I’ve enjoyed reading, starting at a very early age, and have continued to so until this day. My tastes vary, from poetry to the classics to mystery, thrillers, suspense, true crime, historical fiction, nonfiction, and more. As I kid I read comics of all sorts. I practically devoured Frank and Joe Hardys’ latest adventures, such as The Ghost at Skeleton Rock and The Disappearing Floor. I also read Nancy Drew.

Reading material was my meth. I simply had to read and was rarely far from a book or a comic of some type. Then came Mad Magazine, a publication that suited my quirky sense of humor. In addition to Mad’s wacky articles I thoroughly enjoyed the cartoons. I liked to  draw, and Mad’s illustrators, such as Mort Drucker and Al Jaffee, quickly became some of my favorite cartoonists. Jaffee, by the way, is the Guiness record holder for the longest career in comics—73 years, 3 months. He was 95 at the time he earned the record. However, he didn’t retire until three years later, in July, 2019, at the age of 98.

By the way, a few years I stood at a reception desk in California, waiting for the employee to finish a phone conversation when I noticed that she was doodling on a notepad while chatting. Her drawings immediately sparked my interest. They were quite good and the style reminded me of the the cartoons drawn by Al Jaffee.

I mentioned the similarity and she blushed and fluttered her eyelashes a bit before saying she was flattered and that she wished her work could someday be that good. I was surprised that she knew of Jaffee since she was so young and he was, at the time, in his mid 90s. However, her eyes, the cheekbones, and the nose … yep, she was Al Jaffee’s granddaughter.

We each had a bit of free time so she told me about her famous grandfather’s life and that she would never attempt a career as an artist because the bar in her family was far too high to achieve. I did my best to encourage her to go for the gold, telling her that she was extremely talented and that she should set her own goals. She said she’d think about it.

And, speaking of goals (here’s where I segue into the purpose of the article du jour), in the days of my youth, when I foraged empty lots and roadsides for empty soda bottles to redeem for enough cash to purchase reading material, one of my favorites was Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.

I gobbled up those AHMM twisted tales like people today grab all the toilet tissue they can find and then hurry home to hoard it like a hyper hamster buries and stores sunflower seeds.

Hitchcock authors such as Lawrence Block and Bill Pronzini sent my imagination into overdrive and it didn’t take long the desire to see my own name in an issue of the popular magazine.

To publish in AHMM has been a longtime goal of mine and, well, (drum roll) … my first “Case Files” article is scheduled for publication in the May/June 2020 issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine! I’m extremely pleased.

Here’s a statement from AHMM.

“We are delighted to introduce a new feature, knowing that our readers often take a keen interest in the realities behind the fiction: former police detective Lee Lofland will offer in each issue insights into the working lives and daily realities of those involved in law enforcement.”

I hope you enjoy the articles.

 

Sometimes it’s the tiniest detail that makes a setting pop, zing, and sizzle. They’re the little things that cause readers to sit up and take notice. They evoke emotion and stir memories of real life experiences. They’re the things that make readers leave everything behind to step into the worlds you’ve created. After all, a well-written and well-crafted setting can be a character in its own right, and it’s equally as important as the fictional people who live within the covers of your books.

A great example of a writer who’s mastered the art of setting is superstar author James Lee Burke. Burke, whose settings are incredibly detailed, are written from the heart, and the details he creates shine through in every letter of every word. His scenes and characters are deeply layered and this is so because he often relies on personal life experiences.

Burke often talks about having worked in the Texas oilfields, and as a surveyor. He taught school and was employed once as a social worker. As a reporter he wrote for a  newspaper. Like many of us in our early years, and even later in life, money was tight back in the day for Burke and his family. They’d lived in a garage, motels, and a trailer. Thirty years ago Burke was an alcoholic.

It is the combination of Burke’s experiences that offers inspiration for his writings. He’s also adamant that writers should be aware of the people around them.

During a 2015 interview with Publishers Weekly, Burke said, “A good writer is a good listener. The great dialog of the world is all around us, if we’ll only listen. In similar fashion, the great stories are in situations we see everyday, just as the great heroes, the real gladiators, are usually standing next to us in the grocery checkout.”

I’vr often heard writers speaking about adding to their next book a bit of information they heard while at a writers conference. A couple of years, for example, at the Writers’ Poilce Academy,  Tod and Lee Goldberg saw a sign featuring a unique business name and both authors immediately claimed “dibs” at using the name in a future book.

Lee Child once asked me about the typical items stored in the trunk of a patrol car. He needed a speck of detail for a Reacher book. J.A. Jance once asked me about driving and skidding on icy roads. The scant bit of information was vital to an opening scene of a book that, as usual with Judy, quickly turned into a bestseller.

Donald and Renee Bain used to contact me often when they needed information for their Murder She Wrote series. Stuart Kaminsky called on both Denene and me for material. Lee Golderg … more of the same—tiny details for a Monk book. James Lee Burke asked me about fingerprints, a very specific but small detail and, like the others who contact various experts, much of the information was needed to “perk-up’ a scene, paragraph, sentence, or dialog. Sometimes all that’s needed is a single word … proper terminology.

So when writing about cops and when you really want to insert something special into your twisted and thrilling tales of mystery, suspense, and/or romance, ask an expert for unique behind the scenes details that will surprise the reader. Show your fans that you’ve done your homework. After all, your goal is to entertain and please the people who spend their hard-earned money to purchase the books you’ve labored over for the past several months, creating something special just for them.

Unique Cop Stuff

To help out, here are a few tiny specks of information you might find intriguing.

  1. A kevlar vest typically doesn’t quite reach the waistband of the wearer, which leaves a gap of a couple of inches between the bottom of the vest and the belt area of the pants. Nothing there but shirt material and flesh. Therefore, when sliding in and out of a police car, the hard and dense material of the vest sometimes catches and pinches a bit of “love handle,” and it feels like you’d imagine. It hurts and causes the officer to wince. Although, if people are around at the time, the officer will suck it up and pretend it didn’t happen. Still, that tiny tear in the corner of the eye is a dead giveaway. OUCH!
  2. While wearing a Kevlar vest, officers typically wear an undershirt of some type. The problem, though, is that the undershirt often “rides up” with all of the climbing in-and-out of patrol cars and scuffling with bad guys that officers do all shift long. So, to avoid the uncomfortable bunching-up of material that you can’t get to without stripping down, some officers tuck the tail of their undershirt into their underwear. The elastic band of the “Fruit of the Looms” holds the t-shirt firmly in place.
  3. Officers sometimes store an extra set of cuffs on the spotlight control arm.While driving along, especially on bumpy and curvy roads, etc., there’s a constant “click” of metal tapping metal as the handcuffs hanging from the spotlight arm sway with the motions of the car. After a while, though, the noise is “tuned out” and simply becomes a part of the cacophony of sounds inside the patrol vehicle—constant police radio chatter, FM radio station, the drunk yelling and singing from the backseat, and even a partner going on and on about his kids or the big fish he caught, or the mangled dead body they’d discovered at a crash scene earlier in the night.

