Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Building the Time Machine: Writing Historicals (Part 1 of 2 Parts)

By Jeri Westerson

Originally posted August 10, 2010
at www.Getting-Medieval.com

Writing historical mysteries comes with its own set of problems.

To begin, there’s the problem of writing a mystery. On top of that is a layer of history, added on like frosting.

In addition, as with science fiction or fantasy, there is a certain amount of world-building that needs to happen. By that, I mean that the reader must be thoroughly placed in the time and the place. The smells, the sounds and the feel of it all must be part of the work without devolving the material into a travel log or documentary.

Everything must be real for the characters – and no one should seem out of place. And, because readers of historical fiction and mysteries are very particular and have purposely stepped into your world to time travel, the history must be authentic.

But how does that work when you are writing a work of fiction?

I consider the history to be the skeleton of my story and I consider the fiction—the fictional life of my ex-knight turned detective, Crispin Guest—to be the flesh and muscle I hang there.

If the skeleton isn’t sound, that is, if it’s made of fictional history, then it doesn’t give enough structure to the rest of the piece. It’s also more of a challenge to bend the fiction to suit the history, rather than the other way around.

Sometimes, the work can be frustrating.

I try to choose words authentic to the time period. I spend a lot of time with the Oxford English Dictionary to learn when certain words first came into use, or at least were written down for the first time.

This gives a little leeway. After all, a word was most likely already in use for some time before it was actually written down.

But the meanings of words may have changed. Some words we use today didn’t start out with quite the same meaning – and certain idiomatic phrases had a very early origin.

There were instances when I wanted to use a word or phrase that was legitimate to the 14th century, but ended up scrapping it because it sounded too modern!

To be continued...

Jeri Westerson is the author of the Crispin Guest medieval mysteries. The newest title in the series, The Demon's Parchment, is a nominee for the RT Book Review Reviewer's Choice Award for Historical Mystery.

Photo by Craig Westerson.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Things You Don't Know About Marcia Talley

SinC: Are you superstitious? If so—what would you absolutely not do?

MT: Yes. I wear my mother's St Christopher medal when I travel, and neither she, nor I, were/are Catholic. Wouldn't step on a plane without it!

SinC: Who’s your favorite Beatle?

MT: Sir Paul, ever since I first laid eyes on him, playing that guitar left-handed on the Ed Sullivan Show. I fell out of love with John when he hooked up with Yoko. What on earth did he see in her, anyway?

SinC: Do you have a guilty pleasure TV show?

MT: Project Runway. The ingenuity and creativity of the designers simply blows me away. I used to think that fashion design was such a glam occupation -- but it's really cut-throat, isn't it? I love Tim Gunn, too. Half college professor, half sauve New Yorker -- except that he was born and raised in Washington, DC!

SinC: If you could have anyone, I mean anyone, over for dinner, who would that be? Why? (You don’t have to cook.)

MT: Since we're fantasizing here, I'd send out to the late, lamented Thai Room on Connecticut Avenue for hot squid salad, larb and bean thread jelly mushroom – and I'd invite Agatha Christie. I'd ply her with wine and get the REAL story of her 11-day disappearance in December 1926.

SinC: What’s your biggest fault?

MT: I procrastinate. So many things need to be done each morning before I can start writing. Coffee, email, Facebook ... I wish I were more disciplined – get up at 6, write until 9 and then spend the rest of the day having a life. But do I ever learn? Nooooh!

Marcia Talley is the Agatha and Anthony award-winning author of the Hannah Ives mystery series including Without a Grave and her latest, All Things Undying. She is immediate past president of Sisters in Crime. You can learn more about her at www.marciatalley.com.

Photo by Ron Belanger.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Buy Indie, Pass It On

Mystery Loves Company
Oxford, Maryland

Sisters in Crime member Dana Stabenow led the cybercharge today on her blog to “buy one book from an independent bookseller” and spread the word about what you bought and where you bought it.

As Dana says, the big digital and brick-and-mortar bookstores are great, but if everyone buys one book from an indie today, those stores have a much greater chance of being with us next year.

