I hope you're having a great start to the New Year! I was fortunate to have Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and New Year's Day off work, which rarely happens. Despite catching the stomach flu, it’s been a great start to the year.
I am not a big fan of New Year’s Resolutions. In fact, I tend to make my annual reassessments around my birthday rather than the First of January…after all, birthdays are technically our personal New Year, right?
Looking back, 2017 was a pretty shit year for me having lost my dog and best friend. So I am happy for the fresh start feeling of 2018. That said, one really positive thing I discovered in 2017 is still going strong for me. Actually it is two concepts working together:
1.) The power of mini-goal momentum
2.) Turning your goals into systems
So really, my noteworthy 2017 discovery is: The momentum of mini-goal-systems.
Eighty-three days ago, I took on the challenge of completing one-mile-a-day for an entire year through a friend’s Facebook group. It doesn’t matter if I run the mile on a treadmill or walk the mile in the neighborhood. I started the challenge by running or walking immediately after work. I am obviously not limited to only one mile per day, but the point is that I have to get one little mile done every day. If I’m walking leisurely, that’s just 18 minutes out of my day. It’s a mini-goal, something simple and quick. Yet in the last 83 days, I’ve logged 102 miles. Prior to this challenge, I might have gone out for a two or three mile hike per week with the best of intentions to do more, but not making the time.
This has led to the realization that implementing the system of getting the small task done every day breeds consistency, momentum, and a volume of work that felt easy to accomplish. The friend that launched the mile-a-day challenge is a fitness coach, and she said she’s never seen such a high percentage of people remain active in a fitness group. It's easier to stay on the bandwagon when the commitment is miniature. There is definitely something to the idea of committing to mini-goals that you can easily achieve daily.
In mid-December, I started reading The Miracle Morning for Writers* (free for Kindle Unlimited members.) Around the same time, I was listening to the StoryGrid Podcast and Tim Grahl offhandedly said "make systems not goals." That little comment really struck a chord with me.
I rescheduled my daily mile (often two miles) for 5am. I then implemented another mini-goal-system, one for writing my book. I write every morning as soon as I get back from my mile, usually from 6am to 7, before getting ready for work. According to Scrivener, I average 837 words per day which is done solely during the 6 to 7am hour. I am on track to complete my 60k word first draft by mid-March.
So while I am still sticking to my No New Year’s Resolutions resolution, I highly encourage you to create mini-goal-systems for anything you want to accomplish.
We all want to lose weight, get in better shape, and write more. What other mini-goals can you implement this year? Let me know in the Facebook Group or by replying to this email. I’d love to hear from you.
Now on to this week's curated content:
Originally published on November 10, 2017 at http://dickiefloydnovels.com
Reposted with permission.
It was July 9, 2002, and the Southern California sun had driven the mercury to three-digits by 10:00 a.m. Being outdoors was bad enough, wearing a suit made it worse. Recovering a murdered baby from the recycling center was nearly unbearable. It was another day working Homicide.
I shed the coat, unbuttoned and rolled up my sleeves, loosened my tie and looked across the parking lot beyond the chain link fence to the mountains of debris. It would be a long day.
An employee sorting trash had made the discovery when the pungent smell of rotting flesh gagged him. He assumed it to be a dog or cat, but then he saw the arm.
He called for the lines to be shut down, pulled the bag from the conveyor, and notified a supervisor. But before the belts stopped, the trash near the remains had moved beyond his workstation and dropped into an enormous pile below. Finding evidence would now be near impossible.
My partner and I were joined by a coroner’s investigator. We donned latex gloves and went to work, sifting trash into the evening hours. We hoped to find something that would lead us to the origin of the trash. A place where a would-be mother held a dark secret.
With literally tons of trash to sort and search, there was no way to pinpoint a geographical area from where the trash had come. We were finding addresses from every region of the vast county and beyond.
We pulled log sheets and saw there were dozens of companies with trucks that had delivered trash during the previous twenty-four hours. The geographical boundaries were nearly non-existent, stretching to the outskirts of a hundred-mile radius. It became clear we were not going to determine from where the baby came through this search.
Our only hope would be the media. We issued a plea to the public for information. If anyone knew anything, we needed them to call. We included information about the Safely Surrendered Baby Law, which states there are no questions asked of any parent or grandparent who leaves an unwanted baby at a fire station or hospital within 72 hours of birth. It was a plea of sorts, maybe a public service announcement, a message to the frightened and confused.