4. Police departments use many symbols of rank designation. Some department supervisors wear white shirts (some departments issue white shirts to all officers), while others issue gold badges to their higher-ranking officers. But the easiest way to tell an officer’s rank is to look at their collar insignia. Each pin is a representation of the officer’s rank.

Collar insignias, beginning with the top ranking officer (chief)

Colonel, or Chief (some chiefs prefer to be addressed as Colonel) – An eagle (birds) on each collar

Sheriffs and chiefs may also wear a series of stars to indicate their rank.

Major – Oak leaf on each collar

Captain – Two bars on each collar (the two bars are often called “railroad tracks,” a great detail to include in a story)

Lieutenant – One bar on each collar

Sergeant hree stripes on the collar and/or the sleeve (photo below)

Sometimes rank is indicated on the badge.

Corporal – Two stripes on the collar and/or the sleeve

Officer – Chevron, or single stripe

 

Hash marks on the sleeve indicate length of service.

For example, each hash mark normally represents five years on the job. Sometimes, to avoid a sleeve fully-covered in long row of hash marks, stars are often used to represent each five years served. In the case of the officer/police chief above, each star in the circle represents five years of service, plus four hash marks, each of which, in this case, indicate a single year. So, 5 stars and 4 hash marks = a total of 29 years on the job.

Other pins and medals worn by officers may include …

Copy (2) of 20150713_092344

Here’s a closer look at the bling.

(from top to bottom):

– Name tag.

– Award ribbons – Community service award, length of service, expert marksman, lifesaving award, medal of valor.

– Pistol expert (to earn this award the officer must consistently shoot an average of 95% or better on the range).

– FTO pin worn by field training officers.

– K9 pin worn by K9 officers.

– Indicates outstanding service, above and beyond.

*Remember, ribbons and pins and other do-dads will vary by individual departments and agencies.

Pins

Pins on the back of name tags, ribbons, etc. are used to attach the insignias to an officer’s uniform. A small clasp (similar to an ear ring backing) is pressed over the pin tips to hold them in place.

Unfortunately, the clasps often fall off during scuffles with rowdy bad guys and, if the officer is not wearing a bullet-resistant vest, which was typical “back in the day,” could result in the pin tips puncturing the officer’s skin.

For a quick fix in the field, lost clasps can be temporarily replaced with pencil erasers.

Okay, that’s the tip of the detail iceberg. Questions?


“The author must know his countryside, whether real or imaginary, like his hand.” ~ Robert Lewis Stevenson

If your goal is realistic police procedure inserted between scenes of suspended disbelief, well, there are a few things you should avoid, much like you’d steer clear of walking through gang turf while wearing a neon green “Gang-Bangers’ Mamas Have Dumbass Kids” t-shirt. By the way, should you decide to take that walk and are subsequently evading the inevitable incoming gunfire, you could use that time to rethink the use of run-on sentences, the Oxford comma … and cordite (say NO to cordite!).

1. Guns, guns, and more guns. Since bad guys are inclined to use weapons when committing their crimes of choice, firearms and ammunition are, out of necessity, a big part of a police officer’s world. As writers it’s up to you to learn the basics about the firearm carried by your protagonist, and the one in the bad guy’s pocket. Four things you should avoid when writing about firearms and use of deadly force are:

a) police officers do not shoot to kill.

b) police officers are not trained to shoot arms, legs, hands, feet, etc.

c) handguns are not accurate at great distances, so please don’t have your hero cop pick off a bad guy who’s merely a dot on the horizon.

d) street criminals often carry cheap, pawnshop-type handguns, or stolen firearms.

2. Donut-eating, beer belly clown. Like dinosaurs, those guys are practically extinct. Present day officers are normally pretty health conscious. They belong to gyms and they exercise regularly (many departments and academies have their own workout rooms/gyms). They eat wisely, and they definitely shy away from what used to be a standard part of the diet … donuts. Weight training is also a regular part of many officers’ daily exercise routine. Criminals of today are often lean and mean, so officers feel that it’s important to be able to handle themselves when the bandits decide to attack or resist arrest.

So please do avoid the “fat officer” cliché. Those of you who’ve attended the Writers’ Police Academy, think back to the uniformed officers you saw there. Did you see any that were overweight? No, you didn’t. Not one. When there were donuts around, did you see any officers lined up to snag one? Nope. In fact, the requests we generally heard from them were for bottled water, salads for lunch, and a healthy choice for dinner, including skipping dessert.

3. Knock, knock. The business of cops and robbers is not a 9-5 job. Unfortunately, murderers don’t choose their time to kill based on what’s convenient for the rest of the world. This means that cops, in the early stages of an investigation, often show up at someone’s front door in the wee hours of the morning. When they do knock at 3 a.m. and Johnny Killer’s mom answers, it’s important that officers develop a rapport with her.

It’s also important that cops are quick on their feet, noticing little things around the house—photos, trophies, etc.—that could help to begin a conversation and to put people at ease by talking about something they know and cherish. It places the officer and the killer’s family members on a bit of common ground. So please do avoid having the detective push his way into a house and start shouting, “Where’s Little Pauly? I know he whacked Tony Earwax!”

That sort of tactic rarely ever works. However, there’s a time and place for everything. Just be sure the time in your story matches that of the scenario.

4. Talk, talk, and more talk. Cops, especially detectives, must be the best used car salesman, ditch digger, auto mechanic, florist, circus dung shoveler, and warehouse box stacker in the world. What I mean by that is that investigators absolutely must be able to fit in by walking the walk and talking the talk no matter where they are and to whom they’re speaking. Dialogue is a huge key to solving crimes. Cops have to be able to “BS the BS’ers. So having the ability to carry on a meaningful conversation with anyone and everyone is an extremely important part of the job.

Where writers often fail is by having their fictional investigators use the same manner of speech throughout the book, no matter the setting. Attitudes and personalities among criminals change, even within the same neighborhoods. Culture plays a huge part in demeanor and personality. When those factors change, so should the manner in which the detective carries herself, and how she speaks (or not) to the various people in the story. In other words, when your hero finds herself at a marina she best be talking about the joy of fishing, not that the level of mercury in seafood is slowly killing everyone on the planet.

So, avoid the detective character who’s not a chameleon. They must have the ability to change when change is needed. Remember, they should have the ability to BS the BSer’s. You do know what I mean by BS, right? If not, take time out of your schedule today and have a nice barefoot walk in a pasture occupied by a couple of bulls. You’ll catch on really fast.

