- PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE
- CONFERENCE COMING UP
- PSWA WRITING CONTEST, EXCITING THINGS TO COME
- YOU SHOULD BE USING A PASSWORD MANAGER
- HOME BURGLARY DETERRENT
- CREATING YOUR WEBSITE
- THE ABILITY TO WRITE: NATURE OR NURTURE, PART II
- WHEN A PARENT DRINKS, THE CHILD SUFFERS
- SOCIAL WORKERS’ SAFETY TIPS TO LIVE BY
- MEMBER NEWS
YES! There’s still time to register for PSWA Conference 2014.
In just a few weeks, PSWA will be holding its annual conference at the Orleans Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. This is our traditional location, so we can pretty much guarantee that you will have a comfortable and enjoyable visit.
As you arrive on Thursday, plan to come right to the registration table. Here, you’ll be welcomed by the conference committee and PSWA officers and receive your credentials, handouts and a packet containing a variety of other materials.
You will also receive a printed program with the conference agenda and a bio and contact information for all attendees and speakers. So as panelists are speaking you’ll have a quick way to find their background and area of expertise.
At our Thursday evening opening reception, you will have a chance to meet most of your fellow attendees. This is an informal event with snacks and a no-host bar and we invite you to meet and mingle with people who will be both presenters and audience for the duration of the conference.
We make it a practice to always start on time, so be sure to check your registration packet for the agenda. We also invite you to sit wherever you want and to try sitting in a variety of locations so you meet as many people as possible. If you have any questions at any time, please feel free to ask any of the PSWA officers, conference committee or, well, just about anyone. We are a welcoming and collegial group.
Over the years we’ve also made it a policy to limit the number of attendees, so that everyone has an opportunity to be involved. Our panelists are all PSWA members, so both during the conference and afterward, you can contact them for further information.
In addition to the serious presentations, we always have a lot of fun. Conference chair Mike Black and the committee have something really special planned for this year.
Many of the people registered so far are regular attendees, but we are pleased to see an additional group of new faces as well. So, if this will be your first conference, you won’t be the only first timer. We will do our best to make you feel an immediate part of the group.
Again, there’s still time to become a part of PSWA Conference 2014. Click on Conference for all the details.
Marilyn Olsen, President
CONFERENCE COMING UP
The PSWA Conference is just around the corner. As a reminder, it’s scheduled for July 10th through the 14th at the fabulous Orleans Hotel and Casino in beautiful Las Vegas, Nevada. This will be my sixth time attending the conference, and it’s gotten better each year.
This will be my first time as a board member. I was chosen by Marilyn Meredith (with the approval of the rest of the board) to organize the conference program. While I’d been of token assistance to her in the past, this time I got a complete glimpse of the enormous amount of planning and work that goes into making the PSWA conference the preeminent event of the year.
We’ve got a lot of new things planned for this upcoming conference, such as some dynamite solo presenters, Mike Angley, Mark Bouton, and Dave Cropp. Mike will be talking about the differences between the various military investigative services. If you’ve ever wondered how much of Mark Harmon’s performance as Jethro Gibbs is true to life, you’ll get your answers during his presentation. Ex-FBI agent and accomplished novelist, Mark Bouton, will be giving a fiction writing seminar on developing characters and plots. And rounding things out will be Dave Cropp, who will be telling us about his real-life experiences as an undercover operative working to take down a motorcycle gang.
Rest assured, those of you who have attended the conference before can look forward to enjoying all of fun and informative presentations that you’ve experienced in the past events. In addition to our annual writing contest and dynamic speakers, we also have numerous panels scheduled on writing and public safety topics.
Plus, this year our own Steve Scarborough will be hosting our first CSI Jeopardy games, doing his best Alex Trebek imitation.
Our bookstore will have plenty of good books for sale and the breaks between sessions are a great time to speak with professionals in the fields of public safety and writing. It’s a great place to network, and the atmosphere is always friendly. You’ll also get some great meals, have a chance to stay in a luxurious hotel for very reasonable rates, and have plenty of time to explore one of the most fascinating and energizing cities in the world.
I look forward to seeing you at the Orleans in July.
–Michael A. Black, PSWA Conference Program Chair
Michael A. Black is the author of 21 books and over 100 short stories and articles. He is also a retired police officer. He is currently writing the Executioner series under the name Don Pendleton. His next novel, a political thriller called Chimes at Midnight, will be released June 18th. His novel, Sleeping Dragons, is one of the final nominees for the prestigious Scribe Award by the International Media Tie-In Writers Association.
- Sleeping Dragons, a Mack Bolan Executioner novel. Bolan travels to Hong Kong to try to prevent a deadly nerve gas from falling into the hands of some Libyan terrorists. Nominated for the Best Novel Scribe Award by the International Media Tie-In Writers Association.
- The Heist , Freeze Me, Tender, and Dead Ringer (with Julie Hyzy). All available on Amazon and from Crossroad Press: Available as an e-books and trade paperbacks and soon to be released as an audio
PSWA WRITING CONTEST
EXCITING THINGS TO COME
Although the deadline to submit an entry into the 2014 PSWA Writing Contest has passed, there are still a lot of exciting things to come. The entries have all been collected and are being sent out to my trusty group of expert judges. I select judges based on their area of expertise and their willingness to be fair, open-minded and provide feedback to our members. This feedback is one of the elements that makes the PSWA contest unique. If you’ve entered in the past and used the feedback to improve your story and/or your writing, I’d love to hear about it.
