by Jan Grape
People often ask if I am or was ever a police officer since I write a policewoman series. My answer is "No." However, in 1991 I took some classes offered by the Austin Police Department. It was the Austin Citizen's Police Academy. The training was a four-hour, once a week for twelve weeks program, set up mainly for people wanting to belong to their Neighborhood Watch Program. When I filled out my application for the classes I said I wrote mysteries and was interested to learn more about policing in order to write more realistically. That got me into the classes and I enjoyed them a great deal. So much so, that I encouraged my husband to attend, which he did and I also joined the Citizen's Police Academy Alumni Association or the CPAAA.
The instruction was comprehensive and each week different departments were covered by either the head of the department or the next person in charge. The sessions covered Communications, Patrol, SWAT, Robbery Homicide, Fire Arms, Fraud, Canine Units, and General Training. Each session consisted of lectures, demonstrations, tours and the last session was a riding in a patrol car with an officer for a ten hour shift. Mine was a fairly easy shift but I did soon realize that every single call an officer responded to could be dangerous. Even the ones that were supposed to be nothing more than a suspicious vehicle parked on a neighborhood street.
The CPA's slogan was "Understanding through Education." The goal was to provide enough information to help dispel misconceptions about policing and establish rapport between citizens and the police officers. Besides the knowledge and understanding I gained, I also met several officers I was able to call on when I needed detailed information on a particular subject.
Once the training program was complete we had an actual graduation ceremony and were given a diploma. We were then able to join the Alumni Association if we wished to do so. I did and one of the perks for alumni members we were called out during at least one of the regular police academy sessions to be a "bad guy" in a practical exercise training. To me, that was great fun to pretend to be a scumbag, and really get a cadet into a situation. They knew they weren't gong to actually get hurt but we could rag on them and cuss them out. The only time in my life I was able to cuss out a police officer and get away with it. I had a training officer tell me to get really mouthy with some cadets to see how they would react… especially if there was a cadet the T.O. needed to be sure that cadet would be able to keep their cool and handle the situation correctly.
In my book, Dark Blue Death, I wrote the first chapter of a scene that took place almost word for word in a training session. My training officer that day was a outgoing, very personable female officer who had been on the Austin police force for several years and in fact, was one of the first female patrol officers. She told me "war stories" of stopping a car for speeding and putting her police hat on. Her hair was pulled back in a pony tail and she had a bit of a deep voice. The culprit would be shocked to discover she was a woman. Sometimes walking up to the car, with a female driver, that female would be all ready to flirt with the officer, maybe pulling her skirt up a bit to show her legs. The idea being to get out of getting a speeding ticket. More than one driver showed real disappointment when the officer stopping her was female.
I actually went on a drug buy with an officer who told her Confidential Informant that I was a DEA agent helping on a special task force. The CI was given money by my police officer buddy and told what to buy. The CI went inside the suspect house and made the buy. The CI came back out with the drug and was sent on his way. The police officer put the crystal meth rock in an evidence bag, labeled and dated it, then she and I returned to headquarters and she showed me how they stored the drug in the evidence locker, marking the time and place and the action. It was all totally fascinating to me and still is. Unfortunately, it's nearly impossible to get to accompany an officer in that manner nowadays. The CPA still exists but now is a fourteen week program and a number of the alumni work in a volunteer capacity where needed.
To be honest, I don't think I'd like to be a police officer but it's fun to write about being one. Strangely enough, I was writing Private Eye short stories before I wrote my first Zoe Barrow novel. And even after becoming an alumni of the citizen's police academy I still was working on a PI novel. I was out at the academy, getting ready to participate in a practical exercise when this policewoman character began talking to me. Yes, I'm one of the weird ones who often hear voices in my head. My characters start talking. Zoe began talking and she was very determined that I tell her story. So I did. The first is Austin City Blue, and as I mentioned earlier, that Dark Blue Death was the second.
