The tickle of curiosity. The gasp of discovery. Fingers running across the keyboard.

Showing posts with label writing tips. Show all posts
Showing posts with label writing tips. Show all posts

Sunday, August 21, 2016

I Spy: Words Thriller Writers Should Know

Seal of the C.I.A. - Central Intelligence Agen...
Seal of the C.I.A. - Central Intelligence Agency of the United States Government (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Have you been watching a lot of spy movies for research? Do  you have your pad handy so you can accumulate a fabulous spook vocab? 

From ThrillWriting friends who come to this blog to share their expertise, I have learned one very important lesson (well, no, I've learned a TON of lessons, but this is the overarching take-away), don't believe anything you learn in the movies unless it was recommended as authentic by someone who spends their careers in that situation. For example, last night I watched PROOF OF LIFE after it was recommended to me by Rock Higgins. Wonderful movie. Lots to learn. 

But this article is about words. If you are writing espionage, (which I am working on right now) here's a short list that might be helpful. First, a word of caution, if you pepper your work too heavily with spy words, readers may get slowed down trying to understand the new vocabulary; a word here and there gives authenticity. Also, if you're using a new term like "cut out" go ahead and define it for the reader through dialogue or action. Secret words make people feel that they're "in the know", and then they're included and invested in the private world you're creating.
  • Agent - This is a person who is unofficially employed by an intelligence service, often as a source of information. This one caught me by surprise; I thought that the official employee was an agent, but this word is a synonym for asset. My fear is that using agent instead of asset would confuse a reader.
  • Agent-in-Place - This is an asset who works for a foreign government but provides intelligence to us. They get their regular paycheck from their government, and they get a paycheck from Uncle Sam. 
  • Agent of influence - This is someone working for a foreign government who is a decision maker and who can help manipulate their policy to be pro-America. (Paul Manafort's influencing the Republican party to change their Russian platform is an example - only not in our favor)
  • Asset - This is the same as agent. They provide info to our spooks usually in exchange for something that they want - be it money or visas or get out of jail free cards.
  • Babysitter - is the person set up to protect an asset - the bodyguard or close protection detail. Related article HERE. In my LYNX books, I call them "watchdogs" because the Strike Force men needed a more active/dangerous name than babysitter.
  • Bagman - The guy with the bags of money. He's the one who pays the assets and bribes authorities. I'd think these people would have to be of extraordinary moral fortitude. They're handling a lot of money, often untraceable, and giving it to people who don't write receipts. Lives are on the line if this person should suddenly decide that they'd like to go live on an island somewhere and drink mai tais  under an alias.
  • Bang and Burn - Sounds like a bad date. Ew! Sorry for the visual. This is the spook who does the demolition and sabotage operations. In my LYNX books this is Axel White. Related article HERE
  • Black Bag Job - when a spook goes into a building to get hold of materials either by taking them or copying them.
  • Black Ops - A spook goes into an operation disavowed. If they get caught, then their mothership will deny any knowledge.
  • Black Propaganda -  Is basically disinformation that can't be traced to a source. Sort of the ultimate rumor mill.
  • Blown - Whoops, someone's true identity is revealed. A spook might be outed or an agent's secret work is exposed. Blown is bad.
  • Bona Fides - this is proof that you are who you say you are.
  • Bridge Agent - This person takes information from a case officer and delivers it to an agent (asset) in areas where deniability is required.
  • Brush Pass - the person who is walking out in public and something is passed from one case officer to another. They might be walking and simply hand it over, or they could sit at a bench and put a bag by their feet, someone else comes and sits beside them then picks up the bag. It's a public clandestine exchange.
  • Burned - A case officer or agent is compromised.
  • Camp Swampy - A synonym for "The Farm" where they train CIA employees.
  • Case Officer - runs the operations and manages assets.
  • Chief of Station - the officer in charge of a foreign (for the most part) CIA station.
  • Clean - Unknown to enemy intelligence; the antonym of blown
  • Cobbler - A spook who creates false passports, visas, diplomas and other documents Related article HERE
  • Compromised -Syn blown
  • Controller - syn handler. It's an officer who is in charge of an asset.
  • Cover - The persona taken on so the officer can infiltrate. It is imperative that the officer has background in this area. A language major couldn't use a bio-medical engineering cover, they'd be blown the first time they had to have a conversation on the subject. 
  • Cut-out - It's a way of passing information or materials securely. This could be an actual physical  compartment, or it could be a procedure between those on an operation. It is also the term used for an asset who works as an intermediary between two people.
  • Dangle - A person who wants to be a double agent. A foreign intelligence agency sends their operative to America in the hopes that they'll be recruited as a spy. If that works, then they can gather intelligence or they can spread disinformation. Remind your spook to be careful whom they trust.
  • Dead Drop - A clandestine location where materials can be left by one person and retrieved by another.
  • Discard - If your character has been tagged a discard,  they're in for trouble! This is an asset that their handler will allow to be detected and arrested in order to keep a more important asset safe. Similar to "throw away".
  • Dry Clean - countersurveillance - the things that operators do to make sure they aren't under surveillance.
  • Escort - The person who leads a defector down their an escape route.
  • Exfiltration Operation - Is a rescue, bringing those affected out of harm's way. This could be, for example, a defector, a refugee, an operative. 
  • Floater - Someone used only one time, occasionally, or even unknowingly for an operation
  • Handler - A case officer who is responsible for an asset (controller)
  • Honey Trap - those using sex for the greater good to intimidate or "trap" someone. See "raven" and "swallow".
  • Infiltration - clandestine movement of an operative in an area.
  • L-Pill - A suicide pill.
  • Legend - A spy's background or biography, usually supported by documents and memorized details. Gives new meaning to someone who is legendary, doesn't it?
  • Mole - Someone sent to penetrate a specific intelligence agency by gaining employment. Another reason for your character to be paranoid. The idea of a mole is a theme in my book CUFF LYNX. It was interesting to explore the idea of a mole at Headquarters and how just the possibility could affect morale and inhibit work output. Remember, a mole acts like your character's best friend, everyone is suspect and everyone is trying to watch their backs.
  • Naked - an operative with no cover or backup. Yikes!
  • Paroles - A french word meaning word, speech, lyrics. They are the passwords to identify intelligence personnel to each other
  • Plaintext - The original message. A message that hasn't been encrypted
  • Playback - When a spy provides false information to the enemy but gets accurate information from him or her.
  • Pocket Litter - This is an important writing detail. For a related article go HERE. These are the items in a spook's pocket placed there purposely to add authenticity to his or her identity. It might be a receipt, or a prescription, or an domestic item. For example a woman with a mom cover might have some crayons in her purse and a container of goldfish.
  • Provocateur - Someone sent in to rile up a target group. The end goal is to entrap or embarrass them.
  • Raven - A male agent who seduces people for intelligence. The female counterpart is "swallow". Yeah, they went there.
  • Rolled-up - when an asset is arrested. This might have been planned/optimal see "discard" and "throw away".
  • Sanitize - When specific material is removed from a document so that the identification of intelligence sources and collection methods can't be detected/followed.
  • Shoe - is a false passport or visa. This gives a whole new meaning to "I bought a pair of cute shoes today."
  • Spymaster - The leader of espionage activities. The spook with the kick ass trade craft.
  • Station - a location from which an operation functions. 
  • Steganography - Ways to  conceal the fact that a message even exists (secret inks or microdots) Steganography tools
  • Swallow - A female agent employed to seduce people so they can be used to for intelligence in some form or another. Who the heck came up with this term. :/
  • The Take - Is the information that was gathered.
  • Throwaway - is an asset that is considered expendable. Your character doesn't want to end up on that list.
  • Timed Drop - is a dead drop that where the materials will be picked up at within a certain window of time.
  • Tradecraft - Methods used by operatives to get their job done. This includes surveillance techniques, running assets, ability to done and keep a cover, data gathering, and sure, if need be, fighting skills, among others.
  • Traffic Analysis - intelligence gained from the patterns and volumes of messages of communications that they are intercepting. You might hear in the news where the FBI identified an increase in traffic on certain sites before an event. Intelligence is trying to keep an eye on traffic to spot the patterns and thwart the outcome.
  • Uncle - Spy service Headquarters. 
  • Walk-in - Someone who wishes to defect and goes to an official installation to ask for political asylum or sometimes they volunteer to work in-place
  • Window Dressing - That's all of the extra information included in a cover story or deception operation that are in place to help convince others that what they see is what they get. Window dressing rounds out the character they're playing. So a spy might have a tennis racket and sports bag in their trunk if the perona they're portraying does that as a hobby. If they said that they're married with two kids, they might put fake pictures on their desk with kids art on their cork board.

