It’s been eight months since we’ve been sheltering in place, and it hasn’t been much fun. Things are starting to loosen up a bit, new cases of Covid 19 are slowing, and we are able to do more things in public. Just remember to be safe—wear your masks and practice your social distancing.
Since we had to cancel the 2020 conference, we have decided to present a series of Zoom presentations, consisting of a 45-50 minute presentation by our members, with a Q&A afterward. It is our hope that many of you will participate in viewing them, as a way to keep our membership in touch and active in the organization.
Our first one will be presented by Marcia Rosen, speaking on the topic “Encouraging the Writer Within You.” It is scheduled for Wed., Oct 21, 1 p.m. Pacific time. RJ Beam will be the host, as he has hosted Zoom meetings before. There will be a moderator (me) who will keep track of the audience questions, which are submitted via the Zoom chat option.
I encourage you all to join in and view the meeting. It is a simple thing to do, and since there are members who have never done Zoom before and know nothing about it, a tutorial will be available. If you have a computer with a camera, or iPad, or phone, you can easily join in. If you have doubts or questions, contact RJ, or me, and we will help you out. RJ will be posting more information regarding the process.
If any of you members would like to be a presenter at the Zoom meetings, please contact RJ and let him know what the topic will be. We can have more than a single presenter, so if there are two, or even three of you willing to be on a “panel”, it is easy to do.
We are closely watching what is going on with the shelter in place and mask requirements, and will be checking periodically with the Orleans Hotel regarding next year’s conference. I am hopeful we will be able to attend the 2021 conference. Our mid-year board meeting is scheduled (tentatively) for February 2021, and we are keeping our fingers crossed that it will be safe to attend it.
And if you are not a member, and would like to be, this would be a good time to join.
I wish you all well in the coming months.
—John Schembra, President
VICE-PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE/A SUMMER TO READ AND WRITE
Writers read. We have all heard this and it is true of me. Well-written books and articles inspire. They show me clean and fluid styles of writing and challenge me to do better. The recent coronavirus lockdown in Las Vegas afforded me ample time to get my literary juices flowing. My preferred genre is creative non-fiction. I demand absolute accuracy in the details. My COVID book list includes Richard Preston’s Crisis in the Red Zone, Justus Rosenberg’s The Art of Resistance, and Casey Sherman & Dave Wedge’s Hunting Whitey. I now look forward to the just released, The Notorious Life of Ned Buntline, by Julia Bricklin.
Last year Security Management magazine offered me the opportunity to review books and write for its column, “Today In Security History” (TISH). My TISH articles highlight events drawn from reading—security successes and failures. The COVID summer provided time for contributing to Security Management. I anticipate Julia Bricklin’s true crime biography of “the biggest criminal you’ve never heard of” (quote from J. Bricklin) will lend itself to several TISH articles.
I have also been writing for Knife Magazine. The editor and I agree on the amount of detail to include and we are both keen to have the facts correct. It has been a good fit so far. Cutlery has been my hobby since childhood; I’ve enjoyed watching the art evolve and develop. Today’s custom and semi-custom knife makers number in the thousands. The advent of CAD (computer-aided design) has resulted in extraordinary fit and finish, and the proliferation of novel machining for folding pocketknives. Coupled with the new “super-steels” available at modest prices, knife shops are putting out affordable—thus suitable for everyday use—works of art.
I discovered a very talented author I had been unaware of, Linda Greenlaw. Greenlaw was portrayed in Warner Bros. Pictures’, The Perfect Storm as the woman swordfish boat captain playing opposite George Clooney’s swordfish captain. Greenlaw’s first memoir—a work of creative non-fiction—describes her life as a swordfish captain sailing out of Gloucester, Massachusetts and the perils of deep-water fishing across thousands of miles of Atlantic Ocean. The Hungry Ocean became a New York Times bestseller. Greenlaw followed up with a memoir of lobster fishing along the coast of Maine: The Lobster Chronicles. Captain Greenlaw’s excellent story telling takes me back to the New England coast—much missed—for an hour or two.
A Link to “Today in Security History,” Security Management: https://bit.ly/369ce2T).
— R. Scott Decker, PSWA Vice President and author of Recounting the Anthrax Attacks.
This has been a year like I have never seen before. Hopefully, this pandemic will soon pass into history, my health mask will be in the garbage and politicians will start to respect the country and the people they were elected to represent. It is a shame that the 2020 conference had to be cancelled, but your health and safety were our main concern. Hopefully, 2021 will be a much better year and the conference another success.
I have been a member of this writers’ association since its beginning as the Police Writers Club, under our President Emeritus, Roger Fulton. I was one of his original members. I want to let you know there is something in this organization for every writer who has public safety in mind. You can write about public safety from your personal experiences or write about current training and issues. There is always a need for short stories and poems to be shared and novels and tomes to be written. Use what you learn in the PSWA to further your writing skills for other types of publications. For example, I have six articles on grief in Grief Digest, an on-line grief magazine. No matter what your writing interests are, your writing skills will be improved when you become a member of the PSWA and spend time using what you have learned.
