Friday, July 30, 2010

Q&A: Criminal Minds

Getting Inside a Criminal’s Mind
One of our readers wants to know about criminals. What makes them tick? How can a writer get inside a killer’s mind? So today try to think and feel like a crook.

One cautionary note: I'm not a lawyer or a psychiatrist (although some people think I need the services of both sometimes). My comments are not to be construed to be the letter of the law or heartily approved by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. These answers are based upon twenty-six years in law enforcement; six years covering the police beat as a journalist; and, hopefully, a tad of common sense. To risk a cliché, take my comments with a grain of salt. 

So here goes…

Julia asks …I am a (novice) writer and want to include intrigue in my novels since that is what I enjoy reading and I don't believe you should write what you wouldn't read. One issue I have when writing the villain is the "why" to his (or her) concentration on the hero (or heroine). Having never personally dealt with a stalker or murderer I would love to gain insight into why criminals, who are after one single object, don't just give up. Why do they continue until it becomes lethal to those that get in their way, or to themselves? Why isn't life more important to them than material objects? Any insight would be appreciated. Thanks!

MARK: Welcome to the writing community, Julia. All of us in this unique community of writers struggle to understand our characters’ motivations, to understand both the surface and deep character of each individual. You’re on the right track.

Killers, stalkers and other criminal minds fill our mystery stories with tension, conflict and danger. We need these rascals, otherwise the lives of our good guys might seem a little bland. How do we try to understand the criminal mind? What motivates a bad guy to be bad?

First, we need to understand that every character is not all bad or all good. Otherwise, our character would lack believability. But there is something special about bad guys. Sol Stein’s books, Stein on Writing has a chapter on characterization titled “Competing with God: Making Fascinating People.” Regarding villains, he writes:

In life, villains do not uncurl whips and snarl. They seem like normal human beings. But normal humans are not villains. What distinguishes the true villain is not just the degree to which he hides his villainy under an attractive patina to snare his victims, but his contact with evil. There is no social solution to the true villain’s villainy, he cannot be reeducated and become a nice guy. His villainy is an ineradicable part of his nature.

Just before I left law enforcement a few years ago, I had an opportunity to sit down with two killers and talk about their past. One killer—I’ll call him Frank—was a ranking prison gang leader who’d killed many times over the years. The other killer—Fred—killed once; a brutal, planned-out, killing carried out without any remorse. Both men were doing life without the possibility of parole.

Here are just three of the  things I learned from talking to these two killers:

First, both men lacked true feelings. Frank was very charismatic, good looking, and extremely strong. Fred, my second killer, was a skinny, wimpy whiner. At first glance, Frank and Fred shared nothing in common. But I began to see they did share something when I looked into their eyes. There was no emotion, no feelings emanating from those windows into their souls. It was like looking into the eyes of a shark.

Secondly, I grasped an understanding that both men were not wired like us. Those normal feelings we all share—warmth, love, even hate—seemed foreign concepts to Frank and Fred. I watched as both men studied me. I realized they were trying to understand how a normal person should act. Then, they tried to emulate those reactions during our conversations. Frank’s and Fred’s contact with evil  seemed to have scarred their ability to relate to others in a human way. Only God knows when these men united with evil. Right and wrong seemed alien to these guys. Only survival mattered.

The third thing I learned: Both men enjoyed killing. They drew a certain level of satisfaction from killing others. I saw it in the way they talked about these brutal acts, the mechanics of how they butchered other men. This act handed down from Cain gave them purpose, a sense of power. Killing was just a means to an end. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Not all bad guys need to be this warped in your story to be believable. But the truly evil ones walk a different path than the rest of us. I must admit, Frank was the person who interested me the most. He was articulate, intelligent, and well organized. He was engaging, and—a point I found fascinating—women seemed attracted to him. He’ll make a really good bad guy in one of my novels someday. But I would never introduce him to my sister. And Fred—he’ll end up in a novel as a character that no one likes—evil, whiny, and sniveling. It will be hard to make Fred likable.

So, how do writers get inside a killer? How do you make your reader believe this evil character is real? You must taste and feel what motivates these villains.

Novelist Brandilyn Collin wrote Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets A Novelist Can Learn From Actors to help writers crawl inside the skin of their characters. Like actors, novelists must make their audience suspend belief and believe the character emanating from that page. Collins paraphrased interaction between Richard Boleslavsky, a director of the Moscow Art Theater, and a young actress documented in that director’s book, Acting: The First Six Lessons. Collins writes:

The young actress asks, “Suppose I don’t find a similar feeling in my life’s experience, what then?” Boleslavsky replies that anyone who has lived a normal existence has experienced to some extent all the emotions of mankind. The woman challenges him. Surely this can’t be true. What if she must play a murderer? She has certainly never murdered anyone or even felt the slightest desire to do so. Hogwash, replies Boleslavsky (Collin’s paraphrase). Ever been camping when mosquitoes were around? he asks. Ever follow one with your eyes and ears, your hate spurring you on, until you killed it? The actress admits that she has. “A good, sensitive artist doesn’t need any more than that to play Othello and Desdemona’s final scene,” Boleslavsky declares.

You, too, can get into the mind of a murderer.  Just amplify that feeling until you’re one with a killer.

