Turtle pursuit

I just got back from my third Writers’ Police Academy and I’m still carrying that post-conference glow. You know, the one you get when you learn new things, meet friendly people, eat yummy food and have lots of fun?

I think the most fun this year was driving a squad car around the training track at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College. Our hosts for all things police academy rolled out the red carpet, and the orange traffic cones, to let a bunch of writers get hands-on experience just like they give to their actual law-enforcement recruits.

Since I’ve been home — can it really be two weeks already? — I’ve seen notes from fellow WPA’ers about their travel traumas coming and going from Appleton, Wisconsin. In my case, I have none of that. All I need to do is throw my gear in my car and take a leisurely afternoon drive from point A to point B..

My normal trips to Wisconsin are to buy gas, which is usually at least 30 cents cheaper per gallon than it is where I live in Illinois. But I do trek north for fun every now and then. WPA is one of those fun trips.

This year, I learned a lot from my first session to my last. Topics I signed up for this time ranged from body cameras to tribal policing. I also learned a lot about arms in America, how prolific they are and how assault weapons are defined in law. I stepped into a shoot-don’t-shoot video scenario, and would have been shot in real life. I’ve done it twice and been reluctant to shoot both times. And it was just a video! I understand more each time about how officers must feel when they have seconds to evaluate the threat level in any situation.

From the body cam session, I learned the lenses are the extreme wide-angle type called fish-eyes. You know that sign in your side mirror — “Objects are closer than they appear”? The same is true of body cams. I recall some video I saw on TV from an officer-involved shooting. What I took to be an image of someone at least 20 feet away from the policeman (it was a man) could actually have been someone less than half that distance away.

The instructor gave a a few examples, the most intriguing to me from a Florida arrest. The officer with the chest camera stood straight up, turning from side to side a few times, while it was clear that what was happening was on the ground. It all took place in a bank parking lot and a camera on the bank showed the whole picture. I won’t give it away, in case you decided to go to WPA next year.

I have learned so much from WPA in the three times I’ve attended. I hope to be able to go again. Many thanks to Lee Lofland, who has organized WPA and struggled through its headaches for the past 10 years or so. And thanks, too, to the Jason Weber, the public safety training director, and his team at NWTC, for sharing their knowledge, experience and equipment with all of us. Also, thanks to the other officers and agents who come to WPA every year to teach us new things.

Oh, and as for the turtle pursuit — that was my pace around the driver’s training track. My “training officer” encouraged me to speed up. “You have the skills,” he said, trying to encourage me as I wove through a slalom course of orange cones.

All I can say is, not a cone was hurt during my two trips around the course.

Not many can say that.

Way too busy

Last December I agreed to volunteer some time to do a little desktop publishing. I anticipated the job would take about a month, based on experience with similar projects. Who knew I’d end up putting in about three weeks of that month in ten days!

Part of crunch was my own fault. I went on a week-long vacation with my sisters. We didn’t do much, but it was our first get-together in nearly three years. But traveling in the middle of the project made me nervous. And I didn’t have all the materials from other volunteers before the trip.

I got home, dug in and managed to make the printer’s deadline. And I had a little fun along the way playing with pages. But I really hated cramming so much into so little time. I wanted the finished product to look nice. I wanted it to be accurate. And the rush made me change my goal simply to getting done.

Oh, sigh.

There were mistakes, and while at the moment we’re trying to find them and fix them for the online version of the program, the original printing will always have them. Corrections are coming along, but I’m about to hit the road for another conference — the Writers’ Police Academy, this year in Green Bay and Appleton, Wisconsin. It will be my third trip, and I’m looking forward to it.

And, when I get back, I’ll be making the final corrections to the program. Fingers crossed next year goes better.

Thinking out loud

Can it really be that I haven’t posted anything since November?

I had a goal to post things once a week, and then twice a month, and now we’re into a whole new year.

But I’m a couple of days into a Guppy class on revising a novel and I suspect I’ll be diving under again this month. So I wanted to share a few things before I disappear.

First, I want to mention that I’m a little nervous about my first real foray into revision. For several years, I’ve cranked out a rough first draft of a novel during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in November. But my workload and other obligations kept me from doing anything to improve those novels.

Oh, I have actually changed a few words, here and there. I’ve certainly let the novels sit in my mind and stew. I’ve made some notes about what I want to change. I even printed one of them out and started going over it. But it is literally sitting on a shelf in a storage cabinet right now.

Until now, though, I’ve never really devoted myself to going through and systematically rewriting what I finished in any given November. That’s what I hope to do with the help of the class this month.

The first homework assignment was to do a complete read-through of the story we want to revise. I stopped writing it last October, knowing I had some problems to fix. But I moved on to a new first draft. I planned to go back to the October draft in December, but I wasn’t sure how to start. Then a friend told me about the Guppy class and I decided to sign-up and wait for it.

