Tag Archives: novels

Si?ab: A Tribute to a German Shepherd #Dog

adultSiab blog
Everything in a writer’s life shapes her writing whether that is joy or sorrow. On Saturday at approximately 9:30 a.m. my beloved German Shepherd, Si?ab Vom Das Massiv, died. My wife and I were with her when she crossed the Rainbow Bridge. Her beautiful and gentle soul has been a guiding light in my writing and in my life. She was my Muse. It was she who guided my decision to write Death by Dog, a Special Crimes Team anti-dog fighting novel.

For several years, I bred Si?ab to a wonderful working line GSD, Griswold Von Grunheide owned by #SuzanneEviston, a police dog breeder and trainer. They produced excellent pups. Shortly after the sale of the last pup from Si?ab’s last litter I read an article in the newspaper about a German Shepherd who had been beaten nearly to death and tossed in a dumpster in Seattle to die. Fortunately, some kind soul heard a whimper from the dumpster and rescued the dog. He survived. I shuddered and quickly checked the photo of the dog. It was colored differently than any dogs birthed by Si?ab. I inhaled a relieved breath; however, the seeds of Death by Dog were sown.
dbdcover1

Dogs and books have been constants in my life. One of my first memories is of a dog named Trixie, a German Shepherd rescued from the Animal Shelter. After I learned to read at the age of six, I often hid in the attic of our old three-story house next to one of its grimy windows. As the dull light seeped through, I read for hours with Trixie lying next to my leg. For those hours, I was transported from my violence-ridden neighborhood into a different world.

My imagination fired by the stories I read had me scribbling stories of my own. My grandfather, Pap, would have me sit on his lap and read my latest story to him. He suffered through every childish word as if he listened to the next Pulitzer Prize winner.

As spring gave way to summer of my fifth grade year and school edged toward its three month closure my teacher, Mrs. V., made me promise to continue writing during vacation.That summer my family moved out of the neighborhood where I had grown up, yet I faithfully kept my promise to Mrs. V. Though Trixie died a couple of years before we moved, that June my mother took me to the Animal Shelter where I purchased a black Lab. I named him Laddie.

During those long summer days Laddie gamboled by my side as we walked up the grassy slope to the copse of trees at the back of the property where my mother had moved us. He would sniff and wander about, and then return to lie down by my side as I scribbled story after story. By the start of school that fall, I was hooked on writing.

Later in life during those times I found myself either living on the road or homeless, dogs and books remained my constant companions. They stoked the guttering fires of hope; they fueled the flames that burned inside of me. And I wrote.

I wrote articles for newspapers about racism and the horror of the child welfare system. I wrote poems and flung them into the world through the pages of anthologies and newspapers. I wrote short stories and published some of them in small magazines. And always a dog lay next to me.

During the past ten years, Si?ab led me into the experiences of #Schutzhund and #agility.
SIAB_TUNNEL

She followed me as I planted trees and fought back invasive blackberries as my wife and I transformed a neglected farm into a wildlife/wild bird habitat. She trotted next to me as I rode on horseback through forests and along mountain trails; and camped far from city lights.

She never knew a stranger unless he threatened my wife or me, and then her teeth would warn him away. Children mauled her as she lay waiting patiently for her turn on the agility fields. Inevitably, people who met her came to love and respect her gentle soul.

When my wife’s old German Shepherd, Katrina, died last spring, Si?ab spent a lot of time during those first few months comforting my wife. These past few weeks, undoubtedly sensing that her time to Travel to the Other Side loomed close, she spent nearly every waking and sleeping moment next to me as if she knew how much I would soon need those memories.

Now the job of comforting and inspiring me falls to Isis, Si?ab’s daughter. This morning she wrapped herself around my legs and pressed against me; she dispensed kisses and laid quietly on the couch as I drank my morning tea—a job Si?ab always performed to get my day off to a pleasant start.
Start day w Siab

Dogs and books. They have been constants in my world, grounding me; inspiring me. They give me strength and courage to face life and to send out words that I hope will–someday, somehow–help transform the world into a better place.
5 GSDs in a row
Siab Rainbow Bridge

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Scared into #Writing!

bookwingssoar
A writer is motivated by many things—life experiences, family, friends, things heard on the radio or read in a newspaper. Even an especially moving piece of music can seed a story within a writer’s soul.

As a mystery writer, I am often asked what motivates me to write the stories that I do. It is a complicated question that spans a lifetime as many variables have come together to produce the person that I am today. However, there were five incidents in my life that I can pinpoint and say—these are things I write about; these incidents have seeded many stories and grown many characters over the years.

  1. My grandfather’s death
    At nine years old you don’t give much thought to death. Not until it jumps out at you in broad daylight in the form of a dead body flopping at your mother’s feet. On that day, I saw Death clearly. In the beaten and battered body of a young woman whose corpse plopped at my mother’s feet when the police opened my grandfather’s garage door. The young woman had been leaning against, obviously struggling to claw her way free of the carbon monoxide poisoning that built up inside and stole her life.
    My grandfather sat in upright pose behind the wheel of his old, green Chevy, head flopped back against the leather seat. The police claimed it was a murder-suicide and laid the case to rest on the unoccupied passenger’s seat of my dead grandfather’s car, the car with a half a tank of gas and the engine shut off inside a concrete block garage with no entry save the big double doors that the police had to cut the heavy duty padlock off in order to open.
    Death frightened me as it would any nine year old; but what frightened me more was the police. How easily they wrote my grandfather’s life off. Being poor and living in our part of town didn’t rate much investigation when you died, however violently and under whatever suspicious circumstances.