5. The “so-called” expert syndrome. Please use caution when seeking an expert to help with the cop facts in your story. If you want readers to open your book and “see” officers and investigators going about their daily activities, then it is an absolute necessity to have someone who’s lived the life answer your questions. Better still, sit back and let them talk. Listen to the little things they have to say—the ripping sound of Velcro when they remove their Kevlar vests, or the smell of stale beer and cigarette smoke along with the surge of adrenaline felt when wading into a crowded bar to arrest a drug-fueled, angry biker. The feel of your heart slamming against the backside of your breastbone as you search a dark, abandoned warehouse for an armed killer.

These things can only be described by someone who’s actually experienced them. Not someone who’s merely read about it. And especially not when the information is relayed through the family and friend network—“My uncle knows everything about cops because he used to deliver propane to a guy who lived next door to a woman who divorced a man who once played softball on Sunday afternoons with a man who used to live near a police station. Believe me, the stories my uncle can tell. Know what I’m sayin’?”

If you want realism when realism is needed, avoid the “so-called expert syndrome.” Talk to real cops, forensics experts in the field, etc. And for goodness sake, attend the Writers’ Police Academy. It is THE gold standard of hands-on training for writers.

Remember, though, as important as it is to be absolutely realistic when writing certain scenarios, as long as you can effectively show why and how reality has been suspended, then most readers will forgive and understand why your character did what she did. “It” doesn’t have to be true, the reader just has to believe it is, or that it could be true in the hero’s world. In other words, write believable make believe.

 

Since the topic today is “small town departments” and the officers who work there … well, hold on to your hats because I’m about to make an earth shattering announcement! Ready?

Here goes.

Sure you’re ready? Are you sitting down? Have your nervous medicine in hand? Your doctor on speed dial?

Yes to all of the above? Okay, then. Here it is, and I’m holding nothing back. Not this time.

(One second. I’m taking a deep breath because this is scary).

Okay, here’s the news …

Small town cops are the same as cops in big cities!

Yes, they are. I’ve said it and the secret is OUT!

They receive the same training. They do the same jobs. They go through similar hiring procedures. They enforce the same or similar laws. They use the same or similar equipment.

So why do some writers insist upon writing them differently? Well …

Barney-Fife-Itis

What is Barney-Fife-itis, you ask? Well, lots of writers suffer from it, and it’s a horrible disease. Nasty, in fact.

Do You Have the Symptoms?

Have you ever written small town cops as inferior to officers in large cities?

Have you ever written small town cops as sloppy, stupid human beings?

Have you ever written small town cops as doughnut-eating, ignorant, fat slobs?

Have you ever written small town cops as incompetent officers who must rely on FBI agents to solve every crime that occurs in Tinytown?

Have you ever believed any of the above to be true?

If so, you should immediately take a large dose of reality, rest for a moment, and then continue reading this post because each of the above are things I see in many books and they are not only absolutely and unequivocally wrong, they’re extremely offensive to many police officers.

I want to help you get better. I want to help rid your body and mind of this horrible disease that plagues writers. I want to heal you of this affliction. I want to cure you of Barney-Fife-Itis!

Now, do you agree that you have a problem, that this horrible and festering illness occupies a spot in your mind?

Yes?

Okay, that’s the first step … admitting the problem. Now let’s begin the healing process and to do so you must first address the trouble head-on by facing your negative feelings toward small town officers. So I’d like to take you to a small place, the one you’ve conjured up and now resides somewhere deep inside your imaginations, the spot where those ideas live and breed like the black mold that hides beneath your bathroom vanity.

So lets go there, to that location in your mind where …

Yes, it’s a small red-brick building nestled between Betty Lou’s Cut ‘n Curl and Smilin’ Bob’s Hardware and Wedding Cake Bakery. The lone parking space out front is reserved. A sign atop a steel post next to it reads “Chief’s Parking Only.”

Inside, the hallway to the right takes you to the water department and the office of the building inspector. There, you can also purchase dog tags, yard sale permits, and Girl Scout cookies, all sold by the town clerk, little Susie Jenkins’ mom, Sadie Mae. Her husband is the local letter carrier and her brother Bully Buck runs the feed store out on Route 1. And like most of the town’s business folk, Billy Buck’s a member of the volunteer fire department.

A left turn down the second hallway leads to the town’s police department, a force comprised of five dedicated, hardworking police officers—one chief, one sergeant, two full-time officers, and one part-time guy who’s also the mayor of the next town over.

Complaints can be filed with the dispatcher at the window, or by dialing the local number.

Calling 911 in Tinytown, by the way, works the same as calling 911 in Big City.

There is a tiny difference, though. When you call 911 in Tinytown somebody always shows up to see what’s wrong. Not always so in Big City.

Tinytown dispatchers also work the computer terminals, running criminal history and driver’s license checks. They know CPR and they know everyone in town and the quickest routes to their houses. They know the town drunk and the members of his family, and they know Ms. I. Chart, the wife of the town’s only optometrist. She’s a kleptomaniac and everyone knows about her problem. In fact all the merchants know Ms. Chart. So they keep an eye on her and a running tab of the things she steals so that each of them can present the bills to the good doctor at the end of the month, which he promptly pays.

Officers in Tinytown have an advantage over Big City cops in that they, too, know everyone in town. They know the good, the bad, and the ugly (bless little Junior, Jr’s heart, but he did get that odd-shaped head and dreadful set of cross-eyes from his daddy’s side of the family).

Tinytown cops know the local crooks by name and address and hangouts. They know the names of their mamas, daddies, grandparents, Sunday school teachers, and even the girlfriends and boyfriends they kept time with back in middle school.

A lot can be said about the advantages small town cops have over their big city peers. Another such asset is the above average ability to rapidly solve and close cases. Cops in big cities often must work a bit harder when investigating crimes because they face many unknowns. Small town cops have an edge in this area because they often know who committed a crime simply by the method used. For example, a crook uses a John Deere tractor to break down the doors of businesses, and he does do every Saturday night without fail.

I’ll never understand why so many bad guys repeat the same mistakes time and time again, but they do. Some are so predicable that I sometimes felt as if I should’ve simply driven to a known criminal suspect’s home on a Friday night to wait for him to arrive with stolen goods, and then together we’d wait for the call to come in that a home had been burgled.

Yes, some are practically that predictable

A rowdy drunk goes on regular rampages inside Popcorn Perkins’ juke joint out on the dirt road between Jasper Junction and Hickory Holler. The destruction usually happened sometime during One-Eyed Edith’s drunken and regular banjo solo, an act she performed for anyone who’d watch. Well, if Popcorn Perkin’s didn’t pop a cap in the wild man’s rear end right then and there the local boys in blue would sit in the drunk’s front yard waiting for him when he got home, because every single person in the place knew the guy by his first name, and they’d snitch.