  • COMINT - intercepted communications that provide intelligence
  • ELINT - electronic intelligence
  • HUMINT - from a human
  • IMINT - is "imagery intelligence" 
  • PHOTINT - Photographic intelligence. This is often gathered from spy satellites or aircraft
  • RADINT - radar
  • TECHINT - technical intelligence. 
  • SIGINT - Signals intelligence includes COMINT (communications intelligence) and ELINT (electronic intelligence) Related article go HERE

    As I was writing this article, I consulted the Spy Museum's website and learned about "raven" and "swallow" for the first time. They have some great historical terms there too. Check out their list HERE

    As always, a big thank you ThrillWriters and readers for stopping by. Thank you, too, for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you 
    helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Creativity - Recipes from A Jail: Character Development for Writers

Amazon Author Link
In this article, we have not just one but two prison recipe treats. Thanks to the help of Harriet Fox, who is a writer and a California Corrections Officer, we will learn how to make a celebratory cake complete with icing and a some very spicy hot tamales.
To read Harriet's article about her work as a female corrections officer in a male jail, go HERE

If you want to understand the difference between a prison and a jail, go HERE.

With Harriet's help and the kindness of two of the men who are in her jail, we have two recipes to help us further write our characters right.

Some of the items an inmate had in his cell.
Fiona - 
How do inmates heat their food?

The hot water pot is in the dayroom. Sometimes they will prep their foods and put them back inside a plastic bag and then put on top of the hot water pot to cook. Some recipes do not require that. Some deputies allow inmates to do that, while some do not.

