Thursday, December 17, 2009

Epiphany

This is another theological term like reincarnation, resurrecton, and immaculate conception hijacked by literature and modern culture. Epiphany was originally the divine manifestation of Christ to the gentiles, but has come to represent any new understanding or "aha" moment. Misuse of the term in some eras might have been a capital offense, but today it's just another word. Each of us has epiphanies large and small when in a single moment, things become clear and life changes for the better. One epiphany for me was both a personal and a professional and I can mark.

When I was 21 and medicaled out of my military obligation (my paperwork certifying me as "unfit for enlistment or induction" lives in a fire-proof safe), I got a full-time job as a campus policeman. I had been a part time student dispatcher for over a year and the unsolicited offer was a pleasant surprise. Besides, I made $582 a month!.

As I am wont to do, I really got into the new profession. I memorized the police phonetic alphabet (Adam, Boy, Charles, David...) and bought my own copy of state criminal laws. I volunteered for overtime just to be there in case there was some opportunity to get real law enforcement experience. I was a hot dog. The University of Washington in 1969 was a lively place and the magnet for Seattle's hippie culture. The anti-war protests produced demonstrations (unusual occurrences or UOs), nickel-dime vandalism and even terrorism in for form of firebombings and explosions.

Until 1968, the campus cops -- called the Safety Division lest some professor or alum be offended -- were a grandfatherly collection of about fifteen men one would expect to police parking and lock buildings on an urban college campus. The year before they made one arrest. Then came a sit-in in the president's office. At the time there was a Democrat in the mayor's office, a conservative Republican in the prosecutor's office, and his enemy, a liberal Republican in the governor's office. When the University sought police assistance with the protest the mayor said, "Gee, this sounds like a state problem."

So, the campus cops began to grow. The chief of police, who had been in office about fifteen years, went to the personnel office for candidates. The personnel officer handled all the physical plant openings such as truck driver and carpenter. The first list of names came from the applicants for janitor. The numbers grew from fifteen to thirty almost overnight. Officers who ranked low on the sergeant list got their promotions. The University kept showering the chief with positions and money. Within three years there were seventy-five. Alas, the chief and most of his supervisors did not seem to know what they were doing, assuming they wanted to be there at all. Several supervisors found other jobs.

The chief originally came from eastern Washington where he was captain of the guard at a prison and later a chief of police. He was an intensely shy man and very soft spoken given to sucking on his pipe. Even when angry he could barely manage a squeak. When I was still a student and working there evenings one of my ROTC instructors commented that his wife's uncle worked for my chief. The instructor declined to relate what he had heard about my chief lest I be disappointed. I never did find out the story.

One of the chief's bugaboos was about firearms. We were police officers of the state and carried guns. The original fifteen carried the time-tested model dating from the turn of the century. As the chief hired more officer he needed more guns. Instead of buying more of the standard revolver with a four-inch barrel he opted for one with a two-inch barrel, much less offensive to University community. This was maddening for us new hires since the shorter barreled guns made us seem like less-than-police officers. Not the least of the issues was the difficulty in being accurate with the snub-noses. The chief hated light bars on top of the police cars, but eventually relented. He hated sergeant's strips on the sleeves of the supervisors, but relented. Sirens were slow in coming (I think I was the first one to use one on campus). He made us carry the shotguns in the trunks of the cars instead of in racks in the front seat (today Seattle PD carries their shotguns and rifles in the trunks). There were other things that told us he didn't trust us. We could do anything except make someone angry.

As a young, hot dog police officer hyper-sensitive about being regarded as a security guard, the chief made me nuts. I helped organize a union for the officers and we tried to affiliate with the Teamsters. There was a lot of rancor towards the chief who was unskilled at convincing his people of the wisdom of his actions. Only because I did a very good job at parking tickets and filling out forms did I avoid serious trouble with the chief.

After a year on the job I got to attend the police academy run by the Seattle PD. Our class of fifty consisted of men from six different police departments, something of an experiment. The training was excellent, even better than I received from the U.S. Government. I wanted to be a Seattle cop, but couldn't get past the physical. If I couldn't do that, I would be the best campus cop I could. I could also still be pissed off at the chief and made no secret of it.

I learned that the officers from Kent and Bellevue and King County all had enormous respect for the campus cops who had to deal with bombings, angry students, and arrogant professors. The cops all commented how hard police work was in other jurisdictions. The Bellevue guys could not countenance working alone and far from help in unincorporated King County. The King County guys expressed horror at dealing with the affluent citizens of Bellevue. The deputies on a certain island were said to carry silver bullets. The grass was always browner on the other side of the fence.

Then one morning during the break I stood around listening to my classmates from other departments complain about their chiefs. In fact, they all complained about their chiefs, all of them. What? You mean I'm not the only one who is unhappy about his chief of police? All cops are unhappy with their chief of police? Epiphany: Being unhappy with the boss was perfectly normal and nothing to be concerned about. [see graphic]

At that point life became much easier. A great burden lifted from my shoulders. I returned from the academy and cheerfully embraced my duties leaving the bosses with the impression that the training experience had been transformative. Even if I was writing parking tickets I took care to ensure there were no errors while hanging as many citations as I could. I knew that my classmates granted me respect for the job I did despite my aluminum gun. I grew comfortable with the idea that this could be a decent career. They chose me to fill in for a sergeant for six weeks. When I took the sergeants test, they arranged a special interview panel for me so that I could leave town to get married.

Sadly the old chief died within six months, his heart giving out under the stress of doing his job during a tumultuous time. His name is inscribed on the state memorial with the other fallen peace officers.

One of the first things the new chief did was buy proper guns.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Luck


The loss of five police officers in a little more than a week here in the Puget Sound region made me remember how lucky I am to having completed almost thirty years of sworn service. It was close a couple of times. I observed over the years that my success relied upon two things, my own skill and luck. The more skill and preparation you bring to the table, the less that luck has to do with it.

So the loss of these five fine people was all about luck, bad luck. There was no defense for Seattle Officer Brenton as he sat in his car talking to his partner. Her own quick reaction to the attack and her skill saved her from a similar fate. One of the Lakewood officers fought with the assassin and the officer got a shot into him. There had to be considerable skill in that along with enough luck to have not been the first to die. but the bad luck won out.

I know about luck first hand. In 1974, I was pursuing a cocaine smuggler not far from the Canadian border. The car started fishtailing and I ended up hanging upside down from my seat and shoulder belts at the bottom of an embankment. In those days, the shoulder belt in the Plymouth Fury II was optional requiring a second step to hook it up. As I went out that night I thought it might be a good idea to take that second step. Skill on my part. In the car behind me as I entered that curve, did a 180, and rolled down the hill, was a constable of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (it was their crook). Mounties start their careers on the road and this was undoubted not his first serious traffic accident. He was first down the slope and he crawled in through the shattered window to unhook me. I dropped like a sack of potatoes to the crushed roof of the car and he pulled me out. Had I gone over with no one behind me it might be hours or days before someone missed me. Luck. I had six broken ribs, a collapsed lung, and a paracardial contusion.

There were other incidents, none as close as that, that I have apparently suppressed, a natural defense mechanism I suppose to what might have happened. It serves no purpose to recall them at this point in life. I don't propose throwing down on any miscreants anytime soon.

Civilans never hear about when skill and luck add up, when officers survive potentially fatal encounters. These incidents end up as a few lines in a report or even a charging document. An officer might speak of the situation to his peers or to a class of recruits, but there won't be a celebration of skill and luck. The matter will slide into police oral tradition which is a major teaching tool in the profession.

The FBI keeps the stats on officers killed feloniously and by accident, and those who are are assaulted. Each number is a story and probably a lesson of some kind. All involve skill losing out to bad luck. Arnold Palmer is said to have remarked, "Golf is all about luck. The more I practice, the luckier I get."

What is true about golf is true about police work, even life in general.

