- PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE
- POST PSWA CONFERENCE
- LEARNING TO EDIT YOURSELF
- WHAT COPS KNOW
- GAINING ACCESS TO YOUR HOUSE THROUGH YOUR CAR
- THE ABILITY TO WRITE: NATURE OR NURTURE? PART III
- WHY OFFER A FREE E-BOOK?
- A ‘60s ACTIVIST IN PSWA’S COURT
- MEMBER NEWS
Based on the replies to the conference evaluations, most said the ability to network with so many talented and experienced writers and public safety personnel has given them access to new acquaintances and friends who are more than willing to help them achieve their writing goals.
Many are now connecting with each other via PSWA’s members only list serve. Through the list serve members can ask just one other member or the whole participating list serve group advice on any subject. Almost without exception these queries result in a spirited conversation as people with a lot of different levels of expertise and experience offer opinions, suggestions and generally provide links to other places where more information is available.
Recent conversations have dealt with copyrights, permission to use trademarked material, how to request the right to quote a passage, how royalties are usually paid, what a vanity press is, whether bookstores will accept self-published books, what the best style manual is and even how many police officers are likely to be in a department on a small Caribbean island.
Also, since the list serve is online, it’s available 24/7. So if you wake up in the middle of the night with a burning question, you can ask it then and there.
And, because the list serve is only available to members, everyone can be confident that whatever they say will be confidential. Our list serve is secure and monitored constantly to assure that everyone participating is treating others with respect and good humor.
Of course, the list serve is open to all members, so whether or not you attended the conference, you can certainly participate. It’s easy to become a member of PSWA and easy to join the listserve. Just contact Tim Dees.
POST PSWA CONFERENCE
Well it is post July 2014, and I hope everyone who attended the 2014 PSWA conference had an informative and fun time at the conference. Our host hotel, The Orleans, did a wonderful job and if you left the conference hungry, you were in another room while we were eating lunch.
Our conference is unique. We don’t have big name speakers. Why? Because celebrity speakers expect to be compensated in travel, lodging and speaking. When we have a conference everyone pays – including your board. That is what makes our conferences so cost effective.
What else makes our conference so cost effective is the attendance at the luncheons. The more lunches we purchase, the more cost effective the conference room rental becomes. Lunches are expensive, but they are first class. Next year, I encourage you to invite your guests to attend each luncheon. They will have the opportunity to meet the conference attendees and make new friends over an enjoyable repast.
Every year I swear I am not going to do it again, but then I do. I ask for corporate sponsors to help defray some of the expenses by sponsoring activities at conference. For 2015 I am asking the membership for your help in finding sponsors. Two of the three conference days, the coffee that was available for the attendees was paid for by publishers. The bartender at the Thursday night meet and greet was sponsored by another publisher and the room rental was paid for by my Fraternal Order of Police Lodge here in Las Vegas. The food at the Thursday night get together was paid for by the PSWA.
I don’t want to keep asking the same companies, organizations and friends for their support. You can only go to the well so many times before it runs dry. If you have a publisher, editor, printer or organization that would like to make contact with a great group of possible clients, please let them know that we have opportunities available for them sponsor and to let the attendees know who these sponsors are.
In closing, I would like to present each 2015 PSWA conference attendee with a challenge. Try and recruit a fellow writer to attend the 2015 conference with you. Just think what a great time you will have reconnecting with the friends you made this year, and attending the 2015 conference with friends you have brought from home.
–Keith Bettinger, PSWA Secretary
LEARNING TO EDIT YOURSELF
One of my favorite writers, Roald Dahl, once said, “Good writing is rewriting.” Mr. Dahl, who was an accomplished writer not only of children’s books (Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory), but of works for adults as well (many of his short stories appeared in Playboy magazine), hit the nail on the head. Getting that first draft done is only the beginning. Rewriting, or revising your work is what separates that first draft from a finished product. This polishing process can be as detailed as the writer feels is necessary, but there’s no doubt about it: revision is imperative. To become a good writer you need to be able to revise your work with a critical eye. The more you mature as a writer, the more adept you become at editing yourself.
Once I get that first draft done I feel a surge of relief. However, although I’ve typed those two most wonderful words, THE END, I know the work’s not done, the writing’s not complete. As Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” How true it is. Depending on the time constraints hanging over me, I usually like to let a first draft sit for a bit before starting the revision. If you have a trusted first reader, it’s also a good time to get some honest feedback. A good first reader will give you invaluable feedback.