Now, where is that insect repellant? A mosquito just buzzed and my killer instinct kicked in. And I think I can use these feelings in my next chapter.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

New Mystery Novels

Novels Hot Off The Press
Just want to update our readers on new releases by authors who’ve been interviewed here on Hook’em and Book’em. Every few months, this blog will post an update on the status of these novels: books just hitting the shelves, books almost on the shelves, and a few books that hit the shelves before we learned of them.

So here goes for a summer of continuous great reading …
Deceit by Brandilyn Collins
Some evil shouts from rooftops; some scuttles in the dark. The worst evil tips its face toward light with shining innocence. Baxter Jackson shone with the worst of them.

Joanne Weeks knows Baxter Jackson killed Linda—his second wife and Joanne's best friend—six years ago. But Jackson, a church elder and beloved member of the town, walks the streets a free man. Joanne is determined to bring Jackson down, no matter what the police say. Using her skills as a professional skip tracer, she sets out to locate the only person who can put Jackson behind bars.

Melissa Harkoff was a traumatized sixteen-year-old foster child in the Jackson household when Linda disappeared. At the time Melissa claimed to know nothing of Linda's whereabouts ... but was she lying? In relentless style, Deceit careens between Joanne's pursuit of the truth and the events of six years past, when Melissa came to live with the Jacksons. What really happened in that household? Beneath the veneer of perfection lies a story of shakable faith, choices, and the lure of deceit. Released: July 2010

(You may want to watch the new TNT show RIZZOLI and ISLES, an exciting murder mystery series that is getting great reviews. It is based upon the characters from Tess’s Rizzoli and Isles series, Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles.).
In Wyoming for a medical conference, Boston medical examiner Maura Isles joins a group of friends on a spur-of-the-moment ski trip. But when their SUV stalls on a snow-choked mountain road, they’re stranded with no help in sight.
As night falls, the group seeks refuge from the blizzard in the remote village of Kingdom Come, where twelve eerily identical houses stand dark and abandoned. Something terrible has happened in Kingdom Come: Meals sit untouched on tables, cars are still parked in garages. The town’s previous residents seem to have vanished into thin air, but footprints in the snow betray the presence of someone who still lurks in the cold darkness—someone who is watching Maura and her friends.
Days later, Boston homicide detective Jane Rizzoli receives the grim news that Maura’s charred body has been found in a mountain ravine. Shocked and grieving, Jane is determined to learn what happened to her friend. The investigation plunges Jane into the twisted history of Kingdom Come, where a gruesome discovery lies buried beneath the snow. As horrifying revelations come to light, Jane closes in on an enemy both powerful and merciless—and the chilling truth about Maura’s fate. Release Date: June 29th, 2010
The murder of Krista Carmichael’s fourteen-year-old sister by an online predator has shaken her faith and made her question God’s justice and protection. Desperate to find the killer, she creates an online persona to bait the predator. But when the stalker turns his sights on her, will Krista be able to control the outcome?
Ryan Adkins started the social network GrapeVyne in his college dorm and has grown it into a billion-dollar corporation. But he never expected it to become a stalking ground for online predators. One of them lives in his town and has killed two girls and attacked a third.
When Ryan meets Krista, the murders become more than a news story to him, and everything is on the line. Joining forces, he and Krista set out to stop the killer. But when hunters pursue a hunter, the tables can easily turn. Only God can protect them now. Released: May 2010
(This shortstory eBook release escaped my attention until after the interview with James Scott Bell last January. My apologies, Jim and the other six bestselling writers in this collecton of short stories.).
Fresh Kills is a collection of short stories by seven bestselling writers who are the authors of the popular literary blog The Kill Zone ( These tales vary from the paranormal to the chilling to the just plain scary. Contributors include James Scott Bell, John Gilstrap, Michelle Gagnon, Kathryn Lilley, John Ramsey Miller, Clare Langley-Hawthorne, and Joe Moore. Released: January 2010
Paramedic Jonathan Trestle has had a week of death. Every call seems to end up with someone flatlining until finally he is able to revive a disheveled patient long enough for the man to hand him a crumpled piece of paper and say, “Give this to Martin.” With the simple decision to honor a dying man’s last wish, Trestle soon finds himself snared in a mystery of murder and danger. His only clue is a scrap of paper covered with indecipherable dashes, but with his future, freedom, and life on the line, he must race for the truth before the Angel of Death comes calling for him. Released: July 2010
Dr. Anna McIntyre's life is going along just fine—until someone else starts living it! Her patient dies because of an identity mix-up; forged prescriptions jeopardize her career; her credit is in ruins—and "she" has tested positive for HIV. Is trying to clear her name a terminal diagnosis with no hope for a cure? To be released: September 2010

Houston homicide detective Roland March was once one of the best. Now he's disillusioned, cynical, and on his way out. His superiors farm him out on a variety of punishment details•until an unexpected break gives March one last chance to save his career. And his humanity.

All he has to do? Find the missing teenage daughter of a Houston evangelist that every cop in town is already looking for. But March has an inside track, a multiple murder nobody else thinks is connected. Battling a new partner, an old nemesis, and the demons of his past, getting to the truth could cost March everything. Even his life. Released: June 2010

Monday, July 26, 2010

Lee Lofland

Memories: Police Work Through A Rear View Mirror 

What does police work, mystery writers, and television have in common?

Lee Lofland.

