Archive for the ‘Guest columns’ Category

PostHeaderIcon Karen Knotts: The Dad I Didn’t Know

Karen Knotts went to USC where she learned her craft from Emmy Award winning director Alex Siegal. She did Equity regional theatre across the country. Roles included a prostitute in “Norman is that You?” and a prude in “Mind with the Dirty Man.” Karen’s first TV break was a miniseries starring George Peppard entitled “One of Our Own”. She played a hippy hitchhiker. The part required her to recite limmericks while “smoking pot” while holding a guitar, then throw herself through the car’s windshield. Television roles followed, in “Return to Mayberry” she played a former highschool beauty queen, and in “Vice Academy” a demented prison guard. Karen did well in sitcoms, even being directed by the colorful Carroll O’Connor. Recently, Karen starred in “An Occurrence at Black Canyon,” playing a sexually frustrated artist in 17th century France. Upcoming is Sy Rosen’s “Speed Dating.” Other fun credits are “Twinkles and Friends” (a TV pilot for kids), “Out of the Shadows” (a documentary about illiteracy) and the stage farce “Lend Me A Tenor” in which she won an ADA Actor’s award for Lonnie Chapman’s Group Rep Theatre (GRT).

The Dad I Didn’t Know

When Dad was a boy, there were hard times at home. The family was poor, his father was sick and couldn’t work, and his mother worried every week about how she was going to pay rent. But when he got to high school, everything changed. Dad’s personality which had previously been shy and withdrawn, suddenly exploded. He often said this was one of the best times of his life.

He became a very known and popular personality on campus. His humor was emerging. He ran for, and got elected to class president, and he wrote a column for the school paper called ‘Dots and Dashes by Knotts.’ It was full of fun little tidbits (and humor of course) about other students and high school happenings.

Another great thing that happened was the beginning of a deep and lasting friendship with another popular boy, Jarvey Eldred. Jarvey came from a wealthy family who lived on the ‘other’ side of the tracks. He was handsome, fun, and a great dancer. Jarvey often borrowed the family car and the guys would go out on double dates together. All the girls in their class wanted to date them.

Don and Jarvey developed a song and dance act which they performed at school functions. Later, another boy was added make it a trio, Ritchie Ferrara. Ritchie was an awesome musician, he played banjo, so now they had even more booking appeal. Both Ritchie and Jarvey were dad’s life long friends.

Years later when Dad was hot as a performer on ‘Man on the Street’ (a sketch from ‘The Steve Allen Tonight Show’), he was invited to perform in Cuba (I’m not sure what show, I think it was a variety show). He went down there and immediately got sick, among other things he had a terrible stomach ache. Everyone was afraid that he would have to cancel his appearance. He called Ritchie, who by this time was a doctor. Ritchie immediately flew down. After his examination, he privately diagnosed the case as stage fright. So he went to the store, bought groceries, came back and proceeded to cook a huge Italian spaghetti dinner.

Dad was perplexed, he couldn’t understand the treatment. Then Ritchie started telling stories and they got to laughing, piling in the food, drinking wine, and next thing you know, that stomach ache had vanished! Dad went on to perform on the show. They did things like that many times for each other over the years, and Dad regularly flew out to visit Jarvey in West Virginia. To this day Ritchie still plays a mean banjo.

*You can catch Karen this weekend at the Mayberry Days celebration in Mt. Airy, N.C. She’ll be performing her show, Tied Up In Knotts!, at the Downtown Cinema theater.

www.KarenKnotts.com

 

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Of course, we’ll always remember

PostHeaderIcon Writing Secrets of a Bestselling Author: Tess Gerritsen

Have you ever thought, “If I only knew the secret writing habits and rituals of the top authors then I, too, could be as successful?” Well, a while back I had the pleasure of asking a dozen top bestselling authors to share their writing tips with me. The authors were each gracious enough to do so and their answers were so doggone interesting that I thought I’d share them with you guys. So here you go, the writing secrets of your favorite authors. First up is Tess Gerritsen.

Please visit Tess at tessgerristen.com.

PostHeaderIcon Mr. X: Did a Mental Illness Land Him in Federal Prison?

Mr. X is a former business professional who committed a crime that landed him in federal prison. He’s out now and has agreed to share the story of his arrest with the readers of The Graveyard Shift. You might find this tale a bit interesting.

GYS: Thanks for taking the time to share what must have been a difficult time for you and your family. I’ll dive right in. What were the circumstances that ultimately led to your arrest?

X: It’s embarrassing to have to tell it. I’ll start by saying I was ill at the time. A mental problem, I guess you’d call it. My doctor gave me all sorts of drugs that were supposed to help me, but didn’t. They just screwed up my wiring—my thought processes. Anyway, to this day I still say I would have never done anything wrong had it not been for the assortment of antidepressants and pain pills. Still, I did what I did and I accept the responsibility for it. I wish I could change it, but I can’t.

