A Clinical Psychologist People call the Cop Doc
I write the Dot Meyerhoff mysteries: Burying Ben; The Right Wrong Thing; The Fifth Reflection. My non-fiction titles are: Counseling Cops: What Clinicians Need to Know (with Mark Kamena, Ph.D., and Joel Fay, PsyD); I Love a Cop: What the Family Needs to Know; I Love a Fire Fighter: What the Family Needs to Know. Many writers use my non-fiction books as references and get story ideas from the vignettes.
Did you always want to help people and write? When I was a child and again after my second non-fiction book when I grew tired of reality and thought it would be easier to make things up. It isn’t. It’s harder.
Did it take long to become a published author? My first non-fiction book was picked up on the first round of submissions.
Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author? I am traditionally published, but maybe try indie publishing in the near future.
Where do you write? I have a home office with a standing desk, and I use a computer.
Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? I cannot write to music. My sentences have to have a certain rhythm. Music interferes with my ability to hear that rhythm.
How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? My protagonist, Dr. Dot Meyerhoff, is somewhat autobiographical, although younger and thinner. As a psychologist, she does things I would have lost my license for doing; impersonating a public official, breaking and entering, and assault with a deadly weapon. I have plagiarized my husband Steve’s entire life for Dot’s love interest, Frank Hollis.
Describe your process for naming your characters? Dot Meyerhoff is named after my mother (Dorothy, aka Dot) and my maternal grandmother, whom I never knew, Rose Meyerhoff. The names of other characters just come to me.
Real settings or fictional towns? I use real settings with fictional names. This gives me the latitude to make stuff up and avoid getting email from readers telling me I got the directions wrong. I’m not consistent, I just finished a short story using real names of towns. As a working police psychologist, I need to protect the identities of my clients and the departments they are associated with.
What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has? Dot Meyerhoff loves popcorn with red wine. And she never gives up on anyone.
If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? There are too many to name.
What’s your biggest pet peeve? In terms of writing, I can get pretty riled up at books about cops who kill three people singlehandedly in one day and never suffer any psychological aftermath. As a police psychologist, this isn’t how it happens. Ditto for stories about abused children who grow up to be ninja warriors and kill their abusers.
You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves? Bread, books, and my husband, Steve.
What was the worst job you’ve ever held? There are so many. Being a tour guide at Rockefeller Center almost made me crazy. Repeating myself over and over was torture. I’ve been a secretary/typist/cocktail waitress and gym instructor. Think “Mad Men,” and you’ll understand.
What’s the best book you’ve ever read? Once again, there are too many to list. I love language, so my favorites, be they mysteries, non-fiction, or literary fiction, have to combine beautiful sentences, deep characters as well as a compelling structure (aka plot).
What’s on the horizon for you? Don’t want to jinx myself, but just maybe another non-fiction book for cops. I also have a completed fourth novel in the Dot Meyerhoff series that is looking for a new publisher. And I’m having a great time working on a standalone. Thanks to the pandemic, I’m really focused.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books? This was a different interview. Thanks for asking so many off-the-wall questions. I appreciate your interest. One of the many surprises of being part of the mystery community is how hospitable and supportive my fellow writers are.
Website and/or blog links: www.ellenkirschman.com. I also blog with Psychology Today and contribute a column to the SinC Quarterly.
Our guest today is Mark R. Clifford
A Proud fourth-generation San Franciscan, Mark is the second-born in an Irish Catholic family of seven, making him a self-proclaimed expert in the pseudoscience of birth order characteristics. He served in the Marine Corps infantry for ten years and as a Police Officer for over a quarter-century. TYPHOON COAST tells the story of what haunts him.
In the Marines, he rose to the rank of Staff Sergeant. Mark received Special Operations training while attached to the 3d Marine Division in Okinawa and was operating in the Philippines in 1991 during the historic eruption of Mount Pinatubo. His law enforcement career was equally eclectic. He rose to the sergeant’s rank and served in a myriad of assignments to include SWAT and undercover narcotics.
