Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Palate Cleansers, Brainstorming and Plotting

What I'm reading: Split Second, by David Baldacci. Also finished 2 quick reads: Fresh Disasters, by Stuart Woods, and The 6th Target, by James Patterson & Maxine Paetro.

What I'm writing - a new, as yet untitled short story that's getting longer and longer.

I finished my Dalton & Miri novel and have set it aside so I can revise it more objectively. After about 3 days, the writing itch came back, but I wasn't sure where to begin. Too many choices. A sequel to one of my other novels? If so, which one.?

I browsed my old writing exercise folders and came across a short exercise assignment: "Use the word curmudgeon in an under 2000 word story. I looked it over, along with notes from my old critique group and wondered if/how I could turn it into something to submit to The Wild Rose Press, which meant it had to be a romance. Since the story was about a reclusive author dealing with his curmudgeonly old man neighbor, the possibilities weren't promising. But, it was worth thinking about how to work a woman into the story. Since I had the framework of my male protagonist, I needed an acceptable (meaning totally opposite) female character.

On Saturday, my local crit group met. We do our basic critiques for writing glitches electronically, so our face to face meetings are for brainstorming. Thanks to our back-and-forth 'what if?' discussions, tossing all sorts of possibilities on the table, by the time we finished, I had the major plot points worked out. In a short story, there aren't that many of them!

I realize that this is also the way I plot a novel, but in a novel, I have about 100,000 words to work through everything, so I do this over and over throughout the book. For a short story, it's kind of 'one stop plotting.'

Another thing I found as I started writing was that this story, my male protagonist insists on being the sole POV character. I've written most of my short stories from a single POV, but always the female. I'm going to have to get my husband to read this one all the way through--not just the sexy stuff.

I'm having a lot of fun, and since this is a contemporary, traditional romance, not a mystery or suspense, there's not nearly as much work as far as setting up a mystery/crime and dealing with all the clues, red herrings and other twists the genre requires.

The only 'drawback' to having the story virtually plotted out in its entirety is that since I know what's going to happen, I've lost some of the excitement of discovery and have to spend more time getting from point A to point B and less deciding what point B actually is. I let the characters guide me, but unlike a novel-length work, I have to keep cutting them off. There just isn't time to show their entire life history on the page, even though they insist on telling all sorts of pesky childhood details.

My goal is to have this finished before I leave town on Monday.

Monday, May 28, 2007

With Thanks

For all who gave their lives, and those now putting theirs on the line for us ... Thank you.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Importance of a good proofreader

Recently my husband was given an award by the International Association for Aquatic Animal Medicine. It was supposed to be a surprise, but he told them he was too busy to go to their dinner (which was a shocker, since normally free food takes priority over just about everything), so when they told him he "had to be there" he was pretty sure something was up. Of course, I knew about it, but neither of us wanted to spoil the surprise for the other, so we each pretended to believe the original cover story, which was that he was presenting the award to a colleague.

More interesting, however is the story behind this plaque. The first iteration had the award given for Marine Mammal Conversation. Now, those critters might be smart, but so far, nobody's been able to do a whole lot of chit-chat with them. So, they sent it back and pointed out it was for Marine Mammal Conservation. They fixed that, but then my husband, after receiving this corrected version, pointed out that the man after whom the award was named was spelled Keyes, not Keys -- a fact driven home decades ago when my husband met the man who pointed out the spelling and pronunciation by way of introduction.

So, Dan -- because I know you're checking to see when this gets posted -- Here it is. And congrats again.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Civilian Police Academy - Over for now

What I'm reading: The Price by Joan Johnston

What I'm writing: Plot hole repairs

Last night was our final Civilian Police Academy class. It was a ceremony attended by the Sheriff, the Undersheriff as well as many of the department heads. The Sheriff spoke, thanking us for taking the class, and reminded everyone of the problems our community has trying to keep crime under control. Although it wasn't the speech I'd expected, it did pound home the point that the law enforcement community is overworked, underpaid, and under-appreciated, especially by the local media. (I think if personnel from the local news staff took this course, they'd change their tune). But then, anyone who knows me knows my opinion of the media is that they never let the truth get in the way of a good story.

We got lapel pins, keychains, and certificates:

We also had our pictures taken with the Sheriff. Maybe I'll post it when they send it.

Everyone in the class could see firsthand how dedicated the Orange County Sheriffs Office deputies are, and we have a lot more appreciation for their hard work.

And, of course, we had a great time getting to see some of their toys, too!

There's an Alumnae Academy that meets once a month. I think I'll be there! But next on my to-do list is my ridealong. I got the call yesterday, and my date is June 1st. I haven't mentioned it to my husband yet -- he reads my blog so I like to leave him a surprise or two. Besides, he made a point of NOT telling me he noticed my new slacks and shoes last night until after we got home.