GYS: What was the crime that ultimately led to your arrest?

X: I bought some cocaine to sell. I didn’t use the stuff, I just needed money. You see, with my mind so scrambled I couldn’t hold down a job and my wife was struggling to make ends meet. The medicine and depression simply wouldn’t let me think properly. Either I’d get fired or I’d quit for some crazy, unjustified reason. All I had on my mind was the feeling those little pills offered, especially the pain pills. At the time, I think I’d have married a bottle of Hydrocodone. I loved and craved it that much. Still do, actually, and I haven’t touched the stuff in many years. But I think about it nearly every day.

GYS: How long did your life of crime last?

X: I didn’t make a very good criminal. My entire crime spree lasted about a week. I bought the cocaine to sell, but chickened out. I couldn’t sell it. But someone who was involved in the transaction was already in trouble with the police and told them about me to help themselves out of their own jam.

GYS: Tell us about the arrest.

X: As it turns out, the person who told on me was an informant for a federal task force so, needless to say, I was surprised when my house was raided by a team of FBI agents along with state and local police. There must have been fifteen or twenty officers involved in the raid of my home. All for less than $100 worth of cocaine.

GYS: Seriously, that’s all you had?

X: Yes, sir. $100 worth. A heaping tablespoon full, maybe.

GYS: What were your charges?

X: Possession of a controlled substance (cocaine) with the intent to distribute, and obstruction of justice. The obstruction charge was later dropped. I think the feds automatically add that one to make you confess.

GYS: Why do you say that about the obstruction charge?

X: Well, they threatened to arrest everyone in my family—my wife, kids, and mother—if I didn’t confess. And if I didn’t admit to the crime they’d let the obstruction charge stand, and that’s a minimum of a ten-year sentence. I had no choice. None whatsoever. Plus, they applied this pressure prior to my talking to an attorney, which I understand is perfectly legal. But let me again stress that I was indeed guilty.

GYS: So what happened next?

X: Gosh, it’s all a blur. Let’s see. I was handcuffed, placed in the back of a police car, driven to a remote jail about two hours away from my home, fingerprinted, strip searched, de-loused, and placed in a jail cell. The cell was a single cell (only one inmate) with a plastic-covered mattress atop a steel plate hanging from the wall. A former occupant had smeared feces on the block wall in several places. The toilet didn’t flush, and the door—a solid steel door—had a family of roaches living inside the hinges and other tiny crevices. They came out to explore at various times throughout the day and night. By the way, it was difficult to distinguish between night and day because there was no window and the overhead light remained on 24/7. It was a real shock to me. I’d never even had a traffic ticket.

Oh, my family had no idea where I was, or what had happened. They were away when the raid took place—at work and in school.

This, shortly after my arrest, was when I learned that I was a drug addict. Withdrawal symptoms set in not long after I was in the jail cell. The next several days were pure hell, for many reasons. I begged for someone to help with the sickness, but my pleas went unanswered.

My only contact with humans was through a small slot in the middle of a steel door. As I said, I’d begged for help but that door wasn’t opened again for three days. I did see a couple of hands twice a day when they shoved a food tray through the slot. But the person wasn’t allowed to talk to me.

Someone, a federal agent, finally came to get me on the third day. He took me to a federal courthouse for a bond hearing. My family was there but I wasn’t allowed to speak to them. I was denied bond. Why not, I don’t know. This was a first offense, and a $100 dollar offense on top of that. So I was hauled back to the jail cell.

On the ride back to the jail, shackled like Charles Manson—handcuffs, waist and leg chains—I realized just how lovely trees, flowers, and the sky really are, even though I was seeing them through a steel screen. I also realized how important my family was. I’d taken a lot of things for granted in my miserable life.

So I wound up back at the jail, which I learned also doubled as a holding facility for federal prisoners. I was there for two more weeks until my wife scraped together enough money—$25,000 (she borrowed against the house)—to retain an attorney to represent me. Federal court is really expensive. The lawyer managed to get another bond hearing and I was released on my own PR, but I wasn’t allowed to go home with my family. I had to stay with a relative in another city because the prosecutor said I was a threat to my community. For $100 worth of drugs that I never took or sold!

Anyway, I remained there until I went to court where I was found guilty and sentenced to serve nearly three years in federal prison. But that’s a story for another day.

PostHeaderIcon Benjamin Sobieck: Switchblades and Assisted Opening Knives

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One of my favorite things about The Graveyard Shift is the way Lee Lofland pulls lessons out of current events. While I don’t have the law enforcement experience he can offer, I’d like to contribute to that tradition in my own way. Let’s talk about switchblades (aka automatic) and assisted opening knives.

