The Importance of Gratitude by Sarah Madison

I’m recycling an old post here today because I think it’s very timely.

I wrote this a few years ago when I was going through a bad patch. I think even though it may be harder than ever to practice in a world that seems to be going down in flames, it may be more important than ever to try this little exercise.

“I’m so glad to have this opportunity to speak about gratitude here today because I’ve been conducting a little exercise lately, and I would very much like to share the results with you.

See, I’m a bit of a Human Eeyore. I have a tendency to see the worst case scenarios. I don’t consider this pessimism—instead it feels more like realism to me. In fact, that’s part of why I like writing romances. I believe in happy endings, even though I think few of us get them. Not only does writing make my day a bit brighter, but if a single story makes it easier for someone to get through a bad day, then I feel like I’ve done my job as a writer. That’s what I call success.

You know that scene in Jupiter Rising? The one where the main character wakes up each morning and recites, “I hate my life.” Yeah, that could be me. I’ve been struggling with depression, job burnout, and caregiver burnout for a while now.

Recently I became inspired by several people I follow who have been posting daily about the things they are grateful for in their lives. This prompted me to attempt to do the same, though to be honest, I found it easier some days than others. Still, I was determined to give it my best shot. Every day for an entire year, I would post three things I was grateful for or three things that made me smile.

I haven’t managed to do it every single day, but I’ve been doing it for nearly two months now, and I’m starting to see some changes in my life. First of all, it is seldom the Big Things that make me feel a sense of gratitude. Big Things don’t come into our lives every day. It’s the little things that make the biggest difference in our lives. Taming the feral cat hanging around the house. Getting mentioned on a “Best of” list. Having someone leave an awesome review for one of my stories. Getting a surprise gift in the mail. Hearing from a friend that I’d lost touch with. Rain on the roof at night. The ghostly vision of a full moon just after dawn. The intensity of the constellations in a winter’s sky.

I found myself waking, not with the thought of how much I hated my life, but wondering what three things I was going to find to post about that day. Even if the morning started off rocky, I’d remind myself I still had to come up with three things—and that very thought changed my entire attitude toward the day. Little by little, my first thoughts turned to what would I find to make me smile that day, and let me tell you, that’s a powerful thing.

I’ve never been a big fan of ‘The Power of Positive Thinking’ because if I don’t believe something, I can’t fake my way into it. But this exercise has taught me that the mindset of gratitude is contagious—and the more you immerse yourself in it, the easier it becomes to see the good things that you have in your life. And when you see your life as one of plenty instead of one of wanting, then good things seem to find their way into your life. Sounds like voodoo, I know, but I challenge you to give it a try. If you can’t commit to an entire year, at least 30 days. Spend 30 days finding just three things each day that make you smile. You’ll be glad you did.”

So. Here’s the thing. That exercise was easier to practice when I was ‘only’ depressed. Before the added burdens of profound anxiety and a feeling of hopelessness that 2017 has wrought. When everything is going to hell in a handbasket, practicing gratitude isn’t the easiest task to give yourself. There are times when we need to be outraged. When we should be upset. When we should march. Raise our voices in protest. Persist. Reclaim our time.

But I saw a valuable piece of advice someone shared on Twitter recently in which they said their therapist told them it was important to practice self-care because we as human beings weren’t designed to handle a constant stream of trauma and anxiety. Sometimes we must disconnect. Recharge. Soothe.

It’s the only way we can stay in the battle long-term.

So with that, consider practicing gratitude in your own fashion on whatever scale you can manage. These days, I try to take a photo of something that makes me happy and post it. I’m also reading—a LOT. Stories that make me happy. Stories that make a crappy day a little bit more bearable. I’ve said all along that was my intent in writing and sharing my own stories, so it only seems right that I find peace in the works of others.

If you enjoy audiobooks, Fool’s Gold is now available on Audible. Fool’s Gold was voted best M/M romance by the 2016 PRG’s Reviewer’s Choice Awards, and is narrated by the talented Gary Furlong. Do check it out!

If you’re a reviewer with a website and would like to review Fool’s Gold, feel free to contact me (link below). Until I run out, I have a few codes available to share.

Bio: Sarah Madison is a writer with a big dog, an even bigger horse, too many cats, and a very patient boyfriend. She is a terrible cook, and concedes that her life would be easier if Purina made People Chow. She writes because it is cheaper than therapy.

Sarah Madison was a finalist in the 2013 Rainbow Awards and is the winner of Best M/M Romance in the 2013 PRG Reviewer’s Choice Awards for The Boys of Summer. The Sixth Sense series was awarded 2nd place for Best M/M Mystery Series in the 2014 PRG’s Reviewer’s Choice Awards.

