September, 2016 Newsletter

Feature - Riding With The Big Dog

The Importance of Research, Experience It

I felt I had it covered in my cozy mystery draft. But, when the Edmonds Police Dept. had a community open house of course I went to learn more about small town policing. It was very helpful experiencing the open house. As I left that evening, my fingers were all crossed and my thoughts were focused on winning the raffle for a K-9 ride along. What a sensational gift to win.

An incredible learning experience, so much fun, and even I didn't realize how much I'd learned until I sat down later and wrote almost 18 pages of notes from my night riding with the big dog. Officer Hobbs is an all black German Shepherd and his partner is Officer Jason Robinson. Both of them are inspiring to watch in action. They've partnered for four years and seeing them in action on their night patrol 7:00 pm to 5:00 am was a true education.

Seek out research opportunities wherever you can. Don't be satisfied with just reading and googling and interviewing. Although all those are needed, researching experiences is most valuable. It's also fun and one of the privileges of being a writer.

What's some of what I learned on my night out? What the adrenaline that races through Officer Hobbs feels like. It permeates the air and is absorbed through your pores. You breath it in, smell it, hear it, sense it. Your heart beats it through your veins all shift. This four legged officer is ready at all times. He's completely devoted to his partner and always on the look out for him. Their partnership and dedication was inspiring. And both officers have intriguing personalities.

In practical terms, I learned how the dog tracks scents. It's all based on the science of dead skin cells. The weather can have an impact on the tracking, and so can time - strike while the trail is hot within about 4 hours for best effectiveness. Imagine a myriad of invisible scents crossing each other through the air. The dog has to distinguish and also commit to the one specific scent. The dog is an officer who can't be tempted by the scent of a taunting cat for example, he is a dog after all.

These officers are not detectives following long term cases, they're brought in for the immediate need. They track suspects, and can also uncover evidence that can later be critical. The greatest benefit is at night when a dogs senses are keener than people's. The strategy of tracking often uses the natural alleyways and routes of the city. The absolute requirement of commands obeyed instantly. A command to attack may have to be rescinded in an instant. The dogs reactions are so fast. To see it is to believe it. This is a microcosm of what I learned from this experience. To find out more, listen to our next podcast (Kendall and Cooper Talk Mysteries)

This research not only taught me more about K-9 and officer work. It sparked my imagination to add new characters to my cozy mystery novel Kat Out of the Bag. I'm currently rewriting for an improved story.

Great murder mystery by Margaret Truman, yes Harry Truman the President's daughter wrote Murder in The Smithsonian, and several other murder mysteries around classic political locations of Washington D.C. What a great plot and plot twists. Good luck solving the mystery first.

Speaking of politics and America, my recommendation of Juan Williams book We The People for a comprehensive understanding of how we got where we are, with the issues we face today. This is American history like you've never read it before; you'll learn so much about we the people and how we shape the future.

Recommending several books - most recently my discovery of Gene Wilder's excellent novels. Now there's a writer who knows how to create fully developed, interesting characters who really grow through the life of the story.

Agatha Christie Tribute

Agatha Christie was born Sept. 15, 1890. Happy birthday to the Queen of Mystery and the Queen of Crime.

She is still the author who's sold the most mysteries ever. Her books have sold over a billion copies in English, and over another billion in foreign countries.

This is a talented author who was a genius at putting the story above eveerything else. She keeps you guessing and provides the characters who are so easily underestimated, then bang! Big surprise as they over deliver.

There's such demand for the lady's style that there are new, today's authors who are continuing the characters' series. Sophie Hannah now has a second Hercule Poirot book titled Closed Casket.

Some say the cozy is dead, but seeing the demand for the Hallmark channel mysteries, and many cozy titles I think there may be a twist and a surprise coming for those plotting that dead ending.

Editing Tip - Do You Outline?

Do outlines help you with organization? Do they make your writing more efficient? I propose that a flexible outline is a great tool and a huge advantage to writers.

That organization of your thoughts, the action, the plot structure, and your characters can be invaluable. I also recommend matching your outline to Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey. Match your outline to your chapters as well, to re-enforce what purpose each chapter is to accomplish.

Like I said, a flexible outline, so it can evolve. As your outline evolves, you'll find that so will the depth of your story and your characters. Outlines come in all shapes and sizes, whatever works best for you.

When I interviewed Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl, she said that her outline was made of post it notes and yarn connectors that took up a whole wall in one room of her house. So, she always knew where her characters were when, and what they could know at those times. She also could easily make changes and updates and then right away visually see the ripples of those impacts throughout her story.

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