As I’m sure many of you are aware, a man named Freddie Gray died after his arrest by Baltimore police this past April. There’s plenty to discuss about the context of his arrest and death, but I want to focus on the reason police cited for making the arrest. Gray apparently had a switchblade clipped into his pocket. Concealed carry of switchblades is illegal under Maryland law, and prohibited by Baltimore city code. However, it appears Gray may have actually carried an assisted opening knife, which is legal. The jury (figuratively) is still out on that.

What’s the difference? Why would these two knife types – one illegal, one legal – be confused?

If you’re familiar with switchblades from pop culture, you already know that they open with an iconic “pop.” What you might not know is what makes a knife a switchblade. By federal law, and most state laws, there are two distinct features:

– The folding blade is biased to open from its closed position inside the handle.
– A button or switch on the handle of the knife must be pressed for the blade to open. That’s different from the distinctions of an assisted opening knife:
– The folding blade is biased to stay shut from its closed position inside the handle.
– The blade is deployed by manipulating a part of the blade itself (a tab, a thumb stud, etc.), not a button or switch on the handle. The blade gets about halfway open before an assisting mechanism, such as a spring or torsion bar inside the knife, takes the blade the rest of the way.

This doesn’t sound like much of a difference, but the legal impact is significant. Switchblades are restricted across much of the U.S., although there are exceptions. Assisted opening knives are legal and popular almost everywhere.

To the eye, however, both types of knives look identical. They both open in flash with that iconic “pop.” As with much of firearms and knives, looks are deceiving. Function, not form, is what matters.

Adding to the confusion is the recency of assisted openers. They’ve been around only since the mid-1990s, but it took until 2009 for an amendment to the 1958 Federal Switchblade Act to specifically exempt assisted openers. Many states followed suit. That doesn’t change the fact most people can’t tell the difference, including law enforcement officers needing to make a quick decision.

For writing fiction, I think inserting “assisted opening knife” instead of a switchblade in a story makes you look pretty sharp. The switchblade is a tired trope. It isn’t 1958 anymore. With an assisted opening knife, a character gets all of the benefits of a classic switchblade with few of the legal restrictions.

If you’re new to knives and want to learn more about them in the real world, start with basic folders and reference the laws in your area. You might even check out the commemorative folding knife celebrating my new Writer’s Digest book that I’m giving away on my website, CrimeFictionBook.com, but that’s up to you.

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Benjamin Sobieck is the author of The Writer’s Guide to Weapons: A Practical Reference for Using Firearms and Knives in Fiction (Writer’s Digest Books, summer 2015) and several crime fiction works. His website is CrimeFictionBook.com.

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PostHeaderIcon Lynn Chandler Willis: It’s All Fun and Games Until…

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You’ve probably heard the old saying “it’s all fun and games until…” fill in the black. Usually the statement is followed by until someone gets hurt, or until someone gets killed.

In my world, nothing could be a more true testament to “it’s all fun and games until someone gets killed,” than writing in the True Crime genre. I’ve written fiction and I’ve written non-fiction and without a doubt, the non-fiction is the one that took its tole.

My first published book (Unholy Covenant, Addicus Book, 2000) was in the true crime genre. It was the story of two brothers who conspired to kill the older brother’s devoted wife. I was fortunate that the murder happened in my own community so there was no travel or years long research involved. I knew both families, the victims and the suspects.

Technical research was minimal because at that time, I owned and published a community newspaper who covered the story from the crime through the trial. During the first brother’s trial I sat in the courtroom every day, every hour, through every minute of testimony. I knew shortly into the trial, the story would make a good book.

It had all the elements: murder, money, greed, young beautiful bride, and deep religious overtones. The late Reverend Jerry Falwell even testified, creating a local media feeding frenzy. It was all so sensational! Just what the public craved.

It’s one thing to do research for your fiction, you know—how to murder someone 101—but it’s an entirely different thing when you’re sitting across the kitchen table from the victim’s mother asking her to share her thoughts on her daughter’s cold-blooded, premeditated murder. Some writers can do it and not blink twice. I discovered, after the fact, I wasn’t one of those writers.

The case, and book, garnered national attention. I did radio shows, television and newspaper interviews and even negotiated with a producer who wanted to buy the movie rights. I walked away from the bargaining table when he told me what he had planned—he wanted to make the victim a school teacher and the veteran detective a rookie. These are real people, I kept telling myself. They’re not made up characters.

I did agree to do a couple detective-type shows because they were based on the facts of the case, not characters created by a producer. One was for the Lifetime network and featured interviews and recreations. By this time, the book had been out a few years and the victim’s death had occurred several years prior. Yet, for the victim’s mother and brother—the pain was still there. No matter how many years had passed, each time another network called, the wounds were opened yet again. How could they ever move past the trauma of losing their daughter and sister when we kept pulling them back in?

