Monday, February 20, 2017

Rookie Cookies

 Please welcome my friend, a "rookie" sheriff's deputy. To say he is a deeply and diversely talented man is to bleach out the essential meanings of both of those words. A combat veteran, a photographer and videographer. Here he describes vividly the feelings of a new officer when their trainer says "You got this" and turns them loose for solo duty.

   The patrol car feels awfully lonely when you first sit in it by yourself. For the past seventeen weeks I’ve had a mentor in the seat next to me... They are a hand in your back, guiding you towards the right answer, even if it’s barely even a nudge at times. They want you to succeed, even if they leave you out on a limb to figure it out for yourself. The best way I can describe this process might come across as a teeny bit obscure but that’s the way I was raised – I am British, after all.  
   Imagine jumping out of an airplane with no parachute. Your guide, the Field Training Instructor, is in a wing-suit next to you as you start to plummet towards the earth. He looks sleek his fancy goggles and bright smile. He gives you double-thumbs up, then hands you an unfolded cardboard box and says, “Okay, you’re doing great, now land with this!” As you tumble towards utter ruin, your FTI might snip at the cardboard box you’re holding, streamlining your descent as the details start to focus. The closer you get to stumbling, the more in-depth your perspective. Small things start to matter the faster you fall.
   The questions you will ask yourself, your preemptive decision making and your adaptability to changing situations, all the more clear as it becomes all the more urgent. Your cardboard box, over the course of your descent into the wild and wonderful world of public service, starts to look like it might become something more aerodynamic and soon, before you know it, your FTI will pat you on the back and say, “Good luck with your new team!”
   When I say “shape”, I mean beaten enough that you can at the very least land on your own two feet and work through the problems you’re going to face. Complicated and sometimes dangerous problems like; human crisis, mental disabilities, violent crime… The odd dog in the road.
   Field training really is as I was once told, “Like drinking from a fire hose.”
   Before I transferred to the patrol division, my Sergeant at the time told me that I’d start to see patterns as I progressed. That every call will be different but the principles of your response are going to be the same. Every call will have a reporting party and if it’s a crime, a victim and a suspect. If you’re lucky, you’ll get witnesses. If you’re unlucky, your victim will be uncooperative and your suspect unknown. If you’re very, very unlucky, your victim will be a child and your suspect, incarcerated for the property crimes that fuel her methamphetamine addiction.
   I’ve been a cop for two years but a patrol deputy for only a few months. As I write this, I am half way through my third week flying solo. Field training is over and I am figuring things out little by little. Your brain doesn’t stop, ever. Every single problem you’re given has a thousand ways to be solved and like it or not, we don’t live in the black and white contrast of our patrol cars. Every single aspect of law and the justice system is debatable. Only half of all lawyers are right, at any given time. The law is full of gray areas, a science that is subject to interpretation, and that’s the fun part. It is encouraging to see senior cops on my team debating back-and-forth about labelling each incident and how the solution was discovered. Even when it’s a heated debate about whether there is enough with which to charge the principals, it’s a bonding ceremony. Outsiders might see it as an argument. Insiders get excited and pull the small legal source-book from their shirt pockets, so they can join in.
   Seriously though, what do I know? I’ve been doing this job for about two hot minutes.
   I’m writing this because a good friend and leader encouraged me to share this new experience. He is an incredible person, who thinks logically, speaks carefully and has a deeply creative spirit. The level of intellect he exudes makes me feel smarter by proxy. He doesn’t know that I regard him as one of the greatest leaders that I’ve in my life. I’ve served overseas, on the front-line, with war-fighters and warriors. I am cautious not to understate the positive influence that and so many others have made upon my law enforcement career, short as it is. Pick good people to follow. They’ll take care of you. Even more so if you buy “Rookie cookies” at the beginning of each training phase.
   So here I go again: Off into a world of the unknown with already a full list of things to remember. It gets easier, once you find your rhythm. I’ve been told that this happens during your third year, so I’m doing alright! Everyone is looking out for me and supports me in my successes and my mistakes. As long as we are all doing that for one another, we will survive the day and get home to what is important…
   A Rookie

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Filling A Vacant Chair

You know him as Pahlevan Kouloubandi. He is a sheriff's deputy with the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, a man who is so multi-talented that I am humbled in his presence. He is a combat veteran, a videographer and a writer of such immense talent that I would love him to grace these pages with his own words someday.

He has offered this video, in which Agent Jason Bush makes a quick appearance, teaching new officers how to make traffic stops. He is in the right passenger seat, looking calm, charge. Frankly, I do not know how we will fill that seat.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

A Kind Heart

"Well, here's my counter-offer." Vincent Gambini (Joe Pesci) My Cousin Vinnie.

Mourning the passing of Police Agent Jason Bush.

I didn't know what to do.

The scam was well-orchestrated. A fly-by-night moving company would pack up a person's belongings, and transport them across town. Arriving at the destination, the crew would point to an obscure clause buried in the moving document's legalese and demand additional money to unload, sometimes a substantial sum. Often, people paid grudgingly, angrily. But, they usually paid. 

