Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Writing Success

I send a virtual toast to my friend and co-Deadly Daughter Elizabeth Zelvin, whose short story "Death Will Clean Your Closet" has been nominated for an Agatha Award. Liz's novel Death Will Get You Sober comes out next month, and I'll be interviewing her on Monday.

Congratulations, Liz!

It's these bits of good news that encourage us all to try to write our best. Enjoy some champagne, and then keep writing!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Crime Writer Sean Chercover on Baseball Season, Dramatic Heights and High Dudgeon

Sean, your first novel, Big City, Bad Blood, has been very well-received. What’s been the biggest learning experience as a result of your promotion of the book?
I’ve been extremely fortunate and I’m grateful for the response the book has gotten from reviewers and readers. It’s been a heady experience and, believe me, I know how lucky I am.

What have I learned about promotion? I’ve learned that touring is much better if you can do it with a friend, that booksellers and librarians are the nicest people in the world, and that the vast majority of people who attend bookstore and library events would rather have a conversation with an author than listen to an author read. I’ve also learned that, at every event, there will be one certifiably insane person in the audience.

That's kind of scary. I’m curious about the name of your protagonist, Ray Dudgeon. In my world (the world of teaching Shakespeare), a dudgeon refers to a holder for a dagger, as in Macbeth’s famous speech: “I see thee still, and on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood.” Am I raving here, or were you inspired by Shakespeare in choosing the name?
Shakespeare rocks, and the Scottish play is right up there with Hamlet for me. Ray had a number of names along the way, before I settled on Dudgeon. I like surnames that have independent meanings as words. Some of my favorite classic PIs have names that do double duty by describing the character. Spade, Archer, Hammer. And for some reason I wanted a two-syllable word that started with D. I was flipping through the dictionary, and I hit upon dudgeon. As a fan of the bard, I was familiar the meaning that Shakespeare used – the handle of a dagger – which seemed to fit with Ray’s underlying rage and the violent world he inhabits. And the modern usage of the word also fits. Ray was once a reporter, but he quit journalism when he couldn’t come to terms with the ethical compromises that were being forced upon him. You could say, he left “in high dudgeon.” So I was actually inspired by the dictionary, but the Shakespeare connection was a nice bonus.

What’s Big City, Bad Blood about?

It’s about 300 pages.

That’s not what you meant? Oh, it’s about greed and political corruption and sexual blackmail and murder. You know, all the good things in life.

You were once a private investigator. Did you enjoy the experience?
There were many things about the job that I enjoyed, but even more things that I didn’t. I’m very glad to have done it, and just as glad to not be doing it anymore.

I’ll bet you have a million P.I. stories—what’s one that sticks with you now that time has passed?
I have a few, but to do them justice takes more than a few paragraphs. Actually, the Ray Dudgeon story in the Killer Year anthology (edited by the great Lee Child) is based on a real case I had. The first two-thirds of it, anyway. The rest is completely made up. Real life doesn’t often reach the dramatic heights demanded by fiction.

After you graduated from high school, you worked for an underwater documentary series called The Last Frontier. Is there a lot to document underwater?
Hell, yeah. The ocean is the source of all life on our planet. It is the planet’s womb. Unfortunately, we’re working pretty hard to destroy it. In addition to the ecosystem, there are also all the human relics – shipwrecks and aircraft and so on – which are frozen in time and offer a fascinating perspective on history.

Working on that series was a great joy. Traveling from the Arctic to the Caribbean, diving with whales and sharks and dolphins, living on boats. It didn’t suck.

It sounds amazing.

You have a second Ray Dudgeon novel coming out this year called Trigger City. Are you writing a third?

I’m very excited about Trigger City, and right now I’m in the planning stages for the book tour and promotional effort for that one. I’ve been making notes for a third, but I haven’t started writing it yet.

What are you reading these days?
I just finished Gas City by Loren Estleman, and I’m now reading Bleeding Kansas by Sara Paretsky. Great books, both.

You say on your website that you have a “clever dog and an unusual cat.” What makes the dog clever and the cat unusual?
The cat turns up her nose at shrimp and won’t drink milk, but loves chocolate cake and ginger ale. That’s unusual, for a cat.