Mark still calls the San Francisco Bay Area home. He and his wife have been married for almost thirty years and have raised three beautiful children. He has written for the San Jose Mercury, Contra Costa Times, San Leandro Times, and read his works at the famous Cody’s Books in Berkeley.
Mark, we have a few questions about TYPHOON COAST and your writing history. To begin with, what genre or genres do you write in? I work mainly in adventure fiction, magical realism, and historical fiction.
Please tell us a bit about your book.
Ten-year-old Trent McShane watches in horror as his beautiful young mother is swept away from California’s Typhoon Coast into the unforgiving wild blue Pacific, never to be seen again. Lost and bewildered, Trent falls under the spell of class clown Eddie Thompson, who has a wanderlust for treasure hunts—in particular, the infamous World War II Golden Lily Treasure, buried on the other side of the ocean, deep in the wild green Philippine jungle.
Together, Trent and Eddie follow childhood illusions of grandeur through San Francisco, then become men in the vast Philippine mountains. Mount Pinatubo explodes with apocalyptic fury, but does it take the Golden Lily Treasure with it? Eddie and Trent are not alone in the hunt. The trillions in treasure could afford the US government incredible power in international affairs and bankroll the nation’s black operations. It’s all fair game.
Typhoon Coast is a rollicking ride through 1980s San Francisco, through the vibrant eyes of a boy who loses his mother, and then his innocence. In the jungles of the Philippines, in the 1990s, that boy becomes a man, falls in love, and begins a lifelong quest for a mythical treasure trove hidden in the canopy. Magical realism and romanticism merge with the hard, cold reality of a Marine’s life to reveal a glimpse into how the imagination conspires to keep us dreaming.
When did you realize you wanted to write novels? After twenty-six years, I retired from police work as a Sergeant on June 1st, 2020. Sadly, I watched a massive mob loot and burn the town I served from one end to another. I had friends die on those streets. Friends become disabled; their dreams cut short. Police officers live many lifetimes. It is common to live a lifetime in one shift—all a single life’s emotions wrapped up in a unique tour.
I lost a friend and fellow writer on those streets. He was savagely gunned down. As I folded the flag over his coffin, I promised I’d write a novel. I started soon after.
How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication? Sharing my work with the world was always part of the plan. As the writing process ended, the marketing began. I quickly realized that the publishing industry was changing, and I had to make my luck.
Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author? Next step! I am not the smartest guy. But I am stupidly ambitious. I found a guy (now friend) who wanted to give indie publishing a shot. I put the magic on paper, and Greg put his spell on the computer. It was a joint operation, and we were pretty proud of Typhoon Coast the day she was born.
Where do you write? I write from where I am in life. I went from being an altar boy and an Eagle Scout to being a Marine and a cop. I work at my computer in the family room every morning at 6:30. Writing is not a discipline for me; writing is something I serve.
I reach for my hot cup of black coffee in a military veteran mug that my kids gave me for Christmas years ago. The computed screen glows in a dark room. My dog sleeps on the couch behind me. I like quiet; however, I don’t need it. Technically, I was not a true feral child raised by wolves, but I’m Irish-Catholic, and I was the second oldest in a family of seven children—I got peace like I got stigmata.
The world is still quiet at six-thirty—a treat.
I remember my dreams from the night before. I still dream about the jungle and the streets. The concerns of the day will begin in a couple of hours. At six-thirty, the story I serve weaves itself into the rules of my craft. I am its servant.
How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? Henry David Thoreau wrote, “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.” I will never claim that Typhoon Coast is an autobiography. On the other hand, every single detail has a pure life nexus. A writer must write from a place they know.
Sadly, at twenty-six, I was wealthy beyond imagination.
