Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Got Research?

I'm in research mode this month, it seems. So in that vein, I thought I'd share some of the fun explorations I've been doing for my books.

I do a lot of the research for my romantic thrillers in the library and the internet. But there’s no substitute for personal experience. So when I got the opportunity to sign up for my city’s citizen’s police academy last year, I jumped! I and ten other citizens covered a lot in ten weeks. Here’s a brief overview.

Week One: Orientation of the Police Department and a tour. This week was great for scoping out all those little details that make stories come alive. From the way officer’s shifts are split up to the color of the walls in the holding cells to the crammed pseudo-organization of the evidence room, these are details you can’t find in a library book. Details that make a story feel real.

Week Two: Traffic Enforcement. Maybe most of us have been pulled over for a traffic ticket or warning at some time in our lives, but recreating a stop in the pages of a story is a different matter. Especially when you’re writing it from an officer’s point-of-view. And how much do you know about the way Radar works? Maybe I’m just slow, but I had no idea. I do now!

Week Three: Defense and Arrest Tactics. This was a meat-and-potatoes week for a fiction writer. We learned how officers approach and control a situation, the use of holds, strikes, kicks and weapons such as pepper spray, baton and taser. The officers even staged an arrest with me playing a dangerous bad guy. I wasted no time putting my experience to use in VOW TO PROTECT, Harlequin Intrigue, 8/06!

Week Four: Fire Department. We visited our city’s fire department this week. After touring the facility and vehicles, I put out a fire with an extinguisher, knocked down cones with the fire hose, rode the aerial ladder and dressed up in all the gear, climbed up on a small roof and chopped ventilation holes with an axe. Now my subconscious is hard at work coming up with a firefighter story!

Week Five: Emergency Vehicle Operation Course. That’s right, we drove cop cars! Backing and serpentining and evasive driving and braking. And I discovered it’s nearly impossible to use the radio while pursuing another car through an obstacle course with lights flashing and siren blaring.

Week Six: Investigations. Probably my favorite week of the whole academy (a tough call). After a presentation about a local homicide investigation, we broke up into small groups and visited three different stations. In the first station, we learned about crime scene photography and made a plaster cast of a footprint. In the second, we lifted fingerprints off a coffee mug. The final station was a mock homicide. We had to examine the evidence, make conclusions and interview a detective posing as the victim’s mother. These experiences will be showing up in my books for a long time.

Week Seven: EMS. A very informative week including Adult CPR training and AED training. I have an EMS scene planned in an upcoming book. Talk about life-and-death drama!

Week Eight: Firearms Training. Prior to this my firearms experience was limited to shooting a black powder Civil War era revolver about twelve years ago, so this was a big week for me. After I learned to lean forward and put my thumb in the right place to avoid getting nailed by the Glock’s slide, I did pretty well. We started with oval-shaped targets, then moved to a photo of a man holding a gun. When they dimmed the lights and forced us to shoot with night sights and only a flashing police light bar for illumination, things got interesting!

We spent the second part of the night working with the virtual Firearms Training System (FATS). We had to interact with different scenarios an officer might face projected on a movie screen, making split second decisions about whether or not to fire our weapons. The weapons themselves registered hits and misses on the screen, forcing us to justify our decisions and own up to poor marksmanship. It truly is amazing the number of split-second judgements a police officer has to make.

Week Nine: Police-School Liaison Officer, community policing, drug enforcement. Learning about all the roles the police fill in my local community as well as facts about illegal drugs will certainly be useful for upcoming stories.

Ride Along and dispatch observation: During the course, each member of the academy was required to observe in dispatch for an hour and ride along with a patrol officer for several hours. I had a very fun an informative night, although the rain kept the drama to a minimum. Fine with me. I like my violence pretend.