As for the dog – I hate to admit this in public but the dog is actually my co-writer. I mean, I write the first drafts on my own, but he polishes my prose before it goes off to my editor. I’d say that’s pretty clever, for a dog.

I wonder if I could trade in my dog for the prose-polishing kind?

You have done a variety of jobs in your life, which is of course the best past for a writer. Once you wrote for a children’s television show called Once Upon a Hamster. Is it challenging to write for children?

It came pretty naturally for me. The narrative structure doesn’t change when writing for children. Sure, the characters I wrote about were hamsters and guinea pigs and turtles and frogs, but that doesn’t really change anything. I think it’s a mistake to try to write differently for children. A lot of children’s shows are condescending as hell, and that bugs me. Kids are smart.

You’ve lived in Toronto, Louisville (Georgia), New Orleans, Columbia (South Carolina), and Chicago. Do you have a favorite place? When you’re in Chicago, do you miss some of the other cities?
Chicago is my favorite place. I hate winter and miss the warm weather of the temperate zone, but other than that, Chicago’s got everything I could want in a city. I love it.

Do you write full time?

Do you write non-mystery fiction?
Depends on your definition of mystery. There’s a lot of hair-splitting with all the sub-genres. Mystery vs. Thriller vs. Suspense vs. Noir, and all that jazz. I like the term “crime fiction”, which they use in the UK and which encompasses all the subgenres.

Anyway, I write a kind of noirish mystery-thriller hybrid. Or something like that.

What are you most looking forward to in 2008?
I’m looking forward to the paperback release of Big City, Bad Blood (Feb 26) and the hardcover release of Trigger City in the summer. I’m looking forward to Bouchercon. I’m looking forward to warmer weather, baseball season, and taking my son to his first Cubs game.

Ah, Wrigley Field in spring!

How can readers find out more about Sean Chercover and his Ray Dudgeon mysteries?

My website is always open for business and has a lot of fun stuff on it, including upcoming events, interviews, reviews, and so on. Please drop by and say hello.

Thanks a million for chatting with me, Sean!
Thanks for having me, Julia. It’s been fun.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Winter Reflections

Another winter's day, and I have my second cold of 2008. This one is bigger and meaner, and I just went out to buy some Buckley's Cough Syrup (no relation). It promises to taste awful but really work. I will attest to the tasting awful part--it's like swallowing Vicks rub. But it will be worth it if it calms this coal miner's lament of a cough.

While I am lying around, trying to recover, I have bursts of energy, like the one which prompted me to give both of the boys sub-par haircuts because they were starting to look like islanders from Lord of the Flies and their regular stylist was booked. Not the best decision to make when one's mind is muddled . . .

Despite the cough, the cold weather, the sneezes that are testing my bladder muscles--I am in a fairly good mood. Maybe it's because I watched 20/20 last night--an episode about health and very rare diseases. They profiled three little girls who have the terrible malady of not being able to feel pain, and therefore having no concept of how to protect themselves, or to learn the lessons of pain.

Then there was a story about people with a rare genetic disease which brought permanent insomnia--and death within months as the body shut down from lack of sleep.

I thought, "My goodness--I only have a cold! What am I complaining about?"

Though I did continue to complain, just a little. :)

In any case, my next post will be less rambling due to improved health--an interview with crime writer Sean Chercover.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Mysterious Birthdays

Today is the birthday of the poet W.H. Auden, whose famously furrowed face inspired the composer Igor Stravinsky to quip "Soon we shall have to smooth him out to see who he is."

Auden was the author of many famous poems, one of which is the mysterious "The Unknown Citizen," a quiet satire which raises questions about conformity, government, freedom and happiness, and which I always like to contrast with Camus' The Stranger.

On a less literary note, today is also the birthday of the wonderful Alan Rickman, whose career has produced many notable roles. I must admit to loving the most commercial of them: his performance as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter movies. Rickman has an amazing voice, wonderfully nasal and well-modulated, which adds nuance to his roles. Snape must be in the top five of the most mysterious characters created in the last decade, and Rickman captures that mystery on screen.