We never received a single phone call.
The next day, my fortieth birthday, I attended the postmortem examination of the infant’s remains, where it was determined she died within hours of birth and took at least one breath. Which means she wasn’t stillborn; this was a case of murder. Mode of death: homicide. Manner of death: suffocation.
As the autopsy concluded, I stood inches from the cold, stainless steel table, staring at her delicate little body. It occurred to me how few of us are cursed with the knowledge of these horrific incidents of violence against children. I thought of the man who, day after day, silently sifts through the waste of others for minimum wage, and I wondered how the discovery of Baby Doe affected him. I was accustomed to death, and it did a number on me.
I thought about my fortieth birthday, something that to some is a big deal. To me, the day meant nothing, and the thought of a celebration repulsed me. I’d purposely put in a long day so there would be nothing planned. Maybe I’d have a drink later, but it wouldn’t be a celebratory one.
There is a place in Riverside County, California, where abandoned and otherwise forgotten children are given a name, a memorial service, and a final resting place. Created in 1996 by Debi Faris, who was inspired by the story of a murdered, unnamed child, it is now the final resting place for more than a hundred discarded souls. It is appropriately called the Garden of Angels.
Believing these little ones were called to heaven as angels is the only way I can make sense of their tragic deaths. May they rest in peace.
Happy Holidays! I hope you are getting some time off for the holidays and you use it to actually relax. It will be the start of a New Year (and the resolutions and goals that come with it) soon enough, so give yourself a break in the meantime.
I know this can be a trying time of year for many, so remember to take care of yourself. If you are hosting family members, remember: It isn’t selfish to carve out alone-time. Make time to write and read. This will help you enjoy the time you do get to spend together with family.
My wife and I will be spending our Christmas down in San Diego. Both of our families are spread all across the globe this holiday, so we’re renting a condo at the beach for a Christmas that will hopefully resemble a Corona “Feliz Navidad” commercial. Are you traveling anywhere special this holiday? Be sure to bring a notebook or have a writing app handy on your phone to document your travel. You never know when travel notes will become useful story research!
For my NaNo'ers, I hope you all conquered your National Novel Writing Month goal!
I am really stoked at how active the WRITERSDETECTIVE Q&A forum on Facebook has been lately. The Q&A Forum is a year round venue for you to post questions, not just during NaNoWriMo. I have corrected the pinned post at the top of the forum that suggested it was only for NaNoWriMo. Terri Swann, one of my earliest and dearest supporters of writersdetective.com, created this awesome spreadsheet of resources for crime writers. Much of the list is compiled from links mentioned in previous APB emails and Terri added some of her own research resources as well. It's awesome having all of these research links in one place and grouped by category. Thank you, Terri!!!!
This week in the WRITERSDETECTIVE Q&A forum on Facebook had some great questions and discussion that I wanted to expand upon:
We all obviously understand that the goal of your investigator (likely your protagonist) is to find the truth of the matter: what exactly occurred (determine the crimes), who was responsible (who to arrest and prosecute), why it happened (motive), etc.
HOW a Detective goes about that is by forming a timeline of what happened, based on the totality of the knowledge at hand. This means every interview, every piece of evidence discovered and analyzed, the data dumps from cell phone search warrants, the time stamp on video surveillance, -all of it- is plotted on a giant time line. I mean this literally.
We have a "war-room" (a conference room with a lockable door) in our Detective Bureau that we use during active homicide investigations, where a time-line is drawn on a white-board. (There is also a task-list that shows what task each detective has been assigned and whether it's been completed.) As new facts are discovered, they are plotted on the timeline board for everyone working the case to see at a glance. Obviously, this dry-erase board drawing isn't the formal document - all of that is done via the written word in dozens or even hundreds of reports and a Crime Analyst will likely create a formal visualization of the timeline as a document. But you get the idea.
That timeline often starts with the first 9-1-1 call that notified us of the crime. My goal, as a Detective, is to fill that timeline in. By doing so, it will paint the full picture of the crime and not only point to who is responsible, it will also show alibi factors for other suspects/conspirators/accessories/witnesses at a glance. It will also help us spot inconsistencies in stories quickly.