The dues for PSWA membership are reasonable, as is the price of the well-organized annual writers conference. How many times have you paid a small fortune for a conference or attended a college class or maybe an adult ed program on writing only to come home unhappy and empty? I know I have. The PSWA conference is member driven, and Mike Black does an outstanding job of fitting presenters and topics to the attendees wants and needs. How many conference planners have asked you, the attendee, a year in advance, what do you want to see presented?
Our membership rolls change from time to time. Some people just move on, and as with all departing friends, we wish them well. Others have financial obligations and concerns. Some might not like what we offer, and others might have accomplished their writing goals. Your PSWA executive board works hard trying to keep up with the wants and desires of the membership. Even though we try to please one and all, we also realize it isn’t possible. Our organization needs the help of the members. We need you to encourage your writer friends to join and share their knowledge with fellow PSWA members. Sing the praises of the PSWA to your writer friends. Tell them about the many different writing contests. Let them know if they receive an award in our annual writing contests, they can list in their accomplishments that they are an award-winning writer. Being an award winner impresses editors and might be the single item that causes your work to be chosen over the writings of another author.
Secretary/Life Member of Public Safety Writers Association
After having to cancel the conference in Vegas, we put on an awards ceremony online via Zoom. At that online event, there was a discussion about hosting some speakers and panels online. The first event is Wed., Oct 21, 3 PM CST (1 PM PST or 4 PM EST).
This first event will have Marcia Rosen, speaking on the topic “Encouraging the Writer Within You.” Her presentation should last a little over 40 minutes, followed by a Q&A session. During her talk, feel free to send in questions via the chatbox that is on Zoom. John will collate the questions to be asked later during the Q&A. This will make things run smoother versus worrying about the muting and unmuting of microphones.
I will email the link a few days before the event. I will also resend that link on the morning of the 21st. The link will also get posted to our private Facebook group.
There is no requirement to download anything to make Zoom work. Just click the link, and it will run in your web browser. However, if you install Zoom’s software, you might see better performance; it can be downloaded here https://zoom.us/download for a PC or MAC. You can also find Zoom apps for your iPad, iPhone, and Android phones.
If you have any questions about zoom, drop me an email. Even if I can’t help, hopefully, I can point you in the right direction.
I hope everyone is keeping healthy, both physically and emotionally.
Hope to “See you” soon on Zoom.
— RJ Beam, Technology Chiar
LOOKING FORWARD TO THE NEXT CONFERENCE
I hope all of you are doing well in these exceptionally troubled times. We’re entering our seventh month of the COVID restricted living clampdowns that originally were supposed to flatten the curve so the hospitals wouldn’t get overwhelmed. We ended up canceling our conference and a bunch of other things, but the curve now seems flattened. We’re also in an election year, which is always a stressful, tumultuous time. Added to that is the seemingly unending civil unrest sweeping many of our once-proud cities. To say that it’s been difficult to concentrate on writing is an understatement. Last weekend there was a shooting at one of my favorite neighborhood restaurants here in Chicago that left one dead and four others wounded. I guess I won’t be going for pancakes there anytime soon. They’re under a state-wide order not to have indoor dining, so they set up a big tent in the parking lot. It made for an unencumbered target, a purported gang member enjoying his pancakes. Needless to say, it shook up the neighborhood once more.
So what have we got to look forward to? Well, I’m hoping for a few things. I’m looking forward to these restrictions being lifted, a possible vaccine for the virus by late October, the election being over, and the restoration of law and order in our great land. Keep your fingers crossed.
I’m amazed at how quickly things can change. Perhaps this whole series of events was a good reminder for all of us. Think back to last December and how optimistic we all were. The holidays were approaching, the plans for the conference was on-going, the economy was good, you could walk down the streets of your city or town and not worry about an unruly crowd turning into a mob … Then, seemingly in the blink of an eye, it all evaporated. We sat huddled in fear in the confines of our dwellings, petrified that an invisible enemy would seek us out. Dread replaced optimism, misery supplanted happiness. Then a series of unfortunate incidents involving police ignited the frustrations and we became further divided. Riots, looting, arson, murder … We’ve run the gambit. I’ve never seen such anti-police sentiment, nor have I seen such mob mentality and groupthink.
How did things go from good to bad so fast?
I wish I had the answer to that. There are a lot of opinions, but as my grandfather used to say, People’s opinions aren’t worth a tub of spit in the long run. He was a navy lifer who was a really wise man. He served our country in two wars and was basically self-taught. Another thing he told me was that change wasn’t always good, but it was inevitable. But he was also a kind of “the glass is half” full kind of guy.
Considering how quickly things went to hell in a hand-basket, it really isn’t too far-fetched to hope that things can change back just as quickly. Right now we’re planning to go ahead with the PSWA Conference next July. I’m totally confident that things are on the upswing, and the conference will come off without a hitch. Why am I so optimistic? I don’t know, I just am. I guess I get that from my grandfather.
I remember wondering when I was a kid, during an exceptionally dark, cold, brutal winter here in Chicago, what the first humans in this area must have thought when the days shrunk and the winter cold and snow blanketed everything. Did they think it was the end of the world? They had no way of knowing that once the vernal equinox arrived that it would start to get warmer again. The snow and ice would melt, the days would get longer, the flowers would bloom, and the warmth of spring and summer would inevitably arrive. It’s the nature of things, and I’m convinced that this too, shall pass. So let’s think past this tenebrous, tempestuous time, and look forward to our next conference.