Once I’ve taken a break, I then return to the manuscript and begin my own reading. I keep the red pen or pencil handy. The things I’m looking for are word echoes, clumsy sentences, typos, and anything I think could be written better. I usually find a lot of things I want to change. But let’s take a quick look at the aforementioned examples. Word echoes occur when a word is repeatedly used in close proximity. Sometimes it’s hard to control the over-usage of certain words. For instance, if you’re writing about two individuals struggling for the control of a gun, it could be hard not to repeat the word gun during the course of the confrontation. If one person has control of the gun, and the other is trying to wrest the gun from the other’s hand, a certain amount of repetition is bound to occur. Perhaps looks for synonyms or pronouns to vary the beat of the prose. Let’s try rewriting the above sentence using some other words besides “gun.” If you’re writing about two individuals struggling for the control of a pistol, it could be hard not to repeat the word gun during the course of the confrontation. If one person has control of the weapon, and the other is trying to wrest it from the other’s hand, a certain amount of repetition is bound to occur.
This rereading, especially if it’s done aloud, can alert you to clumsy sentences. As a rule of thumb, any sentence that causes a reader to stumble should be looked at with scrutiny. Another thing I look for is sentence structure repetition. Often times, it’s easy to fall into a repetitive sentence pattern of subject verb, subject verb. Robert went to the window. He looked out and saw them. He grabbed the rifle and pushed the barrel through the broken glass. Robert acquired a sight picture and began pulling the trigger.
Just as the above paragraph falls into the subject/verb pattern, it could be broken up a bit by varying the wording. Robert went to the window and looked out. Three men moved in the darkness. He grabbed the rifle and pushed the barrel through the broken glass. Acquiring a sight picture was challenging in the dark, but the feel of the trigger gave him strength.
Neither of the above is an example of what I’d call good writing, but I think you get the idea. Besides, like I said, a little editing never hurts.
–Michael A. Black
WHAT COPS KNOW
I spent thirty-three years in law enforcement working as a Chicago cop and FBI agent. During that time I was also a police trainer. I’ve worked with, and trained cops all over the world. Here are some things I’ve learned from my time on the job. Most of these truths withstand the test of time:
- Working a busy beat on midnights is the greatest, until things slow down at five or six a.m. Then it becomes the worst, particularly if you have a morning court appearance.
- More often than not on a domestic disturbance call, family members will attack the police as cops handcuff their loved one who has assaulted the family.
- Bad guys don’t carry IDs—except those that don’t belong to them.
- “Who me?” is the first response from a thug on the street when you ask him his name.
- Any call that involves a nude woman will result in every sector car arriving on the scene in record time.
- The smallest wiry-type guys are the most difficult to handcuff if they resist.
- Whatever you do on the firing range, you’ll automatically do if you have to use your weapon on the street.
- The day you’re well rested, prepared, and energized is not the day you’ll get in a foot chase.
- Female officers are much stronger and more fearless than you think.
- The day you feel most tired and can’t wait to go home and sleep, is the day you’ll toss and turn trying to fall asleep.
- Working with the right partner is the best feeling in the world.
- A supervisor who shows up on the scene, makes decisions, and isn’t afraid to put his hands on people instills confidence in leadership.
- Being fit and wearing a clean, pressed uniform is another way to avoid confrontations. Your appearance commands respect.
- Never trust anyone not to try to hurt you.
- Never accept a prisoner from a colleague without searching the bad guy yourself.
- Your paperwork is a direct reflection of who you are and how you do your job. Incomplete or sloppy reporting will haunt you years later.
- Going through a door on a felony call into an unknown house or business will always be scary. It will also always help you to survive.
- If a bad guy gives you a hard look and you look away, he owns you.
- If you’re working UC and a bad guy gives you a hard look and you do not look away, he knows who you are.
- A traffic stop in the last hour of your shift will often result in an arrest and cause you to work OT.
- Be prepared for a major altercation when you hear the words, “I ain’t goin’ nowhere,” or, “You’re gonna have to shoot me.”
- The first few years on the job you’re in a race to be first on the scene. The last few years are a challenge to be the last on the scene.
- In a gang neighborhood, ten or more people may have witnessed a shooting but no one will talk to the police.
- When you find a gun in a bad guy’s pants pocket, his first response will be, “These aren’t my pants.”
- As soon as you pull over to enjoy a cup of coffee and a snack, you’ll get a felony in progress call.
- Bad guys with no firearms training will fire a gun without aiming and hit you.
- Often, when a traffic violator is completely cooperative they are hiding something.
- After searching someone and finding one gun, never stop looking for another one.
- Never put anyone in your car without cuffing them first.
- It will rain or snow on range day.
- Being at the scene of a fallen officer is life changing and emotionally crippling. The same is true at the scene of a colleague who has committed suicide.