Here at the SinC Blog, we’re glad to join the “buy a book from an indie today” chorus. And we’d love to hear what you bought and where you bought it – and anything else you want to tell us about your favorite indie. We love to talk about indies and we know that you do, too.

SinC president Cathy Pickens started off her holiday season with a stop at Park Road Books in Charlotte, N.C., where she picked up “Lie After Lie” by Lara Bricker and “Operation Dark Heart” by Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer.

I began my own gift shopping with Mystery Loves Company, based in Oxford, Md., and the purchase of “The Penguin Who Knew Too Much” by Donna Andrews and “Dame Agatha’s Shorts” by Elena Santangelo.

After finding out about Cathy’s selections, though, I’m thinking I just may have to call Park Road Books or Mystery Loves Company for a copy of “Lie After Lie.” It sounds interesting.

See how this works?

It doesn’t matter what day you read this blog entry; we hope you’ll buy one book from an indie and tell us about it. Although, be warned, no one that we know has been able so far to limit themselves to a single book purchase (including Dana).

And, if you need help in finding an indie, go to IndieBound.org where you’ll find a search engine that can locate an independent bookseller in your area.

So, tell us: what did you buy from an indie today?

By Kathie Felix

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Things to be Thankful for: Reading Lists

Happy Thanksgiving!

Here at the SinC Blog, we’re thankful for the many contributors who keep this blog rolling along. We wouldn’t have anything to read at this site without your contributions, your ideas and your kind assistance. (And please keep in mind that new contributions are always welcome.)

We’re especially grateful to our blog readers. You’re the reason that everyone works so hard to create what we hope is content compelling enough to interrupt your crime fiction reading and writing. We enjoy your comments – and we love our lurkers!

Thank you, to every one of our BlogSisters in Crime!

In honor of the holiday, we’re publishing a list of lists (!) of reading material related to Thanksgiving.

A big thank you to author B.V. Lawson for sharing her wonderful list of lists, which is included in this blog entry, and to author and SinC past president Marcia Talley, who introduced me by email to crime fiction reviewer and promoter Lizzie Hayes of the United Kingdom, who also shared her wonderful list collection. The lists contain some overlap, but all are wonderful creations.

And now… The List of Thanksgiving Reading Lists

B.V. Lawson created a Thanksgiving mystery list, which appeared in 2007 on her blog, In Reference to Murder. This week, her “Mystery Melange for Turkey Week” blog entry points to some culinary-related mysteries, both on the page and in the kitchen.

Janet Rudolph, founder of Mystery Readers Journal, published a list of Thanksgiving mysteries at her Mystery Fanfare blog earlier in the week.

The Lucius Beebe Memorial Library in Wakefield, Mass. provides an online list of Thanksgiving fiction, including mysteries.

The Morton Grove (Illinois) Public Library offers a list of fiction (including mysteries) with a Thankgsiving setting compiled by the subscribers of the Fiction_L mailing list.

Cozymystery.com includes a Thanksgiving Mystery Book List focused on, as you might expect, cozy mysteries.

Myshelf.com features age-appropriate and genre-specific Thanksgiving reading suggestions in categories including infant to preschool, ages 4-8, ages 9-12, youngster/young adult, general fiction, romance, mystery and nonfiction.

After checking out these lists, I pulled two Thanksgiving-related books from my shelves for a second look: Southern Fried by Cathy Pickens and Still Life by Louise Penny. I’m also spending time this weekend with Secrets of the Cat: Its Lore, Legend and Lives, which was revised and updated by its author, Barbara Holland, a woman of uncommon wit and literary accomplishment, shortly before her death in early September.

Tell us: What’s on your reading list this weekend, once the holiday mayhem has died down?

Written by Kathie Felix, with information provided by B.V. Lawson and Lizzie Hayes.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

IndieBound: Shopping at an independent bookstore this month?