I’m looking forward to seeing all of you there.
—Michael A. Black, Conference Chair
MESSAGE FROM THE CONTEST CHAIRPERSON
Wow, this year as your Writing Competition Chairperson was a challenging one. It’s going to be easy going now when things return to normal. The awards ceremony, via Zoom, went well. I’m already thinking of ways to make the competition run smoother for next year. One of the first changes will be to go to blind judging. All entries, except for published books, will be sent to the judges only with the titles known. All of our judges are fantastic, but I had it mentioned to me that they could not help being influenced by knowing the authors of the piece they were judging. That will no longer be an issue.
One other thing I’m mentioning, and this was a problem last year…please make sure your handwriting is clear when you send me your entries, some were hard to decipher.
You can start sending me your entries on Jan 1, 2021. The changes you will need to know will be on the website by then.
I had the pleasure of reading some great work last year and am looking forward to reading more in 2021. I’m also looking forward to handing your awards in person. Until then, stay safe.
—Barbara M. Hodges, Contest Chair
GARAGE BURGLARIES…IT’S SO EASY, EVEN A CAVEMAN CAN DO IT.
I don’t have a “man cave” in my house. But I do have a 4-car garage that kind of serves as one, and it’s a little roomier than the “dog house” that my wife sometimes bans me to. Yet, with all this space, I can barely get two cars in it. You ask “Only two? Why”? That’s because as most people, I also use my garage for storage.
There are gardening tools, shelves stacked with old, half-filled paint cans, a workbench and numerous hand and power tools for any project from furniture making to car maintenance. Of course, I don’t use them. At my stage of life, I only need two tools; the phone company’s Yellow Pages and a credit card.
Boxed-up are Christmas wreaths and tree decorations, and every other holiday décor item. You will find Easter baskets and plastic eggs for the grandchildren, most of whom are in their 20s and only seek out Grandma’s and Grandpa’s holiday card because of the typical money that’s enclosed.
Along one wall there’s a two-door refrigerator/freezer and another full-size upright freezer that is stocked with enough food to be sheltered in place for about two years. You can find fishing gear and a myriad of sporting equipment; baseballs and softballs, gloves, golf balls, a basketball and soccer ball, Frisbees, and two sets of golf clubs with all the accessories.
On another wall are numerous shelves stacked with a variety of plastic storage containers acquired from Home Depot during the post-holiday sales and, thanks to my wife’s frequent ordering from Amazon, cardboard boxes of all sizes. In these containers exist 74 years of “My Treasures” … of which I won’t bore you with at this time.
So, where am I going with all this? Just to say that for the neighborhood burglar, residential home garages are the “Mecca”, a “Goldmine”, a “ticketless Lottery Jackpot.” It’s like finding buried treasure or a sunken pirate ship in the Caribbean. Besides personal vehicles and their contents, the typical homeowner’s garage is a one-stop shopping adventure with items that can be stolen to trade for drugs or fenced for cash.
Breaking into a garage is so easy. Here are a few personal safety and security tips regarding garages.
- When returning home, don’t be in a hurry to open your garage (half a block away) with the automatic remote opener before you ensure nobody is standing up close to your house.
- After driving into your garage, remain in your car with the doors locked and close the garage door with an automatic opener. Should an intruder try to enter the garage door while it is coming down, they will “trip” the safety beam, causing the door to reverse direction and go up. You can then attract neighbor attention by pushing the emergency button on your key fob to activate your car’s siren and flashing lights or escape by backing out to getaway.
- Don’t leave your garage open while doing yard work. It only takes a minute or two for someone to sneak into your garage and steal items while your attention is on mowing the lawn on working in the back yard.
- Leaving your garage door open a few inches for the cat is an open invitation for intruders. The average person can get under 8-inches of space.
- When leaving your car with a vehicle service company (i.e. routine maintenance service, new tires or tire repair, etc.), take the remote garage door opener with you. Don’t leave the remote opener in your vehicle if parked overnight or when unattended for long periods of time… as when you go on vacation and park in the airport’s long-term parking lot.
- Generally, residential garage doors are not wired into the home’s security alarm system. Get into the habit of setting your car’s alarm system when parked in your garage. If someone gets into your garage and opens the car door looks for valuables, they will likely run away when they set-off the car’s security alarm.
- Many garage door openers have a “vacation mode” setting, which disables garage door remotes and prevents the garage door from being opened from the outside. If your garage door opener does not have a “vacation mode” setting, an alternative is to unplug it. Consult your owner’s manual first.
How much valuable “stuff” is in your garage? Like a familiar TV commercial line, I’ll ask you, “What’s in Your … Garage”?
Until the next time, Stay Safe!
NOTE: Since this newsletter is open to public information, I won’t describe ways to burglarize garages. However, if you would like to learn some easy ways to break into a garage, whether for personal knowledge or possibly even a scenario for your next publication, send me a private email with “Garage Security” as the subject line.
WILL WE BE UNITED?
I was watching television a while ago and came across a documentary titled MIRACLES? It was the story of the 1980 United States Olympic Hockey Team and their quest for the Olympic Gold Medal and what that quest meant to the American Public.
