The Public Safety Writers Association, 2022 writing contest awarded “Coming Home” second place in flash fiction. The 302-word story chronicles the welcome a Vietnam Veteran received upon his arrival in San Francisco, California. The ending is open to the reader’s interpretation.
I’m still running. I’m running from something; I’m not sure what. It’s time to stop running.
It could have been the reception I received at the San Francisco Airport on that cold and foggy day. I had worn the uniform for what seemed an eternity. I took a cab into the city, but it had started before then. First, the baggage handler threw my duffle bag at me, and then the cabbie acted as though I was Typhoid Mary.
I’m confused. I only did what was expected of me. Why this?
Dropped at the Greyhound Bus Depot, I was treated as a pariah. People glowered at me, most backed away. One woman spat on me after saying something about babies, a killer. I had never imagined a woman could do something like that.
The bar was the same; one drink and I walked away. I found myself standing in front of a Harley-Davidson dealer. I went in—it was different. “Hi, welcome home, welcome to Dudley Perkins.”
The man treated me with dignity. Maybe that’s why I bought an Electra Glide in blue. I threw the uniform into a Dempsey dumpster. I didn’t go back for my duffle bag.
Now five days later, I’m in Utah, stopped alongside a lonely highway. Leaning against the motorcycle, I stare at a stark rock formation in a long-dead sea bed. The trees, those with foliage, display orange and yellow leaves that shift and drop as a cold wind passes through the lonely valley. I feel as cold and lonely as the scene in front of me as I prepare to say goodbye to a world that no longer cares.
Rhonda Blackhurst is a die-hard indie author and enjoys empowering and educating others in the process. She has ten published novels: The Inheritance, a Hallmark-style fiction stand-alone; seven in The Melanie Hogan Mysteries; and the Whispering Pines Romantic Suspense.
In her day job, she has worked in the law enforcement arena in the victim witness field and as a paralegal for the past 20+ years; she recently took an early retirement from the Adams County District Attorney’s Office.
In addition to being an author and indie author consultant, she is a certified life coach with a program called “Rise From Victim to Victor—How to Make What Happens to You, Work for You.” She enjoys running, biking, hiking, spending time at their Arizona house, and anything outdoors. She, her husband, and their very spoiled Fox Face Pomeranian reside in a suburb of Denver.
What brought you to writing? I began writing at an age when no one realized where it would take me—four years old, and unfortunately, it was with crayon on the knotty pine walls of our family home. I didn’t draw pictures. I actually wrote what I thought were words because I apparently had something to say. And it’s never stopped. I spent endless hours sitting on the dock by the lake we lived by or in our fishing boat, dreaming of worlds and words. I wrote a lot of poetry back then. In Jr/Sr High School, I saw the movie Absence of Malice with Sally Field and Paul Newman, and from there, I was determined to be a journalist in New York City. To start, I wrote a few articles for the city newspaper about school events. I got derailed a bit in college, and when my babies were little, I wrote two novels with pen and paper. I still have those manuscripts in boxes. After moving to Colorado, I began writing as a stringer for the local newspaper, but my heart was in fiction. After my last child left home, I began taking writing seriously, joined writers’ groups, and published my first novel in 2012.
What are you currently working on? This past April, I published the last book in a cozy mystery series, Shear Misfortune, in The Melanie Hogan Mysteries.
When a fitness center is a locale for both health and murder,
exercise enthusiasts must weigh their odds of the outcome.
I am writing the first draft of Inn the Spirit of Murder, book one in a new cozy mystery series, The Spirit Lake Mysteries, and having a ball with it. It stars Andie Rose Kaczmarek, the Spirit Lake Inn owner and a life coach, who has a feisty nun as a sidekick. It contains a bit of paranormal activity and all the colorful small-town characters. New ideas for books in the series keep popping up as I write—a writer’s dream! I’ve worked in the law enforcement arena in some capacity—mostly as a paralegal and in the victim witness field—for the past 20+ years. I was immersed in the darkness of the world where there are often no winners in the end. Writing cozy mysteries was my way of being able to leave that darkness in the evenings while I wrote and tied up the ending of the story with a pretty red bow. Cozies give me hope because the good guys win in the end, something I didn’t often see in my day job.
