3/17/2016 – What I Learn for Fiction –
We mystery writers strive for accuracy in our fiction. This need propels us to listen to experts, surf the Internet, read unusual books, and sometimes make pests of ourselves.
In pursuit of accuracy, I asked the fire chief of a large metropolitan area what exactly was the protocol in responding to an emergency. His answer added depth and reality to that scene in my novel. I paid $250 for an eyewitness account, published in 1782, of traveling in Morocco, which helped immensely when I wrote my historical novel, Shadow of the Rock. All of us writers joke about what someone would think if he read the history of our Internet searches on poisons, guns, missing persons, fingerprints, burglar alarms, DNA as evidence and similar subjects.
So as a member of Sisters in Crime, an association of mystery writers and fans, I look forward to each meeting and its guest speaker. Last Saturday’s meeting was no exception. Speaker was Lt. John Weinstein, whose topic was “Active Shooters and Other Campus Policing Challenges.” He serves the Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) Police Department as a district commander, overseeing police operations on three campuses with over 78,000 students. He holds a Ph.D. in International Security Studies and for almost 30 years was a Department of Defense nuclear weapons planning specialist.
So first, mystery writers, what’s the difference between the security guards and police officers on campus? Lt. Weinstein explained that college security officers patrol the many campuses, investigate thefts, unlock doors, escort students to their cars, assist the police, and perform similar duties. They can not make an arrest or carry firearms. Campus police can be armed, make arrests, investigate crimes, issue orders and take care of other related activities.
With 188 nationalities represented on the NOVA campuses, Lt. Weinstein added that diversity training is essential to avoid offending the sensitivities of such a diverse student body. Police academies emphasize this kind of training. Respecting cultural sensitivities can go a long way toward preventing conflicts and bloodshed.
Also important is a tactical communications course called Verbal Judo, useful in police work as well as in business, health care, and education. According to the Verbal Judo Institute, professionals in any field are taught to use “presence and words to calm difficult people who may be under severe emotional or other influences, redirect the behavior of hostile people, diffuse potentially dangerous situations, perform professionally under all conditions and achieve the desired outcome of the encounter.”
Successful outcomes depend on reading people and situations as opportunities for progress and taking appropriate action for each event without letting personal feelings sabotage the desired results. The basic formula, said Lt. Weinstein, is to control the ego, explain what’s going on, and then to develop empathy.
Knowing we were mystery writers seeking to be accurate, Lt. Weinstein concluded by mentioning the Public Safety Writers Association. Anyone who knows me knows that I believe in joining associations for the many opportunities they provide. Founded in 1997 as the Police Writers Club, the Public Safety Writers Association is open to both new and experienced, published and not yet published writers. Members include police officers, civilian police personnel, firefighters, fire support personnel, emergency personnel, security personnel and others in the public safety field. Also represented are those who write about public safety including mystery writers, magazine writers, journalists and those who are simply interested in the genre. The association also welcomes publishers, editors, agents and others who help writers realize their writing goals.
Benefits of membership include a free one-time manuscript review by a professional editor; opportunity to enter the annual writing competition; reduced rate for the annual conference; online listserv offering the chance to network with fellow writers and editors; access to experts in the field about which you write; and an online quarterly newsletter that includes news about the organization and information about writing, publishing, editing and marketing.
Credible writing, whether fiction or nonfiction, depends on accuracy. Readers are quick to point out errors and none of us wants that, so it’s good to know that there are so many professionals in so many fields willing to help keep us on track.