Friday, June 29, 2007

Back at the Keyboard

What I'm reading: The Overlook by Michael Connelly

What I'm writing: Book 6.

While waiting to hear the fate of my short story submission and looking at the 350+ page printout of my last WIP, and facing a meeting with my critique partners on Sunday, I figured it was time to start writing again. Rather than wonder what I was going to write about, I sat down and started typing. Randy and Sarah showed up in the first scene, and I let them have their say.

In fact, that's how all of my books have started. But this time, I'm trying something new. Most romance series follow a "take turns" format. Each book has its hero and heroine who get their HEA at the end. The next book is likely to pick up a secondary character, someone introduced in a previous book, and follow that relationship. I did that with Starting Over, which will release in August. It picks up Colleen McDonald's story from Finding Sarah. And the book I'm pitching now has the potential for a lot of spin-offs featuring operatives from Blackthorne, Inc. But until I see whether or not those books will fly, I wanted to work on something based on the books already out there.

I'm not a big fan of multiple POV characters. I like to hook up with one or two and stay in their heads. So, if I'm going to follow Randy & Sarah's relationship after Finding Sarah, my choice would be to stick with them as POV characters. This means it's not going to fall into the "connected series" common to romance. Rather, it'll be more focused on a mystery plot, which is what I thought I was writing when I started Finding Sarah anyway.

Jonathan and Faye Kellerman have mystery series with recurring characters. So does Barbara Parker in her "Suspicion" series. I've followed Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch through his relationships. And the list goes on and on. Often the relationships come to an end, new ones are formed, and sometimes old ones rekindled. I'll admit to reading books where I'm not enthralled with the mystery but want to see what's happening between the characters.

Will it work with a stronger romance presence? I won't know until I get much farther along--I've written about 3500 words so far. Too early to tell. JD Robb has straddled the mystery and romance genres with her "In Death" series. Now, there's no way on earth I'd expect anything I write to be in her league, but it does show the relationship angle can be added to a mystery in more depth than a traditional mystery series.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

On Reviews and Fan Mail

What I'm Reading: Whiskey Sour by JA Konrath

I'm still new enough at this to get the adrenaline surge when I see an email that says "a review of your book has been posted..." I try to brace myself for the worst. You can't please everyone. Don't take it personally. Remember, you've had great reviews, so there are some people who like your books. I remind myself about all the knock-down-drag-em-out discussions with my critique partners where nobody agreed on anything. A review is one person's opinion. I hold my breath, tell myself that if someone gives me a bad review, I will blame it on my editor. After all, she should have fixed any problems, right?

Still, we don't like to see our babies put down in public.

Finding Sarah's reviews have ranged from "top pick" to "okay." Nothing scathing, and, thankfully, no personal attacks. Some of them got the name of Sarah's boutique wrong, and one even spelled my name wrong, but what the heck. "What's in a Name? hasn't been out as long, but it's doing well, too.

However, yesterday I got an impromptu "review" from a reader. These are special, because first of all, readers BUY your books. Reviewers normally get them for free. And readers have absolutely no obligation to take the time to tell you what they think about your book.

Now, what makes this "review" even more special is that it came from well outside what I consider my reader demographic. Here it is.

If I'm reading fiction, it's usually sci-fi like Asimov, so romance/mystery was a complete departure for me.

I'm a mechanic, not a literature critic. You haven't asked for my opinions, but heck I'm sending them anyway :-)

Well, I enjoyed reading Finding Sarah hugely. Detweiler's thoughts and feelings were well-drawn. Sarah was likable, and the difficulties she faces are believable while being... well, unbelievable.

Chris *gasp* you weren't meant to like him, were you? I was impressed with the way the finger is slowly pointed to him by implication.

My favourite characters were Starsky and Hutch, naturally.

Just to re-emphasise, I'm a tradesman who knows nothing about fiction, least of all romantic fiction. Just sending some mid-thirties male reactions.

Maybe I should start advertising in Popular Mechanics

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Sometimes I'm Clueless

Someone asked who the cover model was for What's in a Name? I had no clue. Hardly paid attention, to be honest. It turns out, it's Jason Santiago, who was crowned "Mr Romance 2007" at this years RT conference. Guess I need to expand my horizons!

