PSWA Newsletter December 2018



Michelle J. G. Perin-Callahan, PSWA President

Hello friends and fellow writers,

Another holiday season is upon us which means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. I hope you enjoy spending time with loved ones regardless of the reason. Laughter is always good medicine especially in these dark times (at least for those of us living in winter states). The most important realization for me during the holiday season is that another year is almost over with a bright, shiny new one waiting in the wings. It can be disappointing when I realize that my “Want To Get Done” and my “Actually Got Done” lists aren’t congruent but it can also be very exciting when I realize that time is actually a social construct and I have plenty of time to get things done. That doesn’t keep me from making a lot of lists. Of course, I usually promptly lose the list.

Recently I’ve been struggling with how much research is too much. When do you stop looking things up? Especially since for me this looking often is like following Alice down the rabbit hole. But then doesn’t everyone end up learning about the habits of mutated fruit flies when they wonder what Pavlov’s dogs’ name were? Thank goodness I’ve got the Public Safety Writers Association and the friends I’ve made. I reached out and asked the question about when to stop the research and start the writing. The response was supportive and practical. I was reminded to think about who my audience was and what they expected from me-a doctorate level researcher or a subject matter expert with practical experience. This reminder led me to a good timeline with a focus on what information I still needed to brush up on with an eye on getting to the good stuff-the writing.

The networking and support are just a small benefit to being part of the PSWA. Speaking of benefits, don’t forget about the early bird pricing for the conference in July or the opening of the writing contest (January 1, 2019). There are so many good things to come both with the new year and with PSWA. I’m glad you are all taking this journey with me. I look forward to sharing new successes with each of you as we enter this last year of the twenty-tens.

—Michelle J.G. Perin-Callahan, President, PSWA


photo of Michael Black

Michael Black, PSWA Conference Chair

I had a couple of tight writing deadlines this month. One was an Executioner manuscript, Stealth Assassin, I had to turn in by November 5th. I also had to review of the copy edits on Legends of the West, my forthcoming Bass Reeves western. I managed to beat both of them. But more deadlines are looming. I have to come up with another scenario for Mack Bolan to save the world and I need to finish an editing job that I’ve had on hold for way too long. But none of these is as important as the deadline for the end of the early bird pricing for the PSWA conference (December 31st).

We’ve extended a couple of great offers this year, including a special discount if you convince two new people to register for the conference. There’s also a “no cancelation” rate. Check them out on the website. It goes without saying that the conference is our main event each year, and I personally think it’s the preeminent event of its type. The price is very affordable, and the hotel rates are extremely reasonable. Make sure you take advantage of the conference rate offered by the Orleans Hotel. The code is posted on the website. I’ve usually found the best way is to call the hotel directly and mention you’re attending the PSWA Conference. The staff is very helpful.

Our PSWA Board is working very hard to make the next conference even better than last year’s, and attendees rated that one as one of the best ever. We’ve got some dynamite solo presenters lined up. Retired Deputy Chief Dave Freedland of the Irvine, California PD, will talk about real life SWAT tactics and the various call-outs he was on during his police career. Our PSWA Vice President and retired copper, John Schembra, will give you the low-down on police pursuits and high-speed chases. Author and publisher, Mike Orenduff, creator of the highly praised Pot Thief series, will talk about going from an unknown to a best seller. And highly successful short story and screenwriter, Mysti Berry, will show us how to turn real life into fiction by asking the dramatic questions to focus your story.

If those aren’t enough to whet your appetite, I’ve got a bevy of interesting panels on a variety of subjects. Speaking of panels, I’m always open to suggested topics so send any you have to me at We’ll also have our PSWA bookstore to sell your books and a variety of excellent meals, which are included in the conference. We’re also offering our pre-conference writer’s workshop, where you can get one-on-one feedback and writing instruction from at least three published writers. Since there’s been so much interest about possibly doing another PSWA Anthology, we’re highlighting writing short stories at this year’s workshop, but the writing principles can be applied to any type of writing. You can also have up to 25 pages of your manuscript critiqued by one of the workshop instructors at the workshop. (It’s required that you send it in advance.)

At this point I’m working hard to find another old time radio play, and there will of course be lots fun and stimulating conversation. There’s no better place to rub elbows with the actual experts who’ve walked the walk and know what’s real and what’s not.

Don’t hesitate. Sign up today. You won’t regret it.

—Michael A. Black, Program Chair


Mysti Berry, PSWA Treasurer

Don’t worry, Nancy Farrar is staying on the board and staying with PSWA—no one could replace Nancy! However, I am taking on the Treasurer duties and am looking forward to helping out in this new capacity. If all goes well, you won’t even notice a difference until you see me seated behind the book-selling table in July.

Nancy’s done an amazing job and I only hope I can follow in her footsteps!

—Mysti Berry, Treasurer


John Schembra, PSWA Vice-President

The holiday season is upon us and many writers will be attending holiday craft fairs, book signings, speaking events, and whatever else they do to promote or sell their works. It is a great time to get the word out about your books and who you are as a writer.

I believe that when we are at these events, it is not just about your books. You are also presenting yourself as a writer and a person, and it is imperative that you make a good first impression.

First, have an attractive table or display. A table cloth is a must. The display should be neat and nicely arranged, not cluttered and hap-hazard. There should be a synopsis of each book, if possible. Usually the back cover blurb is sufficient, but I like to write a bit more to catch the person’s interest.  Have a copy of the book displayed with it.

Invest in a banner that can catch people’s eye. Post it on a wall behind you, or, as I do, have it hanging off the front of the display. It can be simple- mine merely has my name, “Award Winning Author” and my website on it. I have seen others that also have the author’s picture or book cover(s). Just be careful it isn’t too busy.

On her blog tour, Marilyn Meredith wrote about attending craft fairs and gave some great advice. If I may borrow from her post, she said to not be too aggressive with potential buyers. I agree 100% with her. If someone stops at my display, I greet them pleasantly and ask if they like to read, as an ice breaker. If it appears they aren’t interested in talking, I just tell them to ask if they have any questions. If you can, when someone approaches your booth, stand to greet them. I believe that shows your interest, and appreciation, of them stopping by.

If they do respond and seem willing to talk, I give them a short bio of my books, and myself. I have found once that occurs, they tend to hang around longer, talk more, and that ups the chances of a book sale. Don’t be shy- if you have won writing awards, say so.

I also suggest you post the price of the books, and that you accept credit cards. My price list offers a discount if they buy multiple books, which seems to interest them.

Dress nicely! First impressions of you are important. No need to dress as if you are attending the Queen’s Ball–casual and neat is good.

I always have some Hershey Kisses in a bowl on the table as a give-away. That seems to work on getting them to stop by, giving you the opportunity to meet and greet.

Finally, have some promotional materials displayed- bookmarks, pens/pencils, business cards, etc. Give them out liberally, not only to people who stop by, but ask those passing by if they would like a card or bookmark or whatever you have. I have found that increases the number of visitors to my website for a week or two after the event.

John Schembra at the Craft Fair

I sometimes ask the potential customer if they have ever thought about becoming a writer. More often than not, they say yes. That opens the door for you to give some simple advice about writing and getting published. I’ve found these customers often buy a book or two, and seem genuinely grateful for the info. Place a bookmark in each book sold, and don’t forget to ask them to submit a review when done reading it. I usually tell them the review can be very short, or as long as they want it to be, and explain, briefly how important reviews are to authors.

The holidays provide the best opportunity to promote yourself and your books, and sales could be brisk or not so brisk. Don’t be disappointed if you don’t sell a lot. As long they leave your table with a way to access your website, the potential is there for a future sale!. Don’t overlook other holidays during the year, or craft fairs, though.  Google craft fairs in your area to find the best choices for you.

Now, I can’t end this without reminding you of the PSWA conference in Las Vegas, in July. A wonderful, fun, and educational event! Check it out at the PSWA website: The early bird registration is good through Dec. 31, when the price will go up. Still, it is the most affordable conference. The special room rates at the Orleans Hotel are great, the lunches (included) excellent, and it is a fun time for all. Sign up now to take advantage of the discounted cost.

—John Schembra, Vice-President


photo of Thonie Hevron

Thonie Hevron, PSWA Board Member-at-Large

I wonder how I would’ve ever gotten where I am today without mentors. This includes the mom down the street who took me under her wing when my mother was busy with her own demons. During my career, there was a motor officer who introduced me to the concept, “badge-heavy” and changed my adversarial attitude with the public while issuing tickets. Fred, a patrolman, was another crucial association. He invited me to testify to the county grand jury as part of an investigation of our police administration. Standing up for the integrity of the job was a beautiful burden. These people were life-mentors who taught me valuable lessons that extend through my life today.

But let’s talk about mentors who help writers.

In any other industry, colleagues could look upon newbies as competition. While I’ve found that writing teachersaren’t necessarily mentors, I can say I have never seen professional acrimony. The motto of my local writing club, Redwood Writers’ (a branch of California Writers Club) is “writers helping writers.” Indeed, my first true writing mentor, Patsy Taylor, during her Jumpstart Writing class, encouraged me with provocative prompts. She provided a safe place to read and hone my own stories. Then, she pointed me toward the club, where I found much more to learn.

My second mentor is Marilyn Meredith. As you know, she’s a board member of the Public Safety Writers Association who I met in 2014 at our annual conference. Marilyn is a mature lady—and I say lady in the most respectful terms—who helped me navigate small press publishing and writing ethics. She’s a prolific author of over 40 books who gets up in the middle of the night (4 AM) to accomplish her myriad goals. Even with huge family demands, she writes and promotes almost every day. She’s a model of Christianity—not the clichéd version—the true-blue follower of Christ. She’s unpretentious, accepts people the way they are and believes in sharing her gifts—as she has with me. I’ll bet she never even considered herself a mentor. But she is.

Speaking of not considering yourself a mentor, now I want to talk about being a mentor.  Why?

  1. It could change someone’s life—really. Think about words of encouragement you heard that motivated you. Be that person.
  2. It will take you out of your own world—we create them in our heads, don’t we? Telling another person about your process attaches words to abstract thoughts. Sharing can enlarge thoughts, if you listen.
  3. You’ll be building a writers’ community based on the positive aspects we’re talking about here.
  4. The life you change may be your own. Sometimes, verbalizing the process gives us a clearer picture. Sharing and giving aren’t unique to humans but we’ve refined it through evolution. Let’s keep working on it.

Be sure to join us on Writer’s Notes, Just the Facts, Ma’am

—Thonie Hevron


photo of John Wills

John Wills, PSWA Member

It seems drones are ubiquitous. From personal use, to commercial applications, and finally, military deployments. Drones are available and used globally, it’s a billion-dollar industry. Their relatively inexpensive price tag makes it easy for everyone to purchase, including those bent on destruction and mayhem.

Our old nemesis, Russia, utilized drones when they invaded Crimea. The unmanned aircraft systems were used to identify enemy soldiers on the ground. Once spotted, the drone operators simply relayed coordinates for missile and artillery strikes. ISIS has also begun using drones in their battle plans, and the drone threat has been employed by terrorist groups in conflicts from the Middle East to Eastern Europe.

Stopping the threat

The U.S. military recognizes the enormous threat drone usage poses and has come up with a solution. Introducing the IXI Dronekiller. This new hand-held device is the first of its kind, and, according to IXI Technology, employs counter-drone technology that uses software defined radio. A company official explained that the new weapon is not a broadband jammer like one can purchase online. It targets whatever specific frequency drones are operating on. The IXI official explained that every drone has a different type of frequency. For instance, the DJI Phantom, a common commercial-use drone, operates on the 2400 to 2483 MHZ frequency, or 2.4 GHZ band. Within that 2.4 band an operator selects different channels to link between them and the drone itself.

The latest iteration of the DJI Phantom drone is capable of hopping channels. However, the IXI Dronekiller can counter that ability. The new weapon is not simply blocking a whole channel, but rather inserting a bit of noise or additional data to break the link between drone and operator. The Dronekiller is able to target all Type I and Type II commercial drones, the type seen by non-state, and/or some state actors and employed on battlefields like Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. These commercial drones are used by many terror groups for surveillance, but occasionally they add a bomb to drop on their adversaries.

Last year in Syria, fighters from a Christian militia reported they uncovered what they described as an ISIS drone factory. The theory was that ISIS was building drones from spare parts. However, whatever is built and regardless of frequency, the Dronekiller can identify the frequency and neutralize the threat. The IXI has a radio frequency sensor that can acquire all drone signals in roughly three seconds.

How it works

The new Dronekiller is simple to operate and the user training time is less than one minute. It’s a point and shoot gun with a 30-degree cone of effect on whatever threat is targeted. Simply point the weapon in the direction of the target and when the drone flies into the cone it either crashes, if it’s a cheap one, or a more advanced drone will fly back to base. If it heads back, the IXI can follow it and see who was flying it. A newer version of the device can also be mounted to an assault rifle, similar to attaching an M203 grenade launcher.

The IXI Dronekiller’s specs include a four hour battery life in active mode use, a rechargeable Lithium-ion battery, right or left hand operation, an environment-resistant frame, a weight of 7.5 pounds, and a range of one kilometer.

The new system is being tested by Marines at Camp Pendleton, California, as well as Ft. Bragg, North Carolina by the Army. Oceanside Police Department in San Diego, California and the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department already use a version of the IXI to attack commercial drones violating airspace regulations during events like the Golden Globes and Rose Bowl.

Good and bad

Drone usage is on the rise and so is the ability to intercept them and their frequencies. Recently, at Apple, an individual was caught using a drone to film construction of the company’s new campus named Apple Park. The user was quickly identified and ordered to stop.

Drones are also used for legal purposes such as helping companies to better view their construction sites, real estate properties, or filming farm operations. On the other hand, people find new ways to use drones for illegal purposes. Prisons have reported contraband, such as tobacco and drugs, being flown over gates and walls. In time of disasters, curiosity seekers have been known to fly their drones for better views of damage due to hurricanes and tornadoes, or of firefighters fighting a blaze. Instances such as these have prompted the FAA to step in and ban drones interfering with rescue or recovery efforts.

The military has also been affected by civilian drones. Some operations, including Coast Guard drills, Air Force maneuvers, and one involving a Central Command pilot buzzed by a drone last year while attempting to land on an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf.


Technology is expensive but necessary. The U.S. military’s spending on drones is set to reach a five-year high. The DOD fiscal year 2018 budget request contained $6.97 billion for drone-related procurement, research and development, and system-specific construction. The FY 2019 budget request is approximately $9.39 billion. The proposal includes funding for the procurement of 3,447 new air, ground, and sea drones. This is an increase from the 2018 procurement of 807 drones.

—John M. Wills
Award-winning Author/Freelance Writer
Public Safety Writers Association member


Tim Dees

Tim Dees, PSWA Secretary

This article has nothing to do with the business or art of writing. I thought I would get that out of the way at the outset.

This is about prescription medications, and the prices we pay for them. I have noticed that most of the membership of the PSWA is of a “certain age,” and even the younger members take prescription medications now and then. This is about how they are priced, and how you can more easily find the best bargains.

Besides being the PSWA’s Alpha Geek, I have a day job as a combination information technology manager, medical assistant, and covert security officer (the patients don’t know that the old fat guy who takes their blood pressure is packing heat) for a psychiatrist in private practice. For those of you that think I should see a shrink, take comfort in knowing that I see one four days a week.

One of my duties is to process the prescriptions written by the physician I work for. He tends not to write prescriptions for the “latest and greatest” medications, as they are seldom covered by insurance and are too costly for most of our patients. Nearly all the prescriptions I process are for medications that have been available in generic form for years.

A brief tutorial might be in order with regard to brand name vs. generic medications. When a pharmaceutical company discovers that a compound is effective in treating a particular disorder, they must first get it approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This requires years of animal and human trials, and is enormously costly. These costs are in addition to all those expended in trying out other compounds that might turn out to have no worth at all.

The pharmaceutical company (aka Big Pharma) then gets a patent on the medication, which gives them a monopoly on its manufacture for at least 20 years. They can charge as much as the market will bear in order to recoup the costs of their research and clinical trials. If the drug is one that people either need very badly (say, Gleevec, which is used in the treatment of some cancers), or one they just want very badly (like Viagra), the company makes buckets of money. A course of Gleevec costs about $84,000 per year in the U.S., and brand name Viagra is around $75 per dose.

Once the patent expires, other pharmaceutical companies can make the drug, and they usually do. The cost of the generic is typically a fraction of the brand name. Generic Gleevec (imatinib) runs around $24,000 per year, or about $28% of the brand name price. Generic Viagra (sildenafil) is about $23 per dose.

Once the drug has been around for a long time, multiple generic manufacturers pick it up, and the price goes down even more. A month’s supply of prednisone, a common steroid used to treat all sorts of inflammations, can be had for about $5 at some pharmacies.

Of course, few retail pharmacies publish their prices (Costco is an exception), so, if you want to find the best price, you have to ask or call around. All pharmacies will tell you their price for a specific drug and dose, but only if you ask. If only there was an easier way.

There is, and that is why I am writing this. We make extensive use of a smartphone app called GoodRx. There is a version for both iOS (iPhone) and Android flavors, and if you don’t have a smartphone or don’t want to download anything, you can go to the GoodRx website ( If you don’t want to use a computer at all, I have to wonder how you are reading this.

GoodRx allows you to key in the name of just about any prescription medication, and choose generic or brand name, the dose, and the quantity. If you’re using a smartphone, the GPS feature will know where you are and search for local pharmacies. Online, you’ll need to enter a zip code.

You’ll be presented with a list of prices for your drug at area pharmacies, ordered from cheapest to dearest. Be prepared for a shock at the difference between the prices at the top and bottom of the list.

For example, clomipramine (brand name Anafranil) is used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder. Where I live, a 30-day supply costs $177 if you get it at Walmart. However, if you take your trade to Fred Meyer, about a mile away, you will pay $403 for exactly the same drug.

So, why do two supposedly discount pharmacies charge such different prices? Each has different buyers, different contracts, and maybe even different manufacturers. Americans pay more for prescription drugs than citizens of any other first-world country because we are the only one that doesn’t have a national health care system. In other countries, the government negotiates with Big Pharma for drug prices, and everyone in the country pays that price.

Here, we have umpty-ump health insurance providers, most of whom contract with one of a few pharmacy service companies like Express Scripts, Cigna (soon to be just Cigna, as they bought Express Scripts), Kaiser, Optum Rx, etc. They negotiate prices, and your insurance provider pays that price.

Unless—you don’t have insurance, or you have a lowball plan that doesn’t include prescription coverage or covers only very basic medications. Then, you pay whatever your pharmacy wants to charge you. GoodRx tells you what they want to charge you.

You’re better off getting your medicine from a single pharmacy, if you can. The pharmacy will have a record of all your medications, and they can flag any potential adverse interactions. This is especially important if you see multiple prescribers who may not be aware of what one another are doing.

This may involve a judgment call, where you balance the utility of getting your scripts at a single pharmacy against paying the lowest price by shopping around. However, there are some ways you can work the system to your benefit.

  • Many of the prices listed on GoodRx are marked with a button that reads “coupon.” The coupon is a virtual one that appears if you click that button. At the pharmacy, show the clerk the screen that appears, and you will get your discounted price.
  • If you normally take your trade to Pharmacy A, but Pharmacy B has the better price on a drug you need, show the pharmacist the price you can get at B by showing them the GoodRx screen. Many pharmacies will match the price to keep your trade.
  • GoodRx doesn’t usually list the prices of mail-order pharmacies. The mail-order outfits can sometimes offer a better price, but they usually require ordering a 90-day supply. Your prescriber will usually authorize this once you are stable on a medication regimen and the dose is no longer being titrated (to determine the optimal dose for you). The mail-order pharmacies do list their prices online, so you can compare costs.
  • If GoodRx or some other strategy yields a very low price, like $5 for a month’s supply, keep in mind that is probably the cash price, not the one you will get through your insurance plan. Most health plans mandate a minimum co-pay for prescription drugs, typically $10 or $15. If you insist on running the prescription through your insurance, you’re going to pay the co-pay out of pocket, even if the pharmacy would give you the drug at the lower price. Just tell the pharmacist you’ll pay the cash price, and save yourself the price of lunch (maybe not a big lunch).
  • Finally, a tip unrelated to cost: take advantage of the pharmacist’s expertise. If you’re fortunate enough to have a physician who takes the time to explain all of the ramifications of taking a medication, count your blessings. Many physicians are eternally pressed for time, often seeing multiple patients at once, and while they would like to explain each treatment decision carefully, there is not always time. Pharmacists are also pressed for time, being charged with filling X prescriptions per hour. They will, however, take the time to explain any potential side effects and drug interactions, and many pharmacies require them to offer you counseling when you pick up a new medication. Take a minute and let them do so, even if your physician briefed you already. This is potentially life-saving (or life-threatening) information, and it doesn’t hurt to double-check.

—Tim Dees is a retired police officer and the former editor of two major law enforcement websites who writes and consults on technology applications in criminal justice. He can be reached at


Mar Preston, PSWA Member

A suggestion came from a friend who is clever about marketing, and at a time when I didn’t think I could write another police procedural.  I put together a 15,000 word EBook relating everything I knew about “Writing Your First Mystery.

I am not one of those people who just loves, loves, loves, writing.  It’s intellectual manual labor.  But I had fun sharing what I knew, which isn’t the case with the novels. To date it’s spurred 29 Amazon reviews and a 4.5 rating.

People liked it and bought it. I aimed toward the novice, and to the seasoned writer who might want to try a new genre, or wants to be reminded of the basics. So I wrote another one: on characterization, and a few more: plotting, backstory, editing, and importantly “Finishing Your First Mystery.” They’re getting longer, up to and more than 20,000 words. “Writing Suspense in Your Mystery and Thriller Fiction”, the 7thin the series is now available. 

My focus has broadened to include thrillers and the very different way they’re constructed from whodunits. I’m responding to reviewer’s comments.  They’re cheap at $2.99.

A few years ago I put the first four together in a bundle at $5.99. One reviewer said: Mar Preston’s 4-volume series on how to write a mystery is the best I have ever read. Succinct, precise, and wasting no words, each book is the perfect guide to getting it right. Written in understandable and easy-to-follow instructions the series takes the reader from first idea to final draft. 

Now that there are seven, I’m working on putting all 7 together and publishing them as a paperback 200-page book. You’d think it would be easy.  Just string ‘em together.  Not so. What feels like repetition comes from the same topic covered with a different angle of penetration. Like every other writing task, this is plain work. For another thing, I’ve learned things since the first one was published years ago. The marketplace slowly changes. Lots of links had to be researched.

A series of EBooks on a topic you know well might be a new direction for you. I’m not rich, but I have connected with new readers and writers I dearly love from EBooks.

If you like, you can see all of them through this Amazon link.

—Mar Preston 


Mysti Berry

Mysti Berry, PSWA Treasurer and Web Wrangler

I’m not swearing, honest! It’s the name of the conference: Bloody Scotland.

In Scotland, they sell more crime books than any other genre (even romance, which is the top seller in the United States). So it was my great honor to visit the Bloody Scotland conference in Stirling last September. They invited me to read as part of their “Crime in the Spotlight” program: entrants compete for a dozen slots to read for two minutes, before the big panels of the conference. Crime in the Spotlight writers are a sort of appetizer for the audience, and a great way for newer writers to gain confidence in front of audiences.

Some things were very different at Bloody Scotland compared to American crime writing conferences, and some things were exactly the same.

The Differences

Conference organization: You pay about $10 for each panel, and a few events are free to the public. There’s no conference fee. This has the advantage of letting the conference organizers know for sure which events are the biggest draw, and which they can safely book in smaller venues. The disadvantage, obviously, is that the most popular talks sell out months in advance of the conference.  Free coffee in a few places, but all meals were on the attendees, except for the master class (more about that in a minute!)

Conference location: The base of the conference is in the 250 year old Gold Lion Hotel, which once hosted Robert Burns! Talks are scattered between the hotel and the City of Stirling venues designed to hold 800 or so people. The conference provides a jitney to help disabled people get to the big hall and back, though if you don’t get lost like I did, it’s a short walk up a San Francisco-worthy hill. The conference does its best to accommodate people with disabilities, but it is a tougher job to get around in a wheel chair or with a cane than conferences that take place almost entirely in one hotel. That said, the hotel staff are funny and welcoming, the building is fascinating to any of us who were born and raised in California, where mid-century seems like old for a house!

Stirling has a fascinating history as part of the sad life of Queen Mary, and its very own castle. The people I met in Stirling, from restaurant employees to hotel staff to the brilliant, hardworking folks who run Bloody Scotland were to a person kind, funny, and engaging. Some were more blasé about tourists than others. But I met half a dozen very talented writers and I look forward to staying in touch with them.

Bloody Scotland was able to entice the long-lived and entertaining writer M.C. Beaton, wee lady whom you can believe delivered a “Glasgow Kiss” in her earlier years, and Ashley Jensen, star of the Agatha Raisin TV series based on Ms. Beaton’s books. Ms. Jensen and Ms. Beaton are very funny, smart women, and they regaled the audience well into the Saturday night.

A few features are uniquely Scottish, like the incredible selection of whiskey in the hotel bar, and the satirical, Beyond-the-Fringe style revue that both celebrates and pokes fun at the traditional mystery. Also, I noticed that dark crime stories far outnumbered cozies and PI stories. Scotland, like its neighbors to the north in Scandinavia, embraces the dark side of fiction.

Unique Events: Two unique features of this conference that other big conferences might consider adopting: Crime in the Spotlight and Pitch Perfect, a pitch-to-win competitive event. The Crime in the Spotlight crew gave us nervous newbies time to rehearse, coaching when our reading ran too long, and so much encouragement. Pitch Perfect is also a competition, you submit a pitch package, and they choose half a dozen of the applicants to give live pitches. The winner is introduced to a publisher. Previous winners have been published! 

There were other unique events that I was unable to get tickets for: a raucous trivia game, and even more raucous soccer (rugby?) game, and a musical performance by some famous Scottish writers that literally sold out five minutes after the tickets were made available online. These events are rumored to be fantastic—though they did seem to give many people serious hangovers. Guess I’ll have to go back again to check them out! And everyone’s favorite, a torch-lit march from the castle to the hotel, is something we can’t replicate here in America, being so short of castles!

The Similarities

Multiple talks are scheduled at the same time  and the conference had short turnaround times between panels, just like the bigger U.S. conferences. You have to be pretty good at scheduling to see your top five panels. (Of course, the PSWA conference ensures you access to all panels and events, but I think we are unique in offering only one panel at a time for a multi-day conference.) Writers, agents, publishers, and readers mingled in a friendly fashion, just like in the U.S.: conferences are a place where people can indulge their love of reading and writing, the world over.  

The day-long master class held the day before the conference was well worth the money, hitting both craft and marketing topics. Everything discussed was useful no matter in which country you plan to publish your work. I heard fantastic pitches, received great advice, and met some writers I hope to stay in touch with!

Another similarity—the conference organizers ran themselves ragged to ensure each attendee had a great time. So whichever conference you go to, don’t forget to compliment people when things go well, and of course let someone know if you aren’t having a great time. But I try to be gentle, as I know anyone I talk to is sleep-deprived and exhausted from all the work they do.

Should You Go?

Should you go to a foreign writers conference? I went because I love Edinburgh (part of my family came to America from Ayr, west of Edinburgh), I had some research to do there, and because I placed in their Crime in the Spotlight competition. Scraping together the money was challenging: I blew my budget when unseasonably high winds knocked out the train service from London to Edinburgh and I had to find a last-minute substitute—a distance about the same as SF-LA. But surprises like this are the challenges of any trip out of town: the unexpected, which is part of the reason we travel in the first place! I will say that no one made any assumptions about my politics based on being an American. Everyone can tell you are an American from a dozen yards away—we walk and dress like Americans; even before we speak, they know we aren’t from Scotland. I’m glad I went, and hope to go back one day, possibly after a lottery win…

People are at the conference to share and learn. I was a very quiet version of myself at the conference, wanting to soak it all in and learn as much as possible. I swapped business cards with half a dozen people, and came home exhausted but happy I’d gone.

If you can afford it, and if you are already interested in the location where the conference is taking place, it really is a grand adventure to talk about mystery, crime, suspense, and forensics with people from another country.

Here’s a list of the conferences in the UK that I’ve been to or who generally have a great reputation:

If you do go, try to take as much extra time as possible. There’s so much to see in Scotland, and despite the dour stock characters you may have seen on television’s Misdomer Murders, the Scots I met were to a person kind, welcoming, funny, and knowledgable about the wide world. A true joy to visit. Of course, if it’s a bit out of range, there’s always the PSWA conference  the most friendly, cost-effective, and fun writing conference! Early bird rates end December 31st!

—Mysti Berry
PSWA Treasurer and Web Wrangler

SPOILER ALERT! There is No Such thing as “Crime Prevention”

Ron Corbin, PSWA Member

If you are a frequent follower of this newsletter, you know that I give personal safety tips and advice. I do this with a motive to help lower the chance of you or a loved one becoming a crime victim. But in this article, I’m going to address a reality of the crime prevention concept…or should I say “crime prevention myth.”

Most large police departments and sheriff offices have some commissioned or civilian employees assigned as Crime Prevention Specialists or Crime Prevention Practitioners. Their basic responsibilities generally consist of setting up Neighborhood Watch block areas, giving CPTED advice to business and homeowners, developing Crime-Free Multi-Housing Programs, teaching children safety at schools, providing personal safety tips to social groups, and even dressing-up as McGruff – the Crime Fighting Dog at National Night Out and other community events. Even though (by title) I was a Crime Prevention Specialist five years for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, I’ll be the first to make the assertion that there is no real thing as “crime prevention”, and the term is a misnomer.

The basis for my claim begins and ends with a few definitions (;

“Prevention” (root word…prevent):

  1. to keep from occurring; avert; hinder.
  2. to hinder or stop from doing something.


  1. a misapplied or inappropriate name or designation.
  2. an error in naming a person or thing.

My foundation for this allegation is to ask this question, “Is crime really prevented?” I think we all know the obvious answer to that. If crime was really prevented, according to definitions, there would be no need for cops or any enforceable authority, right?

The word “prevention” pops-up in other fields besides just law enforcement. Fire departments have units called “Fire Prevention” manned by fire inspectors. These specialists enforce codes and ordinances to reduce the chance of a fire hazard. However we know that sometimes these laws are violated, either intentionally or unintentionally, and a tragedy occurs. When Smokey the Bear says, “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires,” there is some truth to that until someone violates a fire warning, or carelessly creates a fire hazard with smoking, camp fires, power tool usage, improper or no spark arrestors on motor bikes on off-road vehicles, etc..

Even health organizations and scientific research in the pharmaceutical industry, for the most part, have eliminated (i.e., prevented) certain medical issues, that is just as long as their prescribed practices are followed by patients.

So what’s the common thread or bottom line to all this? The Human Factor. Nothing is going to be 100% “Preventable” as long as there are people. Specifically people who take the attitude that “Rules Don’t Apply,” or that “Rules Are Made to Be Broken.” No matter how many locks, cameras, lights, or other crime fighting devices one uses to secure their possessions and property, there will always be someone who wants to take what is not rightfully theirs or break laws.

Yes, there is a need for these specialists and practitioners to offer and give safety tips and guidelines to potential victims of all ages. However, until the day that there are no more criminal acts, their rightful title should not include “prevention.” Instead, I contend Crime REDUCTION Specialists and/or Practitioners is more appropriate. Why? Because…

“Reduction” (root word…reduce):

  1. to bring down to a smaller extent, size, amount, number, etc..
  2. to lower in degree, intensity, etc..

So remember that when I pen one of my usual safety tips in the PSWA Newsletter, it’s only suggesting techniques that will reduce the probability of you becoming a crime victim…provided you follow them.

Happy Holidays and Stay Safe!

—Ron Corbin, Ex-Crime Prevention Specialist and “newly self-proclaimed” Crime Reduction Practitioner


Tim Dees

Tim Dees, PSWA Secretary

I order quite a bit of stuff online, and subscribe to various paywall services that will happily give you a heavily discounted subscription in exchange for allowing them to automatically charge your credit card at renewal time. Some of these services have the tenacity of mosquitoes, being very slow to cancel your subscription when you decide you don’t want it anymore, or just don’t want to pay the full price for it.

For example, tonight I saw a reference to an article about the new 2019 Subaru Forester on the Wall Street Journal. As I am scheduled to take delivery on this car in a week, I was interested. However, I could read only the first two paragraphs before I was presented with a demand to either log in or subscribe if I wanted to read the rest of it. The “subscribe” option was tempting: only $1 per month for the first two months. Of course, after that, it’s $38 and change per month.

I could give them a credit card number, but having had the experience of telling other organizations that, “No, I really don’t want your service anymo—hello?” I decided to use Privacy to pay. is a free service that generates a unique credit card number for you to use to make payments you want to control closely, or when you just don’t want to give the merchant your regular credit card number. When you sign up for Privacy, you give them a legitimate payment method—a bank account number. That’s where the money is going to come from. This takes only a few minutes.

When you want to make an online payment, you either log into, or you use the browser extension available for most of the browsers in common use. You create a new credit card, and give it a name, a credit limit amount, and specify whether you’re going to use this only once, or on a recurring basis. Privacy then generates a Visa credit card number with an expiration date and CVV code (those three or four numbers that are used to validate the transaction). You can copy and paste this information into the payment blanks on the merchant’s website. If you use the browser extension, you just click the orange icon that appears next to the blank where the credit card number will go.