Once the judges finish their selections, all the judging sheets come back to me and I tally the result, create the “Award-Winning Author” certificates and wait with butterflies for the Awards Banquet which occurs on the last day of the Writing Conference. Right after lunch on Sunday, July 13th I get to announce the winners and I can hardly wait. This is the most exciting time of year for me as a part of the PSWA Board of Directors as I sit surrounded by the work of our members. Amidst the piles of novels, non-fiction books, magazine articles, poetry, flash fiction and screenplays, both published and unpublished, I recognize the hard work and talent that permeates this group. I’m very excited and I hope all of you are too. I also hope I will see each and every one of you at the conference as we honor the award winners among us. I also hope everyone is continuing to write, write, write and I’ll get to see the fruits of your labor in 2015.
–Michelle Perin, PSWA Contest Chairperson
Michelle J.G. Perin, MS, Firefighter/EMT
Board Member, Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA)
Fundraising Coordinator, Lane Area Ferret Shelter & Rescue
2012 Rookie of the Year & 2012 Volunteer Firefighter of the Year, South Lane County Fire & Rescue
YOU SHOULD BE USING A PASSWORD MANAGER
…unless you just want to have your identity stolen
The latest interest security threat, called Heartbleed, has caused some people to reconsider their use of passwords and net security generally. Latest threat or not, that’s never a bad idea.
If you’re a typical internet user, you re-use the same user name and password, or some slight variation of it, on every website and service you visit. This is a very natural, human solution to the problem of having to remember multiple user names and passwords. It’s also several steps removed from never locking the door to your house. It’s more like leaving your door unlocked, putting up a neon sign reading “FREE LOOT,” and then posting the address of your home and your daily itinerary on Craigslist.
Heartbleed exploited a flaw in a piece of software used by millions of websites. It allowed an intruder to retrieve information held in volatile server memory, which changes from one microsecond to the next. Make enough queries, and you’ll eventually get someone’s user name and password information, and maybe even their credit card or bank data. Invaders write “bots” to do this again and again, and then search the plunder for the information they want.
Once that’s in their hands, they start trying some of the larger commercial websites with the same user name and password data. If you were using the same login information on, say, Twitter, that you were using at Amazon.com or BestBuy.com, they will be able to order merchandise under your account and even change your password and email address of record to make it more difficult for you to notify the merchant of the intrusion. Your credit card company will most likely eat the fraudulent charges sooner or later, but in the meantime you’re trying to buy gas or check into a hotel, and your card is declined because it’s over the credit limit.
Much of this grief can be remedied by using a password manager. Password managers track your user name and password information, as well as a lot of other data if you choose to trust it, all locked down with a single password.
The obvious first questions are, “So what if I lose that password?” and “What happens if the password manager is compromised?” If you lose the master password and don’t have the data backed up anywhere, you’re pretty much screwed. Sorry about that. Nothing is completely foolproof. However, that problem is solved fairly easily.
As for having the password manager compromised, well, never say never, but it hasn’t happened yet. Because of the importance and the volume of information these services protect, they have multiple layers of encryption and are about as secure as anything you’re going to find. In any event, they’re better than writing down your passwords on a Post-It attached to your monitor (someone just glanced at that Post-It).
Creating a password that you can remember, but is difficult to crack, is not as difficult as you might think. Stringing together three apparently unrelated dictionary words works pretty well, even more so if you separate them with random punctuation or substitute numbers.
For example, say that your high school mascot was the Warriors, your favorite pet’s name was Fluffy, and you lost your virginity in a Camaro. Let’s also assume you haven’t used any of these as the answers to security questions on any website (if you have, pick some other random words or events). From these, we get
Preface, separate and follow up the passphrase with some punctuation, and we have
Now, change the letter i to numeral ones (1) and the letter o to zeroes (0), and we get
Using the calculator at How Secure Is My Password?,I get the following estimates of how long it would take a typical desktop PC to crack each one of these:
- WarriorsFluffyCamaro: 165 quadrillon years
- *Warriors%Fluffy&Camaro+: 530 septillon years
- *Warr10rs%Fluffy&Camar0+: 14 octillion years
Personally, I think the calculator on that website is a little pessimistic, as people are constantly devising better methods to crack passwords. However, I want to make it as difficult as possible, on the theory that if I make it hard enough to crack my password, the intruder will go on to someone who is easier pickings.
Most password managers have an option to use an onscreen keyboard to enter the master password. This is a feature designed to thwart keyloggers. Keyloggers can be hardware or software add-ins (the hardware varieties are usually innocuous-looking devices that install between your keyboard and computer cable) that record every keystroke you enter. A keylogger can obviously steal any password information you type into the keyboard. You circumvent the keylogger by bringing up a graphical keyboard with keys you click on with the mouse to enter your password. This is an important feature to use anytime you’re using a computer you do not control 100% of the time.
Password managers can also store information you key into onscreen forms, such as your home and shipping address, phone numbers, credit card numbers, etc. They save time, all but eliminate errors, and also circumvent keyloggers.
You can also create random, all-but-unbreakable passwords with all these password managers. You set some parameters of length, whether the password should contain uppercase or lowercase letters (or a mix of the two), and numbers and/or punctuation. Click the button, and a new, random password will appear. If you’re using a password manager, there’s no reason not to use long, complex passwords, as you’ll never have to enter them manually.
Here are three password managers I know to be reliable. Each one works in a slightly different way. One is free, no matter what; one is free for basic use and has an annual fee for more advanced features, and one is a subscription service.
KeePass is an open-source, completely free, standalone password manager. By “standalone,” I mean that it does not reside on the internet. You store the program, and its data files on your computer, or on a flash drive you move between the computers you use. Open source software is created by volunteers who make the source code available to anyone who wants it. The idea is that anyone who is interested can improve it and submit the improved code for new versions. There are lots of very reliable and well-thought-of open source packages.
