I just got home from my second Writers’ Police Academy. My first one was 2011 then sadly, I had to skip a year. The remarkable thing that punctuated both of my WPA experiences was my car’s insistence on breaking down. Not once per conference, but every single darned time I put my key in the ignition and tried to drive forward.
In 2011, I sat behind the wheel of my powder-puff blue mini-van. It was the year of the rain. I’m not talking a little disheartening or disruptive rain here. I’m talking rains of biblical proportions.
On the very first day of my very first WPA, I huddled under my motel’s overhang before dashing out into the early morning darkness. Thoroughly drenched by the time I got from the lobby to my parking spot, the thunder boomed overhead. My slicker and umbrella? They didn’t lend much in the way of protection against the havoc.
I plopped into my driver’s seat, ringing wet, and checked myself in the mirror. Yup, drowned cat. I shoved my hair out of my face and threw my car into gear. As I reversed, I realized I couldn’t turn the steering wheel. No steering? I was distraught! What would I do? I had to get to the other hotel. The buses left at 7:30. On. The. Dot. Lee Lofland had laid down the law!
With my head under the hood and the rain stinging my face, I called my husband. I was – okay, I’ll go ahead and admit it – bawling. He answered the phone at 6:50 in the morning to my sobs.
“Honey, What’s wrong?” he asked calmly.
Hey! How did he know it was me? I explained my situation as best I could, and after a particularly indelicate snort, I gasped out, “…and now I’m going to miss the dead body. I was really, really looking forward to smelling the dead body.”
That was when hubby offered up the best line of our marriage; the line that told me he truly “got” me; the line that told me he had embraced the idea that he married a writer. He said, “And I want that for you, baby, I want you to smell the dead body, get in a cab and go.”
An hour and a half later, I stood ankle deep in wet clay. We WPA recruits strained to hear the instructor explain the concept of shallow graves through the torrents. Much to my chagrin, the wind had dispersed the scent of dead body. That was okay. Instead, I came away with an awesome description of the way mud can suck the shoes right off your feet, and how hard it is to find them again.
This year, I thought I had outsmarted fate; I took hubby’s Lexus and left him with the mommy-van. Again, I stayed at a nearby motel. Again, I made my 6:50 a.m. I’m-going–to-miss-the bus! anxiety-filled distress call. Hubby picked up on the first ring. I think he was just sitting there waiting for the inevitable. This time the culprit was the car’s battery. He talked me through emergency charging the darned thing; and voila, I had a new skill – one that I had to deploy every time I used his car in North Carolina but was no longer necessary once I arrived home in Virginia. Hmm.
At this year’s WPA, there was no dead body to smell. That was fine. I had already written that story and had moved on to a new project. This year, I needed information about kicking a terrorist while handcuffed. For some reason, Hubby wouldn’t tie me up and let me kick him in the head. He said he’d rather keep his teeth and send me to WPA. In the handcuff class, I got my wish.
With my wrists secured behind my back, I tried a list of different kicks on the rubber dummy. It turned out to be darned hard. Footwork changed. Balance changed. Line of sight changed. Speed definitely changed. And attempting a punch was just plain stupid. Looks like my kick-ass heroine is going to do some flailing. It’s not going to be pretty.
In another scene in my novel, a bomb squad is supposed to roll in to save the day. Now that I’ve tried on a bomb protective suit, those guys are going to do some flailing too.
I am the bomb, baby!
Me all dressed up in about a hundred pounds of “HELP! I can’t move.”
Beyond that, I also have a great scene to write about a felony stop where my cop is going to yell things like “Move to the right! Do it now!” and “Lift your shirt. Do it now!”
This is retired Secret Service Agent, Mike Roche showing us the tricks of the trade.
And surely, I can work in a scene about a SCUBA Team recovering a body.
This is Cookie.
Cookie taught us the process for finding dead bodies in dark water. HINT: Close your eyes and sing loud enough to keep the heebie-jeebies at bay. I may end up writing this scene but darned if I’m going to try doing it first. I’ll use Cookie’s descriptions for this particular plot twist.
I am so grateful to all of the experts who shared their inner most secrets.
Though, SOME people REFUSED to show us their special tattoo – even when we begged.
Dr. Scott Silverii, Chief of Police Thibodeaux, LA with me after our SWAT class.
At WPA 2013, there were pep-talks, and plot-talks. And cold banquet food – but who cared! Instead, we focused on Stacy Allen’s beautiful voice, moving us to tears.
Just like 2011, 2013 was an amazing opportunity to learn how to write it right and to go home inspired. I’m so glad that my car troubles didn’t win out; I never missed the 7:30 bus departure.
My deep gratitude to the instructors, volunteers, library ladies, and of course the remarkable and wonderful Lee Lofland for a fabulous time.
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