A few days later, I see the charge I made show up in my checking account. It helps to keep track of these, as the charge often says only “Privacy,” with no reference to what merchant I paid. Of course, I can always log in to the Privacy website and see a history of all the cards I’ve created.

I typically create one-time use cards. For example, when my trial subscription to the Wall Street Journal runs out, they will try and charge the Visa card I used on my first transaction, but it won’t work. That card became invalid right after I used it.

There is a risk associated with giving any vendor access to your bank account, as a crooked vendor could drain the account. This is why most banks recommend you use credit cards, rather than debit cards, to make purchases. However, I’ve been using Privacy for a couple of years now, and have never had any difficulty with them. It has certainly saved me a lot of grief in getting undesired charges reversed when a merchant just wouldn’t take “go away” for an answer.

Privacy has an “invite a friend” offer ongoing. If you use this link ( when you create an account, we both get $5.00.

—Tim Dees is a retired police officer and the former editor of two major law enforcementwebsites who writes and consults on technology applications in criminal justice. He can be reached at


photo of Thonie Hevron

Thonie Hevron, PSWA Board Member-at-Large

Willing suspension of disbelief is a term coined in 1817 by the poet and aesthetic philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who suggested that if a writer could infuse a “human interest and a semblance of truth” into a fantastic tale, the reader would suspend judgment concerning the implausibility of the narrative.

Every fiction writer must wrestle with this at some time. The worlds we create are products of our imagination with a little fact thrown in.

The main facet of suspension of disbelief: Could this happen, really? Incidents that stretch reality can cost the author credibility. Something that I see in my genre (policeprocedural/thriller/mystery) often is multiple officer involved shootings (OIS’s) several times a shift or day or week. Officers never to go on Administrative Leave ever. Administrative Leave is a temporary leave from a job or assignment, with pay and benefits intact. Officers are routinely placed on administrative leave after a shooting incident while an investigation is conducted (sometimes by an outside agency for impartiality), without implying fault on the part of the officer.

My husband, the retired firefighter, cries foul when a vehicle is involved in a crash and explodes (this doesn’t include when the plot specifies an incendiary device was aboard). What typically happens is this: cars don’t explode on impact. If they catch fire, it often due to fuel leaking to an ignition source (such as an overheated catalytic converter).

Cops and fire fighters are readers—they know when something just ain’t right. But including a feasible ignition source in that Impala that collides with a tree—then you have the “well, it could happen” moment. 

Another part of suspension of disbelief involves the premise of my first novel. By Force or Fear’s protagonist is a female detective being stalked by a cunning judge. Her superiors don’t believe her when she reports him. In this day of #MeToo, I seriously doubt any responsible administrator would discount the report. But it could happen, right? That’s suspension of disbelief.

The key to making the preposterous believable is to sow seeds of reasonability into the story (foreshadowing) ahead of time or during the event. For instance, an observer of the car crash might see the fallen tiki torch next to the tree or the officer may be the last available cop (think a department-wide epidemic with no mutual aid officers obtainable within the day—hey, it’s a stretch but it could happen, right?). Sometimes a scientific explanation after the event can work but that can be dicey. Balance this with authenticity.

The trick to all of this is to make your devices (and plot twists) believable. Do your research, online and on the ground. Talk to police officers, fire fighters, professors, your fellow PSWA members, whoever you need to get the scoop. After talking to these folks, you may find that the truth is less believable than fiction!

—Thonie Hevron



On November 10th, Dave Freedland participated in the annual “Men of Mystery” one-day writers’ event held at “The Grand” conference center in Long Beach, California.  Dave was one of four members of a law enforcement panel who discussed accuracy in writing mysteries and police procedurals. In addition, the panelists introduced their current writing projects to an audience of over 300 authors and mystery book enthusiasts. Dave shared a quick look into his latest novel, “The Pepper Tree,” recently sent to his publisher Aakenbaaken & Kent.  During book signing, the bookstore sold out its entire stock of his first novel, “Lincoln 9.” An added bonus to his participation in this event was an invitation to a speaking engagement in January 2019 hosted by the Friends of the Huntington Beach Library.

—Dave Freedland
Deputy Chief of Police (Retired), Irvine Police Department 


The Annual 2018 Florida Authors and Publishers Association President’s Book Awards recognized Behind and Beyond the Badge by Donna Brown, a retired police sergeant, in the category of Adult Nonfiction, as a Gold medal winner.

Hosted by the Florida Authors and Publishers Association, this prestigious national award is open to books published between 2017 and 2018. The judges for this national competition are librarians, educators, and publishing professionals.

Behind and Beyond the Badge published by Storehouse Media Group, is a collection of stories about twenty-one first responders, police officers, firefighters, EMS, forensic technicians, dispatchers and victim advocates. Most people see a badge, behind and beyond the badge is what people need to know, the person.  Donna feels, “My book doesn’t have the power to change minds but perhaps by offering a different perspective it can open them.”

This year due to the health, and ultimately the death, of Billie Johnson, I had to move to a new publisher. I feel most fortunate that Mike Orenduff has taken me on as one of Aakenbaaken & Kent’s authors.

My first experience with Aakenbaaken & Kent (A&K) was in producing a book as co-editor on the history of Miami, Arizona for the Bullion Plaza Museum. All proceeds go to the museum.

Then in late summer and early fall A&K republished all three of my earlier mystery books in a second edition, and formally identified them as the series, “Deputy Allred & Apache Policeman Victor, Books 1 through 3,” with a common format and cover style.

The highlight of the year was the publication on October 25, of Murder in Copper, which is book 4 of the “Deputy Allred & Apache Officer Victor” series.

In addition to my published books, I wrote and presented a paper on Wilma Gray Sain at the Arizona History Convention, and had a feature article on Alf Edwards, Miami’s first town marshal and Gila County Sheriff, in the Gateway to the Copper Corridor print magazine. 

 Murder in Copper  ~    The Baleful Owl  ~   Saints & Sinners  ~   The Wham Curse        ~ Miami – A History…  ~   Paper, AZ History Convention

—Virgil Alexander


Aakenbaaken & Kent is also republishing F. M. Meredith’s (known as Marilyn Meredith in PSWA circles) Rocky Bluff P.D. series. The latest to appear on Amazon is Tangled Webs in trade paperback and for Kindle.


In November Recounting the Anthrax Attacks by PSWA member, Scott Decker, won:

  • Beverly Hills Book Awards:  Winner in New (Author) Non-Fiction & Finalist in True Crime
  • Best Book Awards:   Winner in True Crime & Finalist in Narrative Non-Fiction 


PSWA Newsletter September 2018



Michelle Perin-Callahan, PSWA President

 What an incredible conference!! Even though it seems every year we say, “This was the best conference ever,” I truly believe 2018’s was THE BEST CONFERENCE EVER!! The presentations and panels were amazing and informative. The lunches decadent. And, the networking, I can’t say enough about that. A little birdie told me that several of our attendees who pitched the three publishers we had available now have contracts in the works.

The rest of us? Well, we have so many more resources and new friends. An on-line writer’s group is being planned too. There are also many more new “Award-winning Authors.” It really was an incredible time. There was even a bridal shower. If you were able to make it, we had such fun and thank you for helping make it so successful. For those who couldn’t make it, we hope to see you next year, July 18-21, 2019 in Las Vegas.

If that seems like too far away, there are a number of things that you can be doing right now. Check out our new website design. Take advantage of the one-time manuscript review, just one of the benefits to your PSWA membership. Utilize the listserv to ask all your pressing writing and public safety questions. Get your published and non-published writing in order to submit to the 2019 Writing Contest opening in January. Really, just write, write, write.

Even with all the recent beautiful changes in my life, I’m still finding time to write. After all, it often feels like the characters and the stories insist on coming into the light and being shared. Writing really is a calling and a gift. With that, I’ll close this short and sweet message and get back to work. Hope you do as well.

—Michelle Perin-Callahan, MS, QMHP, EMT
President, PSWA
Past President, South Lane County Fire & Rescue Volunteer Association
Fundraising Coordinator, Lane Area Ferret Shelter & Rescue
Visit me at or


Mike Black, PSWA Program Chair

 Well, it’s official: the 2018 PSWA Conference was one of the best ever. Despite a bunch of unfortunate late cancellations, our “Baker’s Dozen” conference went off without a hitch. Things began with the Pre-Conference Workshop, which also proved to be exceptional by all accounts. The small group of writers met and discussed writing techniques and several of the attendees had one-on-one critiques sessions with the workshop’s three instructors on manuscripts that had been previously submitted. The purpose of the workshop is to enhance your writing ability and to learn new things. Everyone who attended it, including the instructors, agreed that it was a learning experience.

Things then officially began with our traditional check-in procedure at three o’clock where I met a few new attendees, which is a special pleasure. I love being able to put a face with a name, especially after having exchanged a few emails. The evening’s get acquainted party followed at five-forty-five, and that’s always a lot of fun.

The next morning, bright and not so early (nine A.M.) our president, Michelle Perin, started the ball rolling with her opening remarks and a bit of an update on the organization. Then Master of Ceremonies and Vice President, John Schembra, announced that we were ready to begin. After John’s welcoming speech, we were ready for our first presenter, former LAPD homicide detective and mystery writer, Mike Brandt, who gave our first solo presentation, Developing Your Characters—100 Things You Should Know. I actually learned more than 100 things, but I figured Mike was giving us more bang for the buck, so I didn’t say anything. Anyway, it was a great one.

After a short break we got into our morning of panels, leading off with one on weapons (something every writer should be aware of) with commentary from Dave Knop, Dave Freedland, Bob Doerr, and Bob Calkins. Hmm, even though John Schembra moderated that one, it must have been confusing when someone had a question for Bob or Dave. Okay, a comedian I’m not, but Romancing the Scene, and Austin Camacho did a great job moderating the entertaining panel with Thonie Hevron, Rena Winters, Barbara Lloyd, Jennifer Severino, and Mike Orenduff.

Then it was time for the first of our fabulous luncheons. I purposely scheduled the next panel, given by Gloria Casale and Janet Greger, after lunch, because it dealt with the rather indelicate topic of poisons. As these ladies said, “A Little Knowledge Can Be Poisonous,” and they proceeded to prove it. Whew, I’m glad they’re on my side.

The afternoon panels talked about the nonfiction writing market, the differences between jurisdictions (including military and civilian policing) with Bob Doerr, Jack Miller, Scott Decker, Mike Brandt, and Pete Klismet. The day ended with me moderating a panel of three experienced writers, Marilyn Meredith, Mar Preston, and Susan Tuttle about point of view. That brought things to a close for the day, and the attendees were left to their own devices, except those who volunteered to be part of our radio play. For them, I brought out the metaphorical whip and cracked it a few times while they were rehearsing. Luckily, nobody paid any attention to me and the rehearsal went very well. Afterward, Pete Klismet hosted the newcomer’s dinner at the Prime Rib restaurant in the Orleans. I wasn’t there, but from all reports it was a fiesta grande por todo.

Saturday morning was off to a rocking start as Susan Tuttle gave an excellent solo presentation on the Art of Self-Editing. Susan wowed everyone with her lecture, which was made even more amazing by the fact that she’d been in the hospital recovering from an illness almost right up until the conference. I wanted to ask her if she had a Supergirl emblem on during the presentation, but I didn’t want to interrupt. I was too busy taking notes.

The panels on Saturday were a bunch of fun topics starting off with our publisher’s corner, with commentary by Austin Camacho, Geno Munari, and Mike Orenduff. While Austin has been a semi-regular at the last two conferences and is always fun and informative, we were exceptionally grateful as well to Mike Orenduff and his lovely wife who made the long journey from their east coast home in Georgia to attend. And the always entertaining and informative Geno, who heads up Houdini Press, deserves a special thanks for printing up our PSWA Conference program booklet. It looked great, as usual. After delivering their take on what’s new in publishing, the panelists broke into separate sections of the big room and listened to pitches for possible writing projects.

After lunch, we had a pair of special heroes for our next presentation on the Las Vegas Shooting. Paramedic Anthony Ribone, who was actually at the concert when the madman opened fire, gave us a first-hand account of his heroic actions to treat the wounded during the attack. One of the more seriously wounded was Anthony’s own brother, whose life was saved due to Anthony’s quick action. While the nation was shocked by the horrendous occurrence, our own Keith Bettinger sprang into action the next day gathering a group of stalwart volunteers who went to the scene to set up support stations for the police officers who had to guard the massive crime scene around the clock until it was processed and cleared. This was one of the most riveting presentations we’ve ever had at the conference and both men received a standing ovation from the audience for their efforts.

Anthony stayed to be on a panel about firefighting, which included firefighter/EMT Michelle Perin and retired Detroit City Fireman Robert Haig. Mar Preston, whose California home has been threatened by raving wildfires and who works in a volunteer support group, rounded out the panel. Thonie Hevron, who’s no stranger to emergency services herself, provided excellent moderating duties. Marilyn Meredith then moderated a panel on Writing Groups that featured an equally balanced, pro/con group of its own: Rena Winters, Rabbi Ilene Schneider, James Guigli, Barbara Hodges, and Barbara Lloyd. Half the group liked writers group, and half didn’t. As usual, Marilyn handled the moderation with the aplomb of a diplomat. I then moderated a panel on officer-involved shootings, which featured some of the real-life experiences of some of our heroic members, Dave Knop, Dave Freedland, Keith Bettinger, Tim Dees, and Mike Brandt. Dr. Ellen Kirschman, who treats the psychological wounds that such incidents may cause, was also there to offer her commentary and suggestions on coping techniques.

Finally, it was time for the highly anticipated radio play. This year’s play once again featured Steve Scarborough as the redoubtable sleuth in a play that I had a major hand in rewriting. Tim Dees once again provided the sound effects and they were hilarious. The play was followed by a bridal shower for our PSWA president, Michelle, who will most likely have tied the knot with her soon-to-be husband, Matt, by the time you read this. Congratulations and best wishes to both of them.

Sunday had some interesting panels about bad boys and girls in your writing, the ins and outs of testifying in court, and beginnings and endings. These funny and informative sessions were followed by our Writing Contest Awards Luncheon. It was a nifty ceremony that honored some really fine writers.

As you can know if you were there, and as you can surmise by reading this if you weren’t, a good time was had by all. We’re already planning the next one, which will once again be at the Orleans on July 18 -21, 2019. This one is already shaping up to be extra special so keep your eyes open and on the website for some advance notifications of what’s to come. Take it from me, number 14 will be another one for the record books.

—Mike Black, PSWA Program Chair


John Schembra, PSWA Vice-President, Membership Chair

During the course of a year the PSWA membership number stays fairly steady, between 120 to 125. We lose a few who choose not to renew for various reasons, or who just do not reply to the renewal emails I send out and are subsequently dropped from the rolls. On the other hand, we gain a few every year that offsets the loss. I would like to see the organization membership grow and to do that, each of our members must make an effort to recruit potential new members. I don’t think this will result in a bounty of new members, but it is reasonable to expect at least a 5% increase a year.

Many of us attend more than one conference, book fair, or author event in a year’s time and that presents a good opportunity to inform other authors, or potential authors, of the advantages of belonging to the PSWA. I’ve found that word of mouth is an effective way to recruit new members. We all should be actively talking up our organization at those events.

I’ve written before about the PSWA business cards that you can give away or have placed in goodie bags. I still have lots of the cards and ask that if you are attending an event let me know and I will send you some.

As an example, I attend at least a half dozen book fairs, craft fairs, or author events each year and during those events, I talk with other authors, and potential authors, about writing and/or publishing. I make sure to give them one, or a few, of the PSWA cards and tell them all about us and our conference.

Every new member could bring fresh ideas, expertise, and hopefully, enthusiasm to the organization. It is important to continue to have a vibrant, engaged membership and for that to happen, an active recruitment of new, and perhaps younger, members is critical.

Another way you can help is to send me an email with any recruitment ideas or strategies you may have. I will be sure to bring them up for discussion at our board meeting in February.

One last thing–if you don’t know when your membership is up and needs to be renewed, don’t worry. You will get an email reminder from me with an invoice. I only ask that you either renew in a timely manner, or reply that you have chosen not to renew.

With a positive recruitment effort, we can assure that the PSWA will continue to be the best public safety writer’s organization.

—John Schembra, PSWA Vice President, Membership Chair


PSWA Conference 2019: Pre-Conference Workshop

Now in its 4th year, the PSWA Pre-Conference Workshop offers attendees the opportunity to spend most of the day focusing on writing skills. Whether you are new to the game or have published a series or two, every writer needs to spend time exercising his or her writing muscles. For $35, you can attend a 9AM-3PM workshop (ending just in time to pick up your badge for the main conference). This year we’re focusing on short stories—how to write them, how to get them published, and how they can help your career even if your main focus is longer forms. For details, see the PSWA Website.

PSWA Conference Featured Speaker

One of the best things about the PSWA Conference is the opportunity to hear from experienced public-safety experts and writers who can share their knowledge. You’ll learn about public safety and writing topics during the conference from these four speakers: 

  • Dave Freedland will teach us all about SWAT training and practices, and share stories about the missions he and his team undertook for the Irvine Police Department.
  • John Schembra, our PSWA Vice President, will help us understand how to drive while in pursuit or responding to an emergency. The most dangerous thing mot emergency responders and police officers do during a shift is drive. 
  • Mike Orenduff will explain how he went from an unknown at the 2009 PSWA conference to being a best-selling author who can move 10,000 units before publication day!
  • Mysti Berry will give you some tools to focus your story, based on the screenwriting concept of “the dramatic question.” 

For details, see the PSWA website.

—Mysti Berry, PSWA Website Wrangler 


photo of Ron Corbin

Ron Corbin, PSWA Member

 “It’s So Easy”

For the purpose of this scenario, let’s assume you’re a female with a purse. But gentlemen, other than having a wallet in your pants instead of a purse, everything else pretty much applies. Think about how many times you have done this?

You are driving your car and need to stop at a gas station to fill up. Your gas tank is at the right rear of your car. Stopping next to the pumps, you turn off the engine and leave your key in the ignition. You then take-out your credit card from your purse. Exiting the car, you move to the right rear, remove the gas cap, and face the pump to insert the credit card and pertinent information in order to retrieve the hose and start pumping gas. Something you’ve done hundreds of times. Routine, isn’t it?

During the 30-60 seconds you are focused on the gas pump, with your back to the driver’s car door, a car thief opens your driver door, locks all the doors, and starts the engine. Sometimes the thief has an accomplice posing as a homeless person begging for change, or someone needing a light for a cigarette, or some other ruse to distract you even longer. The thief speeds off with you left wide-mouthed screaming in disbelief, and the gas pump in your hand.

Your immediate reaction is to call 9-1-1, right? Oh yeah, can’t do that because your cell phone is still in the car, along with your purse and its contents; wallet, cash, and other debit/credit cards. So you run inside the station to get assistance in calling the police. But after calling the police, what do you do? Do you think far enough ahead to call your credit card companies, the bank’s security for missing debit cards? Where do you get their phone numbers? Whose phone will you use?

Meanwhile, if I were the thief, here is what happens within the next hour while you are stranded at the gas station. I’d drive a few blocks away, stop the car, and pick up a prearranged accomplice who quickly puts on a different rear license plate…one from another vehicle which isn’t “hot” (stolen). While he is doing that, I am stripping-off my outer T-shirt; wearing a different color one that I had underneath, and throwing away the baseball style cap and sunglasses that I was wearing. I also ditch your cell phone, just in case you have a GPS tracking device installed.

As we continue driving away, my accomplice rummages through your purse, collecting anything of value, and then dumps the purse out the window. (Don’t want to be stopped by the police with two guys in possession of a woman’s purse.) We find your driver’s license which exposes your home address. Of course, the car registration, proof of insurance, or old dealer service papers that you leave in the glove compartment will also give your home address.

Proceeding to your home address, but parking down the street out of sight, my accomplice walks to the front door and knocks. If someone answers, he says he has the wrong house and leaves. If nobody answers, we use the automatic roll-up, overhead garage door opener (manual or pre-programmed into the car’s accessory system) and raise the garage door. Now my accomplice and I have the option of entering the house through the small garage door (which 9 out of 10 times is unlocked), or simply burglarize items from the garage itself; golf clubs, tools, etc. This will only take a few minutes before we load up the car and leave; being thoughtful burglars and closing the overhead garage door. 

Before we ditch your car, we proceed to a location where we unload our stash. Then we use some of your remaining credit cards found in your purse for whatever we desire. Driving to a remote location, we remove the “cold” license plate and drive away in our own vehicle.

So, what’s the easiest crime reduction technique that would have prevented this? When you gas your car…TAKE YOUR KEY and LOCK YOUR CAR DOORS WITH WINDOWS ROLLED-UP!

Stay Safe!

—Ron Corbin, PSWA Member


Vicki Weisfeld, PSWA Member

 Let me point you to this long lithub article by Francine Prose about the need to write clearly. For mystery writers, clarity is an essential tool. It makes the reader think you’re giving them the straight story, when, of course, you’re not. You have to hide the fact that you’re only letting them see what you want them to see. Getting the words right, making the text clear, isn’t easy.

In some stories, every word seems exactly right, in exactly the right place, like bells change-ringing. It’s something to strive for. If I let my work lie a while before rereading it, I stumble upon sentences that form an impenetrable hedge around a thought (if there is one). The meaning is so obscured by syntax and imprecise verbiage that even I can barely find it. I have to stop and ask myself, “what are you saying here?”

Prose excerpts letters from Chekhov to the young Maxim Gorky in which he suggests (advice frequently resurrected now 120 years later) that Gorky dispense with excessive modifiers. “The brain can’t grasp all of this at once,” Chekhov says, “and the art of fiction ought to be immediately, instantaneously graspable.” Simplification is one key to finding my way out of brambly sentences too. And if a whack through the brush can’t find the kernel, well, that’s why I have a delete key.

Simplification isn’t the only path to clarity. Prose cites long and grammatically complex sentences of Virginia Woolf’s that, though they require an attentive reader, are nevertheless clear. The noted editor Harold Evans provides “ten shortcuts to making yourself clear” in his entertaining and helpful book on “why writing well matters.” His book in its entirety is about giving writers the tools to unravel knotty prose.

Prose suggests writers ask themselves, “Would I say this?” She doesn’t mean they should write exactly the way they would speak (eavesdropping reveals why), but that “they avoid, in their writing, anything they would not say out loud to another human being.” In her brand new book, What to Read and Why, she discusses some of her favorite writers and what makes their work enduring, along with an essay specifically “On Clarity.” She says, “Clarity is not only a literary quality but a spiritual one, involving, as it does, compassion for the reader.

—Vicki Weisfeld, PSWA Member


Mysti Berry, PSWA Website Wrangler

Jane Friedman is a nationally recognized expert on business strategy for authors and publishers. She gave a two-plus hour talk for the NorCal MWA group, and we all took notes frantically as she spoke about how to help readers find your book, and how to encourage them to pull the trigger and buy your book. The advice clustered around three main topics: search, website, social media, and a few overall comments about the call to action you need to give people who encounter your work.

Marketing 101 (for books or any other product)

Our goal is to get a buyer’s attention, interest them, and then persuade them to take an action that we define (the call to action).


Freebies are the most common way of attracting attention. There are a number of ways to get publicity distributing free content: Bookbub, The Fussy Librarian, and others. Why give away something for free? Well, if you have 3 or 30 books published, giving away the first in a series or first in a set of books in the same genre often drives up sales of the other books. So if people aren’t buying your first ebook anymore, you may make more money by giving it away for a period of time, because readers will read it, then go look for your other books. One author, Scott Sigler, built a huge audience by giving away one chapter of his book at a time. You may think of creative ways to give away content to attract attention (that you can turn into sales), or pursue one of the methods mentioned above. Jane recommends that you do what you are comfortable with–and always keep in mind whether the audience for your books visits the places where you are trying to attract attention.

Our job is to attract the leads (people) most likely to want to buy our books, and spend as little time/money as possible on people who aren’t every going to buy our books. How you do that can take some figuring out. 


Once you’ve people’s attention, use your website, newsletter, and social media writing to build their interest, so they decide to buy your work. This is almost always more effective than a direct-sales pitch “Hi! Buy my book!”. Newsletters and social media posts should make it easy for people to visit your website and buy your book.


Monthly or quarterly to avoid spamming people who sign up. Invite people to sign up whenever you go speak, in social media posts, and of course on your website. Then you write things of value to the reader (tidbits about your life, news about coming books and appearances, your thoughts on whatever your readers find interesting. There are programs to help you manage newsletters like or Remember that there are laws governing mass mailing via Internet, so if you don’t use one of these services, make sure you are aware of the rules.


Jane reviewed some volunteers’ website and shared her list of best practices:

  • Don’t make people read white text on a black background, as it’s very hard to read. Yes, even if you write thrillers or noir, find a dark theme but don’t go full black background and white text. For example, notice on bestseller Gregg Hurwitz’ site, the black is broken up with color: However, notice that the text toward the bottom of the page is incredibly hard to read. Compare that site to another best seller, James Rollins: Notice how the theme is still dark enough to communicate his genre, but most of the text you read is black.
  • Always include these elements: a page for your books (page title = book or series title for best search results), a contacts page, a place to sign up for the newsletter (see Gigi Pandian’s page:, a bio page, and an events page (if you speak or appear anywhere). Be sure to include buttons for all your social media channels if you use them.  Also, always include buttons to retailer pages (example:  People like to push buttons more than clicking links. You should make it easy for them to buy as soon as they feel the urge.
  • You can put an unofficial bio after the regular bio (which people will copy and paste for reviews). That unofficial bio can have a more informal tone and be playful or funny if you write that way. 
  • The call to action, ‘buy my book,’ ‘sign up for my newsletter,’ ‘follow me on social media,’ etc., should be customer focused. That is, be clear about what you are offering to the reader and why it is of value to them, and do it in your voice. Readers want to connect with you and your writing, so make that easy.

For an illustration of most of the topics covered here, visit PSWA Member Bob Calkin’s website.

Social Media

Jane said that “social media is very volatile right now,” referring to member backlashes against Facebook and Twitter, related to election interference, abuse of user privacy, and other issues. So if you haven’t dived into the world of social media, it won’t hurt much to stay on the sidelines until things settle down. That said, she also suggested that you can open accounts on the “big five:” Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Goodreads, and even if you don’t post often, the accounts will be there when you are ready to use them. Jane mentioned that she opened an Instagram account and ignored it for two years. When she went back, she had a few thousand followers! If you are active on social media, remember direct selling “buy my book!” isn’t as effective as sharing content that will draw people to your books and website. 

Book Covers

Jane said that a few of her customers have literally doubled book sales by changing the covers on their books. Her example was a science fiction writer whose covers didn’t look quite like science fiction covers, but more like soft fantasy novels.  Make sure your cover represents what people think a book of that genre looks like. Research top-selling books on Amazon or in your local bookstore.  (Anecdotally, I’ve never met an author who regretted money spent on a cover artist.)

The All-Powerful Search

People find things by searching for them on the Internet, mostly using Google.  So do everything you can to ensure Google can find your site and rank it as high as possible. This is also true for the metadata you enter in Amazon (if you self-publish). Make sure you are describing your book using the words that most people use to describe books of your genre. For example, Jane mentioned a client who called her book a “new adult urban fantasy.” But no one on the internet called books of her type that—they called them vampire books. When her client changed the language on her web page and in the description (metadata) on Amazon, her sales improved.

How do you know what people call things? Look up books on Amazon similar to your own, and see how they are categorized. Also, the list of genres on can be a good indicator. For example, I’m writing a book about a fraud investigator. When I search for the term “fraud investigator mystery,” nothing is returned with that phrase, but quite a few “private investigator” links come back. So I might want to describe my book as “in the private investigator tradition” or “female private investigator”. On a whim, I looked up “financial mystery novels” and a LOT of results came back, unlike five years ago when I had done a similar search. I likely want to use that phrase in metadata as well.

Note: What is metadata? Any human or machine-readable text that describes a thing. So nearly every word in a book’s Amazon listing is some kind of metadata. When you or your publisher distribute your book, you or they fill in a lot of online forms with metadta: book title, author, description, ISBN number, publication date, genres, subgenres, “suitable for age X” information. I easily spent a day or two just filling in metadata forms for the charity anthology I published last summer.


You don’t have to do one, but if you do (and there is some benefit in terms of getting attention and interesting new leads), host it on your website or connect it to your website. Having a blog and website on different properties splits the traffic and therefore may lower your SEO ranking. Google may think you’re twice as interesting if all the traffic goes to one site.

A Final Observation

Writers, whether self-published or traditionally published, can do many things to improve their reach without spending a fortune. Also, every writer’s story is different, so what worked for Scott Sigler a decade ago might not work for you or me today. Jane recommends trying a few things, and sticking with what works–until it doesn’t work anymore. 

If you are willing to spend a few dollars, there are a few books on the subject that can help you create a marketing plan:

  • Jane Friedman offers free advice and for-fee books, classes, and personal consulting on her site.
  • Dana Kaye is a passionate publicist who has worked with a number of mystery writers, and her book, Your Book, Your Brand, helped me create a marketing plan for my charity anthology.
  • Joanne Penn is well known in the self-publishing community and also offers free advice and for-fee books, classes, and personal consulting from her website.

Of course, you should never give anyone money to help you sell your book without fully vetting them. There are a lot of con artists out there in the world. This is just one article detailing a scam that ensnared Penguin Books and many unsuspecting writers. 

Be careful out there, and good luck with your marketing plans!

—Mysti Berry


photo of Bob Calkins

Bob Calkins, PSWA Member

I’m investigating a new, unique and inexpensive way to advertise my books. Growing up in Portland, OR, I listened to KISN Radio, the Mighty 91, broadcasting from a glass studio in the city’s downtown area. KISN was one of the first rock ‘n roll stations to hit the Portland airwaves, and was the go-to station for every hip teenager of the era. The station eventually ran afoul of some FCC rules and was taken off the air in the 1970’s.

A group of former employees and broadcast enthusiasts has revived the station in the form of a low-power, non-commercial FM station. They’re playing the same music and have even located some of the better commercials from the era. The products might no longer exist, but the commercials are a trip down memory lane.

As a non-commercial station, they’re allowed to fundraise through “underwriting.” You’ve no doubt heard similar announcements on NPR: “This hour of programming funded by Honeywell, maker of thermostats and other home automation equipment.” Underwriting announcements can inform, but they can’t have a call to action such as “Buy Today!” They also can’t have qualitative statements like “the best books around.” But you can still plug your product pretty effectively.

For $100/month, I get four underwriting announcements per day all month long. While the audience might be small, I target grandparents for my kids’ books so the demographic is spot on. And they’re exceptionally loyal listeners.

I’d recommend checking out any such stations in your area, especially if the programming somehow aligns with the nature or style of your books.

To give you an idea of what this all sounds like, you can hear my “underwriting announcement” here.

—Robert D. Calkins, PSWA Member
Stay Found– Callout Press


picture of Joseph Haggerty

Joseph Haggerty, Sr., PSWA Member

I always liked the movie West Side Story and not just because I was in love with Natalie Wood. I loved the music and the dancing. I’ve probably seen the movie 6 or 7 times. One of the opening numbers is a song by Russ Tamblyn who plays Riff, the leader of the gang known as the Jets. Well, I’ve changed the lyrics a little to fit law enforcement. The song in the movie was known as the Jet Song and starts off with “When you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet all the way.” Ladies, girls were not allowed in the Jets’ gang, so their song is geared toward the male gender. My adaptation doesn’t change that.


When You’re A Cop

When you’re a Cop, you’re a Cop all the way
From your first real arrest till your last dying day
When you’re a Cop, if the shit hits the fan
You’ve got brothers around, you’re a family man

You’re never alone, you’re never disconnected
You’re home with your own when company’s expected
You’re well protected

Then you are set with a Capital C
Which you’ll never forget and you’ll always be
When you’re a Cop, you stay a Cop-op-op-op

When you’re a Cop, you’re the man of the town
You’re the gold medal kid with the heavyweight crown
When you’re a Cop, you’re the swingin’est thing
Little boy you’re a man, little man you’re a king
The Cops are in gear, our cylinders are clickin’
The crooks better steer clear
And every child molester is a lousy chicken

Here come the Cops like a bat out of hell
Someone gets in our way, someone don’t feel so well
Here come the Cops, little world step aside
Better go underground, better run, better hide

We’re drawin’ the line so keep your faces hidden
We’re hangin’ a sign, says violence is forbidden
And we ain’t kiddin’

Here come the Cops, yeah, and we’re gonna beat
Every last criminal gang on our city’s streets
On every one of our city’s streeeeeeets 

—Joseph B. Haggerty Sr.
Author of the novels: Shame: The Story of a Pimp and An Ocean in the Desert
Contributor to the PSWA anthology: Felons, Flames and Ambulance Rides
Award-winning poet and lecturer on the sexual exploitation of women and children in prostitution and pornography


photo of Marcia G. Rosen

Marcia G. Rosen, PSWA Member

Writing a mystery book or series is akin to putting together a puzzle with a thousand pieces. Where should you begin? Do you start the puzzle with the corner and edge pieces, providing details on the main characters including the heroes and criminals? Or do you start in the middle, revealing upfront the murder and complexity of the story plot? Whether you start with corners, or center pieces, what matters is sticking with your structure and then pacing the plot. You need to keep it moving forward by creating suspense with clues and mysterious happenings.