(photo link here)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Reading Mysteries Pays

I rarely win things, so I was thrilled to hear from Jim Huang today (proprietor of The Mystery Company bookstore in Carmel, Indiana) that I had won the Grand Prize in their Valentine's Day contest.

Entrants were to describe the most romantic mystery they had ever read. I sent my choice--Have His Carcase, by Dorothy L. Sayers--and found out that I topped the list.

Here's Jim's blog about the contest.

Hurrah for mysteries! I have now won a chance to get some more of them, simply by saying that I love reading them. A good deal all around.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Nostalgic Writing Implements

I was thinking today that my writing technology has changed notably over time. At one point pencils with erasers were new technology, and resisted by teachers who feared that students would be willing to make more mistakes. Now that seems ridiculous, calling a pencil "technology," but that's because we've altered the connotation of that word.

When I first began writing I used pen on paper--write-your-own-books and journals were all the rage, and I got them for birthdays and Christmases and never actually wanted to tarnish them with what I considered the mundanities of my life. I did, though, and I read them now with much amusement and a great deal of embarrassment. Even if one doesn't write huge secrets in journals, they're still very revealing years later.

When I was a teen and in my early twenties I was very dependent upon typewriters--first a tiny manual that we had at home (and which left distinctive ink blotches on certain letters) and eventually an electric that I used in high school. My parents eventually upgraded to their own electric, which they bought second-hand at an office sale, and I thought we'd achieved the height of luxury. It was so smooth, typing on that electric, and twice as fast.

When computers came on the scene, I was quite resistant. What could compete with my sweet little typewriters, for which I had a great deal of affection? But then someone showed me how an error was corrected on a computer: one backspace, and it was wiped away, as though it had never existed. No papers, no liquid paper, no scrolling up and down for every little mistake.

I betrayed my typewriters in that instant for a new and more lovely technology, and I never went back. I rarely have to use pen and ink anymore. I compose at the computer (although when I teach I still rely heavily on the downright primitive chalk and blackboard). I have a Dell laptop and PC, and if anyone took them away I would go through severe withdrawal. It would be like launching me into an alternate universe.

So I wonder what technology will threaten the one I consider "modern" today?

In many ways I'm lagging behind: I finally have a cell phone, but our whole family shares one phone; we don't text message, and the phone actually rings--no ring tones. We don't use it to bring up the internet, look at maps, or send e-mails. But none of that really affects the way that I write.

Is there something out there that will?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Of Presidents and Problems

If you're in the mood for a little President's Day Mystery, you can check out my post at Poe's Deadly Daughters today. It involves my own little president and the challenges we recently faced for one of his class projects.

Meanwhile, Happy President's Day to all. Go out and celebrate your favorite president.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Pondering The Mysteries of Antiquity

According to On This Day, King Tut's Tomb was discovered on February 16, 1923--although many more sources, including BBC News, say it was in 1922 that Howard Carter and his team discovered the surprising location of the burial chamber. In any case, Tut's discovery was a coup then to the world of archeology; it was reported in the New York Times to be "the most extraordinary day in the whole history of Egyptian excavation," and it continues to fascinate us today, partly because of questions that have developed in the last eighty or so years about the young king.

For the longest time people have longed to know more about young Tutankhamen: his parentage, his marriage, and the cause of the end of his short life. Because Carter and his team had found a fracture in the skull when examining the mummy, rumors had floated about for years that perhaps the young king was murdered.

That myth, however, was dispelled three years ago. According to a press release by the team which did a long-awaited cat-scan of Tut's mummified remains, there is nothing to lend credence to the murder theory. There is, in fact, simply no way to know how he died, although the team came up with some possible scenarios, one of which was death by infection after a severely broken leg.

Why does Tut fascinate the world so? There are the obvious reasons: because he is a piece of ancient history, and some of the most visible evidence we have of a time and culture far, far earlier than our own (1355-1346 B.C.) Added to that, he was royalty, and perhaps we long to know the story, the way of life, for a boy who ascended to the throne at the age of eight and was dead by nineteen. Perhaps too, at a more elemental level, it is simply amazing to us that someone who died so long ago can still be so physically present, so perfectly preserved, creating a link between our world and his.