If you think back to 1980 it wasn’t a good time for the United States. The Iranian’s had taken over the United States Embassy in Tehran. They were holding our Marines and embassy workers as hostages. The Carter administration put together a rescue effort that failed in the desert of Iran and led to the deaths of U. S. servicemen. The United States economy tanked. We were broke. Interest rates rose to all-time highs with some credit cards charging more than twenty percent interest. Our gas prices were astronomical and every American household was struggling to make ends meet.
Along came the Winter Olympics held in Lake Placid New York. The United States Hockey Team was a bunch of college athletes coached by Herb Brooks. Herb was a dynamic coach who brought a bunch of individuals from across the country together and molded them into a team.
The Olympics started and to be honest over the two weeks of the 1980 Winter Olympics I remember very little about who won what during the events, but I do know what happened during the hockey games. The United States Hockey team rolled up an impressive record and made it almost to a medal. They had to play a team of professionals that played for the Soviet Union under the guise of being an amateur team. For years the Soviet team had been unbeatable and had beaten the American team only weeks before at an exhibition game at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
The day of the game I still remember where I was. I finished working an 8 – 4 tour. My partner was a die-hard hockey fan and we were both going to our homes to watch the game. My parents came over that evening and even my wife, who is not a sports fan, was ready to watch the game.
The poor United States team was under unimaginable pressure. The citizens of the United States were looking for American heroes. As a country we needed someone or something to believe in. The hockey team was being cheered but not expected to deliver. After all, they and we as a nation had to defeat our arch-rival, the Soviet Union.
The game started and the United States team fell behind as expected, but in the third period the Americans came alive. Herb Brooks must have delivered a rather strongly worded pep talk. The Americans delivered rapid multiple goals. The stands came alive. The crowd was on its feet, cheering and waving American flags. Patriotism was alive, the team and the fans were rallying the country back into the “United” states.
When the game ended, the United States had won. The noise of the crowd was overwhelming. Jim Craig, the goalie, was skating with an American flag draped over his shoulders, crying and looking for his father in the stands. My household was on its feet. We were all hugging one another, just like the fans at Lake Placid. We were all united again and our country had something to be proud of – we won. The contest for the medals was not over, but we had defeated our evil enemy, and the amateur beat the professional athlete.
Now our country is in dire straits once again. Politicians have never been so self-centered. They no longer care what’s good for their constituents, but what’s good for their party and their own political gain.
My question for you is will we ever see a “United” States of America again? Will we rally behind our troops? Will we take pride in our accomplishments and not have politicians apologize for our successes? When our stars and stripes flag is carried in a parade, will people rise from their seats, stand straight and place their right hands over their hearts? When a flag draped casket passes in a funeral procession, will we stand in silence and pray a thank you for that hero, for all he did to make our freedom possible? I hope we learn to do so. We need something to rally around and being united is a good start. Where is that United States hockey team when we need them?
Secretary/Life Member of Public Safety Writers Association
SOCIAL JUSTICE ISSUES IN FICTION
I know I sure as hell am. So this article is not going to try to espouse any particular candidate, party, cause, or anything of that sort. It’s about putting important themes in your fiction writing. Should it be done? If so, how, and how much?
Well, let me begin by saying I believe fiction writing should first be interesting and entertaining. If you’re intention is to promote a certain cause that’s dear to your heart, perhaps it would be better to write a nonfiction book. If you try to disguise a polemic as a novel it’s a lot like, as they say, putting lipstick on a pig. The result usually isn’t very pretty.
Let’s take a look at a few examples.
Back in my undergrad college days I was forced to read Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. I was spared this task in high school, where many of my fellow students complained about it, but it was required reading for one very liberal history professor’s class. I found the book to be a maudlin story that stretched credulity to the point of being ludicrous, and in the end turned into little more than a tract glorifying Socialism. Sinclair was a journalist and an avowed socialist when he wrote the book in 1905. (He also thought of himself as a poet, but his poetry which went generally unnoticed and unappreciated.) The Jungle was published as a serial in a newspaper, and a year later as a novel.
While the socialist message generally failed to garner much public support at the time, it did lead to some substantial changes in the meat packing industry. To his credit, Sinclair went undercover as a worker in a meat packing plant in Chicago, and the conditions he described were so outrageous new laws with more sanitary standards were enacted. Sinclair was essentially a journalist, so perhaps he should have written The Jungle as a nonfiction piece.
One thing was eminently clear to me after I finished reading it: the book didn’t work as a novel. The plot is maudlin, the characters cartoonish, and the story itself peters out in the home stretch and becomes a thinly disguised tract extolling the virtues of socialism. “CHICAGO WILL BE OURS,” an unruly mob chants on the last page in capital letters. It never happened that way. The book isn’t even accurate history. My reaction was to throw the book across the room in disgust several times while reading it. Nobody likes to be berated or beat over the head with a message. My grade for the novel: D-. It’s ponderous and an unpleasant chore to read.
Now let’s take a look at another book from the early part of the Twentieth Century, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Like Sinclair, Steinbeck was a journalist who wanted to write novels. During the 1930s the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl devastated the Midwest. Thousands of people were out of work or forced from their farms. They migrated westward toward California, “the Promised Land.” Steinbeck joined this migration and traveled with some of the families, doing a series of articles for a newspaper. From these experiences he was able to write what many consider his masterwork, The Grapes of Wrath.