A woman called the police. Her story was compelling - shoestring budget, down on her luck... She couldn't afford to pay, but everything she owned (save the broken-down car she drove, and the clothes on her back) was packed in the moving truck. An examination of the contract didn't amount to much, and anyway, this was a contract dispute. A classic civil situation. Police officers rarely have options beyond suggesting the aggrieved person consult an attorney.

I don't know why I called for Jason, but I did. Level headed, lots of common sense, huge heart, a traffic guy. He arrived, and I explained the dilemma.

"Yeah, well. We'll see about that."

Jason conducted a thorough, no-nonsense don't mess with me truck inspection. He requested documents I'd never heard of. He inspected tires, brakes, hoses...and vehicle parts I didn't know existed. Lights, horns, belts. In the end, he declared the vehicle unsafe for commercial use. It had to stay parked for some substantial period of time (hours, if memory serves). The crew was miffed, to say the least. Jason smiled.

"Of course, if it's empty, it's no longer being used commercially and you can leave."

They started moving the woman's property into her new apartment. Problem solved.

We will miss him. We hold his family and friends in our hearts. We remember the wonderful man he was, how caring and kind, how much his smile could boost everyone's spirits.

And we aspire to emulate the compassionate manner in which he served the citizens of our community. May you find peace, sir.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Now That You Asked

I have a friend...

She's a business and marketing consultant who is set to help me grow my writing gig. I have no expectations of The Martian like grandeur, I'd just like to have more people read what I've written. As part of the homework she assigned, I am to complete a questionnaire. One of the items I found...profoundly interesting.

"What do you see as your writing legacy?"

I gave this considerable thought. Much of public writing these days seems less designed to persuade or celebrate, and more likely to attack, belittle or denigrate. Other writing is shamelessly commercial. Okay, so that's not what I want. Then it hit me.

I want my grandkids, and great-grandkids to see, in my writing, who we were. What was important to their Grandmother and I. Where did we go, what did we see. What was compelling enough to me (the writer, the cop, the dad) that I sat in front of a computer for hour upon hour, to craft stories that stood for something.

Women are heroes. Defeating the enemies of our community and our country is hard work, a calling for incredibly brave people. It's okay to fall in love, even under the most complicated situations. Everyone's life matters, everyone has the right to find happiness as they see fit.

When they were alive and well, the old folks were hell on wheels. They went places, they did things. They were not afraid to take chances, dare to dream. Or, if they were afraid, they went anyway.

Someday, the pictures and the words will help them understand who they are, too. I hope it brings them joy.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Writer's Bug

No matter how many books you've written, whenever you sit down to write a new book you feel the same challenge - how do you shape this story into a book people are going to love. Cassandra Clare.

Spring, and I'd just gotten word my second novel had been accepted for publication. There would be a ton of work to do - editing, fixing, rewriting and rearranging. There is the give...and the take. That is, the editor gives you marching orders and you take them.  Sorry, Marci. Kidding.

Police careers have a fairly predictable trajectory. Getting hired is harder than one might think, even though the applicant pool has shrunk a bit. Little things that would not hinder job prospects in some fields are fatal when the employer intends to allow the person to carry a gun on duty. Once that considerable hurdle is cleared, the Academy looms.

Most new hires arrive at the Academy door with a mixture of anticipation, anxiety and, well...fear. It usually turns out for the best, although the stress can be overwhelming. The challenge of mentally preparing men and women to be officers is at least as important as the skill-building and physical training they endure. 

Field training is no picnic. Imagine if someone watched you like a hawk, day in and day out, for every second of your work day. Their critical eye evaluates how the new officer dresses, talks, moves. Even the wrong body language and facial expression are critiqued and corrected. Sixteen weeks of intense scrutiny. Oh boy. I had written about what that looks like to an experienced officer in The Heart of the Matter. That was the book the publisher had accepted.

Finally, the day a cop solos. Exciting, a little spooky. Everything is new, one can list the calls they went to. Animated discussions of burglary investigations, the experienced officers rolling their eyes. Just wait, kid.

Indeed. At about year five it's gotten to be routine, even a bit mundane. Nights are long (especially in winter, when it is dark when the officer gets up, dark for their whole shift and dark when they go home). The calls sort of blend together. The money is good, but court OT on a day off is a huge pain in the ass. It's a tough time - little things pile up, and many officers look at getting out, either to a different department, or away from the profession altogether. That's where I wanted my character to be.

And that's when things would go badly wrong. But, how?

Drones, guns and constitutionalists. Lawful orders that don't sit very well. Death, despair... Boy meets girl.

A More Perfect Union didn't fall together very easily. Oh, the plot is relatively straightforward (the fun being in the details). But, it had been a while since I'd been at the crucial five year point. The main character was one dimensional, her dialogue lacking in emotional depth. I asked around for help, and got it. More help than I could have hoped for. Pro tip - writers searching for help with a manuscript are wise to find people who are honest. False flattery wastes your time, and betrays your characters. There is going to be that person who will drop everything to help. Maybe a couple of somebodies. Find them, quick.