Monday, May 21, 2007

A new portrait

Our latest portrait

Saturday night we were at a fund raiser for the Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute. In a slightly different approach to the inevitable roaming photographer, some of the Hubbs research staff demonstrated technology they use in their studies.

Here's a picture of me and my husband.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Farewell, Miss Snark

Yesterday I had to be at a morning Adult Literacy League session, and I didn't check Miss Snark's blog before I left. Instead, I logged in at about 3:30 pm and found her retirement post. I have to admit I thought it was a joke, that I'd missed April 1st. I read it about five times before it sank in. At the moment, the comment thread has over 400 posts. She is going to be sorely missed.

I thank you, Miss Snark, for your time, patience, wisdom and wit.

Friday, May 18, 2007

So, you want to be in a romance novel?

Who says characters aren't real for authors? How do we find them? We advertise, of course. And what happens when someone answers the ad?

This is what happened when Sarah Tucker showed up.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Civilian Police Academy - Less Lethal Force updated 5/18

(Update in red below)

Great fun last night. Our instructor was part of the training division, and his enthusiasm for his work abounded. He's also ex-army Special Forces sniper and served on SWAT for years with the Sheriff's Office, so he knows what he's talking about.

First, we got an overview of Less Lethal Force. Note, it's not "Less THAN Lethal" because under the right (or wrong) circumstances, any of the options can be deadly. He reviewed the kinds of projectiles used for riot control or subduing suspects--lots of tubes with little things inside.

His personal preference is the way they used to do things in the 'old days' -- a simple 2 step process. Step one: verbal warning. Step two: deadly force. "Do what I say or I shoot." But that doesn't go over so well now. Lawsuits and all that. However, if an officer goes in with a 'less lethal' force, there is always a cover officer who's got the lethal option.

There was also an interesting discussion on the Taser, or ECW (the deputies use the 'generic' term to avoid any problems in court where the defense could discount testimony if they mention a specific brand name but no longer use that particular version -- so he'll say "my gun" rather than "my Glock", etc.

The ECW has its upsides and downsides. According to the instructor, having the ECW in use has significantly reduced the number of injuries to police officers. The most fascinating tidbit is that the devices have memories -- they hook them up to a computer and it will tell exactly how many times the weapon was discharged, and for how long. The officer is protected against someone saying they were repeatedly stunned on the drive to the police station, etc. Also, inside the cartridge, there's "confetti" that scatters, and each piece has the ID of the cartridge. So it's possible to reconstruct who shot who and where. And any time the device is discharged, the officer has to justify its use.

We got a quick overview of the kinds of resistance and what kind of force can be used.

Then we got to play in the simulator room. The instructor set up videos with all sorts of possible situations, from parking lot car break-ins to serving warrants to armed robbery. In the training room, a volunteer with a gun loaded with special projectiles (filled with compressed air) and a laser (not a sight -- they don't use those because they don't want deputies to rely on the laser sight; the lasers on these training weapons are hooked to the computer). Anyway, the 'real' way the room is used is to get deputies used to watching for possible outcomes -- a lot of the videos had people showing up unexpectedly with weapons, but also things that looked like possible threats but weren't. The officers have to learn how to see everything at once, and where to stand, how to be on target (and the trainer in the other room has control over a mounted gun that shoots nylon pellets, so if a deputy isn't utilizing the cover available in the room, he gets shot at!). Then, the computer can replay the scenario, and show where each shot hit, where the gun was actually aimed, etc. I don't know who had more fun --the people in the room or the instructor picking out the videos and shooting at us. For more information, check this site.

"Small world" moment. At the RWA conference in Atlanta last year, I participated in a similar demonstration. Last night, when it was my husband's turn, the scenario he got was exactly the same as the one they used with me last summer. Total coincidence, because last night, the instructor didn't use the same video twice.

Next week -- graduation, so this is it.

I'm happy to answer any questions (memory and notes willing), about the course. I'm waiting for the call for my ridealong.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Civilian Police Academy - SWAT

What I'm reading: Obsession by Jonathan Kellerman

What I'm writing: "The End" (until I go back and fill in all my 'insert XX scene here" markers)

Can't believe it's taken almost a full week to finish posting about last week's class, but I did treat myself to a Mothers Day break. We have our last "real" class tomorrow -- the final week is a party.

The Orange County Sheriff's Special Weapons & Tactics began with 5 deputies in 1974, using equipment they purchased themselves. Now, there are 42 members of the team. Of these, only 4 are full time dedicated SWAT officers. The rest serve in other departments as well, but are on call 24/7 for SWAT. They respond to felony calls, and serve search warrants for things like drug busts or hostage situations, where someone is threatening harm to himself or others, not the knock on a door and ask if Mr. Jones is home kind. The number of officers going out on these calls surprised me, but they have to cover all possible entrances and exits, provide backup, and try to get inside the house before the drugs get flushed. (But the deputy liked it when they tried, because he said the toilets often can't handle the load, and then they get to weigh the drugs AND the water, which can bring the charges up to a trafficking level.)