Week Ten: Graduation! Along with my certificate for graduation I won two awards. My team won best footprint casting (see week six), and I won the special “bronze notebook award” for taking the most notes. Truthfully I was kind of a shoe-in, since I was the only one taking notes, but...
The Citizen’s Police Academy was an experience that I not only will not forget, but I will use in many books. If you’re interested in doing something like this, call your local police department and find out if they offer the program. If not, maybe they’ll take the suggestion and start one up!

And if you'd like to see more pictures of my adventures, check out my website, annvosspeterson.com!

Ann Voss Peterson

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Do you have a theme song?

As with reading, my TV viewing taste is eclectic. I love intense action/dramas like 24, Prison Break, and The X-Files, but oddly enough--considering what we write--I don't like any of the CSI or investigative shows. But I have been known to enjoy a few guilty pleasures now and then, like the O.C., As the World Turns and America's Next Top Model.

Back in the late 90’s, my guilty viewing pleasure was Ally McBeal, a show and character I loathed to the extreme, but couldn’t seem to stop watching. In Episode Seventeen, “Theme of Life”, Ally goes to see a therapist (played by the fabulous Tracy Ullman) who tells her she needs a theme song. “Something you can play in your head to make you feel better.” Hers was, appropriately, “Tracy” by The Cuff Links.

Ally thought the advice was nuts, but I actually quite liked the idea, mainly because I already had a theme song – “Rock the Casbah” by the Clash. No political motives intended, I just loved hearing the song.

Does anyone else have a theme song they'd care to share? No? Just me? Okay then.

Amanda Stevens

Thursday, April 19, 2007

When Research and Real Life Collide.

Like Law & Order, whose stories are "ripped from the headlines," I often use news events as a springboards for my fiction. Many authors do. We read a news report or see a television documentary that inspires us to start playing "what if" games in our minds. Suddenly, we have the makings of a whole new fictional world. It's a common way stories are born.

But it's the times when that process works (coincidentally) in reverse that can be a little creepy.

Currently I’m researching mass murderers for story I’m working on. In addition, I’m trading emails with a police officer who is graciously answering my questions about police procedure for dealing with an active shooter in a school setting.

I have to admit I was a little freaked out when the real life tragedy at Virginia Tech started unfolding.

It’s happened to me before. In late August of 2001, I was writing a series with two fabulous authors, Cassie Miles and Adrianne Lee. Our series focused on terrorism, and in the first book, terrorists hijacked a jet and planned to fly it into the White House. The editor we were working with had some misgivings. She thought the scenario was too unrealistic.

Two weeks later, it no longer seemed that way.

After 9/11, I and the other authors found we didn’t want to write the story anymore. All three of us really had a hard time working our way back into believing what we were penning was fiction. So what did we do? We took a week or two off. We changed the storyline somewhat. We made ourselves move on. I was the lucky one, since my story focused more on home-grown environmental terrorists than radical Islamists and airplanes. But with our editor's help, the three of us eventually reworked the series and convinced ourselves we were writing fiction again.

And what will I do this time?

I’m going to focus on the reason I love to write and read crime stories in the first place. I want to make things right. I want justice. I want the innocent to be saved and the guilty punished. It doesn’t always work out that way in real life. But it does in my books.

And that’s the power of fiction.

Ann Voss Peterson

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Friends and Movies!

What a GREAT weekend! I got to show off my town to friend Suz Brockmann and her hubby, Ed Gaffney. Seattle is a beautiful city, but when I called Suz's hotel and asked what she wanted to do on day #2 she said, "I want to see mountains!" Well, we have some of those too ;-). The pic is from our booksigning featuring me, Suz, Ed and my friend, Mary Ellen.

We also hosted a booksigning at the fabulous McDonald's Book Exchange in Redmond, Washington. Fans came from Canada to see Suz!