Turns out letting this one sit for three-months was about right. I saw it with pretty fresh eyes when I started reading it last weekend. Fresh enough eyes that a scene I added late in the first draft felt so awkward and forced that I have completely changed my mind about who one of the characters in the scene really is.

I’ve also had it in my head that I needed to write an alternate ending. It’s been popping into my head off and on these last few months. Turns out, I actually wrote it last fall. Well, I wrote a new climax for the book, not a full new ending. I managed to add most of the ending yesterday, after I finished the class homework on POV. (And that — another story — led the instructor to suggest I needed to add more interior dialogue. Not a gap I had seen.)

I debated for a bit about whether to write anything new until we got further into the class. Then I figured since the new ending is technically still in the first draft, I owed it to my self to get it down. After all, you can’t rewrite what you haven’t already written.

The only other thing I’ve done so far is eliminate a character by combining her with another. At this point, it was just making a global name change. But if my plans for this bunch of characters work out, she’ll show up in the next book.

Wish me luck.

A bientôt!

Six days and counting

Last Monday I kicked off NaNoWriMo with a big day and I’ve been riding the wave of a couple of thousand banked words since then. With an extra hour on my clock today, I hope to move a little further ahead.

I’ve been learning some things about my main character and her friends in the past week. It’s the first draft of the second novel in a series I have planned. I just finished the first draft of the first book at the end of October, so I’m not dreaming up new characters — well, some are new; victims and suspects, mostly — or a new environment for them to live in.

Restraining myself from going back to make changes in the first novel has been one of my biggest battles. I did allow myself to make minor changes — the name of one character is different now, so I let myself do a global replace a couple of days ago. But otherwise, I’ve been making notes.

So far, I haven’t had to bring in the ninjas — a suggestions from some of my long-time NaNo friends about what to do when you get stuck. I know I have to raise the stakes for the main characters as the book goes along, but I don’t think ninjas really fit into my plot.

I’ve also got a rough idea of where I’m going. As I turn more and more into a “plantser,” I find a tendency to figure out what I need and make a Scrivener notecard for it, then go back to what I was doing. I still start out knowing very little. I like to keep things surprising — even to me.

Instead, I’ve been focusing on deepening my understanding of my characters’ back stories. I have a feeling I’ll be doing a bit of that today. I tend to put that in files that aren’t part of the novel, so I don’t usually include that in my word count. It’s legit, but they won’t be part of the final draft anyway, so why put them there now? We’ll see where I am come Nov. 30.

I hope you’re having a good NaNo! And remember, use all the words.

À bientôt

Access

Since the shutdown started last year, one of the best things in my life has been online chatting.

(Screen shot/Sharon P. Lynn)

I’ve been a fan of the magic of the internet since I went back to school in the early 1980s. I was working for a publisher who was an early adopter of computers and those schreechy dial-up modems. I was able to take one of our “trash 80s” — a Texas Instruments keyboard with a minuscule memory — to campus with me. Between classes, I’d find a table in the student center near enough to an outlet that I could plug it into, and work through stacks of articles that I needed to edit.

I much prefer the tablet I’m writing on now to that “trash 80,” but the principle of portable computing power has always appealed to me.

And now that I can connect to online chats, it’s even better.

Since last March, I have “zoomed” to conferences and conversations with people all over the world. The first one was with folks in Italy, one of the earliest and worst-hit by the coronavirus. Just last night, I had a chat with siblings from my Sisters in Crime Chicagoland chapter.

Chicagoland stretches at least half-way across the stateline with Wisconsin (that would be me), and at least as far south as Champaign (hi, Robert). And neither of us would have made it to our 6:30 p.m. chapter meeting if it had been one of the pre-COVID-19, in person meetings at a book store, or library, or coffee shop in the city. Even one of the women who lives in Chicago might not have made it because of mobility problems.

I understand that some people crave face-to-face meetings. But I can only hope that the wonderful flexibility of online gatherings doesn’t go away just because in-person is becoming possible again.

It’s been a long couple of weeks

Believe it or not, I’ve actually been doing some writing in the last few months. Just not here.

But I’m excited to be devoting a couple of days a week to my own writing projects. And I’ve been working on sharpening my skills when it comes to writing fiction. For the last few years, about the only time I’ve been able to eke out has been in November for NaNoWriMo — National Novel Writing Month. But I haven’t been able to manage the follow-up time to edit my rough first drafts.

Now I’m hiring myself as a part-time novelist, potentially starving artist. I figure the continuing need to make some money will help motivate me to stay on track.. Fingers crossed.

In the meantime, I’m still (well, more like finally) trying to figure out how to incorporate my book reviews into this blog. And I do like sharing tips from other writers, so I hope to write a few posts on that topic up from time to time.

I also plan to set some weekly goals. This week I’ll be preparing for a local writing day with my writing group and some friends. About a dozen of us will be set up in a lake-side lodge for a binge writing spree. I know which novel I want to work on, so my goal this week is to plan some scenes.

A bientôt!