Contact links:
Website
On Amazon
On Facebook (Author page)
On Twitter
On Dreamspinner

Email: akasarahmadison@gmail.com

Let’s talk about Goodreads (for a chance to win books from Lou Sylvre)

Lou Sylvre Gay Romance Happy Endings Hi, Lou Sylvre here, making my September appearance on Authors Speak. September has always been for me a month of changing perspectives, and I’m going to ask you to help me change my perspective on a topic we all know and love—Goodreads.

In 2011, when I made my debut in the M/M genre with Loving Luki Vasquez, I used Goodreads a lot. I had a blog there, regularly posted, and gathered a small following. My publisher organized chat or party events for new releases and the like on that platform, and although the format could be challenging, the events were well-attended and fun, and always led to me meeting new readers and fellow authors alike. I had a group where I posted news bites, art, and things of interest, and readers joined in, also engaging in discussion and asking me questions, which I loved to answer. (I’m not sure if the group still exists, but if it does it’s been derelict for quite a while now.)

I also posted reviews of my fellow authors’ writings, letting people know that if it didn’t get at least four stars or more likely five, I wouldn’t review it. I wasn’t there as a pro reviewer, and wasn’t interested in slamming anyone or bringing them down, and just didn’t have the time and energy to invest in reviewing something I wasn’t all that thrilled about. People liked the reviews, I think, and maybe that brought me to the attention of some new readers too.

Then, in 2014, I ran into personal hard times, and basically had to cut back on all my activities for a couple years. I didn’t write as much, I didn’t publish much, I didn’t promote much. Sometime around then, my publisher also stopped setting up chat and party events on Goodreads. Long story short, Goodreads sort of fell off my radar (along with a lot of other stuff). Now I’m wondering whether I should, so to speak, reinvest.

Please tell me what you think:

  • —About blogs on Goodreads. (Do you blog there? Do you read blogs there? Have favorites?>
  • —About Goodreads groups. (Do you have an author group, or other group that you run? Do you belong to groups aside from the major ones like M/M Romance?
  • —About Goodreads author events? (Do you hold them? Do you attend events others are hosting? How often? What piques your interest to make you want to attend?)
  • —About Goodreads reviews. (Do you post reviews on Goodreads? How much attention do you give other reader reviews on that platform?
  • —Anything else you’d like to share about your Goodreads experience. (Are there other features you utilize? Things you dislike? Etc.?)

In appreciation, for each substantive answer to one of the above questions, I’ll enter your name in a drawing—win any two of my books! Answer multiple questions, get multiple entries, and I’ll keep the entries open through September 30th. (Note: I have to exclude the V&J series bundle, and my most recent book, co-written with Anne Barwell, Sunset at Pencarrow

Thanks for reading. I’ll do my best to respond to comments appropriately, and I’ll be back with a new post next month!

More Writing Rituals and Tools

 

Hello there and welcome back! I missed last month, sorry about that.

Last time I talked about my primary writing tool, the digital story bible.

This month I’m going to delve into another step in my rather chaotic process. The writing journal.

Beginning when I was very young, I wrote in a notebook I carried with me. When I was in school it blended in with my other school books, later I switched to smaller ones that could more easily fit into a bag or pocket.

In the years since I’ve switched to a digital format. I keep all my thoughts and ideas in a digital journal, it’s one of the notebooks in my OneNote that I talked about in my last post.

I have, in part, returned to physical notebooks and journals in the last six months or so. This happened for a variety of reasons and I partially blame Grace Duncan (fellow author) and Elizabeth North (owner of Dreamspinner Press).

Every year Dreamspinner Press hosts an author workshop and all those in attendance are given a nice welcome/gift bag. There’s the obligatory beverage receptacle (travel mug, water tumbler with straw) with the Dreamspinner logo, name tag and lanyard and lovely journals among other things. Every year is a little bit different.

Anyway, I’ve been keeping these super sweet journals on a shelf in my office. For the longest time I was afraid to use them, I might ruin them or not organize them the right way.

Grace pointed out there was no right way and leaving these journals sit unused just wasn’t right!

So, determined to put them to use, I bought some colorful stick on tab dividers and made one journal into a reference book. In there I keep things like the HTML codes I use on my website and in my newsletter, a list of reviewers and what format book they prefer. Who to go to for a blog tour, dos and don’ts of social media and promotions and other miscellaneous information.

Grace convinced me to try using one for story development and the third I plan to use as a coding notebook. I began taking coding classes and believe it or not, much of the early stages of website coding is done on paper! Go figure. The Dreamspinner journal is a perfect size for coding projects. All that aside, they’re pretty impressive looking.

At work I help maintain much of the machinery that runs our lab. I need to have a list of some error codes and remember how to reset software. I use a little notebook with a homemade suede cover for my personal reference. We have shelves full of user guides, but I find a few notes jotted down of the most commonly needed tasks is easier and simpler. Using my OneNote was hit or miss since the building is cinder-block and the WiFi is sketchy at best. One draw back with digital journals is you do need a way to be online to use them. Besides, handing my phone over to a coworker who needed the information wasn’t something I was comfortable with, a small notebook was a good work-around. And it’s cute!