The novel tells the story of the Joad family. These “Okies” find themselves starving and unable to continue on their sharecropper farm, so they head to they join the westward migration. (It should be noted that Okie, which was a pejorative given to migrating hoards from Oklahoma, probably wouldn’t make it past the politically correct police of today’s literary establishment.) The protagonist of the novel is Tom Joad, who returns to the family after serving a prison term for killing a man in barroom brawl. As they migrate west, the Joads face one crisis after another. Like the family of Jurgis Rudkus, the Lithuanian immigrant of The Jungle, the Joad family is slowly crushed by an uncaring, brutal, and corrupt society. Tom ends up killing another man who was trying to break up the union-minded migrants who are forced into near slave labor. He eventually meets a charismatic labor organizer who is in turn killed, but not before he instills a transcendental philosophy into Tom, who eventually leaves the family to fight injustice as a labor organizer himself.
Steinbeck even commits what might be considered a literary faux pas in that he completely removes his protagonist, Tom, from the penultimate section of the book. The ending, however, is still a real zinger, with a symbolic reaffirmation of humanity triumphing over depraved indifference. If you haven’t read the book, I won’t spoil it by revealing the aspects of this final scene, but suffice it to say, it’s powerful, and therein lies the difference between Sinclair’s cumbersome, clumsy, cartoonish attempt at plotting and characterization and Steinbeck’s rich portrayal. We’re right there with the Joads in their journey experiencing and feeling their pain and struggles. We come to know the characters in The Grapes of Wrath, and we care about them. The social issues described are startlingly similar in the two books, but Steinbeck’s novel is a pleasure to read. My grade: B+. It lags a little at the end, but it’s well worth sticking with it until the final scene.
Another famous example of a socially conscious novel is Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. The book, and the movie based on it, highlight the theme of racial prejudice and acceptance of others in the deep South during the 1930s. The author does a masterful job telling the story from the point of view of a female narrator who remembers the efforts of her lawyer father, Atticus Finch, as he defends a young black man accused of raping a white woman. It was Lee’s only novel, or at least the only one she wanted to have published. In 2014 Go Set a Watchman, a purported earlier version of the novel, was released at the behest of Lee’s caretakers. Lee, who suppressed the publication of Watchman her entire life, was in failing health at the time. It’s conjectured that the unscrupulous people controlling her were intent on making a fast buck and forced the release of what was generally considered to be a substandard novel. I taught Mockingbird in a class once, but I never read Watchman. I really don’t intend to do so ever. Once again, the key to good writing is in the characterization. In Mockingbird we care about them, we want to be with them through their various trials and tribulations, and we want to see the story through to the end. Plotting and characterization take precedence. My grade for Mockingbird: A. It’s a deft portrayal of the characters and a highly entertaining yarn.As I previously stated, I write primarily to entertain, but occasionally try to imbue some important themes into my work.
In my recent western, Gunslinger: Killer’s Brand, for instance, I address the themes of racial intolerance and mob violence. (I want to assure you that I wrote this before the recent civil unrest that has been sweeping our nation.) The story involves a black farmer who is wrongfully accused of murder in the Old West. In another book in that series, Gunslinger: Killer’s Ghost, I deal with mob hysteria in the face of a possible epidemic. I write these under the name A.W. Hart. While I try to make my westerns historically accurate, I also like to tip my hat to the western mythology that has grown out of the modern-day genre. I feel I have a certain justification for doing this. Did I mention that famous western writer, Zane Grey, was a distant relative of mine? Anyway, Gunslinger: Killer’s Brand also contains a trail sequence that is reminiscent of the one in To Kill a Mockingbird. Please check it out if you like a good read. I won’t be presumptuous and give my own novel a grade, but if I did, it would be an A+.
So that’s my advice for this time. You don’t necessarily have to shy away from portraying universal truths or important social issues in your fiction. Just make sure you do so with a bit of finesse. If your book’s not well written and interesting and entertaining, nobody’s going to want to read it, regardless of what you’re trying to say. Good storytelling and intriguing characters should take precedence over themes. And remember, nobody likes to be preached at.
Anyway, good luck and keep writing.
(Identity revealed at the conference.)
WRITING A MEMOIR
How much should I reveal in a memoir? Do I tell about that awful basement room I lived in, the one without a kitchen sink where I had to wash my dishes in the bathtub? Do readers really want to know how to do canned stew on a hot plate? Maybe leave that part out. Too embarrassing. On the other hand, perhaps some people would relate to that experience.
Should I just stick to the successes and accomplishments? And how much about police work to include? There’s all that undercover experience that would make great reading but, you know, can’t talk about it. Too sensitive, too many people involved who can’t be named. I could write some good stories from my time in the patrol division though. It will be hard to make my time in police management exciting reading. And what about the family stuff? There were difficult family members and difficult family moments but how much should I write about all that? I worry about hurt feelings resulting.
These are the things I’ve been thinking about as I begin to write my memoir. I’ve done some research into various formats but after a lot of reading decided to just plunge ahead with it.