  2. Alley rapist
    When I was in my late teens I lived in Columbus, Ohio. I’ve always enjoyed walking at night whether in the city or the country. That night I decided to take a shortcut through the alley on my way home to my apartment—I worked and lived on my own. Halfway down the alley, a man walked out of a ramshackle garage without its door, and around the tail end of the car parked there.
    But I had walked through this particular alley many times at all hours and had encountered others heading home from a late night out, just like me. I didn’t pay particular attention to this man. That is until he started past me going in the opposite direction. He suddenly grabbed my upper arm and jerked me close, pulling me off-balance both mentally and physically. His sour breath wafted in my face as he said, “Men are stronger than women and can take what they want.”
    In spite of a pounding heart, I narrowed my eyes at him. “Ain’t happening.”
    A fight ensued with arms and elbows and fists flying. I bounced back off the ground and faced my assailant, lip bleeding, breath heaving and wondering how the hell I was going to get out of this predictament.
    He lunged and something gleamed in the dim light of the street lamp as he slashed toward me. I threw up my arm. Something hot sliced through my hand. Blood well and dripped from my fingers to the gravelly ground.
    He would have followed up on his attack if a man hadn’t come out on a third floor balcony overlooking the alley and yelled, “What the fuck’s goin’ on down there?”
    My attacker looked from me to the man not that far above us, spun on his heel and just strolled away like nothing had happened. I staggered to the nearest lit house and banged on the door, smearing it with blood. An elderly woman let me in and tended my hand as we waited for the cops.
    I was treated to a third degree that had nothing to do with the attacker and everything to do with “what made me think I should be out walking around at night alone”.

  3. My Mother’s Abrupt Leaving
    In January, 1973, a few months before my twentieth birthday, my mother left work a little early, went home and ate a fried pork chop dinner. As she sipped her coffee after dinner, a migraine headache pounced her. No stranger to migraines, she went off to bed. Within an hour, she was being driven to the emergency room as the migraine engulfed her in agony. By the time, she arrived in the parking lot, she had already slipped into a coma.
    Four days later, my mother, having never regained consciousness, was dead.

  4. Johnny’s Temper
    Ever since I was fourteen, I wanted to travel to San Francisco, California. I finally arrived in that crazy city in the 1970s. At one point I lived in a building that had a coffee shop on the ground floor and rooms for rent on the second floor. It was a nice arrangement, and mostly all of us renting rooms and sharing the kitchen got along well, often planning and eating meals together.
    Unfortunately, a young white couple with a seven-year old son moved into one of the rooms. The couple was into heavy drugs. Now, we weren’t saints, but none of us thought shooting up was the best way to live life. However, we weren’t ones to sit in judgment, so we mostly ignored what this man and woman did. Oftentimes, the boy would be without food, so we took turns making sure he got fed at least a couple of times a day. At least, the kid was safe among us and that, somehow, made it easier to ignore his parents.
    That was until the day the kid’s father called one of the roomers a nigger. Johnny pulled his .38 and marched toward the man who stood swaying in his room’s doorway. As Johnny stormed toward the idiot, the man sneered and decided to dig his grave deeper. “Fuckin’ monkey don’t scare me. Bring it on, boy.”
    Personally, the way the man treated his kid, I couldn’t care less if Johnny blew him away, except the boy chose that moment to come to the doorway of their room. He stood wide-eyed as he watched the two men face off in the hall, just a couple of feet apart.
    Somehow my moronic feet raced down the hall and stepped between Johnny and his potential victim. “Hey, man, don’t blow him away here. The kid’s standing there, man.” I tipped my head toward the room’s doorway.
    “Get outta my way. I don’t take nobody callin’ me a nigger.”
    “Hey, man, if you want to kill him, fine, but not in front of his kid. Come on, man, I know you don’t want to fuck up a kid for life.”
    Johnny snarled, lunged past me and grabbed the man behind me. He dragged the sorry piece of human flesh down the hall, gun in one hand, a grip on the dirty tee shirt in the other hand. Meanwhile, I shooed the kid into my room and shut the door.
    Johnny flung the man down the stairs. The drugged out drunk rolled. When he hit bottom, he moaned, so I knew he wasn’t dead.
    Johnny stormed over to me, standing in front of my closed door. He shoved the muzzle of the .38 up under my chin. “I like you, but don’t ever get in front of my piece again.” With that said, he stomped up the hall and slammed into his room.

  5. The Fun Times of Being a Lesbian—not so much.
    –I returned to Seattle in 1989 and landed a job with a medical facility. A number of months into the job, when I insisted that my life partner needed the coverage afforded to married couples as I was working in a section of the facility with a high risk to carry home a contagion, I was told homosexual couples did not rate the coverage. Unable to afford the medical costs if I did drag a contagion home, I refused to work in that part of the facility. I was fired.
    –Capitol Hill in Seattle felt like a haven to me after having been in the Deep South–a place where my life partner and I could walk together without fear. Until the night that a woman was waylaid outside of a lesbian bar and three men began beating her with clubs. If the women inside the bar had not heard the commotion and rushed into the fight, the woman would have been beaten to death.
    –Being an out lesbian among one’s colleagues isn’t always easy or acceptable. I confronted a homophobe white male about making an inappropriate joke in the lunch room, by simply telling him that his joke was not funny.
    He brushed aside my concerns with, “It’s just a joke.”
    When I wouldn’t accept that excuse and insisted ‘just a joke’ or not, it wasn’t funny and it wasn’t appropriate, silence dropped among my lunchroom colleagues so hard it nearly gave me a concussion.
    The situation escalated to the point that my colleagues avoided me with the excuse that they didn’t want to take sides; and the management told me I was ‘half the problem’ until I threatened upper management with involving civil rights and LGBT organizations in the problem.
    The man was fired, but not for his homophobic and inappropriate behavior.
    I never felt ‘part of’ the team after that, and eventually left. I had learned a hard and painful lesson.
    rights-vs-fears

These scenarios continue to occur with frightening regularity. Poor people are murdered with little or no investigation launched into their deaths; rapists freely walk streets while women have to be ever-vigilant; loved ones die without warning; a person can suddenly wind up on the wrong side of violence; and civil rights for LGBTQ people sometimes seem like a far off dream to me.