Monday, June 25, 2007

The Same But Different

What I'm Reading: Lean, Mean Thirteen by Janet Evanovich

What I'm Writing: revisions to Dalton & Miri's book.

"The Same, But Different..."

That's what Roxanne St Claire said her publisher wanted for her Bullet Catcher series. We were at a workshop on characterization given by Gayle Wilson, who writes in a variety of genres.

How same is same? How different is different? If I go to a bookstore and browse the Science Fiction shelves, I have totally different expectations of what I'm going to read than if I'm in the Mystery section, or the Romance section. Each has its own 'rules' because readers want some sort of a clue where the ride is going to take them when they sit down with a book.

Authors who write series with continuing characters probably have to deal with the 'same but different' approach even more than series set in a continuing universe, with a wide cast of characters. I'm primarily a mystery reader, and I love finding an author whose characters resonate with me, and following them as far as the author will take them. Half the fun of the read is the character arc, and usually there's some sort of relationship between characters that grows, although there's no real expectation that the relationship will continue. Personally, I prefer things to carry over through several books rather than deal with the 'woman of the month' setup. But a detective novel is a detective novel, and a romance is a romance. In the former, I expect the detective to solve the crime. In a romance, I expect the HEA ending, simply because those are the conventions of the genre. If I get a book off the 'women's fiction' or 'mainstream' shelf, then it's no holds barred, and I get what I get and have very few expectations going in.

I had a review this morning from a reader who thought one of my books was ineffective because she figured out who the bad guy was too soon. She had her expectations of the kind of book she was getting, and expected a suspense-driven thriller. However, when I wrote the book, I had no intention of making it a traditional mystery. It was character driven, and my premise was the police detective hero had a darn good idea who the bad guy was, but couldn't act on it because his personal moral code wouldn't let him cross the boundaries of what the law allowed. The story, for me, was how far I could push my hero before he stepped over his own personal line of what was appropriate for him as a cop. He broke his rule number one by getting emotionally entangled with the victim of the crime he was investigating, but tried to do everything by the book. However, when he stayed within the legal system the victim was almost killed.

And back to "same but different" again. Most of my recent rejections come with comments like, "excellent writing, but too close to something we already have." So, I guess I'm not "different" enough yet. Still, there are days when I wonder if readers are only buying the "same" stuff because the publishers aren't putting any "different and different" stories out there, because the "same but different" stuff is selling. Seems to be one of those Catch 22 situations. We can't buy what's not there, and if we're not buying it, then the publishers aren't going to risk it. That's one of the up sides to the e-publishing world. Their initial investment isn't as great as a print publisher, so they can take a few chances on the new and different.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

What's it like to be a romance heroine?

Terry's off running errands and she left her computer on. My name's Colleen McDonald, and I'm going to sneak in for a bit. Don't say anything to her, okay?

People have asked me what it's like to star in a romance novel. Well, first you pay your dues. I was a minor character in Terry's first novel, Finding Sarah , and had a few lines, a few scenes, but nothing major. However, I didn't complain, hit my marks, was always willing to do revisions even if it meant my shining moments were in the deleted files folder on her computer. In return, she gave me my own book, Starting Over.

Let me tell you, it's a lot easier being a secondary character. When you're the star, sure you get to hang with a hunk (although the LAST thing I wanted when I moved away from Pine Hills, Oregon to Orlando, Florida was a man, especially one in uniform), and there are some steamy sex scenes. I had to agree to be pretty na├»ve in the bedroom department, but that turned out great, because Graham really knew what he was doing and Terry made sure he "taught" me well. We had plenty of practice for that one. Now THOSE rewrites are fun. But she also threw all this back story angst at me – she actually SHOT me between books. I mean, that's going a bit far, don't you think? And she saddled me with this dotty landlady plus a complicated mystery encompassing three counties. And because she 'retired' me from my cop status before the book started, I had to play second fiddle to Graham, who was on his very first case as a detective. Actually, he was just in training, and I did what I could to make sure he looked good. Professionally, that is. Physically, he looks VERY good.

Oops – Terry is coming back. Gotta run before she catches me. Never get an author angry—they can really make you pay!