Christmas 2009


It’s been a year of premiers, the big events that mark chapters in life. Where to start? We all strolled the red carpet to meet Kellen Richard Wilma on August 29 (don’t ask what we wore). He is our first grandchild and he continues to enrich all our lives. He even has his own Facebook page. One forgets how, with an infant around, the conversation changes to erp rags, oneseys, and the contents of diapers. Lorraine and I have signed up to watch him one day a week when his mom goes back to work in January.

I had my first book come out in print this year, Historic Photos of Puget Sound a visual romp in grayscale through our maritime and environmental heritage. Sales are good and the publisher needs to print more. I’m still shopping my historical novel (manuscript under review at one publisher) and the publishers of my local histories continue to promise soon, soon. There was also the movie, but not of Photos. I scripted a documentary about the hydroelectric plant under Snoqualmie Falls. The film debuted on a hot day in July in historic North Bend, Washington (don’t ask what we wore). I had a bit part in another documentary as an historical talking head. I didn’t say “ah” once.


An island entered our lives too. We became part-time residents of Whidbey Island when we bought a home in Freeland right on the water. For Lorraine and me the house hunting trip was really just an excuse to spend the day with Matt and Tiffany as well as to humor my sister Patti. We all walked into this place and everything changed. The Wilma kids formed a LLC and closed the deal in five weeks. When it came time to pick a name for the corporation we chose the first thing said when we walked in: Oh S[ally] What a View! It’s now the OSWAV Family LLC. The house has five bedrooms and a huge kitchen, and it sits across the street from a public park. The best part is a double garage with a smooth floor and a high ceiling where I moved my wood shop. We are now part of our region’s ferry culture and are learning to adjust to island time. Our neighbors include as many as four bald eagles, herons, Mr. Seal, and voracious bunny rabbits. We pledged to eschew telephones, computers, and televisions, and to devote ourselves to a slower pace of life. That didn’t last long. We now have a hard-line phone, DSL, and a fifty-inch plasma with a Blu-Ray player.

Lorraine received the Headliner Award from the Association of Women in Communications. The award is handed out only every two years and recognizes an AWC member who has recent national accomplishments, as well as consistent communications excellence. She now has a handsome crystal trophy to go with her other acknowledgements.

Life is good here. Keep saving these Christmas letters.

And naturally there is Lorraine’s quote of the year. This one reflects her tentative embrace of social networking: “There’s drivel in my Twitter.”

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Turkey Day

My ancestors were at the first one in 1621. Teenagers Elizabeth Tilley and John Howland survived that first winter when her parents died along with many of the other Mayflower passengers. The new settlers had much to be grateful for and not the least of the gratitude was toward their neighbors, the Indians. The Indians taught the English how to survive. Apparently the locals forgave the English for plundering their food stores upon stepping off the Mayflower. They were pretty hungry by then. Maybe the first turkey day was a bit of payback. Elizabeth and John did well. They married and had ten children, thank you very much.

As for the first official Thanksgiving in 1863 my ancestors also had much to be thankful for then as well. That was the Civil War and President Lincoln declared a national day of thanksgiving. Great-great grandparents David and Eleanor Morgan, natives of Kentucky who moved to Illinois, had two sons in military service, one on each side. There is no evidence that the family even heard about the presidential decree and celebrated, but I like to think that at some point they took time to think about their sons' survival of the war.

For Thanksgiving 1945 my mother's family was certainly thankful that her cousin had emerged from a Japanese prisoner of war camp, emaciated, but alive after nine months listed as missing.

In 1985 I was thankful for having a dining room table again. I still have it.

And this year there is much to be grateful for, love, family, health, prosperity, and the privilege to give some of it back.

Friday, November 6, 2009

A Bold History


I received the first review of my Historic Photos of Puget Sound. The Queen Anne - Magnolia News covers our neighborhood here in Seattle.

The book launch at Queen Anne Books in Seattle went well. The book store staff (thank you Tegen) was very gracious and had a beautiful display of the books at a signing table. They even had to pull me away from a beer next door to come back and sign another book, a story that will undoubtedly feature in my unofficial biography.

Update: Rachel Hart of Seattle magazine has chosen the book as her Holiday Gift Pick.

As of December 15, most retailers are out of the book. Amazon.com has stopped discounting it. Turner will publish more in January.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Historic Photos of Puget Sound


Turner Publishing Company has listed my Historic Photos of Puget Sound in their shopping cart and you can order it now by clicking on the link.

My own copies are in and they are beautiful. The publisher is arranging local media interviews and a launch party. Stay tooned.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Termination

I just concluded almost three weeks of trial to terminate the parental rights of a father whose three children were removed from the home (a cheap motel room) three-and-a-half years ago. Well, two were removed. The third was born during the dependency and she is now two-and-a-half. This has been an amazingly complex case that has surprised everyone with its twists and turns ("Oh, THAT case") and has churned through seven or eight social workers, fifteen or more different public defenders and retained counsel, several dozen hearings, and two trials. At one time there were six children, nine assigned lawyers, two social workers, two mothers, four fathers, one Indian tribe... and one volunteer CASA, me. Imagine the public payroll for just one court appearance.

The number of parties dwindled as one child and his tribe were dismissed out of the case, one mother and two fathers had their parental rights terminated (the parents didn't show up in court), and another child found her biological father. That left two boys and one little girl with one father.

The dependency system is set up to return kids home if the parents work to alleviate the conditions that led to state intervention in the first place. In this case two of the children were abused and they all had been exposed to domestic violence. When the kids came into care they were all revealed to have special needs, particularly developmental delays. The State will pay for things like parenting classes, psychological evaluations, domestic violence intervention, therapeutic child care, special ed classes, drug and alcohol evaluations and rehab, and whatever it takes to return the kids home not take them away. But the parents have to cooperate. In my very first case the mother was a junkie, but she got sober and won her son back. In another it took the mom five years to get her psychological stuff together enough to be a parent again. Unfortunately some people just never get it because they relapse or their mental health issues prove overwhelming. I seem to always get the mental health issues. Bipolar disorder, anti-social personality disorder, even personality disorder not otherwise specified, just ask me.

So, for three and a half years the social workers in this case tried to steer the parents (those who showed up) to services. But the parents blew them off. Failure to complete the services within a certain period of time, usually eighteen months, is grounds for the worker to petition the court to have parental rights terminated. Kids cannot languish in foster care, even relative care, indefinitely. For a child in care, time is the enemy.

Part of the case involved the paternity of the little girl born ten months into the process. The mother named a mystery man as the father and denied that her partner and the the father of two of her children was the father. He denied it too. Until the little girl was almost two-and-a-half. Then he raised his hand and said I'm the guy and I want her back. The state said prove it, but we're not paying. He paid $510 and proved he was the dad. The state still wanted to terminate his parental rights as well as those of mystery man. I agreed.

Through all the the hearings (many of them continued, meaning oops no court today, come back another day), the different judges and commissioners, the substitute lawyers, the newly-assigned social workers, the flurry of letters to the parents reminding them of services, and the lies and evasions there was one constant, me, the volunteer CASA whose job it is to speak for the children. At one hearing the judge and the lawyers turned to me for answers on the status of the case and the most recent court orders. Me, a volunteer. I had the answers for which I am paid mileage.

The last barrier to permanency for the three youngest children was termination of the parental rights of the father, a convicted felon, registered sex offender, documented batterer ("dangerous to his family and the community") and walking advertisement for the need for anger management. Some parents agree to have their rights terminated in exchange for open adoptions. In those cases the biological parents get to keep in touch with the children while the adoptive parents do the heavy lifting of raising the children. But the parents usually have to admit that they have been poor parents and cannot overcome their deficiencies. No one in this case was about to admit that and certainly not this father.

