Sunday, October 30, 2011


We've had lovely warm October days.  These cosmos came from the meadow behind my garden.


 Thursday morning I received an email from Judith Ivie of Mainly Murder Press, offering me a contract for Killer Frost, the mystery which won a finalist place in the St. Martin’s Malice Domestic First Best Traditional Mystery Contest last March. Perfect. I did try agents on the first and third mysteries I’ve written, and on this one, too, but I returned to the small press world as the most comfortable for me, and this does feel so comfortable.

I’m surprised and stunned. This news sends me in a whole new direction. I’m the same, and my plans and my books are the same. Now I have other people out there answering. People will be reading these mysteries I’ve labored to write. They’re only part of my work, but I’ve put myself fully into them. It may be nine months before Killer Frost is out–late August, or later. Besides a trade paperback, my book will be on Nook and Kindle. I’ll get royalties, for which I’ll have to work. But I’ve promised to work on selling it, and I will.

I turn seventy-five in May of the year my first mystery is published. I feel ecstatic, beside myself [ek+stasis = standing outside]. I think I’d rather get a book published than get married again.

My book will soon go out into the world, "launched in a place of sufficient depth." Old Proust shapes me still. Why is it so very important to me now to have this book published? Identity is knowing who you are and being comfortable with that person. But it is also being recognized by others as who you believe you are.

This acceptance, and Mainly Murder’s enthusiasm for the book, means to me that I am recognized as the writer I believe I am. I have had people like my poetry and my PMZ Poor Woman’s Cookbook. But I haven’t published a novel before, and it is a way to reach a wider audience. So now, if I work at it to get attention to this book, I think that wider audience will respond. I hope to stir up word of mouth, which is the best possible marketing tool, if you can once get it going. I want this book to be a best seller for Mainly Murder. I’ll do my part.

It feels like verification that I haven’t been putting myself on, that I’m a good writer, one that people will want to read. It balances me and my whole life. I can lean more on my writing economically. What I want to be for a reader looks like it will come true. It isn’t only my imagination. I have the power to reach people, stir their feedings, and maybe even influence their behavior, with my words, which are as true and from my heart as I can make them.

So much rejection, but finally my words are slipping through the hedge. I’ve always thought of publishing as finding the hole in the hedge and slipping through. I’ve been through the hedge a little bit before with my poetry, my cookbook, my articles in our community newspaper, Chatham County Line, but now I’ve found a bigger and more promising hole and slipped through that.

What will I find on the other side? Mostly likely, not riches. If I can earn a little to supplement my social security and farm income, that is all I ask. I’ll find happy readers. I can already tell. My mechanic wants to buy a book. My friend Gene wants two copies. Terry, to whom I was once married, wants to read it on his kindle. Lucy wants to buy it and says, if I’ll have a big party, she’ll bring a cake. Yes, definitely, Lucy, here at my farm.

I hope there will be library reviews and sales. Suzanne, my reader, is excited. She told me it was the most political novel I’d written yet, and that’s saying some. It will stir things up. I think I can cope.

I’ve had a lot of identities: mother, wife, editor/publisher of a small press and a poetry journal, organizer in literature, environmental activism, and local politics. I’ve been a teacher of school children, out of school adults, and college students. I’ve been, and am, a small farmer. I’ve been a secretary, delivered newspapers, worked as Postmaster Relief in a village post office, worked in customer service, babysat, cleaned people's houses. I’m a grandmother and a great grandmother, a friendly neighbor. I’ve been a writer since age seven but an especially prolific one since age fourteen, and I’m a published poet, but I haven’t before leaned on my identity as an author, and I will now be a published novelist.

As well as readers on the other side of the hedge, there will be the other authors, and some of them will like my writing and give me a boost in this new world of being a published novelist. I’ll have a new kind of camaraderie. That has already begun. Other Mainly Murder authors are welcoming me to their ranks. I think some of the mystery authors I especially love will write blurbs for me. I’m going to ask my favorites. See what happens.