In the television mystery series, “Columbo,” the murder always took place at the beginning of the story. The seemingly flustered but persistent detective follows various suspects and clues to eventually catch the murderer. In other television mysteries, you follow the path of an ordinary citizen—writer, baker, doctor, librarian, or florist—who is captivated by certain events and incidentally gets involved in solving crimes. These amateurs just can’t seem to help themselves, even when following the clue leads them to danger.

From these types of mysteries known as cozies, to film noir with gangsters and hard-boiled detectives, to terrifying thrillers, mysteries have long appealed to the reader and viewer. As a writer, you can choose your own style, your own way of creating characters and stories of murders and mayhem, and your own way of presenting clues and suspects leading toward solving the crime. Yet, there are certain elements essential to a good mystery, which can take the reader on a fascinating ride through a criminal’s mind and the minds of those who reach into that mind to catch them.

You want your reader to become involved and interested in your story so they follow the clues you leave, and they attempt to solve the crimes along with you. Don’t make it too easy: There should be a number of possible suspects. Enhance the plot with character conflict and red herrings that might confuse and steer the reader away from the real murderer. The bad guy can also lead the reader astray by placing suspicion and blame on someone else.

A good mystery story includes: an intriguing plot, interesting characters (often with unique characteristics), descriptive places and locations that set a mood, interesting and controversial dialogue, clues (real and false) leading to the bad guys (and gals), and a bit of humor. Be clear about your point of view. Is it from the perspective of the main character as in Sue Grafton novels or a third person as in Raymond Chandler mysteries?

Ultimately, you want to be able to explain your characters’ motivation for their criminal behavior. Common sources are anger, hate, power, money and, of course, revenge. Revealing truths, secrets and lies with stories of betrayal and vengeance with surprise endings leave your reading wanting more—especially in a series!

I grew up in an unusual, and sometimes outrageous, environment. It wouldn’t take a genius, a psychiatrist, or a palm reader to figure out the genesis of my fascination with crime and criminals. In my series, The Senior Sleuths, Zero the Bookie is a version of my dad, and several other characters are based on a few of his many associates.

Our history and experiences can define us, inspire our actions, and, as writers, impact our words and stories. Mine most definitely have. My father was a small-time gangster. Really! No doubt, thanks to my father, writing mysteries is in my DNA.

—M.Glenda Rosen (aka Marcia G. Rosen), PSWA Member

Marcia Rosen has previously published four books in her mystery series, “Dying to Be Beautiful.” Rosen is also the author of “The Woman’s Business Therapist” and “My Memoir Workbook.” She was the founder, and for many years, owner of a successful Marketing and Public Relations Agency, created several radio and TV talk shows, and received numerous awards for her work with business and professional women. Member Sisters In Crime, LA and SF, PSWA, and Board Member NWBA/SF and also a member of The Mob Museum. She currently resides in Carmel, California.

For more information, visit and


What is it and what do the numbers mean

photo of John Wills

John Wills, PSWA Member

There are many things we can’t control in police work, but health is something that, in large measure, we can control. Being healthy and fit allows us to not only live longer, but perform our job easier and more efficiently. Most people know how much they weigh, but that number alone doesn’t tell the whole story. Your health is predicated on a number of factors, height being one of them.

Body mass index, or BMI, is an indicator of whether or not you are healthy at your weight and height. BMI is calculated by taking a person’s weight in kilograms and dividing it by the square of height in meters. Sound complicated? Not to worry. Simply use the adult BMI calculator provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Just plug in your height in feet and inches, along with your weight in pounds, and the BMI is automatically calculated for you.

Healthy BMIs

BMI helps to broadly define different weight groups in men and women 20 years old and older. The same numbers apply to both genders.

  • Underweight: BMI less than 18.5
  • Normal weight: BMI is 18.5 to 24.9
  • Overweight: BMI is 25 to 29.9
  • Obese: BMI is 30 or more

Healthcare professionals are inclined to use BMI to help determine if a patient has a weight problem. Using the index provides an estimate of total body fat for most people, but not all. Muscle weighs more than fat, therefore muscular people like bodybuilders may have a high BMI, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are overweight. In the case of older patients who may have lost muscle mass due to aging, their BMI may appear normal when they could actually benefit from gaining some weight.

Research has consistently shown that people with a high BMI have a greater risk of serious health problems—heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. Logically, most people whose BMIs are high are, in fact, overweight or obese. Thus the diseases are a product of too much weight. However, when we use the word “most,” things become more complicated. Body mass index doesn’t factor in things such as bone structure, gender, genetics, or conditions such as osteoporosis. And it’s not an accurate indicator of how much fat one is carrying around. As we said, some athletes and bodybuilders will have a high BMI without being overweight or obese.

The American Cancer Society says that BMI, while giving a good estimate of total body fat for most people, doesn’t work well for all. However, it is a good way for many adults to get an idea of healthy weight ranges. The ACS advises there are other things to consider when judging how much someone should weigh. A health care provider might use other factors such as skinfold thickness, waist size, nutrition, family health history, and other factors when assessing risk based on a person’s weight.

While being overweight is certainly a concern, much more serious is being obese. Obesity is a complex disorder because it’s more than a cosmetic concern. Obesity leads to serious health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. BMI readings of 30 or higher indicate obesity. Simply stated, obesity occurs when someone eats more calories than they can burn through exercise and daily activities. The unburned calories are stored in the body as fat. While inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle can lead to obesity, most law enforcement folks will gain weight through an unhealthy diet and poor eating habits. The main offenders are fast food, high-calorie beverages, and excessive alcohol consumption. Add oversized portions and a diet lacking in fruits and vegetables to the mix and obesity becomes a reality.

Risk Factors

There are other risk factors such as genetics. Genes may play a role in how efficiently your body converts food into energy and how it burns calories during exercise. Medical problems may also play a role. Some medications, including antidepressants, anti-seizure, diabetes, antipsychotics, steroids, and beta blockers may also cause weight gain. Quitting smoking often leads to weight gain, but the long-term benefits of being a non-smoker are a greater benefit to one’s health. Lack of sleep or too much sleep may also contribute to weight gain because it can cause changes in hormones that increase your appetite. Having one or more of the above risk factors doesn’t mean you will become obese. Watching your diet, increasing physical activity, and changing behavior can help you avoid becoming obese.

While obesity can occur at any age, older folks are easily susceptible to weight gain. A less active lifestyle, coupled with hormonal changes and a decrease in muscle mass, leads to a decrease in metabolism. These changes also reduce calorie needs, making it more difficult to keep off excess weight. It’s imperative to consciously control what one eats and remain physically active to avoid weight gain.

Quality of Life

Being overweight, particularly if you’re obese, negatively affects one’s quality of life. You may not be able to do things you used to enjoy, and you may avoid some public places such as swimming pools and beaches. Other quality of life issues may include: depression, disability, sexual problems, shame and guilt, social isolation, and lower work achievement.

How do you prevent becoming obese? Regular exercise as simple as walking and swimming. Following a healthy eating plan focusing on low-calorie, nutrient dense foods like fruits, veggies, and whole grains. Avoiding saturated fat and limiting sweets and alcohol. Monitoring weight regularly by weighing yourself once a week. Being consistent—sticking to your plan not only during the week, but also on weekends, vacations, and holidays.

Even a small weight loss may help lower the risk of possible disease. Talk with your healthcare provider to determine appropriate ways to lose weight. Strive to be the healthiest you can be and live longer while enjoying your best life

—John M. Wills, PSWA Member
Award-winning Author/Freelance Writer
Read my articles  on

Member News

The Annual 2018 Florida Authors and Publishers Association President’s Book Awards recognized Behind and Beyond the Badge by Donna Brown, a retired police sergeant, in the category of Adult Nonfiction, as a Gold medal winner.

Hosted by the Florida Authors and Publishers Association, this prestigious national award is open to books published between 2017 and 2018. The judges for this national competition are librarians, educators, and publishing professionals.

Behind and Beyond the Badge published by Storehouse Media Group, is a collection of stories about twenty-one first responders, police officers, firefighters, EMS, forensic technicians, dispatchers and victim advocates. Most people see a badge, behind and beyond the badge is what people need to know, the person. Donna feels, “My book doesn’t have the power to change minds but perhaps by offering a different perspective it can open them.”

Beyond And Behind The Badge cover


Lynn Hesse reports her book, Another Kind of Hero, is in the running for the Silver Fanchion award at Killer Nashville. Another Kind of Hero, ISBN: 978-1-68294-879-8, also won first My three mysteries have recently been published in a second edition by Aakenbaaken & Kent. They are published as the Deputy Allred & Apache Policeman Victor Series, and include: The Wham Curse, Saints & Sinners (PSWA 2nd Place), and The Baleful Owl

Another Kind of Hero cover


Virgil Alexander reports his three mysteries have recently been published in a second edition by Aakenbaaken & Kent. They are published as the Deputy Allred & Apache Policeman Victor Series, and include: The Wham Curse, Saints & Sinners (PSWA 2nd Place), and The Baleful Owl. His new mystery, Murder in Copper, the fourth book in the series is in final edit and is expected to be published in September.

Virgil Alexander also had a story on Gila County Sheriff Alf Edwards and the sensational murder of Ted Grosh in 1923 in the Copper Corridor Gateway Magazine, and was an editor and wrote the foreword for, Miami, A History…, also published by Aakenbaaken & Kent in the spring of this year.


Scott Decker reports Recounting the Anthrax Attacks is long-listed for Chanticleer’s Journey Award for Narrative Non-Fiction and Memoir. Recounting the Anthrax Attacks also won this year’s Book Excellence Award for True Crime.

2017 Public Safety Writers Association Award for Non-fiction Book
2018 Book Excellence Award for True Crime
2018 Long-List for the Journey Award in Narrative Non-fiction & Memoir


The sequel to Code Black, Troubled Waters by William Fleming, tells the tale of a Boston Transit cop navigating the politics of both his job and city. As flood waters threaten the century-old subway tunnels and the homeless who live in them, Morris Fitzgerald must push aside the tragic loss of his cousin and come to the rescue of a fellow T-cop. Part history lesson, part whodunit, Troubled Waters is a thrill ride that entertains while also providing a unique glimpse at the literal underworld of Boston.

Troubled Water cover

Available on Amazon or


PSWA Newsletter June 2018

PSWA Newsletter
June 2018


Michelle J. G. Perin

As some of you know, I’m getting married. In 86 days, I am re-marrying a man I’ve loved for decades. Guess that makes him currently my future ex-ex-husband. Ironically, I heard this amazing phrase while watching the movie What Happens in Vegas. Here at PSWA, we’re talking a lot about Vegas this time of year. Remarrying actually puts me in good company—RIP Ms. Taylor/Mrs. Burton. My hope, of course, is that my marriage keeps all the fireworks that theirs did but without the second split up in the end. And that he doesn’t die soon after. Regardless, rekindled romance makes a great story which is actually what I’m supposed to be talking about right now—writing. What I’ve found planning my wedding is that getting married is actually a lot like writing.

All the Planning—When you write, are you a seat of your pantser or an outliner? The same question can be asked of those planning a wedding. Some brides (I find it’s usually the brides) want to figure things out to the minutest detail and others would be perfectly happy grabbing something from their closet, spending 15 minutes in front of the Clerk of the Court and getting back to their day. I’m definitely the latter. All the details and planning that go into figuring things out is exhausting, but at the same time, I remind myself it’s about the experience and not just mine. It’s about friends, family, and also the groom. I find writing about the same. I grudgingly outline a bit so I know what I’m supposed to be doing and then fly by the seat of my pants with the rest of the writing. After all, who knows where the characters will take me?

Friends and Family Are Involved but Not Really—There are an unbelievable amount of wedding ideas out there. I’ve been getting bridal magazines lately, but I’ve found they give me more comic relief than actual ideas. On the other hand, my friends and family continue to support me in my planning. My best friend and Maid of Honor, in particular, continues to remind me why all this planning is important and directs me to get back to it. Similar to how things are when I write. They can all be there to support me, but I have to put my butt in the chair and get the work done.

The Pretty Touches—Flowers. Cake. Table Decorations. Chairs. You know all those essential things that make a wedding special. When you attend a ceremony, it all just seems so seamless, all the details put in place perfectly. Well, the planning for that is huge. I’ve been told my guests actually would like to a place to sit. You have to start with an idea and begin putting the pieces together. Then, you smooth it out to present the delightful, seamless thing. This is much like staring at a blank computer screen and just putting the word down. You have to write the crappy first draft. Then you can polish it to a shining, successful finish.

Showing Up—Not being a run-a-way bride is super important. Especially with all the tediousness of planning the details, it’s easy to think about not showing up for the party. After all, it would be less exhausting to just hide under a blanket on the couch. But, planning a wedding and the years that follow require determination and persistence. The same traits as being a successful writer. You have to suit up and show up.

It’s All About the Reception—The ceremony with its beautiful affirmations and promises is all fine and dandy. But in the end, it’s about celebrating that successful union with friends and family. It’s particularly special when you look around and see all the long-term marriages in the crowd. This is similar to my attending events with other writers and the fun of finding out how everyone else’s process is going. If you have the added benefit of attending the same event year after year, it’s even better. This is how I feel about the upcoming PSWA Writer’s Conference in Vegas. Sure, you’ll get lots of good information about public safety and the craft of writing, but you’ll also get to hang out with some amazing people in all the different stages of their writing. You’ll gain useful knowledge from the attendees’ range of experience, from police, fire, and EMS and a wide range of genres, including fiction, non-fiction, books, magazines and online. Like a wedding, mingling with this crew will leave you feeling refreshed and ready to face all the fun after the cake is eaten and you’re sitting there wondering, “Now what?”

I hope to see each and every one of you at the conference. If you haven’t RSVP’d (aka registered), do it now. Don’t delay and don’t worry. If you come, you won’t leave with a lifetime, legal commitment. I promise. See you in July.

—Michelle J.G. Perin, MS, EMT
PSWA President and Bride to Be

If You Haven’t Already…Register for the Conference

Michael A. Black

Summer is upon us, and the thirteenth annual PSWA Conference is right around the corner. Our thirteenth annual conference is scheduled for July 12th-15th at the fabulous Orleans Casino. Your board has been working hard to make sure this one, which we’ve titled our “Baker’s Dozen,” is chocked full of fun, surprises, and useful information. We’ve got some dynamite speakers scheduled and our writing contest has received some outstanding submissions. And don’t forget our pre-conference writer’s workshop. It’s a great opportunity to refine your writing process with tips from three professionally published writers who will critique your work.

Remember, the PSWA Conference is the friendliest, most fun, and most affordable conference of them all.

Let me once again mention the Pre-conference Workshop. Sure it does cost an extra $35, but it begins at 9:00 AM on Thursday morning. During this six-hour, intensive workshop, you’ll get the lowdown on writing techniques such as plotting, pacing, point of view, building and maintaining suspense, scene settings, and a personalized critique of your submitted manuscript that offers professional feedback on your writing. If you want to take your writing to the next level, this one’s for you. The three instructors have enough published works to fill a bookstore and each knows the ins and outs of the sometimes brutal publishing world.

The conference itself gets rolling on Thursday afternoon as the check-in procedure begins at 3:00 PM. You can pick up your name badge and bag of conference goodies, and pick out a special gag ribbon that will clue other people in on your personality. And it’s okay to stretch things when you’re selecting your gag ribbon. Last year mine said, Tall, Dark and Handsome.

And let me say a bit about the fabulous speakers we’ve got lined up. Retired LAPD Detective and prolific writer, Mike Brandt will tell you “100 Things You Should Know About Your Character.” Mike’s given this presentation all over the place to groups of mystery writers. Award-winning writer and professional editor, Susan Tuttle, will talk about “The Art of Self-Editing,” which as any writer knows, is a crucial part of turning out publishable work.

And we’ve got publishers as well. Austin Camacho (Intrigue Press) will join our old friend, Mike Orenduff (Aakenbaaken & Kent), on a publishers’ panel that will not only give you the lowdown on what the industry is looking for today. They will also be available to hear your pitches for new projects. So have those elevator pitches ready.

Anthony Robone, a young firefighter in Las Vegas who was attending the Route 91 concert with his brother and friends when the terror suddenly began. His brother was wounded and Anthony immediately sprang into action using his paramedic training to save lives. He’ll be able to tell you what it was really like on the ground during that terrifying incident. Our own Keith Bettinger, who subsequently provided crucial support services to first responders during the aftermath of the shooting last fall, will also talk about the experience along with another individual who was also involved.

And have you ever thought about serving up a nice cup of poisoned tea? Well, Gloria Casale and J.L. Greger will tell you how to get away with murder with their dual presentation of “A Little Knowledge Can Be Poisonous.” Don’t worry, we’ll provide “tasters” for anyone who’s nervous at their lunch table.

I’ve got some neat panels planned that will give you the information on various aspects of public safety and writing, including our long-awaited panel on firefighters, “Battling the Indomitable Foe.”

Plus, we’re in the process of assembling our annual mystery radio play with Steve Scarbourgh reprising his now-famous role as everybody’s favorite detective. Steve was a real-life Ellery Queen in that he worked in the Las Vegas Metro Crime Lab and is frequently sought to testify as an expert witness.

And lastly, we have our annual Writing Contest Awards where several people will leave the ceremony as “award-winning authors.”

So, if you haven’t already, register today. The PSWA conference has it all. The hotel is first rate, the rooms are very affordable, the meals are fabulous, and you’ll have an opportunity to rub elbows with other writers and those who’ve walked the walk in various fields of public safety. You won’t want to miss it.

Michael A. Black
PSWA Conference Chair

How Are Cops Dying?

photo of John Wills

John Wills

The 2018 headlines scream it almost daily—cops ambushed and killed; cop shot serving warrant, and on and on. As we celebrated National Police Week beginning on May 13th, a total of 45 police officers had died on duty, and 25 of the deaths had been the result of gunfire. On the same date last year there were 44 total fatalities. Last year, 2017, there were a total of 129 cops killed, 46 of those deaths were caused by firearms. The previous year, 2016, was even worse—135 police officers died in the line of duty. That number is the worst tally in the past five years. And a recent ABC News report said that if this year’s pattern continues at its current rate, 2018 could see 80 on-duty police deaths from gun violence.

Despite the carnage, the media seems almost silent for the most part. Sure every so often there is coverage of an officer’s murder or subsequent funeral. But generally the reportage is skimpy at best. Contrast that with the coverage offered when a criminal is killed by law enforcement and you will find a huge disparity in reporting. Days and weeks of coverage ensue, many times making the cops out to be assassins. Even though video and eyewitness evidence indicates the contrary, the media runs the fake news ad infinitum.

So what’s the real story? A recent study on police use of force “… found that in over 1 million police calls, use of force occurred in just 1 of 1,167 cases.” Cops are neither rogue killers nor assassins. According to the March issue of the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery, “The use of force by police can result in serious injuries and fatalities, but the risk of significant injuries associated with different types of force is poorly defined.” Dr. William Bozeman, a professor of emergency medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and lead author of the study said, “We sought to determine the incidence of use of force by police and compare the rates of significant injury among the different methods that police officers employ.”

Among the suspects affected by the use of force incidents, 355 suffered mild injuries such as abrasions and contusions, but only 16 suffered moderate or severe physical injuries. One of the 16 cases was a fatal gunshot wound. Bozeman was surprised at the study’s findings and said, “A remarkable finding in the study is how infrequently police use force at all – less than 1 in 1100 calls for service and less than 1 in 120 criminal arrests is surprisingly low, and contrary to many perceptions that police commonly use violence in their interactions with the public.” The study concluded that when force is used by officers, most cops commonly rely on unarmed physical force and CEWs. Significant injuries are rare.

Needless to say, the popular narrative leads the public to believe cops are out to kill and maim people. However, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, when a cop is involved in a shooting, fatal or not, it often affects him or her deeply. PTSD is one of the common after affects suffered by involved participants. And while in 2017 the number of cops killed amounted to 129, officers that committed suicide amounted to 140, that according to The Badge of Life (BOL) non-profit organization.

So how are we dying? Are thugs on the street a big danger to us, or are we more at risk of dying at our own hands? According to BOL, twelve officers died of suicide each month in 2017. The rate of police suicides in that year was 16 per 100,000, compared to the public rate of 13.5 per 100,000. And mind you, these numbers may not be all that accurate since some agencies don’t report suicides for various reasons. Typically, the average age for a police suicide was 42, time on the job was 16 years, and almost all were males (96%).

While we know how to train our officers to fight criminals on the street, we’re not that well equipped to train them on how to handle their own demons. More needs to be done to focus on officer well-being. Today’s cop is under tremendous stress from countless sources: the media, emboldened criminals, a weak criminal justice system, long shifts, fewer days off, home life, etc. Many agencies are shorthanded. Jonathan Thompson, executive director of the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA), said that five years ago there were 100 applicants for every vacancy. Today, that number is down to the low 60s. Translation: fewer cops to fill the needed shifts.

Departments must employ mental health professionals who integrate well with officers, and whose sessions with those seeking help don’t amount to stigmatizing the individual. If an officer knows where to go when they’re no longer able to cope, a life may be saved. At the very least, negative behaviors such as alcohol and drugs can be avoided. In addition, officers need to be taught to recognize the signs of PTSD not only in themselves, but in their fellow officers as well.

Today’s battles are being fought on two fronts—on the streets and in our heads. Enough of us die at the hands of thugs and knuckle draggers. Let’s protect ourselves mentally; let’s get the mental toughness we need to fight through the demons trying to take us down.

—John M. Wills
Award-winning Author/Freelance Writer

What I Learned from Judging Contests

Mysti Berry

Over the last few years, I’ve been a first-round judge in a number of contests for a variety of genres, from romance to crime. These contests all involved reading either short stories or a small set of pages, like the “first meeting” scene for romance. I noticed two patterns in the stories that didn’t make it to the second round.

Thinking about these patterns before you revise your first draft might help you bring out the best in your story.

Following All the Rules But One

Some entries are letter-perfect: perfect grammar, a conflict that will be difficult for the protagonist to resolve, a worthy opponent. And yet, the story is just not…interesting. The special and unique voice of the author was scrubbed right out of the story, leaving a school exercise instead of a riveting tale. One of the most important elements of a story is your voice: what you are saying is true about the world as proved by the outcome of your story. What you decide is at stake for your main character—the emotional or spiritual cost if they lose the main conflict, is the skeleton that supports your voice.

For example, in the movie Casablanca, we know that Rick risks becoming the bitter, remote rock he’s been pretending to be if he doesn’t act to save Ilsa. In Die Hard, John McClane reveals that he is vulnerable. We see his fears (fear of flying, fear of losing his wife), and then the movie goes about throwing the most extreme version of his fear in his face. We know this guy is going to die, literally and figuratively, if he can’t save his wife. As you read novels, look for what the author is saying is true about the world–whether you personally agree or not, a good author convinces you within the context of the book that “war is hell” or “no man is an island” or whatever particular point of view makes the author’s voice unique. And then take care that while you edit that you don’t scrub out your voice!

My work-in-progress (WIP) isn’t grabbing people the way I expected. The main character is a tough-as-nails woman who is good with numbers but bad with men. Well, it turns out I never put her vulnerability, what it will cost her if she fails to prove that she and her friend didn’t kill someone. In a generic sense we can understand that nobody wants to go to jail for a crime they didn’t commit, but what, specific to this character, is at stake emotionally or spiritually? I know what it is, but I never got it on the page in scenes of conflict. Easy enough to fix, but it took me forever (and a Jeffrey Deaver seminar) to figure it out.

It’s tempting to put all this in the dialog. But having a character explain things to the reader won’t carry any power. These things must be acted out in the main conflict of the story. Remember, Sam Spade didn’t tell us that he feared he was little better than the criminals he encountered. We watched him wrestle with this in every major scene in the book (and the movie).

If a writer nails this—makes the reader feel the main character’s fears, desires, and vulnerabilities from the action of the story—a contest judge, agent, or publisher is far more likely to overlook a few small grammar or polish issues. But if the writer doesn’t get this aspect of the story on the page, no amount of editing is going to move it to the next round.

Many writers don’t know what the premise of their book is until after they’ve written it. So don’t worry if your first draft doesn’t have a clear, strong voice. As you revise you can layer in the meaning as you refine the choices your protagonist makes about the conflicts she or he encounters. For example, think about the difference between  Joseph Wambaugh’s early novels compared to Tony Hillerman’s novels. You’d never confuse one of those author’s books for the other not just because of setting and character, but because each man has something different to say about the world.

Clichés R Us

A friend of mine, a well-published author, once said about a contest she judged: “I hoped at the beginning of every story that there wouldn’t be a middle-aged, womanizing man with a drinking problem who wore a raincoat. There were so many of them!” She was judging for the Private Investigator (PI) sub-genre. You likely have your own love-to-hate-it cliché, like the unarmed person wandering into a dark empty building alone to catch the killer, or the kindly grandmother who has solved more crimes in her hometown than NYPD does in a year.

The thing is, we all write clichés in our first drafts. We’re steaming along, and sometimes we grab the first idea that comes along so we can keep in the flow, keep getting the story down. There’s no shame in a first draft with clichés. (How many cliches do you see in the second sentence of this paragraph? They are honestly what I wrote in my first draft of this article.) so if we’re doomed to write them, how do you notice the clichés, and how do you fix them?

Noticing the cliché is the easy part. Put your work down for a day or three, then read it and circle anything that seems familiar-to-overdone. Of course, you need to read a fair number of books in the sub-genre you are writing in order to do this. Here’s a starting list of sub-genres and clichés:

  • Private Investigator: has a drinking or drug problem, a broken marriage, or money problems; wears a raincoat, beautiful women throw themselves at him.
  • Police procedural: The veteran cop and his or her new partner, the cranky-with-a-heart-of-gold Lieutenant, good cop / bad cop.
  • Thrillers: Preface/first chapter where the beautiful young victim is killed as seen through the eyes of the killer, a literal countdown clock, knocking a character unconscious to move to another location.

What can you do when you spot a cliché in your story? You have two choices: replace the cliché with something less familiar, or reinvent the cliché. For example, when I read Sara Paretsky’s, VI Warshawski stories, just having that character be a woman instead of a man meant that many clichés seemed new again: tough PI from Chicago’s rough neighborhood, broken marriage. Familiar elements in a new context kept it fresh.

Another example: if you have a veteran cop/new partner scenario, you could make the new partner more senior than the veteran, or make the veteran wacky and irresponsible and the new guy a world-weary rule-follower. Change up genders or ethnicity—then follow through on how those changes would affect the story.

To completely replace a cliché with something different, you can use a brainstorming technique: think of at least 10 different things you could do instead of the cliché. Often the first two or three are also clichés, but after that, you might get some truly original ideas. For me, the last two ideas are always silly—that just means I’ve plumbed the depths of my imagination for the moment.

—Mysti Berry
PSWA Website Wrangler 

Researching Your Work: A Labor of Love

John Schembra

I have to admit one of the most enjoyable aspects of writing, for me, is researching my work, whether it is weapons, locations, wounds, ballistics, roads or whatever.

I like to incorporate reality into my books, even though they are works of fiction. I have always enjoyed reading a book that mentions real places I can relate to. It makes the story so much better and causes me, the reader, to really buy into what is happening when I have a visual response to the event.

In my first book, M.P., a fictional account of a young Military Policeman in Vietnam, I sent for military maps of the area where the story took place, and maps showing which military units operated in that area so that all the towns, hamlets, villages, rivers, waterways, roads and highways, and military units of both sides mentioned in the book existed at the time setting for the story. I felt it was important as M.P. has a narrow audience, mostly former or active military, many of whom actually were M.P.’s who served in that area of Vietnam. It made the story better, too, as seeing the maps made me remember things I had forgotten, some intentionally, that I was able to incorporate into the book. In some of the reviews of the book, the readers mentioned they were M.P.s who served in Vietnam or even served in the area at that time. It made it personal for them.

In my next two books, Retribution and Diplomatic Immunity, I actually spent a day or two in San Francisco, the setting for the books, and drove around mapping routes my protagonist and suspects took, describing the areas vividly. A reader could follow the routes and see the buildings and other sites where the action takes place. In Diplomatic Immunity, I researched the sniper weapon used, spending a few hours going over dozens of weapons until I found the one that fit the story. I also spent an afternoon riding our public transit, Bay Area Rapid Transit, stopping at all the stations in San Francisco and across the Bay, mapping them and learning what they looked like, seeing the roads that were close by and possible escape routes, as there is an important scene that takes place at a BART station. I researched the Consulates and Foreign Embassies in S.F. and, enlisting the aid of my daughter, drove to each one mentioned in the book, photographing the buildings and learning the routes to and from them, and vantage points from which a sniper may set up.

A side note here—the Russian Embassy in San Francisco is on Green Street, on a corner, and all sides are covered by CCTV cameras. As I walked around the Embassy photographing it, I noticed that the cameras were following me, so, maybe rightfully concerned, I chose caution over valor and left the area rather quickly! I wonder to this day if somewhere in the KGB files in Moscow there is a dossier on me!

In closing, as I said before, doing research is one of the most fun things for me in my writing. I like when a reader emails me or mentions in a review that they loved a particular scene or the climax of the book taking place at a location they are familiar with. It just seems to validate the value of proper research. Even if I don’t use a real location, the research gives me a good perspective of the fictional area that I can use to build a convincing setting. Don’t forget to research weapons you have your characters use and the ballistics for each, pIus the severity of any wounds the weapons cause, minor or major, and the effect on the wounded person, including recovery time.

Thoroughly researching my books has, I believe, has made me a better writer and made writing a very enjoyable experience. Happy writing to you all!

—John Schembra
PSWA Vice President

Check Engine Light

photo of John Wills

John Wills

I was almost at my destination when I looked down at the dashboard and saw that the dreaded “Check Engine” light had come on. I thought, Now what? But a few moments later the light went off. I breathed a sigh of relief, but deep down I knew something was wrong with my engine. The past couple of weeks the car had been feeling sluggish, and there was a slight hesitation whenever I stepped on the gas. I did my best to ignore the warning, but I realized it was only a matter of time before I’d find myself stalled on the side of the road somewhere. Better take care of it now while the car is still running.

How about you? Have you ever had your “Check Engine” light come on, and if so, have you ignored it? I’m not actually referring to your vehicle—I’m talking about your body. There are times when our bodies send us signals that something’s wrong with our engine. However, many of us have a tendency to ignore warning signs from our bodies, just like those from our vehicles. Have you ever felt weak or run down, or described yourself as fatigued? In police work, given that we often work crazy shifts, overtime, long hours in court or on details, it’s easy to feel weak. But you should know the difference between feeling weak and feeling fatigued. The two seem interchangeable, but they’re very different.


Weakness is characterized by a lack of physical or muscle strength. You feel as if you need extra effort to move your arms, legs, or other muscles. If the weakness stems from pain, making your muscles work will definitely hurt. Weakness is a symptom of a health problem that needs to be evaluated by a physician. Sometimes weakness can be the result of an unusually tough workout, such as running a long race or playing a hard football or basketball game. Perhaps you may have pushed yourself too hard in the gym. General weakness due to those activities is normal and should go away within days.

However, sometimes muscle weakness may be the result of a health problem. If your body is low in electrolytes, such as potassium or sodium, or if you have an infection such as urinary or respiratory, you may experience weakness. Did you know that a thyroid imbalance can cause many problems such as weight gain, depression, memory problems, dry skin, or thinning hair? And problems such as weight loss, increased heart rate, sweating, and anxiety, can all cause muscle weakness and should be addressed with a doctor visit. Much more serious is sudden muscle weakness, which may be the result of a stroke or a TIA (transient ischemic attack), also known as a mini-stroke. A TIA occurs when blood flow to part of the brain is stopped for a short time. It’s the same as a stroke, but it doesn’t last long or cause permanent damage. (See a doctor ASAP as a TIA means you may have a stroke in the future).


Fatigue is described as a feeling of tiredness, exhaustion, or lack of energy. Many of us will feel fatigued when we’re overworked—too many hours, such as pulling a double shift. Fatigue may also result from stress, poor sleeping habits, worry, lack of exercise, or a bout with a cold or the flu. In most cases, fatigue associated with a health problem will disappear once you become well. Some medications, whether prescribed or over the counter, can cause weakness or fatigue. Also, overuse of caffeine or alcohol, as well as illegal drugs, can leave one feeling tired and/or exhausted.

When you feel fatigued, but also have an accompanying medical problem such as shortness of breath, bleeding, or unexplained weight gain or loss, a doctor visit is in order. Be aware that fatigue lasting more than two weeks can be the result of a serious health problem such as anemia, coronary heart disease or failure, metabolic disorders (diabetes), thyroid disorder, or kidney disease. Persistent fatigue may signal that you suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome or CFS, which causes exhaustion, sleep problems, thinking problems, and pain throughout the body. CFS has no cure, but treating the disease can improve your quality of life.

Just as ignoring the Check Engine light in your car is a bad idea that will likely result in serious problems down the road, ignoring that same warning in your body can be catastrophic. Men, in particular, are wont to ignore many health problems thinking they’ll disappear on their own. Don’t be foolish—if you are feeling weak or fatigued find the reason and fix it. Don’t wait until you find yourself broken down on the side of the road. Get a doctor to check your engine and save yourself some aggravation, or perhaps, your life!