By Kathie Felix

Many of us will be making some significant book buys this holiday season. Before the shopping begins, however, it might be a good idea to think about what our upcoming book purchase decisions could mean in the greater scheme of book retailing – and in terms of retailing in general.

The independent bookseller members of the American Booksellers Association (ABA) are poised to lend a hand in this debate. They are sponsoring a community-focused movement that brings together booksellers, readers, independent retailers, local business alliances and individuals “with a passionate belief that healthy local economies help communities thrive.”

The initiative, known as “IndieBound,” encourages support for local “indie” businesses that bring dollars, jobs, diversity, purchasing choices and taxes to local communities.

According to the IndieBound program, $100 spent locally keeps $68 in a community – while $100 spent at a national chain keeps only $43 close by. In addition, the project points out that independent businesses create jobs within a community, bring in tax money that is reinvested locally and donate to charities at more than twice the rate of national chains.

The IndieBound effort has its own website – www.indiebound.org – offering a variety of online tools, including a search engine that can be used to locate nearby bookstores and other independent retailers.

I tested the system with a search linked to my zip code and turned up a list of 30 booksellers within 100 miles. Before the search, I thought I knew all I needed to know about the local indies, particularly since SinC member and independent bookseller Mystery Loves Company is a frequent partner in local SinC events. After the search, I came away with the idea that a gift certificate from a shop that specialized in cookbooks might provide a cookbook-collecting friend with the perfect holiday gift – and would include the chance for a couple of shopping trips in a revitalized historic district. Even better, for the publishing industry, I wasn’t planning to buy this friend a book-related gift before using the IndieBound search engine.

The IndieBound program also offers an opportunity to link a website to specific books or independent bookstores. Participation as an IndieBound affiliate includes referral fees for sales; participants may link to book titles without joining the affiliate program (and without earning referral fees).

In addition, the website features links to an Indie Next List of great reads recommended by booksellers, an Indie Bestseller list, an Indie social networking community and Indie gear.

Now that you know how easy it is to find an independent bookseller anywhere in the country, you can help the indie effort by spreading the word about IndieBound.org.

And, today, let's talk indie. Tell us about your favorite independent bookstores.

Kathie Felix is a journalist and editor with a background in public relations. She has been on the front lines of bookselling as an in-store bookseller and a manager at the nation’s two largest bookselling chains – and has always considered a job at an indie to be the ultimate bookstore assignment. And, yes, she’s currently at work on a mystery or two of her own.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Sick Wife

By Ramona DeFelice Long

Originally posted April 18, 2010
At: ramonadef.wordpress.com

….wherein I wonder about the various, and maybe convenient, illnesses the poor spouses of cops develop in mystery novels, and how it’s all the fault of Benjamin Bratt.

After 16 years on the job, S. Epatha Merkerson is leaving Law & Order. I hadn’t watched L&O in a while, but after hearing that announcement, I tuned in. I lucked into an episode with a guest appearance by Benjamin Bratt. Lt. Anita Van Buren and Detective Rey Curtis, together again. It was like a Law & Order, Old Home Week spinoff.

But it was not a happy reunion. Anita, I learned, is retiring because she has cancer. And she and Rey reconnected at the funeral of Debra, Rey’s wife.

I remember when Debra was diagnosed with MS. It was a Big Deal. Back in the day, L&O didn’t truck with personal info about the cop and lawyer characters. We saw the cops on the street and the lawyers in the courtroom. Double-divorced Lenny sometimes quipped a one-liner about marriage if the body in the opening scene happened to be an unfortunate husband, and he sometimes snarked about Mike Logan’s revolving-door love life. That pretty much covered the warm and fuzzy stuff. There was law and there was order and that’s all that could be crammed into a one-hour time slot.

Until Rey Curtis came along. Suddenly, woven into the weekly dead body story was Rey’s personal life. His strict Catholic upbringing. His three little children. His afternoon tryst that nearly wrecked his marriage. Debra’s illness. The pressure of home life impacting him at work.

Suddenly, it was Law & Order & Family Problems.