After a lengthy career tracking down bad guys, Lee Lofland uses these experiences to help struggling writers as they try to fictionalize crime scenes, investigations, and police work. Well-known authors—New York Times bestselling authors Tess Gerritsen, Jeffery Deaver, and J.A. Jance, to list a few—praise Lee’s hands-on book, Police Procedural and Investigation: A Guide for Writers. His popular blog, The Graveyard Shift, turns a critical eye toward popular television shows as a learning tool for writers, allowing these authors a police perspective on such topics as prisons, police investigations, forensic evidence and court testimony.

This week we’ll find out about Lee’s police background and his wide variety of experiences in law enforcement. Today’s topics will include investigations, gun battles, and working inside prisons.

Next week, Lee tells about his services to mystery writers, his own writing career, and his recent creation—a police academy for writers. Ever wanted to know what it was like to be in a shooting situation? Lee and his academy thrust writers into realistic situations in which they must decide whether to shoot/don’t shoot in a split second. The academy offers writers a broad spectrum of law enforcement training—FATS (Firearms Training Simulator), homicide investigation, fingerprinting, SWAT operations, high-risk traffic stops and other police operations.

MARK: Lee, our mutual experiences in law enforcement have been separated by a land mass of about three thousand miles. You served on the East Coast while I worked in sunny California. What are similarities between agencies east and west? What are the differences, if any?

LEE: Let's just go with each location has their own way of dealing with both officers and criminals. Neither has the upper hand on the other. They're just different. But their goals are protect and serve.

MARK: Give us a thumbnail sketch of your police career? Where did you start? Where did you end up before pulling the pin?

LEE: I actually started out in the Virginia prison system as a corrections officer. During those tough years (prison guards really earn their money) I think I spent some time in nearly every aspect of security, from youthful offender to adult maximum security. I even spent some time doing inmate transport. One of the more odd assignments in those days was going out on manhunts for escapees who somehow managed to scale a fence or hide inside a garbage truck for a free ticket to paradise. You know, there's a certain air of mystique and danger when standing in a wooded area, alone in total darkness, knowing a desperate murderer is lurking nearby. The sound of anxious, baying bloodhounds approaching is something that's hard to forget, and I'm not sure I ever will.

Anyway, I left state corrections to work for a county sheriff's office. I went there as a jailer, but my goal was to move into police work, or as we called it, "going on the road." I did make that transition about six months later. From there I was recruited by a police department and started there as a patrol officer working rotating shifts. I had a goal in mind when I made this move. I wanted a spot as a detective.

So, time and hundreds of traffic tickets passed by until I saw an opening for a canine officer. I jumped at the chance since I'd always been fascinated with police dogs. I was accepted and within a few weeks I found myself at the Virginia State Police Academy. And I loved every second I was associated with my dogs and the Virginia State Police. The VSP is a top of the line organization.

Later, I turned in the uniforms and dog leashes and became an investigator (we weren't called detectives at the time) which is where I ended that whole ugly mess of 20+ years of playing cops and robbers. No, seriously, I enjoyed every day of it, but I'd never do it again, unless someone told me I had to choose between teaching school or fighting crime. Shootouts are much safer than dealing with a room full of high-schoolers!

MARK: What led you to make a career in law enforcement?

LEE: As a kid I admired police officers. All of them. I simply thought they were the best thing going and that was what I wanted to be. Well, one my friends in high school had an older brother who was in the police academy, and when he came home from his basic training he told us all about the shooting, the crime scene classes, and the defensive tactics and driving. That did it for me. I was totally hooked. So I began applying the moment I became eligible. Ironically, my friend's older brother and I worked as partners for a very brief time.

MARK: What caused you to leave law enforcement?

LEE: Leaving was a really tough decision for me. To stop doing what you love, and I did love it, is always hard. Unfortunately, the decision was sort of made for me. I was involved in a pretty intense shootout with a bank robber who truly had a death wish—suicide-by-cop would probably be the best description. Ultimately, I had no choice but to shoot the guy, and he died. There were 68 rounds fired during the exchange (five from me, with four fatal), so it was obvious he wasn't giving up, even though I practically begged him to. Anyway, the event took its toll on me, which was really quite surprising since I taught officer survival in the academy, as well as firearms and defensive tactics. Hell, it was I who taught other cops how to be tough. And, it was I who was normally called upon to kick in a door, or to pull a non-compliant suspect through a car window. I was the first guy through the door during a drug raid, and I was first guy to wade into a fight with weapons. And I've got the scars to prove it.

So, to have this shooting affect me the way this one did totally caught me off guard. Sure, I got over it. Time took care of it. Time, and a whole lot of support from my wife and family.  Could I pull the trigger again, if necessary? No problem. That's what cops—past and present—do, right?

Anyway, I pulled the stopper from the drain about a year after the shooting. No regrets, but I miss it every single day. I especially miss the camaraderie.

MARK:  In looking back over your career, can you single out one or two assignments that you found most interesting and challenging? What made them memorable?

LEE: I certainly enjoyed the time I spent working undercover narcotics, but I really liked the puzzle-solving aspect of investigating crimes, such as homicide and other major felonies. Helping to provide closure to a family, or a spouse, made the effort worthwhile.

MARK: Your background material mentions an encounter with an armed bank robber and a subsequent medal of valor you received. Tell us about this incident and what you faced?