- Most cops will have dreams of being in a gunfight and their weapon malfunctioning.
- Carry your cuffs off-duty—one day you will need them.
- The toughest, strongest cops lose it at a death investigation involving a baby or child.
GAINING ACCESS TO YOUR HOUSE THROUGH YOUR CAR
- – How does your personal vehicle become the “KEY” to your house?
How often do you park and leave your car with a hotel or restaurant valet service, at a mechanic’s shop for repair, in an airport’s long-term parking lot, at the shopping mall, or at your place of employment? Granted, parking our cars is a matter of necessity for our business and recreational activities. But parking your car at one of these locations implies that you are going to be away from your home for duration of a few hours or several days. So, unless you are mindful of a few security things with your personal vehicle, you might as well give the keys to your house to the “neighborhood burglar.”
I know you’re wondering “Okay, if someone breaks into my car, how do they know where I live?” To answer that, let’s begin by taking a peek inside your vehicle’s glove compartment.
If you are like most people, the contents of our car’s glove compartment are like those in that “junk drawer” we all have in our kitchen. An Orleans Casino ball-point pen left over from the last PSWA Conference (one that you have to scribble relentlessly to get the ink to flow); a flashlight with batteries too weak to even illuminate the interior of the glove compartment; …four rubber bands; three paper clips; two copper pennies; one broken breath mint; and a whole bunch of little dust bunnies.
Seriously though, it’s also typically a treasure trove of information to where you live and other personal information. There’s probably a registration and insurance slip with your address. There might be old work orders from oil changes or tire rotations from the local auto repair shop. Maybe even the purchase contract for the car when you bought it from the dealer. (These have a copy of your signature, too, which helps in identity theft…but that’s another issue.) And once a person knows where you live and can presume that you are going to be away from your house for a while, it’s merely a matter of having some time to access your house.
Here are a couple other things to think about. It doesn’t have to be the valet parker or the auto mechanic that you leave your car with who will break into your home. All they have to do while they remain at work is to phone a “friend” and tell them your address.
And if you keep that spare “valet” key that the dealer provided to your car in the glove compartment, now the burglar can even drive your car to your house. He can use the remote garage door opener to gain entry into your garage. Or, if you have one of the newer vehicles allowing you to program your garage door opener directly into a button within the vehicle’s console electronics, then this becomes another easy way to gain entry into your garage.
Oh by the way, how many times do we really lock the door leading from our garage into our house? There’s really no need to lock that one when we leave because the garage door is down and closed, right? It’s all so simple and easy to make your car the key to your house.
Cleaning-out your vehicle’s glove compartment of documents that give your personal information will reduce the chance of your house being burglarized.
If you have a hand-held remote control garage door opener, take it with you when you leave your vehicle.
Leave only the car key with valet parking attendants; remove all other keys from the key ring.
If the valet attendant asks how long you plan on being away from your car, tell him/her “just for a short time.”
You don’t have to keep your car registration and proof of insurance in the glove compartment; just keep the original or a facsimile in your purse or wallet, the same as you do with your driver’s license. That way you will have it to present to the nice motorcycle cop who stops you for a traffic violation.
Be Aware and Stay Safe!
THE ABILITY TO WRITE: NATURE OR NURTURE? PART III
My research into the ability to write had to go a few steps beyond where I had taken it to that point, which wasn’t very far. So I searched under the topic of “Are Talented Authors Endowed with an Innate Writing Ability?” and found an article by one Mathew Kulas, who claims to be a professor of writing (do they really have these?).
In his article, Mr. Professor Kulas proposes: “Many people argue that accomplished storytellers are born with this skill, however I am in no way certain. Maybe you might have a degree of predisposition, yet I think that authors are created (my emphasis added). In my opinion certain authors are highly gifted but even so these individuals still had to develop the gift by way of extensive learning, practice, in addition to thinking. For that reason, I think writing to be all three — a skill, a craft as well as a talent.”
That didn’t help a lot, but I also realize research means you form a hypothesis (a theory) and then seek to either prove or disprove it. Thus, Mr. Professor Kulas didn’t help much, because he seemed to equivocate, claiming all three are factors. But maybe he’s also saying if you have the native ability and hone it, you could become a skilled writer. Makes sense. However, I have also learned the idea behind investigating or researching something is to avoid coming up with a theory, and then finding facts to fit the theory, not disprove it. So I needed to press on.