The Philippines is a nation of 7,641 islands and just as many spectacles. June 1991, I was a Marine stationed on Luzon, the chain’s largest island, where fate had ushered me to a front-row seat to an epic adventure. While enduring the fatigue of jungle patrol, I’d befriended a Filipino selling machetes. He’d disclosed to me the suspected whereabouts of a treasure trove rumored to be near the top of the now-infamous Mount Pinatubo.
There is much history about this legendary Golden Lily Treasure, as well as intrigue behind its origin. My new cohort and I soon took a jarring jeepney ride, to board a slow-sinking banca boat that ferried us back to the boonies, where we footslogged toward Pinatubo’s Vesuvius splendor, to unearth our riches in Luzon’s lawless wilderness.
Treasure hunting is rousing. I don’t need to bother you with the intricate details of how the machete man read a series of etchings in rocks, or how we avoided a bottle as if it was a landmine because the Japanese filled Saki bottles with deadly gas to protect the cemented entrances from looters. But we’d found the sealed cave! I could smell the perfume of my soul within…that undeniable fragrance of one’s hopes and dreams. The bigger problem was staying alive to claim it. However, in the end, it didn’t matter. A few days later, I was back on filthy jungle patrol. I tasted the unmistakable lure of treasure that had seeped into my nose and caked to the back of my tongue, as I watched Pinatubo’s cataclysmic eruption blow 500 feet of its summit twenty-two miles into the wild blue yonder.
Typhoon Coast was inspired by the second-largest volcanic eruption of the twentieth century, which blew my life of opulence to oblivion. I have since raised a family and was a cop for more than twenty-five years. I plan on writing two more books based upon the adventures of Typhoon Coast’s main character, Trent McShane. We will follow his life of dramatic happenstance, as he is plucked off his beat and back into the Marines, seizing opportunities to right his life’s tragic wrongs on the trail of a high-stakes mission.
Describe your process for naming your characters? One of the biggest problems with man is that we name everything we see! A “name” is a label that simplifies very complicated things. For example, “Man” is a word that reduces a person’s biology, psychology, genetics, and personal history to three letters. I have lost lots of friends whom I immortalize throughout Typhoon Coast. Their loved ones will recognize them.
Real settings or fictional towns? Why? Create a world that your reader will understand and do it early. I learned something important about storytelling as a young cop. I’d lose my audience at body number two in a multiple homicide story. It wasn’t that I couldn’t tell a dramatic tale; it was that the subject matter was just too remote for a reasonable person to grasp. Now try telling a story about being buried alive in quaking cataclysmic volcanic eruption while a typhoon raged outside. An actual apocalypse that blackened out the sun. They just can’t connect. As a result, I create composite settings and situations to better reach my reader. They are not looking for me. I’m looking for them.
What’s the best book you’ve ever read? I rarely read for pleasure today. I write. I do read voraciously to see how others have written. I have bookshelves uniformly fitted with tattered books that profoundly influenced my inner writer. Drum roll…. The best book I ever read (and recommend to fellow artists) …. Ready for the big reveal?
Answer: The Moon and Sixpence is a novel by W. Somerset Maugham, told in episodic form by a first-person narrator, in a series of glimpses into the mind and soul of the central character Charles Strickland, a middle-aged English stockbroker who abandons his wife and children to pursue his desire to become an artist.
BUT! Don’t run out and buy it. It’s available through my website and Amazon.
What’s in the future for you and your writing? To continue to write, of course. A story can be told from many perspectives.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books? Stay tuned for Barbary Coast: Fly from Evil to be released in 2021!
Website and/or blog links: www.typhooncoast.com
GHOSTED – The Drifter Series: Book Four
We have the great pleasure of a visit from Jackie Taylor Zortman. A fine write, Jackie lives in the Colorado Mountains not too far from the Million Dollar Highway, one of the most beautiful stretches of road I’ve ever ridden. Jackie writes police procedural, paranormal romance, romantic suspense, and non-fiction grief.
