Peter Rozovsky is only half right: I may be a (two-time) loser, but I’m no pussy. I girded my loins after Friday’s ignominious Shamus defeat and got right back into the fray Saturday morning.
9:00 Weapons Presented by Jim Born
Anyone who cares about getting the cop stuff right in their books—or readers who want to see if their favorite authors get it right—needs to see one of Jim Born’s presentations. Anyone who enjoys a good time and likes to laugh also needs to see one of Jim’s presentations. If you fit both categories, then there’s no excuse for not getting your ass out of bed as early as is necessary when presented an opportunity for one of his clinics. Ably assisted by Colin Campbell, Sean Lynch, and (inadvertently) Ian Graham, Jim described and demonstrated scenes anyone who reads about cops should be aware of.
Flex cuffs are popular because traditional handcuffs cost about $75 (even without the fur) and can easily be lost as the suspect makes his way through the booking process. Flex cuffs are sturdier than your basic cable ties and require wire cutters for removal.
The “officer/suspect factor” (relative sizes of each) is a key component in trials when use of force is in question.
Hip holsters have a button the wearer must press to release the gun. This is a safety feature intended to prevent the gun falling out at inopportune moments as well as to keep a bad guy from taking it. The buttons are not foolproof. Cops who were in a fight for their gun often wind up traumatized even if they win.
One of the first questions a cop has to answer if he shoots someone is if he identified himself as a police officer. Jim always says, “Police. Don’t move,” when he has to pull a weapon. That’s his defense if he were to be involved in a shooting. It’s simple and understandable, witnesses can easily hear it, and, should an attorney ask how he’s sure he said it, Jim can honestly reply it’s because he does it every time, even in training.
Do everything you can to keep something between you and the suspect.
Pepper spray may not work in a fight as adrenaline can overcome it. It’s also risky to use it if the quarters are too close, as it’s just as effective on cops as on bad guys.
Jim’s fondest hope when taking a door or approaching a dangerous suspect is to be working with a partner who is younger and expendable. J
Two cops approaching a suspect will automatically separate and stay as far apart around the suspect as possible without being in each other’s lines of fire. Only one cop speaks. This avoids confusion and also keeps the suspect from being fully aware of where the other cop is. The front, speaking cop never stops moving.
Ask if the suspect has a gun. A professional criminal who doesn’t want the cop to shoot him will usually just tell you.
When asked if entering a building was dangerous, Jim said it wasn’t so bad. He had body armor and a heavily armed team of people he trusted with his life on his side. The person it was most dangerous for was the guy they were after.
10:30 The Soap Opera Song: Soap Operas and Crime: Soap Operas Without Shame: Lessons Learned About Writing from the Soaps. Laura Benedict, moderator.
Fortunately the panelists had a better handle on what to talk about than did the folks who named the panel. Highlights:
Toni McGee Causey said she grew up in the Deep South and thought Days of Our Lives was a documentary.
Joe Clifford: Soaps always propel the narrative forward, yet you can skip three years and not miss a thing.
Reed Farrel Coleman: Soap Opera writers are masters at working in backstory.
Toni McGee Causey: A soap never goes more than five minutes without conflict.
Soap operas are often leading indicators of social issues such as homosexuality, HIV, inter-racial marriage, etc.
Toni McGee Causey’s first exposure to people who weren’t part of her insular, segregated community came through the soaps.
Reed Farrel Coleman: Soaps feed you social issues in small doses, unlike network shows shoving the issue down your throat. (His word choice led to great merriment and the conversation deteriorated from there.)
Holly West: Soaps also show unfamiliar groups have the same problems everyone else does.
Toni McGee Causey: Soaps are excellent at painting themselves into corners and creatively getting out again.
Charles Salzberg: Soaps are clinics in how to use dialog to move the story along.
Reed Farrel Coleman: Soaps show emotions play out over time in ways movies and episodic TV cannot. Novels can—and should—work the same way.
Toni McGee Causey: Soaps lack the luxury of a narrator to keep the reader posted and tell what’s going on in someone’s head. Everything has to come straight from the character.
Audiences develop attachments to the actors who play certain characters. A teen-aged Joe Clifford once wrote an eight-page letter to the network when they replaced a favorite actor with someone Joe felt was unsuited to the role. (Joe publicly admitted to eight pages. I have it on good authority it was closer to 16 but he didn’t want to seem unbalanced. Right. Eight pages is perfectly normal behavior.)
(I have all of the above on good authority. You didn’t really think I’d go to a soap opera panel, did you? Really.)
12:00 Dark Necessities: Balancing the Dark and Light in Stories. Dana King, moderator.
I was busy during much of this panel but sources tell me it didn’t suck, though it had to be a let-down for anyone who’d been to the soaps panel immediately preceding. What I remember most was Heather Graham telling a story of a Key West man who dug up a dead woman and kept her in his home for seven years while continuing to buy her flowers and gifts. Since the statute of limitation on grave robbing was only five years, the police has no idea what to charge him with. This is apparently not the weirdest story to come out of Key West.
Profound and sincere thanks to Heather, Terrence McCauley, and Patrick Hoffman for their graciousness with a virgin moderator. Health issues made us two panelists short and I worried if I’d prepared enough questions, but everyone pitched in and we more than filled the time without stretching. I owe each of you a solid.
1:30 24 Frames: Influence of the Big and Small Screen on Crime Fiction. Matt Goldman, moderator.
Ace Atkins: Longer story arcs, spanning multiple books, are now acceptable as more people binge watch shows.
Peter Blauner: When David Mamet adapts a book into a script, he reads the book and puts it in a drawer. What he remembers goes into the script.
Danny Gardner uses the rhythms of comedy to make his serious points about race go down smoother.
(I feel a little guilty for not having more notes here, but good stuff came pretty fast and furious and I couldn’t get some things down without missing others. I have several notes begun but not finished.)
4:30 Imagine: Social Issues. Gary Phillips, moderator.
I’d trade a delicate portion of my anatomy to have Gary Phillips’s voice.
Paul Hardesty started writing fiction to tell all the things he wasn’t allowed to say in reports and scholarly papers. He’s also aware no one reads these papers, and most of the few who do don’t care. Through fiction he can tell the stories, include what he wants, and people will actually read them.
Ovidia Yu: Singapore’s authoritarian government seems to give more leeway to musicals, so if you can sing it, it’s acceptable. The government also likes to say it’s progressive, so lesbians are okay, so long as there’s only one.
Julia Dahl: Journalism is now how many clicks an article receives. The first paragraph is no longer where the most critical information goes; it’s where they put the Google search keywords.
Bruce DeSilva: The real problem with journalism today isn’t in the loss of national or international coverage, but the lack of coverage of city halls, zoning boards, etc.
(Personal thought in notes: Man, does Gary ask good questions. He’s got a good topic for thought-provoking questions, but he’s all over it.)
Paul Hardesty: To prevent a book from becoming a polemic, the author should provide a scaffolding onto which the reader can fill in with his own experiences and perspectives. He also advises taking everything written in the “white heat of passion” and cutting it in a subsequent draft.
Erica Wright advocated on behalf of humor growing organically out of situations.
Bruce DeSilva hopes not to get feedback about the social issues he writes about, as that would mean he was too heavy-handed. He just wants to give people something to think about.
Next post I’ll talk about highlights that happened outside of panels. That’s going to take more than a couple of paragraphs, too. It was that kind of week.