Harriet (cont) - 
In the hot water pot picture, you will see a plastic pitcher. Inmates take their large potato chip bags and open them on both ends... they slide it through the door jam where it closes...with both sides open on either end of the door, the pitcher pours in one end and the inmate behind the door has his cup up to the bag. They get hot water throughout the shift from the inmate workers we choose to use to clean/help out for that shift. I bet if I tried, the water would be all over the floor! Amazing jail tactics inmates use; super smart with what they have.

Fiona - 
These sources were photographed and are offered in their original form. If you have trouble reading them, perhaps zoom out on your computer. I'm afraid that on a phone this will be difficult. My apologies.

This is  Commissary form (called Canteen in prison)

Harriet - 
The form is filled out. You will see all the stuff they can order. The prisons I have been to have the Canteen store window by the Yard.

Fiona - 
And from the items that they can purchase, with a limited range of cooking utensils, cookware, and  means to prepare and cook, the inmates have devised their own cuisine. 



A big thank you to Harriet for her help and to the men who shared this with us. You can check out Harriet's writing at this  Amazon Link

As always, a big thank you ThrillWriters and readers for stopping by. Thank you, too, for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you 
helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Stalkers 101: Info for Writers

My eye
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Book Review - Stopping a Stalker - A Cop’s Guide to making the System Work for You by Captain Robert L. Snow. Amazon link

Growing up, my family had a stalker. The craziness that was part of our daily lives was the result of my father’s poor choices and even worse actions. Maybe he deserved his “Fatal Attraction” nightmare, but I’m sure that I did not. 

As an adult, I got my own stalker. This time it was because of my husband’s actions - he said “no,” when a sociopathic neighbor fixated on his saying, "yes." I was in the way of her desires, so I got a whole lot of crazy thrown into my world. This included our needing to put 24-hour video surveillance on our house, and a year of jail time dangling over my neighbor's head if she ignored her restraining order.

In my book WEAKEST LYNX, I write what I know. And what I know is how a victim feels when there is a stalker in the picture. It feels like living in a war zone - you never know when the bomb will fall. You never know how destructive it will be.

The Gift of Fear Gavin DeBecker wrote about stalker behavior and what an individual could do to protect themselves. I agree with what he wrote. And if you find yourself in the position of being stalked OR if you are writing about a stalking victim, I encourage you to read his information. 

From my perspective as a former stalking victim, his advice makes sense to me. In my life as a science-experiment, testing out my own theories on how to handle my situation, I found that following the protocol set up by DeBecker led to manageable outcomes. When I deviated from the criterion I had set up for myself, and DeBecker warns against, I recall how empowered this woman became, and then it was a wilder, hairy-er ride.
Another book which I think is incredibly helpful is called: Stopping a Stalker - A Cop’s Guide to making the System Work for You by Captain Robert L. Snow.

Snow believes that stalking is a form of terrorism (I concur). It is now illegal in all fifty states though the definition of stalking changes from state to state. 

  • Stalking laws are fairly new - no state had them until 1990.
  • Stalker statistical tracking didn’t begin until 1994. 
  • National statistics indicate that 90% of the women killed every year by current or former spouses were stalked prior to their deaths. 
  • Experts put the chance of being stalked at 1 in 20 conservatively, or as frequently as 1 in 10 making stalking a crime whose victim numbers equal all major crimes put together.

Stalking is a little bit hard to define at times. Not in my case with the neighbor. She was pursuing me for harm's sake. But what about the guy who wants the girl? Is he really supposed to stop when she says no? Hmm. Well, if she says no and she means it - if his actions are unwanted, unwarranted, and uncomfortable, by law, he needs to stay away. Sorry all of you romance writers! Your hero is probably going to get a big old restraining order on his record if he keeps that mess up.

Simple Obsession Stalkers 
  • Stalkers who were in an intimate relationship, and they can’t take “no” for “no.” 
  • Usually these stalkers were domineering and/or abusive in the relationship. 
  • This usually doesn’t start with physical attacks but a conversation - “Can I just talk to you.”

Love Obsession Stalkers

  • Are people who become fixated on a person where there was NO intimate relationship in their past. Maybe they saw their victim at work or on a bus…the love-obsessed stalker believes that their relationship is mystical and special - ordained. 
  • These people usually had a “chronic failure in social and sexual relationships through young adulthood…” (p.21). 
  • These people are often delusional. 
  • Celebrity Stalking falls into this category.

Cause Stalkers
  • Believe in some cause such as anti-abortionists who stalk and kill the doctors.

Revenge Stalkers
  • Seek to punish someone for a wrong - perhaps they were fired, etc.
Serial Stalking  
  • Experts believe that half of the stalkers have stalked others. 