LEE: I guess I jumped the gun (sorry for the pun) and answered part of this in an earlier question. But I'll address the Award For Valor by saying receiving it has both good and bad points. The good is obvious. It's the highest award given in police work, and what an honor it was to have it placed into my hands. I'll never forget that moment. In fact, the plaque is hanging about four feet from me as I type this response. I'm that proud of it.

The bad side to the award is that I killed someone to get it. That's also something I'll never forget.

MARK: What flashes through an officer’s mind when confronted with an armed suspect … besides the thought that this job doesn’t pay enough?

LEE: You know, nothing flashed through my mind other than the safety of the people around me and stopping the threat. There was no fear at all. No hesitation. And I think that speaks for excellent training. I did exactly as I was trained, which is what every officer does. Nothing less. Now, ask me about the moments after the shooting stopped? Talk about an odd feeling...

MARK:  You witnessed the execution of a serial killer, a murderer that novelist Patricia Cornwell based her best-selling novel, Postmortem, upon. Tell us about this case which led to the killer’s execution. Why were you there?

LEE: No, I wasn't a part of the investigation. The case was actually in a neighboring jurisdiction. But I'm in contact with some people who were involved. Hopefully, I'll have their stories on my blog very soon.

Timothy Spencer (The Southside Strangler) was living in a halfway house (he'd been recently released from prison) when he committed the brutal murders of five Virginia women. He often checked out of the facility for justifiable reasons—work, religious functions, etc., and while out, he stalked and killed each of his victim's.

Oddly, a man named David Vasquez was seen in the area of the last murder and was arrested for the crime. Vasquez was mentally handicapped and confessed to the murders, basically saying yes to whatever questions the investigators presented to him. Well, one detective, Joe Horgas, had that all-too-familiar feeling in his gut that good cops seem to be blessed with, and felt that Vasquez was the wrong guy. So, Horgas continued investigating, like a bulldog. He was familiar with Tim Spencer and knew of his old B&E habits and methods of entry. He knew deep down that that Spencer was his man. Not Vasquez. In short, Horgas obtained DNA samples and arrested and convicted Spencer for the murders. Vasquez, however, served about five years in prison before being released and exonerated.

I was one of the last people on earth to make eye contact with Spencer, which occurred moments before the switch was pulled. He expressed no remorse for his deeds. However, if it's any consolation to the families of his victims, Spencer did indeed die a very violent death.

MARK:  Your law enforcement career began as an officer in Virginia’s prison system. I believe one of the shortcomings of current law enforcement training is the ability to put new officers in close encounters with the criminal element in a controlled environment. Some of these new officers have never been in a fight in their life and they seemed ill-equipped to face hardened criminals. Prisons and jails are good training grounds. What did you learn working in prisons that helped throughout your police career?

LEE: That everyone can be dangerous, and to trust no one, at first. No exceptions. I have a scar on the side of my head from a stab wound that's a nice reminder that I'd let my guard down. Oh, and when you must enter into a fight, do so with every intention of coming out as a winner. Any hesitation could be fatal. And, one more thing...treat everyone fairly, as human beings. Never ever treat anyone other than how you'd like to be treated. I even addressed inmates as Sir, or Ma'am, and it paid off. I was once cornered by several prisoners who had some very ill intentions. Since I was alone in the pod I had no immediate backup. But, and much to my extreme joy, a handful of huge, burly inmates came to my aid. The leader of that pack said to his much smaller peers, "If you f... with Officer Lofland, you're with us." Needless to say, the punks backed down. That was a humbling experience, knowing that showing a little respect for someone probably saved me from being on the receiving end of a lot of knuckle sandwiches, or worse. They may have even prevented an escape attempt. Who knows?

MARK: In the movies, television, or novels, police are often depicted chasing after serial killers, driving in high-speed chases, or pulling out a weapon to shoot someone. In real-life law enforcement rarely experiences these situations on a regular basis. In your opinion, Lee, would you agree that traffic stops and domestic violence cases are two of the most dangerous calls a patrol officer might face? Why are they so dangerous?

LEE: You hit the top two nails squarely on their respective heads and they're both extremely dangerous. That's why it sort of surprises me to have heard many people over the years complain about officers who rest their hands on their weapons during traffic stops. They argue that it's intimidating to see an officer do that. Well, I invite those people to walk up to an idling car with dark-tinted windows in the middle of a moonless night on a deserted country road. Add a thumping radio, movement inside the car (you can't see people, just a car shaking a bit because someone is moving around inside), and a driver who hasn't rolled down the window. Remember, those officers don't have a clue about what's going on inside that car. Is the driver or a passenger wanted? Have they just committed a crime? Desperate to get away from a murder they just committed? A dead body in the car? Does the driver have a gun aimed at the officer as he stands beside the car? Gearing up for a suicide by cop?

There are tons of gut-wrenching scenarios that go through the minds of officers, but they face the possibilities head on and take care of business.

Intimidating to see an officer's hand resting on his pistol...yeah, right.

Police work is a dangerous job. Don't believe it? Then visit my blog on Fridays to read about the officers who were killed during the week while conducting traffic stops, or while answering domestic calls, during shootouts, while pulling people from burning buildings, from stab wounds, auto accidents, while responding to save a life, from injuries received from assaults...and the list goes on and on and on.

