Monday, August 31, 2015

Shoot? Don’t Shoot?

Last week I attended Writers' Police Academy sponsored, in part, by the Sisters in Crime. This year it was at a wonderful facility outside Appleton, Wisconsin. That’s less than a four-hour drive for us (right around the block in Yooper terms), so Jan and I both attended.

I was lucky enough to sign up for several special small-group classes. Crime Scene photography was excellent; it helped me understand how those folks actually work a scene using digital photography. I won a lottery and participated in a “Simunitions” exercise in which three of us attempted to extract an armed person for whom we had a warrant from a house. We were not sure if other people, including a baby, might still be in the house.

The class I want to discuss today is called MILO, an extremely realistic interactive training program.

For fifteen minutes two of us worked with an instructor and the MILO simulator. The instructor first provided a refresher on the basics of handgun control (both of us had experience shooting handguns). Next we discussed when it is appropriate for a police officer to fire his/her weapon: the key being that an officer should not shoot until feeling endangered.

The two of us took turns with the simulations. The first simulation had an angry man brandishing a knife. In scenario one he was (I think) thirty-one feet away. Was I endangered? No. I had plenty of time to shoot before he could run at me with the knife. When he did finally run, I shot. Because he kept moving, I kept shooting until the guy went down.

Lesson one: keep shooting until danger is removed.

I repeated the knife-wielding man scenarios with the guy at twenty-one feet and eleven feet. At eleven feet there is very little time between the man making a threatening move and the necessity of shooting. Very little time.

I managed those three scenarios successfully. The other student waited too long in the eleven-foot scene and was “killed.”

A little cop humor
We did several other scenarios. In all cases I correctly chose when to shoot. However, I did die in one scenario. I responded to a bank robbery by an armed man. He exited the bank, money in one hand, gun in the other. I made the correct decision of when to shoot, but then I made a rookie error. I developed tunnel vision, focusing on the downed gunman because he might not be dead and he still had the gun in his hand.

I missed seeing a car parked at the curb with the getaway driver. The screen went red when that person got off several shots before I located the problem and fired back.

Our last scenario involved both students. We were in a two-person patrol car and had made a traffic stop of an erratically-driven car. Out pops a guy pointing a gun at his head, threatening to blow his head off if we come nearer. Then he starts taunting us to shoot him. This was possibly a suicide-by-cop situation. We’re yelling at the guy to drop his gun and stay by his car. Eventually, he started moving toward us, still waving the gun more or less at his head.

Shoot? Don’t shoot?

He’s still coming toward us, waving the gun more or less at his head.

Shoot? Don’t shoot?

The waving gun is now pointed less frequently directly at his head, the gestures become loopier.

Shoot? Don’t shoot?

Crime scene photography
Both of us made the wrong decision. My partner never shot. Once the gunman reached the back bumper of his car (the line I had mentally drawn in the sand), I fired a shot into the dirt and when he kept coming, I shot his leg. According to the instructor, given the gunman was not following directions and was waving the gun around (and could easily change one of those loops into a shot at us), I had chosen the correct time to fire. However, I should have aimed for the center mass. Police officers do not shoot for extremities (or shoot the weapon out of the person’s hand). They are trained to focus on the chest through head area.

One thing the two of us didn’t do in that exercise, which many students do and which also happens a lot in real life is fire solely because the other person fires. It’s a tension-induced reflex. Combined with training to keep shooting until the opponent is no longer a threat, this reaction is often responsible for the massive number of bullets fired in some shootouts.

The exercise provided me with insight into police shootings I would never have gotten from television and printed news. Sometime it may even make it into a story.

~ Jim

This blog originally posted at Writers Who Kill

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Vicki Batman - Guest Author

Please welcome guest author Vicki Batman. She describes herself as a sassy. funny chocoholic who is even-tempered and accountable. Her writing is also funny and sassy, but in addition it’s sexy fiction and witty on the side.

What makes a great short story?

I write a lot of short fiction and cut my teeth by writing romances for the True magazines. A good short story will leave you satisfied just like a book. A good short story will have all the same elements as a book. It is NOT a character summary. I think I have a definite opinion. Lol.

What is your most productive time of the day (and do you need caffeine)?

The morning and yes, I need caffeine, specifically Diet Dr Pepper. In a pinch, Diet Coke will work, too.

How many books do you read in a typical month? Do you read in your genre while you are writing? What’s your most recent “great” book?

Sometimes, I get to read more than others. Just depends if I’m involved in a needlepoint project, another passion. I’ll say I read about three-four a month. For sure, I have to read the chosen book club selection which is usually a literary type. Mostly, I indulge in romance and mysteries. I just finished Tana French’s Faithful Place.