Their mission: To Save Lives. Too often, the public image is a bunch of guys who go in shooting bad guys.

There are 3 teams, each on call for 10 days a month. However, if there's a "full response" needed, they all go. There are also specialists who are not part of SWAT who offer support by setting up command posts, gathering intel, setting up surveillance equipment, phones, etc. There's also support, when available, from the fire department.

Training is ongoing. The selection process is tough, and then they're on probation for a year, when they're going out on as many calls as possible.

We got to play with their toys, too. Lots of guns, different kinds of projectiles such as 'bean bags' and 'rubber bullets' -- you don't want to be hit by these, trust me. Flash-bang grenades with 6-8 million candle power (not sure I got that term right, but the numbers are correct). The force SWAT brings to the job has to be equal to or more than the bad guys. They are very proud of their equipment, and most of it is financed by federal grant money, so it doesn't cut into our tax dollars and isn't part of the salary budget. Which is a good thing--these guys don't make nearly enough money as it is.

We went down and looked at their vehicles -- and I sat behind the wheel of their 'bear cat.' Way cool.

Friday, May 11, 2007

I was tagged

OK -- I decided to be a good sport and play along, although sometimes I think I'm more of a 'runs with scissors' than 'plays nice with others' kind of person. A writing colleague tagged me this morning and I have to post 8 random facts about myself and then subject 8 others to post on their own sites. Here goes:

1. I shopped on Rodeo Drive when it was still called "RO dee oh", not "Ro DAY oh" and there were dime stores and children's shoe stores that sold Buster Brown shoes.

2. I have only one secret from my husband of 38 years, and that's where I keep my chocolate stash.

3. I hate roller coasters. I refused a whole dollar (a lot of money to a six year old back in the day) to ride the kiddie coaster at the local amusement park.

4. I can't carry a tune in a bucket, although that doesn't keep me from singing. My college roommate told me I sang in the cracks between notes.

5. I work for an international society of marine mammal scientists. I'm not a marine mammal scientist, but I know a whole lot about whale sex.

6. I would drop just about anything for a chance to go on a cruise.

7. I used to do a lot of black and white photography and developed and printed my own pictures. Then, I'd hand color bits of them so they were part color, part black and white.

8. I hate chain letters and usually throw them away and can't believe I'm actually doing this!

The 8 victims of my tagging:
Jessica Odell
Roxanne St Claire
Catherine Kean
Lise Fuller
Kelsy George
Nicole Drummer
Sandra McDonald
Jenyfer Matthews

More police academy stuff next post -- sorry.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Civilian Police Academy - Hazardous Devices

What I'm Reading: The Virgin of Small Plains by Nancy Pickard

What I'm working on -- medical research for chapter 22

Our first speaker Tuesday was with the Hazardous Devices Team, and they're "da bomb". (Sorry)

As with so many other departments, the members of the team all have "real" deputy duties - they work regular shifts on patrol, motors, narcotics, SID. This means they may just be coming off a 10 or 12 hour shift and get a call out for a possible bomb. We demand much from these folks. And you know what they get? An additional $52 every paycheck, the same as everyone else who does special duty. That's $26 a week extra for being willing to walk up to something that might blow up in their faces.

Of course, they're very well trained and confident they know what they're doing. They are also the only department that can call on the military for backup. There's a lot of old ordnance --souvenirs from the wars--that people bring home and then don't know what to do with.

In Orange County, the team will accompany SWAT (I'll talk about them tomorrow). Most of the funding for the special equipment comes from federal grants, which saves the county a LOT of money.

We got to go out and see their vehicle, and the bomb suit. When new, it weighs 80 pounds. After it's been used by numerous sweating deputies, it gains weight, and the one he showed us probably weighs 100 pounds. They share suits--I didn't write it down, but I think there are 3 of them. It's not a place for the claustrophobic, and about 1/3 of the applicants drop out of training the first time they put one on. Very limited mobility, visibility, and it's HOT in there. They're not refrigerated. All they get is ambient air blown in to keep the faceplate from fogging. They have EKGs and BP readings before and after using the suits. Our speaker said the longest he's ever had to be in one was an hour and a half, and he was nearly hospitalized afterward for dehydration.

The county prides itself on state of the art equipment, and they're always trying to keep up with the technology. They have robots, lots of camera, X-ray equipment, and it's a lot better than it used to be, but there will come a time when the deputy has to climb into the suit and get up close and personal.