We're headed toward seeing the largest number of officers killed in the line of duty in a single year. 2010 has definitely not been kind to police officers. For example, a Mississippi sheriff was killed just last night (7-22-10) when he attempted to place stop strips in front of a suspect's car. A day earlier injuries claimed the life of a young deputy sheriff who'd been involved in a vehicle accident while responding to help another deputy. Two days prior to that, a Chicago officer died in a gun battle when a group of thugs tried to take his car at gunpoint. I guess it's safe to say that all calls are dangerous.

MARK: Is there one character in your past—an old sergeant, seasoned patrolman, or grizzled investigator—that stands out in your mind? Someone that would make a great character in a novel?

LEE: It takes all kinds of people to round out a good police department, and it takes a variety of nuts to fill up the jails. Therefore, what better characters for a novel than a combination of each—a mixed bag of cops for a protagonist and a stew pot full of bad guys to build a villain. I may have even gone a step further in the thriller I'm currently completing by adding some traits from a few ex-bosses to get a really evil and sadistic bad guy.

MARK: What is the most comical situation you every faced in law enforcement?

LEE: I've seen many and I've been in many. And I was recently asked this same question a few days ago and this was the story I shared (and it sort of ties in with the danger of traffic stops):

The event unfolded on a boring graveyard shift. I'd already answered the usual he-said she-said calls, locked up the usual drunks, and broken up the usual Friday night fights. It was time for a break, so I was on my way to an all-night restaurant to rendezvous with the other sleepy officers who were stuck with working midnights.

I pulled out onto an interstate highway and immediately got behind a beat up old jalopy. Soon, the bucket of bolts began to weave from lane-to-lane. Then the driver slowed to a near crawl. Then he sped up. Faster and faster. Brake lights. And back to the snail's pace. Yep, a classic drunk driver and I had to get him off the road before he killed someone. So I called dispatch to let them know my location and that I was stopping a car. Then I gave them the plate numbers and reached for the switches to activate my lights and siren. There would be no breakfast for me. Processing a drunk driver could take two or three hours, if you hurry.

Well, things immediately went downhill.

When I first got behind the car I saw one head, the driver's. When I turned on the blue lights a second head suddenly popped up, from left to right—a passenger who'd been leaning over with their head in the driver's lap. Needless to say, I didn't need to consult the detective's handbook to figure out this little puzzle.

And as soon as I flipped the light switch the driver immediately braked, turned on his right turn signal, and pulled to the shoulder. Quickly, snappy, and abrupt. Definitely not a drunk.

I pulled over behind the car, angling mine in the classic felony-stop position. You never know what to expect during the weirdo hours of 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. That's the time when the "crazies" come out to play.

The car sat idling in front of mine, like a tired old beast with little puffs of steam spouting from dual exhaust pipes. I was pretty sure I knew what had been distracting the driver, therefore my assessment of the offense had changed from drunk driver to hanky-panky.
Still, for my safety, I decided to approach the car from the passenger side, so I turned on my takedown lights (I was still in uniform working patrol at the time) and aimed the spotlight at their rear view mirror so they couldn't see me as I walked up.

I got out of my car, dreading and embarrassed about what I knew I would find when I looked inside the car.

No moon. No stars. High, thick humidity. Crickets chirping and frogs burping in the area just behind where the brightness of my lights turned to black on the shoulder of the road. The music in the old Ford was pumping steady and hard enough to rattle the car's cheap hubcaps. No other vehicles on the road. Darkness as far as the eye could see behind me. In front of me, the jalopy's round headlamps cut through the night with two pale yellow beams. A Stephen King setting if there ever was one. I reminded myself to never again read Christine before going to work at night.

I walked up to the passenger's window and couldn't believe my eyes. I was speechless, which is not something that usually happens to me.

The driver, a rail-thin book-wormish sort of guy, was wearing a Department of Corrections uniform (he was a prison guard) and the passenger, a very chubby man with more than his share of man boobs and body hair, was wearing only his birthday suit. Yep, he was completely nude.
And his right wrist was securely handcuffed to the door. Both men sat staring at the driver's window, waiting for me appear. A tent-size copy of the driver's prison guard uniform lay crumpled on the back seat.

I used my flashlight to tap on the passenger's window. Startled, both men jumped and turned to face me. The naked guy used his free hand to roll down the glass. The driver leaned forward so he could see around the mountain of bare flesh seated between us.

"Is there a problem officer?" said the driver, with a perfectly straight and somber face.

I was absolutely stunned. "You're asking me if there's a problem?" I asked. "Let's see, for starters..."

Anyway, I'll spare you the details of the conversation, but I will say that their explanation was centered around love and the only way they could spend any quality time together was after work, in a car. I guess their wives probably wouldn't let them play with handcuffs at home. Yep, they were each married, and to a woman who was at home waiting for her darling husband to come home after a hard day at work.

This was probably not the weirdest situation I've ever seen. But it was definitely one that'll never leave the place in my mind where gross images are stored.

MARK:  Do you still miss the work?

LEE: Every day. Would I do it again tomorrow? No way. It's a lot safer writing about it than living it.

MARK: Do you ever wonder whether all your hard work and sacrifice ever made a difference?

LEE: I hope so, and I can think of several instances that I'm extremely proud of. Of course, there are some goofy moments, too. But overall, I think I did okay.

MARK: Lastly, what is one word of advice you’d give a new officer just starting out today?