Name three not well-known authors you would recommend and tell us what you like about their writing.

Elizabeth Essex writes amazing historical romances. She is an archeologist and her heroes are usually from the Navy. Her women are very strong. Liz Lipperman writes the funniest foodies. Sheila Seabrook writes contemporary romance. Her work flows beautifully.

What themes do you regularly employ in your writing?

People are not who they seem.

What motivates you to write?

I sit down every Monday thru Friday and write. (After Handsome had cancer, I reserved Saturdays and Sundays for us). I know I’m lucky to be able to spend my time at my “work,” especially since I don’t have a regular job. I’m not trained in creative writing or journalism. I’m self-taught. If I wanted to be good at knitting, I would be knitting a lot and taking classes. To be a good writer, I have to work at it. I do a crappy rough draft and revise and revise and revise...Ugh. Did I say I’m a pantser?

Name three writers from whom you have drawn inspiration and tell us why.

Dick Francis – Because I admire his books. Good reluctant heroes. Fast-paced. Each one is satisfying, just like chocolate.

Mary Stewart – wove suspense in her romances. They’re set in locales I’d want to visit. Heroines thrown into unusual situations and work out the puzzle with the help of a strong hero.

Janet Evanovich – wacky, zany, funny. After reading one, I went OMG, someone who writes funny. It’s about time.

What was the best piece of writing advice you ever received and why was it so valuable?

When my first book was critiqued, the person advised to write tight. Writing tight makes the story move faster. Overwriting is eliminated. And I learned—just like my men—men don’t speak volumes.
To learn more about Vicki and her writing check out her blog. But while you’re here, check out the blurb for Temporarily Employed:

New Job. New Love. And Murder.

Hattie Cook's dream job is down the toilet and her new SUV violated. Desperate for cash to cover the basic necessities of rent and food, she takes a temporary job where she uncovers an embezzling scam tied to the death of a former employee--the very one she replaced.

When the police determine there's more to the death of a former Buy Rite employee, Detective Allan Charles Wellborn steps in to lead the investigation. Overly dedicated, always perfect, he puts his job first, even if doing so ultimately hurts the one he loves.

Can the killer be found before Hattie's time is up?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Kristina Stanley - Guest Author

Please welcome Kristina Stanley, a Canadian author who has the screenshot to prove that her novel Descsent had the number one ranking on Amazon's Canada list of "Hot New Releases of Women Sleuth Mysteries." (In second place was Sue Grafton's !) She describes herself as happy, hard-working, loyal, athletic, and an animal-lover. The five words she uses to describe her writing are adventurous, action-oriented, mystery, wilderness, and multi point of view. Here are her answers to the eight questions she chose:

Describe your most productive writing venue. What makes it best for you?

I write best on with a notebook or computer on my lap. If I set at a desk, I feel as if I’m at work. And that’s not the feeling I want while I’m writing. I definitely need to be alone, although I do love to write with my dog at my feet. If ideas count as writing, I keep my phone with me and record audio notes. Sometime ideas hit me while I’m skiing, snowshoeing or hiking and if I don’t capture them right away, I forget them.
What makes a great short story?

One where I’m attached to a character and by the end of the story, I care what’s happened to them. I think this is harder to accomplish in a short story than in novel and I greatly admire authors who can do this.

What is your most productive time of the day (and do you need caffeine)?

Let me just say not in the evening. I write well after exercising. Oxygen to my brain seems to make my imagination work, and I often write while I’m still sweating. As long as I’m alone, no one cares about the odor. I can proofread in the evening, but my creativity has usually gone to bed by seven, so I don’t try and force new words on the page.

Name three not well-known authors you would recommend and tell us what you like about their writing.
Rosemary McCracken, Garry Ryan and Brenda Chapman.
All three write mysteries that take place in Canada. They cover British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario. I love the main characters. Pat Tierney (Rosemary McCracken), Detective Lane (Garry Ryan) and Jacques Rouleau and Kala Stonechild (Brenda Chapman) are all characters I felt a connection to and wanted to cheer for. That always makes me want to read more.

What themes do you regularly employ in your writing?

I try to employ a different theme for each novel. DESCENT ( ) is about family loyalty, BLAZE (Imajin Books, coming fall 2015) is about revenge, and AVALANCHE is about greed. I like to explore what would make a well-adjusted person commit a crime.

What motivates you to write?