As with other password managers, when you set up the program, you establish a single master password. This password should be something completely unique, not a word found in any dictionary, and certainly not something you use or have ever used anywhere else. If everything goes right, there is no need for you to remember any other password, ever again, so make this one a good one.
KeePass is activated when you bring it up manually, as with any other program. You enter websites, user names and passwords into forms, which are then encrypted and saved by the software. The next time you want to log into a website you have already saved, you just bring up KeePass, find the entry for the website you want, click on it, and it will open a new browser window, enter your login credentials, and log you in. It does this much faster than you would be able to.
You can install KeePass on any computer you use, but data files residing on more than one machine won’t be synchronized automatically. You can avoid that problem by installing the software on a flash drive, and inserting the flash drive into whatever machine you’re using at the moment. If you lose the flash drive and the data isn’t backed up (easy to do), you’re in a world of hurt, but anyone who finds the flash drive won’t be able to get into your password file without the master password.
LastPass is a web-based password manager that is free to use most commonly-used features. There is a premium version for $12 per year that allows you to use the service on smartphones and other devices.
You start by going to the LastPass website and setting up an account. You then download and install the LastPass plug-in for any web browsers (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, etc.) you use. Each time you open that browser, LastPass will ask you for your master password.
When the plug-in is active and you’re logged in, LastPass will ask you if you want it to remember each website you log into. If you answer in the affirmative, the login information will be stored along with the site’s URL. For future logins, all you need to do is find that website in LastPass’s list, click on it, and the service will open a new browser window, go to the appropriate site, and log you in.
LastPass can be run from any computer, even if the browser doesn’t have the plug-in installed. You justy go to LastPass.com, log in with your email address and master password, and you’ll see a list of your stored sites. Click on any one of them, and the service will behave as if you had the plug-in installed, opening a new window and entering your login details.
LastPass can also store routine form information, credit card info, and random text information. For example, if you needed to keep a list of your prescription medications, you could open a new “Secure Note,” enter the information, and save it. It is as secure as your passwords.
This is the password manager I use, more out of habit and preference than anything else. RoboForm is free to download and install, but the unlicensed version will store a limited number of passwords. The premium RoboForm Everywhere package is $9.95 for the first year and $19.95 each year thereafter, and works across multiple computers and smartphones.
Installing RoboForm automatically installs a plug-in into any browsers installed on the computer. Periodically during the day, the software will “phone home” and check for any changes between the local database and the one residing on the RoboForm servers. Synchronization is automatic and almost instantaneous. The advantage is that I have the same password and other data files on every computer and smartphone I use. The RoboForm software starts automatically every time I log in to my computer, but it asks for the master password every time, and after an interval I set if I haven’t used it for a while.
As I log into a new website, RoboForm asks me if I want to save that login data. If I answer “yes,” the URL and login data are saved automatically. You can set up multiple nesting folders for logins, what RoboForm calls “SafeNotes,” and other information, so that you see only the lists you want to see. For example, I keep the logins and notes for my employer in a separate folder from my own. If I have multiple logins for the same website stored (as with different accounts for Google, Facebook, etc.), when I go to that site’s login page, RoboForm gives me a list of the stored logins and asks me which I want to use.
I can store multiple credit cards, shipping addresses, and even personal data like driver’s license and passport number, and keep separate sets of these under different “identities,” if desired. I just counted, and saw I have 920 website logins stored in RoboForm, so obviously keeping all of this straight is kind of important for me.
RoboForm is updated constantly—as often as every week. When I new update is available (usually to deter a new intrusion scheme), I get a notice that I’m using an outdated version. Downloading and installing the latest version seldom takes more than a minute.
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 email@example.com.
HOME BURGLARY DETERRENT
Q. -What’s a good, cheap home burglary deterrent for people who don’t have or want dogs?
- – A crime deterrent is anything that
(1) causes a person to hesitate in the act of committing a crime, or
(2) causes the act to be delayed.
For several reasons, dogs are a good deterrent for the general type of residential burglar. It’s not so much that burglars are afraid of being bitten, because if necessary, the “bad guys” will probably kill or hurt any dog that becomes a physical threat. The biggest factor that burglars hate is the barking. The noise that a dog will make for a stranger will alert any person in the house or cause neighbors to look out their adjoining house windows to see what is causing the racket.
What about those “Beware of Dog” signs placed on gates? Are they a deterrent? Basically yes, because (by definition) they will generally cause a burglar to hesitate before going onto your property or back yard. They will rattle the gate and wait a few moments to see if a dog barks or appears. If not, then the burglar will often proceed.
But what about people who don’t have dogs that will bark or present a threat to any intruder attempting to break into your house? Here is a cheap and effective deterrent…maybe even more effective than a window sticker or sign that indicates you have a home security alarm system installed.
Go to the pet store and buy a large dog feeding bowl and a rawhide chew bone. Using a marker, write “Brutus” or Killer” on the bowl…these names are more of a deterrent than “Puddles” or “Baby.” Then place the bowl and chew bone on your back patio. Anyone coming into your back yard with intentions of breaking into your house will see these two items and wonder if a dog is nearby. This will make them think twice about trying to break into your home. And this hesitation then becomes a crime deterrent.
But if you really want to go “all out” in creating an illusion that a dog is present in your home, here is another idea. If your neighbor has a dog, then that neighbor has a disposal problem of “doggie doo-doo.” Tell your neighbor that when he does some clean-up, to throw some of the dog’s waste matter over into your yard. What better indication to a burglar that a real, live dog lives at your house than dog fecal matter.