When you finish check out Jackie’s website:www.jtzortman.wordpress.com
Please tell us a bit about your newest book in the Drifter Series.
Jake rides his Harley again in GHOSTED – The Drifter Series Book #4. He brings his carefully concealed personal secret out into the open for the first time. An untimely and unexpected classified mission in The Tetons of Wyoming takes him away from Kimble, Colorado, at the worst possible time in anyone’s life. His leaving without warning creates hurt, embarrassment, and fury in Tomi. Will it end their relationship forever this time?
Leaving his beloved red Harley behind, Jake has his pilot friend, Stephan, fly him into Jackson Hole Airport in his private plane. Without his cycle, he rents a Jeep to pursue his assignment. An old friend suddenly re-appears in Jackson Hole and indirectly becomes an important fixture in Jake’s world as he finally settles an old score that changes the lives of many beloved people.
Find out what shocking discovery Jake has exposed this time and learn if it turns out to be the wonderful surprise he expected or a total disaster. It’s all there inside the pages of GHOSTED.
When did you realize you wanted to write novels? My 21-year-old grandson fell to his death in the black of night from a mountain ledge. Sixteen months later, I sat down and wrote WE ARE DIFFERENT NOW to soothe my aching soul. It sold like hotcakes and still sells, as needed. I feel Pete lives on through its pages.
As for writing novels, my husband once mentioned he’d like to see a particular case he worked for the Wichita PD as the Senior Homicide Detective as a book. I wrote FOOTPRINTS IN THE FROST, spiral bound it and tossed it on a shelf. Years later, I ran across it, modernized it, and sent it to the Public Safety Writers Association’s Writing Competition in 2014. If it bombed there, it was going into the trash. Imagine my surprise when it won First Place Fiction Book Unpublished. I wrote the sequel, SNOW ANGEL, and it won an Honorable Mention, so I was off and running as a novel writer.
Next, I began writing my JAKE series – he’s a drop-dead handsome hot-shot wildland firefighter with a Harley who is a drifter. He hides a secret and only stops when some place flags him down where there’s a disaster for him to solve. Women want him, and men envy him. I’ve written WHISKEY, WATER & WILDFIRE, WINDS OF CHANGE, ECHOES OF SILENCE & GHOSTED featuring Jake.
How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication? My first non-fiction book was published immediately by Oak Tree Press, as was my first novel Footprints in the Frost, probably because of the award it won.
Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author? I was originally traditionally published by Oak Tree Press and then Aakenbaaken & Kent, but now I independently publish by choice.
Where do you write? I write in my office in the Colorado mountains on my desktop PC and scribble occasional notes by hand when I’m away from the office.
How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? Depends on the book. My Detective Max Richards is loosely based on someone from real life. The other characters are pure fiction. My Jake character and most of the characters in those books are pure fiction, except for one. A young male friend wanted to be included in the book I was writing, so I put him in, but in a fictional manner.
Describe the process you use for naming your characters? I knew immediately what Detective Max Richards should be like, so he was easy. He’s very much like my detective husband. Everything about Jake came to me totally out of the blue and completely intact, name included.
Real settings or fictional towns? Why? At first, I used only fictional towns. Then I discovered it was okay to use actual towns. I prefer to use a fictional name for the town, that is my base setting. So the answer is, I use both. The reason I prefer fictional towns is that I don’t want readers who know me to confuse fiction with fact. I’ve discovered readers see themselves or people and places they think they know in my books, though they are wrong.
What’s the best book you’ve ever read? Secrets of the Dead by Caleb Pirtle III is my all-time favorite. However, in a different genre, I think Where the Crawdads Sing is a fictional masterpiece.
What’s in the future for you and your writing? Hopefully, Jake will continue to stay with me as I continue to write. Book #5 is already haunting me. I also intend to write another non-fiction book about Mild Cognitive Impairment because it has touched my life via someone very near and dear to me.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books? I am a Charter Member of the Public Safety Writers Association, having started with Roger Fulton as The Police Writer. I am also proud to have won ten PSWA Writing Competition Awards since the day I sent that first manuscript in to see if it would sink or swim. I’m also a member of The Rocky Mountain Fictions Writers. GHOSTED is my seventh published book.