My other highlight of the weekend was my #1 movie pick (reviewed on my website): DISTURBIA. I'm calling it Hitchcock for teenagers . What a great flick. It's packed with suspense, emotion, and humor (always helps to have the wise guy sidekick, eh?) I would *highly* recommend this movie. The best part is the filmaker was able to make a scary movie without the usual blood and guts. Kudos to Shia LeBeouf who will be a moviestar -- you read it here first -- and an excellent performance by a new favorite of mine, David Morse (check out his fabulous, subtle performance in DOWN IN THE VALLEY).

What movies have you seen lately? Anyone excited about HOT FUZZ?

Cheers from the land of lattes and pine trees!

Pat White

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Happy Easter!

Here's to egg hunts, chocolate bunnies and...movies! What? Well, I've been fortunate enough to see two excellent movies in the past few days so I thought I'd share...

First, a movie called THE LOOKOUT blew me away. It's a psychological thriller about a young man struggling to get his life back after one bad decision leaves him brain damaged. Excellent performances all the way around. What really impressed me was the script, written by Scott Frank. As a writer, I really enjoyed the foreshadowing, symbolism and twists and turns that kept me guessing. A+ Scott! Next, I saw THE NAMESAKE which is about an Indian family (Bengali) and their son's struggle with self-identity. Very tender and engaging film.

What have you seen lately that you can recommend? A film that you keep thinking about days later? Share!

Here's to sunshine and great movies!

Pat White

Friday, April 6, 2007

Put Those Rejections Behind You

"I discovered that rejections are not altogether a bad thing. They teach a writer to rely on his own judgment and to say in his heart of hearts, ‘To hell with you'.” – Saul Bellow

If you’ve been writing professionally for any length of time, you’ve probably amassed a nice little rejection folder. In some cases...maybe not so little. Now, thanks to a company in Raleigh, North Carolina, there’s a perfect way to put those rejection letters behind you...by printing them onto rolls of customized toilet paper (facial quality, but not two-ply). At ninety bucks a roll and a minimum order of four rolls, the price of revenge is not exactly cheap.

Here is a response that might work better for you:

And because misery loves company:

"I’m sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.” Editor of The San Francisco Examiner to Rudyard Kipling.

“The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the ‘curiosity’ level.” A letter rejecting The Diary of Anne Frank.

“An endless nightmare. I do not believe it would ‘take’...I think the verdict would be ‘Oh, don’t read that horrid book’.” A rejection received by H. G. Wells for The War of the Worlds.

To William Faulkner: “If the book had a plot and structure, we might suggest shortening and revising, but it is so diffuse that I don’t think this would be of any use. My chief objection is that you don’t have any story to tell.” Two years later, he received this one: “Good God, I can’t publish this!”

How about you? Care to share with the world your most memorable rejection?

I’ll start. This one came from an editor at Harlequin Intrigue who shall remain nameless because a) contrary to some of my actions at the national conference, I’m not stupid; b) it was a long time ago (twenty years!) and the editor is no longer with Harlequin; and c) I’m getting old and can’t remember her name anyway.

“We love your title! Unfortunately, the rest of the story doesn’t quite work for us.”

Your turn.

Amanda Stevens

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

April Showers?

It's April in Seattle, which means bi-polar weather. Now, you'd think it would mean constant rain, right? Not so! Last Sunday it went from hail balls to sunshine to drizzle back to sunshine. Which makes it hard to focus on writing since every time the sun shines you want to stop what you're doing and run outside! Quick -- catch the sun while it's passing by! ;-) The great thing about rain are the rainbows that follow, right?

Now, if you're stuck inside this spring due to rain, pick up a book or two, or rent some movies. I've started a "movie review" section on my website so you can check that out for recommendations. I don't slam movies because I respect the time and talent that's needed to make even a bad movie. But I'm sharing some of my favorites in theatres and on DVD. This week I've posted a review on 300, which I've blogged about before, and Music & Lyrics, a sweet romantic comedy. I'll check in again next week with some new reviews.

Have you seen anything you'd like to recommend?

Here's to rainbows!

Pat White