Well I have returned from fabulous California. And it was fabulous. Let’s see… where do I start? With the Crime Writers Weekend, of course! I could tell you and bore you with every last deliciously wonderful (and warm) morsel of what I did and where I went on the trip but it wouldn’t mean a heckuva lot to any random reader. I will say, though, if you ever get a chance (and find a chance even if it means you have to steal it) get over to Big Dean’s Oceanfront Cafe. Best. Damned. Burger. EVER. And probably no better place to have a beer and enjoy the pier.
Anyway. The Crime Writers Weekend was hosted by The Writers Store in wonderful Santa Monica, not far from the border of Venice at The Satellite. I gotta say, I like the Satellite but mainly because it was in easy walking distance from where I was staying so I could roll out, all gross and smelly, crawl down to the Starbucks around the corner and have a cup before cramming my head with all sort of cop stuff. Aside from that… ahem… this was the second time in six months that the venue didn’t let me in when it was supposed to. I was stuck waiting for the doors to open on time. Again. That and the fact that they crunched Forensics in at the very end so that it ran up against the time crunch didn’t seem all that great. Otherwise it was pretty good.
Unlike the Homicide School for Writers this one wasn’t nearly as focused, rather it was a nice shotgun approach to law enforcement covering Gangs, Patrol, Narcotics, Undercover, Murder for Hire, SWAT, Victim Services, Forensics and Search and Rescue. Honestly, it was a lot to take in but I managed to take excellent notes if I do say so myself. Some of the speakers were recently retired and showed (sometimes in spite of themselves) both the tenor and tone of their professions as well as some eye-popping frustrations. One of them, Patrol Officer Harry Penny had a truly unique viewpoint covering the mid 60s and early 70s. If you ever get the chance to let the man speak you will not fail to be entertained and informed and if you’re interested he has a book out: Behind The Badge: The Funny Side of the “Thin Blue Line”. I bought a copy while I was there but there’s nothing quite like seeing the man in person.
So what got me about the weekend? hmm… Well… I had no idea how much of Gang Life is actually run from inside prison. In fact I had no idea how that was even possible. But it is and the weekend made that clear. The presentation on Narcotics was very engaging and shockingly thorough even though it didn’t get in detail about the procedure of a Narcotics case. I’m going to have to research that a bit. The bit on Undercover operations and SWAT was fascinating, particularly when you take into account that the presenter now works with CIA, FBI, Interpol and others in a private capacity. He is – apparently – what you would call a ‘bad ass’. I’ll probably post more details as I work through editing and rereading my notes.
I guess what got me the most about it was that it gave lie to the thing you see too much of on TV, where the units all seem to operate as solitary squads in their own little fiefdom. You get the impression that if it wasn’t for the CSI’s no crimes in Las Vegas would ever be solved (another impression you get from CSI is that if you happen to be wearing a patrol officers uniform you might as well have beamed down with Captain Kirk wearing a red shirt as your life expectancy is nil.) The Crime Writers Weekend shows that none of this is the case. In fact, as with the Homicide School for Writers there were some rather choice words spent at the expense of CSI (no big shocker there) but from people who were acquainted with the shows original creators.
Law Enforcement is not a solitary act operating in the vacuum of their own squads or units. In fact, as the weekend showed, it’s an interwoven latticework of departments providing intelligence and communicating. We’re all used to the homicide guys standing around the body, but who got there first? Generally a patrol officer (much to homicide detectives chagrin sometimes). We’re used to gang violence and such in our television (which is oddly NOT spoken about a lot in favor of the pretty 18-25 year old girl or 30 – 50 year old man victims as mentioned earlier) but we don’t generally see Gang Unit guys consulting in a homicide investigation even though they’re the one’s who would know the players. Tips and clues can come from anywhere. The business of Gangs is Narcotics. Fugitive Apprehension Squads and Swat may (and often do) work together etc. It’s not something you get a very accurate impression of in your regular prime time cop drama. But it should be.
I suppose that’s a little difficult to swing dramatically. It becomes an ensemble piece. I ought to know. The next Meg story has an awful lot of that and sometimes I feel like I’m biting off more than I can chew with it. But why not? What’s the worst that could happen? You could fail at writing it. Worse things have happened and frankly I’m enjoying tossing officers from different endeavors into the story. It gives me a chance to expand the setting and environment of Meg and Friends and voila! all of a sudden you have a bunch more possible conflicts, plot points, minor characters to work with. It doesn’t ALL have to be about your intrepid investigator and their brilliant deductions and the life and operations of a patrol sergeant can be every bit as interesting and intriguing as that of a homicide investigator.
Well in any case. I’m back in Milwaukee now…
And I’m about to embark on a few new things. For starters I’m going to launch a few little promo pieces for something I’ve been working on for a few years now. It’s a little different. Actually it’s a lot different. But it’s an honest attempt to flex the muscle of the genre and see how far I can stretch it. Just to let you know it’s a bit far so be prepared. If you’re a classic mystery fan it might strain your patience but I think it’s worth it – a determination I’ve made based on the criteria that I’ve enjoyed writing it.
In the meantime the work continues at pace on Meg Brown 6. Shhhh… the actual title’s a mystery. I think you’ll like it. If you haven’t read any of the other Meg stories… well what are you waiting for? All the stuff I write on this blog (aside from the reviews of course) get acted out in real-time over there. You can think of it as the practice field for the sort of thoughts that eventually end up on this blog.