To further my handwritten journal evolution I discovered refillable travel journals. These are perfect and pretty cool looking. Seriously, I’m so much about aesthetics I sometimes think I was an interior designer in a past life. I love color and texture in everything! Travel journals not only have removable/movable/refillable pages but many come in appealing colors and textures.

Since I’m not really permitted to be on my cell phone, or a tablet, at work, other than on breaks I would often make notes on scraps of paper. Little, pocket-sized journals are easy to carry and fun to use. I also tend not to misplace, throw out or otherwise lose them like I did with the scraps of paper.

In this picture you can see my big DSP journals, my little handmade one and then a few travel journals I purchased or were given to me as a gift.

I’ve read a few articles that explain the difference between how our minds work when we use a digital format and when we old school it and use paper and pen. (Of course I have fun colored pencils and gel pens to go with my journals!) Our brains actually fire different synapses and different parts are engaged depending on whether we type out notes or hand-write them.

For me handwritten notes seems to bring out the most creativity and that’s how I’ve been brainstorming. Everything I write down goes into my digital journal because the handwritten stuff looks like this:

As you can see, it’s a general mishmash and very unorganized. Writing my bits of ideas out gets the creative juices going. Transferring those ideas to my digital formats organizes them. It’s there I add pics, maps and research links.

My system is ever evolving, hopefully for the better. What I like the best about both methods, digital and physical is they’re portable. I love have access to all my writerly stuff all the time everywhere I go. (I’m sure there’s a blog post in that statement somewhere.)

Every writer needs to develop their own system that works for them. We’re creative types so, at least for me, the tools I use have to be appealing to look at, nice to hold and make me go ‘ooohhh‘ even just a little bit.

Until next month!

Anyone who would like to check out the products of my insane scribbling, it’s all on my website! Click on the banner below to take a journey to Emotion in Motion.

Happy Reading!

Elizabeth Noble

www.elizabeth-noble.com

 

 

The Green-Eyed Monster of Writing and How to Fight It by Sarah Madison

Hey there!

Yes, I’ve been AWOL for a while. Life has been kicking me in the teeth lately, and I’ve bailed on a lot of commitments as a result–my monthly post here being one of them. Truth be told, while I’m in this mood, I need to take a break from posting about my experiences at Writer’s Police Academy. I’ll come back to that thread at some point, I promise, but first I’d like to talk about something else: battling envy as an author.

I’ll be the first to admit I struggle with this. As an interesting sidebar, I’ve noted that depending on what social media site I’m on, I’m a slightly different personality. I tend to be more policitcal on Twitter and reveal a bit too much of my personal life on Facebook. When I had an Instagram account, I was relentlessly perky. Weird, huh?

Not really. I think the account tends to mold your responses and interactions there. Facebook in particular tends to shape two different kinds of posts depending on the feedback you get from your followers. Either your life is wonderful and perfect as you post images from your trip to Bora Bora, or your life is on the skids–so bad you’re starring in a country music song.

I like Facebook, but sometimes I have to avoid it. Studies have shown too much time on social media–and in particular, Facebook–can make you depressed. I believe it. I’ve posted about that fact before. Marketing gurus tell us we must spend time on social media, making connections and interacting with fans. Mental health experts tell us we sometimes need to take breaks from social media.

That’s advice I can accept. I find that too much time on Facebook and the like (I’m looking at you, Twitter) makes me depressed. Despite knowing most people post about the good things in their lives, skewing us into believing their lives are better than ours, I find Envy, the green-eyed monster, often stalks me when I read the happy posts of others.

These days, I don’t have the energy to deal with the frequent melt-downs and drama either.

But today, after weeks of reading books I thought were problematic at best and stank like sewer gas at worst, I read a book that was really good. One I could barely put down. One that pulled me in and got me involved in the lives of the characters, even though it was a genre I seldom enjoy. And miracle of miracles, the author put real obstacles in the paths of our protagonists, not simple misunderstandings that five minutes of conversation would have resolved if the characters hadn’t been such blooming idiots.

And like always when this happens to me these days, I felt a pang of envy that I would never write anything half as good.

It’s bad enough when you read something that stinks but made its way to the bestseller lists. You know the writing is subpar and the plot grates on your writerly soul, and yet thousands of people rushed out to buy it. Worse, they seem to be gushing over it. Even the people who admit they hated it couldn’t help but buy the next book in the series because they had to know what happened next. Look down your nose all you want, but storytelling like that can’t be as bad as you think.

But at least with a story like that, you can tell yourself its very badness is what attracted some readers to it, and since the author is laughing all the way to the bank, there’s no point getting on your high horse about it.

No, those stories, even though their success is inexplicable (and makes you grind your teeth with rage) are somehow easier to accept than the others.