For me, writing is a very selfish act. I love to write and sometimes feel a bit guilty that I get to spend so much time writing. Somewhere deep within myself is the need to write. I’m not sure where that comes from, but I know I happiest on the days I’ve spent time writing.
I have a degree in Computer Mathematics and spent a good part of my career working in high tech. One day, on the night before a business trip, I read Moonlight Becomes You by Mary Higgins-Clark. I read late into the night. Even knowing I had a car arriving at 4 am to take me to the airport, I couldn’t put the book down. When I finished the book, I decided I wanted to write something that makes a person ignore their life responsibilities just to keep the pages turning.

How did you develop the idea for your most recent work?

I lived and worked in a ski resort in British Columbia, Canada. The resort is my muse. When I left the resort to go sailing in the Bahamas, I missed living in the mountains more than I expected. I used the writing as a way to stay connected to the place. Even though I write about a fictitious resort, I brought all the good bits with me.

What was the best piece of writing advice you ever received and why was it so valuable?

I took the Humber School for Writers correspondence course and had Joan Barfoot as my mentor. She suggested I learn more about the craft of writing – meaning learn how to use punctuation and grammar to improve a story. I literally spent two months studying the comma. I don’t want a reader distracted from my story because of errors that shouldn’t be there.

Jim, Thank you for hosting me today. It’s a pleasure being on your blog.  Your readers can find me at DESCENT is available for purchase or to download a sample at:

If you readers have any comments or questions, I’ll be around all day.

Here’s the back copy blurb for Desscent:

When Kalin Thompson is promoted to Director of Security at Stone Mountain Resort, she soon becomes entangled in the high-profile murder investigation of an up-and-coming Olympic-caliber skier. There are more suspects with motives than there are gates on the super-G course, and danger mounts with every turn.

Kalin’s boss orders her to investigate. Her boyfriend wants her to stay safe and let the cops do their job. Torn between loyalty to friends and professional duty, Kalin must look within her isolated community to unearth the killer’s identity.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Craig A. Hart - Guest Author

Craig A. Hart is a fellow Kindle Press author who describes himself as retiring, self-deprecating, driven, conflicted, and idealistic. His writing is raw, honest, uncomfortable, unflinching, and dark. So be prepared for honest answers, and without further ado, here are Craig’s other answers.

Describe your most productive writing venue. What makes it best for you?

For my last work, I found a small room in back of the local cigar shop. It had a battered poker table and a few chairs. It was always empty, so I commandeered it for a few weeks to finish the manuscript. It was perfect for that time because I was able to sample the wares while writing. It also afforded me a good deal of privacy, with some comforting background noise—conversation, the ringing of sales—as a buffer against complete silence.

What makes a great short story?

Great writing relies on character. That goes for short stories, novels, plays, whatever. If the character isn’t right, nothing else matters. But if the characters are right, most other things will fall into place. Even work that is more plot-driven relies on character, because great characterization moves plot along. And without compelling characters, no reader will care what happens to them anyway.

What is your most productive time of the day (and do you need caffeine)?

My most productive time used to be late at night. I would work into the wee hours, happy and content. But then I became the stay-at-home father of twin boys. They are six months old as of this writing, and my late nights of writing have gone the way of penny candy. Now my most productive time depends on when I can get the babysitter or their hard-working mother to take them off my hands for a few hours.

How many books do you read in a typical month? Do you read in your genre while you are writing? What’s your most recent “great” book?

I try to read two books per month; in a good month I can read twice that. But there are months when I don’t finish one. I do, however, always have a book or two in process. I don’t read nearly enough for a writer. Reading is just as important as writing and it’s something I should work harder on. I do tend to read my genre while writing. It often inspires me. My most recent great book was probably Capote by Gerald Clarke. It was one of those biographies that read like a novel, while at the same time being highly informative.

What themes do you regularly employ in your writing?

I try to investigate humans in a way that reveals who they really are, not how they would want us to see them. Honesty is my goal in writing, stripping it bare of ornamentation so that it stands naked before the reader. As a result, the themes and subjects are often grim. Most characters have dark sides and some are not likable at all. In fact, the main character in my new book is not a particularly nice person, but I like to think he is still compelling.

What motivates you to write?

I can’t not write. It is something that rides me, like a demon inside that prods until I do its bidding. I realize that may sound highly melodramatic, but it’s true. This is not to say that I always enjoy writing or want to write. I often do not.

Other than that, I often find motivation in the work of others: Hemingway, Capote, Carver, O’Connor. These authors, and others like them, exhibit skill so far above my own that I find it both discouraging and motivating. But usually more of the latter. Although I know I could never be them, their art inspires—motivates—me to be a better writer.

How did you develop the idea for your most recent work?