Okay, you’re probably smiling right now and thinking that my last tip is a little over the edge. But if you do choose to try this, then just make sure that you direct your neighbor not to toss his “burglary deterrents” toward your swimming pool.
CREATING YOUR WEBSITE
Our secretary, Nancy Farrar, has been getting a few inquiries from PSWA members wanting to create a personal website. I used to make up personalized pages for members (I think the only one still running is here [https://policewriter.com/wordpress/members-pages/a-j-farrar/], but other duties have caused me to put that aside. I thought this might be a good topic for a newsletter article.
It’s probably never been easier to create a personal website. Using free tools like Blogger or WordPress, you can register a free account, make a few design/appearance choices, and be up and running in under an hour. There are online tutorials that lead you through the process.
The free services provide you with a less-than-intuitive web address (called a URL, for Uniform Resource Locator), like http://www.yourname.blogspot.com. If you want something more personalized and easy to remember, you’ll have to register your own domain name.
Registering a domain name is not difficult; finding one that isn’t already taken is. You might notice that most of the popular new websites that emerge from time to time use made-up words for their domains: facebook.com, reddit.com, pinterest.com, instagram.com. This is because most dictionary words have been taken.
Registering a domain name that you don’t intend to use is called cybersquatting. In the early days of the internet, crafty cybersquatters registered names like mcdonalds.com and burgerking.com in anticipation of these companies wanting to establish a web presence. When the corporate outfits realized that the internet wasn’t a passing fad, they tried to register their corporate trademarks as domains, and found they were taken. There were a few lawsuits, but mostly it was cheaper to just pay the ransom to the cybersquatter who got there first. The return on the investment of $20 or so to register the domain often paid well into six figures. The current record-holder is VacationRentals.com, for which someone paid $35 million in 2007.
Since then, entrepreneurs have registered dictionary words and combinations of words speculatively, hoping they will be sufficiently valuable to someone in the future. Because of the type of writing I do, I looked into registering policetechnology.com, but found a cybersquatter had beaten me to it. I also tried dees.com, but that was taken by a legit Canadian communications company. I was the first to get to timdees.com, and I’ve owned that one for almost 20 years now.
If you have a relatively common name, you might be out of luck in trying to register it as a domain name. The more unique your name, the more likely it won’t have been claimed yet. To find out if a domain is claimed yet, just enter it into the address bar of your web browser, e.g. johnsmith.com. If it comes back to anything but a “page not found” message, it’s probably already registered. If that’s the case, try variations on your name, like jsmith.com, jasmith.com, jadamsmith.com, and so on. You can use hyphens in a web address (so johnsmith.com and john-smith.com are not the same URL), but most other punctuation characters, including spaces, are forbidden.
Once your have found an available domain name you want to use, you need to register it. I use GoDaddy.com for the domains I manage because they’re competitive in pricing, have 24 hour tech support, and their user interface is fairly easy to navigate. Your mileage may vary. You can look for domain name registries by putting that phrase into a Google search.
Registering a domain name will cost you $20-$30 per year, although there are always deals to be found, and you get a price break for paying for several years in advance. Most of the registries can also host your website, and keeping the domain registry and web hosting with the same provider streamlines the process somewhat.
Web hosts maintain the files that populate your website. When a user navigates to your website, the files they see or hear are downloaded to their computer. The space those files occupy on the host’s servers are counted toward your online storage space; the files that are downloaded, cumulatively, account for your bandwidth allocation.
A typical bargain-rate hosting plan might include 1 gigabyte (GB) of storage space and 2 GB per month of bandwidth. If you are intending to populate your website with mostly text, then that 1 GB will go a long way. To illustrate, I have been writing for publication for over 25 years. That oeuvre includes two and a half books (the “half” is in progress) and hundreds of columns and articles. All of that put together comes in well under 1.5 GB. Text takes up very little space.
Photos, videos, and sound files, by comparison, take up a lot of space. If you’re intending to post a lot of these, you might need more online storage. Photos can be optimized to take up only a few kilobytes (KB) each, but videos and sound files seldom come in under a megabyte (MB). A byte is one character, a kilobyte=1024 bytes, a megabyte=1024 kilobytes, a gigabyte=1024 megabytes. Every time someone views or reloads a file on your website, it will count toward your bandwidth allocation.
If you’re a very popular person, you might exceed your website. If you do, it will probably be shut down temporarily while your web host contacts you to ask for more money to pay for the excess bandwidth. This is seldom a problem unless a page on your site gets mentioned on a popular website like Reddit, Digg, or StumbleUpon. To illustrate, when I worked for Officer.com, one of our news stories was “favorited” on Digg.com, so that Digg users clicked on the link. A typical news story would get maybe 5000 page views. That one got over 300,000 in a couple of days.
The same outfits that register and host your domain often have do-it-yourself page/site design services that will allow you to create a no-frills website in an hour or two. If you want something more appealing, check out Squarespace, which is also a do-it-yourself site, but offers some fancier options.
For a truly original design that won’t break the bank, try Fiverr. Fiverr is a marketplace where people offer services they will perform for five dollars (get your mind out of the gutter, now). Many of these include aspects of webpage design. Fiverr also has people who will tweak your WordPress or Blogger site for $5. Turnaround time is typically 3-5 days.
Once you have a domain name registered, you can also have your email keyed to it, the way I do for timdees.com. Tim@timdees.com is my standard address, but that is also a “catchall” account. If you enter an email address as firstname.lastname@example.org (e.g. email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, etc.), it still comes to me. Email like this comes at an extra charge; mine costs about $84 per year.