Other Stalkers
  • Some stalkers do not stalk out of love but hate (as in my case - second time around). 
  • Stalking becomes revenge.
Stalking Traits

  • Will not take no for an answer (so as Gavin DeBecker says - don’t answer them. Even to say “no.”)
  • Display obsessive personalities
  • Have above average intelligence
  • Usually do not have relationships outside of their victim.
  • Don’t display normal levels of anxiety or discomfort 
  • Often have low self-esteem
  • Do not see their actions as being hurtful (though my stalker gloried in knowing she was causing me dis-ease)
  • Often have a mean streak when they are frustrated leading them to violence. How violent? Often deadly. 
  • Display Sociopathic thinking. (May I also suggest the book the Sociopath Next Door?)
(pp 23-26)

“According to the National Victim Center: ‘While this kind of stalker may or may not prove to have psychological disorders, all clearly have personality disorders.’ A few of these personality disorders,according to the Center, include:

  1. Socially maladjusted and inept
  2. Emotionally immature
  3. Often the subject of feelings of powerlessness
  4. Unable to succeed in relationships by socially acceptable means
  5. Jealousy, bordering on paranoia
  6. Extremely insecure about themselves
  7. Often suffering from low self-esteem
(p 38)

In the case of intimate partner stalking three-phase cycle seems to be followed:

  1. Tension building (hundreds of phone calls, surveillance…)
  2. Violence against victim, victim’s friends, victim’s family including angry face-to-face confrontation, physical assaults, kidnapping, and murder.
  3. Hearts and flowers - reverts to gentle tactics begging forgiveness.
It may appear that they have abandoned the stalking all together. This pause is actually a very dangerous time period because the victim might believe that it’s over, and she can get on with her life. The women let down their guard leaving them unprepared and unprotected when it starts up again - usually violently. (pp40-41)

This book is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for writers who have a stalker scenario and those who find themselves in this life circumstance. 

As always, a big thank you ThrillWriters and readers for stopping by. Thank you, too, for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you 

helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Company You Keep - Does Your Character Act "Out of Character" in a Group Dynamic?

Dr. Vivian Lawry
A big welcome to Dr. Vivian Lawry. Vivian holds a BA, MS, and PhD in psychology and was a professor of psychology prior to her retirement.

In this article, we're talking about what happens to a character when they get into a group where a character might act "out of character", which is a fun way to develop the plot

Can you first give us a working definition for "group"

Vivian - 
We usually think three or more, but some "group" effects are present even with only two. Also, the "group" needn't be physically present to exert influence.

Fiona - 
Can you explain that last sentence?

Vivian - 
Some group memberships are literal memberships--for example, a church congregation, sorority, bridge club, etc. such groups are often in our thoughts, and serve as a reference or standard for behavior even when the member is alone.

S one group
S one group (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Fiona - 
Does "group mentality" work both ways? For example, people in a riot become riotous, but people in a disaster, where they see all hands on deck, become heroes?

People in a religious forum feel more religious. . .sort of like a magnifier?

Vivian - 
Absolutely. I just mentioned formal groups--which are the ones having the strongest influence at a distance-- but crowds, mobs, any physical gathering of people, shapes our behavior to act or remain passive. 

Fiona - 
Can you give us a short tutorial on what we need to know about group dynamics to help write our characters right?

Vivian -
Well, there is a phenomenon known as behavior matching, a tendency to do what others around us are doing. This is reflected in everything from eating to body language. Even a person who has eaten his or her fill will eat more if someone else comes in and starts eating. If others are slouching, your character isn't likely to remain formal.

Fiona - 

Yes, it's hard to pass up a piece of chocolate cake when everyone else is moaning about how delicious it tastes.

Just sayin'

Vivian - 
A related phenomenon--I suppose it could be a subset of behavior matching-- has the label diffusion of responsibility. This is the tendency for people to stand passively by when others are present. There was a classic case, decades ago, in which a NYC woman named Kitty Genovese was murdered in the courtyard of her apartment. The murder took approximately half an hour, and dozens of her neighbors watched from their windows. No one came to help or even called the police. The more people who could help, the less likely anyone will take responsibility for doing so.

And then there is group disinhibition. This is sort of the opposite. It is that people are more likely to take risks, break the law, be violent when others are doing so. Think looting, or harassing a homeless person. Disinhibition is even more powerful when alcohol is involved. I recently posted a blog on alcohol for writers that goes into that a bit.

But the bottom line is that we behave differently with others present than when alone.

(LINK to Vivian's blog article - alcohol and character development)

(LINK to ThrillWriters' article - math formula of drunkenness)

Fiona - 
So there's a lot that can go on - lots of different ways we could route our character either toward the good angels or to the lowest common denominator. Is a character aware that she is acting out of character in the moment? If yes, what kinds of self-talk might they experience?

Vivian -
Sometimes there is conscious self-talk, especially if it is something one doesn't ordinarily do, such as taking drugs. One might think, "It can't be that dangerous, all my friends are doing it. Will they think I'm a wimp if I don't? Will they still be my friends?"

Self-talk is less likely in a riot, or emergency situation with adrenaline mixed in. People are just generally less thoughtful.

Perhaps we should give a nod to the power of individual action here. Although people are unlikely to break from the group, when someone does, it's often empowers others. For example, if someone is urging gang rape and one man speaks out forcefully, refusing to participate or even take stronger action, others are likely to follow the rebel. It's difficult to be a minority of one, but having someone to rally around makes it easier.

Fiona - 
You were talking about an adrenalized episode where actions outstripped thought process. Now, we move to the next scene where the character is reviewing their actions OR are confronted with their actions. What types of internal gymnastics might go on?