I don’t personally know any police wives, but I’m sure it’s a tough gig. Constant worry. Crazy schedule. In mystery novels, it’s not any better. In fact, it might be worse than reality. I haven’t done a formal study on this so I can’t quote fun stuff like percentages, but as a reader, I’ve encountered an amazingly high number of sick cop wives. Wives with MS, debilitating arthritis, post-partum depression, bipolar disorder, to name a few. I’m not making light of these illnesses; just the opposite. In real life, the wives of cops become ill just like anyone else. What’s different, and what I’m wondering about, is how and why the Sick Wife is used as a plot device.

Consider this. You may recognize it from a cozy or two out there. Our protagonist repeatedly hooks up with the same detective because she keeps stumbling over bodies and he, usually much to his early annoyance, has to work the case with her. They keep getting thrown together. They kinda hate each other and kinda like each other. If they’re both single, all’s fair and then we have the plot device called the Cop Boyfriend. Which is another blog.

But what if the cop is married?

As readers, we might want some romantic tension in the story, but we don’t want our cozy characters to be cheaters, do we? I mean, our nice protagonist really shouldn’t be looking at a married guy, and he shouldn’t be looking back. But, if they are both honorable and true, well that’s no good, because there’s no conflict. We want conflict. But we want to continue to respect them. But we want them to get together. But…

Wait! What if there are extenuating circumstances. Such as, what if the cop’s wife is sick? He can’t leave her, because of that “in sickness and in health” thing, plus deserting a Sick Wife is scummy. But maybe her illness makes her unable to … you know … or maybe their marriage is over emotionally but he can’t leave … and he really wants the protagonist and she really wants him, but they must stay apart because they both refuse to dishonor the Sick Wife.

So now we have longing, longing, longing and angst, angst, angst and unrequited lust (or maybe requited, which they both feel terrible about, but come on, it’s been ages because his wife is Sick). And before where there were barriers to their ability to stay nice people while falling in love, they can be in love and be totally conflicted about it. Which is what we want. Yay! Conflict! And all it took was a deadly disease as a plot device.

Or, is that callous? Okay, how about this:

How about a Sick Wife who populates a story to show vulnerability in a traditionally stoic character? Think of the cop who is tough, strong, brave and true, but when his wife gets sick, it takes him out at the knees. He shows up on the job every day, as he has the last X number of years, but now he’s got his wife’s doctors’ appointments, and his kids need him home at night, and so maybe he’s distracted or loses his temper or makes a little mistake or misses a clue here and there. Which is all terrible to wish upon a good cop, but hey, look how it drives the plot forward. And we get a glimpse of the human being behind the gun. He may be stone cold on the job, but we see him touched and worried over someone he loves.

And, again, is that callous? Is giving a character who is usually off-screen a terrible illness to muddy the waters a little too convenient? Sure, in real life, cops’ wives get sick, but is it a fair plot device?

What do you think? Have you written a Sick Wife? Do you care? Are you old school Law & Order where you want your cops to leave their personal issues back home where they belong? Or are you the post-Rey Curtis type, who wants to see how trouble at home impacts the detective on the job?

Tell me about it.

Ramona DeFelice Long writes fiction and non-fiction for children and adults and everyone in between. She works as an independent editor, specializing in mystery novels and short stories, and teaches workshops on all aspects of writing. Ramona is a member of Sisters in Crime, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the Delaware Literary Connection, the Hillendale Farm Critique Group and is an honorary member of The Written Remains writing group.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Things You Don't Know About Elaine Viets

SinC: Are you superstitious? If so, what would you absolutely not do? (Put a hat on the bed? Put your shoes on the table? Have a bird in your house? Walk under a ladder?) If you’re not superstitious, why not?

EV: I will never talk about something while it's in the works. That's partly caution, but I am sure talking about it will kill it. I worry about jinxes. I also believe deaths come in threes, but maybe that's because I count three and then stop.

SinC: Who’s your favorite Beatle?

EV: Paul. I like that he keeps on going. No, George -- he knew how to live. Wait -- Ringo, the Beatle who keeps on trying. John, well, he was a dope about Yoko, but I liked his music. What the heck, I like them all, living and dead.

