Friday’s Heroes: Remembering The Fallen

The Graveyard Shift extends our condolences to the families of these brave officers.

Agent Victor Soto-Velez, 37

Puerto Rico Police Department

June 26, 2012 – Agent Victor Soto-Velez was off-duty and traveling to his home when his car was intercepted by a vehicle driven by armed assailants. The ambushers then fired at least fifteen rounds into the agent’s car. It is believed the attack occurred because of Agent Soto-Velez’s work as a narcotics officer. Agent Soto-Velez died as a result of gunshot wounds. He is survived by his two children.

Officer Celena Hollis, 32

Denver Colorado Police Department

June 24, 2012 – Officer Celena Hollis was shot in the head when she attempted to break up a fight between two groups of people during a jazz festival in a city park. Officer Hollis was transported to the hospital where she succumbed to her injuries. She is survived by her daughter.

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Freek Show: An Interview With The Sinister Minister

Steve Burt is the author of two award-winning series for adults and teens: the Stories to Chill the Heart weird tales series and the FreeKs mystery/suspense series featuring psychic and paranormal teens. A Congregationalist pastor and a longtime member of the Horror Writers Association, he is the only ordained minister to win horror’s top prize, the Bram Stoker Award (2004); he was also a Nominee/Finalist in 2003. In 2009 Connecticut Magazine profiled him as “The Sinister Minister.”

Lee: Your short story collections fall under horror, but your novels under mystery/suspense. When did you make the switch and why?

Steve: In the 1990s I wrote short stories for magazines because I was pressed for time and eager to get some publishing credits. Once I was established, though, my agent and my new bride pressed me to pursue the long form, the novel. I had no clue as to how to write and sustain horror for a novel, but I was an avid mystery reader. So I plunged in by creating a cast of teen characters with fledgling psychic and paranormal gifts that they needed to develop. Ten kids would go off to camp to learn to use their gifts under the tutelage of three former circus sideshow performers—Bando the hypnotist, Twait the high-diving midget, and Twait’s wife Rose the fortuneteller. But on the way a psychopath kidnapped one of the vans of five teens and hid them away until he could sacrifice them. At that juncture I knew I had to make a choice—either start the actual sacrificing (horror) or start the ticking clock as the safe-at-camp teens and staff tried to track down the bad guy and rescue them (a mystery/thriller). The psychic teens chose the latter path for me. So it’s a mystery/thriller with elements of horror in it, plus elements of the supernatural (ghosts, levitation, spoon bending, remote vision, etc.). The story was too big and too long for a short story, so I had to shift to the novel. And there it was: the FreeKs series was born.

Lee: And what’s in the FreeKs series?

Steve: Two books so far, FreeK Camp (2010) and FreeK Show (2012), and I’m just starting the third, FreeK Accident (2014, but maybe a year sooner). In the second book, half the kids return to Free Camp (the blood-red K is graffiti on the side of the van) the following summer and connect the dots on a series of homicides in three states. What they don’t know is that as they’re using their psychic gifts and their detective skills (solid sleuthing on Google) to uncover the serial killer, he is tracking one of the camp staff and one of the kids.

Lee: The series is gaining popularity with both adult and teen audiences. Why do you suppose that’s happened?

Steve: A lot of adults read young adult and teen novels, particularly in the fantasy/sci fi/horror genre and the mystery/suspense/thriller genre. It’s always been that way. Look at Andre Norton, Ray Bradbury, Stephen King,. The age range of readers for J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books is nine to ninety-nine—teens discussing the same books with their great-grandmothers. Same with Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, the Twilight series, and the Hunger Games series. The age distinction is fading in what I call those “dark fiction” genres. Another factor is the writing level. As with Harry Potter, my FreeKs series isn’t dumbed down; it’s written at the adult level, but with teen protagonists and adult antagonists. So adults can appreciate a good mystery or thriller while teens can relate to struggling heroes their own age. And (well-reading) pre-teens seem to enjoy reading about slightly older teenaged characters. There’s something there for everybody.

Lee: You mentioned the late Ray Bradbury, J.K. Rowling, and Stephen King. Don’t you have some connection to those three?

Steve: I have Ray’s signature on three creative writing awards on my office wall. My collection Even Odder was a 2003 Bram Stoker Award Nominee and lost to Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in the finals (but I won the Stoker with Oddest Yet in 2004). And Stephen King was my neighbor in Bangor, Maine while I was in seminary in the early 1980s.

Lee: I see that your FreeKs series has done pretty well in the awards department. Can you mention a few? And do awards make a difference?

Steve: Most are teen and young adult awards, a few for adults. So far it’s two Mom’s Choice golds, the Moonbeam Children’s Book Award, and the London, Paris, New York, San Francisco, Hollywood, and New England Festival awards. There are also three Beach Book of the Year Awards (2010, 2011, 2012) and a Next Generation Indie. I don’t know if they help convince a reader to take a chance on a book—maybe so—but I still rely on word of mouth and return customers (a benefit of series characters). It’s not the awards that keep me going back to the keyboard; it’s reader response and an internal need to create and entertain.