And there’s the guy who robbed the Wiggly Jiggly Club during the middle of hardworking Bertha Leadbottom’s last set of the night. On a good night, after payday at the mill, Bertha sometimes took in  as much as a hundred bucks, or so, all in singles. She needed every dollar she earned because, according to the pharmacist over at the Walgreens, her middle child, Ruby Jean, took three medications that cost darn near three-hundred George Washingtons each month.

It took the locals all of three hours to find the “Jiggly” robber. They would’ve caught him sooner but Bertha’s ride home was a no-show so the sergeant waited until she dressed proper-like and counted her cash, and then he gave her a lift home.

They solved the case so quickly because the masked robber, Jimbo Jenkins, wore his work shirt while holding up the bartender. Jimbo works out on the highway as a tire changer at Big Earl’s Truck Stop, and right there as big as life itself was the name JIMBO” embroidered above his left shirt pocket. On the back of his grease- and oil-stained work-shirt, in great big, bright-red lettering was “BIG EARL’S TRUCK STOP.”

Not as easy in the city, where a crook could be anyone from a long distance truck driver who stopped in off the interstate, to Sammy the Nose of the south-side Baddabing Family.

Why and how?

Why? Again, because in small towns practically everyone knows nearly everyone, and cops in those areas of small populations arrest the same people over and over again, for the same crimes, over and over again. It’s like shooting a small number of fish in a small barrel.

And when the crooks grow older and physically unable to continue along the path of crime, well, their kids take over and follow in their footsteps. I sometimes read my old hometown paper and see where the kids and/or grandchildren of people I’d arrested years ago are now committing the same types of crimes, or worse.

Once in a while though, the stinky stuff hits the fan in Tinytown and in comes an outsider, an interloper who decides to kill one of the locals. Perhaps ol’ Rooster Simpson traveled to Big City one Saturday night and hooked up with Sammy the Nose’s wife during a night of boozing it up at the Rusty Nail Motor Lodge lounge. The two head back to Rooster’s room, the one with the coin operated vibrating bed, where a friend of The Nose sees them smooching it up before entering the pay-by-the-hour love nest. So a week later Sammy sends his best hit man down to whack Rooster. He does the deed, polices his brass, and heads back to the city without leaving a trace.

So how in the heck would these tiny town officers ever hope to solve such a big time case? After all, it’s murder and the last time someone killed someone else in Tinytown was when Jonas Johnson used his double barrel to settle the argument with Homer Wrightway about whose tractor could pull the biggest plow. The gun was meant for show but when Jonas’ prize pig ran outside through the front door of Jonhson’s house with Mabel Johnson directly behind shooing the sow with her best straw broom, the porcine prancer bumped Johnson’s right leg, an action that caused the man to pull the trigger, shooting his buddy Homer dead right then and there.

But there was no need for an investigation. Johnson drove himself down to the police station/water/building inspector/Girl Scout cookie department to turn himself in.

But now there’s been a real killing with real clues to be found and a real murderer to be located. And it’s up to the Tinytown cops to solve the crime. Lawdy, lawdy, and lawdy, whatever should they do?

Well, the answer is simple. They investigate the case just as would any officer in any town or city or county in the country.

All police officers in all police departments and sheriff’s offices (the deputies with police powers—not all are police officers) attend a police academy and they receive the same training and certifications as the officers over in Big City.

No, Tinytown PD doesn’t have all the latest fancy equipment with the shiny, spinning dials and winking, blinking lights. They most likely don’t have special detectives who only work homicides or white collar crime, or have on staff specialized gang units or juvenile divisions. And they don’t have sections dedicated to traffic, vice, narcotics, and internal affairs. Budgets simply don’t allow it.

In many cases, actually, small town police officers have another advantage over the specialized big city cops because officers in Tinytown are cross-trained. They each know how to run radar, direct traffic, dust for fingerprints, interview suspects and witnesses, and they know how to investigate a murder. They work burglaries and assaults. They also arrest drunk drivers, drug dealers, people who abuse their spouses, rapists, pedophiles, kidnappers, and robbers. They break up fights, help kids cross the street safely, and they locate lost pets. If one of their officers  steps out of line they’ll straighten his butt out, too.

Big city detectives may work in one specific area for a very long time; therefore their skills in other areas often become weak and stagnate due to the lack of experience in those other fields of investigation.

Of course, Tinytown is totally fictional, but there are many actual small towns with small police departments. And those small departments, as I stated above but want to re-emphasise, work the same type cases as the departments in larger cities.

No, not all departments are large enough to have officers who serve solely as detectives. But they all employ police officers who are fully capable of investigating any type of crime. And they do, from traffic offenses to murder. Sure, they perform the same work as a detective, but they may do it while wearing a uniform instead of some fancy-smancy suit.

Yep, most small departments operate the same way as the large ones, just on a smaller scale.

If Small Town officers need additional help, or resources, they call on the sheriff’s office or the state police. Sometimes, if warranted, but it’s rare, they may call on the FBI. Please keep in mind that the FBI does not, as a rule, investigate local homicides. That is not what they do. Nor do they ride into town and take over a detective’s office. No, no, and NO!

ATF agents often operate out of small town departments and they’ll assist with various local cases, just as they depend on the assistance and backup from the local cops when needed.

Remember, not all departments operate in the same manner. Some smaller departments DO have detectives and those investigators may or may not wear a uniform. They could dress in a coat and tie, and they could have the title of detective, or investigator. If they’re a detective who wears a uniform their rank would normally remain the same. There is no standard rule. It’s entirely up to the individual department.

By the way, a police department and a sheriff’s office are not the same. Deputy sheriffs work for sheriffs, not police chiefs. But that’s a topic for another day.

I’ve often wondered why some people assume that people who have little are to be considered inferior or less intelligent when compared to those who have a lot. This is also true when considering law enforcement agencies. Those with the shiniest and best equipment are often seen as employing officers who are smarter than their peers who work for small town departments with meager budgets. Of course, this unfair stereotyping occurs throughout most walks of life.

Actually, if comparing apples to apples, try breaking it down in this way:

  • Tinytown, a municipality of 4,000 residents, employs five police officers. Those five officers provide police protection and coverage for those 4,000 citizens.
  • Big City, a city of 100,000 employs 125 officers.
  • Break down the number from Big City into three shifts (day, night, and rotating for the off hours of the other shifts) and you wind up with just over 40 officers per shift.
  • Now, since Big City covers a much larger land area than Tinytown, officials divided Big City into 8 precincts.
  • Each of the eight precincts covers a land area the size of Tinytown.
  • Each precinct employs … wait for it … FIVE officers.
  • Some of those precincts have 4,000 residents, or more, including the extremely high-crime areas. Therefore, these precincts of 4,000 residents are covered by five police officers, which is the same scenario that plays out in every small town and city across the country.
  • Many small town police officers attend the same police academies as their peers in larger cities. In fact, they’re often classmates in the same academy. And, their instructors are the same, their desks are the same, and the equipment used is identical.

