Monday, November 30, 2009

Men of Mystery

A week ago Saturday I had the opportunity to participate in the Men of Mystery Conference in Irvine, California which brought together approximately 50 male mystery authors and some 500 fans for a day of fun, discussions on mysteries and schmoozing. Each of the authors gave a one minute pitch and over lunch we each had a chance to speak with people at our tables. Key note speakers included Tim Dorsey and Michael Connelly. Tim, the master of off-the-wall humor and psychotic characters, described how at a presentation he gave one time, everyone in the room was laughing at his jokes except for a small group of people who never even smiled. Afterwards he approached one of them and asked about this. The response: “We’re psychologists. We came to observe you.” Michael Connolly’s advice to writers: “Write every day even if only fifteen minutes.” I met a lot of great people and reacquainted myself with a classmate from graduate school at UCLA from forty years ago. Dick Holt is a thriller writer and neither of us knew the other was now writing. He has a woman protagonist in her eighties and we joked about getting his character, Jan Richter, together with my octogenarian protagonist, Paul Jacobson. Joan Hansen ran a great conference, and coming to Southern California gave me and my wife an excuse to visit with two of our kids and our granddaughter.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Hostage Negotiations

Last week I had an opportunity to participate as a role-player in a negotiation training program conducted by the FBI at our local police department. Police officers had spent several days in class learning how to deal with hostage and other treat situations. In my scenario I was a marine who had returned from two tours of duty in Iraq, discovered my girlfriend having an affair with my best friend, shot and killed my best friend, was holding my girlfriend hostage and threatening to kill her and myself. A police team arrives on the scene and starts negotiating with me from outside a room where I’m holding the hostage. Their goal is to keep me engaged for an hour and not killing anyone while the tactical SWAT team deploys. In their training they were taught to use effective pauses, paraphrase, use “I” statements, provide minimal encouragers through emotional labeling, open-ended questions, summarizing, and reflecting/mirroring what I said. During the day the other role-player and I ran through the scenario for four different groups, each time varying the situation slightly. The first time I demanded a helicopter. Thereafter I asked for a four-wheel drive vehicle so I could go off my myself to Montana. Twice I set a time limit, saying I would kill my hostage if they didn't get the car within forty-five minutes. I mixed ranting, swearing and shouting with going silent. One time I got mad at the negotiator and demanded to speak to someone else. I also demanded a pizza. The negotiation team consisted of a lead negotiator, a coach who fed ideas to the lead and a supporting team who wrote down what was happening and contributed ideas on what to say. In our room where I held the hostage we also had an observer who gave us ideas on how to make the role-playing as realistic as possible for the negotiation team. The biggest problem in this situation is keeping the suspect engaged without him going nonlinear. The negotiator had to constantly respond to my demands by saying that they were working on it, because they could not give in to my wanting a vehicle to escape. One of the instructors had been involved in a real situation where a man with a bomb strapped to his chest entered a local hospital and threatened to blow up himself and the hospital. She negotiated with him for six hours before he ultimately tried to move farther into the hospital and was taken out by a SWAT sniper. She had been the officer first called to the scene and worked to keep the bomber calm, engaged and not going over the edge. Fortunately, she had received negotiator training and kept the deranged man under control until the SWAT team deployed. By the end of the day playing the role of someone with post traumatic stress syndrome who had been betrayed, I was exhausted, had lost my voice and felt emotionally drained. It also gave me a keen appreciation of what our police officers go through to protect the public.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Jane Doe

One of the long time mysteries in Boulder, Colorado, was recently partially solved. In 1954 the body of a murdered young woman was discovered in Boulder Canyon. She was buried in Columbia Cemetery with a gravestone marking her as , “Jane Doe.” The Boulder County Sheriff’s Department reopened this cold case and local author Silvia Pettum raised funds to exhume Jane Doe’s body. DNA extracted from a tooth and facial reconstruction led to clues, but for a number of years no match could be made with missing women from 1954. One likely candidate recently turned out to have been living in Australia. Then with the fortunate circumstance of a niece of another missing woman contacting Silvia through information found on her website, DNA was matched to a family member and after 55 years Jane Doe was identified as Dorothy Gay Howard. Detective Steve Ainsworth identified a suspect for the murder as Harvey Glatman. Glatman killed several other young woman, was living in Denver at the time of the Jane Doe murder but was executed in California in 1959 so there is no way to confirm the suspicions. Silvia recently published a book titled, “Someone’s Daughter” that recounts the work to track down Jane Doe. Quite a story.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Create Our Future

Yesterday I attended the Create Our Future celebration in Boulder County, Colorado. Create Our Future is a strategic planning initiative to create a vibrant community where we all age well. We brainstormed on ideas of what we needed by the time we reached eighty-five to be able to stay in our community. This included proposals for easy access to transportation, assistance to be able to stay in our homes and opportunities to be involved in the community. The keynote speech given by a Colorado state representative described how a study has shown that the largest factor in reducing hospital readmissions is for patients to be involved in their own follow up care. I had attended a lecture earlier in the week on Alzheimer’s Disease. The recommendations to help reduce the onset and effects of dementia included physical exercise, mental exercise, good diet, sleeping well, socializing and reducing stress. As we age, the more we can contribute to our own good health and stay active and involved, the better chance we have to create a personal future that remains positive.