I have an amateur theory about these parents. They are generally from the lowest income levels and suffer from an array of psychoses from substance abuse to mild disorders to serious mental health issues. When pulled into court they are entitled to public defenders at no cost (even those with jobs get free legal help) and these clients discover that they have rights. They interpret "rights" as "power" and play it for all that it is worth. Instead of cooperating for the benefit of their children they use their rights/power to fight every inch of the way.

Trial

To terminate the parental rights of this father we had to go to trial. I, as the Court Appointed Special Advocate (Guardian ad litem) am a party to such an action and I appear as a witness. As luck would have it the trial began as the long trial in which I was a juror was wrapping up. I missed the first day and a half of the termination trial.

Just a week before the trial was scheduled to begin, the father fired his public defender (who is quite good) and hired his own lawyer. Did I mention he had anger management issues?

Interestingly, in these cases, the first witness called by the state is the parent himself. You would think that would not come until the defense put on its case, but this was a civil case. The Assistant Attorney General questioned the father, but his time on the stand was broken up several times over many days to bring in other witnesses who were scheduled. Some witnesses testified in person and some appeared by phone (the judge tells the person to raise his or her right hand). When done each time, the father went back on the witness stand.

The court hears testimony four days a week leaving Fridays for sentencings and hearings. The lawyers expected the trial to last seven or eight days. Then the judge got sick two days and and things spilled over into week three. After two weeks of jury duty and more than two weeks of trial I was getting pretty familiar with the courthouse and lunch places nearby.

I testified about day five. I am comfortable on the witness stand, having been sworn dozens and dozens of times starting with traffic court in 1969. I have testified before the Queen's Bench in Canada and before a Congressional committee. And I still clean up pretty good. Not that the judge much cares. She is trained to look at the evidence, not the shine on my shoes. Still, it feels good to put on a professional face with a suit and tie. I testified how the father was always angry, to how he stomped out of a hearing calling everyone "kidnappers", and how he dismissed advice from experts who evaluated his sons as developmentally delayed.

In his defense the father pulled in the mother who had fled the state and had her rights terminated for not showing up. At first he didn't know where she was, but when the judge pushed he had her there in twenty-four hours. She lied on the witness stand, but she always does that. We got in all our evidence and adjourned to get the judge's verdict after lunch.

Usually, in handing down a ruling, a judge will start with comments to the opposite of where the ruling is going. I expected things like, "the father really loves his children," or "the father has been remarkable faithful in attending all court dates." Not so this time. She launched into what a sad case this is and how many times the father blew off his services. It took forty-five minutes for her to comment and then to read an eighteen-page order of findings of fact and conclusions of law.

What now?

So the kids are "legally free" and living in prospective adoptive homes where they have been thriving. The six-year-old says he wants to stay there. The ten-year-old half brother now in a group home wants to live with his younger brothers.

Happy ending? Not yet. The state is required to consider placing the children within the extended family. The kids could still be pulled from the only stable homes they have ever known and placed with "relative" they do not know. With the State of Washington headed in that direction the only voice for the children is a volunteer, me.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

We Have a Verdict


I have been thinking a lot about my jury experience. The testimony, etc. lasted the best part of ten days. At ten dollars day, I made one hundred dollars. The lawyers and the plaintiff made much, much more.

Ours was a medical malpractice case. A surgeon mistakenly cut a nerve which was in an unexpected place (no it wasn't the plaintiff argued). He attempted a repair (no he shouldn't have the plaintiff argued), but the outcome was poor to moderate and the patient ended up with impaired speech and swallowing, devastating to a woman in show business and with an active social life (not so bad the defendant argued).

We listened to surgeons describe their experience and education. and they described procedures and anatomy and something called the "standard of care." As many as five percent of patients experience some nerve damage and this patient, an operating room nurse, was aware of the risks. But the procedure promised to prevent a stroke and to save her life.

On top of all the medical evidence we had to sit through a parade of friends and colleagues testifying how the injury ruined her life and her career. An expert projected her medical costs. An economics professor project her past and future lost income. She testified and we heard her slurred speech. The surgeon testified and we heard his sincere regret. The lawyers introduced hundreds of pages of her tax records to show how much money she made and could have made. Her monthly planner showed how her life has not slowed down since the injury. Veins are blue and nerves are white. Not always. Back and forth the assertions and arguments flew.

Every day, I caught a bus at 8 a.m. to get to the courthouse by 9:00. I filled two steno pads of notes. Other jurors took even more notes.

The lawyers were all very good and it was clear they had invested a great deal of time and money in their cases. The computerized audio-video system allowed them to quickly punch up power point slides, pages from text books, photographs, documents, and video clips. It worked efficiently indicating extensive rehearsal. It's show business after all. We heard from twenty-nine witnesses. The documentary exhibits filled three large loose-leaf binders.

Deliberations

We got the case on day nine and I volunteered to be the "principal juror." I'm a recovering bureaucrat and can keep meetings on track pretty well. On the jury form we had to determine if 1) the standard of care was violated, 2) the violation was the proximate cause of the injury, and 3) any damages. If we answered no to the first question, the case was over. If we answered no to the second question, the case was over. If we answered yes to 1) and 2) we calculated damages.

It was a good, balanced group. Ten men and two women, a couple of retirees, several corporate employees whose companies allowed them time off for jury duty, and some civil servants. One man was a veteran of World War II. Another showed elaborate body art reflective of Generation Y. Two jurors were foreign-born.

We voted on the original injury and came down seven to five that the standard was NOT violated. I was one of the seven. We needed ten for a verdict. After discussion it was obvious that no one was willing to budge on that. So I moved the topic to the repair of the injury. This was seven to five that the standard WAS violated. I was one of the seven.

We hashed it around and slowly it came down to ten to two against the defendant because the surgeon had the opportunity to get expert help in repair of the nerve. We felt he should have asked for help and an expert was right next door. We never resolved the issue of the cutting of the nerve. Then we had to determine proximate cause and we quickly found that the cause was there. On to question 3).

Damages

This tied up the rest of the day and brought us back in the morning. We took the economist's word that she lost money. We took the expert's word about future medical expenses. We argued a lot about how much future income was at stake and even reduced the economist's projections. It was still a lot of money and left her more than comfortable for the rest of her life.

Non-economic damages. Pain and suffering. Loss of enjoyment. Difficulty swallowing. Loss of a career she loved. All of us were totally offended by the requested amount, but there was little hard evidence to guide us. Here we had to project ourselves into her situation and here we disagreed the most. I came down at the low end of the range.

As the principal juror I had to make sure people spoke one at a time, to draw out jurors who tended to remain silent, and not dominate the deliberations myself. One end of the table tended to be more vocal. "I want to hear from this end of the table," I said several times. Once or twice people became testy, but I kept things civil. I used to attend meetings where people carried guns (which I taught them to use).

We finally came up with a number. I won't disclose it because then the number becomes the story and that's not my point here. It was way below what the plaintiff asked and, I learned later, way below what the plaintiff asked for in settlement negotiations.

The plaintiff did not attend the verdict, but the surgeon did. I didn't even wait to see the reactions of the players. As soon as we delivered the verdict and were discharged, I took off because one of my CASA cases had started the morning before and I needed to be there. But the experience stayed with me. It was a sad story all around. The surgeon was experienced, talented, and dedicated. He apologized for the mistake. It was just one of those things. The patient had a compelling life story. She was attractive, popular, and very good at what she did. She made a good living until things went bad.

Did I do the best job I could have? Should I have insisted we resolve the issue of the cutting of the nerve? Should we have spent more time on proximate cause? Did I compromise too much on my opinions in the damages? A surgeon's distinguished career has been tarnished, but the plaintiff's life was transformed by his decision. Would another surgeon have done any better? The experts disagreed, but we had to make a decision.

Things are always better in the morning and this is no exception. I suppose that there was nothing else I could do for any of the parties and the result was probably the same if they had just settled. The other trial quickly took my attention as I worked to find permanent and safe homes for three young children. Them I could help. As I write this, that case has stretched over two weeks and goes into next week.

