Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tuesdays Tidbits with Kari: Featuring author Fran Stewart

Oyyy, Kari is STILL on deadline! Seriously....be careful what you wish for, folks! However, this blog post by Fran is as fabulous as anything I could have come up with. So once again, enjoy folks!!

I’m Gonna Hafta Censor Myself

Last May I graduated, along with fourteen other people, from the Gwinnett County Citizens Police Academy. It was a very big deal, with a color guard, speeches by the Police Chief and an Assistant Chief, a certificate ceremony, and—here’s where the problem comes in—a speech from a “class representative.” Guess who’d been elected to do that role?

Halfway through the nine-week course (two nights a week from 6:00 to 9:00), we were told that we’d need to choose someone to speak for the group. I got roped into it. They figured I was a writer, so I could write a speech. And I agreed to do it. Me and my big mouth.

Each of the seventeen classes featured a particular aspect of police work. Terrorism, Vehicle Pullovers, DUI, Crash Investigation, Homicide, K9, Explosives, SWAT, Crime Scene, and so on. One evening, as we waited to get into the 911 Communications Center for a tour, we decided that the speech ought to roast each and every one of our instructors, and we started throwing out one-liners about funny things that happened in each class. I took notes, took it all home, and started inventing a framework for the speech.

The Public Information Officer who taught our third session had told us that he constantly had to vigilant to be sure that what he said or wrote couldn’t be twisted by the people he communicated with. I should have listened harder to his advice.

I gleefully pulled together a funny speech about why there were only fifteen surviving members of the class, when we had started out with “forty-seven” people. Then I proceeded to regale the crowd with tales of blackmailing the officer who did our background checks, making bombs during the explosives class, running down various class members as we practiced vehicle pullovers.

One by one, as I mentioned each class, I told how we lost one member this Tuesday, five members that Thursday, three the next week. In the class on Crime Prevention, for instance, the instructor truly did tell us that if everyone would trim their tree branches up to seven feet and their shrubbery down to three feet, it would make it much harder for a burglar to hide. So I wrote in my speech that the officer had handed out chain saws so we could practice this new skill, but it was too much for one woman, and she never returned to class. We did understand, however, that the hospital had managed to sew her arm back on without too much trouble.

When it came to describing the Firearms Class, I said that because of budget restrictions, there weren’t any paper targets, so they lined us all up instead. Luckily the corporal couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, so we were perfectly safe, but five members took off running and haven’t been heard from since. The only reason I felt I could say such drivel was that the corporal who demonstrated the firearms training was an expert marksman, a fact well-known by everyone attending the graduation.

You’d think that with such whacky examples, the reporter who covered the event would have disbelieved every statement I made. But no, he wrote—I read it in the newspaper as I ate breakfast the next morning—that the newly graduated class had started with 47 members, but only 15 graduated, clearly implying that it was a difficult course indeed. “It’s not for the faint of heart,” he said.

I’m afraid my silly exaggeration about how the Citizens Police Academy killed, maimed, or scared off thirty-two people, turned into a public disservice. The truth was, the class was a total joy. There were, naturally, some difficult topics and some gruesome videos, but those of us who went through this training now have a clear idea of what police officers contend with every single day. The instructors were all more than willing to answer every single question we had—and we asked a lot of questions. All fifteen of us who were at the first class graduated together and most of us went on to rain for the Search and Rescue Team.

If you have a chance to sign up for a Citizen Police Academy or Fire Academy, I’d urge you to do so. The information is valuable indeed. As Debra Ivey, one of the class members, said (and this part the reporter did get right) “I thought it would scare me more, that I’d be afraid to leave my house because of all the gory stuff we saw. But I feel safer because of all the things I know go on behind the scenes.”

And what on earth does this have to do with writing? Well, aside from the obvious—I write mysteries in which my main character is married to the town cop, so I did sign up for the Citizens Police Academy hoping to use some of the information in my books, and if you take a citizens training class, you also might glean some worthwhile material for your books, essays, stories, or even poems.

But I came out of the experience with so much more than I expected. I now know how to use a chain saw, how to act like a paper target, and how I need to WATCH MY WORDS when there’s a reporter around.

Fran writes her Biscuit McKee mystery series (starring Biscuit, a librarian, and Marmalade, the library cat) at her home beside a creek on the backside of Hog Mountain, Georgia. She shares that home with various rescued cats and donates a portion of all her book sales to the humane society and to libraries.

Fran was recently appointed to the position of Publications Chair for the National League of American Pen Women. Her latest book, FROM THE TIP OF MY PEN: A WORKBOOK FOR WRITERS, from which this blog entry was taken, is now available through her website http://www.franstewart.com


Kari Lee Townsend said...

Thanks again for being with us Fran! What great information you've given us. Your journey sounds really exciting.

So come on, folks, pony up with those questions.

tonya kappes said...

Thanks for all the information Fran. There have been some women look into the Citizens Academy here, AND they let you ride along with the police officer. I agree that there's nothing like research you can get involved in.

Fran Stewart said...

Tonya, I agree that hands-on research is the best kind. the funny thing is that, though I had planned to take the course as research, I found as I went through it that it became much more than that.

I now have a true appreciation for what police officers are up against. I doubt I'll use much of the info in my cozy mysteries, but I figure I'm a better citizen for having learned all that I did.

Anita Clenney said...

I would never have thought of taking a class like this, but what a great experience it would be. Not only to be able to write police procedures more accurately, but to know what goes into our day to day security. Great post.

Fran Stewart said...

Thank you, Anita.

