Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Accountability

The continuing and tragedy of questionable police shootings has generated much noise and consumed many hours of cable TV news bandwidth. I have learned to click past the expert-of-the-moment who seems to enjoy the sound of his or her own voice. Things have to change! Fire the rascals! March! Shout! Book another guest!

There is something missing from this all, a solution. I would prefer to listen to how the issues of 1) police officer selection, training, and supervision and 2) accountability, both for police and prosecutors.

Under the current political and legal system these are all issues for local elected officials and their voters. States generally set standards for police training, but it is the local jurisdiction that chooses to hire an officer and chooses how he or she is to be supervised. How is a voter in San Francisco or a stalled commuter in Seattle expected to influence these issues in Missouri or Ohio? It is the same for any accountability system that purportedly reviews and deals with police misconduct. Accountability is further complicated by the power vested in police bargaining units by collective bargaining laws. You want to change the accountability system? You have to talk to those being accounted for.

At one time things like race discrimination in the workplace, race discrimination in public accommodations, and race discrimination in voting rights were all deemed private and local matters, not the business of the federal government. Then things changed, very slowly and with much opposition. Is this what is needed for police accountability?

Until I start hearing some concrete solutions to the issues of police performance and accountability I will feel bad for the families and those involved, but I will find something else to watch.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Serendipity

My first novel, Down The River, was the result of serendipity like so much of the rest of life. In 1994, I was an active family historian in San Francisco blessed with several fabulous genealogy libraries in the city. These were the days before the World Wide Web and email. One library had a scrap book of queries snipped from the Boston Transcript. People posted queries in this paper and in local genealogy society newsletters. It was a slow process requiring hand searches, snail mail, and months to turn around one query.

I stumbled across one query mentioning my ancestors and asking for information about their murders in 1813. Their murders?! The query was then about ten years old. I wrote a letter to the address provided on the hopes that the person had not moved or died. The bad news is that she had moved. The good news is that she had moved next door and got my letter. Martha Heineman was a retired nurse and a meticulous researcher. She had details of the murders of David and William Morgan by fellow slave holder Edward Osborn. She referred me to primary documents from Floyd County, Kentucky and another researcher who had written a monograph on Osborn and the killings.

I wanted to know more. Court records from the early 1800s had been lost over the decades—and they were very brief. The first histories of the county were written fifty or sixty years later from oral tradition and these had errors. Even the headstone for David and William was erected more than 100 years after the fact and the wrong date is carved in stone. One element that the accounts seemed to agree on was that the slave Phyllis, sometimes spelled Fillis, was the only eyewitness.

Instead of trying to do a history and a historiography of this minor event I thought it would be more fun to fictionalize it. I could keep what was known and which of the disputed facts I liked, and invent the rest. I tried to be as faithful as I could to what transpired as well as to the setting, the social, economic and political situation that gave rise to the conflict. I found I could tell the story from the point of view of Phyllis. For that I had to get into the head of someone born in the 1790s, who was a different race, and a different sex. Other authors had done this; Robert Golden for Memoirs of a Geisha and Ernest J. Gaines for The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.

I thought I would give it a try. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

DOJ to investigate Chicago PD

This has to go with, "I'm shocked, shocked to find there's gambling going on in here." The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division has spent the last seven years patrolling the country looking for police department to investigate. Cincinnati was an early stop and they came to Seattle four years ago. In every case the investigators have discovered a pattern and practice of unconstitutional use of force and other issues. DOJ filed suit in U.S. District Court and the cities had to come to the negotiation table to work out a consent decree.

The DOJ campaign was like a police department that expected its traffic officers to issue a minimum number of citations. In every city they visited the pattern and practice was confirmed. Other cities involved include Oakland, California and Los Angeles.

While the lawyers and consultants were interviewing people and reviewing records (Seattle kept careful track of use of force, even the most minor contact) the Chicago PD went unexamined until recently. When the investigation was announced it was news.

Where has DOJ been the past seven years?

I interviewed the Cincinnati police chief in 2011 and he loved the DOJ consent decree. At the end of the process he had a piece of paper that said his department was completely in compliance with constitutional guidelines.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Down The River 2.0

First cover
Down The River was my first novel. I published it at my own expense through Amazon.com's Create Space program. Over the past four years it sold dozens of copies. DTR was featured as a Kindle Direct Publishing title where Prime members could read it for free. My goal was to have the book read rather than make a lot of money.


Second cover
When The Guardian was picked up by The Wild Rose Press I offered it's prequel, Down The River. They liked it and I signed a contract. The cover art is done and the book is in final production. Boy, am I glad that I had another cut at the book. I found a couple of historical details I flubbed in the original that are now corrected. DTR is no longer available through Create Space, but will be distributed digitally and in hard copy as before, just with a new cover.

The saga of Phyllis is now a series which I have dubbed The Road To Jubilo. Phyllis has undergone a transformation on the cover, but she is the same inside. I am now at work on a story set between DTR and The Guardian.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Monuments

The aftermath of the tragedy in Charleston has triggered a lively and not always civil discussion on the action in South Carolina to remove the Confederate Battle Flag from the capitol grounds (which I agree with) has generated calls fore removal of all symbols of the Confederacy. Most of this noise is just noise in my opinion. 