The book is somewhat based, at least Part Two, on my own experience. That’s where the story started. I worked on it for about eighteen months and then it stalled out. I set it aside and started on something else, which moved along for almost a year and stalled out. Then I began over…and while working on this third project, I realized I had been writing the same story over and over. Or, at least, writing about the same person. And as I looked at my work over the last three years, I discovered how closely related the three pieces were. After some plot work, I was able to weave them together into a single story.

What motivates your protagonist (if not a series, then use the protagonist of your most recent novel)? What influenced who they are today?

My protagonist is motivated by a desire to prove his worth as a writer to himself and his family, which he believes will release him from the ghosts of his repressive upbringing. This upbringing molded him in mostly negative ways, instilling a defensiveness and drive for recognition that will torture him throughout his life.

For more information about me and my books, check out my website at or catch me on Facebook at or on Twitter at

And here’s a quick blurb to whet your whistle:

Becoming Moon is the story of a boy struggling to be himself amid pressure from a religious family. Following his dream to be a writer, he leaves all behind. His desire for success causes him to betray his principles as an artist, but brings money and recognition. Success is brief and soon he is in a web of depression and financial hardship. During a trip north, he meets Nigel Moon, a grizzled author who gives him a chance to prove himself—but only if the writer is able to set his past aside.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Five Ways to Generate Story Ideas

One question I often get at writers' conferences or meeting people in bookstores  is "Where do you get your ideas?" Here are five suggestions for your consideration:

1. Eavesdrop. People say and do the most interesting things; all you have to do is pay attention to them. My two favorite places to eavesdrop are standing in long lines and eating in restaurants. In both situations I can easily overhear people conversing and observe their behavior. Sometimes I’ll overhear a snippet of conversation and wonder how the conversants got to that line—and therein lies a story. Sometimes, I can’t hear a thing, but I can observe body language and start to wonder about their story—which I then start to invent.

2. Hear something on the radio or read something in the paper that strikes an interesting chord. For example, small-town police blotters are a wonderful source of oddball incidents. Again, I am not interested in lifting the real-life event and transporting it to the page. The incidents suggest precursors or aftermaths that contain the interesting story. I keep a folder of these tidbits and peruse them from time to time.

3. Project a concern or fear I have onto a character or situation. For instance, how would I react if confronted by someone breaking into my house? Would it change if they were armed with an AK-47 and spoke Chinese? What if I were only six? What if I had been six and had repressed it and now fifty years later remembered something—or maybe I thought I did, but in fact I had made it up. Keep spinning the idea until one variation calls out, “Write ME!”

4. If you like Thrillers or Science Fiction, try taking a current trend and pushing it forward to a logical, but startling, conclusion. For example, accelerate the melting of the polar icecaps to the point the Arctic Ocean is open for supertankers for much of the year. Does the Northwest Passage replace the Panama Canal? Does China plan to invade Canada to secure safe shipping for their goods to Europe? Toss your character into that ocean of possibilities and see where it takes you.

5. Take two characters, lock them in a room and consider what would happen. For example, put Rush Limbaugh and Barack Obama in a jail cell together in Caribou, ME. Because of budget cuts, the jailer is part-time. The jailer just went home for the evening. No one knows they are there. Oh yes, they both have diarrhea and there is only one toilet and only a few sheets of toilet paper.

You can consider these kinds of situations with real people, fictional characters, even your close family. Then take what you’ve projected and apply it to fictional characters.

There you have it: five approaches to generate story ideas.

~ Jim

A version of this post originally appeared at Writers Who Kill

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Judy Penz Sheluk - Guest Author

Please welcome Judy Penz Sheluk who I first met as a member of the Guppy Chapter of Sister in Crimes and who is now a fellow Barking Rain Press author with her novel, The Hanged Man’s Noose (for which I wrote a blurb—check it below!). Judy describes herself as loyal, determined, optimistic, daydreamer, and organized. Her writing she calls conversational, engaging, interesting, suspenseful, and comfortable. Here are her chosen questions and answers:

Describe your most productive writing venue. What makes it best for you?

Definitely my home office, on my iMac, while listening to talk radio. I can’t imagine trying to write in a coffee shop. I need to be alone, in my own space. I do have a notebook on the end table next to my chair in the family room where I read and watch TV, and a notebook on my bedside table (I even have a pen with an LED light in it, so I can write ideas down if they come to me in the middle of the night, without turning on the lamp).

What makes a great short story?

I like to be surprised at the ending, but not feel cheated by it. A clever twist goes a long way to win me over. I try to include a twist at the end in my own (limited) short crime fiction.