—John M. Wills
Member: National Book Critics Circle

Latest novel: THE STORM

Read my articles  on and Law Enforcement Technology

Safety in Traveling Abroad

photo of Ron Corbin

Ron Corbin

I just returned from a 14-night Baltic cruise out of Amsterdam, including port stops in Estonia, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Germany, & Russia. In light of today’s security concerns, especially in European countries, I considered a lot of “What-If’s” in preparation for this travel. You can call me as being overly concerned, even to the brink of paranoia, but as a former Boy Scout… ”Be Prepared” still sticks with me. So, whether or not you are a World traveler, I’d like to share with you some of the precautions that I took.

Documentation: Before leaving home, make photocopies of your passport, credit cards, and other documents. Leave one copy at home with friends or relatives, and take one copy with you that can be left in your ship cabin or hotel room safe.

Notify your credit card company of the general dates and location of your travel, so they will not think it has been stolen and put a “stop” on its use when they see activity abroad (This happened to us once before). Ask if the credit card can be used in your area of travel without any additional international fees. Same with your cell phone company, and if there’s anything special you need to do to make international calls.

Separate credit cards with a spouse or traveling companion. I have my wife carry our MasterCard, and I carry the VISA. That way, if one is lost or stolen, we can cancel and still have another account for financial means.

Most overseas tourists’ destinations take major credit cards. Never carry a lot of cash. Use traveler’s checks and photocopy their serial numbers. Take your medical health insurance card and a list of your medical prescriptions.

Translation Cards: My first adventure overseas happened when I was 20-years-old, and at the courtesy of Uncle Sam to Southeast Asia. Upon arrival in-country, the “locals” spoke no English and I spoke no Vietnamese. Therefore, I guess that I was kind of expecting the same in these countries of my vacation this time.

However, being the “Country Bumpkin” from Kansas that I am, I was impressively surprised to find so many in each country who spoke English. Yet, before leaving home, I had prepared a 3×5 index card for each port stop with a few basic phrases in the native language (i.e., German, Russian, etc.). Such things as:

  • Do you speak English?
  • Ship Port
  • Restaurant
  • Taxi
  • Police
  • Toilet (probably the most essential for a man of my age)

On these cards, I also included a current money conversion rate in Euro, Rubles, Krones, or the standard monetary system of the country. That way, I could basically convert in my mind how much money my wife was spending on souvenirs for the kids and grandkids (It was a lot).

I know all of this could be done on a cell phone app, however, I didn’t want to take my cell phone off the ship, as it could potentially be a target for theft. Speaking of target items, don’t allow an unsolicited offer from a “local” to take your picture with your camera. That is, unless you can run as fast as they can when they take off with your camera. 

Clothing: As proud of my military and American background as I am, I was cautious to eliminate bringing anything that might overtly give away my patriotism to the USA. I mean, I’m sure that just the camera hanging from my neck, Bermuda shorts, and Hawaiian shirt was indicative enough to confuse me with Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold.

Seriously though, I took none of my backpacks indicating my Special Ops Association or military camouflaging patterns, no ball caps or T-shirts with logos identifying me with LAPD or Army. I even removed my retired police ID from my wallet, in case that was stolen or pick-pocketed.

Pick-pocket crimes are especially rampant in tourist destinations. I have a police friend and a Special Forces buddy who have both been victimized this way, so no matter how good you are, it happens. I prefer wearing those cargo type pants, where my cash, credit cards, or small valuables can be placed in a zippered or Velcro pocket. Pick-pocket thieves don’t like zippers or Velcro.

I do have a few small money bills separate and placed in a side pocket that can be used as throw-away money, just in case I am robbed or forcibly demanded. One note, don’t resist giving up anything that is demanded by threat; valuables such as cameras, cell phones, cash, watches, and jewelry can be replaced.

Ladies, when off-ship and on excursions, don’t wear flashy or expensive jewelry. Leave your purse onboard in the cabin’s safe, and only carry a ship “Sail & Sign” card, a photo ID (or passport, if required by authorities). There are specially designed document holders that can be hung from your neck by a lanyard for these documents. Some even have secret compartments for carrying a credit card or a small amount of money.

Wear comfortable shoes that you can run in easily. Ladies, take note…flip flops or sandals are not in this category.

Take Care of Yourself:  Ask directions at a motel/hotel, not from people on the street. Ask if there are any areas of the city you should avoid. It’s best to stay in the areas that are recommended by the cruise ship lines, and where you see other passengers from your ship or others that are in port. Cruise ship guides and tour groups have been carefully vetted by the travel organization of your trip. But nothing is 100% foolproof. Remember, my claim as a security professional…“There is no such thing as Crime Prevention, only Crime Reduction.”

Bottom Line: These tips may seem to be simple suggestions. Yet, going on vacation makes us especially vulnerable because we’re relaxed and thinking of fun rather than danger. These three things are most important: Use common sense. Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Have a survival mindset.

Stay Safe!

—Ron Corbin
Author of PSWA Award Winning book, “Beyond Recognition”

A Primer on 911 Emergencies

Diana Sprain’s new book, What is Your Emergency?

Today we all take the 911 emergency systems for granted when we need help but it wasn’t always in existence. What did folks use before 911? When did the number pop into place? How was it chosen?

In 1967, President Lyndon Johnson appointed a task force to investigate the problems of law enforcement in America. “The Challenge of Crime in a Free Society” was released in 1967. One of the issues noted was the increasing amount of traffic on the radio, which, according to the Task Force, overtaxed Dispatchers during peak times. A need for a single contact number was pointed out. The infamous White Paper on trauma response had brought up the same conclusion. Remember, England had its 999 service since 1937 and Canada added the number in 1959. The USA was behind the times.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and American Telegraph & Telephone (AT & T) had discussed the possibility of a universal number but nothing had come of it until the Associated Public Safety Communications Officers (later changed to Officials), or APCO, became involved. APCO pushed for the number.

Meetings were held and heads scratched. The hurdles were massive. First, if, and this was a big if, what series of number would be used? Next, how could the various phone companies be convinced to become part of the system? Where would the funding come from for public safety agencies? Who would be responsible for answering the calls? Finally, would the public trust the service?

The number had to follow AT&T rules. The second number couldn’t be a zero as this was part of the long-distance coding or one marked for use. 911 was selected as it was easy to remember. Why the officials didn’t go with 999 to stay with Canada and Europe is a mystery. AT&T didn’t consult any of the other companies (remember, Ma Bell had been broken up as a result of the monopoly lawsuit). This caused problems once the system went live.

Indiana Representative J Edward Roush (D) jumped on board and helped push the legislation through Congress. On November 8, 1967, House Resolution 361 passed establishing 911 as the official emergency number. It was agreed the service would be paid via terrified rates on phone lines and numbers. After AT&T technicians completed the logistics of call distribution and routing, the next step was a test call on the system.

Haleyville, Indiana was chosen to receive the first 911 call. It was made on February 16, 1968. The initial 911 calls were Basic 911 with ANI, or automatic number identification. Enhanced 911 was developed in the late 1970’s and consisted of ALI, or automatic location identification. One problem with traditional ANI and ALI is with PBX lines (large companies, hospitals, etc.) – the 911 information only displays the primary address. ANI and ALI were designed to be used with hard-lined phones which were fine until mobile phones came along.

October 2, 1996, started a new three-digit service: 311. It was meant to take the load off the heavily over-burdened 911 system. 311 is for non-emergency requests that do not involve suspects or follow-ups by law enforcement.

In 2000, the FCC developed Wireless Phase I and II to allow for mobile phones. Phase I required cell towers to hit on the nearest cell tower. Phase II required location within 300 meters of a cell tower via triangulation of towers or via GPS coordinates. Next Generation 911 (or NG911) came along. NG911 is touted as the latest and greatest, and includes the possibility of text-to-911, attaching audio and/or video files, and using the Cloud. Still, as many agencies and Dispatchers still lament, a pizza delivery service can pinpoint a caller’s location in an instant but 911 Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) are still relying on antiquated equipment (Phase I or II).

911 is not perfect. The USA is not 100% 911 compliant. There are areas where Basic or Enhanced 911 is the rule: after all, cell towers are not installed in rural areas, and for IP-based services you need internet. Many states don’t have misuse laws for those harassing PSAPs.

Many states don’t require any minimal training for their Public Safety Dispatchers yet firefighters and law enforcement have a list of mandatory, yearly courses. Or, as in Nevada’s case, there is a requirement but no funding to cover the expense. Finally, the 911 tax is gathered but diverted to other parts of a state budget.

For a more in-depth history, check out my book: “What is Your Emergency? The History of Public Safety Dispatching in America.”

—Diana Sprain
Author of the Greycliff Chronicles series: On the Trail of Yesterday’s Rose, In the King’s Shadow, and For Queen and Country.

Diana Sprain emigrated to the U.S. from England with her family. She has worked as an Emergency Medical Technician, Emergency Room Clerk, Certified Pharmacy Technician, and a Public Safety Dispatcher. Her law enforcement experience varies from working as a line Public Safety Dispatcher, a Civilian Training Officer, a Tactical Dispatcher, and a Supervising Public Safety Dispatcher. She currently works for the Nevada Department of Wildlife, law enforcement division as a Public Safety Dispatcher. She is the Terminal Agency Coordinator and a Civilian Training Officer.

She is a member of the Sierra Writer’s Group, the Public Safety Writer’s Association, the Associated Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO), and the National Emergency Number Association (NENA). Diana is a Public Safety Dispatcher with over 30 years of experience.

She shares her home with her husband, Sam, Coco their Chinese Shar-Pei, and their cat, Dexter. She enjoys writing, painting, gardening, and attending Renaissance Fairs in costume.

Interesting Links

  1.  Book Design. Joel Friedlander is a great, inexpensive source for book design help: The Book Designer gives book design awards and has a lot of examples of good book design as well as instructions. You can subscribe to his newsletter.
  2. Print-on-Demand.  The Sacramento Public Library obtained a grant to buy a POD machine. This YouTube video shows the machine in action: I Street Press: A Community Writing & Publishing Center.  Costs and details are on the Library’s website.

I have a POD in the works now, building my file, and will probably test it at the Library before going to Create Space.  I would get more hands-on help at the Library.

Jim Guilgi

—Information provided by Jim Guilgi

The Importance of Editing

Marilyn Meredith

Recently I purchased a book from a friend intending to write a review on Amazon. I couldn’t do it because the book was so badly edited, I finally gave up about 1/3 of the way through. Another friend had the same reaction as I did. I feel sad for this new author because the basic premise of the story was good and the location one that hasn’t been used to death. I also know the author paid a lot for the cover.

With a good edit, this might have been a good read.

The part I read was riddled with typos. One sentence had the same passage at the beginning and the end. Point-of-view was a mess. There were missing quote marks and odd punctuation, and so many more problems..

No book is ever perfect. Typos do slip by, even with the major publishers who have editors and copy editors.

When submitting to a publisher, you want to make sure that you’ve done the best job possible self-editing, and then to make sure, you should have someone who is a professional editor check it over again.

This is even more important if you are self-publishing. Don’t rely on your best friend or a relative to do the final check of your book. Hire an editor who knows what to look for in the type of book you’ve written.

And in case you’re wondering, the book wasn’t by anyone in PSWA.

Lately, I’ve been re-editing several of my books, and found a lot to fix or rewrite, but partly because some so-called rules for writing have changed over the years.

—Marilyn Meredith
PSWA Newsletter Chairman

Keeping Tension Snapping in Your Dialogue

This excerpt is taken from a new “How to” EBook called “Writing Suspense in Your Mystery Fiction,” finished, but as yet unpublished. Stay tuned.

  • If you have trouble with dialogue, read your piece aloud. Then quiet yourself. Fall into a daze of non-thought, then listen within to your characters talking to each other. See if you can “hear” them. What kind of words do they use with each other? Are they slangy? Terse? Colloquial? Profane?
  • You can learn about them by “listening” to them in quiet moments within yourself. After all, that’s where they live, isn’t it? They are you. They aren’t you. Imagine everyday conversation. How do they talk about needing new tires for the car? A kid’s bad spelling test?
  • Charge right into a passage of dialogue. You don’t need greetings, chitchat, comment on the weather, or compliments.
  • Supporting characters can show doubt or disbelief about your main character’s goals or plans in the curl of a lip, a snort. “Yeah, well …” has a wealth of meanings.
  • Watch out for passages of retelling something that has already happened or commenting on events that are happening instead of showing them. Exchange exposition for confrontations between players, arguments, teasing, and misunderstandings.
  • Give some of the lines to somebody with a different POV. Save up a witticism for here.
  • Examine the visual impact of your dialogue sections. Tense dialogue contains lots of short sentences, fragments and white space. Watch out for dialogue that goes on for pages (unless you’re Robert B. Parker or Elmore Leonard, and none of us are).
  • If you’re building to a toe-to-toe confrontation, don’t do it over a four-page argument scene. Break it up. Take a phone call. Interrupt the gathering storm with an announcement that dinner is ready. You’ve built an expectation that this isn’t over yet, and your readers will stick with you to see who prevails and what happens in this confrontation.

Mar Preston

—Mar Preston is an award-winning Public Safety Writers Association author of six “How to” EBooks on “Writing Your First Mystery,” as well as seven police procedural novels.

Author News

Jackie Taylor Zortman: I Have a New Novel on the Market

It was exciting when UPS showed up late yesterday afternoon with that big box filled with my latest novel Snow Angel (Detective Max Richards Book 2). All of you know the excitement when we get to finally hold our book (or is it new baby?) in our own hands.

Detective Max Richards Book 1 is my PSWA first-place award-winning Footprints in the Frost. Although Snow Angel is a sequel, it can easily stand alone and be read with no confusion related to the first book. There are a lot of authors ahead of me in the pipeline at my new publisher Aakenbaaken & Kent, but Mike has offered to put the Kindle version of Footprints in the Frost up on temporarily for those who are curious about the first book. It’s already available as a Nook on

In Snow Angel when Detective Max Richards and his sister suddenly inherit their mother’s estate, they find an old wooden box on a shelf in her bedroom closet. It reveals a secret she kept carefully hidden and connects them to a statuesque and abandoned Victorian house in Snowflake, Colorado. Ironically, Max and his wife, Sami, already own a remote cabin there.

During the Christmas holidays, they fly to Snowflake to investigate the empty and dusty old house. Following their tire tracks in the snow, the newly appointed city police chief is introduced into their lives and quickly becomes an important part of their tight-knit circle of friends.

Returning to the city, Max becomes emotionally restless. He retires from his thirty-year homicide job, pulls up roots and moves permanently to Snowflake where he quickly becomes part of the small police force. Unexpected twists and turns take control of their lives and change things in ways they never dreamed. Find out what was in that box that had such power and what paths it led Max, Sami and his sister, Willow, to follow.

You will find Snow Angel as a trade paperback and Kindle at It also won a PSWA writing award in 2017.

Blurb by John M. Wills, Award-winning Author/Freelance Writer

Max Richards is a tough homicide detective whose life is structured and orderly. However, when his mother dies and an old wooden box surfaces among her belongings, it changes everything. What secrets was Mom hiding from the family and why? When the truth is finally revealed, Max finds an uncertain future ahead of him and his family members.

About the Author

Jackie Taylor Zortman is an award-winning published writer/author. She has been writing for the last 26 years and has been a member of PSWA since it was the Police Writers Club back in 1994 when Roger Fulton first organized it. She is the author of a non-fiction book “We Are Different Now” and two award-winning fiction novels, “Footprints in the Frost” and “Snow Angel.”

She has had numerous articles and short stories published during that time, is a Charter Member of the Public Safety Writers Association and a member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. She is a contributing author to the anthologies “Felons, Flames & Ambulance Rides”, “American Blue” (editor Ed Nowicki), “The Centennial Book of the National Society of Daughters of the Union” and “Recipes by the Book, Oak Tree Authors Cook.” She also writes poetry, genealogy, and history. She has won 10 writing awards in the last five years.

She lives in a bustling quaint tourist town high in the mountains of Colorado with her husband and Siamese cat. When the deep snows of winter blanket the terrain surrounding her home, it becomes the perfect spot in which to write. 

Mysti Berry: Charity Anthology Launches in July, 2018

Mysti is publishing a charity anthology to help fight voter suppression on July 4, 2018.

More details will be on the website in June:, or follow @LDDV_anthology on Twitter.

Marilyn Meredith: Resurrecting an Old Series

Thanks to Mike Orenduff and Aakenbaaken and Kent Publishing, Marilyn Meredith’s (who writes this series as F. M. Meredith) Rocky Bluff P.D. series is seeing a new life. Each book in the series is being re-edited and the whole series is getting new similar covers.

This particular series has been published by four publishers. A & K will be number five. It’s been a long and painful trip with an exciting final destination. The first book in the series is Final Respects. 

Bob Doerr: New Book Release—The Assassins

I’m happy to announce the release of my new book, The Assassins, the third book in my Clint Smith series. Of all my books, I think this one is the most contemporary with world events. I have been fortunate to have always had several book plots floating around in my head, so in October 2016, a month before the national elections, and as I began my planning for a new Clint Smith book, I realized that I had never seen (or at least recognized) such a politically polarized election.

What if the side that lost the election had a few powerful people who reacted by plotting to have the new president assassinated? For the book to work, it didn’t matter who won the election. It seemed to me that more people disliked each candidate than liked them. In fact, for a good part of the book, I kept referring to the president as the president rather than he or she. Staying with the contemporary theme, I set my story in Korea.

I’d like to share a short summary of the book The Assassins:

A disputed election has divided the nation, and a handful of senior, government officials have conspired to have the North Koreans assassinate the President of the United States. Believing the assassination attempt to be only days away, Theresa Deer, Director of the Special Section, a small unit whose existence is known by only a few in the U.S. government, sets out to interdict the man intent on providing the North Koreans vital information about the president’s itinerary for his visit to South Korea. While Deer succeeds in her mission, she is severely injured and finds herself being hunted by the North Korean assassins who still intend to assassinate the president. Clint Smith is sent to Korea to help Deer get back to the U.S. and finds himself caught in a deadly game of cat and mouse with the North Koreans. With no one in the U.S. government to turn to for help, and the South Koreans now also hunting them, getting out of South Korea alive is looking unlikely.

I hope you get a chance to read and enjoy this book.

About the Author

Bob Doerr, an Air Force veteran, has thirteen published books. His past books have won a variety of awards, and Bob was selected as the Author of the Year by the Military Writers Society of America.


PSWA Newsletter March 2018

PSWA Newsletter

March 2018 


Happy Almost Spring, fellow writers!!

Once again, it’s been a busy few months since the last PSWA newsletter. Seems many of our members have exciting news such as book launches, awards won and even one who is running for sheriff (Good Luck, Mike Angley!!) During this time, your Board of Directors met to discuss the current operations of the Association, as well as, exciting plans for the future. Our main goal, as a Board of your peers, is to make sure that this Association continues to meet the needs of our membership and offers what YOU want from us not the other way around. As part of our three-day business meeting, we talked about our purpose. What is it that we do as an Association? We came up with two very clear areas.

Professional Development: Why are most of us part of this organization? Because we’re writers or we want to be writers. Most, if not all (actually it should definitely be all) of us want to be published writers. We want our words out in the world for all to see and judge. (Ok, the judging issue is just part of the writer’s world. Most of us really don’t want that part.) PSWA members are not in competition with each other.

What I’ve found over my thirteen years with the Association is every one of the other members wants to see me succeed and is willing to do everything reasonably within their power to help me do so. Along with the members, PSWA benefits also support this goal. We offer a manuscript critique for new members. If you’re a not-so-new member but have never used this benefit, you still can. We all get one.

The annual writing contest is another way as most entries are given a critique for what works and what doesn’t work as well. There are also the nifty “Award-winner” stickers that you can use to mark up your books and generate more interest.

Finally, the best way to jump-start your writing knowledge AND public safety knowledge is the annual Writing Conference. Most former attendees will tell you that it was invaluable and that they return year after year for more. Speaking of professional development, don’t forget that there are PUBLISHERS at the conference and they want to hear your pitches. They want to help you meet your goals. I got my first non-fiction column after pitching the editor-in-chief at the conference. I’ve now been writing (and getting paid for) two columns a month for that venue for twelve years.

Camaraderie: When you join the PSWA and enjoy the benefits, such as coming to the conference you make life-long friends. We cheer each other on both personally and professionally. We pat each other on the back and give words of encouragement when the writing gets tough or the rejection letters seem to never stop. We get to know each other and offer support when grief and loss come around. We are more than just a group of writers who talk about writing and public safety stuff. We are a group of friends.

What is the Public Safety Writers Association all about? Writing and making friends. Making friends and writing. I hope that each of you will continue to grow within this organization. There will be opportunities in the near future for members to step up and start taking some leadership roles. I also hope you will encourage your friends to join us and continue to build a strong membership. Lastly, I hope that every one of you will enter the writing contest AND register for the conference. Don’t hesitate. Don’t wait. It will be worth every cent you put into it. After all, isn’t the business motto, “You have to spend money to make money”? Invest in yourself. Invest in your future. The world needs your writing. Don’t deprive the world. That’s just rude.

Happy writing,

Michelle Perin, PSWA President 


Register Now for the 2018 PSWA Conference

Spring is just around the corner, and the thirteenth annual PSWA Conference is once again coming up on July 12th-15th at the fabulous Orleans Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. We’re calling this one our “Baker’s Dozen,” because it’s packed with so many fun things and surprises that it’s sure to be one of our best yet.

But onward… Let’s talk about the friendliest, most fun, and affordable conference of them all.

Let me first mention the Pre-conference Workshop. It does cost an extra $35 but begins at nine AM on Thursday morning. During this six hour, intensive workshop, you’ll get the lowdown on writing techniques such as point of view, building and maintaining suspense, and a personalized critique of your submitted manuscript that offers professional feedback on your writing. It’s just the thing to take your work to the next level. Between the three instructors, they’ve had enough books published to fill a bookstore and each knows the ins and outs of the publishing world.

As far as the conference itself, things get rolling Thursday afternoon as check-in begins at three PM. You can pick up your name badge and bag of conference goodies, and pick out a special gag ribbon that will clue other people in on your personality.

As usual, we’ve lined up our customary fabulous speakers. Retired LAPD Detective and prolific writer, Mike Brandt will tell you “100 Things You Should Know About Your Character.” Mike’s given this presentation all over the place to groups of mystery writers. Award-winning writer and professional editor, Susan Tuttle, will talk about “The Art of Self-Editing,” which as any writer knows, is a crucial part of turning out publishable work.

Publishers Austin Camacho and his lovely wife, Denise, (Intrigue Press) will join our old friend, Mike Orenduff (Aakenbaaken & Kent), on a publishers’ panel that will not only give you the lowdown on what the industry is looking for today, but they’ll also be available to hear pitches on new projects. So have your elevator pitches ready.

Our own Keith Bettinger, who provided crucial support services to first responders during the Las Vegas shooting last fall, will talk about the experience along with another individual who was also involved.

And Gloria Casale and J.L. Greger will tell you how to get away with murder with their dual presentation of “A Little Knowledge Can Be Poisonous.” I’m still working on a couple more, and I’ve got lots of outstanding panels lined up that will give you the information on various aspects of public safety and writing. I’m happy to say that our long-awaited panel on firefighters, “Battling the Indomitable Foe,” is also scheduled. Plus, we’re in the process of assembling our annual mystery radio play.

And last, but certainly not least, don’t forget our annual Writing Contest. There’s still time to enter your work and possibly become an “award-winning author.” The variety of categories are open to both published and not yet published authors. Take it from me, you can’t go wrong entering this one.

So register today, if you haven’t already. This conference has it all. The hotel is great, the rates are very affordable, the meals are first rate, and you’ll have an opportunity to rub elbows with other writers and those who’ve walked the walk in various fields of public safety. You won’t want to miss it.

Michael A. Black, Conference Chair



Writers should attend a writer’s conference every three years to update their skill sets, current trends, emerging markets and meet new writers. It’s the “nuts and bolts” that keep you current in an already overcrowded industry that will propel your career. It gives you the opportunity to meet a wide range of people, making new contacts, attending after hour social functions and most importantly networking with like-minded people.

With that said, how do you optimize the experience?

Have a Game Plan: Conferences can be overwhelming, especially when they are three days or longer. Review the conference agenda and highlight the most relevant sessions that impact your writing career. Be clear about your strengths and weaknesses.

Set Goals up front. Stretch yourself with topics that you are unfamiliar with to expand your knowledge base. This is about you and what you want to get out of a conference. My goals are to learn three new writing skills/techniques daily, meet three new writers daily and thank three speakers or conference organizers daily.

Research the speakers and their recent book releases, find commonality and talk to them after their sessions. Knowing something about them will lead to asking the right questions that will help you in your writing career. Always thank them.

Dress and conduct yourself professionally. You might want to layer clothing so as not to bring unnecessary weighty items, but remember, conference rooms are generally cold. Business casual is acceptable and makes a good impression. I wear a blazer at evening events, but no ties. When you attend receptions, welcoming events, after hours parties, always remember that you are not off-duty. Writers, agents, publishers, editors are watching your conduct and bad behavior could cost you a contract.

Networking Game: You most likely will find yourself in breakout groups before, during or after the conference. If you want to network and the conversation wanes, have some icebreakers such as, “Everyone give a one- or two-minute talk about their recent accomplishments.” Sit with new people at lunch, dinner and at events. Conferences are about meeting other writers. Take advantage of the opportunities available. Always wear your conference name tag so others can identify you and don’t take it off until you are driving home or on the plane.

Have a thirty-second pitch: Wherever you are in your book, have a pitch ready and memorize it. A pitch can be referred to as an elevator speech, logline or storyline. Imagine that each word cost $10.00 and K.I.S.S. A pitch should include the main character, conflict and what’s at stake. Practice on friends or at writer’s meetings with members who will give you an honest opinion.

One-sheet: this is a single sheet containing the title of your project, genre, word count, your photo, a short bio and your contact information to be handed out to interested editors, agents or publishers.

Conversation starters: “What do you write?” “Where are you from?” “Are you excited about the keynote speaker?” This is about social interchanges with fellow attendees and keeping yourself engaged in conversations; do not monopolize conversations.

A notebook: If you are not taking notes, you are not learning anything. Table space is often limited at conferences; bringing large electronic devices may be impractical. You can only spread out so far at a tightly packed conference.

Take plenty of business cards and don’t be afraid to tactfully pass them out. If you have a recently published book, you may want to bring free promotional items highlighting your book such as bookmarks, postcards or ballpoint pens promoting your book

If session audio recordings are available, you may want to attend sessions that do not record and listen to the recorded sessions later giving you more opportunity to expanding your learning tracks.

Avoid time travel by focusing on each and every presenter. Don’t zone-out or text people while in sessions. Become an active participant by asking questions and making comments. Be an extrovert, you paid for it!

Thank the planning committee for the hard work they did to prepare for this conference. It’ll be greatly appreciated and you can make new friends at the same time. Buy at least one author’s book while at the conference and ask them to sign it.

Seeking solutions to your key questions:

  1. Can I articulate my writing project clearly?
  2. How does the conference bring me closer to my writing goals?
  3. What do I need to learn or help improve my skill set?
  4. Who are the people I want to connect with that can take me to the next level?

What apps should you have: Linkedin so you can connect immediately with other writers you just met. You may want a separate Facebook fan page for writers v. using your personal Facebook page, along with a Twitter, Instagram, a dedicated website, Goodreads, Pinterest and a blog site as starters. You will need these when you publish your book.

Things to consider taking: Notebook, pens, pencils, a tote-bag or small backpack to carry things, some cash for unexpected expenses, mints, iPhone charged w/cord, and a laptop w/cord to document the days’ notes and promotional items and an empty flash drive.

Portable battery chargers: Going back and forth to your room to recharge devices can prevent you from hearing a great speaker, so purchase an inexpensive charger, or arrive early and find wall or floor electrical outlets for your cables to recharge your devices.

Take a camera or use your iPhone camera to take pictures at the conference and especially with new friends.

Always follow up with a short thank you email to the new writers you met, speakers, and those that can help your further your career.

You are paying $300-$500 to attend, so get the most out of it and take advantage of every opportunity offered. Good luck at your conference and be the best writer you can be.

Michael Brandt

Editor’s Note: The above is great advice no matter what writers’ conference you may be attending—we hope it will be our PSWA conference.


photo of John Wills

I enjoy going to the gym for a workout and expect that my time will not be wasted or my workout interrupted by others. Lately, I’ve noticed a growing problem, one that also seems to be the new normal. Smartphones are taking over a once trusted escape from the toxic world—the gym–and wreaking havoc on the smooth flow of people’s workouts.

Don’t get me wrong, smartphones are probably one of the greatest technological inventions of the 20th century. I was amazed at the breadth of what the phone is able to accomplish, and it seems for many this small marvel has replaced the computer. Despite its usefulness and capabilities, it has had some negative impact on health. Recent research published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity indicates people who spend the most time on their phones tend to be less fit than those who use their phones less.

In interviews with 305 college students about their cellphone use and physical activity at Kent State University, researchers learned those on the phone most were the least active. Using a follow-up fitness test of 49 of the students, the ones who least used their phone were fitter than the others. The results seem appropriate, constantly checking one’s phone and surfing the net takes time. That wasted time could be better spent, some of which could be at a gym staying or getting fit.

But many people take their phones with them to the gym. Good or bad idea? For the most part, bad. An article in Time magazine by Amanda MacMillan says research shows, “Texting or talking on the phone while exercising can worsen your balance and workout intensity.” Another study in the Performance Enhancement & Health journal found that “Texting during exercise impacted balance and stability by 45%, compared to not using a phone. Talking on the phone made balance 19% worse—less than texting, but still significant enough to contribute to injuries.”

A study in Computers in Human Behavior found that people texting while exercising for 20 minutes spent at least 10 minutes in a low-intensity zone and only 7 minutes in high intensity. Those working out without phones spent only 3 minutes in low intensity. The results are surprising, given that college students were tested. This group of tech-savvy digital age people seems like the type to be adept at multi-tasking. The question becomes if the younger generation is greatly impacted by phone use during exercise, how does it affect older adults? Some good news did come from the study, however. It seems listening to music had “no notable impact on balance.” In fact, the study showed intensity gets a boost from music. Rock on.

So aside from the medical and scientific downside of using your phone during workouts, how about the practical aspects? It seems more people are staring at their phone at gyms instead of focusing on working out. Not being able to disconnect for at least an hour a day seems symptomatic of a larger problem. Are they afraid of human interaction, or is their addiction to their phone a drug-like habit?

Being on the phone at the gym is simply rude. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen someone sitting on a piece of equipment while texting or surfing the net. This practice is particularly egregious when the gym is crowded. As we’ve learned from studies, intensity suffers when we’re distracted. Our normal rest period between sets may be 30 – 60 seconds. However, if you’re glued to your phone that could easily turn into minutes. Thus, your results suffer by taking long rests and your time spent at the gym is not as productive.

What about using your phone in a germ-infested environment like the gym? According to a study in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, rhinoviruses were found on 63% of the gym equipment at the fitness centers they tested. That includes machines, barbells, dumbbells, gym mats … all were found to be breeding grounds for germs. Granted, many of us wash our hands before leaving, but how many sanitize their phone screen? Those germs are sitting there and are going home with you.

What about accidents? Gyms are dangerous places with lots of heavy equipment, loud noise, and people moving about, some of whom are not paying attention. The likelihood of getting injured is pretty high if your face is in your phone. And there’s a good chance of your phone becoming damaged by a piece of dropped equipment or someone stepping on it.

One of the secrets to a great workout is intensity. If you’re tweeting, texting, and taking selfies, you’re just not into it. Your concentration is gone along with your intensity. Most of that phone activity can wait until you’ve finished, and an added benefit is that you’ll probably complete your workout much quicker without having had your face in your phone.

Stay Safe, Brothers & Sisters! (And stay off your phones.)

John M. Wills


Contests are a no-brainer for me. I can directly attribute my entry into the realm of traditional publishing (albeit a small press) to winning a contest. I’ll bet many authors could say the same.

In 2012, I entered my unpublished manuscript, working title Probable Cause, in the Public Safety Writers Contest (PSWA). I won third place in my category-unpublished novel. Now re-named, By Force or Fear, I soon self-published it on Smashwords as an eBook, in the hopes of getting enough money together to do a print version. Meanwhile, I worked on mapping out the second book of the Nick and Meredith Mysteries (I’m a compulsive plotter).

After months of writing, querying, submitting and all-around frustration, I entered my novel, in a contest at Oak Tree Publishing (OTP) Cop Tales. Oak Tree had recently published an anthology for the PSWA, so I thought it would be worth a chance. I was stunned when I won. First prize was publication of the winning book. I’d entered my second Nick and Meredith Mystery, Intent to Hold. It had just won second place in the unpublished novel category the PSWA’s 2014 Writers’ Contest. After a polishing up, my new publisher agreed to publish the first novel, now renamed By Force or Fear.

As events progressed, I published both novels with Oak Tree Press with the third, With Malice Aforethought, in contract. Sadly, Oak Tree’s production has fallen into limbo with the ongoing health issues of its publisher, Billie Johnson. Johnson offered many OTP authors their rights, so I took mine. The short version of this story is I now have another publisher, Aakenbaaken & Kent, with whom I’m very pleased. I’m currently working on another Nick and Meredith Mystery, working title, Felon with a Firearm. I’m hustling to get it finished for the next PSWA writing contest that opens in May.