There will be critics, too. Some will be dismissive and cutting, but I think some will like what I write. I might even be praised. I’m pretty tough now. Let them cut. I’ll keep writing books. I’m going to enjoy this. You know what? I’m not even scared. As Winnie the Pooh once said, "It’s different when the hum inside you is outside and has other people looking at it." I’m not afraid of that. Also, for some reason, I’m feeling very generous and gracious toward everyone.

You begin one way, in one form, and you change. You end up in a different place. It’s still you, but it’s a more unified, purpose-driven, complete you. It’s the you that was potential made actual.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Review: Louise's War by Sarah Shaber

Sarah Shaber. Louise’s War. Severn House, Surrey, England, 2011. ISBN: 978-0-7278-8040-6. $27.95.

Sarah Shaber, a Raleigh writer, whose five Simon Shaw mysteries I enjoyed, has a new series set during World War II in Washington, D.C. Louise’s War, the first book, introduces Louise Pearlie, a young widow from Wilmington, N.C., who has a job as a clerk in the Office of Strategic Services, an earlier version of the CIA.

When I visited Washington in 1983, I was told by a government employee that everyone working for the government was paranoid. This was also true in 1942. Louise learns that her loved college friend, Rachel Bloch, is in trouble in Vichy, France, the puppet government set up by the Nazis.

Jews are being arrested and sent by cattle cars to "work camps" in Germany. The message to her office concerns Rachel’s husband, who’s a skilled hydrographer. He promises to help the allies, if only his family can be evacuated out of France to safety. Bloch knows well the currents off the Mediterranean coast of Africa, where the Americans will soon be fighting the Nazis, and the U.S. very much needs this knowledge.

In the beginning of the book Louise feels quite powerless. She’s desperate to help Rachel, but what can she do and who in the Office of Strategic services is trustworthy? She finally takes the Bloch file to her boss, but then he dies and the file goes missing.

Gradually our shy, newly independent heroine gets braver. Her vivid imagination torments her as to what awaits Rachel and her child, if she’s left in France, and also reminds her of her own fate–prison?–should she be caught breaking the very strict OSS rules in her schemes to rescue Rachel.

Meantime, life goes on at Two Trees, the boarding house where Louise lives and where she meets Joe. She feels an electric attraction to Joe, which both thrills and terrifies her. She accepts a date with Joe and then learns he’s not the teacher he’s led her to believe. He’s leading a secret life. In fact, most of the people she meets are.

The D.C. political and government culture of the forties during the early phase of the war is as vivid as the homey details of the boarding house, where Dellaphine is cook and housekeeper and manages delicious meals, despite the rationing, even hand-made ice cream. The housekeeper’s daughter’s ambition to get a higher paying job working for the government is harder for Dellaphine to understand.

The backdrop for the whole book is humid heat–by day and by night–at work and at home. This is before air conditioning, or "refrigerated houses," as they were called, and only the very rich had them.

As Louise takes bolder and bolder risks, with men and with rule-breaking, to find the missing file and help her friend in France, I wanted to cheer, even while I held my breath.

Shaber knows her history, has made vivid exactly what Washington was like, from the big boys like FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover, to the new independence and opportunities emerging slowly for women and Negroes. This is a fascinating read, a book to savor long after you’ve turned the last page.

Judy Hogan

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Gulping Courage


Marcel Proust in Finding Time Again, translated by Ian Patterson, p. 111, writes:
 For the true reality of a danger is perceived only in that new thing, irreducible to what one already knows, which we call an impression and which is often... summed up in a line, a line which contains the latent potentiality of its distorting fulfillment...

In That Inner Circling Sun XI, I wrote:

I wanted fame after my death, not before,
but time has ripened both me and my words.
My vision self is ready to show herself
more widely, to take new risks. If any one
thing is getting lost in our time, it is
integrity, being an integer, a whole,
knowing leaf to stem to root what one
believes, who one is, and practicing
always careful attendance on the Deep Source
of our human wisdom.