Words have power, incredible power. With words we can destroy people or build up people; we can paint injustice with a whitewash brush or we can shine a stark light upon it. It is my hope that the words I write will encourage people to become better than they are; that my words will shine that stark light into very dark corners.

old-woman-gonekindle2

Old Woman Gone, A Special Crimes Team novel: Who would kidnap an 85-year-old witch?

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Some Things Need Said

First day of your life
As a writer, a lesbian, and a woman, it is time for me to say a few things. As those of you who have read my novels, visited my Facebook pages or even just read my blog know everything I write has the underlying motivation of empowering women and girls. I address those issues that affect women and girls on a daily basis.
With the elections looming closer every day, I find myself compelled to weigh in with what I have seen and heard and think. What many of you may not realize is that simply being an out lesbian has cost me an education, my home, everything that I had worked for years to acquire. I have been fired for being a lesbian. I have endured harassment on my job for being a lesbian. And, I know without a doubt, if Trump is elected I will lose more. I will once again live in an environment where violence against those who are different is either ignored or in some cases actually encouraged.

I am not the only lesbian to have lost things and people that matter to us simply for the crime of being a lesbian. I have known women who have lost their children. In the repressive and violent environment that Trump would encourage as president–has already encouraged through his campaign of hate–all of the civil rights gains that we have made will be negated. It is for that, as well as for many other reasons, that I am compelled to speak out.

I have heard people say they might abstain from casting a vote because they like neither candidate. Rest assured that NO DECISION is a DECISION BY DEFAULT. Others say they will vote for a party that has no standing in this current election. That is the same as making NO DECISION–you are making a decision for a major political candidate by deciding on that action. When you do cast your vote, I want you to remember those people you know–those people are lesbian, gay, those people who are female, those people who are Muslim or some other minority religion, those people who are of a different race or ethnic background than you. Ask yourself: what will my vote mean for them as well as for me? Will it bring about peace? Will my vote count for securing civil rights for ALL Americans? Or only for the privileged few?

Trump has made it abundantly clear that he considers anyone who is not white, male, heterosexual, and Christian to be inferior. He has made statements that make it clear that he does not believe anyone different than himself deserves to have their rights, and their well-being, protected.

YET, when we look at the natural world we can see one grand truth:
diversity (2)

If you are a woman, or if you have a daughter, mother, aunt, sister or wife, here is what Trump thinks about women. To one reporter’s question do you consider women to be human beings, Trump’s response was: I would have to consider that on a case-by-case basis. Some people might try to excuse this statement by saying he was only joking, but such a statement is not a joking matter, especially for a candidate for the highest office of our country.

He has threatened multiple times to deport millions of people and has led the American people to wrongfully assume that such deportation of “illegal aliens” would help the economy and provide more jobs. In reality, the jobs that illegal immigrants hold are the meanest, the lowest paid, and the hardest jobs such as migrant workers in the fields. There are plenty of those jobs for the asking; all you have to do is apply. What such deportation will mean to our economy is that farmers, especially the larger farmers who depend on migrant, and yes on illegal immigrants, will lose crops due to a lack of workers. Though I do not approve of such exploitation of illegal immigrants, the fact remains that they a necessary labor pool. Deportation will inevitably harm our economy. (Much moreso than say meeting the basic needs of those workers!)

He wants to ban people of a specific religion from immigrating to our country. Yet, this nation was founded by men and women seeking to avoid religious persecution. Remember, not all sects or practices of Christianity were tolerated in the Old World.

Even forgetting the beginnings of the United States, let’s examine refugee impact on one American city, St. Louis, Missouri. During the Bosnia war, thousands of refugees fled their homeland and some of them came to America. Over twenty-two thousand of those refugees who came to America landed eventually in St. Louis. At the time, St. Louis was a “dying city”.

The results of the flux of Bosnia immigrants into St. Louis, according to a 2012 Saint Louis University paper titled “The Economic Impact of Immigration in St. Louis” resurrected that city. (Please note that the immigrants they are speaking of were mostly Muslims)

They (the refugees) revitalized parts of South St. Louis City and South St. Louis County by moving into older neighborhoods, opening businesses and rehabbing housing. Bosnians opened many thriving small businesses including bakeries, butcher shops, coffee shops, construction and heating and cooling companies, insurance companies and a truck-driving institute, and continue to be a key source of high skilled production work. To read the entire article go to: http://fusion.net/story/238682/the-miracle-of-little-bosnia/

According to Trump poor people are poor because they are genetically coded not to succeed; they are doomed to remain poor for the rest of their lives. This statement came from a man that some people would vote into the presidency because they believe he is a good businessman. Good business people know that hard work and determination frequently overrides the circumstances under which a successful person is born.

While I am on the subject of Trump’s so-called business acumen–Trump has bankrupted a number of his own companies. (And some folks want him to run the business of our country?!) One interesting business deal which he instigated was with the Scottish government. He promised the Scottish government that he would build and run a golf resort in Scotland that would employ 600 people, yet the resort foundered. At no time did he employ more than 300 people on that project and even that was temporary. He blamed his own failure on the fact that the Scottish government refused to FORCE a citizen of Scotland to sell his property to Trump. When Trump sued the Scottish government, they allowed the suit and subsequently, Trump, of course, lost the suit.