Anyway, budget, land area, and location are the major differences. Not intelligence or training. (The above is strictly hypothetical, but very near reality).

Check with Experts

As always, please check with experts in the area where your story takes place. Those are the people who can best help with your research. Not someone who once read a book about how cops work in small towns. Obviously, to read incorrect information and then pass it along is, well, it doesn’t make the details any more accurate. Wrong is wrong.

To do so would be no different than me reading a book on brain surgery and then telling you about it so you can then operate on your readers and fans. Reading a book about something does not make someone a crackerjack on that particular subject. It’s actual experience and training does indeed produce experts who can help you breathe life and emotion into your fiction.

We often see “Guess-perts” (the folks with no real experience or training) telling authors to write small town cops as “Barney Fifes,” when that couldn’t be further from the truth. I know, there are “Barneys” in many departments (other professions as well), but they’re not exclusive to small towns. It’s just that they’re far more obvious when they’re one of only five officers citizens see every single day.

So, if you’re going for accuracy, the best advice for you, my writer friends, is to …

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Speaking of adding realism to you stories …

MurderCon!

There’s still time to attend MurderCon, an event featuring hands-on workshops that are typically for law enforcement eyes ONLY!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To view MurderCon classes and workshops click HERE.

To sign up to attend this unique event for writers, readers, fans, and anyone who’s interested in attending actual hands-on law enforcement training at a renowned facility,  click HERE. 

Villains. They’re the bad guys of our stories who are devoted to wickedness. They have specific goals and will stop at nothing to reach them.

Are you as driven to write them as compelling characters?

Before we dive into the dark, murky depths of the villain pool we should first take a look at the opposite end of the watering hole. Because that’s where, on a sandy beach bathed glorious sunshine stands … The Hero.

Villain vs. Antogonist

An antagonist (someone who merely opposes the hero) simply makes waves for the hero.

The antagonist and the hero, while having views that differ, are not necessarily enemies.

Well, what’s the difference between a villain and an antagonist?

Villains are used to create tension in a story. They also provide much-needed hurdles for the hero to overcome during his journey.

Unlike antagonists, villains are sociopathic and narcissistic, and they can be quite unpredictable. Villains often use fear to get their way.

And they absolutely must have a reason to do what they do.

Think of real-life villains. What makes them so creepy and scary?

Readers must be able to identify with the villain. Perhaps he has an interest in animals, or children. Maybe he’s a devoted church member, or the hero’s letter carrier. Maybe the villain is the babysitter for the good guy’s  children.

– Villains are extremely motivated to do what they do.

– Over the top villains are unbelievable.

Believable make-believe should be your goal.

When should you first bring your villain to the page?

Finally…

Those were just a few basic guidelines for creating a compelling villain. If all else fails you could follow a simple recipe I concocted. It goes something like this (Of course, like all good cooks I’ve kept a few secret ingredients to myself).

For a special treat, top with a sprinkling of chopped character flaw just prior to serving.

*This article was re-posted by request.

 


MurderCon!

There’s still time to attend MurderCon, an event featuring hands-on workshops that are typically for law enforcement eyes ONLY!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To view MurderCon classes and workshops click HERE.

To sign up to attend this unique event for writers, readers, fans, and anyone who’s interested in attending actual hands-on law enforcement training at a renowned facility,  click HERE. 

 

You’ve all heard police officers chattering away on their police radios, on news reports, and while arresting Ray Buck Jenkins, the town drunk. And when they do they use their own special form of communication, the sometimes brain-jarring language called “cop-speak.”  But when they’re conversing with their own kind inside the privacy of police station gyms and patrol cars, their lingo and terminology becomes even more bizarre, such as …

U-Boat: an unmarked police car.

Under-Belt: The belt that holds up an officer’s pants, just like the belts worn by citizens (through the belt loops). The duty belt is attached to the under-belt using belt keepers.

Un-Sub: an unidentified subject. Other terms include, suspect, actor, perpetrator, and a**hole.

Weekend Holiday/Getaway: When arrest warrants are served on Friday afternoons, after courts close, there’s no one around to conduct bond hearings. Therefore, offenders typically must remain in jail until the following Monday when judges and court employees return to work.

It’s an unofficial favorite tactic of some law enforcement officials to purposely serve arrest warrants after the close of the Friday business day to make certain that, instead of partying, the subjects spend the entire weekend behind bars. And, to add insult to injury, doing so on the Friday afternoon of a holiday weekend means the person will sit in a cell until the following Tuesday. It’s sometimes a tool that’s used to keep people “on ice” and out of the way while police continue an investigation. Feds love this tactic. *Also known as a Holiday Weekend.

Weeney-wagger: a male subject who exposes his “bits and bobs” in public.

Whale: a black and white unmarked car. Some say they resemble killer whales. To me they look like unfinished patrol cars.

Whiskey-Tango: White trash.

Sorry to offend, Cousin Junior, Jr., but that’s what it means, behind the scenes.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot/William Tom Frank: WTF

Wobbler: a case initially charged as a felony but is later reduced to a misdemeanor by a lenient prosecutor. Or, a felony offense that’s reduced as part of a plea agreement.

Working the Bubble: a street cop who’s on temporary desk duty, such as behind the bulletproof glass separating the precinct lobby from the interior of the station.

Yankee 9er: former soldier turned cop who refuses to let go of military-speak, especially so when transmitting over police radio air waves. “Incoming! Incoming! We’re taking rounds from male subject. Sounds like he’s firing a fitty. This is a real soup sandwich, sir! A Charlie Foxtrot!”

Translation – “Somebody’s shooting at me with a bunch of bullets. Yep, I’m in a real jam. Send backup, please.”

  • Fitty: M2 .50 caliber machine gun
  • Soup Sandwich: an assignment that’s gone absolutely wrong.
  • Charlie Foxtrot: a real “cluster ****”

Phonetic Alphabet

Listed below are common uses of the phonetic alphabet, both by members of the military and by police officers. Of course, they’re interchangeable, but officers without  military background may say, well, anything.

(Black text for military and blue for non-military/police).