You know the ones I’m talking about. The ones that are so damn good, it takes your breath away. They remind you why you fell in love with books in the first place. No, they aren’t such masterpieces that people will still be reading them generations from now, but they are damn fine stories just the same.

And it kills you that you don’t write that well.

In some ways, this kind of story is harder to take than the drek that inexplicably become a bestseller.

Stop. Take a deep breath.

First of all, this Unbelievably Awesome Writer didn’t become that way overnight. Like you, they wrote. A lot. With passion–sometimes more passion than execution. What they didn’t know, they learned. They put in their time at the keyboard, honing skills until they produced the story that caused such powerful envy in you. Stop fretting about how good they are and how you’ll never write anything a fraction as good. These authors were like you once. You are on the same journey as they are. They are just farther along on the path. That doesn’t mean they are innately more talented than you are. Talent alone is meaningless without the grit to achieve your goals. And it is one thing that can be improved on with training and practice.

Second: this writer whom you hold in awe probably has half a dozen or so authors that make them sigh and fear they will never write anything as good as Writer X. There will always be someone better than you at any stage of the game, be it writing, or making money, or creating art, you name it. And there will always be someone worse than you, who either doesn’t have the knowledge to recognize their work stinks or isn’t prepared to do the work to make it readable, or simply because they are new at it and are farther back on the path. You can bet the author you’re in awe of has authors who awe him or her. Has days where they think their work sucks. Sits biting their nails for the first reviews to come out after promising themselves they wouldn’t read them. It’s the nature of the game.

Third: just because you love it, and the story seems to be univerally loved on all fronts, doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. Read the reviews of your favorite books by your favorite authors. Most of them have their share of unkind reviews, same as you. And if someone can hate a story you love SO MUCH, that’s a pretty good indication it’s not for everyone. Everyone–believe me EVERYONE–gets bad reviews and rejected from time to time. Don’t let them dimish your dreams and goals.

Fourth: though it may not seem like it, there are people out there who are going to think your stories are awesome. Don’t disparage their intelligence because they like your stories. It’s rude at best and insulting at worst.

Fifth: Read more books just like it. Yes, read more books that make you cry with envy over how good they are. Don’t read crap. Your brain absorbs what you continually expose it to. Crap reading translates to crap writing. Want to be a better writer? Read the good stuff.

Most of all, let the writer know what you thought of their work. For all you know, your feedback may be the one thing that prevents them from pulling all their hair out and chucking the writing business as a lost cause.

In the meantime, I’m back to reviewing the audio version of Fool’s Gold. With any luck, it will be up on audible.com before the end of August.

 

Writing Rituals… or the things I do to write a novel…the story bible

Happy one year to Authors Speak. My first post was a year ago this month! Thank you Lou Sylvre for all you do for this group.

One of the things I’m often asked as a writer is: how do you write a whole book?

I don’t have a concept of a life without creating a story and writing it down. I have, literally, done this in some form for my entire life. Writing is second nature and storytelling is ingrained to the point I can’t not write.

The drive and desire to write does not create books, screenplays and poetry. Telling the story is the end result but it’s only one part of the process.

We writers are a fickle lot and there are an infinite number of ways to create that product, a completed novel (or screenplay, etc). The simple fact is, however, the creation of all stories does have a few common elements. It’s how each writer goes about organizing and using those elements that is individual to each and every one of us.

So, since this article is about me, I’m going to talk about what I do—my rituals—to write a novel. Firstly, I write novels, not screenplays or other forms of written works, so that in itself dictates a number of my writing rituals and tools.

A book is a book, right? Doesn’t matter if it’s fiction, non-fiction or part of a series. They’re all books, aren’t they?

Wrong.

Every so often I’m asked to write something for a friend or coworker that isn’t fiction. It’s sort of like training to compete in one sport then trying to switch for a day to another sport. Yeah, you can muddle on through and probably not embarrass yourself, but you won’t be in the best form.

Everything I do in the course of creating and writing a book centers around the fact that book is fiction and a novel.

The first thing that happens when I set about creating a new novel is the basic plot idea. For me, plot and title come first. After I have those I begin plugging in characters and locations.

My initial ritual with a new novel or series is making a list of plot points. The order doesn’t matter and is likely to change, but I want a general idea of major events in every story. If the initial story is going to be part of a series I make a separate list of major events I’d like to include in the series.

The next step I take is to plan out where my story will take place. For that I use maps, books and the world’s best location explorer, the internet. Specifically, Google Earth and maps.

This is where the creation of my story/series bible begins. I have a bible for each series, and for every book within a series. I think all the authors I personally know have some form of bible for their works. For me, setting up my bible and organizing it, filling it with research, scene ideas and reference photos is one of my very most important writing rituals.

This is a page from the bible for Gone Away. There are personality traits for the two main characters, inspiration photos and links to research. This page is what I call my basic story board. It holds all my general ideas. Eventually I’ll create individual pages for the characters, plot, location and so on that has much more detail.

