Counting down the days …

Untitled-4Six weeks to publication of Death al Dente, first in the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, on  August 6 — and the Daily Inter Lake is talking about it!

Also thrilled by this: On Thursday, August 1, I’ll be part of a local artists’ show at Frame of Reference gallery and frame shop in Bigfork. Owners Derek and Christine Vandeburg cooked up the idea of inviting local artists to show scenes of Bigfork — the model for the fictional Jewel Bay, the Food Lovers’ Village. I’ll be there, talking about the book and selling and signing copies. What fun! If you’re in the Flathead, I hope you can join me then — or at the Bigfork Festival of the Arts, Aug 3-4, or Huckleberry Days in Whitefish, Aug 9-11.

And if you haven’t seen my new website, please take a look — it captures the spirit of the village quite nicely! Details on where to find Death al Dente on the Books page.


Courthouse Security – one year in one courthouse

A popular Q&A in Books, Crooks & Counselors asks what courthouse and courtroom security measures a writer should be aware of. In the March 2013 issue of NWLawyer, the Washington State Bar Association journal, an article by WSBA president Michele Radosevich includes 2012 statistics from Spokane County, covering Superior Court, District Court, and the City of Spokane Municipal Court, in five separate buildings, each with security stations. (County population for 2011 is estimated at about 475,000.)

spokane county courthouseRadosevich notes that most of the people who brought guns to the courthouse surrendered them voluntarily when they arrived at the security checkpoint, but the vast majority of other items were found only through X-rays, metal detectors, and follow-up patdowns. She also says she doubts Spokane County is an outlier – visitors to courthouses in other counties probably carry the same items at the same rate, but not every county or courthouse has a staffed security checkpoint.

Spokane County Courts – Jan-Dec 2012

Items Confiscated

Hand Guns                 1,104 (up from 1,046 in 2011; 5 found by X-ray, 1 by physical search)

Knives                       10,166

Ammunition              1,129

Toy Guns                        47

Mace                           1,712

Scissors                     1,166

Dangerous Fluid        144

Razor Blades             1,871 (startling – seems an unusual thing to carry)

Dangerous Tools     4,382

Drug Pipes/Other     149 (startling in its stupidity)

Misc. Items               2,161

Illegal Items                137

Tasers                            84

Totals                      24,252

I’ve only given the totals; the published chart breaks each category down by how found: X-ray, physical search, metal detector, or surrender.  See the full article — linked below — for more details. While the article doesn’t say whether items were returned, I’m sure they were – unless possession was illegal, by law, conditions of probation, or for other reasons.

How might this change the courtroom scenes you write – and the attitudes and fears of judges, lawyers, courthouse staff, and other courthouse visitors?

(Statistics taken from the March issue of NWLawyer, a publication of the Washington State Bar Association, as presented by Judge Sara Derr of the Spokane County District Court. Photo from Spokane County website.)

Book Links — updated



I’ve just updated the Book Links — the database of all websites mentioned in Books, Crooks & Counselors. Even I was surprised by how extensive the resources provided are — and I compiled them! From state court structure charts to sample extradition form, a chart of diplomatic immunities, and a sample chain of custody form, I guarantee you and your characters will find good, solid info to help you with your stories.


(And if you find a broken link, do let me know — it happens.)

Lawyers’ and Judicial Assistance programs

One of the smartest suggestions from my very smart editor at Quill Driver Books, Kent Sorsky, was to expand the section in Books, Crooks & Counselors called “Thinking Like a Judge.” People are fascinated by judges, he told me, and want to know more about how they decide to become judges, how they make their decisions, and how it feels. He was right – quite a few readers have told me so. And since starting this blog, I’ve tried to highlight some of the challenges and pitfalls judges face.

Many state bars have Lawyers’ Assistance Programs (LAP), to help lawyers deal – confidentially – with addictions, mental health issues, excessive stress, suicide prevention, and retirement planning. Here’s the description of Montana’s program and a link to the American Bar Association’s Commission on assistance programs.

The success of LAPs has also led to Judicial Assistance Services, aimed at helping judges, who because of their positions, may face different stressors with fewer options for help. Judges are lawyers, of course, but a judge with an alcohol problem, for example, may not want to attend the local AA meeting and risk seeing people whom he or she has sentenced to attend AA, or who may appear in court as lawyers or as defendants in cases stemming from their own alcohol-related legal problems.

Lawyers, law firm or court staff, and outsiders can call these programs – confidentially – for advice on dealing with an impaired professional. LAP counselors can then reach out to the lawyer or judge, if appropriate. It can be hard to tell whether opposing counsel is impaired, or just hard to work with. I’ve never made such a call – I considered it once, but the other lawyer announced his retirement for medical reasons during the case, resolving my concern.

How can you use such problems to increase tension – and plot options – for your characters?

The Saturday Writing Quote — Francine Prose

“You have to fight against meaningless gestures. Like an cliche, they flood into your brain and you have to get them out of there. “She sipped her wine glass. “He smoked his cigarette.” They’re markers. Every beginning writer winds up larding a ms. with those things, and they have to get rid of them, because they don’t tell you anything. They slow you down for no reason.”

— Francine Prose, in The Writer, April 2012

Guilty, guilty. Going back to revise …

More pictures from Malice Domestic!

Ah, Malice! Not just a fond memory, but a really great convention. Better late than never, three photos from my Sunday morning panel, Cooking Up Murder, with panelists (L to R) Daryl Wood Gerber (aka Avery Aames), Nancy Parra (aka Nancy Coco), and Peg Cochran (aka Meg London), and moderator Maya Corrigan (in the middle, in red). All four panelists write two series — Nancy writes three — but I’m the only one using the same name for both. (Photo credit: Greg Puhl. Maya wrote the trivia questions.)

Cooking Up Murder - 2Cooking Up Murder - Culinary Mystery TriviaCooking Up Murder - panel setting


Stupid Criminal Tricks — the case of the antique truck

I’m calling this a Stupid Criminal Trick, but it’s equally about the perils of postponing projects. And it’s also a suggestion to writers on where to send your investigators — amateur or pro — in search of stolen property.

A Kalispell, Montana man came home from work on Easter Sunday to discover that his late father’s 1953 Chevy pickup had been stolen from his front yard, where it was patiently awaiting a planned restoration. A neighbor had seen two men loading it onto a flatbed. The owner’s mother called local wrecking yards to alert them, thinking the thieves might try to sell the truck for scrap. When the thieves tried to sell it to a local recycling company, sheriff’s deputies were called and they were arrested. They claimed to have been given permission –  the owner suspects a former tenant who had a gripe against him was behind the deceit.

Law enforcement officers and other investigators routinely check with pawn shops, jewelers who buy old jewelry, coins, and other precious gems and metals — and with wrecking yards. Some departments use reservists and other volunteers to scan listings on Craigslist and print ads for stolen items. And don’t forget the advantages of a mother willing to get on the horn.

(Story from the Kalispell Daily InterLake, with photos.)

The Saturday Writing Quote — Loius L’Amour

“One of the best places to find stories is in the human instincts. If you want to touch people and make them feel, get down to the bedrock emotions, the fundamental instincts we all have, dormant though some of them may be. The desire for a mate, for shelter, for food, for money–those are problems we all understand, and all of us can feel. … Great need will always produce a story.”

– Louis L’Amour, in The Writer, June 1942 (1908-1988), still a bestseller after all these years