Finally, once you have your website, blog, author’s page, or whatever set up, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to have that page linked to your listing on our Members’ Pagespage. It’s one listing per member, so if you have separate blogs, websites, author’s pages, etc., you’ll have to decide which you want to have listed.
THE ABILITY TO WRITE: NATURE OR NURTURE?
In Part I of this article, I explained how important a person’s writing ability is to the eventual solution and prosecution of crimes. Having seen a lack of this over the course of many years, I decided to explore it in a more systematic manner.
Since research on the ability to write would be helpful, I decided to start mine by asking my wife a simple question. “Was your mother a good writer?” My wife and her sister both are excellent writers, more than able to convey their thoughts, whether in an email or some other form of written communication. For the record, my wife’s answer was “Yes.” I thought that was an excellent start to proving my theory that the ability to write is inherited, thus genetic.
Believing this topic deserved more extensive research, I asked myself, “Was my mom a good writer? How about my dad?” And the answer to both questions was an unequivocal “yes” for both, despite the fact that my dad had only an eighth grade education (the required standard for the time he was in school). Then I asked myself, “Are your kids good writers?” Again the answer was yes. So I quickly advanced my theory ahead a few more spaces on the board.
Then I asked myself, “Am I a good writer?” And the answer was “I think so.” I know when I was a police officer in California, some of my reports were deemed to be “legendary.” And I always enjoyed writing them. I enjoyed doing research papers in college and graduate school, seeing these as an opportunity to think outside the box. In the FBI it is said that only about ten percent of all agents can put together a complex investigation, explain it in reports, and then write a wiretap affidavit (which is basically longer than the worst term paper you ever did, and has to be reviewed by tons of lawyers). In twenty years, I wrote about ten of them. So apparently I was capable of writing at a high level while in the FBI.
But, did being able to write good reports, search warrant and wiretap affidavits predict a good writing career? Those reports are generally narrative, and that type of writing doesn’t necessarily translate directly to an ability to write a novel. I found that out with the first book I wrote, which was deemed “horrible” by a literary agent after she read only part of one chapter. I was floored. Result: Writer’s block for about five years. I was a hopeless case. My self-esteem plummeted. My hopes and dreams of someday becoming a best-selling author were dashed.
Or so I thought. I was living in Cedar Rapids, Iowa at the time, and about twenty miles down the highway was the University of Iowa. Somehow, I found out about their famed Writer’s Workshop, and decided to see if I could attend. No problem. Pay the tuition, attend for two full weeks, and hopefully come out a better writer on the other end. And so I paid and attended. We did a lot of evaluating of each other’s work. When my chapter came up for review, it prompted an extensive lecture by our instructor. And finally the light bulb went on and glared brightly. I remember him saying, “You build a story by using action and dialogue.” You mean narrating won’t work? Nope. But I was really good at writing police reports and stuff like that. Doesn’t matter, that was narrating, and it doesn’t work if you’re trying to advance a story in a novel. Oh, now I understood why I got that scathing rejection – I can write great police reports, but that doesn’t translate to writing a book someone will want to read and which will hold their interest.
It was just the jolt I needed, but then came the problem of adapting my writing style to my newly-learned knowledge. You can’t tell a story with dialogue only, and if you revert to action, you’re back to narrating. This caused a significant paradigm shift for me. I had to see if I had the ability to blend both of these concepts together. And quickly learned it wasn’t as simple as I thought it would be. There was going to be some work involved. I had to ask myself if I had the commitment. The only way to find out was to start writing again. But, don’t write fiction. I didn’t need to do that. All of my years in law enforcement, about fifteen by that time, gave me enough experiences to write more than one book. In fact, I now have about eight in my head. It’s a tight fit, in case you were wondering.
I continued my research on the Internet and found there was no shortage of information about the ability to acquire language as an innate ability. But what most of that referred to was people being more able than others to learn new and different languages. I knew that didn’t apply to me and was not what I was trying to discover. I did, however, find some short articles about the ability to write being an inherited trait. Which I was very excited about, except that the answers were clearly maybe or maybe not. That didn’t advance my theory a whole lot, either.
I found a somewhat compelling blog by someone who calls himself “Rodismay.” The blog had a ton of advertising links, so his goal is apparently to teach people to be better writers and make money in the process. There were a number of comments by various people who said they felt their ability to write was “God-given.” Mr. Rodismay also commented, “When I am in the mood, one word heard or read can be expanded into more than 1000 words.” Hmmm, I thought, that sounds a lot like me (and surely some of you). It’s almost like being an alcoholic, by way of analogy: Once you start, you can’t stop. Maybe that’s not the best analogy. A better one might be getting the so-called “Runner’s High.” I’ve had all of these things happen, so maybe writing is akin to an addiction? And maybe, just maybe, I’m onto something here. Research on addictions shows a high degree of predisposition, such that if one is an alcoholic, someone above you on the food chain, whether mom, dad, grandpa, etc., was or is an alcoholic as well. So maybe this guy Rodismay has me headed in the right direction. And maybe I was starting to think outside the box as I wanted to be.
And I continued my research. I’ll explain that and how I tried to connect the dots in the third part of this article.
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WHEN A PARENT DRINKS, THE CHILD SUFFERS
Do you suspect alcohol is getting the better of you? Consider these questions:
- Have you had the morning after drink?
- Do you envy people who can drink without getting into trouble?
- Does your drinking cause problems at home?
- Do you tell yourself you can stop any time you want although you keep getting drunk?
- Have you neglected your duties because of drinking?
- Has anybody suggested you should stop drinking?
If you answer Yes to any of these questions, alcohol may be a problem in your life.