In any case, despite the fact that science has answered many of the questions the world has posed about Tut, there are those things we will never know--and Tut remains one of my favorite mysteries.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Season of Love

I feel very nostalgic on Valentine's Day, not only because of some romantic memories of my past, but because of happy times spent with construction paper and glue, making homemade valentines with little boys.

Now that the boys are older life is in many ways less intense--but that intensity of the early years ends up providing fodder for endless memories, holiday to holiday, weather to weather.

In honor of the day, I'll share one of my favorite love poems, by the great Robert Burns:

My Love is Like A Red, Red Rose

by Robert Burns

O my luve is like a red, red rose
That's newly sprung in June;
O my luve's like the melodie
That's sweetly played in tune.
As fair art thou, my bonny lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a' the seas gang dry.
Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi' the sun;
I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o' life shall run.
And fare thee weel, my only love,
And fare thee weel, awhile!
And I will come again, my love
Though it were ten thousand mile.

I have a recording of this, sung by the King's Singers, and it's one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard. Try to find it on I-Tunes if you want a lovely Valentine's experience. :)

Happy Day!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Ah, The Midwest!

We got socked with snow again today; the roads were nearly undriveable at rush hour, which is complicated by the fact that many suburbs are already out of road salt. The yearly allotments were used up several storms ago, but ol' man winter keeps sending it down.

In a way it's a nostalgic thing, a Midwestern thing, because these storms bring back images of the snows of my childhood, and we mark our memories with the big blizzard winters.

But this winter wins with the sheer number of snows, and it is starting to get a bit tedious: the shoveling, the scraping, the fishtailing our way to work.

Still, we agreed that we prefer this to extreme heat. I guess that's the Midwesterner in us. :)

History's Heavy Hitters

It's interesting that on this day in 1809, two giants of history were born: Abraham Lincoln, arguably the most heroic president America has known, and Charles Darwin, whose theories changed people's perceptions and opened doors of scientific thought.

Like Darwin, Lincoln was controversial. I suppose one can't attain greatness without angering huge portions of the population. Lincoln wrote,

"If I were to try to read, much less answer, all the attacks made on me, this shop might as well be closed for any other business. I do the very best I know how - the very best I can; and I mean to keep doing so until the end. If the end brings me out all right, what's said against me won't amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, ten angels swearing I was right would make no difference."

In defense of his Origin of Species, which was deemed by many to be anti-God, Darwin wrote, "It is just as noble a conception of the Deity to believe that He created a few original forms capable of self-development into other and needful forms, as to believe that He required a fresh act of creation to supply the voids caused by the action of His laws."

In their eloquence they were able to defend what they believed was true, and therefore just. Gloria Fiero wrote of Darwin, "Darwin's conclusions toppled human beings from their elevated place in the hierarchy of living creatures. If the cosmology of Copernicus and Galileo had displaced earth from the center of the solar system, Darwin's theory robbed human beings of their preeminence on that planet."

Similarly, Lincoln made decisions that shaped and changed the United States, and while his birth determined American destiny, his death left a nation bereft, as Walt Whitman poetically attested, asking

"O how shall I warble myself for the dead one there I loved?
And how shall I deck my soul for the large sweet soul that has gone?
And what shall my perfume be for the grave of him I love?"

(From "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed")

How interesting that fate ushered these men into the world on the same day of the same year.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Losing Phyllis

Queen of Suspense Phyllis A. Whitney has died. It's always sad to hear of the death of an idol, and Phyllis was one of mine. When I was a kid, she made writing seem glamorous to me, not only with her worldly and exciting novels, but with the ladylike pictures of her on every jacket.

I reflected on a life of reading Phyllis at Poe's Deadly Daughters today.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Quitting Smoking and Writing a Novel

When my husband and I were engaged, I said something both emotional and unfair: that I wouldn't marry him unless he quit smoking. I doubt that this was true, but he took me at my word and quit cold turkey on January 1st, 1988. I remember sitting with him in a downtown Chicago restaurant, watching the sweat from his palms drip onto the table during that very difficult weekend of withdrawal. He did that for me, and for himself, and he hasn't smoked since.