Vivian -
The first is likely to be, "Hey, everyone was doing it." Another common justification is blaming the victim, who was asking for it, deserved it, etc.

Somewhere in here, we should mention that sometimes the presence of others inhibits undesirable behavior, such as theft, spousal abuse, etc.

Fiona - 
What question should I have asked you so we have a better understanding of the subject?

Vivian - 
It just remains for the author to decide how her character behaves vis a vis others AND WHY. Almost any behavior is believable if the justification is clear to the reader.

Fiona - 
THIS article on OODA loops might help you to walk your reader through the internal/external event so everyone walks out the other side of your passage on the same foot.

You can see how Vivian uses her background in psychology and group dynamics in her short stories.

DIFFERENT DRUMMER: A Collection of Off-beat Fiction. Thanks! 

Thank you so much for your insights, Vivian. ThrillWriters, if you want to stay in touch with Vivian you an reach her on her 

website, and you can follow her on Facebook.

As always, a big thank you ThrillWriters and readers for stopping by. Thank you, too, for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you 

helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Now Your Character Can Play James Bond. Gadgets with Heather Weidner

Today, I am hosting Heather Weidner. Heather has been a mystery fan since Scooby Doo and Nancy Drew. She is President of the Sisters in Crime, Central Virginia Chapter where I recently spoke on the subject of Violence in Writing. Heather’s short stories appear in the Virginia is for Mysteries series. Today, she's talking about gadgets that give your protagonist a little James Bond swagger.

Fiona - 
Gadgets! Fun! How did you get interested in the subject?

Heather - 
My sleuth in Secret Lives and Private Eyes is a thirty-something private investigator who has a knack for getting herself in and out of humorous situations, and she often uses what she has handy when she’s on a case. 

Here are some real gadgets that might just be useful. I’m wondering how many Fiona Quinn has.

Fiona - 
(I'll never tell.) 

Heather - 
Tile - is a tag that you can add to things to track where they are. If you’re within a certain radius, you can ring the tile locate it. You can also use the Internet to see the last place you had the item. 

This Camera Pen lets you capture video and audio discretely. You can also use it as an ink pen. 

Spy-Tronix has a variety of home and business-use hidden cameras. My favorites are the electrical box or the fake book with the hidden camera. 

If you’re worried about hidden cameras, this detector will allow you to sweep an area for wireless cameras and eavesdropping devices. 

Identity Stronghold sells RFID blocking wallets to prevent electronic pick-pocketing. 

Here is a sunscreen flask, for those who need a hidden secondary container on a sunny day. 

This aluminum Coke can has a hidden safe for your valuables. Just be careful not to recycle your treasures by accident. 

Pocket Stashes provide you with keyring options for hiding cash, change, or a lighter. 

There are lots of tactical purse options for those who carry concealed weapons. There are also quite a lot of coat, jacket, and vest choices for those who don’t want a purse. 

Pepper spray comes in a variety of sizes and styles. This is a model disguised as lipstick.

This one’s not available yet. It’s just a concept, but I did use the idea in a story. It’s called Undercover Colors. Users can put a finger with this nail polish in their glass to detect the presence of a date rape drug.

And don’t forget your smartphone. In addition to the communications and camera options, there are lots of apps for emergency air horns, compasses, flashlights, and GPS. And most have a way to track them if they’re missing. (Go to this blog article to read more about that)

Fiona - 
Very fun, Heather! I am a total gadget girl. I love this kind of stuff. Hey, can you take a second to tell us about your new book?
Heather - 
Secret Lives and Private Eyes

Secret Lives and Private Eyes is a fast-paced mystery that will appeal to readers who like a strong, female private investigator. 

Business has been slow for PI, Delanie Fitzgerald, but her luck seems to change when a tell-all author hires her to find rock star, Johnny Velvet. Could the singer whose life was purportedly cut short in a fiery car crash still be alive? And as if sifting through dead ends in a cold case isn’t bad enough, Chaz Wellington Smith, III, a loud-mouthed strip club owner, hires Delanie to uncover information on the mayor’s secret life. When the mayor is murdered, Chaz is the key suspect. Now Delanie must clear his name and figure out the connection between the two cases before another murder – probably her own – takes place.

Fiona - 
Visit Heather on her website

FacebookTwitterInstagramPinterest, and Goodreads.

As always, a big thank you ThrillWriters and readers for stopping by. Thank you, too, for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you 
helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

An Alpha Male Character in Retirement: Info for Writers with Retired Chief of Police, Scott Silverii

A Farmer Reading His Paper. Photographed by Ge...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
You have the perfect-for-your-plot character planned for your WIP. It's an alpha male in retirement. Maybe a soldier. Perhaps a cop, or fireman, or any other career that attracts a certain kind of "I'll stand against evil/bad things" type of guy.

I'm talking about males here. Yes, there are alpha women - you can find lots of articles about them on my blog - just check the archives. But today, I'm going to focus alpha males in retirement.

To this end, I am visiting with ThrillWriting friend, Scott Silverii. No, he would never call himself an alpha-male. He's an extremely humble guy and that might feel like bragging to him, so I'm going to call him that, and I do have a graduate psych degree, and he does meet all of the qualifications. So you can trust me here, I picked the right guy for this interview.