For the CASA case I don't even get the ten bucks a day.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Summons to Appear


About five or six times since reaching my majority I have received the annoying notice in the mail to appear for jury service. Since my first career was in law enforcement, this was generally unproductive. Cops and their kin are routinely dismissed from juries because of some belief that they cannot be fair and objective, an insulting prejudice.

While living in San Francisco, the dates to appear invariably interfered with some personal business. One time, we left a wedding reception on a Sunday afternoon in Santa Monica to drive 300 miles back to San Francisco in time for Monday morning. After all the waiting around and telephoning recorded messages, I got as far as a jury box to be questioned by counsel. On an assault case (homeless person punching a blood bank employee) I was excused after explaining that I had "been in lots of fights." In an asbestos liability case I explained that was responsible for the largest asbestos prosecution in U.S. history, I was the only one in the courtroom who could pronounce mesothilioma, and I had past dealing with one of the defendants. Excused.

Lorraine has had a drivers license and voted every election for over forty years and has never received a single jury summons. Not one. Go figure.

When I moved to Seattle, the jury network must have somehow flagged my electronic dossier as one who appears and I received regular summonses from the county and the city. Last year, I was actually selected for a criminal case involving drugs (I was a narcotics agent for ten years). That was the first time I actually sat through a case. We returned a verdict of guilty (there was no real defense), but the process tied up two or three days.

One year later, another summons arrived for August. I cleared my calendar and arranged to be home from vacation in time to catch a bus Monday morning in time to be there by 8:00 a.m. The summonses come with a bus pass (one way) and a juror badge with a bar code. You walk into the jury assembly room and the worker scans you in and directs you to fill out a short bio form. The assembly room is like any waiting room, but with television monitors everywhere, a kitchenette, and a lunch area. A smaller waiting room to one side was built, I think, when they allowed smoking in public buildings, but serves now for people who need to make phone calls. We heard that most of those summonsed do not respond.

On Monday mornings the room fills up with those willing to do their civic duty reading, sipping coffee, snoozing, tapping away on laptops or PDA until the ubiquitous orientation tape runs. Then one of the judges stands up and gives us a pep talk. Next comes the list of names to draw numbers and be dispatched to courtrooms. Those not called continue to sip, read, snooze, tap, and chat. It's a pretty well-organized system and its designers are conscious of the contribution being made by citizens for ten bucks a day. Ten bucks. It just covers a good lunch in downtown Seattle and in no way compensates for any lost wages. The state legislature has had many opportunities to change this, but has found other priorities to fund.The County does pop for bus passes or mileage.

Those whose names are called assemble on the designated floor. In the elevator lobby the bailiff lines us up by number and files us into the courtroom where lawyers and parties look at us with a mixture of curiosity, anxiety, and anticipation. My group numbered thirty-nine. The first fourteen fill the jury box and the rest of us take seats on the spectator benches.

Our case was a civil case. No prosecutor and cops to justify being dismissed. The judge introduces himself and the lawyers and the plaintiff and the defendant. We learn this is a medical malpractice case and will last a couple weeks. This will prove to be a problem for me as I was set to begin a trial in my child advocacy job the following week.

Then each of the jurors is asked to stand and introduce himself or herself and answer a few simple questions about occupation, marital status, etc.The people at the tables include the now de rigueur jury consultant with a sheet of post-it notes, one for each potential juror. The consultant and the lawyer all note the answers to the judge's questions. He excuses jurors because they know the plaintiff and because of job conflicts and work history.

Alas, my prior law enforcement career, my child advocacy, my enrollment with the health plan being sued, and my pending trial are not enough to get me excused. I take a seat as juror number five and settle in for opening arguments.

Next: We Have a Verdict

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The New Person


Yesterday we welcomed Kellen Richard Wilma into our family. He is the first of the next generation of our family and is beautiful and healthy. He is the first grandchild for all the grandparents and we are all simply thrilled.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Island Vacation


In order to keep up my blogging I am posting from Freeland on Holmes Harbor on Whidbey Island. We have a home here and are spending the week doing as little as possible. The kitchen here looks out onto the beach and the water and we got some rain last night, our first in a couple of months. It's the first time I've ever seen the area under some kind of weather. Usually we have had sunny skies and although the rain keeps us inside, it's a nice break.
I will spend my time working on my novel, reading history (Middle East this time), watching DVDs, and being a good island neighbor.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Premier


Puget Sound Energy premiered The Power of Snoqualmie Falls on Thursday at the North Bend Theater in North Bend. I estimate that 100 people showed up including the staffs of PSE and Sadis Filmworks. I researched and wrote the script.

The North Bend Theater dates from 1941 when it opened to newsreels of the Second World War and the latest Hollywood features. A newspaper article at the time touted "Many Marvel at Beautiful Interior-Lavish Appointments-Excellent Sound." The theater has been lovingly restored and it was fitting that PSE chose this landmark for the first public showing of the documentary.

To recap, the Snoqualmie Falls power plant was built by engineer Charles Hinckley Baker beginning in 1898 and it's still in operation producing power for Pacific Northwest consumers. It was the world's first completely underground power generating station blasted out of solid rock 250 feet below the Snoqualmie River. Baker overcame amazing financial, engineering, technological, and political battles to build the plant only to be forced out of the business. You will have to see the movie to know the whole story.

I came into the project through Steve Sadis and Jeri Vaughn who PSE retained to produce the documentary. PSE needs to remove some of the 100-year-old buildings on top. The movie is one mitigation for the loss of the historic structures. Having written the centennial history of Seattle City Light I was already plugged into Northwest utilities history and knew my way around the various archives. I tracked down several local historians with detailed information. Greg Watson who has written and taught about Native American History and who speaks the Lushootseed language. Onscreen Greg recounts the legend of Moon the Transformer who created the falls. Dave Battey is a local historian with insight into Baker.

I had seen the video before, but this was the first time on the big screen. Wow. There are even a couple of movie posters with my name on them as the writer. Wow. I didn't wear my tux, but I wore my Panama hat. The cookies, popcorn, and drinks were complimentary.

Copies of the DVD are being distributed to schools and public libraries. Steve Sadis is working with our local PBS station for broadcast in the fall. (I looked for the title on The Seattle Public Library catalogue, but it's not in yet.)

Here is the trailer which appeared here earlier.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Publishing Industry

I just read an article (online) about the most recent BookExpo America convention in New York which points out some important points about bricks-and-mortar publishing.
  • Attendance at the book sellers convention was down fourteen percent from last year, and the convention space was one-fifth the size of last year.
  • Book sales are down.
  • 2008 e-book sales were up sixty-eight percent over 2007.
  • 2009's e-book sales for the first quarter were up 100 percent over 2008.
  • People are reading and writing more than ever.

Here is the complete article

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Readers


Yesterday, I drove to Portland to meet with a class of twelve university students who read and critiqued my historical novel Down The River. I received the opportunity from Ooligan Press at Portland State University who read the manuscript and liked it, but not quite enough to publish it. Not yet. By having strangers read the book I could get a good sense of what is working and is not working. How could I pass up on the opportunity? I was too late for the winter term, but got into a spring term class.

Each student read the book (133,000 words, over 400 pages) and took notes. They broke into groups to discuss certain features. Then each wrote a detailed critique of from four to fourteen pages which I got via email last week. And boy were they detailed. The students wanted to meet with me and scheduled me for 5:30 p.m. yesterday.

We met in a library-like conference room seated on sofas and chairs in a circle. First I thanked them for their effort. Such commentary is incalcuable to a writer, or at least very expensive to purchase. I explained to them the origins of the book, a real family story, and how it evolved. I summarized for them the more common concerns that they had and how these were all good ideas. Some of their ideas I have already accepted and introduced into the text. Other ideas I will pass on and many I have to really chew on in order to work into the story.