We were talking about that today, and I said I thought it was rather remarkable that he had been able to simply stop smoking, when so many of my friends and relatives can't seem to do it.

He thought about it, and said, "I think quitting smoking has to be about something bigger than just wanting to do it."

I thought that was very meaningful, and naturally I thought it related nicely to the world of writing. Writers want to write, of course. But that great book, that successful book, will have to be about more than just wanting to write it. That's something I'm going to keep pondering.

Meanwhile, I asked Jeff to verify his quote. "What was it you said about smoking?" I asked.

"I don't know," he said, still reading the paper. "But I know it was super profound."

Hey, I never asked him to give up his ego. :)

Friday, February 08, 2008

Jules Verne and the World of Imagination

The birth of science fiction as a genre can be traced to the works of the French writer Jules Verne, who was born on this day in 1828. Verne's tales excited readers with the notions of adventure and science.

I must admit I discovered Verne through the medium of television. When I was a tike we watched a show called "Family Classics," and every Sunday we viewed some wonderful tale re-created on film. Many of these were Verne's, and I was transfixed by Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Journey to the Center of the Earth. And I loved the David Niven version of Around the World in Eighty Days--the idea of an adventure that big, that colorful and exciting, was what every good book (and movie) should be about.

Verne inspired writers who came after him, notably H.G. Wells. He inspires writers today, as well, who look back at the sheer inventiveness of this man who wrote about the notions of air travel, underwater boats and space journeys long before any of those were a reality.

Happy birthday, Jules! May we all be blessed with a bit of your creativity. :)

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Ashes and Mortality

This blog is reprinted, with permission from me, from last Ash Wednesday. :)

There's a wonderful solemn contrast between Carnival and Ash Wednesday; I hope to work it into a novel some day. Human beings have a long history of acknowledging their own mortality. Once upon a time when a person received the ashes they were told "Remember, Man, that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return." The words have been softened considerably now, but the solemn implication is there, and it's ultimately rather satisfying. Here's a bit of Eliot's famous poem:


by T.S. Eliot

This is the time of tension between dying and birth
The place of solitude where three dreams cross
Between blue rocks
But when the voices shaken from the yew-tree drift away
Let the other yew be shaken and reply.

Blessèd sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Lee Lofland on Challenging Poe, Spotting Bad Apples and Securing the Scene

Lee, you are a retired law enforcement official. You were a sheriff’s deputy, a patrol officer, and a detective. What made you choose to be a cop?
I discovered the Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine at an early age and those wonderful stories sparked my interest in solving crimes. So, my interest in law enforcement and the world of sleuthing evolved when I was a child. My ultimate goal was to be a police detective. The desire to work in law enforcement was also paired with the longing to be a writer. I was a huge fan of Poe, Dickens, and my relative, Dr. John Lofland, the first Poet Laureate of Delaware, who was a great friend of Edgar Allan Poe.

Your website details some of the cases you solved. When you came upon the scene of a murder, what’s the very first thing you would do? I often hear people say it’s to “secure the area,” but what does that entail?
You’re right. It’s the duty of the first officer who arrives on the scene of any crime to secure the area—keeping people outside and all potential evidence inside. Evidence contamination can ruin even the best of cases.

Sealing the scene can be something as simple as closing a bedroom door, not allowing anyone inside, or, it can be as elaborate as cordoning off an entire city block with crime scene tape, uniformed and plainclothes officers, vehicles, and barricades. Whatever it takes.

Normally, patrol officers are the first officers on any scene since they’re the officers who receive and answer the radio calls. Once they’ve assessed the situation they’ll call in whatever manpower and experts (detectives, medical examiner, DA, etc.) that are needed.

There must be some aspects of trying to solve a case that you had to learn from experience. Can you share one or two?
I don’t think anyone starts out as a great investigator. It takes years of learning, watching, and hands-on practice to perfect the craft. Even then, not everyone is cut out for the job. It takes a special person with a sort of built-in radar for understanding the criminal mind and his behaviors. That’s why most detectives have worked as uniformed police officers for several years before making the transition to investigator. In fact, most departments require officers to serve several years as patrol officers before they’re eligible to become detectives.