There’s an overwhelming amount of information about how to write a memoir and so many experts on the subject. At one point I had four books open in front of me, each with a different approach. I read so much “how to” material that I was starting to go around in circles wondering which one to take. Should it be chronological or themed? Keep it lofty and only write about the good stuff or do a tell-all and let everything come out? I was groaning under information overload. Finally, I just decided to do it in a way that made sense to me. That is, figure it out as the memoir develops.
I think inserting pictures will make it a better book. This one goes in when I get to the police stories. That’s me on patrol in Vancouver in about 1977. (Back in those days we were always supposed to have our police hat on when we got out of the patrol car. It’s a good thing the sergeant wasn’t around when this picture was taken.)
While doing my research into memoir writing I stumbled over a useful writing resource. Now, I may be the only PSWA member who is just discovering this so I’ll just say I wish I’d known about it when I wrote my first book, Second Careers for Street Cops. So, if there’s someone else out there who didn’t know about this little gold nugget, this is for you: Microsoft Word has a template for writing nonfiction (there’s also one for writing a novel), all properly formatted with correct margins, chapter numbers, introduction, conclusion, etc.? It seems to fit well for doing a memoir
To find the template do this:
Click on NEW. A search box opens called SEARCH FOR ONLINE TEMPLATES.
Type in WRITE NONFICTION and the template will appear.
I’m using Word Home and Student 2016 so your search may be different in other versions.
Finally, I wonder whether or not I should publish this memoir. I’ve had some adventures that would be interesting to read about and people do like police stories. Still, I wonder who would want to read my life story aside from family members. I’ll continue to ponder that as I progress through this writing journey.
Oh, and the canned stew episode is still in, for now.
Author of Second Careers for Street Cops and Nobody Wants to Talk About it . . .
A HELPFUL HINT
Have you upgraded your computer recently? Microsoft is no longer servicing Windows 7, the writing program that probably all of us were very comfortable in using. I was reluctant to change and complained and complained. Now I’m working my way through Windows 10. I am getting more comfortable as my usage increases.
I did find something on Windows 10 that I have found to be very useful to me as a writer. When I finish writing something, I always ran a word and grammar check, that was provided by Windows 7. It fixed most of my mistakes. Sometimes it even caused an argument between the computer and me. Now Windows 10 takes self-editing a step further. Windows 10 will actually audibly read back your story to you. It is great for correcting those errors that our eyes miss because our brain is telling us what is printed is how we wanted our work to read, not as it really does. I have run writing through Windows 10 audible and it has picked up errors and typos.
If you haven’t upgraded your computer yet, you might want to look into Libre Office. It is very similar to Windows and saves your writings in docx format. Check it out. It might save you a lot of money.
WHAT IS IN A NAME?
Why do I want to use the same first letter for multiple characters in my manuscripts? I know it drives readers crazy. It annoys me if I’m reading along in a novel and I can’t sort whether Jane or Julie picked up the poker in the last scene, but I do like my Ds and Ss. Also, I like unusual spellings of common names such as Sadye, not Sadie or Jon instead of John. I dig multiple syllables: Savannah, Darrel, Dorison, Douglas, David, and Jerry and Julie. Apparently, I return to Grace and Alice as maternal names for the sweet mothers in my stories. I love the name Barbara because a childhood friend, Barbara Lowery, is dear to me. Whereas, Bess is a mother who abuses her children in my short story “Jewel’s Hell”. To be fair I changed the original Beth to Bess because Beth is my husband’s ex-wife’s name. She isn’t my favorite person.
I digress. Protagonist or antagonist I prefer certain names, the way they sound, and roll off the tongue. Symbolism intrigues me; I used Grey for the last name of the training officer in “Well of Rage” because he is burnt out and his moral compass is broken.
Of course, I use a character list to help avoid the pitfall of using the same names or multiple names starting with the same first letter, but I gravitate to my favorites like I do egg salad and potato chips or goulash and other comfort food in real life. As any professional writer does, I hit the Find button and Replace All toward the end of the first draft to dress up my manuscript and make it sparkle, but my “after-school clothes”, give me my Ds and Ss, feel much better and emotionally satisfying.
Names are important. Calling one by name acknowledges their worth and existence. I believe to ignore or ostracize another human being is the worst insult.
I’m used to people leaving off the E on Hesse and their mispronunciation of my last name, but then I’m the worst. I lack hearing and speech coordination skills. I stumble over the names of my sisters within my international InterPlay sisters’ group, but that is another story filled with human frailties. Next time.
“Another Kind of Hero”
“Well of Rage”
“DEAD TO WRITES” PODCAST INTERVIEW: The episode is now live at YouTube, promised, here are the links:
GOOD ROADS BAD
Good fences make good neighbors is a proverb existing in many different cultures and languages. In this article, I use a derivation of this ancient proverb, “Good Roads Make Bad Neighbors,” to illustrate how centuries of enmity between the Ute Indians of Colorado and their neighbors to the immediate south, the Navajo of Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico was inflamed by the development of a road from Santa Fe, New Mexico to Los Angeles. The road accelerated fluid hostilities and alliances for and against each other, a slave trade, and enabled the imposition of a curse.