One thing I had to clarify with them was the two central mysteries of the story, never explicitly answered, but for which there was ample evidence. (you have to read the book to find out what they are.) Some got the answers, some did not. When I explained the mysteries there was slappling of foreheads, etc. I enjoyed very much discussing my characters who the readers really engaged. In many cases the cry was more! more! they liked them so much. I will grant some of these requests, but not all. In writing, less is more.
In balance they all enjoyed the book and since the class was on story development, they offered ways to develop it. They were remarkably professional in their approach to a work they had to read and the extent to which they commented is a tribute to how much they enjoyed it. At the end we applauded each other.

So, I am really pumped to get into this thing and make it really sing. Once that is done, I will resubmit to Ooligan and see if they will nibble again.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The New House

The first thought in walking in the door was, "Oh [Sally] what a view!" (this comment will become important later) The house sits a few yards from the beach and public park at the head of Holmes Harbor on Whidbey Island. The main floor and deck faces the north towards Saragoga Passage.

My wife Lorraine and I tagged along on this property hunting trip because it seemed like a harmless way to spend a Sunday. I hadn't been up to Whidbey in 30 or 35 years. My son, Matt, a realtor, had been showing houses and lots to my sisters Patti and Sally for some time. We all had a mild fantasy of some day owning a large family vacation property together, but for me, it was mild fantasy, very mild. Who has that kind of money these days? I have never owned vacation property and never really had a desire to. I don't enjoy taking care of one home let alone two. But never say never, right?

Matt lined up a number of properties from the Multiple Listing System for about the third time and he gave up another Sunday to indulge his aunts. One offering had two small houses and a boat house and even a marine railway leading into the water and Patti wanted us to see it. Despite the three buildings it would just not suit as any kind of a family compound. Who needs a marine railway? One place we didn't even go in.

Then we parked in the driveway of the house in Freeland. We walked in the front door and immediately took notice of it and its sweeping view. Without going into all the details, it's a 30-year-old house of solid construction and a sensible layout. It has tons of room not to mention an amazing location yards from a beach. All the land to the front is public park and immune from development. Did I mention the view?

Immediately plans changed. Things shifted from a remote fantasy to a definite possibility. Except for being one structure, versus several in the classic idea of a family compound, this met our needs. Our extended family often spent vacations together and had already booked a house at Sun River, Oregon for July. The house was bigger than anything we rented in Oregon.

Looking at the rest of the houses that day was a formality. We all met the next evening and began to make plans. We would visit the house again to make sure, but we agreed to explore forming a limited liability corporation, a LLC, and finding financing. On the second visit later that week, we made our decision. This is the house.

Lorraine and I had never considered how we would pay for such a thing, but a phone call to the credit union solved that. They would be pleased to extend our line of credit. And at a very low rate.Patti and Mike made the official offer with the buyers being "and assigns" permitting us to lock in the deal ($200K below the asking price two years ago) and have time to form the LLC.

Lorraine found the lawyer who set up the LLC for us and that went together in a week or so. Once the LLC was official I could set up a bank account and we wired our contributions. Once we could show the LLC had the money, Matt scheduled the closing. By next Wednesday night, we should be occasional residents of Freeland, Whidbey Island, site of the Freeland Land Association.

The colonists who founded Freeland spun off from another utopian colony in about 1900. They set aside the park in front of our house in perpetuity for the people of Freeland.

The colony dissolved in the 1910s. We plan to last longer than they did.

As for the quote above, we needed a name for the LLC. The question came up what was your first thought?
So we named it the OSWAV Family LLC.



Friday, April 24, 2009

A New Gig


Surfing the ads on Craigs List does work. They have two categories for writers and I found an ad that caught my eye. I am now under contract with the Turner Publishing Co. of Nashville to compose the captions, chapter introductions, preface, and dust jacket for their Historic Photos of Puget Sound due out in November. Among other things Turner produces coffee-table books with archival images. Walt Crowley completed one for them covering Seattle in 2007 and Nick Peters did one for Tacoma. I also agreed to attend three book signings or promotional events. And I get some free books.
The publisher's representative said that he was impressed by my web site.

So by Christmas I should have three books on the shelves.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Birth of the Tank


The title and the photo are related, really. I grew up in Stockton, California which was home at the turn of the 20th Century to Benjamin Holt and his Holt Manufacturing Company. Holt invented a moveable track on agricultural tractors to cultivate the fertile but boggy peat soil of the San Joaquin Delta. He called this system the Caterpiller.

In 1914 the British Army needed to move artillery through the mud of France and dispatched officers to the U.S. for an alternative to horses. In Stockton they met Mr. Gilmore the general manager at Holt. To demonstrate the Caterpiller system he took them to his cattle ranch near Linden, east of Stockton, where the Sierra foothills begin.

Using a Holt tractor Gilmore built an earthen dam on a creek to create a lake. (the dam is at lower right in the photo)
The British were impressed enough to buy Holt tractors as prime movers for their guns. In France, Colonel Ernest Swinton saw the tractors in action and dreamed up the idea of putting armor plate on them to assault enemy lines. The tank was born.

My father managed Gilmore's cattle ranch in the 1940s and 1950s when Greenlaw Grupe (pronounced GROUP-ee) owned it. Dad told me the story then. Grupe trucked in sand, built a bathhouse and shelter, and added a boat dock. On Sundays in the summer we drove out to the lake for picnics and swimming and boating. It was the one day a week I could drink strawberry soda. We returned to town bloated with hot dogs, potato chips, and sugar. Mom hosed us down in the yard to clean off the sand.

The photo is of me (blowing up the balloon) and Bert Sandman standing on the dam built by the Holt tractor that inspired the tank. Hardly the stuff for a History Channel interview, but perfect for a blog.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

For Opening Day


(This is from last year.)

Somewhere it is written that boys must join Little League where they will learn about physical fitness and teamwork and self reliance and the other manly virtues. Introducing boys to baseball is an ideal way to develop them into young men. This benefit is now extended to little girls so that virtue no longer belongs to men alone, but the premise is the same: Baseball is good for America. Little League is viewed as wholesome and American and baseball as nothing less than preparation for the rest of life.

The seasonal nature of baseball and school compresses the Little League season into a few months in the spring. Everything, from organizing to training to competition, is jammed between about St. Patrick's Day and the last day of school. This is probably appropriate for nine-year olds whose concepts of time are, at best, no wider than a week or so. Entering into a Little League season with its calendar of practices and games is a long term commitment.

For the nine year old, Little League baseball is the only path to social standing and personal identity. That spring, I happily brought home the note announcing the tryout session for Saturday. Come the appointed morning, I rode my bike to the play field, looking for baseball heaven. I found nothing but two kids playing catch. I had missed the tryouts. Everyone else in my class was going to be in Little League except me. I had been left behind. Little League was gone.

I pedaled home in tears. Closer examination of the note by my mother showed that I was a week early. Enthusiasm had warped time and I had gotten the wrong Saturday.

On the correct Saturday, hundreds of nine year-olds crowded the field. At registration tables for each age group we submitted forms and fees in exchange for a large card bearing a number. Volunteer moms pinned the cards to our shirts and shuttled us into lines. Young players slammed fists or balls into gloves trying to get the pocket just right. Moms and dads hovered at the edge of the crowd while disinterested siblings scampered about. Men with clipboards commanded lines of placarded boys to move to the different stations. I was thrilled just being there.

The first tryout was fielding. An older boy hit fly balls to about ten of us at a time. Somebody else always caught the ball.

We reported to a backstop for the next station. Each boy had three chances to demonstrate his batting skill. Arrayed to one side sat a row of men with sunglasses on lawn chairs, holding pencils poised over clipboards. Suddenly, there I was, at the plate, all alone. Everyone, the boys in line, the pitcher, the catcher, the fielders and, worst of all, the seated men, all watched ME. A seventh grader smiled malevolently from the mound.

