi, a University of Denver faculty member and director, and former LPD dispatcher Kim Authement were steadfast in getting the facial expressions just right. These were the results.

The final bit of typing to do is the acknowledgment page. Writing may be a solitary activity, but writing for publication takes a lot of help. More Perfect Union took a fairly large cast. I have the geopolitics down (don't let that scare you away - this is not a book about politics) but the characters, especially the main character, took a lot of time to develop. Thank goodness I knew who to turn to.

We made a toast to the next novel, sitting in the shade on my daughter's back porch. There were a few tears of joy shed - I won't lie, it's profoundly emotional even after the fifth work. There are long hours ahead, a lot of effort by a lot of people before release day.

But... Cici is one step closer to your Kindle or Nook. You'll love her.

Monday, August 29, 2016


Dr. Frankenstein (Gene Wilder): "Igor, help me with these bags."
Igor (Eye-gore)(Marty Feldman): "You take the blonde, I'll take the one in the turban."

Noting the passing of actor Gene Wilder.

He was, even the few times he played lead, perpetually the "other guy." Even in Young Frankenstein, ostensibly the central role as the monster's (Peter Boyle) creator, he was overshadowed by a vaudeville-performing back-from-the-dead beast, a buxom assistant and a servant whose hump seemed to change sides with each scene. His acting style could be, well, manic. Wild hair, eyes wide, he didn't so much deliver lines in that personae as scream them.

He was a veteran, drafted into the US Army in the 1950's. He served for several years, mostly as a medic at a military hospital in New York City. He pursued acting, took classes, and began a career that found him in some of the most interesting movie projects of the 60's and 70's. The Producers found him as an accountant who comes up with a brilliant idea - defraud stage-play investors with "Springtime for Hitler," a production so bad it would close on its opening night. He was nominated for an Academy Award.

That was his first Mel Brooks movie, but not his last. He played a perfect sidekick in Blazing Saddles, the white "Waco Kid" alcoholic gunfighter to Sheriff Bart, an African-American railroad worker sent to certain death as the sheriff of Rock  Ridge. The Waco Kid was suave and worldly, and could shoot lights out when he'd had a bit of the hair of the dog.

My friend John and I went to see Young Frankenstein at the theater, mostly on a whim. From the opening credits to the final scene ("Oh, sweet mystery of life...") I couldn't stop laughing. It was broad humor, childish at times and enlightened at others. There is the shrewish princess of a fiance (Madeline Kahn), a Germanic and comely laboratory assistant (Terri Garr) and the shrunken but roguish Igor (Marty Feldman). The brilliant, eccentric Kenneth Mars's Inspector Kemp delivered, in high dudgeon, lines like "He vill curse the day that he was bern a Frankenstein," with such a thick accent that the crowd could never understand him.

Wilder wrote the screenplay for Young Frankenstein, his second Academy nomination. It is high-minded genius. The monster comes to life, but begins to strangle its creator. Wilder is reduced to a game of charades, finally getting Garr and Feldman to understand. Igor triumphantly proclaims "Give him the sed-a-give!" Sedated at last, Boyle slumps to the floor.

"Sed-a-give?!" Wilder screams.

Maybe you have to be in the right mood. Maybe it has to be your genre. It was genius, brilliantly written, exquisitely over-acted, shot in black and white as an homage to all of the horror movies we watched as kids.

Wilder died today of the effects of Alzheimer's disease.

I know there were other roles, and other facets to his varied life. But, Young Frankenstein... 

Well played, sir. 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Easy Reading

I tried.

There were a number of places to express an opinion concerning this fellow in San Francisco who refused to stand for the national anthem. He was apparently expressing his dismay about "bodies in the streets" or some such nonsense. Perhaps he should get his nose out of his playbook and his ass to Chicago on a warm weekend. Then, we could have something to agree about.

This is a busy weekend, and eschewing the argument, aside from a well-placed "Dick move" on several posts was advised. And it is a dick move. But...

One friend was involved in a discussion with some like-minded friends of his, expressing a different "take." Aside from the usual drivel, someone made mention of the individual's "First Amendment" rights in light of the firestorm of criticism energizing social media. I would have to friend order to make the following point. That's silly, though. I'll make it here.


Let's read the First Amendment, shall we?

 Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Congress shall make no law. Not "Jim Greer shall express no opinion..." This football player is free to express his opinion and be free from governmental sanction. The 49ers (who appear to be a corporation) have a contract with him, the terms and conditions of which may restrict some behaviors outside of the control of government. 

But, the First Amendment does not act to prevent, abridge or limit the cascade of criticism from individuals heaping on this clown. Neither does it suggest that telling him "It isn't illegal, but you're a giant child for doing it. You should stand up." is inappropriate know...the First Amendment. It prohibits the government from messing with him.

Okay, enough horseback riding for one day.