A – Alfa (or Alpha)

Cops without a military background may use Apple, or Adam

B – Bravo

Cops – Boy

C – Charlie

D – Delta

Cops – David

E – Echo

F – Foxtrot

Cops – Frank

G – Golf

H – Hotel

I – India

Cops – Ida

J – Juliett

Cops – John

K – Kilo

L – Lima

Cops – Lincoln

M – Mike

Cops – Mary

N – November

Cops – Nora

O – Oscar

P – Papa

Cops – Paul

Q – Quebec

R – Romeo

S – Sierra

Cops – Sam

T – Tango

Cops – Tom

U – Uniform

V – Victor

W – Whiskey

Cop – William

X – X-ray

Y – Yankee

Z – Zulu

Yard Bird: fast food chicken. Also, a suspect who hides in the bushes or behind outbuildings, but suddenly makes a run for it as searching officers come close. FYI – Yard birds have been know to enjoy a meal of yard bird. Actually, some yard birds like to listen to The Yardbirds while eating yard bird.

Zebra: a term with a variety of meanings, such as the sergeant who wears three stripes on their sleeves. A cocky and boisterous sergeant may also known as “an ass with stripes.” Or, the term used by street crooks to describe a black and white patrol vehicle. “Here comes the Po-Po, driving a new zebra.”

Zip Gun: a crude, homemade firearm that is sometimes designed to use ground match heads as a propellant and fires projectiles such as broken glass, bits of metal, small nails, etc.


The Yardbirds

I recently saw a couple of questions about police scanners posted to the wonderful Q&A site crimescenewriter. The questions there were some I’ve seen often enough that I thought I’d also share and respond to them here as well.
 

The inquisitive author asked if scanners were legal to possess by private citizens, including retired police officers who reside in California.
 

Answer – Yes, the possession and use of a scanner is legal in California. However, it is a misdemeanor to use one during the commission of a crime, such as to use the messages received to aid in the escape of custody, etc.
 

In some states it is illegal to install or use a scanner inside a motor vehicle. For example (click the links below to read the statues).
 

Florida
› Indiana
› Kentucky
› New York
› MinnesotaOther states also have laws regarding scanner use during the commission of a crime, such as this one from the Code of Virginia.

§ 18.2-462.1. Use of police radio during commission of crime.

Any person who has in his possession or who uses a device capable of receiving a police radio signal, message, or transmission, while in the commission of a felony, is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. A prosecution for or conviction of the crime of use or possession of a police radio is not a bar to conviction for any other crime committed while possessing or using the police radio.In New Jersey it is illegal for felons convicted of certain crimes to possess a scanner, even inside their own homes.§ 11-1-11. Felons prohibited from possession of radio scanners.

No person: (1) who has been convicted of a felony violation of chapter 28 of title 21 involving the illegal manufacture, sale or delivery or possession with intent to manufacture, sell, or deliver a controlled substance classified in Schedule I or II; or (2) who has been convicted of a felony in violation of chapter 8 of this title involving the burglary or breaking and entering of a dwelling house or apartment, whether the house or apartment is occupied or not, any business place, or public building, with the intent to commit larceny; shall carry, transport, or have in his or her possession, or under his or her control outside of his or her own home, any operational police radio, police scanner, or any other device capable of monitoring police broadcasts. Every person violating the provisions of this section shall, upon conviction, be punished by imprisonment for not more than five (5) years, or a fine of not more than five thousand dollars ($5,000), or both.

And, Michigan:

750.508 Equipping vehicle with radio able to receive signals on frequencies assigned for police or certain other purposes; violation; penalties; radar detectors not applicable.

Sec. 508. (1) A person who has been convicted of 1 or more felonies during the preceding 5 years shall not carry or have in his or her possession a radio receiving set that will receive signals sent on a frequency assigned by the federal communications commission of the United States for police or other law enforcement, fire fighting, emergency medical, federal, state, or local corrections, or homeland security purposes. This subsection does not apply to a person who is licensed as an amateur radio operator by the federal communications commission. A person who violates this subsection is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than 1 year or a fine of not more than $1,000.00, or both.

(2) A person shall not carry or have in his or her possession in the commission or attempted commission of a crime a radio receiving set that will receive signals sent on a frequency assigned by the federal communications commission of the United States for police or other law enforcement, fire fighting, emergency medical, federal, state, or local corrections, or homeland security purposes.

As you can clearly see, it’s best to check local laws before purchasing a scanner for your home.

Another of the questions related to the terminology used when speaking of a scanner—do I call it a “police scanner” or simply a “scanner?”
 

Answer – Today, most scanners are capable of receiving radio traffic from a variety of sources, such as police, fire, EMS, marine, air, and even weather. Therefore, the use of “scanner” is a better fit. Still, many people still refer to the electronic devices as “police scanners.”
 

When I worked as a police investigator, and during my time as a sheriff’s deputy, our in-car radios weren’t set up to receive radio traffic from EMS, fire, and nearby law enforcement agencies outside of our jurisdictional territory. Therefore, many of us, including me, installed scanners inside our vehicles which allowed us to monitor the activities of other departments.

 
It’s not that we were nosy, though. Instead, we’d sometimes, for example, hear an officer’s call for help, and if we were close enough to assist we could do so, and would. Also, by listening to nearby agencies we’d often hear of pursuits heading in our direction, fleeing felons, descriptions of stolen cars and wanted persons, locations of fires, car crashes, explosions, and other valuable information.
 

By the way, there are apps for phones that offer similar service. Most are free. Not all locations are available within the online versions, though. Therefore, if the goal is to monitor broadcasts in your area, a scanner might be the best option.
 

The final question about scanners was about what a listener would hear regarding a missing person broadcast.
 

Answer – As always when dealing with law enforcement, it depends. These days, such as in Virginia, the state where I worked as a law enforcement officer, scanner listeners may not hear much at all. This is due to the use of in-car mobile computer terminals (MCTs) which is basically a silent dispatch system and car-to-car exchanges of information, all without the use of a radio. However, when officers are away from their cars they still rely on portable radio communication (walkie-talkies).
 

Police radio transmissions, while fascinating to hear, can be dangerous for the officers on the street. This is so because not only are you able to hear what the officers are doing and possibly where they’re located, well, the bad guys could also be listening, and they do. Therefore, they could easily flee, hide, and even use those radio transmissions to ambush police officers.
 

To combat the problem of criminals listening to police radio calls, many departments encrypt their transmissions which basically winds up sounding like conversations among space aliens who’re speaking with a mouth full of marbles while underwater.
 

We’d always used encrypted channels for tactical reasons during special operations, but the general day-to-day channels were open for all to hear. Since 911, many agencies abandoned the use of 10-codes, opting for plain speak (“Okay” in stead of “10-4.”). This transformed police radio “speak” into simple, everyday conversations. Everyone could then understand what was being said.
 

FYI – Virginia State Police 10-codes are exempt from the Commonweath’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). They are not public. And, when they are used they differ from many local departments. For example, the 10-code for a “fight in progress” call in Bumble Stump County’s sheriff’s office may mean “abandoned vehicle” to the state police (the two examples are totally ficticious).
 