Oddly enough when my husband passed away and I had a number of health problems, Zoe quit talking. She does have one more book to tell and it was half-way complete when my life changed. It's even got a great title, Broken Blue Badge. I just have a strange feeling that she's on the edge of my conscious and will show up one day soon and begin taking again.
Until then, I'll keep seeing all y'all fairly regularly.
23 June 2014
11 March 2013
by Jan Grape
by Jan Grape
In a weird sense this is extra to Dix's blog on daydreaming. The topic of research has been on my mind for a couple of days and after reading about daydreaming and play acting I realized it more or less fit in the same category.
To learn where you characters are going to be located in your book. How much or how little do you research? For my first book, Austin City Blue, I visited the Austin Public Library's History Center. I read all the wonderful stories and newspaper clips that told of murder and mayhem in Austin in the beginning days of recorded records. I was mainly interested in the records of the police department. I used a little historical paragraph before each chapter. It wasn't a clue but I tried to make it relate to something that was going on in each chapter.
For instance, prior to Chapter Five I wrote:
In May 1904, the police chief announced compliance with a city-ordinance requiring new uniforms for his force. The ordinance stated: "the dress of the patrolmen shall consist of a navy blue, indigo dyed sack coat with short rolling collar, to fasten at the neck and to reach half-way between the articulation of the hip joint and the knee, with four buttons on the front. The pantaloons have to have a white cord in the seam. The cap to be navy blue cloth with a light metal wreath in front." The chief instead ordered felt hats and requested helmets for foot police, making them look like "real city policemen." The police clerk refused to wear his uniform-- blue trousers, yellow coat, and green cap--saying it made him look like an organ-grinder's monkey.
The chapter briefly mentions wearing the dress blues and/or dressing plain clothes in homicide.
Towards the end of the book, I wanted a neighborhood in a specific area that looked a bit seedy but not totally undone. I got in my car and drove around and found exactly what I wanted. It was a neighborhood filled with double-wide and single-wide trailers but not really considered a trailer park. The manufactured homes in the front part of the neighborhood were well kept and tidy, with nice lawns, gazebos, flower gardens and white picket fences. As I drove back into the neighborhood there were unkept yards, a car upon blocks in a driveway. Peeling paint on the houses, children's toys scattered and looking abandon. It was exactly what I needed and I used it in the book.
For Dark Blue Death, I used information I had learned from some classes I took that were presented by the Austin Police Academy. It was called the Austin Citizen's Police Academy program and mainly used for teaching neighborhood watch programs all about the various police divisions. Fraud, Robbery Homicide, Firearms, Victims Service, SWAT, etc., and was a 10 week, 3 and a half hour class session. Each division sent a department head to talk to us and explain what their units did. It was very informative and I met several officers that I later could contact and pick their brains more.
I also drove around Austin and took photographs of a location or a building I wanted to specifically mention. I went inside buildings to the 3rd or 10th or 14 floor to see exactly what a person might see from the windows of that building. Of course, I didn't use all the information I learned. Sometimes my book location changed and I didn't need a particular view or interior decoration.
A writer doesn't always write about the town they live in or even a place they've ever been inside of and sometimes just have to use their imagination. Once I wrote a short story about President Grant's wife, Julia Dent Grant inside the White House. I did a Google search and found pictures of the WH along with some floor plans. I managed to have the story take place in two or three different rooms and felt I did make it sound like the WH in President Grant and Julia Dent Grant's tenure there.
To me it's always fun to research and locate where I'm writing about. Someone several years ago, and I think it was Mary Higgins Clark, told of buying local newspapers of the town you're writing about even if you lived there four or five years ago. You are more likely to get the essence of the town and the people there. And if you're writing in the past, look up newspapers from that era and you'll discover the prices from the ads, what people wore, what entertainment people attended and a myraid of intriguing things.
Like the old real estate sales slogan: Location, Location, Location. Your book or story will definitely sound more authentic if you Research, Research, Research.