He has proposed building a wall between Mexico and the United States. Drugs come through tunnels (some of the best engineered tunnels in the world, by the way) to the United States more often than across the border. What makes him think that illegal immigrants would not also come through those tunnels if he builds a wall? A costly wall. A wall that mimics the futile wall that once divided Germany. Surely, the Berlin Wall is not so far in the past that we have forgotten it.

He has shown blatant disrespect toward women. Such disrespect of the more than half of our population does not bode well for women’s rights and freedoms.

And, he’s lied about charitable giving. According to the Washington Post, there’s no record of Trump donating any of his own money to charity in the last five years.
“Not a single one of those donations was actually a personal gift of Trump’s own money,” the Post reported. “Many of the gifts that Trump cited to prove his generosity were free rounds of golf, given away by his courses for charity auctions and raffles.”
Specifically, Trump listed nearly 3,000 rounds of golf as charitable gifts, even though some of the golf passes were given to his business clients and wealthy celebrities. As the Post explained, the donations list “reveals how Trump has demonstrated less of the soaring, world-changing ambitions in his philanthropy than many other billionaires. Instead, his giving appears narrowly tied to his business and, now, his political interests. Read the entire article at: http://www.salon.com/2016/04/16/the_charity_double_standard_partner/

Everyone can undoubtedly agree that the First Lady is an important asset to the president. Every president that we have had, so far, has proven that to be true. The First Ladies are nearly as well known and are definitely judged by the world community. With this in mind, what do you think the impression of our nation will be if we have a First Lady who plagiarized another First Lady’s speech? Trump’s wife did just that. She plagiarized the speech of First Lady Michelle Obama. Such a move indicates two things: she could not think on her own and she had very poor advice from her advisers. First Ladies have a delicate and important job to do for our country. They need to be widely read, intelligent, perceptive, and able to think on their own. (And that is just a few of the attributes they must have)

Trump’s campaign has been based on divisive, racist, misogynistic and plain hateful rhetoric to the point that England debated whether or not to allow him into their country.

For the past months I have heard many negative things said or written about Hilliary Clinton. What is not so widely known and spoken about are the many good works she has performed out of the glow of the limelight. I learned about some of those endeavors from a video on this site: https://www.facebook.com/TheDaily.BuzzOnline/videos/1062989120456530/ I learned that Hilliary has championed women and girls worldwide from Northern Ireland to North Thailand to Senegal to the United States. She was the driving force behind the passage of laws against human trafficking. And all of this from a woman who as a little girl once wrote to NASA and said she wanted to be an astronaut. NASA’s reply was: girls can not become astronauts.

For years, Republicans have used taxpayer money—thousands upon thousands of dollars—in a witch hunt against Hilliary Clinton. After wasting all of that money—money that could have been better used for the American people—they FAILED to prove any wrongdoing by Hilliary.

Even the latest so-called scandal that claimed she had sent classified information over unsecured email servers has been proven false. She did not send classified information over unsecured servers. Likewise, she was cleared of any wrongdoing in the Benghazi affair.

People who value family should rally to Hilliary Clinton. In spite of everything, she stuck with her husband when many women, myself included, would have felt she was justified in leaving him. Hilliary has proven her commitment to family.

Whether you like Hilliary or not, if you are a woman or an LGBT person, or if you care about the civil rights of ALL Americans, be aware that during the upcoming presidential term three Supreme Court justices will be appointed. This will greatly impact the civil liberties of ALL Americans! For women, for those who have children, for minority people, for lesbian and gay couples, and for all LGBT people, this should be an enormous consideration before voting.

Change (2)
Will you be an agent for positive change?

ChooseToBe

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Things That Go BOOM!

Lieutenant Chris Knurr took on the scary (nearly as scary as disarming bombs!)task of teaching a roomful of writers about things that go boom.
Here is the brave individual! Chris Knurr Bomb Squad WPA
I’m not real sure that he should have told us about Macgyver bombs, though. Those are things of which nightmares are made. These little explosive devices are also called acid bombs or bottle bombs. And, they are one of the scariest bombs out there. Why? Not because they are the most destructive–not even close. What’s so scary is that these highly unstable and unpredictable bombs can be made from readily available supplies found in many homes! Chris showed us a short video clip of one young man who put the chemicals for the bomb in a plastic bottle and then shook the bottle. The bomb exploded in his hand. Though these are not even close to the most destructive explosives, they can still maim and kill.

Sometimes, I get so wrapped up in thinking about the explosives used to create bombs–things like dynamite and C-4–that I, like many others, are unaware of the danger present in those small or long, thin devices called detonators. Chris passed a non-el or shock tube around so that everyone in the room was holding it and then he set it off. It was startling with a small zap, but if it had been part of a bomb it would have been used to initiate a detonator or blasting cap.(please note: things in bold are corrections made to original post per information from Lieutenant Knurr. Thank you, Lieutenant Knurr, for passing along these clarifications! You rock!)

Det cord is a high explosive wrapped in a plastic coating, needing a detonator or blasting cap to initiate it. When it is set off by a blasting cap, it sends a detonating wave to other blasting caps or explosive charges. This cord is commonly used to connect explosives together.

After that fairly benign demo of a shock tube, he passed around inert blasting caps—little metal tubes not more than a couple of inches long and smaller in diameter than my little finger. Though they look harmless, they are small, sensitive primary explosive–woe be to those who forget this part of the description–devices used to detonate a larger, more powerful and less sensitive secondary explosive such as TNT, dynamite or plastic explosives.

One man did forget the description of blasting caps. Chris showed us a photo of what was left of the man’s face after he bit down on a live blasting cap. We could just about make out his eyes above the ruin of his face. Nose, lips, mouth, cheeks, and chin were gone. Blood was streaming down the red mass that had been his face. It was nothing short of a miracle that the man survived.