In That Inner Circling Sun XXVI, I wrote:

Oak trees have a quality
of being there–simply, quietly. Their
canopy protects, shades, delights.
Their roots undergird my house, and,
in their aging, they let go the limbs they
no longer need, that don’t enhance
their present, glorious well-being,
their unique and faithful, even modest,


More fears than ever in my life before,
but more calm certainty, too. I gulp
courage like fresh air. So far I breathe,
my blood circulates normally, my
body remains nearly as resilient as
in my youth, and my spirit is more
aggressive, determined, unwilling
to concede defeat to the fleabites
of prudence that might prevent me
from fulfilling my vocation. Maybe
this is the sacrifice Proust talked
about when you become willing,
even ardent, about living your own
life all the way to the end for the sake
of your life’s work.

Suppose one day
he did ask me to marry him. I wouldn’t
say no. I’d say, "It’s too late. We’re
already married. Didn’t you notice?"
The inconceivable does sometimes
occur, but only if we pay very close
attention. So I give my fears only
cursory attention. I won’t be foolish,
but life is all risk anyway, and the
closer I walk to my own death, the
greater the risk. Perhaps my body
feels obligated to remind me. I take
note, but I remember all the things,
people, books, poems, loves I gave
birth to because I treated my fears
like ground mist and kept walking.
A wise woman once said, "Your
next fifty years will be better, if you
don’t put a lid on yourself." Twenty-
five of those years have nearly
passed me by, but I still have
twenty-five more to live and write,
if I’m lucky, and if I don’t blanche
at obstacles and detours. I know
how to follow a crooked path,
how to reassure my own soul as
well as the souls of others. Perhaps
that, simply, is why I’m still here.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

If One Young Woman Finds My Words Help Her...

Jubilant sugar snap pea vines from last spring. 

THAT INNER CIRCLING SUN XXVII. By Century Creek. October 2, 2011
 In response to a comment on my blog, Mindi wrote: Judy, your poetry comforts me, grounds me, and encourages me to think that there is a little sanity left in this world. It feels softly contained, in the way that the day is contained by the mystery of the night. Being of a very small family, and having no grandparents after I turned 12, all my life I have wished for wise elders in my life. It just occurred to me that in the brief but important ways our lives have touched, you have become that to me: an elder I look up to, who lives a life I truly admire and aspire to, who represents something of what I’d like to be when I’m older. Earthy, poetic, compassionate, inspired, strong, zestfully honest. Thanks for your wisdom. Mindi

The cold makes a change. The roots
of the creek bank tree still hold its soil
in place, but the trunk leans across, dead,
lichen-covered, upper branches broken and
scattered. The water in the creek holds
still, except for where the sunlight hits the
surface, blue-grey, with orange shadows.
I sat here weekly for so many years,
memorized this creek and its slowly
dying tree. Now time, wind, relentless
rains have changed nearly everything.
I walked my woods, tying purple cloth
markers to find my way surefootedly
to the boundary trees, nailed up "no
trespassing" signs. My neighbor cleared
land a few feet away. Logs litter the
spaces. In my woods, trees have died
and fallen, but forest life flourishes.
I need these woods here, growing,
dying, for respite, comfort, wisdom
in my elder days. If only one young
woman finds my words help her, it’s
enough. Brain health, I read, is related
to exercise of mind and body, doing
new things, having good friends,
creating. Memory changes its speed
and rhythm, but words still flow
unbidden. Here among the litter of
leafmold and dead branches, moss
catches sun and turns the soil green.
Slender grasses root themselves
and nod to the wind. Maple and oak
saplings take root. I am rooted, too,
and waving my branches high where
the wind soughs and blows.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Writers' Police Academy

This is a photo of self-heal growing last spring in my herb garden--the big leaves near the bottom of the photo.  It makes a useful tea for colds and allergies.  I put it here to remind us that, in the natural world and in our human society, we have that which heals as well as that which destroys.