You'll have to wait until August 16th to read it, but in the meanwhile, check out Finding Sarah and you can see my debut scenes.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Heading for Home

It's our last day of vacation. It's been wonderful. Soon, we'll be on our way back to heat and humidity. And work. And going through two weeks of accumulated mail. But not too much laundry, as I managed to do most of it while we were with my son.

A brief recap of our last couple of days. After our day at Garden of the Gods, we did a mass-celebratory dinner to cover all the significant events for our kids – recent birthdays, anniversaries, new pregnancy. The choice of restaurant was left up to the kids, and we ended up at The Craftwood Inn, a very elegant spot in Manitou Springs. The menu was exotic and we did the whole shebang, from appetizers to dessert. Save your pennies (for a long time), and give it a try if you're ever in this part of the country. (I had the wild game birds.) Even my formerly non-adventurous eater daughter ordered something new.

Thursday, we met our daughter in downtown Colorado Springs for lunch. I recommend the Ritz Veggie Stonehearth Pizza. (Yes, we've been eating way too much on this trip!). Afterward, my husband and I went to the Cheyenne Mountain zoo where he tried out the lens he'd borrowed from our son.

The evening was spent at the Sky Sox game, where my daughter-in-law's company was holding its annual picnic. Food paled in comparison to the previous nights.

The morning's challenge: packing. As always, we take home more than we arrive with. We did ship the pottery home, but my other daughter who had been visiting prior to our arrival left a wonderful bottle of single-malt Irish whiskey, and my other two kids each gave me a bag of Mother's Iced Animal Cookies, something I got hooked on in college and can't get in Florida. My husband got about four pounds of coffee from the local Firedance Coffee Company. He's hooked on their Snickerdoodle.

Next post will be from Florida.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Live Meetings

In this electronic age, our friend/acquaintace base far exceeds people we actually meet, so it was a pleasure to hook up with another Cerridwen Press author, Lise Fuller, and her husband for dinner the other night. Lise and I met on chats, and have exchanged a few chapters for critiquing. Her husband's been a most kind and generous source of information for the book I'm writing.

Lise and I met again for coffee the next morning and did some book brainstorming. I'm looking forward to continuing working with her.

Later, my husband and I went to Garden of the Gods.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

More Travel

We left Albuquerque to visit with a former colleague and his wife who retired to Pagosa Springs. Once we got past Santa Fe, the drive was spectacular. Being a Floridian for many, many years, the desert and mountains provide a welcome change. In additon to the scenery, there were all sorts of critters to identify (remember, my husband is a scientist, and everything must be named). Marmots, deer, pronghorn antelope, prairie dogs, as well as assorted birds and I'm sure I missed some. When he checks in to read this, I'm sure he'll point out what I forgot.

After a short lunch stop at an all purpose store (organic food, hardware, earthworms, etc.) and having the most humungous and delicious burrito ever, we abandoned our hosts written directions and relied on the GPS. Until this point, my husband had simply loaded the maps into the gizmo, no waypoints. So, we knew where we were, but not how to get where we were going. Once he loaded their address as a waypoint, he no longer said, "I think we were supposed to turn back there." On our arrival, we were greeted in their driveway by three mule deer and spent the afternoon admiring their mountaintop home, good food, and a lot of talking and catching up. I think we haven't seen each other in about 20 years.

Next morning, we packed up and headed for Colorado Springs. The weather was rainy and cloudy, and we were high enough to be in the clouds.

We traversed Wolf Pass, and once we got to the other side of the mountain, the weather cleared.

Since our son wasn't going to be home until after 5:30, we detoured to the Sand Dunes National Monument.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Leaving Albuquerque and Customer Service

We left Albuquerque with only about an hour's worth of glitches. Communication is such a problem sometimes. I called and requested a bellman to help with our luggage, and confirmed that the hotel van would take us to the car rental place. "No problem, I'll send someone up right away."

I'm one of those who thinks 20 minutes isn't 'right away' so I called again. "Sorry, I'll get a bellman right to your room."

Ten minutes and one more call later, a bellman arrives and asks if we're parked out front. I tell him the hotel is giving us a ride to the car rental place (2 miles away according to Avis), and he says, "We don't do that."