Fiona - 
Scott, today, we're talking about alpha males in retirement.

Scott -
Sure - from an outsider's perspective - Ready.

(See? Humble. Note that for your character - this is a quality I see in good-guy alpha males. And I guess, I should have included that in the article descriptors. If you're writing a bad guy alpha - braggadocio and megalomania would replace humble.)

Scott, I know several writers who are working on plots that include protagonists who have retired from jobs that are high adrenaline and also have a hierarchical structure in place -- the police, the military. And now these men have retired from that line of work.

Scott -
It's funny, but now that I've retired from that life, I notice so many more books with "retired" protags having left an adrenaline-fueled occupation.

Fiona - 
Can you talk about the transition?

Scott - 
I'd once feared leaving law enforcement, but as I began to see the possibilities for a life on the other side, the dread gave way to optimism. I retired in August 2015, and have experienced a bit of stress that was associated with leaving the structure of command and the constant camaraderie with other alphas.

Fiona - 
And adrenaline? - Do you seek that out in other areas? Do they have adrenaline junkie clubs?

Scott - 
Oh goodness, I do and don't miss the adrenaline moments - a total double-edged sword. 

I don't miss the slow build up to a crisis event that culminates with just seconds of action (sometimes terror - Ha!!). I do miss being the go-to guy when the poop hits the fan. I thrived on the stress and potential for danger. Not that I was a risk taker, but I enjoyed removing the risk as much as possible and executing a sound operational plan.

Fiona - 
In your doctoral thesis, you wrote about the sheep dog mentality (for more about sheep dogs go to THIS TW blog article. For more about Scott's thesis and book go to THIS TW blog article) where the alphas -- or sheep dogs-- think of themselves as "other" In your experience with friends and colleagues, does this continue after you leave the job? If yes, how does one cope? If no, how does one integrate?

Scott - 
The Sheepdog mentality is something that I've been able to witness from a distance. While it's vital for cops and 1st responders to have a winning mindset and also understand that often times society doesn't fully understand how difficult it is to remain in the social margin, I also think it's counterproductive for law enforcement to adopt a separatist ethos. 

I mean, I see young officers' not even in the basic academy yet who are posting and getting tatted about being the protector and about civilian sheep. they've not even investigated a garden hose theft yet, and already they've assumed this us versus them ideology - it too is a double - edge sword.

How to reintegrate? Working with writers has been my anchor back to society. I meet and work with people who are just as intense and willing to take risk as I am - most just don't carry the weapons. Sharing my experiences and knowledge of over nearly 26 years also helps me to ease into the "white picket fence" life. 

I'm not 100% percent cozy yet, but I believe that once you've had your eyes ripped wide open to life's realities, they can never filly rest or blink at what goes on around you

Fiona - 
I'm thinking about soldiers now - I've read many of them wishing they were back in the fight, not for the fights sake but to support their fellow soldiers. They feel like when they are out being civilians they have left the burden to someone else. Is this something you've seen in the police world as well? Some guilt?

Scott - 
Good point. It's a form of Survivor's Guilt. You see the cops shot and attacked across this country and you hurt. I mean crying tears of sadness and guilt about "leaving" them on the street. 

As a Chief and Commander in various divisions since 1992, I've always carried the burden of concern and guilt for everyone. I still stare at every traffic stop I pass, just in case the officer needs help. Yes, the bonds of this fraternity don't stop when the pay check stops, but I fully understand that it's no longer my job, but protecting others will always be my duty.

Fiona - 
How often do you see things happen and feel compelled into reflexive action and then think, wow - that's not my responsibility anymore? And the follow up question - what could you see that would make you jump in and at what level would you jump in? A phone call? A take down?

Scott - 
Funniest examples are traffic violations. I was never a traffic cop, but now that I'm in a personal vehicle, I see all the reckless things people do and they continue doing them because they don't see a police unit. It's like I'm a ghost who gets to see the reality of life. If I saw a drunk driver, I'd make a 911 and follow from safe distance. If someone was injured I'd stop to render aid. If I saw a cop in a struggle, I'd flash my badge and join them in any situation. I'd also, always defend the innocent. Thankfully, I'm still commissioned as a retired officer and authorized to carry.

It wasn't the uniform that drove me to help others.

Fiona - 
I'm not going to ask you about your own personal EDC, (it's dangerous to let others know what you carry, folks, just like it's dangerous to announce you're going out of town on social media). But what are you aware of others carrying as part of their stay-safe strategy after years of being exposed to the worst? D
o they have go-bags in their trunks?

Scott - 
Honestly, some still use the old stash the pistol in their wife's purse method. I know its crazy, but it's true. Retirement is about minimizing the clutter of life. That also includes your gear. Cops wear it strapped around their waist for the life of their career. I think most go back to the basics. A commission card / badge, weapon / magazines and handcuffs.

Emergency preparation once retired is more about reacting to your families needs. The tools to get you and them out of a fix. First aid kit, tools described above - not for enforcing the law, but protecting self and others.
Scott and his wife, Liliana Hart, together they make SilverHart.
I can't imagine that Liliana would let Scott
 slip a gun into her purse. Just sayin'

Fiona - 
Wait - they stash their gun in the wife's purse? She has to carry that weight and responsibility????