The Old Spanish Trail
The Santa Fe Trail, established in 1821, successfully connected the eastern United States with the New Mexico trading hub at Santa Fe. In 1829, the road was extended to connect Los Angeles to Santa Fe. The main branch of the trail, known now as the Old Spanish Trail, spanned over 2,700 miles, cutting through the southwestern corner of Colorado and Ute territory, moving north and west through Utah and finally turning south again toward Arizona and lower Nevada, with a terminus in Los Angeles.
The trail hosted pilgrims moving westward, allowed passage for military deployment, and new markets for commodities traders from 1829 until portions were paved over for modern highways (US 160 in Colorado and US 191 in Utah). Until 1862, the most valued commodity on the Old Spanish Trail was slaves. The trail facilitated raids of Californio ranchos to support an extensive Indian slave trade. Paiutes (relatives of the Utes) who lived along the Old Spanish Trail, were captured, then sold or traded for horses in both California and New Mexico Territory.
A Well-established Slave Trade
Though not as brutal or vast as African slavery in the Deep South, Indian slavery in the Southwest, often called the Second Slavery, played a deep role in the region’s culture, economy, warfare and inter-ethnic relations felt to this day.
Utes and Navajos actively participated as perpetrators and victims of the slave trade. The trade in Native women and children was long established before the Southwest’s independence from Spain. Every spring, Mexican traders took cheap goods to exchange with the Navajo and Ute for broken-down horses and mules, which they took to Utah and bartered along with weapons and ammunition for Indian women and children. They in turn took them to California via the Old Spanish Trail and sold them. The traders then bought more horses for the return trip. The horses were then traded for more Indian captives.
When the Mormons arrived in Utah in 1847, they found that the entire region had evolved into a slaving ground by Native and by Hispanic merchants who were operating in the area. The Mormon appearance only served to increase the demand for slaves. Whites continued taking children from their Native families long after the slave traders left and actively solicited children from Indians with the expressed purpose of adopting them into Mormon culture.
Tit for Tat
Ute leader Chief Walkara (baptized at death in 1855 as Joseph Walker), took advantage of the Ute tribes’ custom that allowed them to sell women and children (including Navajo) in exchange for supplies and horses. Other children were acquired for trading through war raids and then were sold to Mexican traders who, using the Old Spanish Trail, sold them as slaves in California. A boy destined for field work typically sold for $100, while girls went for $150 to $200 for domestic work. Often, children subject to these conditions rarely lived past the age of twenty, according to a recent study.
Amidst this pervasive atmosphere of forced servitude, tensions between the Navajo and Utes grew. In 1860 slave raiding by the Navajo increased substantially. The Navajo raided Utes, who reciprocated with raids into Navajo territory, aggravating the perpetual cycle of slave trading.
Long burning animosities ignited when, in 1863, frontiersman, trapper, and soldier Kit Carson waged a brutal suppression campaign against the Navajo. When bands of Navajo refused to accept confinement on reservations, Carson used Ute scouts to flush Navajos from deep within their final stronghold at Canyon de Chelly.
Carson marched some 8,000 Navajo captives 300 miles across New Mexico’s harsh countryside in an arduous and often fatal forced removal, known as the “Long Walk,” for imprisonment at the barren Bosque Redondo Reservation in eastern New Mexico. The relocation of Navajos from August 1864 to December 1866 offered new opportunity for Utes to seize women and children from the helpless Navajo and sell them to the new settlements as laborers or house servants in what is now Colorado.
The Lost Tribe
Historians estimate that slaves or indentured persons accounted for as much as one-third of New Mexico Territory’s population of 29,000 in the late 1700s. Congress outlawed slavery in all U.S. territories in 1862, but today, the effects linger. At the time of their enslavement, many victims were too young, terrified or confused by the alien white culture, or were prohibited to associate with other tribal members and therefore lost their tribal identities. Called Genizaros, the descendants of slaves have no known tribal affiliation and therefore are not qualified for U.S government educational, medical, or housing aide targeted for Native Americans. Numerous genealogical and DNA search organizations in New Mexico are currently conducting projects to identify the lost heritage of these people.
Enslavement of the Utes by the Navajo produced a penalty of another kind,: an extra worldly threat.
Skinwalker Ranch is not unheard of to those who have developed an interest in the paranormal. The infamous Skinwalker (Sherman) Ranch, which borders the Old Spanish Trail, is home to some horrifying anomalies, most notably a Ute curse.
Skinwalker Ranch is a large plot of land located near Ballard in north central Utah that has reported weird occurrences. The history of the place dates back over 150 years when the Navajo and the Ute tribes occupied the area.
Ultimately, Navajo and Ute relationships deteriorated from the effects of the robust slave trade and the changing alliances of each tribe. The Utes placed a curse on the Navajo in the form of a vicious skinwalker (sometimes described as a shapeshifter, or evil witch) in retaliation for the enslavement of Ute people. Skinwalkers have the capability to take the form of any animal with the most common form being that of a wolf-like creature.
Mr. Terry Sherman, a previous owner of the Skinwalker Ranch (southeast of neighboring Fort Duchesne) in 1994, encountered a wolf-like creature that grabbed one of his cattle. Sherman shot the wolf with a .357 magnum at very close range. After two shots, the wolf released the cow and stared menacingly with piercing red eyes. A few more shots were fired, which caused the animal to walk away wounded, but indifferent to the injury. Similarly, a security officer on the neighboring Uintah and Ouray Reservation, also located near Fort Duchesne, spotted a huge creature in the dark with coal red eyes. He and another officer pursued but couldn’t catch it.