Solving a crime is a lot like solving a jigsaw puzzle in reverse. You start with a completed picture, working backwards, removing the pieces one-by-one until the last section in your hand reveals the killer’s name. It takes an experienced investigator to sort through all the puzzle pieces, deciding their importance or relevance.

An experienced, well-trained detective is persistent. He knows the solution to the crime is always present. He keeps the rule--whenever someone enters a crime scene he leaves evidence behind; when he departs, he takes evidence away--in the back of his mind. This is true, without fail. The evidence taken, or left, by a perpetrator may be something microscopic, but they’re no exceptions to this rule. If a crime goes unsolved we can only draw one conclusion. There’s no such thing as a perfect crime, only flawed investigations.

An experienced investigator must be a good actor. She must be able to walk-the-walk and talk-the-talk of every single culture in the world of criminals. If she’s investigating the president of a corporation she must be able to fit into the business world. If she’s investigating an ordinary street-drug dealer, then she’s got to be able to sit on the curb and talk crank craters, rooster, and rocks with the best of them. If you don’t know what that meant, you need more experience.

A skilled detective must be an excellent liar. He’s got to have the ability to sweet-talk a confession out the most hardened, streetwise criminals around. He must have the ability to out lie the best of liars.

There are many more, but I think you see my point. These attributes are not ones that most people have imprinted in their DNA. Generally, these should be learned experiences for police officers. If not, they, too, would make good crooks and it’s often been said there’s a fine line between the two.

That's interesting. You taught at a police academy. Were you able to tell if a young person was a good candidate—and if he or she was a bad one?
Normally, yes. Most departments have thoroughly screened the recruits, physically, morally, academically, and psychologically before they ever make it to the police academy. Academy training is very intense. It’s a grueling experience and the bad candidates quickly begin to stand out from the others. Still, bad apples fall through the cracks, but it doesn’t take long to find them once they get out on the street. It’s not always the cream that rises to the top.

Your website says you have a direct connection to Edgar Allan Poe. What is the connection?
I was recently asked this very question during another interview. I’ll repeat my answer here.

My late relative, Dr. John Lofland, was the first official Poet Laureate for the State of Delaware, my home state. He authored the poems in the book The Poetical and Prose Writings of Dr. John Lofland, the Milford Bard. The book, The Life and Times of Dr. John Lofland, the Milford Bard, is a detailed account of my relative’s life. Of course, he wrote other poems and books, and, yes, he and Poe were great friends. Buddies.

In fact, in 1830 Dr. John Lofland accepted a challenge from Edgar Allan Poe at the Stars and Stripes Tavern on Water St. in Baltimore, Maryland. The challenge was to see which of the two could write the greater number of verses. Poe lost to Lofland in the marathon contest and was obligated to pay for dinner and drinks for his good friend. I like to think this as proof a Lofland received the first ever Edgar Award, dinner and drinks from Poe himself.

Wow. That is a priceless connection. You once shared a funny story about your grandson with me, saying that he mentioned to his mother that he had a “prostitute teacher” at school that day. :)

Did becoming a grandfather change your perception of fighting crime? That is, did it give you a feeling that you had to keep the world safe for these little ones?

My grandson didn’t come along until well after I’d retired, but I raised my daughter during my career in law enforcement. For many of those years I was a single parent. It was tough, but we survived without any serious damage to either of us.

What made you write your book, Police Procedure and Investigation? Is it used as a manual by some police departments?

I don’t know about its use as a manual for law enforcement, but I know the book is on a great number of shelves in police departments across the country. I’m contacted all the time by police officers who have questions or comments. Some of the greatest compliments I’ve received have come from people in law enforcement. However, the best accolade I’ve received to date was from a woman who told me one of my real-life stories in the book actually made her cry. That’s not a bad compliment considering the book is a reference book.

I’ve been extremely pleased to learn that the book can be found in many academic libraries from coast to coast. Not only is it in major universities and law schools, but it’s being used as a study guide in some high school classes. In fact, I’ve had the pleasure of speaking to several high school classes about the topics in the book. It’s such an honor for me to share a part of my life and experience with others.