LEE: Wear your vest. Don't let the job consume you. Train, train, train, even if it's at your expense on your own time. Take time for family. Spend every spare moment with your kids. your career choice.

Oh, you wanted all that in one word. Okay, here it is:


More information about Lee Lofland can be found at his website at or his blog, The Graveyard Shift at

Friday, July 23, 2010

Q&A: Stalkers and Victims

Novelist Asks: Stalkers and Victims?

Today is set aside for questions and answers. Any question our readers want to ask about law enforcement, mystery authors, writing challenges or publishing topics.  We’ll collect these questions, do our due diligence, and then post these answers on  Hook’em and Book’em. Any topic is game.

Mystery writers: struggling over something in your plot? Trying to make it more realistic? Readers: Maybe something you read just did not make sense and you wanted to ask whether this could actually happen. Shoot your questions to this blog and I’ll do my best to answer.

One cautionary note: I'm not a lawyer or a psychiatrist (although some people think I need the services of both sometimes). My comments are not to be construed to be the letter of the law or heartily approved by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. These answers are based upon twenty-six years in law enforcement; six years covering the police beat as a journalist; and, hopefully, a tad of common sense. To risk a cliché, take my comments with a grain of salt. 

So here goes…

MARIE asks … I was wondering what is the basic process that a stranger stalker would take to establish contact with a victim, and what are some of the things that he will say or do?

MARK: Stranger stalkers are their own breed of ilk. They’ve purposefully decided to haunt a victim that they’ve randomly or specifically selected to target. Someone they came across in any number of ways—chance meeting on the subway, stood in line getting a coffee, saw them at the grocery store. Something caught the stalker’s attention, triggered this creep’s libido to focus on a particular victim.

A need to exert power often drives this pathetic individual  to terrorize others, though there are a plethora of motivations The stalker’s own life probably lack satisfaction and fulfillment. They stalk to obtain this power.  Researchers found in one study of 74 cases that stalkers exhibited erotomania (mistaken, and overwhelming belief the victim is in love with the stalker), love obsession, or they're simply obsessed with the target.  These obsessions include a need to feel a sense of power over another individual, much like those who commit domestic abuse on their spouses. They build themselves up by tearing others down. In this case, the stalker  forces the victim into a world of fear where the aggressor believes they hold the power.

In order to exert this power, the stalker needs to communicate with the victim.  This communication  happens either physically or electronically (Cyber stalking, for example). Physical communication might be letters or notes left on a car, or the stalker suddenly surfaces to make sure the victim knows they are being watched. Electronically, contact can be made by telephone, fax, harassing Internet chat rooms messages,  or other digital venues. For example, late night calls where the victim hears heavy breathing on the line. Or a faxed message at the victim's place of employment.

Communication may vary from case to case, but generally the stalker wants to create within the victim feelings of fear and powerlessness. This communication might convey the message that the stalker has specific information about the victim, thus establishing the stalker is near and capable of  watching the victim’s every move. “I like the yellow dress you wore  on the bus today. Wear that again. It pleases me.” You get the idea. Fear. Power. Control.

I found an excellent online bulletin on stalking, published by the FBI, titled Stalking the Stalker: A Profile of Offenders. This site will give great links to many other sources.

Marie further asks … Also, if the victim decides to leave and start a new life, what are some things she can do to change her identity, leaving almost all traces behind? And what are some ways that she can still be found?

MARK: First, victims do not have to flee. They can fight, and there are a number of advocacy groups and services willing to work with these victims.  

But what if the victim chooses to flee?

The victim must choose to give up their identity and all relationship-based ties—families, friends, and past acquaintances. Everything. One slip up and that person can be found. Even if all these ties are cut, there still might be ways a stalker could locate these victims if the hunter is resourceful. 

The U.S. Marshalls Service (USMS) and other agencies have developed awesome programs to hide people, like USMS’s WITSEC program. (Here is a link to the U.S. Marshall's explanation of WITSEC. Understandably, they're very generic about WITSEC and witness protection techniques). 

Victims are human, and humans error. These mistakes raise the risk factor for the victims for a number of reasons, including technological advancements that allow hunters to find their prey. Biometric scanners, RFID chips, illegal wire taps, and cellular/GPS tracking devices are just a few tricks in the hat available to resourceful trackers.

Here is a short laundry list of things the victim might need to change in order to hide: Victims would need to replace such things as identity papers, vehicles, and financial services. Forget credit cards and debit cards. The victim needs to convert to all cash, at least until a new identity can be solidly established. What about employment? They need to find employment in an entirely different field than the one they used in their old life. Once a doctor? Forget it. Now you’re a handyman. Once a plumber? Forget it. Now you're a … hairdresser? Whatever job you can grab without triggering a system set up to track peopleIRS, franchise tax, libraries, schools, social security cards, etc. And this only government tracking. Private tracking capabilities are even more invasive.

The victim would need to move in a hurry. To another city, another state, maybe even another country—although it is much harder to flee the country without identity papers. Remember The Anarchy Cookbook first printed in 1970? Buried in that book—along with a lot of illegal advice about creating civil disorder—is a section on how to obtain a new identify. Technology has improved, but some of the old ways of building a false paper trail still work today.

The problem just intensifies if there’s more than one person to relocate. Years ago when I worked narcotics, we needed to move an entire family before making arrests and rounding up a drug ring. We scooped up the family, drove across state, and set them up in a motel until further living arrangements could be made. The wife called back to the old neighborhood before we even got their bags unpacked. In a crisis, people feel the need to reach out and talk to someone they know. An old friend. A family member.