Since I am writing a thriller where homemade explosives play a significant part, I was especially interested in the part of the lecture dealing with ANFO, or bombs made from ammonium nitrate and fuel oil. Several thousand pounds of a slightly different formulation of this type of explosive–ANNM which is ammonium nitrate with nitro methane fuel–was packed in the vehicle that Timothy McVeigh parked in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19,1995. He lit a two minute fuse and when the explosion occurred it killed 168 people, including 19 children and injured another 684 others.

Two of the most popular, homemade high explosives currently seem to be TATP and HMTD, both hydrogen peroxide based. Chemicals to make these bombs are fairly common. Unfortunately for law enforcement, the labs producing these high explosives may appear to be meth labs since TATP is a white crystal and HMTD is a white powder. These explosives are unstable.

Chris’ lecture covered many other types of explosives as well as such topics as what defines the ‘explosive train’, but those things would require a lot longer post and much more skill to explain than I have to make it as understandable as Chris did for us. (Just because I could understand it, doesn’t mean I can explain it! Chris is a talented teacher and an accomplished expert in all things that go BOOM!)

There were some things that really snagged my attention, though.

  1. I had no idea that a suitcase full of firecrackers, if set on fire, could blow up a full size car!
  2. Car bombs in a downtown area is a bomb squad’s nightmare.
  3. It is way too easy to buy the ingredients to create a bomb! Scary!
  4. There are 2700 civilian bomb techs trained by the FBI.
  5. A “dirty bomb” is not one that needs a bath; it is an explosive that has radioactive material on it.
  6. Grenades, and high explosives, create pressure waves/shock waves that go through a body. This, in turn, creates fluid waves (we are mostly water) that shred the inside of the body. This is what kills.
  7. The bomb suit—Explosive Ordnance Disposal suit (EOD)–weighs over 80 pounds and someone has to wear it! It is hard to move in it and is very hot! (I tried on the helmet and the coat part. Do you remember what it felt like when you were a little kid and your mom bundled you up for cold weather and you could barely move? Yup, a lot like that.)The helmet weighs about 8 to 10 pouunds. The bomb suit, in order to maximize dexterity and mobility, has no gloves. This leaves hands and forearms exposed to danger.
    Aya bomb coat WPA
    (This photo is used courtesy of Tom Middleton)

EOD technicians wear the suit during reconnaissance, when trying to ‘render safe’, or disruption procedures on potential or confirmed explosive devices. These suits protect the wearer from fragmentation, blast overpressure, thermal and tertiary effects should the device explode. An interesting note: technicians back away from explosive devices not because they are “afraid” of the bomb, but because most of the protection resides in the front plate of the suit.
Tom in bomb suit WPA
Tom Middleton models the EOD suit next to the robot used by the bomb squad.

Though I have only been able to grasp a mere fraction of the information he conveyed, Chris gave me something more valuable even than knowledge of explosives; he gave me a better understanding of the dangers faced from international and homegrown terrorists who have easy access to the information and ingredients to create explosive devices; and he gave me a better understanding of the pressures the people of a bomb squad face as they work to protect the public.

Aya Bomb Squad helmet WPA

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#2016WPA A World of Mayhem and Murder

WPA—a world of murder, arson, guns and explosives! A place where at the next corner you’ll be faced with a man lying on the floor in a pool of his own blood; his brains oozing out of his eye socket, bits of brain matter flung across the floor.

This was the world in which I immersed myself for four days.

Writer’s Police Academy utilized the facilities of the Northeast Wisconsin Technical College where real cops, EMS, and fire fighters train. The first night of WPA, we were treated to a chance to interrogate police officers about the equipment they use—everything from guns, rifles, battering rams, (let me tell you—that battering ram was heavvvvy!) SWAT shields and vehicles. They went through the procedure for forced entry by SWAT.

Throughout our classes at WPA, our instructors were cops, fire fighters, arson investigators, ballistics experts, and emergency medical experts. John Flannery taught my first class, Blood Spatter, (spatter; not splatter!)
John Flannery WPA

Dry book learning was not on the menu at WPA. A homicide scene greeted us as we walked into John’s class. A bullet hole in the window, blood spatter on the wall behind the couch, the body of a male—late twenties—lying in a pool of blood, brain matter coming out of one eye socket, the skull and clumps scattered on the floor.
WPA Blood Spatter Victim

We were the officers investigating the homicide. What clues did we see? Who did we suspect was the assailant? Why was there a bloody handprint on the bookcase? Did the victim make it after being shot through the eye? Didn’t people immediately die from such a gunshot wound? Did the jar with marijuana have anything to do with the murder? Why was there a revolver close to the victim and a shell casing from a 9 mm off to one side? Did either have anything to do with the murder?

Those were the obvious clues as we first encountered the scene. Other clues slowly came to our attention under John’s careful guidance, as did the possible meaning of each clue as it pertained to the crime. Blood spatter behind the couch linked to the bloody handprint on the bookcase. The victim had been shot through the eye as seen by the blood spatter behind the couch. (No brains oozing out yet) Holding his bleeding head, he had staggered across the room, placing his bloody hand on the bookcase to stay upright, then eventually falling to the floor where we then saw his body. He was not dead at this point—contrary to what a person might think knowing about the grievous head wound.

Blood spatter WPA
Someone had entered or had been present in the apartment when the victim fell. That person had then proceeded to kill the victim. This person’s presence became clear from the blood spatter on the ceiling above the victim’s body and the spatter on the wall to the right of the victim’s body. The spatter on the ceiling created four dotted lines of blood. This pattern was also seen on the wall to the right. We learned that this was cast off blood—blood flung from the instrument itself– blood streaks made when a blunt instrument is drawn back to hit the victim again.