You also wrote a novel called The Trapper. Had you always wanted to write fiction?
Well, this book is no longer titled the Trapper. It’s a work-in-progress and it’s in the final stages of the final rewrite . . . finally.

Yes, fiction is what I want to write, but I keep getting interrupted to write nonfiction. I guess that’s a good problem to have.

As long as you're writing, right? You seem to have a very full schedule. Are you one of those people who retired and found himself twice as busy?
I’m very busy, but I’m having fun. Besides, it’s a lot safer writing about this stuff than living it.

True. You’ve started a new blog. What’s it about?

I’m really excited about my new blog, The Graveyard Shift. I receive hundreds of emails each day from writers seeking answers to their police procedure, CSI, and forensics questions. Over time, I started seeing several of the same questions popping up time-and-time again so I thought it would be great if I had a common forum to share my responses. It’s also a great place for some of the many other experts out there to share their knowledge and views and I welcome their comments. Police work and laws vary so much from one area to another so it’s great to talk about those differences.

Soon, I plan to have guest bloggers who are experts in their field, such as forensic anthropologists, weapons experts, and forensics and high-tech crimes. I’m fortunate to have so many friends in so many different areas of law enforcement. People who visit the blog will have access to a plethora of experts. I’ve already lined up a stellar group of professionals who’ll be sharing some pretty interesting information.

Another thing that’s unique about The Graveyard Shift is the photos I’m using. They’re all current and, they’re real-life pictures taken by me or friends of mine in the law-enforcement community. I have a stockpile of photos from sheriff’s offices, police departments, morgues, autopsies, prisons, jails, undercover operations, weapons…well, you name and I think I’ve got a picture of it somewhere. If not, I can probably get one within a matter of minutes.

Some of the images I have are from police supply companies, such as Sirchie Fingerprint Laboratories. Sirchie is one of the leading supply companies for police evidence gathering and testing equipment in the world. I’m fortunate to have such a great contact. They also supplied some of the photographs and technical information for my book.

I’d love to hear everyone’s questions, comments, ideas, and suggestions for blog topics. Please stop by.

You recently posted a “ten commandments” of how NOT to represent police in fiction, simply because these trends aren’t realistic. Does it surprise you how often people assume some of the TV stereotypes are true—or that there are TV stereotypes?
I see this all the time in books. Writers use television as a source for their research and that’s simply not a good idea. There are too many TV falsehoods about police, CSI, and forensics to list in this interview. My advice to writers is to contact their local police, courts, fire departments, EMS attorneys, etc. to get information about their local laws and policies. Of course, they can always contact me and I’ll point them in the right direction.

What are you reading now?
My reading interests vary. I normally read two or three books at once, both fiction and nonfiction. I just finished a book called Flashback by Gary Braver. It’s an excellent book and I highly recommend it. I’m also reading Ken Bruen’s American Skin, and The Beautiful Cigar Girl by Daniel Stashower.

Are you writing another book?

In addition to the novel I spoke about earlier I’m co-writing a kid’s book called Everything Kids: I Want To Be A Police Officer. My good friend, Becky Levine, and I thought this would be a fun book to write as a team. The book is scheduled for release in early 2009.

I have also begun a new fiction project that I’m very excited about—more than any other. I’ve already started mapping out the plot and the characters have already decided their parts. They’re anxiously waiting in the wings, ready for me to say the word “action.”

How’s 2008 been for you so far?
Aside from the fact I live in Boston and hate snow and cold weather, not bad. My wife, Dr. Denene Lofland, and I moved here last winter for her job. Now, we’re counting the days until we head back west where we belong.

Thanks for chatting, Lee!
Thanks for having me, Julia. It’s been a pleasure.

Friday, February 01, 2008

The Bard is Weeping

I thought it would be fun to get my students a little memento of their reading of Shakespeare and began scanning the net for a likely trinket. I found these and thought they were cute, until I noticed the egregious error. Shakespeare fans, you might feel a desire to light a torch and march toward this company with righteous literary indignation!

I guess if you're in the business of selling stuff, you're not necessarily in the business of reading Shakespeare. :)

The Bard is Weeping