Next I came across an article by one James M. Jaspar. Reviewing his website, Mr. Jaspar appears to be interested in teaching people how to write, particularly when he says: “Anyone can learn to write well. This is not some innate skill like perfect pitch. Solid, even
elegant writing is an ability we acquire little by little, learning the proper uses of one verb or preposition at a time, mastering long sentences then short ones — and then figuring out
how to combine the two. We learn to compensate for our own stylistic idiosyncrasies,
whether these are an excessive use of adverbs or logical connectors or a tendency to
write one paragraph after another of exactly the same length.” His website is http://www.jamesmjasper.org/Writing.html.
So I concluded: Either he’s wrong, or I’m wrong, but I’ll go with him being wrong, since I have little clue what he’s trying to say. Albert Einstein once said “If you can’t explain your topic simply, you don’t understand it yourself.” I didn’t find Mr. Jasper’s article to be simple. Plus, he seems to want to make money by teaching those who can’t write how to write, so I had to conclude we’d have to agree to disagree. Mr. Jaspar’s article definitely didn’t advance my theory much farther than where it had already been.
Partof the reason for even looking into this somewhat esoteric topic was based on thirteen years of teaching in a community college. I found out that reading the written work of some of my students was almost impossible. Many couldn’t spell, but worse than that those same students were not able to carry out a thought beyond one sentence. Others did quite well. So I was stuck in a quandary, wondering if I was truly accomplishing anything in trying to make my poor students write yet more while frustrating themselves to death (not to mention me having to read what they were trying to say). It took some time to figure out that there was a direct correlation between those who were poor writers, and those who got poor grades.
“Ah-ha!” I thought. “Now I’m onto something.” Perhaps the ability to learn is based on one’s intelligence level. Contrary to what the U.S. Constitution says, my theory is that “All men are NOT created equal.” I had a living laboratory right there in front of me. So, I had a meeting with myself, tried to think outside the box, and formed my own theory: “The ability to write well is based on one’s level of intelligence.” Good writers tend to be brighter people. They can interpret information and think critically about what the information means. Then they can explain it in understandable terms. Those who don’t have this ability are only capable of parroting back rote information.
Absolute proofof this came in my Human Relations and Social Conflictclasses. Part of my final exam consisted of doing essays on topics we’d covered over the course of the semester. Being the nice professor I was (!), I let them use their notes to do the essays. I would pose eight questions related to topics we’d covered, tell them to pick the four they liked, and finally to create essays on those four. Without fail, the better students could take their notes and explain what we were covering. By contrast, the poor students would simply re-write their notes, meaning they had written down the information, but had no clue how to explain it, so they just simply parroted their notes back to me.
In the Criminal Profiling class I taught, I did the same thing, only with a higher degree of difficulty, since it was the most advanced course in our program. I’d give them four fact patterns and ask them to do a ‘profile’ of an unknown offender, based on the fact pattern of a murder case or a sexual assault. Voila! Exactly the same results. Some would just re-write a laundry list, but could not explain how they’d come to the conclusions. The better students would do an in-depth analysis and explain every point they were making. It was a pleasure to read the latter, and whether they were right or wrong was less important than how they explained the conclusions they arrived at.
My educated guess would be that the ability to write is a function of one’s intellectual capability. Those with higher intelligence simply write better. Sort of the old “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.” The best example of that would be personal observations in my college classes. In fact, I eventually learned to minimize the amount of writing in my classes, because I found a direct correlation between good writing and good grades, and that the reverse was true. The other thing I found was that students who couldn’t write, or were too lazy to do so, would get someone else to write a paper for them. Or wouldn’t write it at all.
In conclusion, I believe you’ve either got it or you ain’t got it. I’ve thought that for years, and I now have myself even further convinced. If your intellect isn’t fairly high, you probably have failed to learn the basics you needed to learn about writing well, which usually happens in the early grades. If you missed that, or ignored it, then it will influence your ability to write the rest of your life. I’d like to think I proved my theory, but I’m still not sure. It was fun thinking about something I’ve wondered about for years. The question would then be, am I a good enough writer that you understand why I wrote this and what it all means? If the answer is “yes,” then I’ve done my job in expressing my opinion.
WHY OFFER A FREE E-BOOK?
I promoted the freebie on many different places, most free, but some I paid for the promo, and one place was pretty hefty, but so many writers I was in touch with said this was the main place to advertise because it had the most subscribers. It also had to give approval to the book and the dates I wanted had already been taken but one.
Most of these promo places had specific requirements, among them you had to have at least 10 reviews and they had to be and average of 4 stars. Each of them had specific questions that had to be filled out. Doing all this took a lot of time and energy.
I just received a royalty report and I can tell you what happened on the first day of the freebie offering. I won’t know about the subsequent days until the next quarter. But one day is enough to tell that the experiment was successful.