I asked how he deals with the fear factor -- it's gotta be scary to go someplace and decide if that unattended briefcase might explode, or if the threat at the mall is real. He said he's scared, yes, but confident he's well trained and figures if someone's going to do it, it might as well be him because he knows what he's doing.

Next time: SWAT

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Pictures from my booksigning

My first booksigning.
April 14th, Barnes & Noble, Orlando, Florida

Catherine Kean, Dara Edmondson, Terry Odell

Roxanne St. Claire, Louise Gouge

photos by Daniel Odell

Monday, May 07, 2007

My characters are taking over

What I'm reading: The Woods by Harlan Coben

What I'm writing: Chapter 22

Yes, I did move far enough forward with the writing to open my Mystery Guild box. I have the newest releases by Harlan Coben and Jonathan Kellerman. I definitely was motivated to get back to my routine at the Y. Thanks to Mr. Coben, I would have been happy to pedal a lot longer, although in deference to my back, I took it a little easier than usual.

My What's in a Name? characters have usurped my turn at the Cerridwen Press author's blogsite. If you'd like to meet them, pop on over here. And here

Saturday, May 05, 2007

on Reaching Turning Points

What I'm reading: Kill a Painted Pony by Kelsy George

What I'm writing: Chapter 32

First -- Check out my May contest. I'm giving away one of my Wild Rose Press short stories (winner's choice). To enter, email me something you learned in my interview at The Romance Studio. More details on my website.

A very writing oriented day. First, our RWA chapter meeting hosted mystery writer Nancy Cohen (Bad Hair Day series) who addressed the business aspects of writing -- and we all lamented that writers are expected to be responsible for promotion, which eats up much of our precious time. The discussion carried over into lunch, after which I met with my critique partners. It was a brainstorming day, and they reassured me that they saw no problems with my hero and heroine being apart, and that my hero didn't need to be larger than life and I could have one of his partners save his life without making him appear weak. Until I started writing, things like that never bothered me--it seemed right for the story, but then doubts started to creep in.

Once we hashed out this turning point scene, everything slid neatly into place, and I'm ready to rock and roll at the keyboard.

I also got two books from The Mystery Guild, but I'm not opening the box until I get the next scenes written. I'm going to shoot for double my word minimum until I finish the book. Since I've had a pretty good idea of how the book will end, I think I can get there before I go on vacation in June.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Civilian Police Academy - Class 10. 4-legged deputies

Last night we went out to the horse barn and met some majestic members of the Orlando Sheriff's Office. The horses are used in community relations, crowd control, crime prevention and ceremonies. Our speaker pointed out that deputies on horseback are eight feet tall at the very least, which makes them an imposing presence, not to mention most people will back off when over a ton of horseflesh with teeth and hooves is coming at them. Most of the horses are donated, and there's no specific breed requirement, although they do have to be able to handle the weight of a deputy plus all his equipment.

Both horses and riders go through rigorous training. These horses have to be able to remain calm during shoot-outs, when helicopters hover overhead, when sirens blare, and through smoke and other inclement conditions. As our deputy pointed out, they carry the same equipment as any other patrol officers, except their radios are waterproof. We got a peek at some of the different personality traits of the horses. Some ignored us, others wanted to see what was going on as we toured the barn. And pity the poor deputy who gets thrown. Their pictures are displayed on the wall in the tack room -- inside a toilet seat frame.

After horses, we got to meet Major, one of the new K-9s. His handler filled us in on the basics. Major is still young and in training. Dogs live with their handlers, and when a dog retires, the handler has the option to keep it. All the patrol dogs are German shepherds, most bred in Europe for the bloodlines. Research has shown these animals are 'cheaper' in the long run, because they come with a warranty as well as a proven pedigree. Unfortunately, the American bred dogs had a high 'unusable' rate, which made them costlier in the long run. There are also a couple of bloodhounds in the unit. All the German shepherds are trained first in obedience (and many arrive with this basic training already covered, although handlers have to learn to give commands in German. The dogs quickly become bilingual.). After that, they're trained in patrol duty, and they LOVE to chase bad guys. Catching them is their reward. After basic training, they can pick up one of four specialties: bombs, narcotics, search, or cadaver. Major will be a narcotics dog according to his handler.

Deputies who make it into the K-9 unit usually spend the rest of their careers there. They love it, and it's a coveted assignment. And, just as people will get out of the way of a horse, the threat of a 110 pound German shepherd with very large, sharp teeth is a great incentive to surrender. Even without the teeth, the sheer momentum will knock a grown man down.

Any questions?

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Shameless Self-Promotion

Hop on over to The Romance Studio. I'm one of their featured authors for May. Holly asked some great questions (meaning it was tough to answer them!).

I especially like that she let me talk about the work I do for the Adult Literacy League. After all, if people can't read, then they're not enjoying my books, are they?

Civilian Police Academy class tonight -- a road trip to the horse barn! Keep watching this space.