I’m also looking into other places to submit my work for competition. In 2015, the East Texas Writers Guild awarded Malice third place in “Best First Chapter” category.

Contests count. They give the author credibility. Winning a contest means someone other than your mother likes your work. Agents and publishers look at winners differently. It’s a terrific marketing tactic to use, “Winner of the Agatha Award” on the book cover. But for me, it’s a wonderful confidence booster to win a writing contest. Winning motivates me to work harder for the next entry. It also helps me to set goals. Having a first draft by May 1st, the usual deadline for PSWA’s contest, is a typical goal. I’ll make Felon the fourth try to come in better than Malice’s second place in 2016.

Think about entering a contest. It might jump-start flagging progress on your WIP, you could set and meet realistic goals, or even better yet, you could win!

Thonie Hevron


Being a guest on someone’s blog is yet another way to promote yourself and your book. It is a means to introduce yourself to the readers of that blog who may never have heard of you or what you write. Several of our members have blogs—and here are two that welcome guests:

On every Friday at 6 A.M. Just the Facts, Ma’am, Writer’s Notes, posts articles of interest to writers. February’s topic is contests and will include PSWA member J.L. Greger, author of several science-based mysteries. Her topic is, “Do You Feel Lucky?” As always, I start the month out and invite guests to post on subsequent Fridays. March will “Stir Things Up” as an ode to the doldrums of the season. April features a self-explanatory “April Fools” and May will discuss “Fans.” As authors, you are invited to contact me if you’re interested in writing for the blog. Alternately, Sundays are completely cop-oriented. Now, I have three LAPD veteran’s serving up stories from their days on the street. If you’d like to pitch a story, email me at Several PSWA members have already appeared

–Thonie Hevron

On my blog, Marilyn’s Musings is a lot about me and my life and my writing—but I also love having guests. The blog is and all you have to do is email me at

When you are a guest on someone’s blog, you need to promote it on the day you appear. How do I do that, you ask? Mention it on Facebook, any Facebook groups you may belong to, and listserves where you are a member, and anywhere else that you communicate with others. Then be sure to check the blog throughout the day(s) you appear and respond to comments others have made.

–Marilyn Meredith 


photo of Ron Corbin

As a featured speaker during the last PSWA Conference, I mentioned some Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED –– pronounced SEP-ted) concepts that may need further discussion. I know that I said one of the topics would be on “Types of Fencing,” but I decided to save that for another time.

In this edition, I will give some thoughts on …

  • Tilting vs. Level Carport Covers
  • Which Way Pool Gates Should Swing- Inward or Outward
  • Building Numbers

If you or someone close to you live in apartment or condo complexes, make sure your management is aware of these ideas to provide a safer living environment.

Carport Covers

Theft and burglary from vehicles, and vandalism are common crimes for those who live in apartment complexes. Rows of vehicles parked in the open and under carport covers provide prime targets for these type of criminals. One CPTED strategy to be a deterrent to criminal activity is to enhance observation.

Residents living on the ground level apartments can easily see the vehicles outside under carport covers by looking out their unit window(s). However, residents who reside on the second floor can only see approximately the front half of the cars below. And the third-floor residents, even less. Of course, the distance the parking lanes are from the building structure has considerable impact on this “line of sight.”

A way of improving the visibility of parked cars from the upper-story apartment windows is to tilt the carport roof upwards with the edge of the roofline closest to the apartments raised higher. This increases the angle and ultimately improves the line of sight from residents’ windows. And with increased observation, thieves are more likely to be seen and thus their devious acts reduced. A tilted carport cover also will improve rain drainage, and prevent those basketballs and some other toy objects from getting caught on carport covers.

Pool Gates

The community pool and spa area in apartment complexes are surrounded by a fence as required by ordinance for safety. However, often the weakest “link” to this barrier is the pool gate. Ordinances also require pool gates to have a self-closing device and locking latch to prevent toddlers and non-swimming children from gaining access to the pool area.

So why is there a concern about which way the gate should swing…inward or outward?

First a basic understanding of human anatomy and human nature. Our feet are designed in a manner that makes it easier to walk forward. Sure, we all can walk backward, just not as easy. At about the age of one year, children start learning to walk…FORWARD. Maybe it’s because of the feet design, or because we have eyes in the front of our skull. I’m speaking from a lay person’s assessment, not as a physician.

But as a “trained observer” (that’s what cops are, right?)…I find that the most people will also PUSH before PULLING. Watch how people enter a door that has no signage of “Push” or “Pull” on it. And my simplistic physics explanation is that it takes more energy to walk up to a door, stop the mass of body weight, reverse direction, and pull open the door than it does to continue walking forward and pushing open the door. Think of pushing a car. The hardest part is getting it moving, and once it’s going, you don’t want to have to stop and start over. So I know that when I have to stop my “mass” (and there’s plenty of it), I want to save energy and keep moving forward and push on every door that I encounter.

Now, how does this impact a pool gate’s swinging motion? Gates that swing inward (i.e., towards the pool) and fail to swing back closed and completely locked are an invitation for disaster. A curious toddler can walk forward and push open the gate. Then the child is inside the enclosure. If a gate is hinged to swing outward, and fails to completely shut and lock, chances are better that the child will walk forward and push again. Only this time the gate will more likely click and lock.

Building Numbers

To save money, apartment owners and managers typically place a building number or letter on only one side of the structure. First responders often are delayed in finding an apartment because of the improper placement of these identifiers. Building numbers or letters should be mounted on all four sides of each building. Many times, placement is located at the top above the lights. So at night, the lights are shining downward and the numbers are nearly invisible due to them being in the shadow and dark area above the light. Building identifiers need to be placed below the exterior lights on the sides of each structure.

Another good reason for numbers to be placed on each side of the building in multi-complexes is that when a police officer goes in foot pursuit of a suspect and catches the suspect, he needs to be able to broadcast his exact location to his back-up. Running through a maze of apartment buildings, and not being able to see a building identifier, can lead to disaster or an officer who is fighting for his life, or has been injured. The last thing a dispatcher or other officers want to hear is:

“Shots Fired! Officer Down! I’ve been shot. I’m somewhere in the Berylwood Apartment Complex between Buildings…between buildings …??? I can’t see a number. Help me!

Stay Safe!

Ron Corbin
Author of Award Winning “Beyond Recognition”


“A bit of a boys’ club,” says Kristen Lepionka about the place of women detectives in the world of crime fiction. In her new novel, The Last Place You Look, she took on the task of creating a credible female private investigator and immediately discovered the female point of view involves “much more than just a difference of chromosomes.”

Women’s life experiences and their interaction with crime (either as police, private investigators, or amateur detectives) are just so different than men’s. In detective fiction, she says, they battle “rampant sexism, being underestimated, excluded, and harassed.” Oh, and they also must solve cases.

This lesson is oh-so-clear to me having just read a crime novel with a female protagonist, written by a man, which would have been much better had he named his main character, say, Sam instead of Samantha, and recognized he was writing a man. This character never seemed like a woman to me, though he gave her one annoying trait meant to symbolize the feminine sensibility. Every other page, she started crying.

Lepionka created a list of ten fictional female detectives she thinks really work and they’re written by both men and women (see the article at )

From her list, I’ve read books featuring: Antoinette Conway (a character created by Tana French); Alex Morrow (Denise Mina); and Smilla Jasperson (Peter Høeg). To her list, I’d add Nikki Liska (Tami Hoag), Maisie Dobbs (Jacqueline Winspear), and Karin Müller (David Young). And, never forget Lynda LaPlante’s development of feisty, put-upon DCI Jane Tennison: “Don’t call me Ma’am; I’m not the bloody queen.” Now I’m excited to read crime-master Michael Connelly’s new book, The Late Show—his first to feature female detective Renée Ballard. Can he do as well as he does with Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller?

Thirty-five years ago, Sara Paretsky faced the same issues as Lepionka in creating her iconic female detective, V.I. Warshawski. In a recent LitHub essay, she describes imagining a new type of detective, one who would be “neither victim nor vamp,” one “who would reflect the experience of my generation . . . who could have a sex life without it defining them as wicked. Women who could solve their own problems.” (Read her essay at:

Paretsky took her character’s ardent spirit a step further. In 1986, speaking at a conference on “Women in the Mystery,” she spoke out about the disturbing increase in explicit violence and sadism against women. Her remarks fell on receptive ears, coinciding with growing awareness of women writers’ ignored role in the mystery/crime genre, despite the continuing quality of their work. Thus was the organization Sisters in Crime—of which I am a member—born.

Not that essays like these nor a single organization can overcome all the ingrained attitudes and expectations. Perhaps it isn’t a surprise that the same new book I mentioned above with the weak female characterization includes a graphic, sadistic, and totally unnecessary threat to the investigator. More work to do.

Vicki Weisfeld



Today’s newscasts and papers are rife with reporting on police-involved shootings. Preliminary coverage seems to always be negative, insinuating that police were wrong or perhaps too quick to use deadly force. Even worse, when deadly force is employed the news is quick to opine that it was either not justified or too much force was used. We still see those insane questions from some reporters and journalists—“Why didn’t they shoot him in the arm or leg?” Insanity. Social media is the worst. Monday morning quarterbacks and cop wannabes analyze and criticize decisions that an officer has a split second to make.

In that regard, Joseph K. Loughlin and Kate Clark Flora have authored a book that is long overdue. In Shots Fired: The Misunderstandings, Misconceptions, and Myths about Police Shootings, the authors offer a clear answer as to why cops are forced to respond to situations using deadly force. They illustrate why at times even though an officer’s decision is totally justified and within the parameters of law and department policy, some are pilloried by politicians, the news, and citizens. Recall the Ferguson, Missouri incident involving Michael Brown. Officer Darren Wilson acted within the law, yet calls for his indictment sprang up before many of the facts of the case were even known to those investigating the shooting. The rationale was Brown was unarmed. However, as police officers, we know that any altercation is always an armed one by virtue of the fact that we ourselves are armed, and that weapon can fall into the hands of the subject we’re involved with.

In their book, the authors present a lucid view of the reality of police-involved shootings. They break the book down into four sections: Myths and Misconceptions; Training and De-Escalation; Stopping the Threat; and Loss and Redemption. To bolster their claims regarding the misreporting and misconceptions about police shootings, they offer many actual cases and court rulings. One of the most important rulings comes from the Supreme Court of the United States which said, “The reasonableness of a particular use of force must be viewed from the perspective of a reasonable officer at the scene, rather than with 20/20 hindsight.” And that “allowance must be made for the fact that officers are often forced to make split-second judgments in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular incident.” (Graham v Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989).

Shots Fired points out a misconception the general public has regarding officers’ use-of-force training. While training academies offer intensive firearms and judgmental training for their students, once the officer graduates and hits the street the intensity and frequency of training is greatly diminished. Many departments only require a yearly qualification with a firearm. Unless an officer is in a specialized unit like SWAT or a tactical team, enhanced or dynamic training is not available. Thus, the officer is forced to employ deadly force with very little and infrequent training. The public might wonder why this is so, and they’d be surprised to learn that it’s mostly a function of budget constraints. Yes, people, if you want a highly trained department, the only way to get that is through taxes.

It may also be useful for the public to know about fear and perceptual distortions (Chapter 11). Even though people suffer the same effects when they’re scared, e.g., being alone at night and getting lost, an auto accident, a family tragedy; they rarely equate their confused behavior with those an officer faces in a deadly force situation. Fight-or-flight instincts are triggered in everyone who confronts a threat. Cops are no different—except they cannot flee. They must stay and take control of whatever threat faces them. And they must control the situation despite the changes they experience via the autonomic nervous system. Tunnel vision, auditory exclusion, slow motion, etc., all combine to hamper the performance in a potential life and death struggle.

What many don’t realize is that some officers that have been involved in shootings carry some mental baggage with them for years. PTSD is a frequent by-product of officer-involved shootings. Officers may suffer from sleep deprivation, acute anxiety, crying, appetite loss, nightmares, and even thoughts of suicide. They worry about possible future litigation and the moral questions surrounding taking a life. Recent postings on social media allude to officers enjoying shooting people. Nothing could be further from the truth. On the flip side, lately, it seems these unsubstantiated accusations have spawned a spate of ambushes on cops resulting in deaths and injuries.

Shots Fired is another of those books I must add to my personal collection. It contains much food for thought, as well as actual cases reinforcing the topics discussed. Moreover, this book is ideal for anyone who has questions about officer-involved shootings and deadly force, particularly the general public.

–Review by John Wills


Thonie Hevron, author of the Nick and Meredith Mysteries, has signed with Aakenbaaken & Kent. A&K will publish all three mysteries and the upcoming Felon with a Firearm.


Scott Decker has a new book out, Recounting the Anthrax Attack.







PSWA Newsletter December 2017

PSWA Newsletter

December 2017 


photo of Michelle Perin

Michelle Perin, President PSWA

Wow, the Holidays are here again. I had an enormous feast with my two boys, my oldest son’s delightful long-term partner and my dad the day before Thanksgiving. Many of us in public safety understand this need to have a celebration whenever our schedule permits. Due to my son’s graveyard schedule and my on-call child and adolescent crisis work, it made sense to eat together when we could, not when the calendar said we should. I’m sure we joined a number of law enforcement, fire and EMS families around the country in this. Regardless of the day, it was a beautiful celebration especially since I have so much to be thankful for.

Now that the mess is cleaned up and my fridge is stocked well enough to feed a small country, I’m turning towards Christmas as that’s the holiday my family celebrates. I’ve already decided against a tree again this year. Last year, two small kittens had just joined our family and this year they are just over a year old and still neurotic. I have no interest in cleaning up broken ornaments and tree branches every day for the next 30 days. Therefore we will improvise again with some green velvet and bush lights hanging from a curtain rod, presents nestled happily at the bottom to keep it from being a kitty hiding/ninja-pouncing place.

Speaking of presents, what are you planning on getting your loved ones this year? Not another tie or socks (although I love socks). What about getting them something that will expand their minds, take them to new places, help them meet new people and go on adventures? All while supporting your fellow PSWA members? How? Books!! So many of our members have amazing books published. There’s something for everyone from non-fiction, like Piercing the Lion Heart by J. Andre Boles or Helicopter Hayes by Bruce O’Rourke to fiction, such as The Most Dangerous Species by Mar Preston or Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight by J.L. Greger. These were the 2017 and 2016 Published Fiction and Non-Fiction PSWA contest winners. Our judges found them fabulous; your gift recipients will too. And there are so many more. Keep an eye on the list serve as many of our authors are hawking their wares this time a year. Join them if you have an offering and you haven’t already. People want your words!!

But what about you? I’ve been my primary gift giver for many years and appreciate the fact I ALWAYS get what I want. So, what would make a great gift for yourself this year? How about registration for the 2018 PSWA Writing Conference? You’ll be buying yourself an experience you won’t regret. The friendship, networking and information you will gain at this conference are second to none. Early bird registration goes through December 31st.

Even though it seems like just yesterday we were ringing in 2017 and now we’re in the shadow of 2018, I hope it’s been a good, productive year for all of our members. My year is ending much different than I would have imagined but the journey has been an adventure with much reflection and growth. I will be entering 2018 with a new appreciation for health and the love of and for family and friends. I will also be writing. I hope you’ll join me. Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year.

–Michelle J.G. Perin, MS, QMHP, EMT
President, PSWA 


John Schembra, Vice-President PSWA

One of the things I’ve realized since I took on the membership/recruitment duties of the PSWA is that it is a constant job. Each member’s year starts from the date we receive their dues payment, so there are several renewals due during each month of the year. Consequently, that requires a bit of time on the computer sending out those pesky renewal notices, which cuts into the time needed for active recruitment of new members.

Currently, I am following ten writer’s organizations on Facebook and have posted several PSWA and conference notices at those sites, plus shared some of our author’s insights and accomplishments. I get very little feedback or comments from these posts so it is hard to judge their effectiveness. But I have to think at the very least, it has helped raise awareness of the PSWA.

Our membership roster is very fluid. Some are moved to inactive due to no response to at least three renewal notices, while others reply to the renewal notice declining to renew for a variety of reasons. We get new members joining every so often, usually due to word of mouth recommendations of our members.

The problem is, it appears we have lost more members this year than new members who have joined. Not to worry, yet, as we still have a very active 140 person membership. We just need to ramp up our recruitment efforts.

A couple of weeks ago I sent out a request to our membership to help by giving out PSWA business cards whenever they attend a writer’s event, book event, writer’s conference, or speaking engagement. I asked members to contact me so I could send them the business cards and so far have gotten just three replies, and I gratefully thank those members (you know who you are!) I also sent the same post to twelve other face book writer’s/writing accounts. I pass on other members posts regarding PSWA on Facebook and Twitter, and have notice several other members have been doing the same.

Recruitment is not the job of just one member. It should be a cooperative effort of all our members. With a concentrated effort we may see more new members and, hopefully, an increase in membership.

Now, I know not everyone will participate and that’s OK, but I would hope more members will contact me. I know there are a lot of members who belong to other writer’s groups, critique groups, attend events all over the country and attend other writer’s conferences. It would help with recruitment to distribute the cards and talk up our conference. All you need to do is message me with your address and how many cards you want and I will mail them out right away. I also encourage our membership to advertise PSWA on their social media pages- Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Imagine how many writers will get that info if a bunch of us do that!

I will keep up my efforts, too, and if any of you have suggestions for promotion or recruitment please send them to me via email or messenger.

Let’s all do whatever we can to keep the PSWA the best writer’s group ever!

–John Schembra
Vice-President, PSWA


Michael A. Black, PSWA Conference Chairman

As the holiday season approaches so does the expiration of the early-bird pricing discount for the 2018 PSWA Conference. (See the PSWA conference page for the prices.) This will be our 13th year and thus the working tag line title is “The Baker’s Dozen.” The 2017 conference was the perfect storm of mishaps, but we got through it okay. Appropriately enough, as I write this, I find myself embroiled in a real tight race with two novel-length manuscripts due in mid-December. Thus, by the time you read this, I’ll either have beaten them both, or not. I know I wouldn’t have had a chance to do it had I not chosen to rely on the tried and true method of doing a detailed outline before I started writing. Thus, instead of devoting this article to trying to tell you how great the 2018 conference will be, I’ve decided instead to write about outlining.

From a writer’s standpoint, I usually like to figure these things out before I start writing. I’m what you call a plotter. There’s another type of writer who likes to let the characters lead them through the story and look forward to discovering who knew what and when and why as they forge ahead. These writers are called “pantsers,” because they write by the seat of their pants. Now, while neither technique is “right or wrong,” each has its own advantages and disadvantages.

Pantsers always say how much fun it is to sit down and see where those muses will lead you, and I agree. It is a lot of fun. The characters are usually very engaging because there’s a degree of uncertainly imbued into them. I used to write that way, back when I was a college undergrad. I’d sit down and write that first line, having no idea where it would lead. Soon I’d be enjoying the ride as the characters popped up and the story began to unfold. It usually didn’t take me long, however, to realize that I’d either gone off on a tangent or written myself into a corner. The only way out was to go back and see where I’d gotten off track and toss out all the stuff that developed after that point. One of the nice things about computers is you can always copy this extraneous stuff and put it into a special file that you can call up for another project. But the sad fact remains that if you’re a pantser, you’ll more than likely run into this problem of going off on a tangent. This goes hand in hand with writing yourself into a corner. Remember that old cartoon about the guy who was painting the floor and was making such good progress that he kept backing up until he realized he’d painted away from the only exit and was now stranded against a wall in a small, unpainted section. If you don’t know where you’re going when you start painting, it’s easy to do.

Plotters, on the other hand, do a lot of thinking before they even start writing. Oftentimes, they do an outline, which lays out the story in some sort of fashion. This may be a scene-by-scene chronology, or it may be something as simple as a one sentence description of what happens in that particular chapter. Regardless, outlining is sort of like writing a first draft in your head, and then putting it down on paper. And let me hasten to add that these outlines shouldn’t be chiseled in stone. When I do an outline it always remains flexible. While I usually have the basic structure of the story down, it’s always subject to change if, during the writing journey, I see an interesting possibility pop up. Case in point: I just revised the outline for the project I’m currently working on after realizing the pacing was a tad off. That’s another benefit of having an outline. It shows you how the story is laid out, and if the plot is flagging at any point, you can easily spot it and make the adjustment. They also help you get started each day. When I sit down to start writing in the morning, I merely have to look at my outline to see exactly where I’m at in the story, and know where I have to go in the next scene. No writer’s block there.

It’s been said, erroneously so, that outlines tend to produce works that are rigid and wooden. It’s also said that they stifle creativity. I’ve found both of these statements to be false. As I previously stated, doing an outline is basically writing a first draft and working out the plot. That doesn’t necessarily lend itself to rigidity or woodenness. If you take the time to work out the plot beforehand, and know where you’re going and why, you won’t be writing yourself into a corner as you get near the end asking who and what. I use the simple analogy of a road map. Plan the route you want to take knowing the final destination, and you’ll be a lot less likely to get lost. And if, during the journey, you realize that you want to change the route, you can always do so. You’ll waste less time by planning ahead, and ultimately produce more work. It’ll also give you more time to revise and polish your prose.

Once again, neither process is wrong, although I feel that outlining is superior. However, since writing is an individual endeavor, I always encourage writers to find what fits best for them. It’s also supposed to be fun, so make sure it is.

These are the types of things we cover in our pre-conference workshop, which we hope to offer again in 2018. So don’t forget to register for that early-bird price and you won’t be sorry. Do it today! I hope to see you in Vegas this summer.

–Michael A. Black
PSWA Conference Chairman


photo of Ron Corbin

Ron Corbin

Continuing my theme of CPTED issues from our last conference and our last newsletter, I want to focus this quarter on “Speeding Drivers.” I’ll share a couple things that will provide a higher level of safety in-and-around multi-housing complexes, trailer parks, camp grounds, hotel/motel properties, shopping centers, and hospital parking lots.

Note: For those of you who couldn’t make the conference, and have no idea what I’m talking about, go to this part of my Webpage and look for a series of CPTED articles:


One of the major problems wherever there are cars in parking lots is “speeding.” Signs only work for those who feel that rules apply to them. You know what I’m talking about. How many times have you seen a driver go faster than the speed limit in a school zone…a construction zone…or any public parking lot where parked cars and pedestrians are abundant?

If you can’t make them slow down by virtue of a caution sign, here are a couple physical methods that will slow them down 99% of the time. (There are always exceptions to the rule.) Of course, these are things that the architects and builders need to install, and not anything that the average user can do after construction is finished.

Pavement Texturing: Speeders will automatically slow down when they encounter a difference in road surface. You have probably experienced this yourself while driving your car. When you go from blacktop or concrete onto gravel, or a rougher surface, your foot automatically backs off the accelerator. It’s almost a sub-conscious reactive action, and you probably don’t even think much about doing it. Bottom line is…it got you to slow down, even if just a few mph. So things like concrete stamping, use of bricks, decorative stone, and other pavement texturing concepts can be used in various locations throughout a parking lot, or on other private roadways.

Speed Bumps: Speed bumps differ from speed humps. A speed hump is basically an enlarged speed bump with a flat surface on top. Speed humps are more effective, but also more costly due to the amount of material used. Sometimes, property owners will install two speed bumps in parallel to slow down vehicles. More effective than a single bump? Yes. But again, this is doubling the installation cost and is usually avoided for that reason.

The typical speed bump design is a single, curved raised piece of material placed perpendicular to the major drive lanes of parking lots. When a driver crosses one of these, the vehicle is subjected to a fore and aft pitching motion along its lateral axis. Simply put, two tire bumps are subjected to a car passing over the bump; once for the front tires and once for the rear tires. And we’ve all probably seen people drive a little fast over a speed bump, likely because the shock absorbers are already bad and the driver doesn’t care about treating his vehicle in that manner.

However, there is a way that a single-type speed bump that can be a more effective design for reducing speeders, and still maintain the lowest cost. Here’s how. Simply install the speed bump at an angle across the drive lane or path of the roadway. In this case, a driver will sub-consciously slow down even more due to what happens to his vehicle.

Why? Because the angled speed bump causes four tire bumps; one for each tire. It also creates a dual motion of the car: a pitching fore and aft (as described above) and a lateral left-right motion along the car’s longitudinal axis. In essence, the car will rise and fall, and shake left and right as each tire crosses separately over the speed bump. It’s almost like four-wheeling in the desert, and I guarantee drivers will pass slower over this type that those typical speed bumps placed perpendicular to the drive path.

In coming articles, I will talk about some of these CPTED issues:

  • Tilting Apartment Carport Covers
  • Which Way Should Pool Gates Swing- Inward or Outward
  • Pros and Cons of Fencing Types

Stay Safe!

–Ron Corbin
Author of Award Winning “Beyond Recognition”


picture of Joseph B. Haggerty, Sr.

Joseph B. Haggerty, Sr.

I was sitting on my brother-in-law’s porch, something I was looking forward to doing. My Brother-in-law, David Ray, has a house which sits on a knoll, ridge, hill in Barnardsville, North Carolina. His house overlooks a small valley of modest houses and has a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains. A cool breeze often erases the hot of the sun and refreshes my senses. I thoroughly enjoy just sitting and reading a good book and occasionally watching as vehicles traverse the country road below. A murder of crows fly over squawking loudly. The cows, which he raises and sells loiter about and talk to each other in their own language. I have a lot of company on this porch, eight flies, a bee and a hornet. All just seem to be curious as to who I am and what I’m doing. One fly is a speed reader and walks down the entire page I am reading before I can read the first paragraph.

The great city of Washington, D.C. was where I was born and raised until my parents moved to the Maryland suburbs. We lived in Prince George’s County which borders the District of Columbia. Needless to say I have always lived in this metropolitan area and am used to the smells, the noise and closeness of people. I went to public schools, played boys’ club ball, attended a local church and had a fair share of girlfriends all of whom were locals or schoolmates. North Carolina at that time was a beach on the eastern shore, where some friends of my parents lived. We traveled, by car, to this oasis of ocean, sand and fishing at least once a year for several years. Although I would normally get badly sunburned, it was a trip I looked forward to every year.

Being an only child was lonely and I longed for attention and companionship. I worked during the summers and when I graduated, I worked full time in a department store not far from where we lived. I met a girl, who was actually a cousin of one of the guys I hung with, and we got married. I went to college, but working a job and raising a family got to be too much and I dropped out of college. By the age of 23, I had four children, all boys, and was able to buy a house in Rogers Heights, which is next to Bladensburg, Maryland. Two years later, after being laid off twice from electronics jobs, I applied for and became a Metropolitan Police Officer. Initially, I thought police work encompassed writing tickets and chasing robbers. Even still this was a big challenge for me. I lacked a great deal of self-confidence and I felt that being a police officer would either make me or break me. I loved the job and soon worked my way toward being a detective. However, the job took a toll on the marriage and the children. My wife found someone else and relinquished the children to me. Three years later we were divorced.

Babysitters became the norm. I had a list of babysitters for each of the tours of duty I worked, not to mention court time. One babysitter lived across the street and took care of the boys after school. She also watched two other kids belonging to a young woman, who I thought was very attractive. Being a detective, I conducted an investigation and simply asked the babysitter about her. This young woman was also separated, pending divorce, and I asked if the sitter would ask the young woman if she might be interested in going out on a date. To make a long story short, I dated this beautiful young woman for seven years, until she finally agreed to marry me.

Our marriage was a real struggle. As a mixed family, tensions erupted frequently. Five boys and one girl, an ex-wife, an ex-husband, and a new house created many conflicts. I started working a second job and although our finances were maintained the relationships with the children and with each other festered. Somehow we persevered and as the children got older and moved out, tensions moved out with them.

North Carolina again entered my life as my beautiful wife was from Asheville in Western North Carolina, the gateway to the great Smokey Mountains. She was raised in a little hollow known as Haw Branch. She had two sisters and a brother. Their very modest house was located in Barnardsville, North Carolina, at the foot of a mountain, about 25 miles northwest of Asheville. She was a mountain girl, but had lived in Metropolitan Washington since she was 17. We visited Barnardsville and Asheville frequently until her mother and father passed away. Only her brother remained in Barnardsville with his wife and two sons. Her two sisters had moved away to Connecticut and Florida respectively. Both her sisters died before her mother. I became quite familiar with Asheville and loved the mountains. One of our goals is to eventually move to the Asheville area after we retire. We now have eleven grandchildren and five great grandchildren.

Sitting on this porch in the latter years of my life is so comfortable. Other than our children and grandchildren, who infrequently visit, my darling wife’s family is the only family she and I have. Never having a brother, I always considered David my brother rather than my brother-in-law. We always feel welcome in her brother’s home. As expected their ways are quite different from ours. David has several hunting dogs that he has chained up about 25 yards from the house that he takes good care of. Of course he also has cattle at different locations which must be fed and cared for. He used to be a tobacco farmer until the bottom of the market fell. Biscuits are a mainstay on the table for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I had to dig into their pantry to find a toaster. Patricia, his wife, fixed us Lasagna for dinner our first night, which was really hamburger helper. They only drink water from their well and have no interest in bottled water. Patricia gets up every morning makes breakfast and prepares David’s lunch for work. He works a job for the state eight months out of the year maintaining the parks and roads along the Blue Ridge Parkway. His two sons now have children. Patricia spends most of her day babysitting their youngest boy’s daughter. David and Patricia are wonderful grandparents and cherish the presence of their grandchildren.

This wonderful porch is also a great place to simply talk about the events of the day, politics, sports or of the other mainstay in the mountains gossip. Hanging plants abound and you can generally see a rain storm coming into the valley before it actually gets there. A cold drink or a hot one adds to the ambiance of the mountain views. You hear dogs barking a distance away and occasionally rising voices of neighbors yelling at the dogs or each other. David’s house is not a mansion, but is certainly adequate for his family. Three bedrooms, a partially finished basement with another bedroom, a makeshift mechanics shop for his older boy, two baths, living room, dining room, laundry room and a porch on the back and front make for very comfortable living.

We have looked at many houses in the Asheville area and have actually bought property twice. Unfortunately both deals fell through. One property wouldn’t perk and the other was to be developed, but didn’t. My desire with any house we may eventually buy is to have a porch with as much of a view as David’s porch and to be able to share it as he does with our family.

–Joseph B. Haggerty Sr.


Kate Flora

I’m at lunch with four Boston homicide detectives. When I say I’m wondering about flashlights, they all look blank. I say: You all have department issue flashlights, right? They nod. Is that what you carry? Vigorous negative shakes of all four heads. We buy our own.

A flashlight, when it is central to your work or your life may depend on it, is not a tool to be chosen lightly.

When I want to know something cop-related, I use a two step process. First, I do research. Here I start with a forum,, and the discussion thread, “Best Flashlight for a Police Officer.” An hour later, with notes that include names like Velociraptor, T-Rex, and Void Hawk, that sound like the names of characters in an action movie, I’ve written down some plusses: Will cut through darkest tinted windows. Has a smooth, silent revolving UI. Words like “throw” and “hot spot” used by experts who know just which flashlight they prefer.

I’ve learned flashlights come with different brightness settings for different situations—low light for a quickly reading a license or doing paperwork, medium lumens or intensity for clearing a room, and high intensity for car stops where the vehicle had darkly tinted glass or for ruining the suspect’s night vision. Some flashlights even have a strobe function or come with red or blue lenses for different applications.

Many police officers take what they call the “trinity approach”–three different flashlights–primary, back-up, and the light that mounts on a weapon. Or they carry three flashlights for safety—a larger light in the car, a smaller, lighter LED flashlight on their person, and a backup in case the first two fail.

With a page of notes and newbie questions: What does UI mean and why would it be important that there be duplicate UIs, on the side and on the butt? Why did a UI need to be smooth and quiet? I turn to the officers themselves for a “mini-lecture on flashlights.” And the answers started rolling in. Staring with an explanation of “UI,” from a retired detective I’m coaching through his first mystery:

UI is a fancy way to say flashlight User Interface, or the on/off and control switch.  Simply put, some flashlights have a plethora of settings, low light, medium, high and very high, also a low light red.  The more settings, the more complex the light and the more times you have to press or turn the switch.

 He adds an important detail: the switches need to work quietly to preserve the element of surprise.

My interview and interrogation training officer says:

There is a whole subculture on flashlights when it comes to police. I was always of the mindset that when I pushed the button, it NEEDED to come on, I wanted dependability. Back in the day when I started, guys (and gals) carried mag-lights. They always referred to them as 3C’s or 4D’s, which referred to the size and number of the batteries. A 4D was obviously 4 “D” cell batteries, which was really handy to use as a second night stick if need be. These days those are just too big and cumbersome, and don’t through enough light compared to the new LED stuff.

There are three really popular brands in the police world right now:

  1. Pelican 7060 LED
  2. Streamlight
  3. Surefire

I have a Pelican. They’re rechargeable plus they have a lifetime warranty. They were developed by the LAPD and they equip all their officers with them.