WRITERS’ POLICE ACADEMY.Last summer I impulsively signed up for the Writers’ Police Academy, directed by Lee Lofland, the author of Police Procedure and Investigation: A Guide for Writers. With a foreword by Stuart Kaminsky. Writer’s Digest Books. $19.99. ISBN: 978-1-58297-455-2. I belong to Sisters in Crime (SinC) and they were offering a scholarship. High Point (near Jamestown) is about sixty miles away, a possible commute for me. So I signed up: $145, including the banquet.

Most mysteries involve the police, and mine do. My series heroine, Penny Weaver, a mid-fifties American poet, falls for a Welsh policeman in book one. In the second book, she meets a local Sheriff’s Department detective when her landlord is murdered.

I’ve tried to learn about police procedures both in a North Carolina county and in Wales. I bought Lee’s book, and I corresponded by email with a Welsh detective a few years ago. But this promised to be the most helpful yet, and I enjoyed telling my friends and adult children, "I’m going to a police academy in September." Then I would say, "It’s for writers."

As the weekend drew near, I became more anxious. I reminded myself that, when I was about 40 and Chair of the small press organization COSMEP, I’d driven into downtown Philadelphia in the middle of the night, two sleeping children in the backseat, trying to find the friendly small press person who was putting us up for the night. I was anxious then, but this was worse. Age?

The police academy was held in Jamestown, at Guilford Technical Community College, where I’d never been. I got out maps. I googled directions. I wrote to Lee. A very kind librarian, Nancy Metzner, wrote back to call her cell phone if I got close and couldn’t find the Public Safety building. Lee and Nancy both emailed campus maps. I’d be coming back after dark and leaving in the dark both Friday and Saturday. We were to have rain all weekend, and the crime scene was "rain or shine," so I took my new rain jacket with hood, made sure the animals and chickens had what they needed, put extra clothes and some tunafish sandwiches in the truck for lunch and supper, and set off Friday morning at six.

I got lost for awhile near the college, but eventually I found the building, got registered, and chatted with other folks who’d commuted.

My first choice of the Friday morning workshops was the Crime Scene Investigation with Bill Lanning. Heavy rain began as we left the gazebo shelter to trudge uphill to the shallow grave site. My rain jacket was not waterproof. The manikin named Sonya’s body was mostly exposed. There were pieces of paper scattered around, receipts, a cigar butt thrown on top of her. She was covered by a tent, but we weren't.

Bill told us that digging a deep grave was too hard and time-consuming for most killers, so shallow graves were common. Also, even if the earth were smoothed off afterwards, the soft earth tends to sink and form a concave pattern. Some killers cut up bodies to save having to dig a grave. If wrapped in plastic (to hide odors) it doesn’t decompose as fast. If there are skeletal remains, often scattered by carrion-eating birds and animals, it’s very hard to identify the deceased. Flies can lay eggs in minutes. Ants also eat bodies.

Fortunately I did have a change of clothes in my pickup, but many folks, coming by bus from the hotel, were wet and cold the rest of the day. We got a dose of the difficulties police face.

Bio-terrorism. Dr. Denene Lofland (Lee Lofland’s wife).

Denene has been working for years in labs that supply information to the government, especially on drugs to counter the likely diseases that could be used to kill people, destroy food sources, water supplies, and to create fear. Compared to conventional and nuclear weapons, such weaponized germs are cheap to manufacture and distribute. Besides anthrax, which can be in water, food, or air, where it’s the most lethal, there is smallpox. Children haven’t been vaccinated against this for some time because it’s theoretically wiped out except for some labs in U.S. and Russia.

Other potential weapons are: salmonella, the plague (Black Death), staph, viruses, fungi, parasites, Q Fever. Not all kill everyone, but they can make you very sick for weeks, and most available vaccines against those threats go to the military. Many of these germs, e.g., the plague and anthrax, exist naturally in the wild. One quart of Botulism germs, which are created when canned vegetables spoil, could wipe out the whole population of the earth.