I'd suggest Authors try working this process BACKWARD. Since you're the omnicient storyteller (sorry, Pantsers...this may be tough if you can't stand planning out your stories), I'd start with creating the entire timeline of the events leading up to the crime, the commission of the crime, and then what happens after the crime in chronological order. This is all reference material for you to use as you create the story. Your story, most likely, won't start at the beginning of your Omnicient Timeline. It will probably start with the inciting incident of either the commission of the crime, or the discovery of the crime. From there, your story will be about the order in which the earlier bits of the timeline are discovered by the Detective.
Does the Coroner/ME provide a time of death window? Plot it on the time-line. When was the victim last seen alive? Plot it. When was the last phone call made by the victim? Plot it. When was the last ATM/Credit Card use by the victim? Plot it. Sooner or later, the window of unknowns on the timeline starts to narrow...allowing your Detectives to gain some insight into where the case is heading.
Obviously, take this advice with a grain of salt...being as I have not been in your chair as the author (tip of the hat in respect, BTW). However, I hope some explanation of how real investigations happen may help you form your own way of having characters discover the clues/events in your own story.
Not to induce any panic, but we are nearly halfway through NaNoWriMo! Even if you aren't participating in National Novel Writing Month, you are welcome to get your crime fiction writing questions answered in our WRITERSDETECTIVE Q&A group on Facebook. We had a record number of folks join us last week! Come join us if you haven't already.
November 5, 2017
I want to start by thanking those of you that offered such kind words of encouragement and understanding during my bereavement hiatus from the APB emails. I apologize for not replying to your emails...I was overwhelmed by how many thoughtful messages I received, but please know that I appreciate you greatly and that helped immensely. I have been overwhelmed by how kind, caring, and understanding my followers are. Thank you!!!
Now, I am happy to announce that I am ready to get back to our regularly scheduled programming...and just in time for NaNoWriMo! I hope the time change allowed you to sneak an extra hour of writing time in, even if you aren't participating in National Novel Writing Month.
Good luck hitting your NaNoWriMo word counts and remember that any questions you have can be posted in the WRITERSDETECTIVE Q&A group on Facebook...even if you aren't a NaNo'er. It's a very supportive group and I try to answer your questions as quickly as I can.
October 3, 2017
Thank you for continuing to open my emails, even though it's been awhile.
I buried my best friend today. He was only 46.
Last month, I lost my uncle.
A few weeks before that, my beloved 12-year old German Shepherd passed away peacefully with his head resting on my foot.
The month before that, my Mentor died in a car wreck.
Right now, I am grieving.
But I will get through this. I will be back to publishing my weekly APBs soon.
Thank you for your understanding and support. In the meantime, keep writing and do not hesitate to email me with any crime-writing questions you think I can help you with.
Write well and love one another,
June 17, 2017
First, thanks to those of you that offered your condolences regarding my mentor passing away. I really appreciate your kind thoughts. It's another reminder that whatever time we get is luck and we should all tell our loved ones how we feel...often.
I will be traveling through various parts of England and Scotland in the upcoming weeks. If you want to keep tabs on what I'm up to, follow me on Instagram: @writersdetctive (DISCLAIMER: It is entirely possible the photos will be nothing but the pubs, ales, and wee drams of whisky I find. So no promises that the photos will be any good. ;)
June 12, 2017
It's been a rough weekend. One of my mentors died in a car crash this weekend. He was incredibly sharp and an A-Type through-and-through. He always demanded the best work out of his detectives, but he also made sure we had fun on and off duty. I blame him for my love of Rum & Cokes. Regrettably, we lost touch after his retirement a few years ago. Rest in Peace.
If there is one writing-related thing I can share about this, its the way cops have a tendency to detach using an out-of-sight-out-of-mind coping mechanism. It's not that we don't care or that we aren't thinking about our former Brothers and Sisters in Blue; we just spend our emotional effort on those that we are working with (and watching the backs of) currently. We are also notoriously bad at acknowledging and dealing with negative emotions, other than to lock them away for another day.
It starts at the beginning. When a Recruit is fired from the Police Academy, the Academy Class does not get to say goodbye. The Recruit is called to the office and that's the last you see or hear of the Recruit. When the class comes back into the classroom after PT or a defensive tactics course, the fired Recruit's belongings are gone and his name placard has been removed from his seat and pinned upside down to the wall at the back of the classroom (along with the name placards of other former classmates.)
