Monthly Archives: September 2015

Citizens Police Academy, week 4

I skipped over telling you about Week 3. The district attorney spoke, and although it was interesting, it wasn’t all that useful for the purposes of a mystery writer.

This week certainly was. The presentation was by the homicide detectives in my local police department. I learned all kinds of useful things.

  1. They hate CSI and all the related shows. Hate them. Not only because they get so many things wrong, but because of the effect on juries, who expect the police to be able to tell everything about the crime from the evidence.
    A famous murder victim.

    A famous murder victim.

  2. The “first 48” rule is true. If they don’t identify a primary suspect in the first 48 hours after the crime, the chance of solving the case goes down to 50%.
  3. They never close a case until the killer is caught. Many times they know who the killer is but don’t have enough evidence to charge him or her. They don’t close those cases; they leave them open, hoping something will change.
  4. You cannot tell how long a body has been dead from liver temperature! That only works in controlled climatic conditions, which we almost never have here in Florida. Rain, heat, wind, cold – they all have their effect. There are too many variables to determine time of death at the scene.
  5. It’s blood spatter, not blood splatter. (I knew that.)
  6. A corpse begins to smell in about three hours, but that’s not decomposition – that’s bladder and bowel release. The smell from decomposition begins in about two days.
  7. It takes decades for a skeleton, exposed to the elements, to turn white. For a long, long time they’re brown. The detective compared it to a dog’s rawhide bone. (I’ll never look at them in the same way.)
  8. You cannot tell where a shooter was standing based on where the shell casings are found.
  9. Serial killers do not keep the same m.o. for their entire careers. They evolve and “perfect” their techniques.

So there you have it. I’ve made at least one mistake in already-published books, and there are probably more! I’ll do better in the future, thanks to this class.

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Writing about someone you’re not

There is apparently a kerfuffle going on in the m/m world right now. A well-known author who has used a male pen name for years has finally decided to let it be known everywhere that she is female. I have not seen any of the negativity myself, and I don’t care to. Don’t even know where it’s happening. But I’ve seen a lot of positivity – most of which comes down to the idea that good writing is good writing (or, in this case, superb writing), regardless of whether you’re male, female, or other.

I saw one commenter who said that as a gay man, he prefers to support gay male authors. I get that completely. When you have limited dollars to spend and want to support a particular person or group, go for it.

Back in the day when the author in question began writing, it was very difficult for a woman to get published in the gay press. So she made the decision to use the male pseudonym. She’s always been very up front about the fact that the name was a pseudonym. A lot of people already knew who she was, including me, and it made no difference whatsoever.

Shakespeare. Not a Roman emperor.

Shakespeare. Not a Roman emperor.

I have seen comments in the past by gay men that they don’t want to read books about gay men by female authors because they’re not authentic. That’s their choice, but they’re missing out on some great literature – The Charioteer springs to mind.

But the idea that you’re not allowed to write about someone you’re not doesn’t hold up. If that was the case, the only thing that would be published is autobiography and memoir.

No one – no one – really knows anyone else, regardless of whether they’re in the same gender identity group or not. Besides – this is fiction. Jamie Brodie is who he is because I created him, and I know him better than anyone. Did I do my research? I did, and I still do. I read everything I can get my hands on by and about gay men, because I want to get it as right as possible. But no one gets to tell me that I shouldn’t write about Jamie because I’m not a gay man.

‘Nuff said.


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Citizens Police Academy, Week 2

This week we learned about the training our police officers go through. It’s quite extensive. The time that it takes for someone to go from the initial application to the academy to a full-fledged police officer is at least a year and can be a year and a half, depending on whether you go to the academy full-time or part-time.

And the training never stops. Officers keep training throughout their careers. As they should.

Not learning oral communication skills. Fæ [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Not learning oral communication skills. Fæ [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

The most amazing thing I heard last night was this. We were listing all the qualities you’d want in a police officer, and of course good communication skills were paramount. The captain that was leading the class said that he is seeing a problem these days, one that he believes contributes to the difficulties that so many cities (not ours, so far) are having with police violence.

He said that one of the primary tools a cop has to de-escalate a situation is his communication skills. When the cops arrive, people are immediately stressed. There’s already a bad situation or the police wouldn’t need to be there. A cop with good communication skills can often talk the situation down. Calm everyone. Come to a resolution, arrest the bad guy, whatever, without ever firing a weapon. Maybe not even drawing it.

The problem is that so many of our young people have grown up texting instead of talking. Communicating virtually rather than face to face. They don’t have good oral communication skills. The minimum age for a cop in our city is 19. A 19-year-old who’s mainly communicated by texting is not naturally going to be able to de-escalate a situation. That has to be taught, and that takes a while.

I remember that the officer involved in the shooting in Ferguson, MO was only 21. Their force is much smaller than ours. I wonder if their training is as extensive? And if their superiors have as much concern for communication skills as our senior police do?

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A little labor history for Labor Day

Growing up in West Virginia, I gained a rudimentary understanding of labor unions at a very young age. The United Mine Workers were on the news for one reason or another every week, it seemed, and the names of UMW presidents (of that time) Tony Boyle, Arnold Miller and Rich Trumka were as well known as the names of the state’s governors. I was 15 when the Buffalo Creek mine disaster occurred. A couple of years later I began working in a local hospital as a CNA, and for the first time met men suffering from black lung disease. Coal worker’s pneumoconiosis.

We didn’t learn much about the history of the mines in school. The West Virginia history that we were taught was mostly about the white settlers fighting off the Indians, how Abraham Lincoln made us a state, and how some guy named Morgan Morgan was the first white settler in the state. (Turns out that wasn’t right.)

As a result, my knowledge about the mining industry wasn’t what it should have been. I knew something big had happened at Matewan once – there was a movie made about it, after all – but I didn’t know exactly what. I’d never heard of Blair Mountain. I didn’t know that the owners of the coal mines didn’t even live in the state and therefore had no investment in what mining did to the landscape and people.

I’ve been away from West Virginia for 30 years and hadn’t thought about mining much at all until very recently, when I started doing research for Pictured to Death. (Jamie Brodie Mystery #12, coming next year). I don’t want to say much about it yet, except that it involves coal mining history. I’ve done a good bit of reading in preparation, and have learned a lot about the history of my own state that I never knew.

Matewan is famous because, in 1920, a former miner and city official named Sid Hatfield (yes, of the Hatfield-McCoy Hatfields) was shot to death, while unarmed and walking with his wife, on the courthouse steps. That murder set off a chain of events which culminated in the Battle of Blair Mountain – which wasn’t much of a battle, as it turns out, but scared the coal operators and law enforcement very badly. A U.S. Army general finally talked the miners into laying down their arms. The miners hated the coal operators, but they were patriotic Americans – many of them WWI vets – and wouldn’t fight against the Army. The miners counted it as a victory, though, since it had taken the Army to stop them.

It’s a fascinating history. If you’re interested at all, the best book I’ve read about it is Thunder in the Mountains: The West Virginia Mine War, 1920-21, by Lon Savage.

Happy Labor Day.

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