 From a Massachusetts state police detective comes more information:

When I got on about twenty years ago, everyone got a Mag-light, a big metal heavy flashlight that guys liked because it could be used as club if need be. Everyone had that light. About ten years ago, it was more common to get a lighter and brighter flashlight. (Plus policies and procedures frowned on using the old lights as a club since it wasn’t a device officers were trained in to use on people.) Real common was a Stinger Streamlight. The old mag light was probably halogen and the newer lights were LED. Right now, a lot of guys like lights made by a company called 5.11. The lights are very small and bright and the battery lasts forever. Very bright, too.

From a retired Oakland detective familiar with my Joe Burgess police character:

Joe is an old-time cop. When he began police work, he was probably issued (as I was in 1980) a 3-cell flashlight. He went out and spent his own money (as did I) for a more powerful one, and the best one could do back them was a 5-cell Kel-lite. It was made out of aluminum, was heavy, and doubled as a club. I hit many a bad guy with mine. Although I long ago retired it, it is still in my coat closet and I’ve grabbed it when there’s a bump in the night.

Today, with LEDs, flashlights are much more powerful and smaller. Most uniform cops I know carry something about the size of the Streamlight Stinger. on their belt. Others carry the larger L20 model. Plainclothes officers will either have their old duty flashlight (such as the Stinger) in their bag and pull it out when needed. The really smart, savvy detectives (Boy Scout types who are always prepared) have a small light, such as a compact Surefire light in their suitcoat pocket and a folding knife in the other pocket.

Uniformed cops carry bigger flashlights. Their duty belts support them, they’re brighter, hold a charge longer, and are more durable, especially if it’s necessary to rap a bad guy. Uniformed cops use their lights a lot and the lithium batteries used in many of the small compact lights are expensive, so they would opt for rechargeable lights, but many carry a small lithium-battery flashlight as a backup in case their main light runs out of juice.

And from my police sergeant cousin Peter, came this:

Of course police officers work at all hours. In addition to the dark of night, we also face the dark of daytime basements, looking under seats in cars, and factory warehouses.

Mag-lite developed a rotating head of the flashlight which adjusted the beam of light to a narrow focused spot or a broader flood area.

An issue a few years ago was bulbs. Dropping your flashlight is common, and regular bulbs would break and have to be changed. Now we are seeing powerful LED technology that give super bright light with much less power consumption. Some of the best lights ($100-$200) use the CR123 disposable lithium batteries and multiple LED bulbs. A flashlight 4 inches long and 1/2 inch thick is better than the old 3 D-cell Mag-lite.

Also we now have weapon-mounted lights coming into common use. More than half of officer-involved shootings are in low light conditions. Small batteries and LEDs are combined for lightweight lights permanently mounted on handguns with holsters that can hold the gun with attached light. The light is now on the weapon and pointed where the weapon points instead of in one hand leaving only one hand for the weapon. The same concept is in play with patrol rifles, with weapon-mounted lights or even infrared night vision lights.

Some agencies have agency-owned flashlights installed with chargers in the cars. We have large D-cell size Mag-Lites mounted in each car and a rack charger with spares. Most tactically oriented officers carry their own good small flashlight on their belt, which provided an always-present light on any shift for dark areas. The vehicle mounted light would typically be carried at night when out of the car on a call, with the officers’ own belt-carried light as a back up at that time.

So now I know—I want a flashlight that’s small, lightweight, reliable, and powerful, with a long-lasting charge, a smooth on and off function, and a bulb that won’t easily break. Preferrably rechargeable. And LED. I may want an adjustable light, depending on how I want to use it. I probably want a second flashlight in my pocket, just in case. And in case I find myself in a situation where I might confront a bad guy, I might also want one of those old time heavy weight numbers that can double as a night stick. And it’s a hefty Mag-lite that Thea picks up when she needs to go down to a dark basement in Death Warmed Over.

Who knew buying a flashlight could be so complicated?

–Kate Flora
2013 and 2015 Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction
“Living and writing in the great state of Maine.”


John Wills

Being a cop is an exciting job. One minute you and your partner are enjoying a cup of coffee, and the next minute someone is jumping out of their vehicle firing a weapon at you. Incidents like shootings and the aftermath of traumatic occurrences leave scars that may haunt one forever. Often, these memories revisit us in the form of nightmares. As bad and scary as they are, they may reoccur for months or years after the event.

Most people who suffer a traumatic event are likely to have a nightmare after the event. A study of Vietnam vets found that 52% of combat vets with PTSD had nightmares fairly often. Just three per cent of civilians in the same study reported the same level of nightmares. Other studies of people suffering from PTSD found even more alarmingly higher rates: 71% to 96% may have nightmares. Trauma survivors are more likely to suffer from nightmares, and some may have these awful dreams several times a week.


For cops, many of the bad dreams are similar. A friend and fellow writer, JD Buck Savage, took a poll and found these five dreams topped the list:

  • No matter how hard I try, I can’t pull the trigger.
  • I fire my gun and the round dribbles out of the barrel.
  • I need to run somewhere but I can’t move.
  • I can’t get to my gun, ammo, or my holster is empty.
  • I fire and fire and the rounds do nothing.

I confess that I’ve had some of the above dreams in addition to these:

  • I’m no more than several feet from my adversary yet I’m unable to hit him.
  • Three or four individuals are attacking me and I don’t know where my gun is.
  • I see the muzzle flash, hear the loud report, and feel the impact of the round.

Psychology Today reports a huge disparity in sleep among those with PTSD related nightmares compared with those who don’t suffer from PTSD:

  • Increased REM sleep activity
  • Decreased total sleep time
  • Increased number and duration of nocturnal awakening
  • Decreased deep sleep
  • Increased periodic leg movements during both REM and NREM sleep

A study found that in the USA, two-thirds of officers involved in shootings suffer moderate or severe problems, and about 70% leave the job within seven years of the incident. Cops rank third among occupations in premature death rates, and twice as many die by their own hands as are killed in the line of duty. Sleep problems because of traumatic incidents often lead to alcohol and drug abuse which can affect work performance and personal relationships. All of which lead to possible suicides.

I submit that for as many cops that are diagnosed with PTSD, there exists a similar number that are not diagnosed. Why? They fear being passed over for promotion, PTSD may make them appear weak, or a cop may think he’ll likely be fired if he’s diagnosed and the bosses find out. Thus, for those who are not diagnosed and do not receive counseling, the nightmares continue unabated. 


If one receives standard PTSD treatment, nightmares often get better or at least reoccur less frequently. A common treatment for nightmares is Imagery Rehearsal Therapy (IRT). The individual, while awake, changes how the nightmare ends so that it no longer upsets them. Next, the person replays repeatedly in their minds the new dream with the non-scary ending. The research shows IRT can reduce the frequency of the nightmares. Also, high levels of sleep-disordered breathing have been seen in trauma survivors. In one study, patients given a treatment to improve their breathing during sleep no longer had violent, scary dreams.

Dr. Barry Krakow is the director of the Maimonides International Nightmare Treatment Center in Albuquerque, N.M. He says, “Studies show that 70-80% of people who try IRT get significant relief.” Krakow is one of the researchers who worked on the JAMA study and the author of four books on sleep medicine. Both easy to learn and use, IRT can be mastered in a few hours. Then one only need to use the technique for a few minutes a day for a matter of days or weeks.

Dr. Krakow describes a 3-Step approach to nightmare control:

  1. Briefly describe a recent nightmare.
  2. Think of a way to change the nightmare.
  3. Visit the altered version of the nightmare each day by painting a mental picture of it.

Sound simple? It is, and according to Dr. Krakow when he explains it to his patients, “it’s almost like they think the process is disrespecting them.”

You may wonder, “Can’t I just take a pill?” Unfortunately, not much research exists on the use of drugs to treat nightmares from trauma. A drug named ‘prazosin’ has been found to reduce symptoms, and more research on the drug is being conducted.

Nightmares can be costly in the long run, ruining careers and relationships. Not getting sufficient sleep or quality sleep is harmful. Cops need to be on top of their game every second they’re on the street. If you have problems with nightmares, don’t wait until it’s too late. Get help, NOW.

–John Wills
Award-winning Author/Freelance Writer
Member: National Book Critics Circle
Latest novel: THE STORM
Read my articles  on and Law Enforcement Technology


photo of Dave Cropp

David Cropp

The unfortunate tragedy of recent shootings leaves many in law enforcement practicing active-shooter scenarios and scrambling for answers.  We all pray that tragedies like this don’t come to our towns but we must prepare as if they will. For most of us, the holidays are a time for family, friends and reflective compassion—a time to detach from needless violence and focus on our blessings. But for some, the holidays are a memory of abuse, trauma and neglect. Charles Manson just died (good riddance). I was not surprised to read about the trauma and neglect he was exposed to as a kid. I had never studied this animal—didn’t want to know anything about him, but now that I do I can say that his childhood exposure to abuse was predictable.

Politics and political posturing aside, we don’t arrive on this planet wired for abuse, but, sadly, our brains assimilate an abusive environment for neurologically built-in primitive survival and adaptability. While not all kids exposed to abuse go on the become abusers—many do. An interesting article in the Washington Post (by Rachel Louise Snyder) discusses the link between DV-related strangulation and shooting violence.  She cites well-known advocate Gael Strack, CEO of the Training Institute on Strangulation Prevention in San Diego as saying: “ … the mere presence of strangulation in a situation of domestic abuse increases the chances of homicide sevenfold.”

Specialized law enforcement training in domestic violence improves officer safety as well as the delivery of services, and makes our towns safer for victims and families. Family is the foundation influence for a civil, productive society—or the foundational influence for horrific abuse and needless violence. We do arrive on this planet wired to look to our family for love, guidance and support. If we don’t get it there, we may look for it from extended family, friends, and even first responders who ae called to intervene.

This holiday season I am mindful of this familial influence, and I appreciate all of the wonderful families out there doing the right thing. I am also mindful of those brave men and women who are our first responders—who intervene when a crisis calls, and who their best to address the realities of family violence. They’ve had their hands full this year. This season, I want to embrace this mindfulness. I want to appreciate those loving families doing the best they can and to advocate for victims and children not so lucky. I am truly blessed.

–David Cropp,
Award winning writer:
“Valley Heat”
Police One 


photo of John Eldridge

John Eldridge

A police friend of mind challenged me about second careers for street cops. “There aren’t many jobs for retired police officers,” he said. That got me thinking about what opportunities are out there other than the ones I pursued.

“It depends on what you want to do,” a retired police officer said when I asked him about the best jobs for retired cops. That makes sense. We each have our own interests and ideas for what to do when our police career ends. Some want a full time new career, others a part-time job.

I looked around to see where former cops are working and talked to some that have gone on to second careers.

These are jobs I found retired cops working at right now.. After they retired from policing some started their own investigations firms. Others hired on with PI companies that were already established.

Security: After a full police career, a natural second career would be in co

Private Investigator: This is an obvious follow-up to a career in police investigations. Many private investigators got their start in police organizations corporate security. But a friend of mine who did so reminded me the job is much more than rattling door knobs now. He took some training and got certified as a security professional. If this field interests you, check out ASIS International for all the latest in security training and certification at

Workers’ Compensation or Insurance Investigations: Two areas of investigation. One is fraud-related investigating suspicious compensation claims. The other is fatal and serious injury investigations in the workplace. I worked in this field after my police career and many of our investigators were retired police officers.

Author/Speaker: Who has better stories than cops? There’s a great organization called the Public Safety Writers Association where police authors can find support and share their experiences. Here’s a link.

Realtor: A friend of mine became a realtor after he retired from policing. He told me that you’d be surprised about how many of your police skills are used in dealing with people selling or purchasing a home. He said either of those transactions can be very stressful for those involved and sometimes it takes all his police skills to keep them calm as they go through it.

College Instructor: For all you police officers who are involved in training, this is a good next stop after your police career, especially if you have academic credentials.

Human Resources Advisor: A retired police officer I know got started in police HR and went on from there to work in corporate HR. He did some extra HR training before he left police work.

Long-haul Truck Driver: A pal of mine retired from policing and had always had a dream to be a long-haul truck driver. He took some training after retiring from policing and spent several years driving all over North America. For him it was living the dream.

VIP Security/Chauffer/Personal Driver: If you’re a police officer you’ll be able to see the connection between your police skills and this type of work. Executive protection is an interesting part of the security business.

Small Ferry Boat Operator: A senior police executive wanted to do something completely different from the endless demands of leading a police department. This job certainly meets that need.

A few more ways retired police have made a living: rancher, gun smith, therapist for first responders, high school sports coach, doorman at a high-end hotel, and chief of a smaller department.

“I thought it was the last job I’d ever have,” said Tim Dees, a retired police officer. Then he went on to eight different jobs after he left policing.

What do you want to do? Take some time when you’re still in your police career to think about it. A lot of street cops want to work after they retire, but not under the same working conditions a police officer puts up with. Plan ahead. Get some idea what you want to do. Train and upgrade your credentials if necessary. There’s a second career out there if you want it.

–John Eldridge
Retired police officer
Author of Second Careers for Street Cops


Quinton Peterson has a new book out, The Voynich Gambit.

“The Voynich Gambit is a meticulously drawn-out caper that retains suspense even during the planning stage.” – Kirkus Reviews

Special Police Officer Lt. Norman Blalock, who has been guarding the treasures of the Folger Shakespeare Library for 25 years, has been coerced into a plot to heist from the Folger Museum “the most mysterious book in the world,” the Voynich Manuscript, on loan from Yale University. Under threat of suffering the consequences of their involvement in the botched plot to heist another priceless artifact from the Folger underground bank vault several months earlier, Blalock and his partner-in-crime Kavitha Netram are once again under the thumb of nefarious businessman Rupert Whyte, and have no choice but to play along.


Shots Fired: The misunderstandings, misconceptions, and myths about police shootings

Joseph K Loughlin and Kate Clark Flora
Skyhorse Publishing
ISBN: 978-1-5107-2276-7

Today’s media is filled with discussions about officer-involved shootings. Too often missing from that discussion are the police offers’ voices and the reality of what happens in actual shooting incidents. Through interviews with involved officers, this book addresses common myths and misunderstandings about these shootings.

Shots Fired is a journey “behind the shield” which highlights the experiences of real human beings in the line of fire. It explores true events through the participant’s own eyes and takes readers inside the minds of officers during the actual event.

Along with the intimate, in-depth explorations of the incidents themselves, the book touches the aftermath of police-involved shootings–the debriefings, internal and external investigations, and psychological evaluations. It challenges many commonly held assumptions created by the media such as the meaning of “unarmed” and why the police can’t just “shoot him in the leg,” creating an understanding that reaches beyond slogans such as “hands up, don’t shoot.”

And also from Kate Flora:

Death Warmed Over – the 8th Thea Kozak mystery
ISBN: 978-1-61417-969-6

Arriving to view what will hopefully be her dream home, Thea Kozak finds her real estate agent, Ginger Stevens, tied to a chair, surrounded by fiery space heaters. Just before the woman dies, she utters the indistinct words: Bobby. So Long. Safe. Sorry.

Than a stranger, claiming to be Ginger’s boyfriend, corners Thea, demanding a package that Ginger gave her, a package Thea never received.

Determined to get justice for Ginger, Thea begins her own investigation. Ginger’s colleagues know little about her, her apartment has been sanitized, and Ginger Stevens in the name of a child who died many years ago. The police no idea who real-estate agent Ginger Stevens really is.

Thea is sure the two men following her know Ginger’s true identity, and will stop at nothing to keep her from uncovering the truth behind the woman’s dying words.


Another Kind of Hero by Lynn Hess
Desert Breeze Publishing
Publishing Date: September, 2017

A casket full of drugs and money inside the Pick’n Pay in Forsyth, Georgia, plus a ghost, put dissimilar sisters and a DEA agent in jeopardy.

The Kendall sisters, Helen and Mavis, are at odds on how to help a “young thing” protect herself and her job at the Pick’n Pay in Forsyth, Georgia. Cameras are installed and calamities happen even before DEA Agent Daniel McMurphy, AKA Dewey Blackmon, arrives on a motorcycle and complicates matters with his spunky African-American truck-driver girlfriend, Cora Justin Dupont. Wanda, the ghost, acts as an opinionated narrator with good intentions and helps the sisters pass along intel to Dewey about a drug pipeline operating off I-75. A funeral parlor director and his ex-wife are just two of the “bad guys” Wanda can hear talking through the phone lines and portable phones. Small-town America is rocking and rolling in criminal activity in Forsyth, Georgia, and there isn’t any shortage of murders, but good-hearted people, plus a ghost, save the day.

Member Lynn Hess is the 2015 First Place Winner, Oak Tree Press, Cop Tales for her mystery, “Well of Rage”. She has a law enforcement background and writes her character-driven stories with an ear for dialogue and an affinity for plot twists set in rich southern culture. She empowers and adds humor when she can and sheds light on the gray layers of life. She is a performance artist and member of Beacon Dance, Atlanta InterPlay SoulPrint Players, and Dancing Flowers for Peace. Her flower persona is “The Dandelion”. She lives in Stone Mountain.


And this note came in from member, Pete Klismet:

Last month I agreed to and signed a contract with a publisher in China! Of all places. It was an interesting contrivance of events which came together, but my Australian publisher of FBI Diary: Profiles of Evil was contacted by an Asian publisher, who offered me a ‘first print’ contract for 6,000 books.

And yes, of course they’re translating it into Chinese. I don’t know if that’s done yet, but I’m excited about the prospects. Here’s a copy of the new front cover with some Chinese on the front. I have no clue what it says!

PSWA Newsletter September 2017


photo of Michelle Perin

Michelle Perin

Greetings fellow writers,

So much is going on right now and it makes me super excited to be part of this association and a member of the public safety writing world. Through PSWA, we just finished our annual writing conference and although I couldn’t be there this year (I missed you all terribly) I heard it was again “the best one ever.” This seems to be becoming a theme. No surprise as the organizers, especially Conference Chair Mike Black, work hard to make sure that the program provides everything most people need including writing and public safety topics. No other conference can boast the diversity of presentations and panels that we do in this area. Also a shout out to Nancy Farrar and her minions for making sure all the logistics were taken care of. The Orleans continues to be a financially reasonable, options rich venue and we’re happy to partner with them. If you weren’t able to make the conference this year, start planning for next July as we’ll be providing this cozy, invaluable networking and learning opportunity once again.

I would be remiss if I didn’t again congratulate all of the 2017 PSWA Writing Competition winners. Another crop of new and veteran writers are once again able to slap those “Award Winning Author” stickers on their work, their blog, their website, their publisher’s pages, wherever. Remember the name of our game is promotion, promotion, promotion. Even though the contest just ended, this is a good time to start thinking about next year. Start writing or editing your masterpieces and plan on entering in 2018.

Just a word about where I’m at because I love to be able to share my writing world with all of you. I’m continuing to write my bi-monthly columns for, one on Juvenile Justice and one on Communications. I regularly contribute feature articles for Law Enforcement Technology Magazine. I write fundraising letters and PSAs for the local ferret shelter. I’m in discussions with a tech company about providing marketing materials. AND, I am in the writing phase of my book, 911 Dispatchers: Inside the Lives of the Forgotten First Responders and their Families. I let myself become a bit undisciplined over the last 6 months, I’m afraid, but I’ve rededicated myself and am scheduling one hour a day to sit down and do my writing.

If I focused as much on this as I do exercise I could write a book every 6 months. I’m sure I’m not alone in this especially among those of us who still work a day job (or two). Anyway, I truly believe that writing is a calling and that is why no matter what I do or how I fill my days there is a voice in the back of my head ordering me to get thoughts on paper. So, I’m trying to listen. As fall slowly edges out my supreme Pacific Northwest summer, I envision crisp, clear days curled up with my computer sharing my story with the world. I hope I’ll have PSWA company throughout the US and Canada joining me in spirit as we plaster the world with our words.

Until next time keep writing.

Michelle Perin, President


John Schembra

Stepping In

A couple of months before the 2017 PSWA conference we, the Board of Directors, were advised by President Michelle Perin that due to her work obligations she would regrettably be unable to attend the event. That meant that as the Vice President the MC duties fell upon my shoulders. Wait, what? I had been the VP for all of maybe three months and instant panic set it. What, exactly, were the MC duties?   Would I be effective and engaging? Would I make a complete mess of it, or would chaos ensue due to my pitiful efforts?

So, relying on the expertise of our former and current president, I learned what I needed to do and, more importantly, the importance of keeping the pace of the conference consistent and on schedule, which is a lot like trying to herd cats!

I found out that the MC role was the easiest part of the position. I quickly learned that there is so much more going on in the background that requires the board’s attention, that in spite of the months of work our conference committee puts into organizing this great event, nothing ever goes as smoothly as we anticipate. There were constant problems and flare-ups that needed to be handled to keep the conference on course. Thank goodness we have the best people on the committee.

Tim Dees is an absolute wizard when it comes to electronics setup and control. Whatever problems popped up, which always seemed to happen at the most inopportune moments, Tim was on it immediately and managed to fix it quickly.

Mike Black selected and organized the wonderful panels and speakers, a very intense and stressful job. We had speakers and panelists that had to withdraw due to illness or other reasons at the last minute yet Mike handled each adversity quickly, assuring that the program did not suffer from these unexpected situations.

Nancy Farrar is our event contact with the Orleans Hotel and would constantly handle all the small, and sometimes large, problems with the hotel’s conference staff who would quickly correct those problems, whether adjusting the room temperature or getting water and coffee setup to problems with the catering. By the way, kudos to the hotel event staff for their constant and complete attention to our needs. They were very attentive and responsive to our needs and exhibited true professionalism. They were a behind the scenes reason why the conference ran so smoothly.

I think the single most important thing I learned is that our conference committee is dedicated to producing the best conference possible and are unselfishly working hard to accomplish that. It is a year round voluntary job that requires a lot of time and effort, yet I did not hear anyone complain. I was amazed at how much effort is needed in organizing the conference and how much goes on behind the scenes, as I had no idea prior to becoming a board member. There are several others who deserve a shout out, including our keynote speakers, panelists, moderators, and bookstore staff, too many to mention individually but you know who you are and you deserve a hearty thank you.

Everything I learned from being the MC merely confirmed that I am truly happy to be a part of this great organization as a board member and author. Not only is our conference of great value, and fun, but I feel I have made many friends through the years and have honed my writing skills for the better.

Hope to see you all at the 2018 conference!

John Schembra

Vice President 


Michael A. Black

Mike Black

Well, the 12th annual PSWA Conference, informally known as the “Dynamic Dozen,” is now one for the history books, and let me tell you, it was a doozy. Despite a bunch of unforeseen problems that popped up, the post-conference evaluations rated this one as one of the best ever. If you missed it, I feel sorry for you, but don’t fret. I’ll tell you at the end of this one who the mysterious Gus Pleblesly was.

But first, let me give you a review, for the benefit of those who could not attend.

On Thursday morning at 9:00 AM we opened with the pre-conference workshop. Marilyn Meredith, Mar Preston, and I held this intensive and personalized workshop for seven individuals. As always with a session like this, I learned a few new tricks as well, even though I was one of the instructors. This butted up against the check-in procedure, which I handled at 3:00 PM. By the time the evening get-acquainted party began, I was ready to collapse.

The conference officially began at 9:00 the next morning, with opening remarks by Master of Ceremony, John Schembra. John did a bang-up job and set the tone of excellence that was to follow. Our very own Ron Corbin was our first speaker and talked about CPTED, aka Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design. Ron detailed so many interesting concepts with this presentation that I was enthralled, as were those in the audience. There were a lot of good tips in this one that could be applied to your writing and your life.

The panels opened up with yours truly doing the moderating. As promised, I told my old Dean Martin joke about the grasshopper that walks into a bar and orders a scotch and soda. The stunned silence after I’d delivered the punch line reminded me that I was no Dino, but I quickly added, “It was funny when Dean Martin told it.” We opened up with some good stories about police work and got some personal perspectives on what it’s like to walk the walk.

As I previously mentioned, we did have a few mishaps. Fabulous Marcia Rosen was recovering from an unexpected illness and could not attend. Having already sent a set of great workbooks to augment her presentation on Marketing Your Work, Marcia’s son, Jory, graciously came to Vegas a day early and substituted for his mom. Jory turned out to be a very engaging speaker both in his fill-in role and in delivering his own presentation the next day, “The Key to Pitching Your Book in Hollywood.” Jory, who has his own public relations firm in LA, showed us some very intriguing video presentations which his firm created that led to a movie deal.

Mar Preston’s solo presentation, “Writing and Editing Your Mystery,” gave the lowdown on completing your book by taking the audience through the writing process from the beginning, middle, and end as well as providing a comprehensive overview and explanation of the underlying structure of the mystery novel.

Both of these presentations got rave reviews on the evaluations.

We had industry professionals Austin Camacho (Intrigue Press) and Geno Munari (Houdini Press) on hand for our publisher’s panel. Susan Moore was also on the panel giving her perspective on helping writers in self-publishing ventures.

Our now-famous radio play on Saturday evening this year once again featured our real life intrepid crime scene scientist, Steve Scarborough, as his fictional counterpart, Ellery Queen. Steve and the PSWA Players performed “The Mystery of the Circus Train” to the delight of the audience.

All of the panels received rave reviews on the evaluation sheets, and I concur. As usual, we had a great combination of public safety professionals and experienced writers giving invaluable advice. Space prevents me from going into more detail regarding the panels, but suffice it to say, they were all top notch. Our final panel on Sunday included an actual audio recording of a police shooting that our own Tim Dees was involved in during his time with Reno PD. The audience was riveted as Tim described the steps of how the incident occurred, and what he was thinking. With the group we had on stage for this panel, I’d have to say that those who had to leave early missed the best panel of the conference.

We missed beautiful Michelle Perin, our PSWA President at the awards presentation this year, but we’ve got her on notice to be at the next one. Once again, John Schembra stepped up to do the job and made the presentations. My congratulations to all the winners. In the words of my Uncle Dede, “They all done good.”

Well, things are already percolating for next year’s big affair, our 13th, which I’ve already tagged “The Baker’s Dozen.” Plan on being there, and if you have any ideas, I’ll be glad to hear them.

Oh, I almost forgot about the elusive Gus Pleblesly… If you didn’t already know, he was one of the three main characters in Joseph Wambaugh’s great novel, The New Centurions. Gus was called “the runner” in the first chapter about the police academy because he was the only recruit who could keep up with the extremely fit instructor. Like I said, he could’ve given Bruce Jenner a run for his money.

–Michael A. Black, Program Chair


photo of Ron Corbin

Ron Corbin

I was privileged to be one of this year’s conference presenters. My topic was on Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, commonly referred to as CPTED and pronounced SEP-ted. For those in attendance, you’ll remember that I left you to ponder some common CPTED problems. I thought this newsletter would be a good means of addressing these issues while things are still semi-fresh on your mind.

For those of you who couldn’t make the conference, and have no idea what I’m talking about, go to this part of my Web page and look for a series of CPTED articles.


The topics of those things left for discussion were:

  • The “Three-7” Rule In Landscaping
  • Slowing Neighborhood Speeders
  • Speed Bumps–A Better Design
  • Tilting Apartment Carport Covers
  • Which Way Should Pool Gates Swing–Inward or Outward?
  • Pros and Cons of Fencing Types

So if Marilyn decides to allow me a second article and without “hogging” the PSWA Newsletter, I am going to talk about one of these CPTED issues. I will use it as a teaser for future newsletters and follow-up discussion.

The “Three-7” Rule in Landscaping

Most criminals don’t want to be seen in the commission of their criminal act. This definitely applies to home burglars. One way that you can reduce the opportunity for burglary is to practice the “Three-7” rule for landscaping your house or business…especially in front of windows.

Trim all the shrubbery and bushes around your residence so that they are no taller than three feet in height. Cut low-hanging tree branches so they are at least seven feet or higher. What this provides is a clear zone or space with an open view to your house or business. It takes away a natural hiding obstruction for burglars trying to break into your structure.

Look for more of these CPTED tips in coming newsletters. And if you have specific questions about a certain nuisance or crime reduction issue, feel free to contact me at

Stay Safe!

Ron Corbin

Author of Award Winning “Beyond Recognition”


photo of Vicki Weisfeld

Vicki Weisfeld

Preparing for a panel on “short stories” for June’s Deadly Ink conference for mystery/crime writers, I studied the stack of five print publications in which my work has appeared this past year. This was in lieu of doing any actual preparation, you might suspect. I realized each of them had a publication lesson for me—and possibly other authors. So here goes:

Don’t Dismiss Limited-Circulation Outlets

Five of the last six years I’ve had a story in the U.S. 1 Summer Fiction Issue. Yes, it reaches a small audience, but at a max of 2000 words, the time investment in these stories isn’t massive and I keep the rights (more on that later).

The benefits: reminding myself at least someone thinks my work is good enough to invest ink and paper in, the satisfaction of meeting an actual deadline—in creative work you sometimes need an end-point—and, best of all, cultivating a local group of writer friends for support and commiseration. My 2016 story: “What Would Jimmy Stewart Do?”

Prepare for Rejection

Are you thrown into a funk that’s hard to crawl out of when a story’s rejected? Take heart from realizing that all short story outlets today receive far more “publishable” material—stories they like—than they have room for. The literary magazine Glimmer Train, which has given several of my non-mystery stories a thumbs-down, publishes about 60 stories a year. The editors receive 32,000 submissions. Those 60 stories may be fantastic, but they simply cannot be the absolute “best” ones.

I expect rejection. And I plan for it. When a story of mine comes back from outlet x, I read it through, fix anything obvious, and right away send it to outlet y, then z. Last year, I sent a rejected story to a new outlet whose editors want to feature female protagonists. They accepted it gladly, and eventually, it won a Derringer Award from the Short Mystery Fiction Society. You can read that story—“Breadcrumbs”—here.

[Ms. Weisfeld’s website is being repaired, but you can read about that story—“Breadcrumbs”—here until she is able to post it again. — Web Wrangler Mystii]

Timing, Timing, Timing

Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine is one of the premier, if not the premier outlet for short mystery fiction. I wanted another story of mine in it. So last spring, I wrote a Christmas-themed story, hoping they’d want it for the annual Holiday issue. I sent it in June, to give them plenty of time to think about it. Planning for rejection, even if they turned it down in their usual six to eight weeks (ask me how I know!), I’d have time to submit it elsewhere. They did not, and it appeared in the January-February 2017 “’Tis the Season” issue.

Meet the Requirements

I know writers who become so wrapped up in writing “their” story that they ignore editors’ guidance on the theme, length, and so on. Dissect calls for submissions for clues to what they’re looking for. Don’t expect to be the exception, and don’t make it easy for editors to reject your work! I wanted to submit a story to an anthology about police work. I had such a story in mind. A 6,200-word story. The editors’ limit was 5,000. I liked those 1,200 words, but they went the way of the blue pencil (and the story was probably better for it). It was published in April.

Mine Your Backlist

Novelists have a “backlist” of books published in past years. Short story writers do too. When I see an outlet looking for a theme I’ve written on, I check whether the editor will accept reprints. Last October an online magazine republished one of my U.S. 1 stories that had a Halloween theme; I own those rights, remember? In April, a minor edit to a story published in a lit magazine (rights also mine) tailored it for an anthology. Taking advantage of these opportunities puts your work in front of new people and is a refreshing glass of water in the desert of seeming indifference.

Getting a short story published entails more than a small amount of luck, but if you’ve written a great story, you can increase the odds it will reach readers by being strategic about when, where, and how you engage with potential publishers.

By Vicki Weisfeld


pic of Mar Preston

Mar Preston

Supporting Characters

Many law enforcement investigators have partners. But not all. You may not need many supporting characters if you have an active partner, confidante, or love interest. But make every character in your book individual and note-worthy, even if it’s just a clerk in the registry office. For example, the clerk is wearing a Support Our Troops button and yanks the papers out of your protagonist’s hand, demanding payment in a Brooklyn accent. Every character may not further the plot, but don’t be content with generic characters like “a woman” or “the clerk” or “the driver.” Unless your character count is piling up and you’re aware that the reader could become confused.

Work to give each person mentioned in the course of your story a suggested backstory. It only takes a few deft strokes. For example, the clerk your detective talks to who has a side business in fire extinguishers.

Witnesses: Somebody had to see something, even in those mysteries where nobody saw nuthin’. They may step forward willingly or have to be smoked out during the investigation. A witness may be one of your red herrings or develop into an actual suspect.

Witnesses can be telling the truth or lying. Play with the lie idea a bit. Misinformation and misdirection can have your detective doing surveillance until 3 a.m. peeing in a bottle, or driving 90 miles on a fruitless quest while the killer is up to no good back at the ranch.

Experts: Investigators depend on information gleaned from outside experts, medical people, law enforcement, or even the DMV. Databases are wonderful and many can be purchased, but a private detective often needs somebody on the inside of an agency to run searches for her. Remember that no database is free of error or up-to-date. Experts can make mistakes. There’s a plot idea to run with.

Where Do You Get Character Ideas?

If you are not already a watcher and a note taker, this is the time to start. The next time you’re in a crowd, notice what kind of shoes people have on. If you’re not a young person, take notes on the clothes the twenty-somethings are wearing. If you’re young, notice the tops and hairstyles of older women. Could you describe the clothes babies and toddlers are wearing nowadays? Describe the houses and apartment buildings nearby. A single block of the street where you live.

If you see or hear something interesting, write it down. Don’t think you’ll remember details. You won’t.

Write it down or sadly, it’s gone.

You might check out my EBook Creating Killer Characters available at Amazon. Cheap. It’s part of a series titled Writing Your First Mystery.