Jim said, “If we kill him, and get caught, they will electrocute us. If we kill him, we have to do it in a way that can’t be proved.” He went on, “We gotta make sure the rest of the prisoners know it was us, so they’ll fear us.” They spent weeks coming up with plan after plan.
* * * * *
Ben, the youngest and least threatening on the chain gang, was the water boy. He shuffled up and down the line passing out water from two canvas buckets hanging by ropes from a wooden yoke. A tin cup was attached to the yoke by a cord. The prisoners were allowed to dip bug laden and brackish water twice each hour. Pete reveled in his domination of Ben by forcing him to fill the cup and hand it to him.
Ben said, “We can grind up glass to a fine powder and put it in his cup. It’ll cut his innards to pieces.”
“It’ll cut you, and the guards will see your bloody hands.”
“I’ll carry it in something and slip it in before I get to him.”
“I like the idea, but not glass. There are too many risks. If you get caught, what’ll you say?”
The chain gang was on a particularly tough stretch of the swamp, clearing brush and bamboo. Hardly a week went by without someone getting bit by a snake. Everyone, including the guards, was jumpy. As one of the prisoners put it, “You had-ta look where you was cutting every time you swung your machete. Otherwise, you could-a hit a snake.”
The men carried long bamboo shafts to thrust ahead of where they worked to get the snakes to move away; even the guards had poles.
Ben had read somewhere that finely shaved bamboo slivers could kill a man slowly and painfully with little evidence. In these surroundings, he was sure he could conceal this deadly gift.
“I’ll try bamboo and see if it does the job.”
The next day Ben cut a few inches from his shaft. Working with a jailhouse knife made from a piece of tin, he cut fine shards. So fine, they were almost invisible to the human eye. He wasn’t careful, and a sliver got stuck in his finger. He felt the pain but could not see the offending shard. “Damn, this hurts.”
“How you gonna test it?” Jim asked.
A pack of mongrel dogs hung about the camp surviving on scraps, roadkill, and what they could beg off the prisoners and guards. “I’ll try it on one of the mutts.”
Jim asked, “How can you do that?”
“Easy, I’ll save my meat Saturday and mix in the bamboo.”
Angrily, Jim retorted, “I mean, how can you kill a dog?”
“Easy if it will help get rid of Pete.”
Jim slumped, head down as he whispered, “Oh, God.” After a moment, he looked up and said, “Okay.”
Two days later, Saturday, the one night a week they got meat, Ben saved what passed for meat, ground-up hog, beef entrails, and chicken scraps. Because it was his plan, Ben said, “I’ll do it.” After dinner, he slipped one of the dogs, a mangy collie mix, a handful of bamboo-laced meat.
Ben and Jim watched the mongrel. The first day they saw no change in its behavior. The second day the dog began whimpering and crawling around in pain—the third, it passed blood from its ass and coughed up more—the fourth it died.
Two days later, Ben gave Pete a water and bamboo cocktail. Based on their experience with the dog, they expected some sign on the second day. Pete seemed as healthy as a sadistic bastard can be. Ben thought about giving him another dose of bamboo. Jim vetoed the idea as too risky.
Ben smiled at Pete and said, “How’s the water?”
“What the f*@k are you talking about, punk?”
Ben smiled. He made sure that Pete’s crew overheard the exchange, a conversation he repeated as the day wore on.
On the third day, Pete began to complain of severe stomach pain. Walking up with a bright smile, Ben almost sang, “Hey Pete, you want another cup of water? I fixed it special for you.” Pete declined—by then—it was too late.
By the fourth day, Pete was shitting and puking blood. He couldn’t walk. Even the guards knew he was dying. Once again, Ben offered to bring him water.