How do you come up with your character names? Naming my protagonist and antagonist is perhaps the most indecisive part of my writing. But when I finally decide on a name, it solidly clicks. In the Abby series (The Whispering Pines Mysteries), the name Abby brings to mind both vulnerability and strength. I have no foundation to hang that on, but it’s such a strong connection in my mind that it’s become a fact. Her ex-husband’s villain in that series makes it his mission to track her down, so he is appropriately named Hunter. In the Melanie Hogan mysteries, I chose the last name of Hogan because one of the most famous governors of Minnesota was Hulk Hogan (Jesse Ventura), and it just seemed to fit. The protagonist in my new series, Andie Rose Kaczmarek, I struggled with the most. I think I changed the first name several times and went back to the first name I chose. And at this point, even if I wanted to, there’s no going back because she’s a character in the last book of the Melanie Hogan Mysteries, which is already published. However, her last name solidly clicked because Kaczmarek is Polish for “Innkeeper.”
Has an association membership helped you with your writing? A resounding Yes! I think writers’ groups are essential to an author. Just being in the same room as a bunch of creatives is energizing. And learning from one another is such a huge benefit. Writers are one of the most giving, helpful groups of people I’ve known. I’ve met so many who are willing to share what they know and help in any way they can. The first writing group I belonged to was Northern Colorado Writers, and theirs was the first conference I attended. They hold a special place in my heart. I’ve added Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and Sisters in Crime. I’m currently President of Sisters in Crime—Colorado Chapter. I strongly encourage writers, no matter where they are on their writing journey, to get involved in whichever groups they belong to, as well as conferences. Volunteering is the best way to get full advantage of the experience.
Do you have any advice for new writers? There is only one solid rule—write! You will never be a writer if you don’t eventually stop thinking about it and write. And don’t let anyone “should” on you. Your path is uniquely yours. For every person who says you must do it one way, there’s another who will disagree. Your path is your path. Have fun with it!
“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” ― Louis L’Amour
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In her youth, Kassandra Lamb had two great passions—psychology and writing. Advised that writers need day jobs and being partial to eating, she studied psychology. Now retired from a career as a psychotherapist and college professor, she spends most of her time in an alternate universe populated by her fictional characters. The portal to this universe (aka her computer) is located in Florida, where her husband and dog catch occasional glimpses of her.
Service dog trainer Marcia Banks tackles a locked room mystery in a haunted house. She has trained a dog to clear rooms for an agoraphobic Marine who was ambushed during combat. But the phantom attackers in his mind become the least of his troubles when Marcia finds his ex-wife’s corpse in his bedroom, with the door bolted from the inside.
All my books are mysteries, but I like variety, so I tend to explore different subgenres. I have one completed series of traditional mysteries, one series of cozy mysteries that is winding down, and I have started a new series of police procedurals. I’ve also written some romantic suspense stories under the pen name of Jessica Dale.
We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave, or do they run the show? Some behave, but many do not. My main characters tend to behave most of the time. An exception was the main character of my cozies, Marcia Banks (pronounced Mar-see-a, not Marsha). I originally gave her a few neuroses, so she’d have some things to overcome during the course of the series. The main one was a longing to “be normal,” as she had been teased as a kid over her name and because she was a pastor’s kid. Plus, she’s licking her wounds after a short but disastrous marriage. But then she decided to throw a strong resistance to commitment into the mix, which drove her love interest a bit crazy for a very long time.
Minor characters often assert themselves and insist on bigger parts in the stories. I had two minor characters do this in my Kate Huntington series. One, Skip Canfield, wooed his way both into Kate’s heart and into a main character role.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? I use some of both. If I’m only going to have good things happen in a location, I’ll probably use a real place. The last two of my series are set in Florida, where I live now. Locals get a kick out of seeing a location name and being able to say, “I know where that is,” or “I’ve been there.”
