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.