During my many years as an addictions counselor, I’ve worked with a large number of alcoholics. They all have one misconception in common; they have the firm belief their drinking doesn’t affect anybody else. Countless times, I heard them say, “I only hurt myself.” There is a great deal of research to prove that this is not true. Alcoholism is said to be a family disease because everybody in the family system is as sick as the alcoholic. The alcoholic’s behavior and mood affect every family member as well as coworkers and friends. As alcoholism is a chronic, progressive and fatal if left untreated, it is not to be taken lightly.
The most vulnerable to the effects of an alcoholic parent are the children. The parent is the child’s first and foremost role model. When this role model dysfunctions, the effects on the child are painful to experience, heartbreaking to witness, and have far-reaching consequences. These effects may last a lifetime. The child ends up having deep-seated psychological and emotional problems. The hazardous consequences of parental alcoholism are very similar to the effects of child abuse and neglect, which are evident in my award winning novel “The Wooden Chair.” In this book, my protagonist, Leini struggles as a victim of her mother Mira’s abuse and neglect while she also suffers from Mira’s alcoholic drinking.
Not all children react to parental alcoholism in the same way. Most of them don’t know what “normal” is. They live in an insecure and unstable environment, and don’t experience a normal family relationship. Because the alcoholic parent’s behavior is unpredictable, terrifying, destabilizing, the child learns to avoid bringing friends home, not knowing if they will be met with a welcoming smile, harsh words or worse.
In my novel “The Wooden Chair,” Leini, typical of the child of an alcoholic, hasn’t learned how to have fun. In the alcoholic home, so many birthdays, holidays and family events have been ruined because the drinking parent got drunk, became argumentative, querulous and outright mean. The child is filled with shame of the parent who passes out at the dinner table, and soon learns it’s safer not to bring friends home. The family’s dysfunction becomes the heavy secret the child carries.
Most likely the child didn’t see expressions of tenderness and affection between the parents, didn’t experience it for him- or herself. Consequently, this child has trouble with intimate relationships as an adult.
Like Leini in “The Wooden Chair,” children growing up with an alcoholic parent have huge trust issues. Parents are the individuals who normally would not lie, break promises, keep secrets, but when they do, the child soon learns to be distrustful. If they cannot trust the most significant persons in their lives, how can they trust anybody going forward?
In the home with an alcoholic parent, a lot of arguing, shouting, fighting is going on in part because the parents are very angry. The child becomes skilled in recognizing an angry person, is afraid of angry people because the anger may turn on the child, resulting in both emotional and physical hurt and suffering. Having experienced disruption, arguments and fights growing up, as an adult, the child gravitates toward partners with similar behavior as the parent. The adult child of an alcoholic stays in this toxic relationship in which more suffering is the daily fare.
From avery young age, the child is guilt-ridden. It’s very obvious that something is wrong with mother or father. Because of mood swings, crying, and staying in bed because the parent isn’t feeling well, the child carries a heavy sense of responsibility that the child should be able to fix what’s wrong, to make the parent well. The child also has the misguided belief that if the parent loved the child, the parent would be healthier and happier. Many children who grow up in an alcoholic home believe they are different from their peers, that they are not good enough. As a consequence, they tend to avoid social situations and are inclined to isolate.
Because the alcoholic parent is absent most of the time, both physically and emotionally, the child feels ignored and becomes terrified of being abandoned. When Leini was four years old in my award winning novel “The Wooden Chair,” her mother, Mira, left her alone at a busy marketplace. Leini was lucky in that a police officer came to her rescue, but not all children are this fortunate. Alone and defenseless, the child might be abducted, kidnapped, trampled by the crowd, sexually molested.
The big and so far unresolved question is whether alcoholism is a genetically predisposed disease or an acquired way of coping with stress and difficulties because that’s what the parents did. I have encountered adult children of alcoholics who are normal social drinkers. Then there are those who started drinking in their pre-teens, following a pattern of alcoholic drinking established by their grandparents and parents.
It may seem that the outlook is very bleak for the child of an alcoholic, that he or she is doomed to an unhappy, dysfunctional, miserable life. My motto as an addictions counselor is, “I alone have to do it, but I cannot do it alone.” In “The Wooden Chair,” Leini has the option of living with the emotional and psychological scars inflicted by Mira’s neglect and alcoholism. Fortunately for herself, her future husband and children, Leini decided to heal and recover through psychotherapy. There are competent counseling therapists and psychiatrists with loads of experience who can help the adult child of an alcoholic. Self-help groups like Al-Anon for the adults and Alateen for teenagers are non profit groups whose support, love and understanding are invaluable tools to the person looking to turn his or her life around.
–Rayne E. Golay
“The Wooden Chair” is available at www.amazon.com, www.barnesandnoble.comwww.store.untreedreads.com
Rayne E. Golay is a certified drug and alcohol counselor whose work with addicts informs her understanding and insights into the consequences of child abuse. She has a Master’s in Psychology and is a lifelong reader and writer. The Wooden Chair, published in 2013 by Untreed Reads, won the Royal Palm Literary Award for mainstream literature in Florida Writers Association’s competition.
SOCIAL WORKERS’ SAFETY TIPS TO LIVE BY
I recently completed a required course called, “Everyday Safety Self Defense For Social Workers,” taught by Janet Nelson, MSW. Not only did I learn valuable safety precautions, but also it brought up the disturbing case of Teri Zenner, a social worker who was killed by her client when I was in grad school.
I will get to the safety tips, but first I want tell you the backstory of how this became a requirement by the BSRB in Kansas for all new social workers.