The assailant had used a blunt instrument to beat the victim once he had fallen to the floor. The beating was the cause of death, even though the head shot may have killed him eventually. What kind of instrument was used to beat the victim? Was it still in the apartment?

A pool cue was used to beat the victim. The blood had been carelessly wiped off, leaving a pale pink stain at the pointed end of the stick. The felt tip was responsible for the blood droplets on the floor, the droplets that were fairly round with just a faint tail. This let us know that the assailant, after beating the victim to death, had walked away from the body with the end of the cue pointed down toward the floor. The diameter and shape of the blood droplets told us that.
Blood droplets from weapon being carried

A bloody footprint indicated that someone, perhaps the assailant, had stepped in the victim’s blood. The shoe print had a pointed toe, was small—like maybe a size five or six—and had a definite heel which was square—like a woman’s pump.
WPA Shoe print in blood

After examination it was revealed that the victim had shot through the window at someone or something outside of his apartment. This accounted for the bullet hole in the window and the revolver close to the victim.

We still had the 9 mm shell casing which indicated that a 9 mm had been used inside of the apartment to shoot the victim. His assailant had then, after the victim fell, proceeded to viciously beat him in the face and head with the pointed end of the pool cue. This beating resulted in the brain oozing out of the eye socket and the caved-in look of the right side of the victim’s head. Further investigation revealed a woman’s driver’s license tossed or fallen in the trash can in the living room where the victim lay. The beating was vicious and had continued far beyond just immobilizing or killing the victim warranted. It demonstrated that this crime had been committed with passion; it was personal. We concluded that we should look at the victim’s girlfriend, wife, lover, and exes.

Though this murder had been a scenario set up by John, he also showed and explained real crime scene photos which were horrendous. The first crime scene photo was of a woman in a cabin. The woman’s body had been found crumpled between the wall and the bed. From blood stains on the bed it was obvious the woman had been resting or sleeping when the attack began. She next fell or rolled out of bed in an attempt to elude her attacker. She was standing when the attacker hit her with a sharp instrument in the head. Blood smeared down the wall as she crumpled to the floor.

The assailant continued his attack after the woman was on the floor. One of the wounds was a hacked open thigh which left the muscles gaping with blood pooled in the wound. The pooled blood indicated that the wound had been made perimortem. The heart had stopped pumping before the blood drained over the edge of the deep wound. The assailant had also removed the woman’s left hand—post mortem fortunately for the victim–and it was found next to the wall. The viciousness of the attack indicated that it had been personal.

This led the investigation to the woman’s estranged husband. The estranged husband had followed the woman to the cabin, waited until their children had gone down to the beach, and then entered and attacked the sleeping woman. The severed hand was the hand with the wedding band still on it.

Unfortunately, the couple’s young children found their mother when they returned from the beach.

In the second set of crime scene photos, a mother and her child had been killed in their home; their throats slit. John was sensitive to the fact that the death of the infant might be troubling to some people. He announced that in the coming photos that an infant had been killed and if anyone wanted to leave for this part, it was perfectly all right and they could return after this particular crime scene had been examined. A few people who had small children at home did leave for this part of our session.

John then walked the class through the crime scene photos, explaining what the blood on the woman’s arms meant—she had grabbed at her slit throat in a vain attempt to save her own life. Next we explored the baby’s photos. On the side of the child’s face, there was blood—which went with the slit throat—but there was also a clean space called a void where no blood had run. This indicated that the child had been sleeping with his head turned to the right side when his throat had been slit, but at some time after that—perimortem which means at or close to the time of death–the child had turned his head until his face pointed upward. The void occurred because when the blood was running, the turn of the head placed a small part of that cheek against some object that the blood ran around—the bed was most obviously the object. The child, before dying, had turned his head to where his face looked up and then he died.

The assailant, who turned out to be the estranged husband and father, claimed that though he confessed to the crimes that his sentence should be mitigated because he killed his wife and son with humane means that resulted in instant death and that they did not suffer—ie: a slit throat.

The woman’s bloody arms and the void on the child’s cheek proved that both victims had struggled after their throats were slit and therefore had not died instantly.

The Blood Spatter class was packed with information and this short blog post cannot give it justice. Suffice it to say that I learned a ton of stuff! John was one of the best instructors I have ever encountered. If you want to read about John’s extensive credentials go to http://www.writerspoliceacademy.com/john-flannery/

Sisters in Crime was one of the sponsors for the #WritersPoliceAcademy. To learn more about #SistersInCrime go to http://www.sistersincrime.org/

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Hashtags

manydroplets
As an author, my work is motivated by passion. I care deeply about every novel that I have written. I feel strongly that I have a gift that must not be wasted.
Journey you make
Consequently, while my work entertains, it also tackles some difficult subjects. This can, of course, be more easily seen in my literary and mystery novels, but it even occurs in my vampire trilogy and my YA novel, Black Wind.
(http://www.amazon.com/Aya-Walksfar/e/B00CMVAKKK)

What does that have to do with hashtags? Hashtags highlight an important point in a subject so that it is more searchable on the internet and, therefore, can be more easily located by readers. There is a hashtag that sums up the major motivation behind all of my work: #WomensLivesMatter

As I was thinking about that hashtag and how it relates to my writing, I began to realize that there is a second hashtag that is every bit as important: #LGBTQLivesMatter

It is only recently that I began considering what hashtags relate to my writing. It was the advent of the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter–coupled with the insistence of writing coaches that hashtags are important to authors–that finally helped me realize how important hashtags really are in this web-connected world. I began considering what the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter meant to me. The longer I thought about this hashtag, the more similarities I discovered between the occurrences that birthed that particular hashtag and the events that motivated my work. Let me start at the beginning.