Some people use paper notebooks, I know others who employ index cards or journals. This is the digital age, and all of those tools have been recreated in the virtual world.

I use OneNote, which is a digital notebook system. It can be used on a computer, tablet or phone, so I have it with me wherever I go. At one time I figured out that if my OneNote notebooks for the Sentries series was somehow transformed to traditional paper notebooks each one would be hundreds of pages long and probably form a stack about three feet high.

I love my digital bibles. They are filled with photos, links and articles and become a scrapbook for every project. If I have an idea to use a waterfall or certain type of car in a story I can collect images and details, putting them on my digital pages. As I write it’s helpful to go back and refresh my memory with a visual image or check details from articles and links I’ve saved. If I’m planning a series I keep a list of what needs to be included in book #1 as foreshadowing for later books. On the reverse side of that I have other notebook pages with lists of events and characters from earlier books to reference in later books in a series.

This is one of the dozens of pages created for The Vampire Guard series and contains info on the organization featured in the series and some of the secondary characters.

Another nice feature of using a digital system is I can easily move pictures, information and links from one bible to another.

My final step before beginning the actual writing is characters. There is so much of a character that never makes it into a book. I know all sorts of details, childhood pets, favorite color and what kind of pizza they like! Every detail that comes to me about a character is recorded in case I need to use it. Images go in the character sections as well. Photos of people who look like my characters are a helpful reference when writing descriptions.

For me creation of my bible is one of the most enjoyable aspects of writing a novel. As I work on each bible the story begins to gel in my mind. The plot ideas and characters start to take on a life of their own and the story begins to play in my head. From there on it’s simply a matter of recording that story.

More on that another time.

http://www.elizabeth-noble.com/

Lou Sylvre on the Co-Writing Two-Step (Also Sunset at Pencarrow, Happy Pride, and a Giveaway!)

Lou Sylvre Gay Romance Happy Endings Hi, Lou Sylvre here for my monthly post on Authors Speak. Before I get to anything else, thanks everybody who entered the Merry May giveaway. Our winner has been contacted and will soon be the proud owner of a new Kindle Fire and a bunch of books. Next, I want to say happy Pride Month, everybody on the queer spectrum and all allies!

Next, I want to say, this post is short. I know you can see that for yourself, but let me explain. I wanted to write all about my experiences co-writing (something I’ve not done before) Sunset at Pencarrow with Anne Barwell, but I have been delayed getting this post done, and now I find out my grandsons have a band concert performance tonight, the final one of the school year, and for the oldest, the final one of before high school graduation! That means I need time to make myself presentable. Others have written about the juggling act that being a writer is, and I won’t add to that, but I will say, dang. The phrase “free time” is an oxymoron.

So here’s the brief, bare-bones, bullet-point version of my report on the adventures of co-writing:

  • We approached the task by each taking one character as our own, writing the scenes that called for their point of view. While we didn’t stick to this religiously, and we suggested tweaks to each other’s writing, this method worked out great, in my opinion. It wasn’t half the work, nor was it twice the work. The work, aside from the actual writing was just different.
  • Having a work partner helped keep things moving according to plan. Of course, I didn’t want to let my co-author down, nor did I want to hold Anne back. But, more than that, the input from outside my own brain stimulated my creativity like a second muse. When I read a scene she wrote, I felt a need to respond on “my” character’s behalf.
  • Sharing the character couple’s story with another writer made them and their romance all the more precious, and added to the rewards that came with getting to “The end.” All struggles along the way, the hours spent on chat hammering things out, the research to make sure the character world was as accurate as could be and matched between scenes—all that was more than worth it.

Long story short, Anne and I will write together again, and I’m looking forward to it.

Let me leave you with that, and with a little info about Sunset at Pencarrow. Here’s the blurb, some links, and the giveaway.

Kiwi Nathaniel Dunn is in a fighting mood, but how does a man fight Wellington’s famous fog? In the last year, Nate’s lost his longtime lover to boredom and his ten-year job to the economy. Now he’s found a golden opportunity for employment where he can even use his artistic talent, but to get the job, he has to get to Christchurch today. Heavy fog means no flight, and the ticket agent is ignoring him to fawn over a beautiful but annoying, overly polite American man.

Rusty Beaumont can deal with a canceled flight, but the pushy Kiwi at the ticket counter is making it difficult for him to stay cool. The guy rubs him all the wrong ways despite his sexy working-man look, which Rusty notices even though he’s not looking for a man to replace the fiancé who died two years ago. Yet when they’re forced to share a table at the crowded airport café, Nate reveals the kind heart behind his grumpy façade. An earthquake, sex in the bush, and visits from Nate’s belligerent ex turn a day of sightseeing into a slippery slope that just might land them in love.

World of Love: Stories of romance that span every corner of the globe.

Click right here for a link to our release tour schedule and blog links.