Pitch, swing. Pitch, swing. Pitch, swing. The men in the chairs wrote on their clipboards. Although I missed every pitch, I have no recollection of any feeling of failure though. My sense of baseball then was less about catching and hitting than it was about belonging to baseball.

A week later, boys at school announced that they had been assigned teams and I worried because I had not heard from anyone. One evening, I received a telephone call from a strange man. He who told me that I had been selected for his team. I was so excited that ran to tell my mother and I didn't think to remember his name or to ask when or where I was to report for practice. My mother had to make several phone calls to reconstruct things.

I was in! I was on a team! A sports writer once proclaimed that baseball is all about coming home, and when I reported my assignment to my classmates, I was home, a member of the Brown House (for the sponsoring department store) Miracles. After that first practice, team mates wore the same caps to school and hung around together. The world split between those who on a Little League team and those not, then subdivided by colored cap.

The euphoria of being on a team soon began to fade. Just as marriage can dissolve into bills and diapers and a new job can become just another Monday, my career crashed into one harsh reality: I had no talent for baseball. Not only did I not know the rules (which were never taught), but I couldn't catch, I couldn't hit, and I couldn't run. At first, I attributed these shortcomings to equipment. But new shoes and a new mitt and my own bat did not compensate for being afraid of the ball and for a serious lack of athletic aptitude. I was a klutz.

Little League policy entitled each kid to play a minimum number of innings. This guaranteed opportunities for me to strike out and stand around in right field. Even when a ball made it all the all the way out to me, I could only run after it (if I didn't trip) and throw it in the direction of home plate. All I can remember is people yelling at me. At bat I struck out. Once, just once, I was thrown out at first base. But I usually just struck out. Only in my very last game in my second season, did I actually score a hit.

This lack of baseball skill resulted in an immediate rift between me and the more accomplished athletes. They hit regularly and they competently pitched and caught and threw to the adulation of parents. They could play baseball and they saw that I could not. Not only did I not help win, I contributed to losing.

The coaches, dads just doing the best that they could, were all very patient, and I cannot recall a single critical remark from any adult. However, the sneers and insults and complaints from teammates all blend now into one bad memory.

That was it for sports and me. The jocks went their way and I went mine. Naturally, it did not help that I developed an asthma condition or that I was a little overweight. The next athletic competition I entered was at age 30 when I got sucked up by the running craze and did a fun run with some other cops. But this wasn't really a competition and running is not a team sport.

This early separation from the group formed my social development: I became a bit of a bookworm and joined other, non-athletic clubs like the school paper, if I joined a club at all. I did not date in high school and I married just once. Although I have always managed to be employed by institutions, my work remained solitary in nature. The awards in my personnel folder cite "independent action" and "initiative." Like the time I arrested that rapist when a dozen other officers searched for him blocks away. Or one night when two of us commandeered a Coast Guard cutter and rammed a drug smuggler. One thing that made me a good Scoutmaster was not being the least bit concerned how I looked to other adults while wearing a brown uniform and relating to twelve year-olds. I couldn't teach them to bat, but I showed them how to saddle a horse and how to right a canoe.

Today I do not read the sports pages and I do not watch games on TV. The only good part about baseball on TV is holding hands with my wife, but I can't even do that for nine innings. She explains the game to me and I wonder how a girl learned all that and I did not. I think I am still afraid of the ball.

In any event, I haven't missed the athletes and I suspect that they haven't missed me either. Being unable to catch or hit meant that I could not belong to baseball, so I had to belong to myself. Although I have valued being a member of a good team, I never needed a team to do what I wanted or to succeed.

I guess they were right; baseball is preparation for the rest of life.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Publishing Update


I just heard from the folks at Historylink.org about two books I wrote with the late Walt Crowley. They are going ahead with centennial histories of Seattle City Light and Children's Hospital of Seattle.

I wrote the City Light history about five years ago and was originally timed for the utility centennial, 2002 or 2005, depending on when you start counting. I got to use historical documents, archival photos, and interviews of City Light employees.
The hospital story took more than two years of pouring through archives and interviewing patients, physicians, nurses, staff, and the countless volunteers whose dedication and devotion has made that remarkable institution what it is today. That project too, was timed for the 100th anniversary of the founding, but Walt got sick and things have taken a while to come to this point. Both books will have both our names on them.

With any luck I will have some books on the shelves by Christmas.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Pickups II


I got to use the truck while I was a member of the Civil Air Patrol in Sacramento. The CAP is nominally the auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force and dates from 1942 when civilians used private planes to search for U-Boats. In the spring of 1966, CAP still flew searches for missing planes, but mostly it was a youth group. We teenagers drilled in Air Force uniforms and dreamed of flying jet planes. Our real flying was limited to orientation flights and instruction in small, even tiny, planes. Our home squadron had an Aeronca Champ, a two seater totally inappropriate for searches over the Sierras, but perfect for weekend trips around the Central Valley. The Champ is a lot like the J-3 Cub, but you can solo from the front seat.

My call to action came from some CAP senior members, as the adults were called. The squadron Champ had just received a new engine, but it conked out and had to make an emergency landing at a tiny strip in the Sierras. They needed me, or more precisely my truck, to haul the old engine up to the strip for a change. How far away from high school could that be?

I recruited my good friend Bob Snyder and we met at the squadron (in uniform of course) on Saturday. The senior members helped us load the replacement engine into the truck. Bob and I navigated from Sacramento up to the gold rush community of Georgetown.

We found our way up an unpaved road to the airport. In those days the Georgetown strip had no services and the Champ might have been the only airplane there. We had no trouble finding it. After a short wait while Bob and I giggled at this pleasant diversion from senioritis, the mechanics arrived by air with their tools.

The seniors had day jobs as machinists at the Air Force base and they knew their way around airplanes, not that there was much to know about the Champ. Changing engines proved amazingly simple. Off came the prop and the engine cover. Four bolts (if I remember correctly) and retaining wires held the engine to the firewall. The connections to the few engine instruments and the fuel line came off quickly. By backing the truck up to the airplane, the engine dropped right to the bed. I bet it took the four of us only an hour for the whole operation.

The Champ has no electric starter so I seized the honor of hand cranking the prop. You stand close to the propeller, so as not to lose your balance and fall forward, and you take the right blade with both hands. You call out “brakes!” to the pilot insure that when the engine comes to life it doesn’t run over you. Then you pull on the prop to see that the brakes are set. Next is “switch on” and the pilot sets the magneto switch. One pull on the prop is usually enough to get it going.

Off flew the Champ with its new/old engine and we drove back to Sacramento with the old/new engine. It was all soooo cool.

The Champ flew for CAP for nine more years. In 1976, our friend Mike “Andy” Andrykiewicz attempted a takeoff for a search mission. Andy apparently got disoriented in the fog and crashed. He did not survive.

Pickups I


I drive a pickup these days, but it isn’t my first. My dad bought our first pickup in 1965 for $100 from a Japanese gardener named K. Sera. It was a ’53 Chevy, 110,000 miles, with corner windows and a three-on-the-tree stick shift. Someone had hit the truck on the passenger side stoving in the door and smashing the window. Dad and I hammered the door out and he scared up some new glass. After we painted the thing red, I had a serviceable set of wheels to get to school.

In those days Dad managed a chain of service stations and they had a setup in the warehouse to put striping in tires. He took the four old recaps from the truck and put two red stripes in each tire mimicking expensive, high-performance tires that had become the envy of the hot car set. I turned many heads in the parking lot at school. We added a holder for a GI jerry can for five gallons of gasoline, a radio (that took a full minute to warm up), and several cans of water sold in the service stations for survival after a nuclear attack. We even included some National Guard C rations for under the seat. You never knew where you might get stuck with that truck.

Attending parochial school required a commute and families formed car pools to get kids back and forth. The pools involved complicated arrangements orchestrated by the moms. In my setup I picked up two freshmen in our neighborhood, took them to within a block of their school, then on to another corner where I picked up a classmate, Denis, for the run to our school. The freshmen found their own way home somehow and I dropped Denis near his house. My passengers gave me cash for gas money, but since I used the family credit card, it was basically my running around money.