I write to entertain, but I also write to empower women. Why do women need to be empowered?

Women grow up knowing that we are never safe: not on the street, not on college campuses, not in high schools; and not even in their churches. We realize that we face potential violence toward us whenever we do those ordinary things such as riding the subway, walking down the street, having a drink in a bar; and even in our own homes in bed asleep.
We are at risk for being beaten, raped, and murdered simply because we are women. The least dangerous thing that happens to us is being verbally harassed, but even that can turn deadly in the blink of an eye.

We are not safe from teachers, preachers, strangers, friends, lovers, or even family members from the time we are small children. And, all too frequently, we are not safe from the very ones society has placed in power over us; and policemen are all too likely to be a part of the problem, right down to actually beating, raping and murdering us.
There is simply no telling when or from where the attacks might come.

This situation has gone on for so long and has been so prevalent in our society that it has become normalized. Girls are warned about what they must do to lessen the risk of being attacked: don’t provoke them, don’t talk back, go along with whatever they are asking of you, don’t complain, be careful of what you wear, watch out for how you present yourself including how you walk, don’t go to certain places, never be alone as there is some safety in numbers sometimes, and if you are attacked, don’t fight back because they might kill you.
Of course, none of those things really work because the woman is not the perpetrator of the crime against them. We are the victim.

In order to break this cycle of victimization, the situations need to be brought to light. We cannot overcome that which we cannot name.

Just as women have experienced this level of potential violence all of our lives–consciously or subconsciously–black Americans also experience this level of violence. Simply take out the word woman and insert the word black in the above descriptions. And, as it is with women, it is with black Americans: they are warned not to provoke their attackers, to be careful where they go and when they go, to watch what they wear, and so on. Yet, as it is with women, it is with black Americans—there is nothing they can do to prevent those attacks upon them because they are not the perpetrators; they are the victims.

Women must measure the potential threat from all males in all situations. For black Americans, law enforcement officers have become a large, and very visible, part of the problem of violence against them.

A problem that is named is a problem more likely to be fought and overcome. Because the violence against black Americans has been coming, increasingly, from law enforcement officers, it has become important to name the issue: the issue is the casual and deadly violence with which police officers are confronting black Americans. Hence the need for a hashtag that refutes the police officers’ casual use of deadly force: #BlackLivesMatter

The more I considered the violence against women, the more I realized how the violence against black Americans contains strong similarities.

  1. Both situations occur with such regularity that they have become “normalized” and therefore, a nearly invisible part of society.
  2. Victim blaming occurs in both situations.
  3. These situations are not going to improve until certain conditions are met.

The conditions needed to resolve both situations are very simple, yet quite difficult to put into place. Think of these conditions as an arc, or an arch, beneath which justice and safety lie for all citizens.

A. Accountability: the perpetrators must be held to strict standards of accountability to the victim and to society.
B. Responsibility: the perpetrators must be given the absolute personal responsibility for their own actions against the victim, regardless of such irrelevant issues as what the victim was wearing, how the victim spoke, and so on.
C. Consequences: the perpetrators must face serious consequences that truly fit the crime they committed. For example, murder should result in very long prison terms, at the least, and should most often result in life in prison since the victim’s life has been cut short. Rapists should not be free to rape again and again and again.

Currently, perpetrators are not held accountable for the damage to people’s lives, and for the deaths they cause. They are not forced to stand responsible for their own actions. Excuses are presented to explain their behavior which then mitigates their personal responsibility; things like what the victim wore, how the victim spoke to them, why was the victim walking alone on the street at that hour (because they have a right to be there?), why was the victim standing on that corner.

In the case of law enforcement officers, there is the additional responsibility they assume when they begin wearing a uniform: they assume the responsibility to de-escalate situations so that the least amount of violence occurs.

And the perpetrators all too often do not face consequences commiserate with their actions. Rapists are given hand slaps and set free even when found guilty (after all who would think of ‘ruining’ a young man’s life when he is such a great athlete, regardless of the fact that he negatively impacted a woman’s entire life?) Law enforcement officers walk away from killings with a few weeks administrative leave and a bogus investigation into their crimes.

Our country does not face the greatest threat from outside terrorists. The greatest, most grave threat to our nation is the threat of home grown terrorists be they maniacs hiding behind religion or murderers hiding behind badges.

A good friend of mine, who also happens to be a very intelligent woman, pointed out that many people seem to demand that every Muslim who is not a terrorist should apologize for and condemn every terrorist who murders in the name of the Muslim religion while at the same time we do not hold police officers to that standard of behavior. For some reason, we don’t demand that all police officers apologize for and condemn every terrorist who hides behind the blue line and a badge.

Muslim civilians are not responsible for what others who claim that religion do. It would be like saying that all white Christians be held responsible for the actions of the Ku Klux Klan and the Westboro Church! However, when police officers take the oath to serve and to protect, they are accepting the responsibility to protect civilians against all threats, even if that threat comes from one of their own. Even moreso if that threat originates from one of their own.

It is time to demand that our police officers live up to that responsibility, or find new vocations. If there is a bad cop out there who pulls a gun on a civilian in a situation that does not call for that measure of violence, then it is up to the good cops to stop that cop before he murders a civilian; before he rapes a woman; before he beats up a queer.

To those entrusted with great power, rests great responsibility.

Yes, all lives do matter and that includes the lives of police officers. There are police officers—wonderful people who uphold the law and whom I greatly admire; people I am honored to call my friends—and I fear for their safety out there on the mean streets; however, until certain groups are no longer targeted, we must keep bringing to the public awareness that these groups are being targeted: women, LGBTQ people, and black Americans.