When some misanthrope murdered nine people under color of the Confederate Battle Flag, cries went up to destroy everything Confederate. With the Internet and cable news that’s a lot of crying. 

In 1876, Native Americans defeated a U.S. Army column on the Little Bighorn River in Montana. In another reversal of the axiom that the victor writes history, the loser celebrated the event as Custer’s Last Stand and established a national cemetery with an obelisk. Brewers issued thousands of murals (largely inaccurate) depicting (celebrating?) the event.
The Custer Battlefield National Monument became part of the National Parks system. The victors commented on being left out of the record. In 1991, the cemetery became the Little Bighorn National Monument and now includes a memorial to the Native Americans who fought there as well. History is now more complete. 

When someone objects to a memorial to a cause and a government established to enslave people I suggest telling a more complete story rather than eradicating history. How about another memorial to African Americans who fought for their freedom in Union blue or to citizens of seceding states who resisted secession? 

Instead of less history we need more history.  

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

True Detective

This HBO series started last year starring Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConnaughey as a couple of detectives in bayou country investigating serial killings despite their own psychoses. Season 2 is set in southern California in the corrupt industrial enclave mirroring City of Industry. Three cops from different agencies with huge amounts of personal baggage are assigned to a grisly murder linked to a major corruption case and some multi-billion dollar transit scam. The cops are all told not to trust the others and each is working for other powers. Frank is a local gangster swindled out of millions by the victim who was also the corrupt city manager.

Some of the early reviews (I just read the headlines) panned he season, but I have to disagree. I find much to like. First, I have been there, both in the setting, City of Industry, and the environment, multi-agency investigations with secret agendas. These series take a while to unfold, but I think the first episode sets it all up well. We follow the main characters through their individual dramas until the body is discovered by one and all three are stuck together. Naturally Harrelson and McConnaughey are hard acts to follow, but this story stands on its own.

Whoever writes these stories is great.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Police Killings...

...or media-speak, "officer-involved shootings." But these don't include choking, taser, or blunt force trauma deaths. In any event, deaths and serious injuries as the result of law enforcement actions have occupied a huge amount of air time and bandwidth. To be sure, any death involving government officials is concerning, but I have to object to the level and direction of commentary and protest. The harangue is that deadly force used by police is a national and federal government issue. A death in Ferguson, Missouri spun off dozens or hundreds of protests around the country. To what purpose?

Of what possible concern is it to me that a suburb near St. Louis has problems with officer selection, training, and management and with that municipal government's ability to fairly govern? What can I possibly do to change things in Ferguson or in Baltimore or in New York City? None of these incidents are the result of policies implemented by anyone I voted for or pay taxes to. Why are protesters in Seattle shouting their outrage to me? I can understand a response to a local tragedy, but to one half way or all the way across the continent? I cannot vote for a mayor or city council in Missouri.

By long political tradition the matter of law enforcement is a local responsibility. Despite the exponential growth in federal law enforcement since 9/11, policing is a city and county duty. The cities and the counties hire and train their officers, provide them with policies, manage their work, and deal with their poor performance or bad conduct. It is not the business of the citizens of Miami how employees of the City of Chicago do their jobs.

The misconduct I have seen reported in these recent deaths are the result, in my opinion, of poor training, poor selection, and poor management, by local officials duly elected by voters far away.

In recent decades the states have implemented training standards for officers, but not centralized training institutions. Missouri is like that where an individual can receive certification from any number of certified institutions usually colleges. Part of the training is the use of deadly force, particularly shoot-don't-shoot situations. Trainees are run through realistic computerized video scenarios where a subject pulls a gun one time and a cell phone the next time. It's all random. The idea is to teach when and when not to use deadly force.

Even in states which have their own academies, the local agencies do their own hiring. Even with state-wide standards it's still up to the departmental selection committees who gets a job.

On to working the street it is up to the cities and counties, not the states and not the federal government, to hold officers accountable for conduct and performance. Having served in the police accountability field for three years as a civilian and as a law enforcement manager for 15 years I can report that reconstructing and evaluating conduct is a daunting task. But officers need to know that their work is subject to review, not the case in every department. Every department is not within the purview of every citizen across the country.

Other than being able to cut school and shouting in the streets with friends, of what possible use is a demonstration in Seattle against a local problem in Missouri or New York? 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Guardian II

I have both the cover art and the release date now for The Guardian. The cover is by Angela Anderson who has done many other covers for The Wild Rose Press and whose work impressed me enough to ask for her help. As you can see she does wonderful work.
The image for my cover reflects what I imagine Katherine to look like. She is the "working girl" who recruits my protagonist Phyllis into resistance to the Fugitive Slave Law and who Phyllis in turn recruits to take their effort to another level. 

The release date is July 31, 2015 when it will come out in digital form. A few days later it will be available in print. 