So, you’re a novelist trying to relocate your victim to safety. Sit down and try to figure out how many ways the bad guys can track you or your loved ones. Use your own life. Then figure a way to get around this. 

Or not. 

Mystery suspense is all about tension and conflict. A person on the run offers chapters of conflict for the writer. Just keep your character alive and kicking until the end of the novel. After that, well … it's in your hands.

Good luck.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

E-books: Love'em or hate'em?

Digital Revolution Hits Home 
Technology foisted itself on me for the first time many moons ago. It struck like a taser when I toiled as a sergeant in California in the early 1990s. 

My watch commander—several years my junior—sauntered up to my desk as I wrote out the night’s duty roster for swing shift. I felt him breathing hard as I diligently wrote down names and duties of those officers about to venture out into the night to protect and serve. Once I wrote this all down, I’d walk to the photocopy machine and make enough copies to rival LA’s phone book. Then, I trudged from office to office—or send my emissary—to make sure everyone got their copy. 

I looked up at my towering boss and wisely stifled my irritation. I looked closer. Was that flecks of fear dancing in my lieutenant’s eyes?

He coughed. “Mark, this is your last night.”

My eyes narrowed. Slowly I rose. “Last night? I've got another ten years before I pull the pin. What are you—?

"—no, you got this wrong." The lieutenant cast a wary eye on my 40-caliber Smith and Wesson strapped to my waist. I saw him stare at my right leg with a worried look. He knew about my little 40-caliber Sig tucked in an ankle holster on my leg. . 

He was walking on dangerous ground.

I  still had not consumed my quota of coffee and I had a long, dreary night ahead. My in-basket looked like the tower of Babel before God created a need for bi-lingual education. Several days ago, this same boss ordered me to stay in the office until I got caught up on paper work. Another conversation where I narrowed my eyes like Dirty Harry. 

To his credit, he never caved in. Not then. Not now.

He thrust a finger at my roster, his new lieutenant's bars sparkling like chunks of gold under white-neon lights.  “No more paper and pen. Tomorrow ... use the computer. You can send it to everyone with one push of the button. Saves time and money.”

I glanced with contempt at the computer monitor some IT geek plopped on my desk a few months ago. “I don’t even know how to turn that ... thing on.” In fact, I wasn't sure whether they even plugged it in. Cob webs danced across the key board.

“I’ll get somebody to help you.” He turned to leave. "Everyone else is doing it, Mark. Time stops for no man. Law enforcement is changing."

I glared at him without saying a word. After all, he is  my boss and momma didn’t raise a fool. 

The next day I crossed over into the digital world silently kicking and fighting. No one seemed to care. They were too busy trying to get their own computers turned on.

And now I write a blog. I’m a writer and I spend a good chuck of each day navigating this new technology as I try to write the next great American novel, or least a crime mystery that will give Michael Connelly a run for his dinero.

This is a long, twisty way of getting to the issue at hand. E-books.

Last week, I took another major step and bought a Nook reader from a coat-less salesman hiding behind a display at Barnes and Noble. As I walked up to the salesman, I thought I may have seen fear in his eyes. He reminded me of that lieutenant, only this guy was much younger. And he didn't carry a gun. Didn't need to—he had a Nook.

Alfred—not his real name—came armed with a lot of information that sounded like Greek and which almost went over my head. I say almost because he uttered just enough common English to suggest we spoke the same language. He pointed toward a pink-backed Nook perched on the counter. I glanced at the machine with disdain..

Alfred took a big breath and started in about a reading screen with 600 by 800, reflective high resolution E Ink electronic paper display. He must have seen my eyes glaze over. I heard him sigh before saying, “It reads just like a book.”

“Oh. Wow.” That was about all I could utter, still struggling to figure out if there was some common word in all this I might be able to grab onto. My wife, Katie—who speaks Geek-eze—stepped  in and took over the conversation. They finished talking. I walked out with a Nook tucked under my arm.

One might ask why I—a low tech kind of guy—would cave in and buy an E-book reader?

Short answer: I may be a dinosaur, but I see the handwriting on the wall for writers and readers. Even cavemen could read cave drawings. E-books are changing the way we do business as writers.

No one likes to lug around a ton of books on vacation or pay a small fortune on a novel to find out whether they like the guy’s writing. They like to sit on an airplane and thumb to their favorite novels with a tap on the screen without suffering carpal tunnel injuries. They like getting their newspaper, magazine and latest news in seconds. They don't like to travel miles to enter a store or wait for snail mail to ship book orders.

In an online article yesterday by The Wall Street Journal, Amazon's CEO Jeff Bezos announced his company sold more e-books than hardbacks over the last three month. Publishers, however, say it is too early to determine whether e-book sales are impacting the paperback books trade, a significant slice of the publishing pie. Representatives for such digital readers as Barnes and Noble's Nook, Sony's e-reader, and Apple's iPad indicate sales of their  e-reading devises are climbing significantly--whatever that means. Bezo stated that Kindle sales have tripled since the company lowered it price to $189 from $259, although he did not mention whether B&E's earlier move to lower the Nook price to $149 had any impact on Amazon's decision.

Here is the point: E-books will change the face of traditional publishing.

