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.

Rolling hills, steep gullies and fields

Place makes a difference in stories.

I’ve been inspired to write mysteries every time I visit Galena, Illinois. It’s not just the mid-19th century rebuilding of an early-19th century town that fascinates me. It’s also the roads I take to get there — the rolling hills and steep gullies always make the drive new to me. I love getting to Stockton and seeing the land dip and open on the west side of town. And then arriving in Elizabeth, with another surprise vista and a curve that — for a brief moment — reminds me of the hazards early settlers faced. And in that, I include the earliest settlers, the nomadic early Americans who followed buffalo, built burial mounds and peopled the region long before my European ancestors even knew the place existed.

I have also been inspired by the vast, flat black soil around the Illinois town where I grew up. Fields that grew corn, peas, asparagus and pumpkins surrounded my home town, a kind of cocoon holding us all together. And those miles of even landscape led me to believe — naively, I know now — that people were also level, the same, with the same opportunities and resources.

The land makes a difference.

For another perspective, take a look at this old post from Writing Rural.

http://www.dailyyonder.com/writing-rural-ron-rash/2015/06/22/7884

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.