I'm planing on taking the citizens firefighters academy next year, too. I'd encourage you to check around with your town or county organizations and see what you can find.

During the police academy, we did watch some grisley videos and, of course, saw a lot of crime scene photos, but the attitude of the officers showing us these things was that they would look at whatever was necessary in order to solve the crime.

Liz Lipperman said...

Fran, thanks for blogging with us today at M & M. A lot of my chaptermates have taken this course and loved it as you did. I keep trying to get my name in, but I never seem to get it done. You have given me the push I need to call my local police department and see if they will write me in.

Your books sound intriguing, also. I can't wait to check them out.

Cassy Pickard said...

Fran! This is great. I read your post with excitement. I have thought of taking a course like that, but just haven't made the time. We have a gun range near us. My husband and daughter wanted to check it out one Sunday morning. They entered to find a large table surrounded by men eating pancakes. One approached them, welcomed them, and then asked if they wanted to guess how many concealed weapons he had on himself at that moment. It has made me want to take a course like yours even more.

Fran Stewart said...

Good for you, Liz. I'm sure you'll get a great deal out of the class.

I'm headed off to an appointment with my chiropractor now, but I'll check back in as soon as I get back

Mary Martinez said...

Thanks Fran for joining us. What a great fun story. Thank you for sharing.

Fran Stewart said...

Cassie, what a great story about the guys toting concelaed weapons.

That reminds me of one of the classses -- a student asked the instructor what he thought about citizens toting guns.

His response: if someone tries to rob a bank and I'm the only armed person in there (besides the bad guy, my chances aren't too great. But if he knew before he went in to rob the bank, that 90% of the customers would be armed, do you think he'd even try the robbery in the first place.

Hmm . . . made me wonder.

Cassy Pickard said...

Fran: If you had to pick one or two main things you learned in the course that advanced your writing, what would they be?

Fran Stewart said...

Cassy, thanks for asking about the main points that would help in my writing.

I found myself listening to the unspoken undercurrents as the officers talked about their worked and answered our questions. I remember one evening when someone thanked the officer, saying, "You've been so responsive and so helpful." His response was, "I wish you'd tell that to my wife."

Again and again, unless an officer was married to either a police officer or a firefighter, I got the feeling that their work separated them from their families. Their anguish came through, not so much in what they said, but in what they didn't say. In a mystery, that lack of connection to family might infringe on the protag's efficiency. My protag (Biscuit McKee, a librarian) has a good relationship with her husband (the town cop), but I can see that from now on I'm going to be more careful to show those points at which he cannot share his day with her.

I'm not saying that every cop has family problems. I'm just saying that it looks like a cop would have to work hard to keep up a marriage to a non-cop.

The firearms training class opened my eyes a great deal, when I looked at some of the paper targets that people hit (or didn't hit). Gwinnett County Georgia has a comprehensive training program, and all their officers are required to pass a proficiency test on a regular basis throughout their career. If I were writing a police procedural, I'd have my cop heading for the shooting range on a regular basis. Their lives often depend on their accuracy and their quick reflexes. I think I've been too cavalier about guns in my books so far.

Let me think a while -- I may have some more to add later.

Lindsay said...

Attending the class sounds like a great learning experience both as a citizen but also as an author. Wish my town had the classes.

Fran Stewart said...

Lindsay, your town might not have classes, but if you could at least contact your police chief and express an interest, a seed might start to grow.

If you want info about how your town could reach the Gwinnett County person who handles the classes, just to see what's incolved, contact me myownship@earthlink.net, and I'll try to get some helpful info to you.

Of you could move to Georgia . . .

Lindsay said...

Thanks for the help and advise. Moving to Georgia. Hum, let me see. It's an option.

Cassy Pickard said...

Fran: This is truly helpful. Thanks. As for the tension between husband and wife (or partners if not married) in a job like the police or firefighters, I've thought about this a fair amount. Not those exact professions, but ones that require energy beyond the expected.

I'm married to someone who travels extensively and works 12-16 hour days when he isn't traveling. I used to make dinner at 1 am just to hear about his day. If you don't grab it in the moment, it's gone by tomorrow. I suspect there is some of that in the police and fire department. "Right now I might be able to tell you, don't ask tomorrow." The flip side is, he often comes home and asks for me to tell him a good story, something funny or interesting--just nothing about his day.

I feel for those families who try to keep it all together. It's not easy. Especially with some of the images that must play over and over in one's mind.

Again, Fran, thanks.

Cassy Pickard said...

Lindsay: You better check with Kebi before you start packing your bags for Georgia.

Lindsay said...

Cassy, he'd love to go. When I mentioned to him that we might move there he jumped on the computer and was checking out a few Georgia Peach collies on line. So I think he'd like it.

Fran Stewart said...

Yes. The difficulty of communication sometimes depends on work hours, which is certainly the case in a police department where officers are pretty much on-call all the time. The SWAT team members, for instance.

But I think that even more than the long uneven hours would be the wish of the officer to protect his or her loved ones from the gruesome aspects of the job. It's pretty hard to carry on light conversation, though, when one has just seen mutilated corpses.

On the lighter side, though, at the last class (which covered the K9 Unit activities) I volunteered to get into one of those Michelin Man outfits and get attacked by a police dog. Thank goodness I used the restroom first, or I think I would have messed myself. My last thought before he latched onto my arm was "WHAT HAVE I GOTTEN MYSELF INTO???

I ended up face down on the ground. But - would I do it again? Probably. As long as I have a padded suit on.

Hopefully, I gave the officers something light and bright to tell their families that evening.