I admit I'm still a dinosaur. I still yearn for the days when I could write out my duty roster with paper and pen. I miss the days when a dispatcher sent us out on the next call without the officer having to stop and read a computer screen. And I enjoy walking into my neighborhood book store, sniffing the print, and losing myself in a world of history, mystery and suspense. 

My pen-and-ink rosters are long gone. They're never coming back. Police work has changed in so many ways, and my hat is off to those younger cops out there fighting the good fight.

Time stops for no man.

I hope my bookstore days won’t disappear. But I see our culture changing. I see the younger generation thumbing and tapping their messages to friends on gadgets so small I have to breakout my reading glasses just to see what they are using. I see a publishing world trying to cope with these changes, and I see brick-and-mortar book stores fighting to stay in the game.

This is what I see as an aspiring novelist looking at the publishing world from the outside. This publishing industry has been turned upside down by economics, technology, and culture. In this vortex, aspiring authors feel like salmon fighting upstream searching for a beachhead, looking for someplace to plant one's self before launching further. (Okay, salmon might not be the best analogy since they swim upstream and die. But you get the point, right?)

I suspect published authors might have similar thoughts, trying to survive within a traditional publishing model while searching for ways to spread their wings in non-traditional ways—e-books, pod casts, webinars, trailers for new books, and whatever else the digital community offers.

This is change. And change can be exciting.  I see writers using their creativity to build  their own platform, their own readership, their own markets. I see some writers taking more and more control over what hits the market, when it hits, and how it hits. 

Let us not get caught like the dinosaurs in a new ice age of traditional thought and stagnation. Let us learn to adapt and change, while still clinging to that part of tradition worth holding on to.

We cops still use black and whites to get to calls. Detectives still interview suspect and witnesses. The tools have changed but the past blends with the future for a purpose. It is how we move forward. It is how things work. 

How about you? Ebooks—Love them or hate them?

Monday, July 19, 2010

"Help me ... help you!"

Hook’em and Book’em Grows

Have you ever launched into something without knowing the consequences? Something akin to grudgingly offering to coach a kid’s baseball team knowing the last time you picked up a bat Babe Ruth was still cracking home runs? Or starting a blog without knowing where it might lead?

Almost six months ago, I launched Hook’em and Book’em (HB) with an idea that mystery readers and writers might like to connect with law enforcement. Maybe readers might like to learn from cops—those who have fought the good fight—and use this information to write mystery fiction with more authenticity. Added to this, I thought mystery readers and writers might like to meet other published authors and learn about their latest novel.

Time appears to have validated this assumption. Readers from thirty countries have wandered over to HB in the last six months.These visitors have arrived from every continent but Antarctica—and I’m still hoping for a reader from that icy tip of the world. Although most of our visitors are from North America, they’ve included islanders off the coast of Thailand, as well as visitors from Tobago, Greece, Saudi Arabia, Lithuania, and other places I’d love to visit.

Here at HB, I continue to learn through trial and error. Thanks for overlooking these mistakes

One thing I’d like to encourage is more dialogue with and between readers. Although we continue to have a number of visitors, they often come and go without leaving a trace. Just past through cyberspace without telling us know what they think or what they might find interesting.

Here comes another assumption. I feel  Hook’em and Book needs to broaden its content to capture the revolution going on in the publishing industrylike ebooks, print on demand publishers, and major publishers starting their own self-publishing ventures. 

Beginning this week, there will three posts a week on HB. Generally, these articles will appear on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, unless my reservoir of ideas come us empty, my computer crashes, or a major publisher wants one of my novels right now. I want encourage readers to jump in with comments, suggestions and requests. Is there a mystery author you’d like me to hunt down and invite to our group? Any topic in law enforcement you’d like to learn more about? How about the publishing industry? Writers and aspiring novelists: how about the pains and joys of writing? What are some things you are struggling with? What rocks your boat? What really ticks you off?

Here at HB, I’d like to open this up to more dialogue and interaction. More of an open forum on any number of topics that might interest readers. Our core law enforcement and author interviews will still continue. I plan on taking a look at the border issues currently in the news, as well as other cops topics. 

Two of my favorite authors will join us in the coming month: 

Bestselling author Davis Bunn will hook up with us—all the way from England, unless he happens to be surfing in Florida—to talk about his latest novel, The Black Madonna, scheduled for release in September. 

Author Dean Koontz, New York Times bestseller, will join us in a few months about his novel, What The Night Knows, targeted for release in December. His prose and his plots are sure to make you shiver.

I hope to offer our readers much more, but it all depends upon you. Let me know what interested you. What you’d like me to pursue.

The key is flexibility in our topics. HB will strive to offer other perspectives about what is happening in the publishing industry. Quick briefs on mystery novels just hitting the stands. We’ll be exploring what’s happening in the publishing digital revolution, cultural trends in fiction, and any other subject that is hot at the time. Please leave your comments in the link to this article, or email me directly at

Remember that Jerry McGuire movie scene where actor Tom Cruise plays a sports agent. In one scene, the agent, Jerry McGuire struggles to break through to his one and only client about the need to make their best possible football deal. Peering into his client’s eyes, McGuire pleads: “Help me … help you. Help me, help you.”

Here at HB, I saying the same thing … although don’t expect any money.

Thanks to all those readers who’ve stopped by over the last six months. Keep on enjoying this journey.