Your comments are welcome, as always, and don’t forget to enter the Sunset at Pencarrow giveaway!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Writer’s Police Academy Part 2: K9 Units by Sarah Madison

I confess, when I saw the K9 handler pull up on that first afternoon at WPA, during the open Q&A session with various law enforcement and emergency personnel, I was immediately drawn to watch. Having owned many high-drive German Shepherds myself, I couldn’t help but admire the power and beauty of these dogs, as well as the appreciate some of the similarities between these working dogs and my own.

But it was impressed upon us just how different these dogs are from any family pet.

I’ll try to make sense from my hastily scribbled notes.

The K9 units are subdivided by specialty training: SWAT, patrol, drug work. A typical shift is 10 hours/ day (though the officers are paid for eleven hours, to include grooming and care of the dogs), four days on, four days off.

Unlike the other units, the drug units frequently rely on sporting dogs for drug work—Labradors, Pointers, etc. It makes sense, as many of these breeds have been selected for their sense of smell as well as a willingness to retrieve. Handlers are only allowed to stay with the drug unit for 5 years before moving into another division—presumably to help prevent burnout.

Most of the ‘police’ dogs are imported from Germany. Handlers undergo six weeks of intensive training, but it can take up to a year before the handler/dog team is call ready. Handlers are expected to train daily. The length of time spent training depends on both handler ability and the capability of the dog.

The cost of a single dog plus training runs between $12-13 thousand dollars—it’s a major investment for a police department. The K9 handler spent a good deal of time discussing protecting that investment, as there had recently been a local case of a dog dying in a police car due to overheating. The cars have fixed grills in them that allow the windows to be rolled down without the dog being able to leave the car. Newer police K9 units have heat sensors that will roll down the windows automatically if the car becomes too hot. Lights and sirens also go off, and a text is sent to the dispatch, the handler, and the captain. As a system of fail-safes, it should be foolproof, and yet many departments have older vehicles well-past retirement age due to budget cuts. All three management systems failed in the case of the heat-related dog death.

There are protection vests for the police dogs, but they are seldom used because they weight between 40-50 pounds, greatly hampering the dog’s ability to do its job. No officer will send their dog in on a ‘suicide mission’, but they will put the dog in danger to protect a fellow officer. Ultimately, the police dog is a tool, much as a service weapon. The speaker stated that the dogs weren’t considered part of the ‘use of force’ continuum, but unfortunately, didn’t explain that statement further.

The average working lifespan of a police dog is eight years, after which they are retired with the handler or euthanized. These dogs are NOT socialized. Walking on a leash in the neighborhood is not an option. The handler who spoke with us estimated his kennel arrangement at the house cost about three thousand dollars to make a safe, dog-proof environment. While euthanasia, if the handler is not prepared to retire the dog at his home, may sound cruel after a lifetime of service, it is preferable to the practice of auctioning off retiring dogs to the highest bidder, which some cash-strapped communities have done in the past. The liability of doing such a thing has probably ended this practice for the most part.

The handler and dog are a team—the dog is rarely out of the handler’s sight, and is the handler’s backup in any given situation. Handlers have a remote control which can open the rear door of the police car and release the dog. The handler can direct a search, direct an attack, but in an open brawl, the dog cannot distinguish friend from foe and will attack the most animated person. This is because the dogs are selected for having a strong prey drive, which means they go after anything that moves. I have personal experience with that, as my last shepherd had a strong prey drive. The very first time he laid eyes on a black bear, he chased it up the side of a mountain!

Dogs are usually trained to ‘bark and hold’, which means they will go up to a suspect and bark but not engage unless the suspect moves. If a dog is already lit up with excitement, however, training may break and the dog might engage regardless.

Dogs are frequently used as a locating tool. The handler referred to ‘walkaways’, which are people who are either suicidal, have dementia, or walked out of an assisted living situation. Dogs are used to locate people in buildings or parks, finding them much more efficiently than a human searcher could do.

Dogs are also frequently utilized at traffic stops because an officer can only hold a driver for so long without probable cause, but if a dog alerts on a car, they have probable cause.

The thing that the handler reiterated the most was that, though he would bawl his eyes out if anything happened to his dog, he was prepared to sacrifice his dog’s life to save a human being. The bond between handler and dog is great, but ultimately, the dog is there to be used.

Tune in next time, when I’ll treat you to the highlights of body armor and how it stops certain kinds of ammunition.

In the meantime, check out the reason I wanted to go to WPA in the first place, the FBI guys from the Sixth Sense series!

I’m also giving away a free short story for signing up for my newsletter.

Also, be sure to check out our Rafflecopter Giveaway for a Kindle Fire loaded with books from our gang here at Authors Speak!

A Bit on the Side…

Before anyone has pause for concern, this isn’t a post about extramarital affairs, but instead about my ever-expanding list of works in progress. And when certain stories keep butting in to try and derail my carefully mapped out (– ha!) writing plan.