The lesson is clear: You're either in or out. The work still goes on.
That persists through the rest of a cop's career. There is a saying "SWAT-OR-NOT." Many officers will be part of a SWAT team at some point in their career. SWAT is for the young and motivated. Which means there are a ton of former-SWAT operators full of "When I was on the Team..." war stories. SWAT-or-NOT means if you aren't on the team now, you aren't SWAT anymore (so shut it.) In or out.
So when an officer retires from the Department, it can feel like going through an amicable divorce. Sure, we all say we'll still be friends and keep in touch...but only your closest friends will actually follow through. It's a weird and sad phenomena. So if your characters are "ex-cops" that have turned into a P.I., expect that they may be forgotten rather quickly no matter how awesome they were. In or out.
June 6, 2017
May 27, 2017
May 21, 2017
May 14, 2017
May 6, 2017
April 29, 2017
April 25, 2017
April 15, 2017
March 25, 2017
March 18, 2017
March 11, 2017
March 4, 2017
One gem I pulled from this episode was, "Perfectionism leads to procrastination, which leads to paralysis." [16:35] Sound familiar? Yeah...me too.
You can find the show notes (including discussion topics by timeline mark) for Whitney's "Return of the Money Shot" episode at tim.blog, grab the podcast on itunes, or stream it directly using these links.
February 25, 2017
February 18, 2017
[*Some links may be affiliate links, where I might earn money if you click and then purchase anything. Any affiliate links are marked with an asterisk like this: *, so you can decide whether I get any money from your sale. I won't provide any affiliate links for products I haven't used or don't really believe in.]
As you create the bureaucratic world your police characters will work within, it’s worth paying attention to the names of their larger agencies and the smaller investigative units within. The terms used to describe each group often indicates their size, purpose, responsibilities, and level within the larger agency.
The term Department usually denotes the parent organization. The U.S. Department of Justice, the New York Police Department, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department are all examples of this. The term Office may be used as a synonym for Department, especially when the head of that organizational group holds a publicly elected Office. A Sheriff is an elected official, and it is somewhat common to refer to a Sheriff’s Department as a Sheriff’s Office.
Bureaus and Divisions are often large subdivisions within a Department. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is a bureau within the US Department of Justice. The Criminal Investigations Division may be a division within a Police Department.
At the Federal level, the terms Bureau, Agency, Administration and Service usually indicate an individual agency within a Department. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the U.S. Secret Service, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are all individual agencies within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Bureau of Prisons, and the U.S. Marshals Service are agencies within the U.S. Department of Justice.
[SPELLING ALERT: There is only one letter “L” in United States Marshals Service.]
Some State and Local police agencies create their own hierarchy where a Division is comprised of several Bureaus. Examples could be a Criminal Investigations Division having Forensic Bureau; a Patrol Division having bureaus defined by geography, such as Central Bureau or Valley Bureau; a Special Operations Division having a Narcotics Bureau.
The smallest investigative subdivisions are most often called Units or Teams. A Detective assigned to work sexual assault cases might work in a unit called Special Victims Unit. The SVU may be one of a handful of units within a Major Crimes Bureau. The Major Crimes Bureau would likely be one of several bureaus within a Criminal Investigations Division. Similarly, a Narcotics Detective may work on a Narcotics Street Team, within a Narcotics Bureau, in the Special Investigations Division, for the Sheriff’s Office.
Artistic license grants you the ability to dream up any name you desire for these organizational subdivisions. Being aware that the terms department, division, bureau, unit, and team are not necessarily synonyms may be a subtle way to add realism to your work. Understanding these delineations between groups may help you add conflict or explain why certain characters are (or are not) privy to pertinent information that will drive your plot forward.
What Departments and Units are your characters working in? Let me know in the comments below.
I am the featured guest on this week's Self-Publishing Podcast - Episode 230. The awesome folks at Sterling and Stone put together stellar content each week and I highly recommend subscribing to all of their podcasts. Well, except Worst. Show. Ever. It's the worst. Which is why I love listening to it. I also want to extend a huge thank you to Christine Niles for making SPP230 happen.
You can download or stream SPP230 from iTunes.
Alternatively, you can download it directly from Sterling and Stone at: http://sterlingandstone.net
If you want to actually watch the recording of the podcast, you can check it out on YouTube.
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