I mentioned the caved-in door. It proved to be warped and riders tried and tried to slam it shut. I was the only one who could close it. I learned to reach across and pull it firmly shut allowing an extra instant for the latch to engage. If my mother or sister borrowed it they experienced extreme frustration until they got it closed.

That wasn’t the only problem. Somewhere K. Sera had bottomed out and knocked the transmission out of alignment. Shifting worked fine if you double clutched. Then when you cruised along in 3rd for any distance it popped out of gear. I tried a string with a rubber band and a hook that I placed over the gearshift to keep it in place.

I could perform most repairs with three tools, a crescent wrench, a pair of pliers, and a slot screwdriver. The gearshift linkage occasionally slipped out of alignment and I had to get under the hood to disassemble the linkage box.

In the summer of 1965, I took the truck to Bakersfield for six weeks to work on a summer school for the children of farm workers. I thought I was going to be a teacher, but because I showed up with a truck I became the milkman and bus driver.
Every morning I picked up cases of donated milk at the Carnation plant, stopped for some crushed ice, and ran my nutritious load to the school sites. For field trips we loaded as many as twenty-five children in the back (totally illegal these days). The experience was formative in many ways, but its most enduring impact came in meeting Christine a prospective nun. Christine introduced me to Lorraine who has lasted longer than any truck. Lorraine actually visited our project that summer. She never met me, but she remembered my red truck.

That truck served our family for five years or more. I used it to haul the cats and tow the boat from Sacramento to Seattle when we moved. I helped friends move (for a case of beer) and hauled junk for neighbors (for $5 and the dump fee). It got me back and forth to college for a year or more although on cold mornings getting it started involved a complicated procedure of pumping the throttle just right and patiently cranking the engine. To avoid the commute and never knowing if the truck would start, I moved into a dorm you could see from our house.

When I got a real job in 1969, I bought a car, a new one that started every time you wanted it to. The truck then passed out of my employ and Dad sold it, I think, for $100.

Monday, March 23, 2009

What are you reading?


My current book is one of the Flashman series by George MacDonald Fraser. For the really well read, Harry Flashman is the bully who tormented Thomas Hughes's protagonist in Tom Brown's Schooldays. Flashman is exposed for the drunkard and coward that he is and is expelled. Flashman dropps off the edge of the literary world until Fraser resurrects him in a series of historical novels based on the fictional Flashman Papers.

After Rugby, Flashman flowers as a total jerk, but one who admits his failings as "a scoundrel, a liar, a cheat, a thief, a coward — and oh yes, a toady"and even enjoys them. Flashman's father buys him a commission in the British Army and, just as in the real world, the young man rises in stature and rank through no fault of his own. He runs away from danger, allows others to die for him, and happily embraces torrid and meaningless affairs with women wherever he goes. Whether he is kidnapped or assigned, he lands in the great historic events of the mid 19th Century from the first war in Afghanistan to the Battle of the Little Big Horn. To date Fraser has produced twelve Flashman books.

My current read is Flashman And The Angel Of The Lord in which Flashy, a colonel in the Army and holder of the Victoria's Cross, finds himself in the United States in 1859 and conscripted to be military adviser to John Brown. Brown plans to invade the slave states and raise a rebellion of slaves. I won't tell you how it ends, but Flashy will survive. He always does.

Fraser's stories are both entertaining and informative, like good historical novels should be. I have seen our antihero through the invasion of Afghanistan, war with China, and now the perilous years before the U.S. Civil War. With twelve books to read I will have lots of fun following our man in his adventures, geographic, political, military and carnal.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Games

A minor interest of mine (it doesn't yet rise to the level of hobby) is strategy and simulation games for the computer. I have always been fascinated by things like trains and airplanes and I had a model railroad and dreamed of learning to fly. As an historian, I have studied battles and contests between nations and naturally engage in a bit of "what if." Before desktop computers I played war games on table tops and even played by mail where we used stock indices to calculate the rolls of dice. Those games took months and years. I had the Battle of Gettysburg set up with dozens of counters (the little cardboard pieces that represent units) in precise locations depicting the first day. Then a little girl who visited us decided she would mix it all up. That was the last play-by-mail game I tried. (The little girl is in grad school now I think.)

Then personal computers came along. I watched how microprocessers compressed the time and effort needed to execute moves and the computer watched that you obeyed the rules. You could even play the computer. This last feature eliminated the need to deal with boys and grown men with more imagination than social maturity.

I got a copy of Flight Simulator when it was black and white and played from a 5 1/4 inch floppy disk (which was really floppy) using the number keys in lieu of a joystick. As the microprocessers grew in power so the games grew in beauty and sophistication. Flight Simulator became full color and offered a variety of aircraft over varied geographies. When Train Simulator came along I had to have a copy of that. I even got a little game that recreated toy Lionel trains in a train set.

The simulation games are another animal. With Civilization II and III I occupied wildernesses, planned and built cities and civilizations, and constructed empires. The same thing with the Age of Empire series. The Civilization games are particularly good way to consume an entire Saturday. I had to choose between games and several editions of Age of Empires went in a yard sale.

In Railroad Tycoon I didn't so much operate trains as built and ran entire railroads complete with finances and stock manipulations. I spanned the North American continent and exploited China. I acquired Roller Coaster Tycoon and Sim City. But I also have a life to pursue, so these will have to wait until my life is nothing but free time.

My friend Steve introduced me to Rome, a very realistic (without the smells) recreation of the rise of the Roman Empire that cannot be played in one day. So you save the game and come back to it until some other faction obliterates you.

My latest acquisition is a sequel to Rome. Empire: Total War takes me into the struggles of the 18th Century where England, France, and Spain battle over control of the world. It has both land scenarios - lines of soldiers hammering away with muskets and bayonets - and sea scenarios. I am a sucker for the sea battles since I was an early devotee to the writings of C.S. Forester (Horatio Hornblower) and Patrick O'Brian (Jack Aubrey). The ships really sail.

All these games have an online and network capability. Online is where you find someone on the Internet, usually a fourteen-year-old boy, to kick your butt. Network is computers in the same house or office. I haven't tried either since I would be sad to be beaten and insulted by some teenager in Finland.

Here's hoping that computer gaming doesn't prevent me from blogging.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Marketing the Manuscript

I completed the major revision in my historical novel Down The River that the publisher was looking for. I had one of my writing colleagues, Bob, look at it and he had some very helpful comments plus dozens of typos. Using his advice and comments from the publisher trimmed the manuscript by about ten percent and really tuned up the language. I also tweaked the ending more to my liking (no one minded the way it was).

I contacted a literary agent who liked my sample chapters last summer and I offered her the manuscript. She said send the sample chapters again and I shipped those off this morning. I also sent sample chapters to a publisher in Chicago who seems to do my kind of stuff. So the process of shopping the story starts again.

What's funny about the revision process is that after I finished my major revisions and caught scads of typos, I went back and looked at what Bob marked. I missed almost every one of those!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

From the Mouth of a Babe


I have been collecting quotes from Lorraine that either offer an insightful comment on the world at large or just upon her world. I will post the good ones hereput the best one for the Christmas letter. I move this post forward on the blog as new quotes come to light.

On meeting with her CPA:
"It made me feel really good, that I'm not crazy and I'm not a bad business person."

On her office:
"You have to pretend you didn't see this. The corner over there on the floor looks really good." (best quote for 2007)

"My reading pile is on the floor. I got it out of my to do pile." (best quote for 2006)

On sending me to the store to pick up treats for the engagement party:
"Don't eat the lemon bars. You can have a cookie. Don't eat the chocolate chip bars."

Technology:
"As long as my Zune has energy, I'll be alright."

From her years as a producer on the morning news:
"I hate it when celebrities die."