Handcuffing and Arrest Techniques.  Stan Lawthorne and Corp. Dee Jackson.

It’s very easy to buy handcuff keys, and criminals may hide them in pens, bullets, wear them on necklaces or even in their penises. Most cuffs used now are metal, but sometimes flex cuffs are used in arresting a lot of people at once. Don’t cuff a very dangerous suspect with hands in front, as, if he’s limber, he may be able to get out of them. Leg shackles were advised, but not hog-tying as they can die in custody if so tied and left face down. Now they lay them on their sides if they wear handcuffs and leg shackles.

Pepper spray and Tasers are used to subdue suspects if command presence and verbal instructions don’t work. Guns only if absolutely necessary. If suspects are high on cocaine or PCP, their hearts may explode from the Taser electrodes, since the drugs send the heart rate high. Such a drugged state is called "excited delirium," and the authorities have to get them medical attention as fast as possible.

Plaster Casting and Fingerprinting. Susan Powell.

If you have footprints or tire prints at a crime scene and you want to make casts, you can use dental stone, which sets fast. Then you look for the class characteristics, e.g., size, make, model, style, type of shoe or tire tread, as well as for individual characteristics: wear, cuts, microscopic debris picked up on them. Often emphasized by all the forensic instructors was: everywhere you go, you leave something and take something away with you. If the impression is in sand, Susan dampens the sand first and uses hair spray to firm it up.

In Fingerprinting I learned to dust with magnetic powder, lift fingerprints from a tile and from a glass jar with tape, and then release them onto a piece of paper or a film, examine them under a microscope for their type, sub-group, and individual characteristics. The three main types are arches, loops, and whorls. Most of mine were whorls with the bull’s eye formation. Each finger is different. Our basic fingerprints don’t change from womb to death. Not even identical twins have the same prints. You then enter as many characteristics as possible, ideally12-15, into the AFIS police computer system, and possible matches are returned, even from a partial. A Nazi War Criminal was convicted in recent years from his fingerprints on a 1944 postcard with the help of laser lights.

The Psychologist and the Sleuth. Katherine Ramsland, Ph.D.
Katherine gave a presentation to the whole academy. She has published forty books. She has articles regularly in the Sisters in Crime quarterly newsletter, In Sinc. She does psychological and legal investigations for parental fitness, sexual harassment, research competency, as well as consultation at crime scenes, death investigations, profiling, jury selection, and sentencing recommendations.

She does careful observation of suspects and others, reading body language, noticing micro expressions. She can list behaviors and traits, narrow down leads. What she does is not scientific. From a potential pool of suspects, she can give a high probability as to which one is the most likely. This is probability analysis or an educated hypothesis. Psychological autopsy is done after the crime is committed. She can develop a profile, using victimology, evidence of psychopathology, abnormal psychology, etc. She notices whether the murderer was organized or disorganized and can recognize the signs.

Psychological autopsies can settle criminal cases, ambiguous deaths, estate issues, malpractice, insurance claims. In solving murders, often the psychological elements are overlooked or treated superficially. She was present throughout the conference, always gracious. A real gift to have her with us.

Women in Law Enforcement. Sgt. Catherine Netter.
Catherine supervises a shift at a Guilford County jail. She also led the jail tour on Thursday night. She passed around her duty belt, without the gun, and we felt how heavy it was. Clothes are designed for men, so getting a shirt that fits comfortably and allows for boobs isn’t easy. That isn’t the only extra challenge police women face. Going to the bathroom involves more undressing than with men. She finds her male counterparts often worry she can’t back them up. But males on the street may underestimate her. 60% of police working in detention are women, who, generally, keep things quieter. The mothers of male inmates were often the family disciplinarians. If you’re attractive, your job is easier. She relies on her brain and her command presence. The word spreads if you’re good at subduing rowdy prisoners. 99% of running a prison is good communication. Ten men are compliant and respectful for every one who isn’t, and usually those have a history of domestic violence.