But if I’m going to have negative things happen, such as corrupt cops, I make up a location. I’ve added three fictitious counties and a fictional city to the Florida map, so far.
What is the best book you ever read? Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine, by Bebe Moore Campbell. It is set in the 1960s and 70s when I was a teen and young adult, and it addresses race relations in a very human way.
Ms. Campbell captured the thoughts, feelings, and internal conflicts of all of her characters, including the extremely bigoted white males! She handled the multiple points of view so well that I was inspired to try that approach in my Kate Huntington series. (I’ve since switched to one point of view, usually first person, in most of my stories.)
What are you working on now? I’ve started a series of police procedurals, and I’m really enjoying that new challenge. The protagonist was a secondary character in my Kate Huntington series, a homicide lieutenant who becomes increasingly frustrated with big-city politics (the Kate series is set in the Baltimore area) and with riding a desk instead of being out on the street. Judith Anderson takes a job as Chief of Police of a small city in Florida, figuring if she’s in charge, she can be more hands-on. In Book 1, Lethal Assumptions, she’s only eight days on the job when she finds herself chasing a serial killer.
I’m currently writing the first draft of Book 2, Fatal Escape, which deals with human trafficking and domestic abuse. But since I’m used to writing cozies (which are supposed to be “clean”), I’m trying to keep the gore and swearing to a minimum. I don’t want to offend my loyal readers.
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? I usually do, especially in a full-length novel. Often the subplot is about the main character’s love life. My favorite kind of subplot, though, is one that ends up tying into the main plot at the end of the story.
In Fatal Escape, Judith’s love interest is the sheriff of the next county over. She calls him Sheriff Sam inside her head. She already has a drowning case on her plate—that could be a suicide or murder—when she gets a call from Sam to come to a murder scene on the boundary line between their two jurisdictions. They have a funny little back-and-forth in which each is trying to give the case to the other one.
Sam finally takes the case since Judith’s already got her hands full. But later, it turns out that the two cases are linked. I won’t say more for fear of spoilers, but I can hardly wait to write the chapter in which they make the connection. Every time I think about it, I want to rub my hands together and laugh diabolically.
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Steve Rush is an award-winning author who won joint first prize in the 2020 Chillzee KiMo T-E-N Contest and was a finalist in the 2020 Page Turner Awards.
His experience includes tenure as a homicide detective and chief forensic investigator for a national consulting firm. He was once hailed as “The best forensic investigator in the United States” by the late Joseph L. Burton, M.D, under whom he mastered his skills and investigated many deaths alongside Dr. Jan Garavaglia of Dr. G: Medical Examiner fame. Steve has investigated 900+ death scenes and taught classes related to death investigation. His specialties include injury causation, blood spatter analysis, occupant kinematics, and recovery of human skeletal remains.
Do you write in more than one genre? In addition to my latest release, Kill Your Characters: Crime Scene tips for Writers, I write suspense/ thrillers and have three nonfiction books in the Christian market.
What brought you to writing? I began writing after reading multiple novels and watching the masters unfold stories page after page. A homeless man’s murder prompted me to write my first novel (Façade, written pseudonym Shane Kinsey) after I identified the deceased by skin removed from his thumb. (In the novel, a killer uses skin from a dead man’s thumb to leave a bloody thumbprint at his murder scenes.) Wings E-press was accepted and published in 2010. I was hooked.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I write at home ninety-nine percent of the time. I shut off my surroundings and become a spectator in my characters’ world. The other percent is in a hotel/condo while on vacation or a weekend getaway. I get involved to the extent I have no clue of anything happening around me.
Tell us about your writing process: I am a pantser. I tried to outline and found myself deviating from my notes more and more. I have an idea of story and denouement and write as the story unfolds in my thoughts. I like to ask “What if?” and go from there.
What are you currently working on? I am writing about a high-school senior who lost his parents in a fire-bombing.
Who’s your favorite author? Dean Koontz
How long did it take you to write your first book? Several years writing while working a full-time job that required travel across the U.S.
Do you ever kill a popular character? If so, what happens to your story? My latest book is all about killing characters, so, yes, I kill characters when necessary to advance the story and keep the others honest.