"I'll talk to the front desk," I say, and the clerk assures me there will be no problem. Not sure how happy the bellman is, because it took him short of forever to pull the van around and load the luggage. He said he wasn't sure where the Avis place was, unless it was in the Hilton, and I told him that sounded right, since the rental information said "Avis Hilton" on it. He also had a brochure stuck in the console with "Avis Locations" in bright red letters. I suggested he could confirm it on that list. He said, "That's for Enterprise." I work with an Adult Literacy Program, and perhaps this man could avail himself of some local services, although I didn't mention it to him.

OK, so we're in the right place. My husband waits in the lobby with the luggage and I wend my way through the hotel to find the Avis desk. The attendant says there will be a short wait because he sent my car back to the airport by mistake. The other attendant is on break, and she will know. I ask why he can't just give me another car, but apparently there are only select few cars allowed to go one way out of state. After a bit, the woman comes back and says, "It's here," and gets on the phone, ignoring the obvious fact that the other guy doesn't know what he's doing and I'm standing right there. Eventually, we get everything straightened out and he says he'll bring the car to the lobby.

Ten minutes and no car later, I go back, and the woman tells me he's on his way and goes back to making phone calls.

When the car does arrive at last, he apologizes and says he had to re-clean it, and if we're ever back this way, he owes us a free day. I ask why he doesn't just take it off our rental, and he says he would if he could but since we're returning it in Colorado, he can't do that. Seems to me that Avis is a pretty big company, and a phone call or email to the Colorado Springs Airport would be simple enough.

More another time on the trip to Pagosa Springs through breathtaking scenery.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Last Day in Albuquerque

We hit the road in the morning and won't have an Internet hookup for a few days. Next time I post, it'll be from Colorado. Thank goodness I won't have to type "Albuquerque" anymore!

Here are the pottery bits we bought at the silent auction last night.

Albuquerque, Day 6

What I'm reading: Perilous Passions by Teri Thackston

The biggie today was the weather. Tornadoes, hail, rain—not much of which hit near the hotel, but several conference attendees had gone out sightseeing and hiking. One gentleman said he'd been about 3.5 miles down a trail when he saw the storm approach. He turned around and made the return trip at top speed, but had to deal with hailstones the size of marbles, and the temperature dropped from the upper 70's to the upper 30's. From my hotel window, I could see the stormclouds and bands of black rain over the mountains.

The conference event was their closing banquet. For a change, it was located in the conference hotel, which was 'off site' for many attendees, but for me, it meant I wasn't held hostage until the bus service kicked in. It also meant that instead of partaking of the cash bar, I could get my drinks free at the "manager's reception" and then mosey down to the banquet site for their hors d'oeuvres. Not a bad deal—and the first time I've seen a table full of chocolate as part of the opening food offerings. They provided little bags, and I took full advantage.

The silent auction had some nice pottery, so this year we not only bid, but hung in there and won 3 items. Usually, my philosophy is that if I place an early or mid-time bid, it's doing my part for the fund-raising by raising the stakes, but don't have to spend any money. If I can get pictures, I'll post them, but it might be a few days. Tomorrow is our last full day, and it's likely I won't be posting until we settle in with our son in Colorado Springs on Wednesday.

I've been reading Lise Fuller's books while I'm here, and she also lives in the Springs—we're planning to hook up, which is always great fun. I love meeting my internet friends face to face.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Albuquerque, Day 5

I've had some requests to see what I bought in Old Town, so here's a picture of my "bling."

I tested the print from your room service and although it's very slow, it did work. The front desk staff has been very helpful, and after yet another series of internet issues, someone listened enough to print up flyers for distribution explaining the changeover of service providers. Apparently my explaining that hotel guests actually look at the information in the guest services directory, and when the policies don't match, it creates frustration and even … gasp!...complaints.

My hotel 'rule' about maid service held true yet again. At 3:15, she still hadn't come to the room, but her cart wasn't far down the hall. I took my laptop to the bar and worked on my 'real job' as well as edits on my short story and another chapter of line edits on the novel. My husband joined me and we shared a Guinness. Since the vans were picking us up for the zoo picnic at 5, at 4:30 I went upstairs to get ready. Yep – the maid was in the room. So far, she's come as early as 10 am, and as late as 4:15.