Like me, Teri Lea Zenner was a mental health social worker. She was 26 years old, a Kansas University graduate student who worked for the Johnson County Mental Health Center.
In August 2004 Teri went on a routine visit to Andrew Ramey Ellmaker, a seventeen year old, mentally unstable client, diagnosed with schizotypal personality disorder. Teri was there to make sure that he was taking his medication.
Zenner’s visit with Ellmaker seemed routine at first, but at some point Ellmaker lured a reluctant Zenner to his bedroom. The social worker begged to be released, but Ellmaker had a weapon, a knife. His mother, Sue Ellmaker, returned from the store, heard Teri crying and threatened to call police if her son didn’t release Teri by the count of three.
At the end of the count, Teri rushed down the stairs with blood spurting from the neck wound and Ellmaker following behind her, stabbing her all the way.
Sue Ellmaker threw herself between her son and Teri, yelling for him to stop, but he stabbed his mother in the back multiple times. All three tumbled to the floor, and Sue rolled onto Teri to protect her. Andrew stabbed Sue four times in the back, once in the chest, and once in the right arm then slashed her ear. If the knife hadn’t bent in her back, giving her a chance to flee to a neighbor’s house and call 911, Sue Ellmaker might have died too.
With his mother gone, Andrew went to his bedroom, turned on loud music, grabbed his chain saw from his closet and began cutting into Teri Zenner, almost severing her left forearm and her neck. He also slashed her head, back, and right hip. At this point, the chain broke which caused Andrew to be “pissed off” because he had recently bought the chainsaw.
After mutilating Teri’s body with the chainsaw, Andrew tried to commit suicide by ingesting a variety of pills. He then left the house with two pellet guns and got in Teri’s vehicle. However, the car wouldn’t start so he took gasoline from the garage, poured it on the vehicle, and set it on fire. Andrew ran into the street just as police arrived. The officers ordered him to drop his weapons, and he complied. As Ellmaker was being handcuffed, he spontaneously stated, “I just killed my therapist with a chainsaw.”
I met Teri Zenner’s widower, Matt, in grad school. He came and spoke to us about Teri’s story and pleaded with us to contact our state representatives to pass help a Kansas law in her honor that required safety training for all new social workers. Most murders of social workers occur within the first five years of employment.
As part of the Social Workers Code of Ethics, standards set forth by NASW- National Association of Social Workers, we are required to take Social and Political Action for our clients.
Article 6.04 (a) reads:
(a) Social workers should engage in social and political action that seeks to ensure that all people have equal access to the resources, employment, services, and opportunities they require to meet their basic human needs and to develop fully. Social workers should be aware of the impact of the political arena on practice and should advocate for changes in policy and legislation to improve social conditions in order to meet basic human needs and promote social justice.
Everyone who heard Matt Zenner speak at Washburn University marched over to the Topeka Capital building and spoke to their representatives, me included. Only this time it wasn’t for our clients; it was for social workers everywhere. It was passed and signed on April 8, 2010, for the state of Kansas.
Matt was also lobbying for a national act called the Teri Zenner Social Worker Safety Act H.R. 1490 (111th Congress), which would have established a grant program to assist in the provision of safety measures to protect social workers and other professionals who work with at-risk populations. He wanted social workers to have the same publically viewed protections as police officers do. As of right now H.R. 1490 is dead and has been submitted to the House Education and Workforce Community for review.
Social work is a helping profession. Teri died because she was trying to make sure that her attacker had been taking care of himself. We see clients at their most vulnerable and often the worst times of their lives. Clients are often mentally unstable, accused of abuse of their children, spouse or intimate partners, or just released from prison. Our cases are emotionally charged and can become dangerous in the blink of the eye.
Social workers are the second highest at-risk group for violence of professionals in our society. The first is police officers. The main differences between these two professions are that police officers carry weapons and they receive intensive training to protect themselves.
Something needs to change.
Now on to Janet’s safety tips…
Above all, STAY CALM!
BREATHE and CENTER yourself to stay in CONTROL and to regain balance in emotionally charged situations.
Client known factors contributing to assault behavior:
- Violence in client’s history or a criminal record
- A diagnosis of dementia or low mental functioning
- Intoxication from alcohol, drugs or medications
- Low impulse control and high frustration level
- Mania, paranoia and antisocial personality disorder
- Law enforcement or military training/combat experience
- Knowledge of weapons
- Authoritative or confrontational counseling approaches
- Client’s feeling powerless
- The treatment environment itself
In Your Client’s Home and Neighborhood
- Make sure you understand that you are on their turf. This is a natural safety dilemma.
- When you schedule a visit, let them know when to expect you. Let them advise you about any safety concerns in their area.
- Drive by first to check out the dwelling, the atmosphere and the surrounding area. Notice what’s happening on the streets and who is present.
- Ask your client to watch for you as you leave your car upon arrival. Have them watch you go to your car as you leave.
- Observe the home—both inside and outside. Notice its hiding places, vulnerable points, blocked exits, and escape routes.
- If anything looks out of the ordinary in or around the dwelling or you feel uneasy about the situation you are in, leave and call for back up.
- Listen while outside the door for any disturbances. After knocking, stand off to the side.
- As you enter the home, notice the general interior layout, exits, and phones.
- Position yourself for an easy exit, if necessary.
- Wear comfortable shoes and clothing that doesn’t restrict your movement. Do NOT wear anything that can be used as a weapon against you. This includes jewelry, scarfs, belts, etc.
- Carry a cell phone with you. Keep it on and preprogrammed to call 911 for assistance in any emergency.
- Keep purses locked in the trunk. Keep keys, a little money, and a cell phone in pockets or a waist pack (on your person).