SinC: Do you have a guilty pleasure TV show? (Did you watch “Dallas” or “Dynasty”? The soaps? “Real Housewives”? “Jerry Springer”?)

EV: "Cheaters" -- I watch this show with horror while the smug host slyly leads broken-hearted people into attacking their former lovers.

SinC: If you could have anyone over for dinner, who would that be? Why? (You don’t have to cook.)

EV: Good, I hate cooking. I'd invite Barack Obama. How does he survive the pressure and the hatred?

SinC: What’s your biggest fault?

EV: I work too hard.

Award-winning author Elaine Viets writes two best-selling mystery series – the Dead-End Job series (“wry social commentary,” according to Publishers Weekly) and the Josie Marcus mystery shopper series set in St. Louis, Elaine’s hometown. Her most recent offerings include Half-Price Homicide, the ninth title in the Dead-End Job series, and An Uplifting Murder, the sixth title in the Josie Marcus series. You can find more things you don’t know about Elaine at www.elaineviets.com.

Photo courtesy of Elaine Viets.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Congratulations to Sisters in Crime Founding Mother Sara Paretsky

By Cathy Pickens, SinC President

Bouchercon 2010: Sara Paretsky checks in with volunteers from the SinC/Northern California chapter on duty in the conference hospitality suite. From left: Helen Sandoval, Sharon Owen, Chloe Winston and Sara Paretsky. Photo courtesy of Gigi Pandian.

On Thursday, the Mystery Writers of America announced that Sara Paretsky is this year’s MWA Grand Master.

According to the organization’s news release, “MWA's Grand Master Award represents the pinnacle of achievement in mystery writing and was established to acknowledge important contributions to this genre, as well as a body of work that is both significant and of consistent high quality.”

Well, Sara Paretsky has done all of that – written a significant, high-quality body of work AND made important contributions to the mystery genre.

High on the list of those contributions – particularly to anyone reading this blog – is her role as a founding mother of Sisters in Crime.

Paretsky will receive the Grand Master Award at the Edgar Awards Banquet in New York in April. MWA will mark its 65th birthday at the event, making the Grand Master honor even more special. In addition, 2011 will be the year that SinC celebrates the 25th anniversary of its founding.

In 1987, one year after providing the spark that launched Sisters in Crime, Paretsky was named Woman of the Year by MS. magazine. To all of the women crime writers who followed on the many trails she has blazed, however, she’s been the Woman of the Year for many years.

Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski novels helped open the door for women private investigators in crime fiction, and she herself has opened doors – and opened eyes – to the need for more balance in reviews, in advances and in recognition for women writing crime fiction.

In April 2007, by a quirk of fate, I attended a ceremony at Kate’s Mystery Books in Cambridge (owned by Kate Mattes, another SinC founding mother). At the event, Ms. P. accepted a Dove Award on behalf of Sisters in Crime, presented by the Popular Culture Association and the American Culture Association in recognition of SinC’s strong support of women crime writers.

As goddess/past president Roberta Isleib noted on her blog that week, it was exciting to be in the jammed bookstore with two founding mothers. (Kate Mattes was also in attendance.)

Did they dream in 1986 that, one day, Sisters in Crime would be more than 3,000 members strong and international in scope? I don’t know the answer to that, but I’m sure in their vision for SinC they knew that sisters would help other sisters – and brothers – along the road. (And, for me, that sisterly bond and supporting hand were the things that attracted me to Sisters in Crime not quite 20 years ago.)

Thank you, MWA, for giving SinC sisters and brothers everywhere a wonderful new opportunity to celebrate the glorious network that Sara Paretsky launched nearly 25 years ago.

And congratulations, Ms. P., your Sisters in Crime are celebrating with you – all across the globe.