We did get to the zoo for the picnic. Everyone was very friendly. Or was it my shirt?

And when we got back to the hotel, I had a sneak preview of a review for What's in a Name? Once it's official, which is supposed to be tomorrow, I'll post it on my website.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Albuquerque, Day 4

Hotel stuff. Since I’ve been to Albuquerque several times, I had no problem being a hotel hermit for the day.

As I mentioned yesterday, the bed here is the standard mattress and box-spring variety. My husband is probably unaware that he was tossing, twitching and snuffling shortly before five a.m. as he sleeps through everything, even his own sleeplessness. I, on the other hand, don’t. So, by the time he got up at a little after six, there was no way I was going to get back to sleep. I gave the fitness room a shot, and took a spin on the recumbent bike. I brought my e-Bookwise and iPod shuffle to help pass the time. I could still feel the difference in altitude and accepted the default 20 minutes on the machine rather than my usual 30.

Another hotel “rule” that’s been holding true is that no matter when you come back to your room from somewhere else, the maid will be cleaning it. It happened after our excursion Tuesday when we were ready to flop onto the nearest flat surface, and again today after I decided to work down in the atrium for a while. The fact that I didn’t go anywhere yesterday seems to help prove the point; I ended up having to call to get the room serviced because nobody had shown up by 3:30 in the afternoon.

I spent most of the day on the final run-through of my yet-to-be titled short story and final edits of Starting Over. On the mouse pad in the room, there was an ad that said, “…remote printing allows you to print remotely from your suite or from nearly anywhere you have internet access…” and gave a URL. I found it intriguing and checked out the website. According to the site, this hotel is part of the program, and all I had to do was create a passcode and then upload a document to their system. According to the site, the pages would be printed and waiting at the front desk.

This sounded a little too generous, especially for a hotel that charges $10/day for internet access and doesn’t have the wireless it advertises in all the rooms yet. I called the front desk and the manager on duty had never heard of the service. He thought they’d print 10 pages for free at the Business Center if I brought the doc on a flash drive, but I read him the blurb from my screen, and he said to give it a shot, because he wanted to learn the system. (The hotel’s only used this new provider for 6 days). So, I cut 3 chapters from my manuscript, figuring a hard copy would give my eyes a break from the laptop screen, and sent them through the system. I planned to read them while I partook of the evening’s happy hour (which they call a ‘manager’s reception’).

The manager wasn’t at the front desk, but the young fellow on duty wanted to check out the system, so we went to the Business Center and found … nothing. The computer provided a link from the desktop to the site, however, and my document was listed as available to print. Nothing happened. The guy tried a bunch of different things, and although the computer said “printing”, it still didn’t appear. He promised to check with the manager, so I took my e-Bookwise to the bar and read some more of Lise’s book while I had my Margarita.

After I finished, I went back to see if they’d found anything, and the manager said he could no longer find my document in the system at all. He was very apologetic and deducted the internet fee for the day from the bill. I said I’d go back upstairs and resend the document, but he wanted to see things for himself first, so we went back to the Business Center and he pointed out a box kind of like an oversized keypad for debit card transactions that said, “enter your 6 digit passcode” which the other clerk hadn’t seen. We punched in my number and … nothing. But on the table was a stack of papers, and the one on top was the cover sheet for my file. Somewhere during the hour, it had wound its way through the system, and someone must have been in the room to remove it from the printer and stack it neatly on the table. (The Business Center is just a room with 2 computers, a printer and a fax/copy machine—no personnel).

So we all had a great time and everyone learned something new. There’s no charge for the service, and I think I’ll give it a shot with 3 more chapters tomorrow. I spent the rest of the evening in the room and enjoyed the sunset over the mountains from my window. Mountain views aren’t possible in central Florida!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Albuquerque, Day 3

What I'm reading: On Danger's Edge, by Lise Fuller

What I'm writing: Edits for my August release, Starting Over.

Awoke with leg muscles reminding me of yesterday’s walk. Breakfast, then back to the room while my husband went off to the board meeting, which was in the hotel.