–Mar Preston


Marilyn Meredith

Though there are companies that will arrange a blog tour for you for a price, you can create a better one yourself. Of course, the planning needs to begin long before your book is going to be available.

Identifying the Blogs

Find the blogs that you like best that also host authors. You might want to see whether they have many followers, though I’ve not worried about this much. (Speaking for myself, a lot fewer people “follow” my blog than visit it regularly. — Vickie)

Approach each one and tell them a bit about your book and yourself and ask whether they would be willing to host you on your tour. If they say yes, then settle on a date, and keep good track of those dates!

Be sure the blogs you choose allow comments. And it’s best if they aren’t moderating the comments. (If they do moderate, ask them to be sure and do it often on the day you’ll appear on the blog.)

Crafting the Content of Your Posts

Find out what kind of post each host would like you to write for their blog—try to do something different for each one. Some may want to do an interview, and if you have a lot of those, it’s a good idea that after you cover the basics, you add some new information about yourself. Some blog owners have very particular ideas about what they want, be sure to follow their rules. In most cases, they’ll probably tell you to pick your own topic.

Some ideas for blog posts are: an interview with your main character—or the villain; 10 things no one knows about you; what gave you the idea for this particular book; what you are going to do to promote the book besides the blog tour; the setting for the story; your best writing tips; a description of the place where you write or any writing rituals you follow; and of course an excerpt or a first chapter of your book. If a blog host also wants to review the book, that’s great.

Every blog post you send out should include a short bio, a blurb about the book, all of your links including the one enabling readers to buy the book. Add as attachments the book cover graphic and a photo of yourself. I think it’s fun to send a different photo to some of the blogs just for variety.

Add a Contest?

To get people to visit all the blogs on your tour, you might plan a contest of some sort, with the winner being the person who leaves a comment on the most tour blogs. Some authors give away a copy of the book they are promoting, but since you’re having the tour to get people to buy the book, it’s better if you give away a different book or something else altogether. What’s worked well for me is to give the winner the opportunity to be a character in one of my mysteries.

The Successful Blog Tour: Doing It!

Implementation Steps

Be sure to proofread each one of your blog posts before you send it to the blog host. Send it ahead of time with a mention of the date it’s supposed to appear and ask the host to let you know whether they received everything.

Your work is not done once you have the tour set up and your posts on their way. You’ll want to make sure the post is up on the prearranged date. Sometimes there are problems. Though most blog hosts set up the post ahead of time to appear on the right day, one or two might not. Send a polite email reminder.

Every day of your tour, you must promote the blog you’ll be visiting. Send announcements to your friends, the lists that you’re on, and to all your social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, Facebook groups, etc.

Visit the blog and leave a thank-you. A few times during the day, check and see whether anyone has left a comment, and thank each one for visiting. If someone asks a question, be sure to answer it. This is important. It will make the difference if you ever want to do another guest spot on that particular blog. If you’re having a contest, keep track of commenters’ names and how many times they leave comments.

Does a Blog Tour Work?

I’m sure your biggest question is, does a blog tour work? If you mean does it result in sales, it’s kind of hard to determine, but I do know whenever I’ve been on a tour, my sales ranking on Amazon has improved—which is a good thing.

One last remark about blog tours, I think they are fun. To me, it’s a challenge to come up with new topics to write about for each blog. I also love going back to see who has visited. And remember, for all those who leave comments, there are many, many more who merely read the blog and didn’t write anything.

Blog tours are another way to get your name and information about your book in front of the public. And isn’t that what we are all trying to do?

–Marilyn Meredith


photo of Vicki Weisfeld

Vicki Weisfeld


Mystery and thriller writers are often advised to end chapters with a cliffhanger to propel the reader forward through the narrative, to create those page-turners, to make them read “just one more chapter.” Writing cliffhangers sounds like one of the easier bits of lore to follow, but it can be deceptively difficult to write good ones.


Simple Guidelines

  • Don’t repeat the same formula too often, like asking a question—Would the police arrive in time?  (I’d advise almost never using a question, but that’s me.)
  • Remember that something that sounds compelling to you, embroiled as you are in the fates of your characters, can come across as ho-hum obvious to the reader. In a new thriller about the search for a serial killer, one chapter ends with the head police investigator saying, “We have to find him.” Well, duh.
  • Include a hint of what’s to come. This can be done well or, in this case, badly: “As she stood alone on the once tranquil country lane, she had the distinct feeling that this peace was about to be brutally shattered.” That’s the author strolling into the scene and explaining. Reader responds, “I hope so. This is a thriller!”
  • A good general rule to write on a post-it and stick it to your computer screen is this, then: never be cheesy. If you find you’ve written a cliffhanger that’s no more than a transparent attempt to ramp up the tension, better to delete it. I’ve jettisoned plenty of them.


Although the movie The Perks of Being a Wallflower would have you think differently, Dickens did not invent the term cliffhanger (though he certainly used it). That honor goes to Thomas Hardy, whose serialized novel A Pair of Blue Eyes left protagonist Henry Knight hanging off a cliff, from whence he reviewed the history of the world.

Because Charles Dickens also serialized his novels, with people in England mobbing the newsstands and Americans clamoring for arriving ships to unload the publications containing the next chapters, I figure he knew a thing or two about writing an effective cliffhanger, one that would kindle enough interest in readers to last a week or even longer. If you have any Dickens lying around, check him out.

Learning from the Masters

The Victorian novelists who published serials—like Charles Dickens—had to create chapter endings that would bring readers back the next week or month. The successful ones became experts at it.

  • Thus, clinging fast to that slight spar (her infant child) within her arms, the (dying) mother drifted out upon the dark and unknown sea that rolls round all the world. Not: “She was dead.” By referencing the common fate of mankind, Dickens allies readers with the dying mother. Even in death, there is action; she is clinging and drifting.
  • And there, with an aching void in his young heart, and all outside so cold, and bare, and strange, Paul sat as if he had taken life unfurnished, and the upholsterer was never coming. Not: “What in the world was he going to do now?” Dickens gives Paul’s common dilemma an engaging and memorable treatment through a specific visual image, a metaphor for loneliness.
  • The Judge, whose eyes had gone in the general direction, recalled them, leaned back in his seat, and looked steadily at the man whose life was in his hand, as Mr. Attorney-General rose to spin the rope, grind the ax, and hammer the nails into the scaffold. Not: “Pronouncing a death sentence was never easy for him.” Dickens injects images of action, albeit fanciful—spinning, grinding, and hammering—into the reader’s mind. He doesn’t just describe the Judge’s passive mental activities: “pondering, contemplating, assessing.”
  • I put my light out and crept into bed, and it was an uneasy bed now, and I never slept the old sound sleep in it anymore. Not: “Pip tossed and turned all night.” Dickens lets you know something about Pip’s future here, but again, it is not all in his head, it’s tied to the physical reality of the light and the bed. It’s saying goodbye to childhood.

These are moments of high drama and great resonance with the reader. They are integral to the tale, not tacked-on contrivances. Note how specific they are. They contain physical actions, not just thoughts and feelings. And paradoxically, by being so specific, they achieve universality.

Modern writers don’t employ Dickens’s florid language, but they still can achieve an organic approach to cliffhangers. By organic, I mean an ending that grows out of the story and gives it somewhere to go.

  • They respected him, stopped watching him all the time. But he never stopped watching them. (This plants a seed of menace and tells readers something important about the character.)
  • Ma snorted, her nose and chin almost meeting as she screwed up her face. “How can you sit there and look Ruth in the eye and say you searched the dale? You’ve not been near the old lead mine workings.” (Up next: lead mine workings.)
  • “You’re not a monster. Well, except when you wake up with a hangover. It’ll be fine, George,” Anne soothed him. “It’s not as if the past holds any surprises, is it?” (An almost painful foreshadowing.)

There’s a vast difference between this last example and the weak one cited previously (“she had the distinct feeling that this peace was about to be brutally shattered”). In the negative example, the author simply reports a conclusion—head-work—of the protagonist. If readers have been paying attention to the story, they’ve already reached this same conclusion. And, if not, well, there are bigger problems . . .

By contrast, McDermid’s characters are engaged in conversation (action, not reflection). Their statements propel the story forward; readers know what the characters next will do (explore the lead mine workings) or be (surprised). They react with an Aha! Or even Uh-oh.

Don’t destroy your cliffhanger’s value of by using it to tell readers what they already know. Let them run on out ahead of you. That’s what makes reading fun.


The Dickens quotes, in order, are from Dombey and Son, end of Chapter 1, Dombey and Son, end of Chapter 11, A Tale of Two Cities, Book II, end Chapter 2, and Great Expectations, Chapter 18.

The modern quotes are from Bill Beverly, Dodgers, end Chapter 18; Val McDermid, A Place of Execution, Part 1, end Chapter 13; Ibid., Book 2, Part 1, end Chapter 3.

–Vicki Weisfeld


photo of John Wills

John Wills

Recently, while I was researching the subject of firearms training I came across something very interesting. I happened upon Force Science News #280, and was stunned to learn about a study conducted at Ohio State University whose outcome indicated that those who play violent video games involving violent shooting, heighten the individual’s firing accuracy. Moreover, these types of games influence the game players to make head shots, rather than shots at center mass.

I’ve never played these types of games, but I’ve watched others play them. Two games in particular, Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto, seem particularly violent but also quite realistic. There is a never-ending array of bad guys, and the game player must be quick to engage them with deadly accuracy. Making too many shots on one adversary puts a player in danger of being shot themselves by other opponents. Thus, many players are conditioned to make head shots since those automatically register as a kill. Ohio State Doctors Jodi Whitaker and Brad Bushman theorize that this conditioned behavior by players means they are “… more likely to repeat this behavior outside of the video game context.”

The Study

The study involved 151 student volunteers, half of which were white males. The group was randomly divided among three activities:

  • A violent shooting game with realistic humanoid targets
  • A non-violent game shooting bulls-eye targets
  • A non-violent non-shooting game for 20 minutes

Each shooting group fired 300 rounds using either the standard push button game controllers or a pistol shaped controller in which the trigger was the firing mechanism. When the participants finished their assigned activity, they were each given an Airsoft training pistol that approximated the weight, feel, and recoil of a real 9mm pistol. Then each student was required to fire 16 rounds at a mannequin positioned 20 feet away down a narrow hallway.


  • Students that played the violent shooting game not only had the most hits on the mannequin, but they also had 99% more head shots than the others.
  • Students playing the non-violent non-shooting game had the fewest head hits and fewest hits elsewhere.
  • Results were not affected by any previous firearms experience.

The doctors were quick to point out that the study does not mean “that a person who plays violent shooting games is more likely to fire a real gun at a person.” However, “if such a person were to fire a gun, he or she would fire more accurately and be more likely to aim for the head.”

The study is available (for a fee) in the journal “Communication Research” under the title: “Boom, Headshot Effect of Video Game Play and Controller Type on Firing Aim and Accuracy.”

After digesting the study and its results, the question that automatically popped into my mind was, “Do these types of violent games cause people to commit crimes?” According to a report by the American Psychological Association (APA), the research is insufficient to draw the conclusion that violent games cause crime. However, there is marked aggression in those who play, but it doesn’t follow that playing the games leads to criminal behavior.

Research has concluded that more than 90% of children play video games, and 85% of those games contain some violence. That notwithstanding, a task force found that while aggression increased, video games alone can’t explain this aggression. It seems the aggression is a result of an “accumulation of risk factors.” These factors include depression, delinquency or academic problems, and antisocial behavior.

Ohio State University’s Brad J. Bushman has done extensive work on violent media, to include games and aggression. He disagrees with APA conclusion of no link between violent video games and violent behavior. However, he said, “One can never know for sure whether playing violent video games causes violent criminal behavior because it is unethical for researchers to allow participants to engage in violent criminal behavior in their laboratory experiments.” An article by CBS News on this topic can be found here.

The other question that came to mind was, Might we in LE better hone our own firearms skills by utilizing these types of video games? It seems more thugs are wearing ballistic vests, and we’re wasting shots to center mass. Think about it.

John M. Wills


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photo of Ron Corbin

Ron Corbin

Oh &#^%! … A Cop’s Behind Me!

This is the fifth and last article in a series of safe driving tips.

What do these people have in common?

  • John Allen Muhammed: Washington, D.C. Sniper
  • Timothy McVeigh: Oklahoma City Bomber
  • Ted Bundy: Serial Rapist, Kidnapper, Killer
  • Warren Jeffs: FBI Top 10 Most Wanted
  • Michael M. Bradley: Murder Suspect
  • Chester Stiles: Child Rapist/Fugitive
  • Joel Rifkin: Serial Killer

Read this article first and I’ll give you the answer at the end. No cheating by scrolling down. That would be like reading the last chapter of your book, first.

Over the past few years, there seems to be so many incidents of police shootings after a traffic stop. Without discussing social culture issues, I just want to briefly touch on what a driver needs to do when they see those red and blue flashing lights in their rear view mirror.

No Such Thing as a Routine Traffic Stop

When a police officer observes a traffic offense, they never know if the driver is “Joe Citizen” or “Joe Wanted and Dangerous.” So, when an officer decides to pull over a vehicle, they have to go into a protective mode to be on high alert. Without this knowledge, an additional amount of mental stress is placed on the officer. For more in depth information, go to:

But my purpose for this article is not to focus on the officer. I want to give some advice for how you can make the traffic stop safer for you, your passengers, and the officer.

The Traffic Violation

I know that getting stopped by the police is stressful. Whether or not you think that you have broken any traffic laws or infractions, the main thing to remember is that police officers don’t know who you are. They don’t know who your passengers are. What they do know is that many officers are killed each year during traffic stops; either by the driver, their passenger, or another distracted motorist who collides into them on the side of the road. So, getting pulled over is not the time to do anything verbally or physically to place more stress on the situation.

An officer has basically four options when they see a traffic violator:

First, they have the choice as to whether they will even make an attempt to stop the driver. They may be dispatched to a higher priority call for service and have to let you get a “free pass” this time.

The second option is that when the officer does elect to stop you, he has the third option and authority to give you a warning…which is basically another “free pass” this time. A warning, however, usually depends on the attitude of the driver and whether they seem repentant for their misdeed.

Lastly, the officer can elect to issue a citation…a ticket. Some citations are major (e.g., speeding, running stop signs and red lights, speeding in school and construction zones, etc.). These can really hurt your “wallet,” driving record, and insurance rates. Others can be simply “fix-it” tickets (e.g., broken tail light, worn tires, expired registration, etc.) and issued more as a demand for safety and ensure you will adhere to the repair.

Occasionally and in certain circumstances, an arrest will be made, which technically becomes the officer’s fifth option after a traffic stop.

The Actual Stop

When you see those red and blue lights in your mirror and it appears that you are the object of the officer’s attention, flip on your flashing emergency lights and start immediately moving over to the right as safely as possible. Most other drivers will let you merge in front of them, probably because they are glad that it is you getting stopped and not them. If you can, pull over and park into a parking lot. Officers feel a lot safer when they can approach your vehicle without worrying about getting hit by another car.

After you stop and place the gear in “park,” and turn off the engine. DO NOT make any other excessive movements with your hands or body, keep your hands on top of the steering wheelDO NOT fumble through your purse, or dig into your rear pants pocket to retrieve your wallet for your ID or driver’s license. DO NOT lean over to the glove compartment in order to find your registration slip and proof of insurance. DO NOT mess with the radio, your cell phone, or put on your seat belt. It’s probably too late anyway for these things and the officer just gets more anxious and nervous with all your added motions when he is walking up to your car. Tell your passengers to sit still, not make any sudden movements, and continue to face forward. I understand that this is sometimes hard for small children.

The only thing that I would suggest before the officer approaches is for you to roll down your driver’s side window so that you can hear any commands the officer makes. If it is raining, slightly roll down your window a couple inches in order to hear the officer speak.

Now is Not the Time to Argue

Once the officer has approached, he will most likely greet you with his name, department, and ask for your driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance. This is not the time to get into a Q&A discussion with him. DO NOT ask what you did wrong. Just comply with his requests. Before doing all these things, tell him your intentions; that you are reaching over to the glove compartment: that you have to open your purse: that you have to remove your wallet from your rear pocket.

At some point, he will tell you the reason that he stopped you. If you disagree with his observation and reason for stopping you or have a good reason why you committed the alleged violation, calmly state it. DO NOT debate or argue with him. If adamant that you have been “wronged” by the officer’s observation, you will have the opportunity to plead your case before a traffic court judge.

If I had to give one single piece of advice for making your traffic stop safe, it would be simply…JUST COMPLY!

Oh yes, one more thing. What do all these people have in common?

  • John Allen Muhammed: Washington, D.C. Sniper
  • Timothy McVeigh: Oklahoma City Bomber
  • Ted Bundy: Serial Rapist, Kidnapper, Killer
  • Warren Jeffs: FBI Top 10 Most Wanted
  • Michael M. Bradley: Murder Suspect
  • Chester Stiles: Child Rapist/Fugitive
  • Joel Rifkin: Serial Killer

All were captured during “routine” traffic stops.

Until the next time, Drive Safely!

Ron Corbin


Jim Guigli

At this year’s PSWA Conference someone (Gino Munari, I think) made a great suggestion: put a QR code on your book covers that leads to your website. Someone picking up your book can see your website instantly appear on their smart phone screen by scanning the code with a QR-code-reading app. This QR code should also be on your bookmarks and postcards, and it can be put on T-shirts, baseball caps — wherever you might want.


QR for website

QR codes are certainly not new. I had a QR-code-reading app on my first smart phone, an iPhone 4. But it didn’t work half the time. I stopped trying to make it work and forgot about it. But something changed, and now I have a QR-reading app that works wonderfully. I just open the app and hold my phone near the code — on paper or a computer screen — and buzz, rattle, it’s there. It can’t be simpler. The app I use is Scan – QR Code and Bar Code Reader by QR Code City. I did pay $1.99 for it, because my experience with “Free” apps is not great. (It is iPhone, not Android.) The App Store link is:

I’ll bet, if you spend the time, you can find a great QR-code-reading app — maybe free — for whatever phone you use.

Now, how do you make a QR code for your website? It’s easy. You use a QR Code generator.   Try:

I made this code for the PSWA website using this free site:

QR Code for the PSWA Website

There are other QR Code generators, too, some also free.

Good QR Coding to you!

–Jim Guigli


photo of Mar Preston

Mar Preston

That writing project which was once a lark, has turned sour. You may even be questioning if you really want to work this hard. Your characters have gone flat; the plot has fizzled out, and you haven’t a thought in your head about how to finish – or whether it’s even worth it.

What other life events are you dealing with at this time? It may be inhuman to expect yourself to summon powers of creativity and concentration when circumstances demand that you give your best energies to another aspect of life right now. But life changes. You may come back to your story some months from now with enthusiasm and fresh ideas.

If you’re not working on your story, start noting your own emotions in a physical way. Keep a notepad close by. What did you feel in your body when you got good news? When you had to absorb bad news? When you fell down the stairs? When you felt like strangling someone? These notes will be a resource when you take up your story again.

Don’t be too self-judgmental; don’t be too easy on yourself either. Talent is wasted on the lazy.

I can’t remember months at a time when the writing went well for me, but maybe it did. I’m suggesting that if it’s been going badly for not that long a time, set it aside. The psyche never stops working. The psyche is your friend.

Stay away from calling this Writer’s Block. Writer’s block calls to mind the suffering artist with the back of one hand to the forehead, sighing.

What’s called writer’s block is often perfectionism. Procrastination follows perfectionism right through the doors into intellectual paralysis.

The four Ps? Planning-> Perfectionism -> Procrastination -> and -> eventually Paralysis.

Is this you?

You might like to look at my EBook Finishing Your First Mystery available at Amazon.

–Mar Preston


Michael A. Black’s latest book is Blood Trails

Detective Roger Colby thought he ended serial killer Morgan Laird’s murderous spree 28 years ago when Laird was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison. But Colby soon finds out that nothing is certain in today’s ever-changing society. The wheelchair bound criminal has been released from prison and granted parole. But is it coincidence that a new series of homicides has suddenly begun, identically mirroring Laird’s brutal series of murders from the past? As Colby reluctantly joins a federal task force investigating these new crimes, he begins to uncover a new and sinister plot so unthinkable that it virtually defies belief. When Morgan Laird’s DNA is recovered from the scene of one of the recent murders, Colby realizes that the unthinkable has suddenly become reality. Shunned by the task force and without support, Colby knows he must trace his new blood tail to its source and bring these new and brutal crimes to a stop, regardless of the consequences.


From the cover synopsis of Madeline’s latest book, “…one such flood of human events plays out in Rhodes The Movie-Maker. This tale is not a murder mystery, though there are in fact several murders—but there is little-to-no mystery surrounding who the perpetrators are. Neither is this tale meant to be a literary treatise addressing age-old philosophical questions or current day conundrums. This tale’s primary goal is fun and escapism. Nor is Rhodes The Movie-Maker a police procedural, though happenings do occur that require police activities. Nor is this tale an action drama even though dramatic actions do unfold. A romance? Not exactly, though several love stories—past and present—flavor happenings and decisions. Rhodes The Movie-Maker is simply one of many human event stories playing themselves out in the Mojave Desert along historic Route 66.”


John M. Wills reports that he has short stories in two anthologies, River Tides and Unorthodox Christmas.


A Cold Death is Marilyn Meredith’s latest Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery. Blurb: Deputy Tempe Crabtree and her husband answer the call for help with unruly guests visiting a closed summer camp during a huge snow storm and are trapped there along with the others. One is a murderer. Marilyn says this mystery is a small tribute to Agatha Christie.









PSWA Newsletter June 2017


photo of Michelle Perin

Michelle Perin

Writing is often a lonely and isolated pursuit. Along with the long hours of slogging through our word craft, we have to deal with the business side—the queries, the research, the tax forms. Many of us are doing all of this in the witching hours of the night after our day job is done and kids and significant others are fed and tucked away in bed or in the wee hours of the morning where even the sunrise has turned over and hit the snooze button. So, why do we keep doing this?

I’ve often asked myself this as I’ve moved through my life asking why I couldn’t just put down the pen and focus on other obligations. My answer always comes back to, “I can’t. The stories demand to be told.” They will drive me crazy until I release them into the world. Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, the characters will gnaw at my insides until I let them out. And, I know I’m not alone in this.

Recently I’ve been reading The Four Rooms by Rumer Godden and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Both of these eloquent and funny women talk about the challenges of being writers and how it’s just a part of who they are. Their words made me laugh and then cry when I realized that “being a writer” was a life-time dream and curse. It has no known cure except for sitting down, getting busy and letting the words out. With that in mind, I once again try to organize my time and focus my words so that I can ease the discomfort while not completely neglecting my work and my family. Thank goodness the cats come to visit me as I type. That way I can multi-task. Now I just need to make enough to have a cabana boy to fan me and a cook to feed me.

What makes this fight more enjoyable? Friends. Especially those who understand and are embroiled in their own struggle as well. Writing friends who can help answer questions, either about how to REALLY make that annoying disappear or if the apostrophe goes before or after the s. That’s what I love about being part of the Public Safety Writers Association. We are all in this long-suffering world together and what a merry bunch of sufferers we are! We use the listserv to ask questions and celebrate each other’s successes. We enter the writing contest to be recognized and get cool stickers to put on our Award-Winning works.

Best of all, we get to come together once a year for three days in Las Vegas to commiserate in person. The annual writing conference allows us to meet new friends and hang out with old friends. The value of the panels and speakers is unparalleled in the writing conference world. It’s both craft and content as attendees hear from the people who were and are boots on the ground police, fire and EMS, as well as, writers who have been there, done that. After conference hours, feel free to go out with your fellow sufferers and enjoy a coffee, an ice cream or a whisky. Lean on each other. Refresh each other with your stories. Get inspired to slog through another year of this crazy ride called the writer’s life. You might be alone, but you are never alone. Come be alone with us July 13-16, 2017.

Until then, happy writing.

–Michelle Perin, President


Register Now for the PSWA Conference

Michael A. Black

Michael A. Black

Spring has sprung, and the twelfth annual PSWA Conference is coming up on July 13th-17th at the fabulous Orleans Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. But wait a minute… Who is Gus Plebesly? That’s just one of the questions that will be answered at the get acquainted party on Thursday evening. I’ll be glad to let you know, if you can’t figure it out.

But on to the news about the conference. As I mentioned last time, we’ve lined up some fabulous speakers. Marcia Rosen, who writes as M. Glenda Rosen in her Dying To Be Beautiful mystery series, gives her presentation on book marketing and strategies for today’s ever-changing publishing world. She has her own marketing business so check out her website:

Jory Rosen has followed his mother into the business, and will also be presenting “The Key to Pitching Your Book in Hollywood.” He’ll be talking about his Los Angeles public relations firm, J. Rosen Communications, Get the key points on what it takes to promote your book in the city of angels. Go ahead and whet your appetite by visiting his website:

Mar Preston’s presentation, “Writing and Editing Your Mystery” will give you the lowdown on completing the writing process, from beginning, middle, and end as well as providing a comprehensive overview and explanation of the underlying structure of the mystery novel. Mar’s the author of two police procedural series and also a four-volume “How-To” book on writing.

Ron Corbin will be talking about CPTED, aka Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design. This unique presentation shows how crime prevention can it be controlled through behavior modification. This one will literally amaze you when you find out the details. And Ron, who’s part Cherokee Indian, will explain the connection between CPTED and Native Americans.

Our informative and interesting panels will cover a variety of public safety and writing issues. Austin Camacho, publisher of the prestigious Intrigue Press, will be on hand to listen to your elevator pitches, and word is he’s “looking for manuscripts.” So be prepared, but keep those pitches brief. I’ve got a book coming out with Intrigue and I’ve found them to be a class outfit. The PSWA Conference is a great place to research your ideas and to rub elbows with public safety personnel who’ve been there and can give you a one of a kind perspective on what it’s like. Our publisher’s panel will give you more updates on the latest in that field.

Let me also mention the Preconference Workshop. It costs an extra $35 and begins on Thursday morning at nine. During this six hour, intensive workshop, you’ll get personalized feedback on your manuscripts from published industry professionals. It’s the chance of a lifetime to get that important advice on how to improve your writing. How do I know it’s so good? Simple. I’m co-teaching it with two masterful pros, Marilyn Meredith and Mar Preston. Between the three of us, we’ve had enough books published to fill a library. All three of us have multiple degrees, including the most important one from the University of Hard Knocks. Learn from our mistakes and increase your chances. All you need are an open mind and the desire to improve your writing.

At three PM the check-in procedure officially begins and you’ll get your name tags and gag banner. The cozy Thursday night “Get Acquainted Party” then begins at five-forty-five to nine PM. Snacks, an open bar, and intimate conversation makes for a nice evening. Plus, your questions about Gus Plebesly will be answered, but here’s a hint: He could have given Bruce Jenner a run for his money.

And last, but certainly not least, don’t forget our annual Writing Contest. Those who entered can become an “award winning author.” The variety of categories are open to both published and not yet published authors. Take it from me, you can’t go wrong entering this one. And there’s a surprise in store at the awards ceremony on Sunday afternoon.

So what’s holding you back if you haven’t yet registered? The hotel is great, the rates are very affordable, and the meals are first rate. Plus, we’re in the process of casting the roles for our annual mystery radio play. You won’t want to miss this one.

–Mike Black, Program Chair




photo of Dave Cropp

Dave Cropp

Looking forward to the 2017 PSWA conference is like anticipating a really good family reunion: great people, good food, lots to talk about and something to take away. Great writers (sans ego dysfunction) are there to help with advice on inspiration, content, editing and marketing. The dynamic level of experience is amazing, personal stories are riveting and the camaraderie is addicting. While writing remains a laborious personal journey – and if you believe Hemingway, a lonely journey at that – the PSWA conference provides validation for long hours of pontificating prose, demanding dialog and catchy character development. If you haven’t registered yet, please do. Bring your books, questions and inspiration or do as I do – simply digest the experience and become inspired. Either way, join the family at PSWA and see why we keep coming back.

–Dave Cropp


photo of Karen Solomon

Karen Solomon

What is writing? Entertainment? Education? A legacy? Each person has their reasons for writing, each a different goal, none more important than the other. For me, it’s become a journey; it took me to a place I wasn’t going, nor had I considered.

Writing fiction had never been an option, it’s certainly been a consideration but I don’t have the patience or creativity for it. What I have is the ability to listen and to put what I have heard onto paper, non-fiction through books and articles became my journey to healing others. In some ways, in healing myself.

It began simply enough, write a book to tell the world that law enforcement officers are not to be hated, that one death in Ferguson did not define all. My journey has physically taken me to seven different states; speaking, learning and listening. Virtually the journey has taken me to India, Australia, United Kingdom and most of the United States. What journey? The journey to honor them, the journey to the families of officers who have completed suicide.

In early June, with the help of friends, widows and people who have believed in my vision, we will be launching Blue H.E.L.P. (Heal, Educate, Lead, Prevent). Our mission is to reduce mental health stigmas through education, advocate for benefits for those suffering from PTSI, acknowledge the service and sacrifice of first responders we lost to suicide, assist officers in their search for healing, and bring awareness to first responder suicide and mental health issues. It’s quite a mouthful; in short, we plan to be a cross between the Officer Down Memorial Page and C.O.P.S. for those who have no place with those organizations.

In 2016, 112 police and 28 corrections officers completed suicide. You’ll have a difficult time finding their names on a list; their years of services recorded and memorialized. It hasn’t existed, until now. The officer that spent years seeking help for his PTSI, whose job brought about his despair and death isn’t remembered the same as an officer who died in a car accident on duty. The officer who took his own life the day after he was forced to medically retire because his life lost purpose, lost his identity and couldn’t face a life of pain isn’t remembered he same as an officer who had a heart attack and died while on duty.

We can argue religion, morality and other reasons suicide is seen as some sort of crime or deviant behavior. Mental health resources have become increasingly sparse for the general public, let alone law enforcement. Stigma, culture and fear of job loss further contribute to our inability to heal officers or acknowledge their deaths. But after two years of listening, writing and learning, my journey has ended.

When I had emotional issues, I wasn’t able to speak about it, I know too well the stigma. Writing has given others a voice, and now a home. We will let them speak, let their families remember their loved ones without shame and have the courage to bring their words alive. Why? Because words have power and regardless of where you start, the words you create will lead you to where you are supposed to be.

–Karen Solomon


photo of John Wills

John Wills

It used to be easy to find bad guys and arrest them. When they committed a crime or threatened someone, we investigated and then apprehended the person responsible. The criminals were real living and breathing people we could see and put our hands on. That was then—this is now. Cyber criminals are invisible.

According to the Department of Justice, cyber-crime is one of the greatest threats facing our country. It has enormous implications for our national security, economic prosperity, and public safety. The range of threats and the challenges they present for law enforcement expand just as rapidly as technology evolves.

Cybercrime is growing exponentially along with the fear of massive data breaches within government departments. The FBI is the lead federal agency that investigates cyber-attacks, domestically and internationally. Cyber criminals target trade secrets from corporations, research from universities, and fraud and identity schemes that cost citizens millions of dollars in losses. Sadly, there are also online predators that target children.

These cyber-attacks are costly; we spend billions of dollars repairing systems hit by such incursions. They can shut down power and disrupt systems at hospitals and 911 services, causing chaos and confusion and ultimately costing lives.

In a recent meeting with cyber security advisors, President Trump indicated he intends to hold cabinet secretaries and agency heads accountable for any breaches. He surmised the present cyber security is likely not up to the required level. Therefore, look for greater oversight of IT managers in the future, along with assistance from Reed Cordish, assistant to the president for intergovernmental affairs and technology initiatives.

So what are the biggest cyber threats the world faces? According to Eugene Kaspersky, founder and CEO of the Russian computer security firm Kaspersky Lab, they are as follows:


An example of this type of attack recently hit Iran. A malware attack took their computer systems down and the country’s key oil facilities went offline. Should an attack like this happen on a broader scale, entire nations could be plunged into darkness if their power grids are targeted. Our Secretary of Defense acknowledged the threat of this happening is real. In that regard, Congress recently approved plans for our military to use offensive cyberspace methods.


Why would media such as Facebook and Twitter be a threat? Well, it’s a concern because it’s easy to control the masses with “fake news.” We witnessed examples of this during the recent presidential campaign. Once someone plants a rumor on social media, it grows so quickly that the lie becomes fact—perception becomes reality. This new weapon, manipulating social networks, is akin to the dropping of propaganda leaflets over enemy territory during World War II. It was very effective.


How will the internet generation engage with politics? Our children are growing up in a digital world. They aren’t out and about physically interacting with different types of cultures and people. The kids aren’t doing much else other than sitting in front of a computer or using their smart phone. When they become adults, unless online voting exists, don’t expect this generation to physically go anywhere to vote. The gap between children and adults will grow, with only the adults engaging with politics. This lack of participation has the potential to become a threat to the democracies of the Western world.


One of today’s most popular targets is smart phones. Kaspersky Labs estimate that criminals who target mobile phones earn from $1,000 to $5,000 per day, per person. Criminals use an SMS-Trojan virus that sends short texts to a number until the victim’s account is depleted. Multiply that tactic by targeting hundreds of thousands of phones infected with the virus, and the result adds up to a staggering amount of money. Kaspersky advises installing security systems on phones.