With all the local and national exposure the case and book received, I had several people contact me with their “story”. Would I look into their brother’s death? Would I look into their son’s suicide? Here’s a story for you—I was told many times. Do you know how hard it is to tell someone who has lost a loved one to crime that sorry, your son/husband/brother/sister’s murder wasn’t sensational enough? Did it involve sex? Money? Greed? Was the victim a good person? Sorry, your loved ones death wasn’t the stuff books and movies are made of.
Although I don’t have plans to ever write another true crime book, I’m using what I learned from that experience in my fiction. Primarily, the varied emotions of the victims of crime or like in Wink of an Eye, the survivors.

In Wink of an Eye, a young boy hires a private investigator to investigate his father’s alleged suicide. The kid doesn’t believe his father would have ever taken his own life and wants to prove he was, in fact, murdered. I drew on those past interviews with the mother of the victim in Unholy Covenant to tap into the raw emotions of losing someone to murder. The longing to see them again, the need to know why, the confusion of not understanding how an investigation works…I used this knowledge to create the drive and tenacity of a twelve year-old boy out to prove his father didn’t kill himself.

I have no regrets about writing Unholy Covenant. It’s a tragic story and because it’s down on paper, Patricia’s story is immortalized. The book is in its third printing which means, fifteen years later, people are still reading Patricia’s story. For that, I’m truly thankful.

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Lynn Chandler Willis is the first woman in ten years to win the St. Martin’s Press/Private Eye Writers of America Best 1st PI Novel competition with her novel, Wink of an Eye (Minotaur 2014). Her other works, The Rising (Pelican Book Group, 2013) is an INSPY Award finalist and Grace Award winner for Excellence in Faith-based Fiction, and Unholy Covenant (Addicus Books, 2000) is now in it’s third printing.

PostHeaderIcon Ron Masak: Sheriff of Cabot Cove

I was a street kid from Chicago Illinois and had a great deal of respect for our neighborhood cop, Joe Sheldon. Little did I know that being an actor from Chicago would lead me into a life of police work. Here’s how it all started.

I had just finished college and went to California to begin my career as an actor. I played a GI on a segment of TWILIGHT ZONE. It was the time of Brando, Clift and Dean and the studio method. I must have been a damned good GI as I got drafted a week later. After 8 weeks of basic training, we were all being assigned what our new school would be. Here come’s the part about Chicago. What else would you make an actor/ entertainer? An MP…Yep Military Police. When I asked “WHY” I was told “Because you are from Chicago and you are either a good guy or a bad guy and either way we want you on our side” So after 8 weeks of police training I was assigned to Fort Benjamin Harrison Indiana and made up my mind to be the best MP the army had ever seen. While there I was the Post Soldier of the month and entered the All Army Talent try outs…Long story shortened…I was ,and I believe am still, The only MP to ever be a part of the ALL ARMY WORLD TOURING SHOW.

After getting Married and doing a lot of theatre in Chicago. Hollywood sent for me and I have been here ever since….Here is a list of the shows I have done where my Police training paid off…

8 Seasons as Sheriff Mort Metzger on Murder, She Wrote, The Law and Harry McGraw. The Stoneman, Cops n Roberts, Jessica Novack, Laserblast, Into the Glitter Palace, Barney Miller, McMillian and Wife, Good Times, Heat of Anger, Second Hundred Years, Bewitched, 10 different episodes of Police Story and I even played a singing dancing cop in a Nestles Crunch commercial with Kareem Abdul Jabbar. We shot that in downtown Los Angeles with 2 real cops on the set but the citizens would come up to me and ask directions.

Murder, She Wrote though is the role I will be identified with forever I guess for a day doesn’t go by when someone doesn’t yell out “Hey Sheriff, How’s Jessica?” and you know what? I love it.

I couldn’t wait to go to work with that great lady. Angela is the Rolls Royce of our business, and the last 2 seasons I got to write 2 story ideas that were bought. I was proud of that for I always felt we had the very best writers in the business and the most loyal following…including a couple of administrations in the White House, Now for those who care…Here is how I got the role. I had worked for Peter Fischer before, but the first time I went on location with him was when I played a detective on The Law and Harry McGraw.

We were in Massachusetts at a closed resort. A small staff was trying to feed breakfast to a film crew so I pitched in serving coffee, telling jokes and having a ball. A couple of months after we returned, Creator Peter Fisher called me and this is what he said on the phone ” Ron? Peter Fischer…Tom Bosley is leaving the show to do a new series and I am creating a new sheriff. The role is yours if you want it but I have to know in the next 24 hours as I am leaving for Europe, so I have to know your answer before I leave.” I responded “OK” He said “Then you will call and let me know?”…….I responded “I JUST DID”…..And as the late Paul Harvey used to say, “And now you know the rest of the story.”

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