Is the mysterious red-eyed beast a skinwalker destined to patrol the Old Spanish Trail in the dead of night, a killer hungering for the descendants of Navajo who long ago raided the Utes for slaves? The curse has not been lifted to this day and reports of the wolf with the red, glowing eyes are too bizarre to believe, but too numerous to ignore.
For more information on Ute/Navajo hostilities and skinwalkers, read my new novel, Dead Horses.
From Marcia Rosen:
August 21, 2020, A Senior Sleuths Mystery, “Dead in THAT Beach House,” Published by Level Best Books is the third in the series and available at your local book store, Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com. This series of murder and mayhem is written in a modern noir style with charming, witty, deliciously clever soft-boiled sleuths.
Once we had arrived in the Hamptons, settled in and I felt comfortable, I began to add small amounts of poison to the evening cocktails. It was from the oleander flowers. I had planted them carefully behind the barn in Ames. After only weeks, they were falling ill, listless, crying to go back to Ames. They felt too sick at the beach house. It was simple.I know you must think I’m a monster. But, really, they felt very little when I strangled them to death thanks to the poison in their system. When they were dead, I filled my library with books about murder and witchcraft. The note I leave for whomever might find them might explain what happened…
The Senior Sleuths, Dick and Dora Zimmerman, much like Nick and Nora Charles from the Thin Man series, and their cozy group of interesting, quirky friends take on crooks and murderers while dealing with an outrageous case of elder abuse.
Later: “Shall we say invitations are mandatory?”
“Absolutely, dear. We wouldn’t want anyone to miss the fun”
“They’re either belligerent, arrogant, or simply annoyed,” Zero whispered to Cloud as the so-called guests arrived. They were all murderers and those who had committed crimes against the elderly.
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Jersey Lawman, a memoir of former U.S. marshal James Plousis’s 40 years in law enforcement, has won second place for nonfiction in the Public Safety Writers Association’s national competition for 2020.
The award, which PSWA announced on July 12, recognizes a book whose proceeds go to the U.S. Marshals Survivors Benefit Fund. Freelance writer George Ingram collaborated with Plousis on Jersey Lawman.
The first-person narrative tells the story of Plousis and his career in law enforcement–from rookie cop in a rough New Jersey Pine Barrens town to the youngest elected county sheriff in America at that time; and from his appointment as U.S. marshal for New Jersey to his assignment as chairman of the New Jersey Parole Board.
Plousis was a police officer in Ocean City, NJ, before being elected sheriff of Cape May County at age 32. He served in that post for five terms, earning national recognition for his innovative approaches to law enforcement, public safety, and incarceration.
In 2002, President George W. Bush appointed Plousis as U.S. marshal. In this position he fought to bring the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Safe Surrender program to the Garden State and worked on high-profile cases here and abroad. For seven years afterward he was chairman of the New Jersey Parole Board. He now chairs the Casino Control Commission in Atlantic City.
In the book Plousis also relates many personal efforts, including a humanitarian mission to earthquake-ravaged Haiti.
When they began working on the book, the two Ocean City, NJ, residents agreed that proceeds from “Jersey Lawman” would go to the U.S. Marshals Survivors Benefit Fund. It is a private, non-profit corporation formed “exclusively for charitable and educational disbursements of its funds to the surviving family members of active United States Marshals, Deputy U.S. Marshals, Marshals Service Employees, and Special Deputy U.S. Marshals who are killed in the line of duty.”
Daniel J. O’Donnell, chairman of the fund, called their offer “a generous contribution to help the families of slain U.S. marshals.”
Jersey Lawman is published by Publishing with J.A.M, a division of Callahan Services, LLC. The book’s website is www.jerseylawman.com
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David Knop has been awarded 2nd place in the 2020 writing contest in the mystery category by Southwest Writers for my novel, Dead Horses. Dead Horses is available at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and others.
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Member Bob Doerr announces his new release:
“Viet Nam 1967
Del clawed at the wet turf below his face with his bare hands in a futile attempt to get away from the rocket and mortar rounds exploding around him. The vibrations and noise shook him without mercy. Panic had abandoned him hours ago, and sheer terror had taken its place.”
I’m very happy to announce the release of my new novella, Del Randall. I’ve had the idea of writing a story along the lines of Gran Turino starring Clint Eastwood for some time. An old soldier battling mild PTSD and the initial stages of dementia, who is trying to live out his life in peace. The path to his simple goal is suddenly blocked by the arrival of three killers that come in the night. Confused and lost somewhere between being back in Viet Nam or being home in the present, Del is left with little choice but to respond to the threat.
This was a fun story for me to write, and I hope you enjoy it. It’s available in ebook through Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/Del-Randall-Bob-Doerr-ebook/dp/B08D5MPRW4/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=del+randall+by+bob+doerr&qid=1601676863&s=digital-text&sr=1-1
Thanks, and stay safe out there. – Bob Doerr
Bob has fifteen published books and another short novella, all available on Amazon.