What is your most productive time of the day (and do you need caffeine)?

I’m a daytime writer, but it can be morning or afternoon, depending on what else I’ve got going on that day. I try to write every day, seven days a week, even if it’s only for an hour. I gave up caffeine about three years ago, and now I only drink herbal tea. Tetley has a flavor called Warmth, which is a blend of cinnamon and rooibos, which I love.

How many books do you read in a typical month? Do you read in your genre while you are writing? What’s your most recent “great” book?

I definitely read my genre (mystery) while I’m writing. I try to read four to five books a month, typically one anthology of crime fiction (because I’m trying to lean more about the art of the short story), one or two mystery novels (usually one by an author whose series I follow, such as Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch, or John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport) and one “new” to me author, plus one “literary” fiction (such as Joseph Boyden or Amy Tan), and one “friend recommendation” or NYT bestseller, which could be pretty much any genre except sci-fi, paranormal or fantasy. I’m also not big on biographies or memoirs, though I do read them on occasion.

What motivates you to write?

I can’t imagine not writing. Writing isn’t what I do. It’s who I am. Even when I’m out for a run, I’m writing or revising a story in my head.

How did you develop the idea for your most recent work?

In The hanged Man’s Noose, a greedy developer comes to a small, historic town with plans to convert an old elementary school into a mega-box store. As you can imagine, most of the local Main Street merchants are less than enthusiastic. I lived in an area that, over the past twenty-five years, had gradually been transformed from agricultural and semi-rural to cookie cutter subdivisions and big box stores. It’s always interesting to read about the existing residents fight against the latest proposed development in their particular backyard. I thought: “To what lengths would someone go to stop it?” And it went from there.

Name three writers from whom you have drawn inspiration and tell us why.

Truman Capote. I remember reading In Cold Blood when I was just a kid; in fact, my elementary school teacher was a bit taken aback when that’s the novel I chose for my book report! I’ve since reread it as an adult, and watched the movie Capote a dozen times. In a time when the media was far less intrusive, and the public was far more sheltered, Capote brought the murders of the Clutter family, and the story of Richard Hickock and Perry Smith, to life. And he did so brilliantly, albeit at a high personal cost.

Agatha Christie. I spent my teens and early twenties devouring every book she wrote. I still love a locked room mystery, though I’ve never attempted to write one. Put that on the to-do list.

Sue Grafton. I discovered Grafton at G is for Gumshoe, and immediately went back to A is for Alibi and continued the series. I’ve read every one of her novels. I taught Creative Writing for a while, and one of the assignments I’d give my students was to read A is for Alibi, and then Grafton’s latest (currently W is for Wasted) because her writing has become so much more layered over the years, the plots more complex. Grafton was really good to start with, but she’s evolved into a master of the genre.

What was the best piece of writing advice you ever received and why was it so valuable?

Agatha Christie said: “Write even if you don’t want to, don’t much like what you’re writing, and aren’t writing particularly well.” It’s great advice. As a writer, you have to push through the tough times. It’s the only way to get to THE END.

You can find Judy on her website,, where she blogs and interviews others about the writing life. You can also find her on Twitter @JudyPenzSheluk,, Pinterest/judypenzsheluk, and on

Here’s a short intro to The Hanged Man’s Noose:
Journalist Emily Garland lands a plum assignment as the editor of a niche magazine based in Lount’s Landing, a small town named after a colorful nineteenth century Canadian traitor. Emily quickly learns that many are unhappy with real estate mogul Garrett Stonehaven’s plans to convert an old schoolhouse into a mega-box store. At the top of that list is Arabella Carpenter, the outspoken owner of an antiques shop, who will do just about anything to preserve the integrity of the town’s historic Main Street.

But Arabella is not alone in her opposition. Before long, a vocal dissenter of the proposed project dies. A few days later, another body is discovered. Although both deaths are ruled accidental, Emily’s journalistic suspicions are aroused.

Putting her reporting skills to the ultimate test, Emily teams up with Arabella to discover the truth behind Stonehaven’s latest scheme before the murderer strikes again.

Read the first 4 chapters free and receive a 35% off coupon to buy the book!

Here’s my blurb of The Hanged Man’s Noose:

Compelling characters with hidden connections and a good, old-fashioned amateur sleuth getting in over her head without the distraction of cats, spirits, or recipes makes Judy Penz Sheluk’s Glass Dolphin series one to read. Upon turning the last page of The Hanged Man’s Noose, I wanted to hop in the car and drive straight away to Lount’s Landing, sit down in the tavern that lent its name to the title, and start quizzing the characters on what was going to happen in the sequel.