What authors did you dislike at first but grew to enjoy? Stephen King. The first novel of his I read left me wondering if he is a writer I should continue to read. I read The Green Mile and others and believe King is in the top five of the best-writer list.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? No.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? Both.
Do you have any advice for new writers? I will elaborate below. Add suspense. Increase tension. Write what you know.
Writers and editors differ in opinion when it comes to book-length fiction. They suggest we turn off our self-editor and get words on the page. Edit the work after we have a first draft. While the advice works well in most cases, some authors prefer to edit along the way. One author reviews and edits the writing done in a previous session. Another author edits while writing. (Both are New York Times best-selling authors.)
Some authors are outliners; others are pantsers. I am a pantser. I find editing along the way works best for me.
Whatever method you choose, the most crucial aspects to remember when writing inciting incidents, especially crime scenes, are authenticity and credibility. This is where more-than-a-few writers see a stop sign. How can we write what we know if we don’t know it?
Facts support our efforts. I learned this from the cases I investigated as a homicide detective and forensic investigator. They prompted me to write, Kill Your Characters—Crime Scene Tips for Writers.
Facts paint images we want readers to see as if everything happens in their presence. We show readers how to kill. We show how to collect evidence, how to investigate deaths, and how to put together a case for prosecution. Each endeavor must embrace appropriate facts.
Elements of story direct readers where we want them to go until a twist of facts proves otherwise. This includes misdirection. Some facts inserted in the story alter the outcome. Details in fiction reflect real-world situations. Unbelievable instances in life frequently prove to be true, although many come as a surprise to us. When readers see events as too easy and convenient, skepticism turns focus away from our story.
The next step begins when the protagonist arrives and examines the scene. Choices rest on their training from that time forward. The difference between a protagonist’s competence and incompetence depends on their level of expertise. That expertise, or the lack thereof, comes from the facts we give them.
As writers, we share ideas visualized in our minds. We invite our audience to see our inciting incidents. We reveal bits and pieces of the story, one scene after another. We perform our job well when we grab their attention and keep them reading.
True-to-life facts support and give credibility to our stories. What better way to intrigue our readers?
Kill Your Characters—Crime Scene Tips for Writers
There’s a dead body on the floor, and your detective character has to learn every detail about the crime in order to solve the case and bring the murderer to justice. If you’re not an experienced forensic investigator, how can you describe the manner of death accurately so that the evidence means what you want it to mean?
Kill Your Characters by former detective and forensic investigator Steve Rush gives you the tools you need to pass the inspection of all the armchair detectives (and more than a few real ones) out there. Discover your ultimate empowerment source for writing the page-turning inciting incident you have always wanted to write. Become a master and save hours of research effort searching elsewhere for accurate information.
This book will help you answer: How did your character die? What were the circumstances of the murder? What weapon did the killer use? What evidence was left behind? How can you build a rock-solid case against the suspect?
Kill Your Characters will help you answer these questions and more with facts to back up your fiction. When plotting the next murder scene for your story, you may run into obstacles such as how the detectives determine the time of death or the forensic evidence left by a gunshot wound. Steve Rush’s extensive experience is accumulated in a series of writing tips that will significantly improve your story. Kill Your Characters is for any author looking to elevate their murder scenes with credible and authentic details.
Order your copy here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1947521780
Public Safety Writers Association members can submit their work to an annual contest. The winners are revealed at the annual conference. This year’s winners were announced on July 17, 2022. I was delighted to learn that the poem I had submitted, “Sand Creek,” was awarded second place.
The First People trusted you
to protect, and
to feed our people.
You betrayed The People.
You stole the food the Great White Father sent
to nourish The People,
our children, our future.
You betrayed The People.
Instead, you raped our women
beheaded our children.
You failed the Great White Father.
You betrayed The People.
Your soldiers murdered The People.
You murdered The People.
You failed the Great White Father.
You betrayed The People.
We died for your sins,
When you murdered the people.
You failed the Great White Father.
You betrayed The People.
To learn more about the Public Safety Writers Association, visit https://policewriter.com