#BlackLivesMatter #WomensLivesMatter #LGBTQLivesMatter

As grave as these matters are, I am an eternal optimist. In every novel I write, the good/the light within people always triumphs. I believe our country will overcome this dark night and the sun of a beautiful day will one day shine upon all of us.
NoMatterHowLong

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5 Rules for Juggling Life

5 Rules for Juggling Life
1. When you wake up, decide on your attitude for the day. Sometimes, we all have days when we wake up on the wrong side of the bed. Maybe we had unpleasant dreams or ate the wrong kind of food for dinner; whatever the reason, we are irritable. Such irritation sets the tone for the day. If you allow it to continue, it will taint all that you attempt to do. Take a few minutes, grab a cup of tea or coffee and look out your window at the magnificent day! Even if a cold wind is blowing and rain is slashing down, it is still a glorious day. You have these hours of life ahead of you. This moment, right now, is the beginning of the rest of your life!
what moment waterfalls imagequote
2. No matter how positive we determine to be, sometimes life happens. Sadness invades our hearts; perhaps a friend dies or a senseless act of violence rips through the community. You feel impotent, angry, lost. Reach out to someone and ask for help in dealing with such events, whether those events are personal or more widespread. We all need help sometimes.
IAmHappy
3. Prioritize your day. No day is ever long enough to accomplish everything we want to get done. If we fail to prioritize, we spin our wheels leaping from one emergency to another and getting nothing completely done. By the end of the day, we are exhausted and feel as if we’ve failed. Don’t do this to yourself! Sit down with that cup of tea or coffee, take out a piece of paper and a pen. Make a list of everything you want to do then go back through it and number it. The “have to get done” thing is number 1. Number 10 or higher is reserved for those things that will inevitably wind up on tomorrow’s list.Remember, to get where you are going, you have to know which roads you need to take and in what order.
no distance too far
4. Be sure to leave time for loved ones; take time to say I love you. Take time to hug that special someone. Life is not guaranteed to any of us. This moment is all that we own. I think of those poor relatives of the Orlando victims—their loved ones will never return home; there will never be another day, or even another hour, in which to tell them they are loved; they are valued.
loveisagift
5. Make time for yourself. If you don’t allow yourself time to heal, to regenerate, you will eventually have nothing to give to anyone else. You are one of Creator’s children, too, and you are worthy of care; of love, both from others and from yourself.
creator's child

Per Rule 1: I realize that it is easier to expound on “rules for juggling life” and all of its many demands than it is to actually put these things into practice. I have found that if I take time for a cup of tea in the mornings, before I begin my day, then it is easier to keep a positive attitude. There are times that translates into getting out of bed a few minutes earlier. In my experience, such measures are well worth the reward.
Per Rule 2: This past week has been rough; emotions swing wildly as the full impact of the massacre in Orlando, Florida becomes devastatingly apparent. As a lesbian, I have faced violence before, but the pure hatefulness–such as the protesters at the #Orlando funerals–that has come to light staggers me, heart, mind and soul. Then love will shine through the darkness and my emotions swing back the other way. Trying to maintain a positive and/or productive attitude in the midst of this tragedy, has been challenging. There have been times I have had to simply shut down any input from outside to give myself a breather to regroup. I have talked about this attack to friends and that has helped to a certain degree. I have turned to my pagan beliefs and that, too, has helped as my spirituality always does. And, I have written. Writing has always been the staff that steadies me against the greatest of storms.
Per Rule 3: I have a easy-to-carry-with-me calendar. I write down everything in the calendar from stopping at the store to doctors’ appointments to what I need to do for my writing. Then I break those things down farther, such as writing becomes write one chapter in new WIP (work in progress), respond to three readers’ questions, contact beta readers about newest novel, and so on. Not only does it help me not to forget important steps I need to take, but it is satisfying to run a line through each item that I accomplish.
Per Rule 4: The people and dogs that I love recharge me. When I hug my wife, I am energized. I feel as if I can climb Mount Everest. Throwing a ball for my dog or taking one of them for a walk or simply cuddling one of them on the couch, centers and refreshes me. I usually don’t set aside a large amount of time all at once, except for things my wife and I have planned, but instead I take fifteen minutes here and there. Those minutes help me to clear my mind so that when I return to my work, I often find the solution to the problem that had previously had me stumped.
Per Rule 5: I must admit–I am not very good at this one. I find it difficult to take the time I need for myself. For example, my occupational therapist says I have to do certain exercises throughout the day, but when evening arrives I often find that I have not performed those exercises. Literally scheduling in time for such things on my calendar goes a long way toward achieving my self-care goals whether that goal is exercise, a long soak in the tub, vegging out with a book, or taking time to make a greenie Smoothie for myself instead of eating a Danish roll.

These five “rules” help me to #ManageStress and accomplish more.

What rules do you have for juggling your life? I would love to hear. Please, share.

ANNOUNCEMENTS:
1. Arundia Returns, Book 2, the Vampire War, will be released July 8, 2016. I am offering a FREE pdf of Artemis’ Warriors to anyone who would like to do a review of Artemis’ Warriors, Book 1, the Vampire War. Simply drop me an email at ayawalksfar@gmail.com In the subject line put: Reviewer’s Free Copy Artemis’ Warriors. This offer is only good until July 7th.
2. Death by Dog, #SpecialCrimesTeam, goes ON SAle for $0.99 from July 1 through July 9.
3. Are you a member of Audible? FREE #Audible download codes for Sketch of a Murder, Special Crimes Team; Street Harvest, Special Crimes Team; and, Old Woman Gone, Special Crimes Team, in exchange for a review on Audible and/or Amazon. Simply email me at ayawalksfar@gmail.com In the subject line put: Free Audible download code In the body of the email, please specify which book you would like to have.

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