The Saturday Writing Quote — Pete Hamill on “the goal”

“The goal is to be both disciplined and loose, so that the writing does not turn into a task or a chore. To leave myself behind, along with the mechanics, and disappear into the lives of my characters.”

– Pete Hamill, American journalist, novelist, and more (b. 1935), discussing his writing process in The Writer, Dec 2011

As we think of our goals for our writing in the coming year, I give you this quote — which perfectly encapsulates both the struggle in writing and the resolution. May your days at the desk be “both disciplined and loose,” your words true and fulfilling for both your readers and you.  All the best in the New Year — thank you for sharing this past year with me.

And if you have a favorite quote about beginnings or goals, please share it in the comments.



Writing about the FBI or gangs?

If your story includes FBI special agents (they’re all special) or gang activity, take a look at the December 2012 issue of The Big Thrill, published by the International Thriller Writers,  featuring an interview by novelist Kimberley Howe with Michael Plichta, Unit Chief, La Casa Nostra/Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs/Major Theft
Unit, discussing domestic and international gang investigation, and the FBI’s role.

And it turns out that the FBI’s Investigative Publicity and Public Affairs Unit (IPPAU), part of the FBI’s Office of Public Affairs, will provide information to writers, including contact with local field offices. Requests are case-by-case; see the details at the end of Howe’s interview with Plichta.

You don’t have to be a member of ITW to subscribe to The Big Thrill, which features book reviews and interviews, and monthly book give-aways. Here’s the link to the October 2012  interview with me, discussing Books, Crooks & Counselors.

Investigating with social media

Did you hear about the woman who stole a car and robbed a bank in Nebraska, then posted a YouTube video bragging about it? And calling herself “Chick Bank Robber”? Here’s the Omaha World Herald account, with the video.

Your fictional law enforcement officers and amateur sleuths simply must use social media. Why? Because we all do — including the crooks. Law enforcement agencies have units dedicated to social media investigation — and they’re searching for evidence in all kinds of cases, not just cybercrime. Many use online investigation services and databases, such as Leads Online, which calls itself “the nation’s largest online investigation system used by law enforcement to recover stolen property, help stop meth makers, reduce metal theft, and solve crimes.” This article in the Daily InterLake describes one police department’s use of the service to recover $20,000 worth of property in the first two months, justifying the $2,500 annual fee.

Law firms routinely search public profiles on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, Pinterest, and other sources for public information on opposing parties, on their own clients — you gotta know what they’re really up to — key witnesses, and more. To my knowledge, all state bars and ethics committees that have addressed the issue have concluded that a lawyer and staff may not “friend” an opposing party or adverse witness to obtain information.

Pedophiles and probationers with sentences that restrict their use of computers sometimes post on Facebook. People claiming injuries — from workplace incidents, car accidents, and other causes — that limit their activities often post photos of a day skiing or riding snowmobiles. Dumb — but common.  Your fictional investigators should look.

According to the Next Gen eDiscovery Law & Tech blog, published cases involving social media jumped more than 85% in the first half of 2012 over the first half of 2011.  Next Gen also says 83% of LEO are using social media to investigate crimes. The blog is a good source of info on social media investigation, in both criminal and civil cases, and related legal issues.

And NPR reported recently on a Pennsylvania’s police department’s use of Pinterest to share mugshots of people wanted and to identify suspects from surveillance photos — with a dramatic increase in arrests and tips.

For writers, the possibilities are limitless. In S.J. Rozan’s On the Line (2010), PI Bill Smith enlists Lydia Chin’s hacker cousin Linus to help find and free Lydia–and Linus uses Facebook to share info and call on friends to help. It’s a great example–and a believable one.

But in a series, the challenge is to avoid repetitive plots. If your amateur sleuth uses Facebook to track down a witness or find a photograph that puts the suspect at the scene of the crime in Book One, she can’t do the same thing in Book Two. But you can’t ignore it, either.

How are your characters using social media?

The Last Best Book — Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann

On a single day in 1974, New Yorkers were brought together by a startling sight: a man walking a tightrope between the not-quite-finished Twin Towers. Colum McCann’s 2009 novel, Let the Great World Spin, is the story of a dozen or so New Yorkers, most connected in other ways they don’t yet know, or may never know–an Irishman who belongs to an unnamed religious order and serves the prostitutes and the elderly, his brother who comes in search of something and returns to Ireland with a wife–an American artist, a mother and daughter prostitute, two women united by the loss of their sons in Vietnam, and more.

Just a few pages in, I felt green with envy and raw with admiration for McCann’s writing. So accomplished. Such stunning sentences, filled with such surprise. The acrobat’s stunt is a brilliant device, turning the novel not into a historical — if 1974 can be a historical — but into a haunting meditation on a magnificent, wounded city. What tightropes do we all walk? What stairs do we all climb? What happens when we fall? I can hardly wait to read this book again in a few months.

A bonus connection to the topic of this blog: Judge Soderberg’s account of a day in arraignment court, and how he came to the bench.

I found this book when a young friend pressed it into my hands, insisting I read it. You should, too.

(As always, no free review copies on this blog. I borrowed a copy from a brilliant and beautiful 17 year old. Thank you, Hana.)

The Saturday Writing Quote — a different kind of Christmas gift

“Christmas gift suggestions: To your enemy, forgiveness. To an opponent, tolerance. To a friend, your heart. To a customer, service. To all, charity. To every child, a good example. To yourself, respect.”

– Oren Arnold, quoted by Alan Cohen in his Daily Inspirations

(Add a good book and you’re ready to go!) 

Date rape drugs and DUI

Is impairment from a “date rape” drug a potential defense to a DUI charge? A majority of the Montana Supreme Court recently held that a woman charged with DUI was entitled to put on evidence showing that she had been unwittingly given the drug GHB that caused her impairment, and to argue that she had not intended to commit a voluntary act by driving. The issue is not the source of her impairment, but whether she voluntarily chose to drive.

Voluntary intoxication, of course, is not a defense–but involuntary intoxication might be. The defense, called “automatism,” had been recognized by courts in other states, but not previously allowed in Montana. It means that where the law prohibits a voluntary act–such as driving under the influence–a defendant may be allowed to show that his or her acts occurred “during convulsions, sleep, unconsciousness, hypnosis, or seizures,” and thus was not voluntary. The Court said that allowing her to present the defense would prevent the criminalization of conduct that was without fault, and prevent her from being held criminally liable as a result of another person’s acts.

Will she prevail? No way to tell at this stage. The case was sent back to the trial court–in her case, a municipal court. She’ll need testimony from independent witnesses, such as others who were with her and can testify to how much she drank, who else was present, and other facts. She’ll also need medical or pharmalogical testimony establishing her alcohol levels, the presence of any other drugs, and their effects. The judge will then decide if she’s presented enough evidence of the defense to go to the jury–solely on the question of whether she drove voluntarily.

Story potential, yes?

More details on the case from The Missoulian. The Montana Supreme Court opinion is here. (Revised link — in the middle of the page, click on the green citation reading “2012 MT 265, right above “City of Missoula.” Note that this is technically an unpublished opinion, meaning not that it can’t be read or shared, but that it can’t be cited as precedent in future briefs or decisions, because of the procedural status of the case. Let me know if the link breaks.)