What I am currently working on is a series of for books charting the history of the Redbourn family from my Crofton Chronicles series. Here I’m planning to write four novels, one for a different Earl of Crofton through different periods of British history (Early Stuart, Restoration, Regency, Victorian). As you can imagine, not only will these take a significant amount of time to write, there is also a lot of research to be done for each period.

So I’ve finished the first one and happy writing the second, when BOOM I get hit by a completely unrelated plot idea that won’t be quelled until I crack open a Word doc and write an extremely high-level plot outline for a paranormal rom com where an angel is planning to attend a general paranormal creature conference for continuing professional development, and the poor frazzled human conference planner who didn’t realise what he was signing up for.

Strange brain appeased, I return to the 17th century and highwaymen, only for a subplot with would be perfect for my ‘Very British’ sci fi story to barge in and I need to make sure it’s captured, and that a certain type of biscuit would be fit for purpose (yeah, don’t ask).

In reality, my brain is not one to stick to the same thing for long. When I write a contemporary it’s off pining for fantasy realms, if we are busy creating an enchanted forest then a desire to be in a historical setting with frock coats and periwigs crawls out of the woodwork… I really can’t keep my brain beast happy.

However, I think I have found a way to keep it sated. By having a bit on the side…

I’ve recently had a new mobile phone which comes with the MS Office suite, and using that and cloud storage I can write while out and about using my phone without having to whip out a notebook and type it up later. What I have now is the paranormal rom com and the historical trotting along together, and I’m surprised that instead of derailing my main writing project (the historical), it’s actually helping. Giving my brain a break from the past seems to be enough to super-charge it.

How do you handle writing? Multiple WIPs on the go? Or stories queued waiting for their chance?

Oh, and while you are here, don’t forget our giveaway to win a Kindle!

REBECCA COHEN is a Brit abroad. Having swapped the Thames for the Rhine, she has left London behind and now lives with her husband and young son in Basel, Switzerland. She can often be found with a pen in one hand and a cup of Darjeeling in the other.

Contacts:

Blog: http://rebeccacohenwrites.wordpress.com/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/rebecca.cohen.710

Twitter: http://twitter.com/R_Cohen_writes

The Authors Speak Merry May Giveaway (win a Kindle™ and a bunch of books)

Hello! Lou Sylvre, happy to be here for my monthly blog. In this post, I’m all about launching our biggest giveaway yet, and I’ll get to that in a flash. First though, I want to talk a little about Authors Speak, what we do, why we love having you be part of it, and opportunities for everyone—readers and writers—to be heard right here on this platform.

Authors Speak is designed to be a different kind of writers’ blog. Yes, we do talk about our books, our genre, writing tips, and the industry. Sometimes, we just have post something because it’s fun. But other times, we have something to say about the world in a broader sense. As authors, we live in the world like everyone else, and we respond to “big issues” like elections, laws, wars, poverty, corporate greed, and hate crimes. Our lives as humans isn’t separate from our lives as writers, and sometimes we blog here on Authors Speak about how it all ties in, and what we try to do about it. In other words, Authors Speak is a place for Authors to do just what our name says—speak our minds.

Of course, speaking out is pointless if nobody is listening, so thank you to everyone who’s visited the blog. And you know what? We realize readers sometimes want to speak out too, and you can! As you know, comments are welcome and appreciated, but here’s a new offer:

Authors Speak now has a Readers Say, page! Can’t find it? That’s because it’s blank. You might be our first reader guest. If you’re interested, comment below (which also counts as an entry for the giveaway drawing), or if you’d prefer, email me at lou.sylvre@gmail.com, and we’ll discuss particulars.

We’re know some who read our blog are fellow authors. If that’s you, we invite you onstage too! If you’d like a guest post in the spirit of Authors Speak, of if you have a cover reveal, new release, or other news announcement, please comment or email me. We’ll do our best to fit you in.

(Now for the really fun stuff)

Welcome to the Authors Speak Merry May Giveaway!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Writer’s Police Academy Part 2: Death Scene Investigation by Sarah Madison

Last month, I wrote a general introductory post to Writer’s Police Academy and my experience there. For this month’s post, I’d like to go into more detail. As I mentioned in the previous post, attending WPA is a lot like going to any big continuing education meeting. A variety of seminars are listed simultaneously, and you must pick and choose which to attend. Also like a CE meeting, there were loosely defined tracks: several classes on arson, for example, or legal issues.

Because I already have somewhat of a medical background, I initially decided to forego the more medical seminars and attend courses where I thought my education was lacking. It didn’t take me long to change my mind, however.  In part because my background didn’t always lend itself to a direct translation into police/crime-based information, but also because this is where my interests obviously lie. To deny them would cut out an important–and authentic–voice in my writing.