Anyway, see how a simple question—Is it legal for a retired California police officer to have a scanner in his car—can evolve into a rambling blog article.
 

In summary, yes, it’s legal to possess and use a scanner … except when it’s not.
 

 

Serial killers may attack anywhere at any time. However, depending upon whether or not the murderer is organized or disorganized, those two factors can affect location and timing.

The set up, or initial place(s) where the killer(s) first meet their intended victim(s) varies. However, the majority of initial contact locations are areas known for vice activity, such as places frequented by prostitutes and/or drug users and dealers.

Secondary target areas include outdoor locations such as public parks and vehicle parking areas, etc.

A third choice location, but not the most favored, is the victim’s home, either by forced entry or by ruse. Also, indoor public locations such as bus stations, shopping malls, and places of business.

Breaking this down even further, we know from past experience and knowledge, that initial assaults by serial killers tend to most likely occur in outdoor public locations. Again, public parks, etc. The next prime attack location is a victim’s home. And, if the killer knows his victims, his own home may be another choice spot to kill.

Organized Killers

Organized killers are typically of above average to average intelligence. They’re often thought to be attractive. They’re neat and tidy and are often married or living with a partner during the times they committed their crimes. They hold jobs, are typically educated, and are skilled at their profession. They look to be in control. And they often have above average knowledge of police and forensics procedures. They enjoy reading and hearing about their crimes, with a particular affection for seeing their crime scenes in the media. It is not unusual at all  for an organized killer to make contact with the media, or even the police.

Having carefully plan their crimes, organized offenders frequently go the extra mile to prevent leaving evidence behind. Their killings may be premeditated.

Killers in this group are antisocial and often psychopathic—they lack of empathy and other emotions. They’re manipulative of others. The tricky thing when dealing with organized criminals is that they perpetually appear quite normal, and they’ll do their best to use charm to their advantage.

They’re not insane and they definitely know right from wrong, but they lack conscience and feel or show no remorse for the deeds.

Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer, is an example of an organized killer/criminal.

Dr. Katherine Ramsland is a renowned expert on serial killers and she details Rader’s crimes in her book Confession of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Denis Rader the BTK Killer. As part of her research, Dr. Ramsland spoke with Rader by telephone once a week for an entire year. Each week, Rader called her from the El Dorado Correctional Facility and the two of them talked for an hour or so. Also as part of her process of delving into Rader’s mind, Dr. Ramsland played chess, by mail, with the killer.

As many of you know, Dr. Ramsland is a regular presenter at the Writers’ Police Academy.

Disorganized Killers

Disorganized killers/criminals typically do not plan their crimes in advance. They quite often leave evidence at the scenes of their crimes, such as fingerprints, footprints, DNA, tire tracks, or blood. They’re also known to simply leave the body as is, making no real attempt to conceal it or to prevent leaving telltale evidence such as semen or saliva. Their crimes are sometimes chaotic.

Disorganized killers tend to be younger in age. They’re unskilled workers who have no problem depersonalizing their victims. They may be mentally ill. They’re often of below average intelligence who lack communication and social skills. Many come from dysfunctional and/or abusive families. They may have been sexually abused by relatives, and they may present with sexual detestation. They’re loners who often travel on foot to commit crimes due to a lack of transportation. These are the neighbors of their victims. They’re often under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol when they commit their crimes.

Jack the Ripper, for example, was a killer who made no effort to conceal the bodies of his victims.

This is the killer who uses a sudden and quick attack to overpower their victims.

Race

White offenders are far more apt (over double) to meet their victims in an outdoor public place (a park or somewhere similar), while African American offenders tend to prefer a less conspicuous location. African American offenders, however, are more prone to choose a meeting place that’s in vice areas (locations where prostitution is known to exist, etc.) than do white offenders.

Location

Serial killers tend to commit murder in public locations. Their next choice is typically the homes of the victims.

For example, in the late 1980s, serial killer Timothy Spencer (the Southside Strangler) raped and killed four women—Debbie Dudly Davis, 35, an account manager, Susan Elizabeth Hellams, 32, a neurosurgeon, and Diane Cho, 15, a high school freshman, and Susan M. Tucker, 44, a federal employee.

Spencer committed those brutal murders while living at a Richmond, Virginia halfway house after his release from a three-year prison sentence for burglary. He killed the first three women on the weekends during times when he had signed out of the facility.

Officials had not yet linked Spencer to the murders, so they granted him a furlough to visit his mother’s home for the Thanksgiving holiday. Susan Tucker’s body was found shortly after the time Spencer returned to and signed in at the halfway house.

Police learned that Spencer entered the women’s homes through windows. Then he raped, sodomized, and choked them to death using ligatures. He’d made the ligatures in such a way that the more the victims struggled, the more they choked.

All four were discovered nude or partly clothed. Their hands were bound, and either rope, belts, or socks were tied around their necks.

Spencer had left no evidence behind other than DNA evidence. At the time DNA testing in criminal cases was new.

Spencer later was also implicated in the murder of lawyer Carolyn Jean Hamm, 32, in Arlington, Virginia. He was also thought to have raped at least eight additional women. However, he was never tried in those cases because he’d already been sentenced to death.

Spencer, by the way, was the first person in the U.S. executed for a conviction based on DNA evidence.

Patricia Cornwell’s first book, Post Mortem, was based on the Spencer murders.

In the spring of 1994, I served as a witness to Spencer’s execution by way of the electric chair. His death was gruesome.

 

When looking at murder cases, detectives occasionally find that some charactistics and aspects of the crimes and killers are similar to those of others. Then, as time and investigations move forward, patterns sometimes begin to emerge, such as that the causes of death are identical (multiple stab wounds in identical patterns, etc.), physical locations of crime scenes are in close proximity to one another, and the timeframe matches the timeframes of other murders, such as the slayings always take place on Monday mornings, in or very near to a specific city park.

Victims are often of the same ethnic backgrounds, with the same hair color, size and body shape, and are potentially from the same or similar neighborhoods inhabited by those specific racial groups.


Serial Killers

  • single killer who acts alone
  • killed at least two people at separate locations at separate times ~ FBI

Serial killers must be able to move about freely, without attracting attention while they’re “hunting.” Therefore, it’s a good indicator of the suspect’s race if the killings occur within a racially specific location—a blue man would stand out in a neighborhood occupied by green people. But a green man would not stand out in a neighborhood inhabited by a mixture of both green and blue people. Likewise, a blue man would also fit in nicely and could and would most likely go unnoticed as he moved about within the area. These details serve as clues that help police narrow the search field.