"Just because I'm eating ice cream doesn't mean I'm feeling better." (best quote 2001)

On baseball:
"It's going to be an ugly damn season." (best quote 2003)

"No."

"Wait"

"Wait, I have something to say."

On computing:
"I just need to click around a little more without fear."

"I have a laptop connection in my office, but you can't get to it."

"Are those the only sandals you have?"

"I don't have time to listen to the message."

"The question is will I be alright."

"I have a system. I just forgot what it was."

"I was talking to my shoes."

"I’m a little tense, but I’m good, I’m good."

"My pants are a little better. That doesn’t mean my brain is any better."

"It's a G** D*** miracle!" (best quote for 2008)


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

First flower of the season


Tolerance


Recently the Seattle Police Department has implemented a training program to address allegations and perceptions of racial profiling. That's where police take action only because or partly because of a person's race. It's a hot political issue and there there isn't even agreement on the definition, "partly because" or "only because." As a narcotics agent in the 1970s I did racial profiling based on "partly because" definition handed down to me by my superiors. The profiles were written down. But that was then.

The training chosen by the department is called Perspectives on Profiling an interactive computer program funded by the U.S. Department of Justice and produced by Tools for Tolerance, part of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. All SPD employees will take the training which uses actors in scenarios designed by police officers. The action stops so that officers can discuss and critique the action and then make a decision using a remote control. That decision leads to another set of circumstances which then require another decision.

A great idea, right? Not so fast. The Muslim community in Seattle is outraged. Last night I attended a community meeting sponsored by SPD and I learned why.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center is building a Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem on the site of an 800-year-old Muslim cemetery called Mamila. Fifty years ago the Israelis built a parking lot on part of the cemetery and this will become the site of the museum. Two points of view about this project are expressed at Haaretz. com and at Wiesenthal.com

The dilemma for Seattle is whether to offend (perhaps too mild a word) the Muslim community by going forward with a training program with ties to the desecration of a cemetery, or to abandon the expenditure of time and money invested in Perspectives. No one has questioned the quality or efficacy of the program which, from my brief viewing, is excellent. Muslim advocates state that there are equivalent products available not connected with the Wiesenthal Center.

What occurs to me is that should Seattle pull the program and go with another, the controversy will end. The Muslim community will have made its point, but the construction of the museum will go forward and the story of Mamila will then be lost along with other accounts of injustices against Palestinians. No one seeing the new program will have a clue about this issue.

What if the program went forward to include an explanation of what the Wiesenthal Center has done in Jerusalem; to show that Tools for Tolerance is connected with an act of intolerance? Why not include information for the trainees showing how they, in Seattle, are still connected with that most tragic of world conflicts?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The News


In this case the news is of the family variety. My son Matt and his wife Tiffany announced to the family a couple weeks ago that she is expecting a baby next September. Yesterday they got her first sonogram.

The funny thing is that if it's a boy they might name him after his grandfathers David and Richard.

The little boy could be Dick Wilma.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Networking is Here

The whole idea of online networking has gotten coverage lately. Sites like Facebook and Twitter have created networks of friends, colleagues, classmates, clients, and service providers that people are still trying to get their heads around. I am still comprehending these resources and I'm a pretty savvy user of email and the World Wide Web.

I was first introduced to LinkedIn by colleague Charlie Hamilton, but let the whole idea just sit there. I picked up a few friends and relatives to form a miniscule network. Just recently though I decided to really explore LinkedIn and see if its features might benefit me, a freelance writer and wannabe novelist between gigs. I went to the trouble of completing a profile with my employment history and education and I was able to add this blog and my web site. Then I started surfing around and inviting people. Some people I haven't seen or heard from in fifteen years. You can cross check old jobs and schools to see who else listed them. I found a high school classmate from Sacramento who has worked here in town for 35 years and an attorney I worked with in the 1980s.

Charlie recommended I check out Facebook. I figured this was for middle and high school students. Since I didn't like high school the first time I never even looked at it. I was surprised that it was really quite tame and perhaps another good way to get my name out there. After all, it's not who you know, it's who knows you.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Solitary Writer - Not!


Writing is an individual sport, but the writer is not always alone, certainly not this one. I started taking writing classes in 1995. After every quarter, the students usually spun off into critique groups to continue our momentum at the craft. A good part of the classes was critiquing other students' work, not just for the feedback received, but to put each writer to work analyzing other work.

Every group evaporated after about a year, if one started at all. In 1998, I enrolled in a mystery writing class through the UW Extension taught by Northwest mystery writers G.M. "Gerry" Ford and Jo Dereske. (I don't think the mystery classes are offered any longer). I signed up for the mystery series because I had a background in law enforcement. It was natural that I give that genre a try. Jerry and Jo are excellent teachers and I learned a great deal. One product of Wednesday evenings for three quarters was an early draft of my mystery novel Tiny Details. The other was a reliable and long-lasting group of colleagues.

We started with about ten, lost a few writers over the years and picked up one. We are now seven. Everyone has completed one mystery novel and Bob has finished three or four. I finished one mystery and one historical novel, then started a sequel to the first mystery, a new mystery, and a sequel to the historical piece.

Bob's protagonist is a private eye. Brad's is a cashiered research biologist roped into murder over a timber theft scheme. Janet has a freelance writer investigating murder and fraud in the diet industry. Kathy takes us to the world of international wildlife trafficking. Rick's main character is a young, obscenely wealthy retired software entrepreneur investigating a suspicious death and environmental terrorism in the Cascades. Maurice has finished a couple of police procedurals set in the fictional Seattle suburb of Lakeview. Ted's story started with a sumo wrestler stung to death by bees in a porta potty at a local golf course, but Ted is on hiatus with us.

We rotate meeting locations and take turns submitting. The host makes a pot of decaf and serves sweets (Janet's fudge brownies appear in her mystery). We circulate the submissions by email so that we show up with marked up copies and written critiques. Our December meetings are something of a holiday celebration at a local restaurant, combined with critiques.

The process has been immensely helpful in my work and they helped head me off from potentially disastrous turns of plot. And knowing you have to periodically perform keeps us all writing. The comments are all carefully drawn and we have come to trust one another's sense of style. I am still "pre-published", but I am a much better writer because of them.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Publishing Front

This blog started as a way to report progress in my efforts to publish my two novels, Down The River, an historical novel, and Tiny Details, a mystery. River has been at a publisher since last spring and the early reports were that the readers liked the book. The acquisitions manager reported back to me that in its present form, they will decline to publish the manuscript.

But, were I to make revisions, she writes, they would like to reconsider it. They enjoyed the characters and they think it is a good story, particularly the way it was set up. This is the only publisher that read the entire manuscript and the comments she made were not unlike those from a literary agent who also read it. The publisher is a university press and they offered to have a class of students read and critique the work. How could I pass up the opportunity to have real readers give real feedback to my story?

I got in touch with the professor and he agreed to show it to his class. But the term has already started and it will have to wait until next quarter. That means that their comments won't be in until June. That will give me a chance to revise it some more before the students get it.

I have mailed out over 100 query letters and sample chapters for Tiny Details and received back everything from nothing, to preprinted regrets cards, to my own letter with a note, to one or two carefully crafted letters. All passed on the work. I did undertake to enter Details in the Amazon.com Breakthrough Novel Contest. The winner gets a $25,000 publishing contract. I entered River last year and it was actually selected as a semi-finalist. Alas, the version I submitted was before I had an editor go over it and help me with typos, etc., so it was pretty raw. Let's see if Details gets as far.

The news from the publishing industry is not good. Some major houses in New York have laid off staff and stopped taking new submissions at all. And all the money that is spent on advances for celebrity books by Laura Bush, et al., comes out of the pot available for fiction writers like me. It just ain't fair.

So I keep plugging away. I started a sequel to River and a new mystery with another protagonist, but have put these aside to revise 455 pages of plot and scene and dialogue.