She ignores vulgar language. She’d rather work with males, and it’s an advantage to be black, as 90% of inmates are black. "The way you start is the way you end," she said.

The Role of Digital Evidence in Criminal Investigations. Lt. Josh Moulin, Task Force Commander of High Tech Crimes for Southern Oregon.
80% of the cyber crimes Josh investigates are child pornography and abuse cases. 45% of the men interested in child pornography have abused kids. This was perhaps the scariest thing I learned. The police sometimes find thousands of child pornography photos on one cell phone, computer, or other digital device.

This task force includes people from local, state, and federal (FBI, Homeland Security, ICE (Immigration and Customs)) organizations. A child abuser has an average of 13.5 victims, and most are not detected. They have a backlog of cases, but they give significant time to education, e.g., programs at middle schools.

Cell phones are often used for drug sales. They have a $20,000 machine that can crack passwords when they input biographical data. They can track emails, websites, even texting with cell phones.

It will get harder for them when people use more distance file saving, i.e., through cloud computing. He can get things from Facebook. There are people on Craig’s List setting up sex. Once they do have digital evidence, it stands up in court. They now have mental health resources to help them deal with this very difficult material.

Cold Cases. Dave Pauly, Sirchie Fingerprint Labs, and Dr. Katherine Ramsland.
In 1990 a group of forensic scientists started a cold case review group called the Vidocq Society in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Dave and Katherine are in it. For a case to be considered, it must be at least two years old, no longer being investigated, but have solvability. They meet monthly with the original investigation presented to them, and then they brainstorm.

Cases go cold for many reasons: administratively it may not have been considered important enough, there wasn’t enough personnel, or for socioeconomic reasons. Another reason is witness error because the witness provided only incomplete or misleading information. The investigator can screw up. If the suspect seems to have an alibi, that can throw them off. In fact, 97% of suspects are mentioned to the police in the first thirty days. There may be too much data or not enough evidence. The investigators sometimes conduct a poor interview. You should begin in a friendly way, but you must keep a certain distance. Gradually make the suspect more uncomfortable by allowing long silences, etc.

Usually the murderer is in some relationship to the victim. Cases get passed off or the investigator takes a new job. "We suck at communication," Dave said. "It makes a difference if someone cares and keeps pushing."

Women’s Personal Safety and Protection. Corp. Dee Jackson.
Dee was determined that we would learn to avoid situations that might prove dangerous, get fit, and deal effectively with potential aggressors. She made us chant: "We fight dirty to survive." She gave us handouts and we practiced three moves that would tend to disable someone approaching us who made us feel "icky." We practiced on rubber dummies. (1) Run up to him and hit him hard with our palms on his ears. (2) Run up to him, grab his head and knee him in the groin. (3) Run up to him and grab clothes, hair, head, and claw him down his face.

She had us run in place for one minute. Such a dangerous encounter usually takes three minutes. She said she’d die on the spot rather than let someone take her off and her family never see her again or know what happened. "This is 2011," she emphasized. "I want to read in the paper that you put someone in the hospital."

I’m going to do more exercises and be more careful. Dee praised me when I clawed that son of a bitch!

Banquet Speaker. Christopher Reich.
Reich’s newest book, Rules of Betrayal (2010) was on the New York Times Best Selling list. He had a job with a Swiss Bank. They had a visit from a U.S. investigator, urging them to be suspicious when large amounts of cash were deposited, transferred, or withdrawn. When the investigator left, their director told the employees, if they ever talked to that man, they’d be fired instantly, for that cash experience happened frequently.

Reich had never written a novel, but he told his new wife he was quitting his job to write it. He had literary agents fighting for it, but then he had to revise it many times. It made the New York Times list, but his second book did less well, so they wanted his huge six-figure cash advance back. He had spent it. He was given three months to write a new one. This idea came from meeting General Tommy Franks and hearing about the secret work he was doing in Iraq. That book had publishers competing and came out number three on the New York Times list.