Lee: One last question. Isn’t there another writer in your family who is far better known than you are?

Steve: Ah, apparently you’ve heard of my daughter Wendy Burt-Thomas. Yes, she’s written thousands of articles and a few books, including the Writer’s Digest Guide to Query Letters that everybody relies on. She also writes the daily Ask Wendy blog that lists markets and contests for writers. She and I and two of Stephen King’s sons must have drunk the water in Bangor; we all became writers.

Lee: Thanks so much for your time, Steve. And good luck with the FreeKs series.



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The President’s Battle To Stop Marijuana

The fight over medical marijuana is a battle with several fronts. Many states and local governments have chosen to legalize the drug’s use to help alleviate pain associated with disease, and as treatment for cancer, AIDS, glaucoma, and other conditions. The federal government, however, has classified marijuana as a Schedule I drug, in the same category as heroin, methamphetamine, LSD, Ecstacy, and Methaqualone (Quaaludes)—drugs having no medical value—and, as a result, do not recognize local authority to legalize pot use and sale.

To say the local governments and the feds have butt heads over the issue would be putting it mildly. Instead, the two are basically at war, with local officials giving their stamp of approval on medical marijuana stores, only to find the feds (the three-letter law enforcement agencies) kicking in the doors of those very same businesses.

Well, those three-letter agencies, backed by the U.S. Attorney General, have armed themselves with a very subtle “bomb.” Now, in addition to “door-kicking” raids, the feds are targeting the landlords who own the buildings where medical marijuana businesses are housed.

Federal law enforcement officials are putting the squeeze on those property owners to evict their pot-selling tenants or face losing their real estate through a civil asset-forfeiture program. As recently as this month (June, 2012) federal prosecutors have filed to seize three such buildings in Santa Fe Springs, California. Which three businesses is not clear since the selection there is many. For example, a quick online search turned up these medical marijuana dispensaries in the Santa Fe Springs area.

420 Go Green Dispensary

• 12145 Slauson Ave # B

Santa Fe Springs

(562) 696-6500

AP Natural Solutions

9841 Alburtis Avenue

Santa Fe Springs

(562) 991-9393

Tri-City Patients Association

13844 Rosecrans Avenue

Santa Fe Springs

(562) 921-8300

Deeply Rooted

8807 Pioneer Boulevard

Santa Fe Springs

(562) 699-6800

Humboldt Wholesale

12513 Shoemaker Avenue

Santa Fe Springs

(562) 946-7744

Santa Fe Compasionate Health Center

13128 Telegraph Road

Santa Fe Springs

(562) 941-1111

California Alternative Healing Center

10802 Norwalk Boulevard

Santa Fe Springs

(562) 237-7638

Whittier Hop Collective

8116 Byron Road


(562) 945-2420

Federal prosecutors have also sent out hundreds of letters to other property owners giving them the option of booting their tenants or face losing their property in civil proceedings (civil-forfeiture statute allows the government to seize any property used to commit or facilitate drug trafficking).

This method of enforcing federal law (mailing property-seizure notices) is far less expensive than sending a raid team over to each location to kick in their doors, bag and tag all evidence, haul it away, store it, and then have officers and agents, prosecutors, judges, jurors, clerks, bailiffs, and defendants in court for weeks at a time. So far, over 200 landlords have complied with the notices by evicting their pot-selling tenants.

Another tactic used by the feds is to scare banks into not doing business with medical marijuana outfits. By threatening those institutions with civil actions, many marijuana companies have been forced to operate on a “cash-only” basis, much like street dealers.

And all this comes just a few short years after presidential candidate Obama promised he would respect state laws regarding medical marijuana. Well, not only is he targeting medical marijuana dispensaries and the people who own the property, his administration has:

– denied a petition to re-classify/reschedule marijuana despite evidence that the drug does indeed have medical value.
– issued a statement that says medical marijuana patients may not purchase firearms.
– the IRS is going after pot providers based on obscure drug trafficking laws.
– prosecutors have threatened to arrest state employees for enforcing state laws regarding medical marijuana.
– threatened to target newspapers that run ads for medical marijuana businesses.

I’m not saying that I’m for or against the legalization of marijuana. What I am asking, is…why not? Why the big push against something that over half the citizens in this country want to see legalized, especially for medical use when it can help a dying cancer patient live pain free during his last days on this earth.

What are your thoughts? Legalize pot use, or not?

*DEA photos. Information source – HuffPo/Scott Morgan – Obama Must Explain His Broken Promise on Medical Marijuana, and Soon…and, of course, my brain and experience, for what that’s worth.

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