Forensic evidence in these types of cases often indicate that it is one person, a serial offender, who leaves the same types of evidence at each crime scene—same body fluids in the same places on a victim’s body, same type of bite marks at the same locations on a victim’s body, a specific brand of tape used to bind hands and feet, ropes, electrical cords, tool marks at entry points, same type of paper and ink used to write notes, same kind of items removed from the scene, etc.

Other factors that point to a serial killer/killing is the means in which they come in contact with their victims. Do they patrol certain areas to hunt specifically for prostitutes. Similar neighborhoods for tall women or men with blonde hair, blue eyes, and lots of tattoos?

Type of weapon used to kill could be a clue as to the background of the killer. For example, a suspect whacks his male victims on their heads with a shovel, and then uses a Burdizzo castrator, a tool for castrating bulls, to remove a couple of “takeaway trophies” from the body, well, there’s a good possibility that the murderer just may work in the cattle farming industry. After all, there’s not much use for a bull castrator in the everyday household.

How a serial killer disposes of the body could also point to his identity.

Do they always …

Transport the body to a location other than where they were killed? Do they conceal the bodies or simply dump them on the side of a country road, or within a specific area of the city? Do they bury their victims? Weight them down with bags of concrete and then submerge the bodies in a pond or lake?

Serial killers sometimes have multiple motives for committing murder. However, there’s often a primary motive for doing what they do.

Primary Motives

  • Sexual
  • Mental Illness/psychosis
  • Greed/Financial Gain
  • Anger

*This post is the first of a brief series of factual posts about serial killers and how to incorporate them into a work of fiction. Part two is coming soon.

 

Realism in fiction is important, when it’s needed. The ability to weave fact into fiction is aa must. But one must first know what’s fact and what’s fiction before attempting to use reality as part of fiction. Otherwise, the author is offering readers fiction as reality.

And that’s a fact. Or is it fiction? Okay, now I’m confused.

Anyway …

Have you done the unthinkable? Are there words in your latest tale that could send your book straight to someone’s “Wouldn’t Read In A Million Years” pile? How can you avoid such disaster, you ask? Fortunately, following these four simple rules could save the day.

1. Use caution when writing cop slang. What you hear on TV may not be the language used by real police officers. And, what is proper terminology and/or slang in one area may be totally unheard of in another. A great example are the slang terms Vic (Victim), Wit (Witness), and Perp (Perpetrator). These shortened words are NOT universally spoken by all cops. In fact, I think I’m fairly safe in saying the use of these is not typical across the U.S., if at all.

2. Simply because a law enforcement officer wears a shiny star-shaped badge and drives a car bearing a “Sheriff” logo does not mean they are all “sheriffs.” Please, please, please stop writing this in your stories. A sheriff is an elected official who is in charge of the department, and there’s only one per sheriff’s office. The head honcho. The Boss. All others working there are appointed by the sheriff to assist him/her with their duties. Those appointees are called DEPUTY SHERIFFS. Therefore, unless the boss himself shows up at your door to serve you with a jury summons, which is highly unlikely unless you live in a county populated by only three residents, two dogs, and a mule, the LEO’s you see driving around your county are deputies. Andy was the sheriff (the boss) and Barney was his deputy.

3. The rogue detective who’s pulled from a case yet sets out on his own to solve it anyway. I know, it sounds cool, but it’s highly unlikely that an already overworked detective would drop all other cases (and there are many) to embark on some bizarre quest to take down Mr. Freeze. Believe me, most investigators would gladly lighten their case loads by one, or more. Besides, to disobey orders from a superior officer is an excellent means of landing a fun assignment (back in uniform on the graveyard shift ) directing traffic at the intersection of Dumbass Avenue and Stupid Street.

4. Those of you who’ve written scenes where a cocky FBI agent speeds into town to tell the local chief or sheriff to step aside because she’s taking over the murder case du jour, well, grab a bottle of white-out and immediately begin lathering up that string of goofy words because it doesn’t happen. The same for those scenes where the FBI agent forces the sheriff out of his office so she can remove his name plate from the desk and replace it with one of her own along with photos of her family and her pet guinea pig. No. No. And No. The agent would quickly find herself being escorted back to her “guvment” vehicle.

The FBI does not investigate local murder cases. I’ll say that again. The FBI does not investigate local murder cases. And, in case you misunderstood … the FBI does not investigate local murder cases. Nor do they have the authority to order a sheriff or chief out of their offices. Yeah, right … that would happen in real life (in case you can’t see me right now, I’m rolling my eyes).

Believable Make-Believe

Okay, I understand you’re writing fiction, which means you get to make up stuff. And that’s cool. However, the stuff you make up must be believable. Not necessarily fact, just believable. Write it so your readers can suspend reality without stopping in their tracks to wonder if they should, even if only for a short time.

Your fans want to trust you, and they’ll go out of their way to give you the benefit of the doubt. Really, they will. But, for goodness sake, give them something to work with—without an info dump, provide readers a reason to believe/understand what they’ve just seen on your pages. A tiny morsel of believability goes a long way.

But if you’re going for realism, then please do some real homework. I say this because I recently began reading a book and I’d barely made it halfway through the first chapter when I tossed it into my WRIAMY pile (Wouldn’t Read In A Million Years). This was a ARC a publisher sent me to review, by the way.

It was obvious the author was going for realism, and it was also painfully obvious the writer’s method of research was a couple of quick visits to crappy internet sites, and a 15-minute conversation with a friend whose sister works with a man whose brother, a cab driver in Dookyboo, North Carolina, picked up a guy ten years ago at the airport, a partially deaf man with two thumbs on his right hand, who had a friend in Whirlywind, Kansas who lived next door to a retired security guard who, during a Saturday lunch rush, sat two tables over from two cops who might’ve mentioned a crime scene … maybe.

Please, if you want good, solid information, always speak with an expert who has first-hand knowledge about the subject. Not a person who, having read a book about fingerprinting or bloodstain patterns, suddenly believes they’re pro. Sure, they may be able to relate what they’ve read on a page, however, those mere words are not the things writers need to breathe life into a story. Reading about bloodstains is not the same as standing inside a murder scene, experiencing the sights, sounds, smells, and emotions felt by the person who’s there in person. The latter is the true expert who can help a writer take their work to the next level, and beyond.

So, is there a WRIAMY pile in your house? Worse … have you written something that could land one of your tales in someone’s “Wouldn’t Read In A Million Years” pile of unreadable books? If so, perhaps it’s time to change your research methods.

A great means to assist in adding realism to your work is to, of course, attend the Writers’ Police Academy! Registration for the 2020 WPA’s special event, MurderCon, our 12th anniversary blowout, opens on February 23, 2020. You will not want to miss this thrilling experience. It is THE event of the year!

*The all new MurderCon website is scheduled to go live by the end of next week (February 15, 2020). Please check back to view the all new topics and schedule.