So, now I have another book for sale. You'll like Cici. She has a heart of gold, but it has deep wounds, some of which haven't really healed. She's tough, she's aware. And she desperately wants to do the right thing when there are so many good reasons to quit. Eventually, the showdown comes, good against a terrible evil.

Does she have it in her? 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Last Man Out

"Son of a bitch!" Apollo 10 Astronaut Gene Cernan, in orbit around the Moon, May, 1969.

Noting the passing of Gene Cernan, Astronaut.

LM Pilot Cernan's words were broadcast over an open mike 240, 000 miles, from the Moon to Houston to our living room. He and his crew mate Tom Stafford were executing a maneuver in the Lunar Module, the spidery craft designed to land on the Moon, that would reunite them with John Young, piloting the Command Module in orbit forty-ish miles above. Suddenly, the machine pitched out of control.

Eugene Andrew Cernan was a typical early-era NASA astronaut. Engineer, military test pilot, cool customer. He had a master's degree and 200 "traps" aboard Navy carriers. He had three space flights - one in the small two-person Gemini, and two aboard the more sophisticated Apollo moon craft. 

His first trip to the moon - Apollo 10 - was a dress rehearsal for the landing made two months later. The space agency already had ten years of experience with the super competitive, profoundly confident fliers they employed. Apollo 10's LM, called Snoopy, had intentionally been shorted fuel. If Stafford and Cernan had "accidentally" landed, there was not sufficient fuel to depart.

So they played by the rules, flipped a few switches and... Chaos. In low (50,000 feet) orbit around the Moon, out of control. What would you say in similar circumstances? 

They were all test pilots, familiar with how experimental technology can suddenly turn a good day, bad. They got things back together, took a few deep breaths, and finished the maneuver. And took some not too gentle criticism for the salty language.

Captain Cernan went on to walk on the Moon as commander of Apollo 17, the last mission. He holds the official "Land Speed" record in a rover (about 12 mph) and along with Dr. Harrison Schmitt (Harvard-educated geologist) brought back about 250 pounds of rocks.

His parting words echoed those of the first landing. 

"And, as we leave the Moon at Taurus–Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind. Godspeed the crew of Apollo 17."

With profound thanks and immeasurable respect, Godspeed Captain Cernan.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Little Notes, Big Idea

Any man who keeps working is not a failure. He may not be a great writer, but if he applies the old-fashioned virtues of hard, constant labor, he’ll eventually make some kind of career for himself as writer.
– Ray Bradbury

Out of Ideas wasn't my first published work. It wasn't even the first novel I finished. It, in many ways, was an accident.

My friend John and I had traveled to Wisconsin, pulling a pop-up behind his SUV. We'd been friends for almost twenty-five years. He was a pilot, in addition to being a police academy classmate - he had, more or less, taught me to fly, if one broadens the definition of that skill to someone who could keep the plane flying straight and mostly level. We were in Oshkosh to witness AirVenture 2005, the Experimental Aircraft Association's annual fly in.

One need not be a total airplane geek to appreciate field upon field of flying tin that descends on tiny Wittman Regional Airport. Row after row of new planes, old iron, warbirds and military might are crammed into every nook and cranny. We spent over a week there, and never really saw the same thing twice. Vendors, static displays and everywhere the jocks, the pilots.

One night the weather descended, the skies opened up and drenched the festivities, the airfield, the stage tent (where Harrison Ford was speaking) and us. The following day low clouds led to some changes in the program; the Mustangs flying by were at a lower altitude. 

The Mustang is an amazing aircraft, flown at the show mostly by amateur pilots with enough money to pursue an explosively expensive hobby. They roared past in formation, or one after another. John's portable aviation radio picking up exhortations between the fliers as shows, or ad hoc fly-bys, took place overhead. On one occasion, several of the jocks seemed a bit miffed with a cohort whose flying was less than precise. They finally prevailed on him to land.

The next day, reading the local paper (which was hardly the New York Times) I discovered that, during one of the afternoon events an airplane had crashed off the airport property. The pilot, a dentist by profession, was killed. We had seen the aftermath of one accident the first day we'd arrived, so the tragic news was also not a surprise. With all of the activity there was no way things didn't break.

The end of the week came, unfortunately, and we headed home. Then... My mind burst into overdrive. What if?

I had written a manuscript called A Parasol in a Hurricane, urged on by my wife, and by a friend at work who offered insights into my main character I'd never thought of. The experience was energizing. I love to write, even as the ongoing business of publication gives me some trouble.

What if the pilot was an imposter. What if this was a murder? What if a tall, attractive woman was my main character and I could say, in as many words, abuse a woman and pay a price? I wanted to create a main character that was tough and tender, stand-offish and passionate... A warrior who crawled into bed with her soulmate and made him forget how to walk.

I was off. John had a little note pad that I scribble on until three AM. Yes. True story.

It became Out of Ideas, my first published novel. I had a lot of help, together we made a lot of changes (read the "Thank you" pages where I name names) and it was published.

Alas, the publisher has retreated for a while, leaving me sole owner of this property. After a short break, it's available again.

Adam and Karen. I promise they will come alive for you.

UPDATE: Out of Ideas is now available in paperback.