The hotel spa definitely provided a pampering break. My deluxe pedicure: “Feet and legs are deeply cleansed with papaya and pineapple enzymes while imputities and dead skin cells are gently polished away. A revolutionary caviar, lemon and chamomile mask is applies, leaving skin visibly brighter and supple. A full pedicure is performed."

When I got there, I was offered water or tea (I chose mango chamomile) and a brief wait in the ‘relaxation room.’ I settled into the massage chair, the receptionist placed a lavender scented heated wrap around my neck, and I let the tech do her thing. That ‘mask’ mentioned above includes 10 minutes of plastic-wrapped feet in heated booties while you do—absolutely nothing. When it was over, I took my “I’m Really Not a Waitress” toenails back to the room.

The wind was so strong yesterday, they took the flags down. Windows rattled, and the whistling sounded like horror movie sound effects. The conference provided University vans to shuttle people to and from the icebreaker, and will run daily. Maybe someone realized the 1 kilometer (0.6 miles, give or take, for those metrically challenged), from hotel to campus, which was the distance published in their program, was actually more like a generous mile and a half. We ran into a bunch of my husband's colleagues, and I met a lot of new friendly faces who liked my "Will Sell Husband for Chocolate" tee-shirt.

Trials and tribs of the hotel life, in no particular order:
Hearing train whistles until well after you want to go to sleep.
Different selection of TV channels – no ESPN2, so no French Open Tennis.
Sharing a bathroom – something we haven’t had to do in 10 years or so.
Broken electrical outlet (but repaired within a reasonable amount of time)
Less potent hair dryer.
Hotel boasts wireless internet, but it’s not in all the hotel rooms yet, so I’m anchored to the desk.
Desk chairs are not office height. Sitting on one of the throw pillows from the sofa, but it’s still not quite right.
Changing the fridge settings to keep the ice cream solid meant the bottled water we bought froze.
Different bed – at home, we have a tubular waterbed system, so very little motion is transferred when one person turns over. Here, every twitch resonates through the mattress.

On the plus side:
Great breakfasts are included.
Free booze at night is included, along with prickly pear lemonade and jumbo cookies, plus the ever-present tortilla chips and salsa.
Someone else cleans the bathroom.
Someone else makes the bed.
Someone else deals with dinner.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Albuquerque, Day 2

What I'm Reading: Cutting Loose by Lise Fuller
What I'm writing: Untitled short story.

This was our "both of us free all day" day. The Plan: Walk up to campus to see how far the actual meeting rooms are from the hotel. Then we'd visit Old Town and/or try a restaurant recommended by our daughter from when she used to live here.

You have to remember, this is desert (like that – don't sweat) so it was more than warm, and it's at altitude, which for a sea-level dweller is another strain. Plus, the University is located uphill from the hotel. I think everything is uphill from this hotel. We left the hotel at 10:00 am.

The hotel is a "short distance from campus" according to the conference information. On foot, it's a 45 minute walk (in the heat and uphill). But, we scoped out where my husband would be spending most of his days, and I decided he'd be doing it alone.

It's now 11:00, and we debated the restaurant, which according to my husband was "at the other end of campus." Since Old Town is the opposite direction, it seemed silly to go there first (especially since there are so many places to eat there), so we decided on an early lunch; then we'd take a bus to Old Town.

"That way," he said. "It's about 3 blocks up Central. Corner of Central and San Mateo."

Hogwash. First, his map only showed bus stop intersections, which were about 8 blocks apart each. Why didn't he check it on the Internet first? Don't ask me – he's the former Boy Scout Hikemaster. Shortly before noon, and two blocks past San Mateo, we decided to park ourselves on a bus bench and have lunch in Old Town. If nothing more, we had a very up close and personal view of the old Route 66 and its colorful inhabitants. Especially those who ride the bus.

Old town was as I remembered, and we had a great New Mexico lunch, starting with a cold beer. The sidewalk artisans were out, and I found some new silver bling.

I must say the bus drivers in the Albuquerque transportation system are super friendly and one even made a special stop for us so we were spared at least another 3 or 4 – or maybe 6 or 8 – block walk from the official stop to the hotel.

Where I promptly made an appointment for a Deluxe Spa Pedicure for tomorrow morning. I'd have done it today, but my feet were too sore to think about letting anyone touch them. I had a nice bubble bath, read some more of Lise Fuller's book, and actually caught up with my real job work while my husband crashed for 2 hours.