Up until the day of the freebie promo the book that I offered free, Angel Lost, had sold 1 copy from January to June, The first day of the promo, 305,782 were downloaded free. (The publisher told me these numbers ended up in the 550,000s.) 134 Kindle copies were purchased on the same day.
Astral Gift, not part of the series, had no sales up until the day of the freebies when 3 Kindle copies were purchased.
Interesting things happened with the other books in the series:
- Final Respects, the first book in the series sold 15 copies before the end of June, and 113 the first day of the promotion.
- Bad Tidings, the 2nd book in the series, sold 5 Kindle copies before the end of June and 43 the day of the promotion.
- Fringe Benefits, the 4th book in the series, sold 4 Kindle copies before the end of June and 23 the first day of the promotion.
- No Sanctuary, the 5th book in the series sold 3 Kindle copies before and 40 copies the first day of the promotion.
- An Axe to Grind, #6 had 1 Kindle sold before and 24 the first day of the promotion.
- No Bells #8 had 2 Kindle copies purchased before the end of June, and 28 purchased on the first day of the freebie promotion.
- Dangerous Impulses, #9, 7 Kindle copies purchased before and 25 on the first day of the promotion.
- Murder in the Worst Degree, #10, 26 Kindle copies before and 25 the day of the promotion.
This was the period in which this book first came out. It, and some others, also sold in paper books, but nothing like the Kindle showing.
Before this freebie experiment, I had done all the usual promotions, a Blog Tour, wrote about all the different books in the series on my blog, promoted on Facebook etc. A few paper books were sold as well as the Kindle copies I reported here—but everything began selling on the first day of the promotion.
On that promo day, one book in the series didn’t sell any, Smell of Death.
Yes, the free Kindle book experiment did work, and I made enough in royalties that first day to pay for what I spent on the promotion with some left over.
Will I do it again? Yes, but not for a while.
What I learned. If you do the work and promote on the free and pay sites, this works well for a series.
A ‘60s ACTIVIST IN PSWA’S COURT
I’m certainly not Mark Twain, but I was sure I would feel as out-of-place at the PSWA as his 19th century Connecticut Yankee was in King Arthur’s court. Here I was, an unrepentant ‘60s (age as well as decade) countercultural activist, liberal, feminist, anti-gun advocate in the midst of a group of police officers, FBI agents, weapons experts, military officers – all the people I once sneered at and scorned.
And not one of them sneered at or scorned me.
It probably helped that we didn’t discuss politics (although the ones who are Face Book friends often do, much to my chagrin; I’m sure they have the same reaction to my postings). But I was made to feel welcomed, respected, and honored (winning three awards in the past two years). It was a great conference and great experience.
The only reason I felt out-of-place is so many of the other participants had such a wealth of knowledge in so many arcane (to me) subjects. I write humorous cozy mysteries about a woman rabbi in So. Jersey who gets involved in solving crimes. They write thrillers, suspense novels, and nonfiction about their experiences as undercover cops, international operatives, and fire fighters. I know how to dial 911. They know how to answer and respond to those calls.
Many times at conferences I’ll attend a panel and know as much, or even more, than the panelists. Not at the PSWA. Every panel delved into an area unfamiliar to me. I learned from each one. I use the first person narrative in my books, so I don’t need to know more than my protagonist does. She can say, “He had a gun,” and I don’t have to worry about what caliber and type. Many (most?) of the others at the PSWA not only would have described the gun in accurate detail, they could – and do – teach courses on weaponry.
I enjoyed the PSWA so much in 2013 that I returned in 2014. It proves the importance of leaving one’s comfort zone and opening oneself to interacting with new people. I thank all those police officers, FBI agents, weapons experts, military officers who made this fish-out-water learn how to breathe fresh air.
Tunnel Visions is a work of faction a blend of fact and fiction. It weaves together the historical details of an actual water tunnel disaster in Los Angeles, the current struggle for control over California’s diminishing water supply, and a fictional plot to attack the Los Angeles water system. Digging 5 miles inside a Los Angeles MWD water tunnel in 1971, Willie Carter was one of the 17 men killed by a methane explosion in what became known as the Sylmar Tunnel disaster.
Nick Carter, Willie Carter’s son, is a firefighter trained in urban search and rescue (USAR) operations. His fiancée, Cindi, is an ATF Special Agent. On a Sunday in 2014, they are swept up in a massive Homeland Security response to a terror alert in Los Angeles. At the end of Tunnel Visions, when Nick makes a desperate entry into the gas-filled Sylmar Tunnel in an attempt to save Cindi and prevent a disaster, his past and present are brought together in a shocking way.