Scott - 
Ha! You've never heard about that?

Fiona -
Pshhh - Carry your own gun - I have my own stuff to carry.

So, this gives a whole new insight to the guy standing outside the dressing room while his wife tries on clothes. He wasn't being helpful - he just didn't want his gun to be out of sight.

Scott - 
True! But many a rookie has their wife carry in her purse. And the rookies also have more negligent discharges in bathrooms than on the firing range.

Fiona - 
Ha! Noted.

Why are you guys playing with your guns in the bathrooms?
Shhh. I don't really want to know.

You mentioned at the beginning of this interview that you've been reading a lot of plots that include retired alpha males. What are the things that make you scoff and say - that's not what happens! And conversely what has a writer gotten right about the nuances of an alpha in retirement that you thought, huh, that's pretty insightful.

Scott - 
One thing that's incorrect is that a retired alpha has the same access to resources as while they were active. The reality is that policing is an all or nothing fraternity. Once you leave, they may like you and hang out, but it's very clear you're no longer one of "them"

Fiona - 
That must hurt.

Scott - 
Yes, it does a bit, but you come to understand and expect it. If cops are honest, they/we had the same attitude while on the job when others left it.

What I see getting it right is the culture of the retired alpha - often solitude, inability or unwillingness to fit into the mainstream. But I love that despite it all, the retired book alpha still has a burning heart for service and a kick ass skill set

Fiona - 
Yes, I love that.

Scott -
Me too - can't beat experience

Fiona - 
So the alpha male retired. He's out of the fraternity. He doesn't fit in with society per se, describe a normal retirement day that might lead to an interesting plot line (just to put you on the spot) what would a retired military/police see that the normal public wouldn't and would they feel compelled to follow the bread crumbs or would they say f-this it's on someone else's shoulders. Not to group everyone into the same corner -- just maybe triggers that he had to act on.

Scott - The New Normal - It's funny, but after you've been in charge of others for you entire adult life, you still have the calling to command. So your kids become your Unit. That in and of itself is a story line. They refer to drill sergeants and have learned about pressure point control tactics, and even how to properly hold a knife in a fight. I can see the 12 year old in her cafeteria with the blade protected.

So the retired alpha plot involves the need to supervise and keep the new Unit safe. While we're at the movies or getting gas, the alpha's head is ALWAYS on a swivel. I see drug deals that are obvious to me because I worked undercover for 12 years. We don't voluntarily go into bad areas, but I witnessed two outside of a gym - probably steroids because they looked young, red and puffy - Ahhh - youth.

Unless it was something about to go down at my home, like a person casing the place with multiple pass-bys or bogus door knocks, I wouldn't get too jazzed up. the biggie is watching who interacts with our kids - mostly what adults are in their spheres of influence and why are they there.

Fiona -
Here's where I punt - What should I have asked you? What did you want writers to know about? 

p.s. Scott is a writer, too. Check out some of his titles:


I'd like writers to know that most of you do an amazing job getting it right. 

The truth is, they are under no obligation to "document" the police or military as a researcher or reporter. Yet, I've found no other documentor of the professions that take as much care to capture not only the procedures, but the nuances of alphas. I don't tell war stories, but because I love and respect the care writers give to their own stories and the people they reflect in their work, I'm always happy to share.

Fiona - 
Scott, you have a program to help writers write this kind of thing right. Can you tell me about your SWAT Academy? What can writers try on their own - whose brains can they pick. . .

Scott -
Thanks - in addition to the always accessible SilverHart Writers website featuring experts from police, fire, forensics, military and law, we're hosting the SWAT Academy in October 2016. 

The Suspense Writers Adventure Training (SWAT) is a writer's fantasy camp where they'll get to live the alpha-life they create. 

Drive high-speed police cruisers, raid drug dens, and become part of a SWAT tactical unit that searches for the fugitive, shoot weapons on the range, work actual crime scenes, and much more - also we have learning labs in between the field activities featuring the best in their fields to teach authors what to do with the awesome experiences they have. 

The best part is everyone actually lives, eats and trains on an actual law enforcement special operations complex. Even the instructors live on site. It's the only event like it in the world, and it's open for registration.

Fiona - 
How awesome is that? Very fun!

So here's some contact information:

As always, a big thank you ThrillWriters and readers for stopping by. Thank you, too, for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

PMS Is Your Friend and Other Things I Learned Taking a Wilderness First Aid Class: Info for Writers

English: Mokelumne Wilderness, California US
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First of all - HOLY MOLY the list of horrible things that can go wrong far from help is long and daunting. What awesome plotting fodder. Things should never go easily for our heroes and heroines.

When faced with an emergency where professional help is anywhere from far away to non-existent, things just aren't looking good for your character. You can apply this information to a wilderness setting in your writing or to a natural disaster or terror activity in an urban center where resources have been stretched thin or destroyed. 

I'm using my crack acting skills. Can you feel my pain?

PMS is your friend -- no, honestly.
PMS stands for:
  • Pulse
  • Motor (ability to move)
  • Sensory (Can you feel this?)