And, to end the day, since these rooms have refrigerator/freezers, we bought some Haagen Dazs cherry fudge truffle for dessert.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

A change of scenery and hi-tech clocks

We're in Albuquerque, New Mexico for the next week. My husband's got a professional meeting, and since Albuquerque isn't far from Colorado, where two of our kids live, we decided to make it a 'vacation add on'.

I was pleasantly surprised that our flights were all on time (one was early, which actually was a problem, since there were no empty gates and we had to sit off on the tarmac somewhere until one was free, so we didn't get 'in' until our scheduled time.)

I enjoyed my eBookwise on the plane -- although you do have to turn it off until the 'approved electronic devices' are permitted. Makes for good reading in the unpredictable cabin lighting. (And it makes a good nite lite when you're trying to navigate a dark hotel room!)

My husband's seat partner (we always fight about the aisle seat, so we were across the aisle on the flights) hadn't flown since 9-11, and she'd witnessed it in her rear-view mirror as she drove as fast as she could after seeing what was happening. She was not a happy flier as we bounced through some decent turbulence.

We arrived at the hotel, and my husband was very pleased with the room. "I didn't know we were going to get a suite," he said.

Well, dear -- the hotel is called the "Embassy Suites" and that should have given you a clue.

Only glitches: their internet connection took a bit of finagling, primarilly because their literature didn't match what actually happened on the screen. I'm also at a disadvantage because my work email system lets me receive, but in order to send, I have to use their very bare-bones webmail, and that's going to turn into a major pain. However, that does justify the cost of the hotel's fee to use their high-speed connection (tried the bootleg free stuff we could pick up, and it's too slow).

And the clock! It's this amazingly high-tech box, with push buttons pre-set for classical, jazz, country, etc. Only the reception sucks, but there's an MP-3 connection so if my shuffle works, I can listen to my tunes over the radio instead of through my computer's iTunes. But -- the clock has no visible way to change the time, and it was an hour off. Changing time zones is bad enough for me, but to have to do the mental adjustment was going to create real problems. After much trial and error,
which included unplugging the clock and removing the batteries, a call to the front desk provided the secret information that there was a button somewhere to adjust for daylight savings time, which might solve the problem (or create a two hour difference). With the help of the ever-present Leatherman all-in-one tool, my husband ended up taking the clock apart, finding some more buttons, pushing them more or less at random, until he found some that made the time display flash. From there it wasn't too hard to adjust the time (which after his earlier trials, was now 42 minutes fast), and eventually, he even discovered the magic "enter" button which saved the settings. Don't ever let it be said we're not easily entertained.

They've got free happy hour every evening, which we were MORE than ready for after the clock adventure, and free breakfast every morning, and it's not the individually wrapped, mass-produced Danish and muffins. Nope--cook to order omelets, pancakes, plus fruit, cereal, etc., etc. And, there's a fitness center so I can assuage some of the guilt.

Today's a free day -- meeting starts tomorrow, so we'll probably take advantage of the time to do something together.

I'll be back if I discover anything interesting. I love the desert--and the mountians. Not too much in love with the change in altitude though. It's going to take me a while to acclimate.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

My Ride Along with an Orange County deputy

I had the pleasure of doing a ride along with a deputy sheriff on Friday. I opted for the mid shift which gave me a chance to see both day and night. I also chose the sector in which I live, even though it might not have as much "action" as some of the other ones. I thought by doing this, I would learn more, as I might have more time to chat with the deputy. After all, I was doing this to learn about the 'little things' that will add realism to my books, as much as for the fun.

Their day begins at 3:00 pm with a briefing and runs until 2:30 am. As a rider, I was free to decide how long I wanted to stay. Since two days earlier, two deputies had been shot in a hotel parking lot, their briefing ran long, and it was close to 4:00 (I still think in am/pm time, although everything was done on a 24 hour clock system) before I met Chris, who would more or less be responsible for my life for the next few hours. I asked if he drew the short straw when he got the assignment, but he said he normally does the ride alongs in the sector because he enjoys showing the general public what they really do on the job. I was also a tad surprised that I was doing more than 'riding' because for most of the calls, he brought me along and introduced me as a 'colleague.'