This became apparent to me early on in the weekend because some of the very popular classes were limited as to the number of participants. As such, the organizers of WPA held a lottery for the courses and attendees were chosen at random. Some courses had to be limited for logistical reasons, such as the emergency driving course, or the live fire handgun class. I was lucky enough to get a ticket for both Death Scene Investigation and Ballistics.

Death Scene Investigation proved to be the first course of the day for me.

We were taken into a classroom and shown graphic images of actual death scenes, and then given the opportunity to say what we thought had occurred based on the blood spatter and evidence visible in the photographs. Before each set of photographs, the instructor gave us as attendees the option to leave the room before the next set of images were posted. Some people took the opportunity to do this. I confess, even though I have a pretty strong stomach, at times I felt a little queasy knowing I was viewing the scene of someone’s murder. That didn’t stop me from feeling a little spurt of pride, however, when after being shown photos of a brutal attack of a mother vacationing in a cabin with her two children, the instructor asked for speculation as to who the murderer was and I correctly guessed it was the estranged husband.

Now granted, the odds are high that a murdered woman is usually a victim of a domestic situation.  But when the instructor asked why I believed this was the case,  I pointed out that the woman was on vacation alone with her children, that the murderer had waited until the children had gone swimming, that the attack was brutally centered on her breasts and genitals, possibly signifying a strong personal hatred or previous sexual relationship, and that her left hand had been severed–the ‘ring’ hand.

The instructor was so pleased with my reasoning, he gave me a T-shirt!

After the initial instruction about basic procedures (more on that below), we then entered a room that had been staged with a fake death scene. We were given time to observe the evidence and then determine what took place. This was a little tricky since the room was small and there were a lot of us in it. Most of us could only clearly see a small portion of the scene. However, I won another T-shirt when asked for speculation as to what had happened and I said there had to be at least one shooter from outside, as the glass on the inside of the room indicated a bullet had been fired into the room. But I missed the bloody footprint, as well as the driver’s license (conveniently) abandoned in the trash basket.

My notes from the course are barely legible, as I wrote at top speed trying to keep up, but here are the highlights:

  1. Blood spatter goes in all directions–look for cast-off. In our arranged death scene, blood spatter had been placed on the ceiling and many of us neglected to look up. When a blade goes into a body, suction is formed around it, so if it is pulled out, the blade comes out with force and cast-off ends up behind the perpetrator.
  2. Passive blood drops don’t change size past four feet in height, therefore you can measure the size of the drop that falls from a height of under four feet to determine the height at which it fell (think of blood dripping off the tip of a knife point). There is a mathamatical formula for working this out, but don’t ask me to explain it! If a tear-shaped droplet forms as a result of cast-off, the fat end of the droplet will be closest to the source and the tip points in the direction of flow.
  3. Don’t assume all the blood is the victim’s. You may only get one chance to get a sample if it came from the murderer, so identification and preservation are critical. Knives become slippery with blood and it is easy for the perpetrator to get cut under those circumstances.
  4. A scene with a lot of evidence is frequently divided into grids (much like an archeological dig)
  5. Every death is treated as a homicide until proven otherwise.
  6. A void pattern can be as important as a spatter pattern (ie, what was in the way of the spray and where is it now?).

You can’t assume the perpetrator has left the scene–so you must complete a search/clear building first. Victims can only be assessed–not declared dead (coroner must declare death). A first responder can only say “pulse/no pulse.” The coroner is often an elected official with no real medical background. Larger counties will have both a coroner and a medical examiner, but it depends on the state.

The first responders will use codes when calling for backup because people listen to police scanners. An officer cannot assess/help/call for backup until the home is cleared.

One thing that came up again and again during the weekend is how often murderers confess to their crimes. It’s almost as if committing such a horrific act weighs on their conscience to the point they can’t help but confess given the slightest opportunity. Spontaneous utterance (confession) can be accepted, but an officer must Mirandize immediately afterward.

Officers on the scene can question anyone present to get background statements but there is a fine line between a witness and a suspect. When in doubt, read Miranda rights, but that may shut a witness/suspect down.

If a witness/suspect asks if he should get a lawyer, the correct response is to say, “It’s up to you. I’m not in a position to tell you your rights.”

If a suspect doesn’t call 9-1-1 immediately after a situation that ends in death, then self-defense credibility drops rapidly.

Once you’re assigned to a crime scene, it’s yours until the investigation is complete to avoid cross-contamination of a scene. If a crime scene occurs in a private home, the entire street will be closed off until secure.

That’s pretty much what I got out of the course–that and the realization I had halfway decent observation skills! I enjoyed the class so much I revised my planned schedule so that I could take more courses that were similar. I also learned there is too much to learn in a single course! I took notes, but quickly realized I’m going to have to invest in some more reading material if I want to be truly accurate describing crime scenes. I have a book on blood spatter on my Amazon wish list now. 🙂

And of course, I want to go back to WPA again!

Tune in next time when I will talk about K9 units and ballistics.