Your character needs to check these at the beginning and the end of the first aid application to make sure they didn't do something that would make the situation worse. What? Your character made it worse? Hmm. Interesting plot twist.

For other cool acronyms that your character would know if they have advanced (more than band-aids and "Stay calm, I've called 911") first-aid capabilities go HERE.

Do NOT use paracord to tourniquet a limb unless the pressure is dispersed by a wider fabric. Your character can do a lot of harm. Use something that is wider, at least a few inches wide. (more about paracord and survival HERE

Do NOT - put sticking-out bones back in the skin. Same with sticking-out organs, for that matter. Cover them with sterile water-soaked fabric. Remember this phrase -- Sticking out? Leave it out.

Do NOT - pull sticking-out objects that impaled the victim out of the victim. Your character should brace the object and keep it in place until the victim has medical support. Remember this phrase --If it's in - leave it in.

Being knotty is good. 
Knots are important and can be oh so helpful. (Go HERE for an article on knots) This class added to my knot repertoire, but I realize I need more. Did your character learn to tie knots as a Girl Scout? Guess what? They're easily forgotten. Your character needs to practice them to keep them handy. This can be written into the plot line with any little thing - even a perfectly tied up tomato plant in the garden that caught someone's attention could lead to a conversation about why they have this skill. 
  • "I raced sailboats from the time I could walk." 
  • "My family was big into camping, and I spent most of my youthful weekends around a campfire tying knots and listening to stories." 
  • "I'm an Army Ranger, I dream knot sequences."
This is the new knot I learned -- a Prusik Knot:

How cool is that?
  • It can help someone climb out of a bad place. 
  • It can keep someone who's going after and injured person from falling into a bad place. 
  • It can tie up a tarp to protect the victim from heat stroke, or rain...
  • It can be used to create a traction splint for a broken femur so the bone parts don't migrate out through the skin, sever the femoral artery and have your character bleed out. (yeah - gross.)

Below is a video of a traction splint. You're not going to have one of these in the wild. Your character will have to devise what she can from what she finds or happens to have carried in with her. Remember, the more trained your characters, the better they will equip themselves and the better they will function. You get Joe-everyday back in the woods for a first time hike or Suzy-running-for-her-life in the jungle, and you've got problems. (Yay!)
(Go HERE for an article about running away in the woods)

If your character is well trained, find information on how to properly apply first-aid with the right equipment, then figure out interesting new ways to make this happen. If you need some ideas look under the Saving Your Heroine tab to see this in action with tampons, condoms, cans of Coke, dental floss, and others.

Also, if your character knows what they're doing, they probably had plans in place for themselves and their children. In this HUG A TREE article, I included videos I made about helping a tracker to find you, giving notice to the rangers, and packing a basic hiking bag that even kids should carry. 

People are freaking heavy
Just sayin'                                                                                     In the movies when they throw the 200 pound man over the shoulder and are running and gunning their way out of a situation - well, that's theater; unless of course, your character is highly trained and in top physical condition.                                                                                                                                               Let's just say if you think that's how I'm getting you down the trail, it ain't gonna happen. If push comes to shove (and it may look like just that) PERHAPS I could devise a way to yank you by the foot down the trail. BUT doing something like that would put me at risk of injury. What? Now both of your characters are down for the count? tsk tsk tsk - what a plot twist!                                                                                                 
My point here was - people are heavy. At one stage of a rescue, my job was to shift -- NOT LIFT -- just shift a guy up the back board with the help of two other people. That was a hard earned two inches of movement. 

While we were encouraged to get the person to the rescue workers, if I'm alone, I'm going to try to get you safe and comfortable then I'll jog out and find help (marking my trail so we can find you). Seventy pounds is about my drag-your-butt-out-of-there limit. 

The Corporal's Corner

To actually move someone a short distance -- say up a hill and back down -- it takes eight.
  • The victim is strapped in place and ties are put in such a way
    that the victim won't slide out the top or bottom - your rescuer forgot? WHOOPS!
  • The head is protected with a blanket/jacket/whatever-is-handy if the victim had any spinal or head trauma.
  • Three people stand on either side of the backboard/hastily-constructed carrier.
  • Two more people stand at the head of the carrier system. 
  • The top right person is lead (this rotates through each pass) They say, "Ready?" (waits for confirmation from two standing in front) "Pass."
  • The carrier is moved up to the hands of the two in front. The two in the back run around the outside to now be front people. The leader is now the new person at the top on the victim's right hand side. Two people are in front and thus oh so very slowly is the victim passed fire-bucket-brigade-style up and down a hill. When on flat ground they can just grab hold and walk.
  • Any extra people who are around can act as balancers,
    watchers of holes, and rotate in to give relief. 
  • Everyone should be very quiet and focused so commands can be heard and heeded. What? Too much noise and they missed that there was a hole? The whole rescue team is now in a pile at the bottom of the hill? tsk tsk tsk. Now there's a plot twist (and an ankle twist. . .)

"Ready - Transfer" in action

I hope this was helpful as you plot your next great novel!

A HUGE thank you to CERT (for more information go HERE) and instructors Bill and Ray who were incredibly patient and knowledgeable. 

And as always, a big thank you ThrillWriters and readers for stopping by. Thank you, too, for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.