Cathy Pickens, the national president of Sisters in Crime, serves on the MWA board of directors. She is the author of the award-winning Southern Fried mystery series featuring South Carolina attorney Avery Andrews. The most recent title in the series is Can’t Never Tell.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Six Tips for Getting the Most Out of Conferences

By Barbra Annino

Attending a writer’s conference can literally change your life. You could walk away with a new friend, a new opportunity – or even a new career.

I try to attend at least a couple of conferences each year. Here’s my schedule for 2011:

• Love is Murder, Chicago, February
• Printer’s Row, Chicago, June
• Bouchercon, St. Louis, October

My first conference of the year, Love is Murder, is aimed at writers and readers of mysteries and thrillers, but there are also horror and romance elements – and even non-fiction authors whose books crime writers depend on.

In previous years, I had the pleasure of meeting and learning from Lee Child, Barry Eisler, Tess Gerritsen, Carolyn Haines, J.A. Konrath, and Tom Schreck. A couple of those connections branched into opportunities.

My first year at this conference, I attended a pitch session where I met a publisher who enjoyed my work and invited me to participate in an anthology. That led to more connections.

Which brings me to the meat of the matter: How can you get the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to conferences?

1. Find a conference in your genre.

This is a rule I stick to – although there are some great cross-genre conferences, like the ones the Romance Writers of America (RWA) puts on.

For the most part, for a mystery writer, attending a mystery conference means you’ll meet agents, editors and writers from that genre. You’ll learn from them – and you can build some career bridges.

2. Be prepared.

Finish the book, perfect your pitch, print out some business cards, pack a notebook and pens, bring a recorder, wear comfortable shoes and smile.

3. Attend the panels.

Conferences are filled with fascinating people offering their time and knowledge. Take advantage of this.

I met Tom Schreck on a panel about animals in writing. I have a dog in my books and I found it interesting to see how other writers handle the subject.

Panels also provided the chance to learn some martial arts moves from Barry Eisler, marketing tips from publisher Karen Syed and the writing habits of Tess Gerritsen and Raymond Benson.

4. Mingle.

This is easier said than done. You may feel intimidated. You may be shy. But, really, you just have to get over it.

Grab a glass of wine and chat up some fellow writers. You’ll be glad you did. I’ve made several friends through conferences. And, if there’s one thing I learned, it’s that mystery writers will remember you if you buy them a drink!

5. Make the pitch.

Make a pitch only if your book is complete. If you think you’re ready, attend as many pitch sessions as you possibly can. These can help perfect your pitch. You may also gain valuable advice about your storyline, your query letter and your publishing platform.

6. Be yourself.

Writers are a great group. They like helping other writers. They’re funny. They’re fun. Just be yourself, ask questions, wear comfortable clothes, relax and enjoy the experience!

Barbra Annino is the author of “Opal Fire,” a Stacy Justice gemstone mystery. A Chicago native, she freelances for a variety of publications, writing about health, food and travel.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Swing Shift: Riding with the Riverside Police, Part 2 of 2 parts

by Loni Emmert

This blog entry continues the story of a recent ride-along with the Riverside (CA) Police Department (RPD).

Swing shift, RPD, days later:

During an evening of routine patrol on November 7, 2010, Riverside Police dispatch received a call about a hit-and-run accident.

Near the scene, RPD Officer Ryan Bonaminio attempted to pull over a stolen semi-truck believed to be involved in the crash. The truck didn’t stop, even though Bonaminio had lights and sirens running.

The truck driver eventually stopped in front of Fairmount Park, a location known for gangs and a violent homeless population — a few years earlier, a homeless man entered a nearby residence and stabbed a pregnant mother to death.

The driver exited the truck and ran into the park. Bonaminio called for backup and pursued the driver on foot. Shots were fired. Officer Bonaminio was down.

Other officers arrived to find Bonaminio wounded. Paramedics rushed him to Riverside Community Hospital, only minutes away, but Officer Ryan Bonaminio died from his injuries, just days before his 28th birthday.

Swing shift, RPD, two nights later:

Riverside homicide detectives and police officers, along with FBI agents, arrest the suspect in the killing of Officer Bonaminio.

