Saturday, July 26, 2008

Author Loses Forty Years and Two Fingers

If you’re in your sixties like me, how’d you like to lose forty years in exchange for two fingers? I had this opportunity in a simulated way, when I participated in a SWAT team active shooter scenario yesterday. Here’s the setup: a man walks into a hospital emergency room, upset in thinking that his wife (a nurse) is having an affair with a doctor. He goes berserk and starts shooting people. I’m playing the part of a twenty-two year old emergency room technician and get shot, losing the fourth and fifth digits of my right hand. Blood (Halloween special) is all over my hand and I sit there in simulated pain, while the SWAT team bursts into the emergency room with weapons drawn and take down the shooter. Then the hospital staff shifts into gear to triage the wounded and take us off for treatment. This was all an exercise to train the SWAT team on how to handle a hospital active shooter event and to train the hospital staff in dealing with a major crisis.

Several interesting things happened. There was only one shooter, but in the heat of the battle, word accidently was communicated that there were two shooters. Once the shooter was down, the SWAT team then went room to room to try to find the second shooter (who didn’t exist). I was sitting on the floor watching this. They neglected to check a restroom where a victim was locked in. If there had been a shooter in there instead, it would have been a real problem (this was discussed in the debriefing afterwards). The major lesson learned by all parties was the need for better communications. The scenario had the head nurse in the emergency room being shot, and there was confusion after that about who was in control there. Then emergency phones didn’t work within the hospital, and there was miscommunication between the SWAT command post outside the hospital and the hospital staff. During the event an amber alert for the emergency room was issued over the loudspeakers in the hospital, meaning no one was to enter the emergency room. Needless to say, several hospital staff members came moseying in while the shooter was still “alive.” Fortunately, this being a simulated event, these problems now are being addressed. As a “victim,” it took half an hour before my wound was assessed. I was classified yellow while the red victims were carted off to surgery. Since I could walk, I was led to a room in the day surgery area with other yellow-classified victims, where hospital staff came to treat us and determine when we could go to surgery if required. After another half hour I was led to a room but the staff there was confused about what to do with me. (Another opportunity for improved communication). Overall, the SWAT team and the hospital staff operated in a very professional fashion and now know where to work the kinks out of their various communication systems. After the debriefing one of the other victims told me that he had started acting obnoxious, been taken off for a psychiatric evaluation and then given a meal to calm him down. With my “two missing fingers” I never was given anything to eat. Afterwards I scrubbed the fake blood off, my fingers magically reappeared and I was happy to be my age again, thank you.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Author Goes Undercover

Last Friday I had an opportunity to spend most of the day with a detective. I experienced a typical workday that included paperwork and investigative activity. From this episode I can share my perspective on some of the characteristics that make a good detective:
1. A good judge of human nature – Understanding what motivates people, how they operate, how to get information from them and how to follow up with them.
2. Excellent analytical skills – There is a lot of analysis both of computer-based information, interviews and in-person encounters.
3. Intelligence – Knowing how to approach problems, having the mental tools to tackle a difficult situation and the ability to uncover alternative possibilities.
4. Multitasking – A linear person could not survive in this environment. The detective I worked with had 29 cases on his backlog and these have to be worked concurrently with constant switching of tasks as priorities change. These ranged from a cold case murder in 1954 to two escaped fugitives that he had received information on that morning.
5. Sense of humor – You’d go nuts being around murderers, fugitives and the problems in society being dealt with unless you can laugh at yourself and the situation.
6. Good communication skills – The ability to ask the right question, listen to the answer, keep someone engaged and write clearly. He also spoke Spanish which helped in one interview.
7. Ability to turn off the job at home – We talked about this while driving to track down a work release fugitive. He was a dedicated family man and although his family knew what he did and he told them about what he was working on, he had learned to be present when on family time.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

One Writing Approach

As I’ve met other writers, the one thing I’ve learned about writing approaches is that everyone is different. I’m a morning person and like to write early in the day. While I had a full time job, I came across The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Julia describes a concept called “morning pages” which entails writing three handwritten pages first thing every morning. This is a way to jump start your creative juices. These morning pages can be anything: a shopping list, your journal, or whatever you choose to write. I used this technique to write three pages of whatever novel I was writing at the time. I’d review where I left off the day before and then write the next three pages before going to work. That evening when I got home from my day job, I’d enter them into the computer, doing an editing job along the way. The three handwritten pages became two typed pages. If you stick with this technique and do the math, in 150 days you’ll have the rough draft for a 300 page novel.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

What I'm Writing Now

So what am I writing right now? I’m trying something different—a juvenile mystery. I’m using a character from my published novel, Retirement Homes Are Murder—my protagonist Paul Jacobson’s granddaughter, Jennifer. So Jennifer now is the protagonist in her own juvenile mystery. She is twelve years old and sets up a detective agency at the end of the summer before going into seventh grade. I have been reading juvenile mysteries and adapting my writing to a different audience—eight to twelve year olds. Other recent writing projects have included a geezer-lit thriller titled Reset, with a tag line of “Saving the world between naps,” and a mainstream novel based on the company that was the Enron of the 1980s.