It took Pete five days to die.
No autopsy, no investigation, just a quick burial in an unmarked grave: the other prisoners knew Ben had killed Pete, only not how. Life on the chain gang remained hard.
Ben was never attacked again.
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/author/george.cramer
Public Safety Writers Short Story Non-Published
Honorable Mention – HARD TIME
The story is serialized in three segments. “Hard Time” was the inspiration for a chapter in A Tale of Robbers and Cops, a historical novel covering fifty years in the lives of two brothers, career criminals, and the men and women in blue who must deal with their crimes.
Hard Time – Part 1
They weren’t killers by nature. Jim Tucker born, in 1912 to Georgia sharecroppers, was three years older than his brother Ben. His memories of home were of a one-room house, a shack really, where he, his parents, two brothers, and two sisters ate, slept, hated, and grew old prematurely. His family survived on less than $350 a year, half what maintained most American families. They were lucky. They had inside running water. The one place where any privacy could be found was the stinking privy out behind the equally foul-smelling chicken coop.
The landowner refused to do anything to ease their suffering. The walls were of roughhewn planks cracked and decayed to the point they no longer kept out the wind or rain. The Tucker’s waged a constant battle with the elements to keep the place livable. Nailing and repairing the wooden walls, applying tar paper, and sheets of tin seemingly did nothing to solve the problem. Their father succumbed to alcoholism and consumption at the ripe old age of forty as the Great Depression began. He left behind a wife and five children to fend for themselves.
Nine months later, their mother remarried a widower who had four children of his own. With eleven mouths to feed, Jim felt it would be easier for all if he left. Ben went with him. Two days later, they stole their first car—their first step in a life of crime.
The following week, broke, hungry, and with nowhere to sleep, they held up a gas station. Immediately caught, there was no trial. The deputy sheriff who arrested them said, “It’ll go better for you if you plead guilty and get it over.”
The judge who presided over their arraignment did not ask or offer them an attorney. Instead, he said, “Boys, the deputy tells me you want to plead guilty.”
Jim answered, “Yes, sir, I guess so.”
“Did you steal the car?”
“Did you hold up Mr. Smyth’s gas station?”
“I guess we did,” Jim began and added, “Yes, sir, we did, sir.”
“It sounds to me like y’all are guilty. How do you plead?”
“Ben, how do you plead?”
“I guess guilty, sir.”
“Son, you have to plead guilty or not guilty, one or the other.”
Sentenced to three years on a Georgia Chain Gang, they endured back-breaking work. The labor was difficult enough without the swamp, inhumane guards, and brutal inmates. Still years away from becoming a wildlife refuge, the Okefenokee Swamp covered 400,000 acres of Northern Florida and Southern Georgia. This shallow peat-filled quagmire was home to more than four hundred species of animals, including alligators, venomous snakes, and panthers.
Assigned to lay down a roadway for what was to become Georgia State Route 94, the convicts cleared a swath of land wide enough for a two-lane road into the heart of the swamp. They suffered immensely from the heat and never-ending swarms of insects. The prisoners had no protection from the elements other than the rotting and mildewed tents, the warden and guards referred to as inmate shelter.
The guards fared little better in the hastily erected temporary buildings moved whenever the roadway inched another five miles into the unforgiving swamp. The warden had a decent home in Fargo, miles outside the swamp. An infrequent visitor, he came to inspect the camp once a month to verify the records of new, released, and deceased inmates. If an inmate was unfortunate enough to die after the warden’s monthly visit, his remains were unceremoniously buried in a shallow, unmarked grave.
Guarding the prisoners was an unpleasant task made even more so by the environment: rain, sweltering heat, humidity, insects, snakes, and any number of other unpleasant experiences. The guards endured constant pain and discomfort. They were generous in passing their pain on to the convicts. One guard was often heard repeating, “If I have to put up with this shit, dem fu%#ers are going to suffer even more.”