Kaspersky believes privacy no longer exists when one considers things such as Google street view, drones, CCTV cameras everywhere, and of course, companies on the web requiring users to provide all types of personal data. Confidentiality cannot be guaranteed.

However, the above attacks aren’t the only threats. Experts also cite a huge threat known as Ransomware. While not a new problem, it is a growing one. In the past year alone, the number of attacks on businesses has quadrupled. Ransomware attacks make it impossible for a business or government agency to access information via the infected machine(s). Hackers hold the infected machine(s) hostage and request a ransom payment in exchange for restoring access to the company’s files. Cyber security experts believe many businesses simply pay the ransom rather than report it.

What’s the solution if your company or you as an individual are hit with Ransomware? The FBI used to recommend paying it. However, cyber security experts say that’s the last resort. Many of these types of attacks are unsophisticated and can be defeated rather easily by shutting down the computer or disconnecting from the network or Wi-Fi. If this doesn’t work, restart your computer in safe mode and restore the files from a recent backup. Hopefully, among the security software you’ve installed is a Ransomware removal tool.

While many Ransomware attacks may be somewhat unsophisticated, others are not. In November of last year the European Commission was brought offline, San Francisco’s Municipal Railway was hit by a system-wide attack, and the Japanese Defense Ministry and Self-Defense Forces were hacked, causing them to fear their internal military network may have been compromised.

Cyber intrusion problems are quickly becoming unmanageable, mainly because the mindset of most companies and government agencies is one of being reactive rather than proactive. In most boardrooms and government conference rooms, cyber security is treated simply as an IT issue, rather than a critical business or national defense problem. Going forward, cyber-attacks will continue and become more frequent and complex, and ultimately may be treated as an act of war if there is proof the hacking was state-sponsored.

The scope of the problem is enormous, given that it’s estimated that by 2020 there will be 20 billion devices connected to the internet. Presently, internet security is insufficient. Organizations and device vendors should be planning to develop secure software, and the increased level of protection needs regulation to compel internet users to provide protection.

Future changes may also include the elimination of password protected sites and replaced by advanced biometric software, i.e. fingerprint readers, iris scans, etc. Even more secure may be the implementation of adaptive and behavior-based authentication.

Finally, according to, there is a global cyber security professional shortage. Jobs in the cyber security field have increased by 74% over the past five years. Cisco, a worldwide IT company, reports there are one million unfilled cyber security jobs globally. This shortage will only increase, according to Symantec Cyber Security Services, and by 2019 the number could grow to 1.5 million unfilled jobs. The United States was among the top five nations with the largest shortages of cyber security professionals.

A little know problem in the cyber security field is lack of interest from job seekers. Not enough people are willing to do this type of work. However, the lack of people looking for work in this field also means cyber security professionals enjoy strong job prospects and high salaries. The opportunities are there, but the interest is not. According to one economist from Indeed Job postings, “One potential solution for employers could be increased investment, either in current employees or future hires, in education and training to equip workers to fill these rolls.”

The FBI has created the National Cyber-Forensics & Training Alliance (NCFTA) to address cybercrime proactively. The program brings together law enforcement, private industry, and academia to build and share resources, strategic information, and threat intelligence to identify and stop emerging cyber threats and mitigate existing ones. Being proactive is the key to working on a solution to fight cyber-crime. Just as important is the sharing of resources and educating new cyber security professionals to fight what may be the biggest threat to our nation.

–John M. Wills


photo of Diana Sprain

Diana Sprain

Writers should understand correct procedures when writing about public safety. One of my pet peeves is the ‘miraculous’ find of the person in question utilizing improper methods. Whether the search is conducted by Search & Rescue (SAR) teams or local law enforcement personnel, there are basic techniques used.

Today, modern policing makes use of technology when looking for a missing or evasive subject. Helicopters, night-vision glasses, GPS-equipped apps on personnel phones, and satellite-tracking for stolen vehicles are all tools useful to law enforcement but nothing beats the old-fashioned boots on the ground. Before technology came into play, how did we (LE) locate folks?

Calls for missing or runaways generally started with a call to Dispatch. Depending on the circumstances, the call information is obtained and an officer assigned. Department policies dictate how quickly these incidents area handled. For example, when I worked for Berkeley (CA) Police, a child 12 years old or younger missing was the highest priority. Multiple units were dispatched, one to make initial contact with the reporting party, and at least two or three others to start looking. We always started with the residence (or store, etc.) where the child last was confirmed as seen. For older children (depending on circumstances – runaway history?) or adults at risk, we sent one officer to begin and others once we knew more information.

Actual abductions are rare but they do occur. In the 90’s, a baby was kidnapped from a hospital in Berkeley by a person masquerading as a nurse. This was before the hugs & kisses electronic monitoring system common to most nurseries was developed. Another infamous incident occurred when a teenager disappeared from his home for no apparent reason. He was a straight-A student with no previous history. The FBI became involved in the case. Thousands of man-hours later he was located, with another person. It turns out he left home because he had been afraid to ‘come out’ as gay to his Christian family.

For missing persons, it is important to get details. The dispatchers are taught to ask a head-to-toe description (this includes clothing). The format we use is race (White, Black, Hispanic, or Asian), male or female, age, complexion (fair, dark, etc.) hair (include hair style), eyes, height, and weight. Clothing is: hat, shirt, jacket, pants (or skirt/dress), and shoes. You might not always have exact measurements so a range is okay; say medium height, average build. In fact – this is better in the case of suspects on the loose. Add in accessories such as backpacks, purses, etc. include unique characteristics, scars, marks, tattoos, medical conditions, and favorite haunts. Children might head to a park or close relative. An adult with Alzheimer’s might go to a former workplace.

For wanted persons, be sure to add if he (or she) was known to carry weapons. What is the person wanted for? Suspects can change clothing. One example I handled was a jewelry store robbery. The criminal held up the store, tied the staff up and took off on foot for a vehicle he had parked a block away. While running, he shed a layer of clothing but kept his handgun. I was asked to set up a block perimeter. After the units were assigned posts, three units started searching. In the meantime, two units saw a suspicious vehicle in the general area of the search. They initiated a stop. It turned out to be our suspect – but we didn’t know that yet – who opened fire at my units (all field units are mine until they sign off at the end of the shift). The call of “Challenging, shots fired!” was broadcast without a location. I knew who it was and sent additional help advising it was our robbery suspect (the dispatcher intuition kicked in) Then 911 ‘lit-up’ with calls of loud reports. In the end, PD one, bad guy zero.

Make sure your authority asks if any vehicle is involved. If so, use the CYMBL format (color, year, make/model, body style, and license with state). Does the vehicle have a rack on the roof or unusual bumper stickers? When was it last seen and which direction did it go? Again remembering, what is first noticed is how the caller (RP) is questioned hence CYMBL.

When a missing or wanted person was seen recently, which generally means within the last 15 minutes, a block cover may be requested. The number and types of units (patrol, K9, air) will determine how long the search takes. Pure foot searching by patrol takes the longest while a K9 search goes quicker. Add in a helicopter and the block can be covered fast but car pursuits can go on as long as the vehicle has gas and room to drive. Getting out the description for an ‘All-Points-Bulletin, or APB’ is crucial. Dispatch, or Records, can send out teletypes for missing, abducted, or stolen. How and when this is done depends on department SOP. In Nevada, AMBER Alerts are entered by the Department of Public Safety (DPS), Highway Patrol Division.

For ground searching, one can use a grid search, a block search, perimeter, or just get creative. In a grid search (think SAR work but also used in street situations), an area is broken up into grids and each person is assigned a block, or grid, to do a meticulous check back and forth (north to south, west to east). In a block search, four streets are marked and units take positions at opposite corners (or all if enough), and mid-block on the next over streets. Positions are held for the search (this is same for a K9 search). A perimeter starts with an origin and a general area is decided for an outside check. The perimeter can be an address or general location. Sometimes you have a trial to follow consisting of blood or other body fluids, other times is a trail of discarded evidence. In the past, I’ve had LE yell out “Fire!” when they found themselves in a backyard at night after chasing down a suspect on foot. One was instructed to turn in flashlight upwards and turn it on/off rapidly.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is an excellent reference. They offer free classes for law enforcement personnel in the search and recovery of missing children. POLICE Magazine ran a good article on investigating lost children in the March 2017 issue. You can also search prior articles on dispatching via APCO’s historical site (they do charge a nominal fee for print-outs), and 911 Magazine on line is another source.

–Diana Sprain

Diana Sprain works as a Public Safety Dispatcher for the law enforcement division of the Nevada Department of Wildlife. She is a CA POST-certified Dispatcher, Tactical Dispatcher, Civilian Training Officer, and Supervisor with over 25 years’ experience. In addition, she is a certified Pharmacy Technician. Prior to becoming a Public Safety Dispatcher, she worked as an Emergency Medical technician in Los Angeles and Oakland. She is the author of the fictional fantasy series Greycliff Chronicles and the non-fiction What is your emergency? The History of Public Safety Dispatching in America.

Diana is a member of the Associated Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO), the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), the Public Safety Writer’s Association, and the Sierra Writers Group. You can read about her novels and her posts on her blog: — — —


photo of Vicki Wisefeld

Vicki Weisfeld

Writer Toby Wallis has written a thoughtful essay in Glimmer Train on story endings. He centers a lot of his argument on Cormac McCarthy’s chilling novel, No Country for Old Men, in which, as he says “the climax that the story appears to be building towards just doesn’t happen.” It (like the terrific movie made from it) may make audiences feel left hanging, and incomplete, at least until further reflection. One thing to consider is, whose story is it? The killer’s or the sheriff’s? Whether the ending satisfies depends in part on the answer to that question.

As Wallis says, “At first I was disappointed . . . like the rug had been whipped out from under me. Two hours later, I loved it.” Perhaps we’ve been led by fiction—and movies and especially television—to believe all loose ends must be, can be tidied up, there is an answer to all questions, the broken can be made whole or at least set on the path to mending. But that’s not how it is in real life, is it? We must all deal with ambiguity, incompletion, unravelings not to be reknitted. As troubling as an ending as McCarthy’s is, worse, may be the ending where you feel the author thought, “Holy crap! I’ve got to wind this up.” And does.

McCarthy’s approach leaves us pondering what happens next? Our curiosity about the story and its protagonists is not satisfied, it continues to tickle our imaginations, to stay with us at some level. Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You also ends ambiguously. She says readers are very firm in their conviction about what happened by the end, based on the evidence they gleaned in the novel. Yet their interpretations vary widely.

Genre fiction—and here I’ll speak of the genres I know best, crime novels and thrillers—approach endings differently. Thrillers generally adhere to the convention of restoring order to the world, so a tidy post-carnage ending is expected. Many crime novels are not so black and white. They leave room for doubt. Often they are critical of the status quo (corruption in city hall, incompetent police leadership, media on the take, etc.), so why return to it? A police detective may be able to solve a murder, but darker societal forces may be behind it. “That’s Chinatown.”

Outside of genre, in literary novels, Wallis says “stories are at their very best when they ask questions . . . at their didactic worst when they presume to answer them.” At least, when they presume to answer every last one of them. When I look back over the literary fiction of last year that I enjoyed most—Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, Lily King’s Euphoria, Angela Flournoy’s The Turner House, for example—every one of them leaves space for readers to speculate, to use their own imaginations, to engage with the author in the creative process.

–Vicki Weisfeld

Twitter: @vsk8s —  Website:


photo of Joe Haggerty

Joe Haggerty

In the early eighties, I became the lone obscenity investigator for the Metropolitan Police of Washington, D.C. My job was to visit all the pornographic outlets, also known as dirty bookstores, all the adult theaters and any bar or club that featured nude dancers and determine whether a film, peep show, magazine or dancer violated the obscenity statute in the D.C. Criminal Code for the District of Columbia.

I was also supposed to monitor any of these establishments to insure they didn’t display nudity visible from public space. As far as visual depictions, on film, were concerned I was given specific guidelines as far as what the U.S. Attorney’s office would prosecute. Any depiction of child pornography, bestiality, urination, defecation, sado-masochistic activity in which someone is actually being hurt or fisting. There would be no immediate seizures of these films. A detailed search warrant affidavit describing the film in its entirety would have to be submitted to a designated Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA) and if approved to a Judge of the Superior Court.

With the nude dancers, male or female, I was to observe whether the dancers had any physical contact with patrons or other performers or allowed patrons to have physical contact with them of a sexual nature. Dancers were also prohibited from masturbating or inserting objects into their bodies in a sexual way. If any of the dancers violated these prohibitions, they were subject to arrest for committing an indecent sexual performance. Although with the dancers, I could make an immediate arrest, the policy of the U.S. Attorney’s office was for me to submit an arrest affidavit for approval to make the arrest.

Now to some of my fellow officers this seemed like a dream job, being paid to watch pornography or in an undercover capacity drink beer and watch live naked women or men perform to music. The constant exposure to this type of business was shocking even to me, who had investigated prostitution and thought I had heard and seen most sexual activity. I tried to approach the job in a clinical sense. With the films or peep shows, I would first have to view it in its entirety. If the film violated the guidelines I was given or I felt the film needed further scrutiny by the AUSA, I had a note book and recorded as best I could every scene in the film. I scheduled my visits to the various bars and clubs so as to not get intoxicated and to not appear too frequent a visitor.

Although I was given specific guidelines for what the U.S. Attorney’s office claimed they would prosecute these visual depictions whether on film or in magazines still had to fall within the Miller Standard for obscenity, unless it was child pornography. Child pornography is considered contraband and is illegal to possess. The Miller standard was derived by a case before the Supreme Court in 1973 Miller vs California. Under Miller the basic test for obscenity is as follows: whether the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest; whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law; whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.

The question frequently arose among my peers and during lectures I did at American University’s Media Center about censorship and freedom of expression.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) defines censorship as the suppression of words, images, or ideas that are offensive and happens whenever some people succeed in imposing their personal, political or moral values on others. Censorship can be carried out by the Government as well as private pressure groups. It should be noted that at a hearing before the U.S. Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography in 1985, General Counsel for the ACLU Barry Lynn, stated that the ACLU abhors the production of child pornography, but once the child pornography is produce the ACLU believes it should be protected expression. Barry Lynn is also quoted as saying in regards to the Commission of Pornography’s final report that it was “a dangerous call to arms against free expression.”

However, rarely do I ever see the ACLU filing a freedom of speech lawsuit for conservative speakers who have been prevented from speaking either by a protest or by hecklers who constantly interrupt.

The Free Dictionary website under legal definitions defines censorship as the suppression of ideas or images by the Government or others with authority. There were also examples of accepted censorship imposed by the Government or the courts.

The court censored speech to those health clinics receiving federal funding against abortion counseling.
Prisoner’s mail
Prison administrators can censor prisoner’s personal correspondence if it is necessary to maintain security, order or rehabilitation efforts.
To avoid Government censorship the Motion Picture Association of America came up with a rating system based on the viewers age i.e. PG, PG13, R, NC17 or X.
The Children’s Television Act passed in 1990 limited the number of advertisements on the networks’ childrens’ Saturday cartoons and compelled networks to air more educational programs. That act expired in 1993. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 required televisions made after 1999 to be equipped with a V-chip which allowed users to block programs. Television broadcasters voluntarily created a rating system that identified if a program contained sex or violence or both.
The Parents Music Resource Center founded by Al Gore’s wife Tipper in 1985, lobbied the music industry to put warning labels on music recordings that had lyrics deemed inappropriate for children. Video game companies followed suit a few years later.
Public Colleges and Universities
Can forbid threats of violence, prohibit obscene language and conduct and punish students for using defamatory speech against each other. Although, the majority of these codes are unconstitutional.
The Child Online Protection Act 1998, prohibited for commercial purposes any material considered to be harmful to minors using the Miller Standard. The ACLU has challenged this act, but it has yet to be decided.

Very little has evolved around the use of the internet. Political debate and communications over the internet is protected speech (Reno vs ACLU 1997).

The First Amendment reads that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Freedom of speech is one of our most precious freedoms and includes freedom of expression, but these freedoms are not absolute.

Under the website, exceptions to free speech or expression are listed as: burning draft cards as an anti-war protest (US vs O’Brien 1968); students who print articles in a school newspaper over the objections of school administrators (Hazelwood School District vs Kuhlmeier 1988); to advocate illegal drug use at a school sponsored event (Morse vs Frederick 2007).

It’s interesting that the Late Supreme Court Justice William Brennan wrote in regards to flag burning (Texas vs Johnson 1989). “Government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.”

That raised a question in my mind, how is that different from obscenity?

Robert Richards with the Pennsylvania Center for the First Amendment at Penn State is quoted as saying, “the categories of speech that fall outside of its protection are obscenity, child pornography, defamation, incitement to violence and true threats of violence. Even in those categories, there are tests that have to be met in order for the speech to be legal. Beyond that, we are free to speak.”

In regards to these tests Richards refers to, the Supreme Court has ruled that the state or the Federal Government may place reasonable restrictions on the time, place and manner (TPM) of an individual’s expression. According to the Free Dictionary’s legal dictionary, TPM restrictions accommodate public convenience and promote order by regulating traffic flow, preserving property interests, conserving the environment and protecting the administration of justice. The Supreme Court has developed a four part analysis to evaluate the constitutionality of TPM restrictions. The speech or expression must be content neutral, be narrowly drawn, serve a significant Government interest and leave open alternative channels of communication.

Time restrictions: People may express themselves at certain times of day and the Government may curtail or prohibit said speech to address legitimate societal concerns, such as traffic congestion and crowd control. Most of the time protesters political or otherwise choose to go to a large city, basically because they would expect more media coverage and attention. This is protected speech, but they cannot protest whenever they want. Blocking streets or highways as a form of protest would be a prohibited form of speech. Commuter’s interest in getting to work or returning home outweighs an individual’ right to block traffic as a form of political protest (Cox vs Louisiana 1965). Demonstrating in a residential neighborhood at unreasonable hours, disturbing the peace and tranquility of uninvolved residents would be prohibited expression.

Place restrictions: The Supreme Court recognized three forums of public expression, traditional public forums; limited public forums; and non-public forums.

Traditional public forums are common areas; parks, sidewalks, streets. These are important because the common man or woman or least powerful of our society, cannot use radio or TV to express their views. Authorities cannot stop this form of speech. However, they can put reasonable restrictions like prohibiting foul language, amplification, or time usage. These restrictions must also be content neutral and viewpoint neutral, but can be purposeful toward controlling harmful consequences of speech or littering.

Limited public forums are places the Government, state or Federal, deem to be for civic discussion, council meetings, PTA meetings on school grounds, capitol grounds, courthouses, state fairs, public universities. Any disruptions that prevent the function of these state or Government sponsored activities are prohibited. That is not to say, that an individual could not voice their displeasure with an issue or statement, only that the individual or individuals could not stop or prevent the official function from continuing. I believe we are all aware that disruptions in a courtroom could result in arrest or extraction. We have also witnessed protests at public universities that were designed to prevent invited speakers from expressing their views. This would be a violation of free speech and an act of censorship.

Non-public forums are privately owned property or publicly owned property whose exclusive use is not for individual expression. Airports, commercial airlines, trains, buses, jails, military bases or private residential property are considered non-public forums and protests that may disrupt the official function of these entities would be prohibited.

Manner restrictions regulate the mode of individual expression. Courts try to balance the competing interests of the litigants. Symbolic actions will get a closer scrutiny than a regulation that serves a Government interest unrelated to the expression of idea. Flag burning as opposed to burning a draft card. The draft card is an official document issued by the Government to be used in a time of war or military conflict and mandated to be kept in the individual’s possession. The American flag, although symbolic of this country, can be privately owned and purchased. However, I would argue that the burning of an American flag is likely to lead to a physical confrontation and therefore a disruption of the public peace, which seems to me why this form of protest should be prohibited as a freedom of expression. Another example was the court upheld a regulation prohibiting the sleeping in certain National Parks as a form of protest against homeless. The regulation was designed to minimize wear and tear on the park and to preserve the natural environment of the park. The court felt the protesters could continue their protest at other venues.

TPM restrictions must allow for individuals to use other channels of communication or for disseminating information.

“Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom; and no such thing as public liberty, without freedom of speech.” Benjamin Franklin

“Censorship is to art as lynching is to Justice.” Henry Louis Gates Jr.

“In those wretched countries where a man cannot call his tongue his own, he can scarce call anything his own. Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.” Benjamin Franklin

“If men are to be precluded from offering their sentiments on a matter, which may involve the most serious and alarming consequences that can invite the consideration of mankind, reason is of no use to us; the freedom of speech may be taken away, and dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep, to the slaughter.”   George Washington

–Joseph B. Haggerty Sr.

Author of the novels: Shame: The Story of a Pimp and An Ocean in the Desert — Contributor to the PSWA anthology: Felons, Flames and Ambulance Rides — Award winning poet and lecturer on the sexual exploitation of women and children in prostitution and pornography 


I Feel The Need….The Need For Speed

photo of Ron Corbin

Ron Corbin

This is my next article in a continuing series of safe driving tips. In the last newsletter, I talked about proper positioning of your hands on the steering wheel, and why backing into parking lot spaces is better than pulling-in forward. In this issue, I want to tell you what you accomplish…or don’t… when you go 80 mph vs. 65 mph on the interstate or freeway. I also said in the last newsletter that I would talk about some things when “getting stopped by the police.” But due to the length of this piece, I will save it until the next time.

There are different kinds of speed laws: Absolute, Presumed (aka: presumptive or primie facie), and Basic. And in some instances, you may get a ticket even when driving at or below the posted limit; it all depends on what the officer deems is unsafe for the existing conditions. But I’m not here to lecture you on the driving laws of your state. If you don’t know and want to find out more, check the laws of your state on these speed laws.

When cruising along on interstate highways, turnpikes, or freeways, it’s easy to let your foot press down on the accelerator and sneak the speedometer up a little above the posted limit. It gives you a feeling that you are making better time. Besides, it’s commonly known that cops won’t pull you over if you keep it 15 mph or less above the speed limit, right? Wrong! I’m here to tell you, that’s not a “given.”

First, a little math problem. Did you know that you can determine how long it will take you to drive a certain distance by a simple mental calculation by looking at your speedometer? Whatever the speed, simply move the decimal back one place. Maintaining that constant speed is the distance, in miles, that you will travel every six minutes. Let me use numbers and this will become clearer.

  • 80 mph = 8.0 miles traveled every six minutes
  • 50 mph = 5.0 miles traveled every six minutes
  • 66 mph = 6.6 miles traveled every six minutes

This calculation helped when I had young kids and was traveling across country. “Daddy, I have to go potty.” What should I do? Make them try to wait until the next McDonald’s, or pull over to the side of the road for them?

I would look at the speedometer and see that I was going 70 mph. Then I would see a road sign that said it was 21 miles to the next town or rest stop. In my head, I would use this simple calculation:

  • 70 mph = 7.0 miles every six minutes
  • 21 miles divided by 7 = 3
  • 3 times 6 = 18

“Kids, hold on. You can go potty in 18 minutes. Watch the clock.”

But I really want to make my safety point of the desire to go faster. Let’s say we are both traveling in our separate vehicles down the freeway, and that the speed limit is 65 mph. I am doing the speed limit and you pass me doing 80 mph. [In six minutes of travel, you go 8 miles down the highway and I go 6-1/2 miles]

Six minutes go by and I can still see your car only 1-1/2 miles ahead of me. So what did you really gain in those six minutes by driving 15 mph over the posted limit? Just 1-1/2 miles ahead of me. And if our journey takes 30 minutes, you will arrive at our destination when I am only 7-1/2 miles behind you…or a little more than six minutes of travel time.

So more importantly, what did you risk for going 80 mph in a 65 mph zone? A traffic ticket or citation, possibly an arrest, and even worse, the increased probability for being involved in an accident with injury and/or fatality…yours, or someone else’s.

In the next quarter, I will talk about what to do when you see those red and blue police lights behind you…for your safety and theirs. And I hope to see all of you at the July Conference in Las Vegas.

Until the next time, Slow Down and Stay Safe!

–Ron Corbin


photo of Mar Preston

Mar Preston

A story is written in two parts: backstory and front story. Front story covers events happening in the present and accelerating to that thrilling conclusion. Backstory reflects past events and all the influences that ripple outward from them. Backstory will deepen your readers’ enjoyment of your characters and plot, and enrich a story that you remember long after you’ve finished reading. But it needs to be feathered in as a seamless part of the story, not as something parachuting in from outside, like the deus ex machina in Greek tragedies.

The deux ex machina device has come to mean a plot device in which an unsolvable dilemma is miraculously resolved by the unexpected intervention of some new event, character, or a previously unknown ability on the part of a character, or even an object. You know what I mean. A letter arrives from a rich uncle who leaves the hero enough money to save his hardware store. Or the discovery that the hero is an expert marksman who shoots the gun out of the hand of the villain fleeing before him. (Very improbable, by the way.)

Backstory deepens an appreciation of the context of your characters and setting.  Once they understand character’s struggles, backstory compels readers to care about what happens next to the people in your story.  They’ve seen cause and now effect. This has happened because of that.

But backstory isn’t now. By definition, it drops back into then. Done ineptly, it slows the unfolding of the front story, and may even leach the emotional power out of the action unfolding on the page in the story’s present.

Backstory yanks the story into the past, away from the readers’ engagement with you in the world you’re building paragraph by paragraph, page by page. Whatever technique you use, and we’ll get to that, dropping in a chunk of backstory to explain everything that happened in the past stops the story’s forward momentum, and jars you out of that suspension of disbelief, immersing yourself in a good story.  What you’re aiming for is that wonderful experience of looking up from the pages of a book where you’d been racketing along on the back of a horse chasing a poacher through the Badlands to find yourself lying on the couch in your living room. You’ve been completely immersed in the story.

I can hear you protesting, “But I have to explain about the killer’s being locked in the closet as a child. It’s how he got to be that way.” I assure you, there are many ways to slide in this fact at exactly the right time, at exactly the right place. Depending on the situation, a passing reference to the back story may well be all you need.

–Mar Preston


photo of Vicki Weisfeld

Vicki Wisefeld

Over the past 21 months, I’ve read and reviewed 62 crime novels and thrillers for While a number of them rise to greatness and many effectively get the job done, a surprising number were not ready for prime time, and a tiny number should have gone straight to the landfill. Many works fall short because author s believe their book is “done,” and it isn’t. Too often, I find myself saying, “Damn!—With a little more effort, this could have been soooo good.”

As a writer myself, I take into consideration the author’s hopes and effort, knowing it’s hard to see the flaws in one’s own children. That’s what editors are for. Yet, the acknowledgements pages of poor books often heap extravagant praise on their editors, whom I envision curled up under their desks, weeping. Authorial intentions aside, my primary obligation is to potential readers. Will readers’ limited reading time be well invested if they pick up this particular book?

The common problems in crime/thriller books I’ve read recently fit into two overlapping categories: pitfalls in thinking (mostly related to plot and character), listed below, and pitfalls in writing (look for these tomorrow). Thinking and writing problems are mutually reinforcing, since poor writing makes poor thinking more obvious. For those who respond to examples, I’ve included a few from “actual books.”

Thinking Pitfalls

  • Using increasingly gruesome torture and death methods (or a surfeit of comely young women/child victims) in the hope of sustaining reader interest. Bloodletting is easy; creating complex, unique, and engaging characters with grounded, understandable motivations is hard.
  • Mechanical problems—Where and when did stuff happen? Chris Roerden calls lack of clarity about the story timeline “crazy time,” and it drives readers crazy.
  • Galloping unreality—Example: after a big-city police chief spoke at a news conference, “several reporters broke into a round of applause.” Not any journalists I know. Another: two undercover CIA agents are scouting a computer research lab on a busy Chinese university campus. “‘That’s the building the lab’s in,’ XX said, pointing.” Pointing? And I don’t know how many times a bad guy has used a chloroform-soaked cloth to disable a victim, when a single moment of fact-checking would reveal this doesn’t work!
  • Technological non-fixes—Either using technology when it’s not needed just to sound cool, using it wrong (weapons, especially), or not using it at all–say, not picking up the phone to ask a simple question that would solve everything.
  • Lack of engagement—Some authors just want to sell books, often choosing the method describe in the first bullet, not provide the reader with a deeper, emotionally engaging experience. Crime/thrillers often appeal to the head, but the best ones capture the heart too. “When a plot resolves, readers are satisfied, but what they remember of a novel is what they felt while reading it,” says Donald Maass.
  • Cheesy theorizing—When characters repeatedly come up with premature but enthusiastically adopted explanations of what happened or whodunnit, readers know they are being misled.
  • Failure to answer all the plot questions—Did the author just forget a main character’s spouse mysteriously committed suicide? Did he forget the police psychologist dropped the case’s murder book on a city street? For that matter, why was he carrying it out of the office anyway? Big questions need answers.

Writing Pitfalls (the Biggest Ones)

  • Clichés in language and gesture – at least five chapters in a recently-read thriller ended with a character setting his/her mouth/jaw in a firm line. Using a cliché to express a thought is a writer’s shortcut. While certain characters may speak in clichés, if that’s their thing, narratives should struggle for freshness. That helps characters and settings feel unique, not like cardboard cutouts.
  • Unartful explanations—Readers often need background information—about politics, finance, weapons, a character’s training, whatever—but indigestible chunks of it that read like a resume or briefing paper feel amateurish. “Tell me about yourself, Mr. Smith,” is hardly better.
  • Over-explaining – Example: A Chinese scientist who’s volunteered to become a CIA source explains to an agent how his country’s government has hurt “many people who deserve better,” including his father. The author has the agent immediately think, “His motivation appeared to be revenge for his father’s mistreatment at the hands of the Chinese government.” Duh. Then, in case the reader doesn’t get it yet, the author continues with what is actually a very good way of underscoring the point (good because it adds new information, the agent’s judgment): “He’d take revenge as a motivator any day” and explains why. This would have been just fine if that clunky over-explanation were edited out.
  • Mixed or inept metaphors – Example: “Trying to learn the ropes had XX feeling like a fish out of water.” I can’t picture that at all. Can you? Here’s a simple, effective one: “Out of [his police] uniform he just looked like an impatient kid waiting for his father.” I see this clearly.
  • Ending each chapter with a cheesy cliffhanger. Example: “My God! XX thought. The Americans will never know what hit them.” Actually, in this book, they will. Here’s a better one: “She closes her book and shuts her eyes to look up at the sun, unaware of her two observers.” Menacing, not manipulative.
  • General sloppiness – I’ve said enough about typos in my book reviews. They suggest a lack of care. Here is other evidence of it: homonym problems (hoard instead of horde, rein instead of reign, desert instead of dessert, and on and on); changing the name of a person or place, but not catching all the uses of the original name (“find and replace,” please); and of course, distracting factual errors.
  • Lack of support matter – OK, maybe I’m crazy, but I believe quite a few thrillers would be improved by the inclusion of tailored supporting material. For example, maps that show the principal places mentioned in the novel (I admit to a pro-map bias here); lists of acronyms and abbreviations, especially for novels involving multiple international agencies; lists of characters and how they fit into the story; and so on. The goal should be to bring readers in to the circle of cognoscenti, not shut them out.

Working out the plot of a story and developing the characters involved are completely different tasks than effectively writing the whole thing down, and rushing into print rarely serves the material—or the reader—well. I hate to see a good plot ruined by weak presentation!

Further Reading for Authors

  • Don’t Murder Your Mystery by Chris Roerden – packed with commonsense tips
  • The Writer’s Guide to Weapons by Benjamin Sobieck – including impossible scenarios
  • The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass—inspiration for digging deeper

Vicky Weisfeld

Twitter: @vsk8s — Website:


Bob Martin’s new book, Bronx Justice, is receiving great reviews:

  • Bill Bratton, former NYPD Police Commissioner, “There are no crime stories quite as good as a New York crime story. With Bronx Justice, Bob Martin adds another good read to that list
  • “If there is an extra dose of realism in this taut suspense tale, it is because the author, a veteran NYPD cop, lived BRONX JUSTICE and stories like it. The novel is filled with good guys     and bad guys and wise guys — a perfect recipe for a really fine page-turner of a novel.”
  • Bob Drury & Tom Clavin, NY Times best selling authors of LUCKY 666: THE IMPOSSIBLE MISSION, “Martin didn’t just write Bronx Justice, he lived it.  Hence, the reader is treated to an exciting and fact filled Cops ‘n Robbers novel posing as fiction.”

Mysti Berry will read along with Ann Parker, Walter Mosley, and six other writers at the Bay Area Festival of Books on June 3, 5:15 PM, in Berkeley. It’s the Noir at the Bar event.

Dave Freedland, author of Lincoln 9, a serial homicide novel taking place in “America’s Safest City,” Irvine, California, will be a presenter at the 2017 California Reserve Police Officers’ Association’s annual conference held in San Diego on August 17, 2017. A 34-year law enforcement veteran, Dave is the retired Deputy Chief of Police for the City of Irvine, and will be presenting a course entitled, “SWAT Tactics for the Patrol Officer.” Lincoln 9 was Oak Tree Press’ 2015 best-selling novel on Amazon.

Marilyn Meredith aka F. M. Meredith has appearances scheduled at several libraries this June, July and August in Fresno, Paso Robles, Exeter, Fowler, Selma, Kingsburg and Selma. On August 8th, she’ll be giving a presentation on “How to Write a Mystery” for the San Luis Obispo Night Writers. She’ll have copies of her latest books with her including Unresolved.