- Look around and think of what objects could be used as weapons, if needed.
- Most importantly, know your client. Be aware of what they may be capable of based on size, gender, mental health status, medications, legal status, and history.
- Whenever possible, travel with a co-worker or law enforcement if uncertain about safety.
- Stay out of the kitchen! The kitchen is the most dangerous place in the home.
In the Car
- Make certain your car has gas, water, and a spare with jack, a working horn, spare change, a flashlight, jumper cables, and a first aid kit.
- Travel with a cell phone. Keep it on and preprogrammed to call 911 for assistance in any emergency or threatening situation.
- Have understandable directions and maps available.
- If you have a flat tire at night, try to keep going along the shoulder to a gas station.
- Use extra caution in parking garages. Scan the garage as you enter it.
- Have your car keys in your hand as you approach your car in a self-assured manner.
- Scan the area as you approach the car and check the floor/back seat and under the car.
- If stranded and you accept assistance, pretend that someone else will soon be arriving. Stay on guard so that you do not become a victim of a “Good Samaritan” ploy in which your helper becomes an attacker.
- Ask to see the identification of anyone stopping to assist you (police too!).
- If someone approaches your car to force entry, lay on the horn and drive off.
- If someone is in your car forcing you to drive, turn on the flashers, press the horn, stop suddenly, get out and run or cause an accident with other cars (with your seat belt on).
- If you have your windows open be aware of what’s going on around you.
- Keep car doors locked while in or away from your vehicle.
- If you are being forced into your car, throw away the keys (distracting the attacker) and run.
- During home visits park your car in position for a quick and easy departure.
- Be careful about what you leave on your seats or dashboard — valuables and items with your name, address, phone number, or e-mail address on them (e.g., mail, cell phone).
Thank you, Janet Nelson, for your input on this post and for giving social workers everywhere the tools they need to protect themselves. To find out more on Janet’s self defense courses, visit her website at: www.everydayselfdefense.com.
- “Everyday Safety Self Defense For Social Workers” by Janet Nelson, MSW
- NASW- National Association of Social Workers
- WIB.COM: Sentence Holds For Man Convicted Of Murdering Social Worker, Posted: Fri 1:07 PM, Dec 04, 2009
Diane Kratz is a crime fiction writer who holds three degrees, associates of science, bachelors in sociology and masters in social work. She has worked in domestic violence shelters, hospice, and in mental health.
Diane serves on the publicity committee of the on-line writing group Kiss of Death. She also belongs to a local writing group, Midwest Romance Writers of America where she writes a monthly column called, “Writing is Murder.”
She has been married to her husband Tom, for twenty-eight years. They live on a small farm in Kansas and have three children, eight grandchildren, and one great grandchild.
She is currently unpublished but is working on a five book series called Victims of Love. The first called, Genesis is the prequel to The Dear John Letters with Resurrection, Contrition, and Retribution to follow.
You can find Diane at her blog
Fire Storm, by Mike Worley, is the fifth in the Angela Masters series. It was released to paperback and Kindle in April
Late one night, a resident of Santa Rosa reports that someone was banging on his front door and screaming for help. A raging fire which threatens homes and an armed robbery stretch police resources. Officers do not respond to the neighborhood until the following morning, when the resident calls again to report a horrific discovery. In the neighborhood, police find blood in several locations and what appears to be a gruesome crime scene. But there is no body and no evidence of the means of injury.
When the victim’s body is located a few days later, identification is hampered. Angela Masters must sort out a mound of conflicting information to determine who the victim was and to identify her killer. By the time the victim is identified, evidence points to a serial killer preying on young girls. Will Angi be able to sort out the puzzle and, even then, will it lead her to the killer before he can strike again?
The Mines Advisory Group (MAG) benefit anthology, Explosions: Stories of Our Landmined World, edited by Scott Bradley, is now available in paperback. It features brand new stories by 25 acclaimed authors including Jeffery Deaver, James Grady, David Morrell, Yvonne Prinz, Yvonne Seng, Peter Straub, and Quintin Peterson, and sports a cover by Pulitzer Prize-winning Politico cartoonist Matt Wuerker. 100% of the proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to MAG.
The dark stories collected here have one thing in common: they all concern the curse of landmines. Peterson’s new character Private Eye Luther Kane explodes on the scene in his contribution to the book, Damaged Goods.
Buy a great book and support a great cause.
The Attack, by Bob Doerr, is an international thriller that begins when a terrorist team sets off four explosive devices in an international airport close to New York City. The leader of the terrorists, Ahmad Khalin, survives the attack and plans to attack a second U.S. airport within the month. As Khalin makes his escape from the New York area, he is involved in a shooting in Connecticut. Clint Smith, a U.S. government agent assigned to an ultra-secret agency, is at a restaurant across the street when the shooting occurs. He responds to the scene to see if he can help, but Khalin is gone.
On a hunch, Teresa Deer, Smith’s boss, sends Smith after Khalin. Smith’s pursuit takes him to Bar Harbor, Maine; Wiesbaden, Germany; the Costa Brava, Spain; Northern Scotland; Lake of the Woods, Ontario, Canada; and finally into Saskatchewan, Canada, where the final confrontation takes place. Throughout the pursuit, a number of interesting characters add to the subplots and try to survive their involvement in the chase.
Available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other bookstores.
Congratulations to PSWA Member George Cramer who, within the past year, has had several pieces of his work published in three anthologies; two short stories in Voices of the Valley Encore; an excerpt from a novel in Written Across the Genres, and a short story in Between Pages.
Merging the Heart of a Writer with the Soul of a Biker
Newsletter Editor: Marilyn Meredith