His advice to us: Have faith in yourself and get yourself planted in your chair (what Elizabeth George calls "bum glue.").

Sunday Morning Panel to Debrief and Ask Questions about our WIPsExperts Present: Lee Lofland, Dave Pauly, Josh Mullen, Richard McMahan, Catherine Netter, Dee Jackson, Sandy Russell, Marco Conelli, Mary Grace Tomecki, his fiancee, who is Fire Commissioner in a Long Island community.
 McMahan described a reverse sting, where they set up a storefront undercover to buy drugs and firearms. They had fifteen cameras and many operatives there. They learned that guns had been stolen not far away, and they were brought right to them, and then they arrested the suspects.

Dave Pauly told more about the Vidocq Society. You can google "The Murder Room" to learn about it, and there may be a television program coming out about it soon.

Catherine admitted she found her work exhausting, mentally and physically. It’s aging her prematurely.

Dee told about the first man who ever hit her (it hasn’t happened again!) when she was military police in the Marine Corps. He was in the "excited delirium" state and came at them holding a door he’d wrenched off the hinges. He put the door down and punched Dee, breaking her nose. Her partner, who had climbed on the man’s back, yelled to her to help him. They even hit him with the door. He was finally subdued.

Mary Grace, who’s short and slender, told us how she deals with the four fire chiefs under her and all the men and women under them. "Go prepared. Don’t ever let anyone push you around. You have a moral obligation to do your job, hold your ground. [Dee threw in: "Never cry."], understand their needs, but never assume respect. You have to earn it."

I asked a WIP question about whether my Welsh detective could be used by a N.C. county sheriff’s department, and the answer was no, unless in some emergency, rule 15A405, which allows deputizing, or if he were an American citizen, properly trained and certified as a police officer.

Lee then asked: "Have we ruined your WIP?" I said, "Yes."

Some other women asked me afterwards what I was going to do. I said I’d think about it. Actually, I’m going to send Kenneth to my fictional county’s police academy. Lee confirmed by email this is possible. One thing he’d have to learn is to handle a gun.

There were some gun questions, and we learned that, because a gun is wet, it doesn’t mean it won’t fire, and also that the proper way to hold a gun in a situation where it’s needed, is to point it down, safety off, bullet in chamber.

Plain clothes police detectives also carry guns, handcuffs, pepper spray, and Tasers.


With another Guppy (the Great Unpublished Sub-Group of Sisters in Crime), Elaine Douts, I contributed most of the above to the Guppy Newsletter, First Draft, emailed to us October 1. I’ve had some days to write and think about my experience. I’m very glad I went. I can see new and interesting possibilities for my Kenneth character because he works as a regular deputy. A lot is more specific now, less vague. That’s sure to be a plus. I also plan to put a woman police person in my next novel, and thanks to Catherine Netter and Dee Jackson, I know a lot more about what that’s like.

On a personal level, I will be more aware of taking care of my personal safety and health. I’ll be adding some new exercises to my daily routine. I’m very glad I found the courage to drive myself to GTCC for the police weekend. Many of the harsh realities which the professionals deal with daily got through to me.

Dee emphasized: "This is 2011." She wanted us to live longer, be safer. She said, "People love you, care about you. I want you to be safe." I tell you what, if a man messes with me now, he’s looking to end up in the hospital!

Also at the academy, which is held yearly, people may be able to do the jail tour or a ride-along, with your name drawn out of a hat. There were more course options than I had time to take.  The High Point Public Library helped with local arrangements and registration. The college’s Criminal Justice Department, notably Sandra Neal, also helped out with local arrangements and made sure we found where we needed to go. Everyone was friendly and helpful. A police academy happens there on a regular basis. Our experts, and the 140 participants, many because of the Sisters In Crime scholarships, came from all over the country. Very worth doing! JH

September 22-25, 2011. Guilford Technical Community College, Jamestown, N.C.