The news continues to break on this story, even as I type this blog entry, and we learn that the suspect is a parolee with a violent history, who may have killed Bonaminio with his own gun after a struggle occurred.

The suspect's family members had restraining orders against him because he had threatened to kill them after disputes. The suspect lived in a small town adjacent to mine, in an area known for gangs, drugs, prostitution and violence.

Swing shift, RPD, my thoughts:

I first heard the news about Officer Bonaminio as I prepared for work on a Monday morning, the day after he was killed. Startled, I wondered if he was one of the nice cops that I had met as I sat in the break room at the station waiting for Sgt. Rusty.

Rusty and I had patrolled another section of town, but the area where Bonaminio was killed would have been the area that I would have chosen given the chance. I know it well.

My ride-along was exciting, something new and different and observations from the experience fill a lot of pages in my notebook that may translate into fodder for the manuscript I’m currently writing.

For Sgt. Rusty, Officer Bonaminio and all of the other RPD personnel, however, going out on patrol every day is a test of bravery, skill, intelligence and dedication that many of us will never really understand.

I don’t know what goes on during roll call, but I hope a prayer or two is whispered.

[BlogEditor's Note: Information about Officer Ryan Bonaminio can be found in the Riverside Police Department's online press room and in the online edition of the Riverside Press-Enterprise newspaper.]

Loni Emmert is the co-author of Button Hollow Chronicles #1: The Leaf Peeper Murders and the author of Lights! Camera! Murder! A member of Sisters in Crime since 2006, she is currently working on her first thriller.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Swing Shift: Riding with the Riverside Police, Part 1 of 2 parts

by Loni Emmert

Put up or shut up. That’s the order I gave to myself recently.

For years, I’d been threatening to go on a police ride-along. I’ll admit it: I’m addicted to watching "Cops" and "The First 48."

I emailed the Riverside Police Department (RPD) in my hometown, explained that I needed to get out on the mean streets as research for my writing. After a background check on me and a signed waiver protecting them if I was killed, they asked when I wanted to go.

I chose swing shift, wanting the opportunity to patrol during both day and night. I arrived early, along with a very nice young man who, as a sworn LAPD officer, was allowed to attend roll call, a privilege that I, as a humble mystery writer, was banned from experiencing.

Lucky me, I rode on Sergeant Rusty’s shift and we rolled Code Three — lights and sirens — to a man-beating-another-man-with-a-crowbar call.

Friends laughed when I told them that on my ride-along I wanted to be in the front car of the high speed chase so I could experience doing the pit maneuver in person. We didn’t have a high speed chase, but I bet Sgt. Rusty would have been the lead car with me by his side, hanging on for dear life.

During my three-hour trip, we went to the crowbar call, left, and got called back which led to my waiting in the car for 1 ¾ hours while Sgt. Rusty and his men arrested three parolees with guns and drugs in their possession. The crowbar guy got away.

Another call about a suspicious package came in next.

We drove to where a man said he found a suspicious device that seemed like a bomb on his porch. The street was dark so Rusty asked dispatch to call the man to meet him in his driveway.

Dispatch replied there was no answer at the house. Sgt. Rusty informed dispatch that we were leaving and would come back if the man made contact. We drove away.

I was perplexed.

In my job, I have to go above and beyond to help out my co-workers and clients. I can’t just leave.

But a policeman leads a different life. Rusty told dispatch he thought the call sounded like a “set-up.”

Wow. That never even occurred to me.

We finished my ride-along after scanning a mall parking lot that had been the target of car thieves and cruising bad neighborhoods slowly, staring at everyone with suspicious eyes and getting many nasty stares in return. While it made me nervous, Rusty seemed to enjoy it.

I asked a lot of questions, took a lot of notes and found myself wanting to schedule another ride real soon.

To be continued (tomorrow) ...

Loni Emmert is the co-author of Button Hollow Chronicles #1: The Leaf Peeper Murders and the author of Lights! Camera! Murder! A member of Sisters in Crime since 2006, she is currently working on her first thriller.