We started, immediately on a call to check on a missing person. I learned that although these are "Patrol" officers, they don't have time to roam the streets looking for bad guys or anything suspicious. They go from one call to another. If it's not an emergency, he uses the time in traffic to run plates of the cars around him. Red flag for him—overly tinted windows, but he'll do random checks. He says it's surprising what will come up, but he does need probably cause to stop someone. He did this once, with one of the too-dark windows because the driver didn't come to a stop at an intersection. Turned out the driver wasn't the car owner, but all the information he gave was correct, and the guy's record was clean, so he just told him to watch his stops and to tell his girlfriend her car was in violation of the law. He's not out to write tickets just because he can. It's about establishing a presence in the community, and being reasonable.

The zone he works has 3 deputies, and they cover a LOT of territory. They also back each other up, based on who's where, so a deputy from another zone will come if they're closer or needed.

First observation: they don't routinely park in front of the address they're investigating. An exception would be when it's a routine call to get information about something that's already happened. However, we parked halfway down the block for almost all of his calls.

There are also priorities to calls, which I learned firsthand as he was listening (with immense patience, I must add) to a "Family Dispute" from a woman who wanted "them" to do "something" about her 25 year old daughter who was on drugs and stealing from her, although she had no real proof, and couldn't make up her mind what she wanted as Chris explained the consequences of each of his options. He had started to fill out a report form when he handed it to her and said he'd be back later to pick it up. I thought he'd just reached his limit in trying to figure out what she really wanted from him, but as we got into the car and he took off with lights and sirens (GREAT FUN!), he explained he'd gotten a Code 3 to another location where they were setting up a perimeter to catch a bad guy (which is the term he used with me, although it's not the one used when cops talk to each other). That was broken off when they captured the suspect, but we were immediately sent to an "Aggravated Assault with a Weapon. We first went to talk to the victims. They didn't want to press charges, but one of the things they had talked about in their briefing was "taking the streets back" and not letting criminals call the shots, so they're making their presence known. This was in an area he is called to regularly, and this time, he told me to stay in the car and lock the doors when he got out, and he pulled a shotgun from the trunk before he went to the apartment. As he put it, "They had a gun, so we go in with a bigger gun."

While he was gone, I listened to radio calls and watched the computer screen. Everything is done from his car, as much by electronic data transmission as the radio. The computer gives him different sound effects depending on what kind of a call it is – and I can tell you, nobody would miss a "Code Three."

He had no qualms about letting me read the screen (although I've got a stiff neck this morning, because it required some twisting). He even ran my driver's license and confirmed a point I used in my book (thank goodness!) that the pre-digital licenses don't have pictures on file. Another quirk – I got a new car last February, but when he ran my license, it didn't show up.

That's it for this post – my night at this point is about half over.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Criminals can be SO dumb

What I'm reading: Last chapters of Split Second by David Baldacci.

What I'm writing: Consummation scene of my short story.

On Wednesday, I was at the Post Office when numerous sirens called my attention to several motorcycles racing down the interstate. Shortly thereafter, several more cruisers followed, also running with lights and sirens.

I went home and turned on our local news channel. Seems that three guys were trying to break into a car in a hotel parking lot. This, despite the fact that the parking lot contained numerous cop cars. And the fact that registration had just opened in the hotel for a police convention on crime prevention, so the place was filled with law enforcement officers.

But, even more amazing (in a sick way) was that when these guys were approached by two Orange County deputy sheriffs, they shot them. Fortunately, one's vest saved him, as he took a shot to the chest. The other was hit in the arm. Both were released from the hospital.

Our sheriff was interviewed shortlly after the incident, and (as expected after getting to hear him at our Civilian Police Academy class), he was livid. They'd caught two of the three men (and believe me, when a cop is injured, law enforcement shows up in droves!) and he said he'd bet his paycheck these guys would have records.

Sure enough, between the 3 of them, they had over a hundred arrests. Makes you wonder what kind of support the court system is giving the community, doesn't it. The cops arrest 'em, the courts let 'em go.

I'm supposed to have my ride along this afternoon. Should make for some interesting discussion.