I am busy preparing promotional text for social media.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Guardian

This is my most recent novel and is a sequel to my first try Down The River. My pitch reads

The Guardian is a historical novel describing what would have been the largest mass escape of slaves prior to the Civil War. Phyllis Lewis is an ex-slave cooking for a Philadelphia boarding house in the year 1850. She tells her own story of joining a secret and illegal cell that resists the Fugitive Slave Law by helping runaway slaves escape to Canada. The leader of the cell is kidnapped by federal marshals, falsely accused of being an escaped slave, and transported south. Phyllis resolves to rescue her friend and take the fight against slavery to the Eastern Shore of Maryland. All this is contrary to the laws of the United States. She poses as a teacher of French cooking and her co-conspirators include a prostitute, a burglar, a traveling salesman, and a lawyer who specializes in returning fugitives to their masters. Exposure as a slave stealer would result in prison or worse. Just as the scheme is coming together the corrupt marshal recognizes her cooking from Philadelphia and arrests her. Even though she pulls off what may be a perfect crime, she learns that no great purpose can find success without great cost. 

My writers group recommended chopping several beautiful (but useless) chapters. I had an editor go over it and clean it up. Even before it was back from the editor I started the submission process.

I obtained a (digital) copy of The Writers Market, the yellow pages for getting published. The directory has two general parts, publishers and literary agents. Publishers publish your book where the agents find a publisher for you. The biggest houses will not look at a submission from an author and will look only at work an established agent thinks is worth. It's like convincing a real estate agent to take the listing on your house.

I started with the list of publishers skipping over the big ones. Each publisher has different requirements, a short query, a query with 25 pages, a query with 50 pages, some all by email, some by snail mail only. I sent out about a dozen of these, maybe more. The last two books I wrote I took through this process netted me dozens of rejection letters, cards, and emails. That doesn't count the queries that did not even net a reply.

A few of the publishers asked for more chapters. That was encouraging. Then one publisher wanted the entire manuscript a particularly positive indication. This was done all by email. I had to get the manuscript back from the editor first before sending it off. The editor replied she liked it and would send it to the review committee. Hmmm.

The editor came back with a one line email, "Guess what?"

They wanted the book. This publisher, The Wild Rose Press, specializes in romance novels, the bodice rippers with bare chested heroes and nearly-bare chested heroines. But they have a line of historical novels written by, get this, a few men. I joked with the editor that I must be their third male author. "Oh, we have more than three."

I signed a contract and then the editing process started. The editor got stuck on the first word—the first word!—there was back and forth until I suggested deleting the first word. That worked.

Next came the cover design. I looked through the other covers, bare chested heroes and nearly-bare chested heroines. I found some tamer and tasteful examples that I thought fit my story and characters better than d├ęcolletage.

Now I wait for the cover.

Monday, May 11, 2015

West Point and Cadet Benjamin O. Davis

The U.S. Military Academy at West Point has named a barracks after General Benjamin O. Davis, '32, the second African American to graduate. He went on to a distinguished military and civilian career. While at West Point he was "silenced" by the other cadets because of his race. His predecessor, Henry Ossian Flipper, endured the same, probably worse from 1873 to 1877.

Who were the cadets who imposed this regime on Davis? I looked up graduates of the Class of 1929, the seniors who ran things when Davis entered the academy. At least two of them went on to some fame in World War II. Frank Merrill headed Merrill's Marauders, the only U.S. Infantry unit in the China-Burma-India Theater and James Gavin, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division and ambassador to France. Other members of '29 became generals. A less notable member of the class was the father of comedians Tom and Dick Smothers. He died in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in 1945.

To be sure America at the time and especially the U.S. Army was segregated and racist, but I wonder if Gavin's and Merrill's biographers mention this episode. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

So Long Dick

An old family friend passed away about six weeks ago. Last weekend I flew to San Mateo, California and attended a memorial service for him on behalf of my family and, in particular, on behalf of my mother and my late father. Dick and his late wife Sally went back to 1950 with our family. Here are my remarks.

Dick Patton was Dad’s best hunting and fishing parter. They met in 1950 when they were both waiting for the phone to ring in the Sims and Grupe real estate office in Stockton. They were young veterans and as they waited for the afternoon to run out they realized they they both loved fishing and hunting. It’s deer season, how about we go deer hunting some time? When? How about tomorrow?
Dick Patton and Dick Wilma, ca. 1995

Dick and Dick hunted and fished together for decades while their wives, Sally and Sally, waited at home. You could get away with that in those days. The Pattons and the Wilmas became close friends.

Dick and Sally Patton were sort of uncle and aunt to me and my two sisters. To us he was Dickie P. My sister Sally—we had Big Sally, Little Sally and Sally P— first met Dick when she was two and she recalls Dickie P as one of the best looking men she ever met.

I have a fix on the date because Dick and Sally Patton took care of me and Little Sally when our sister Patti was born in May 1951. The Pattons lived a few doors down from us on Douglas Road in Lincoln Village in one of the cookie cutter, flat-topped tract homes thrown up on concrete slabs. The houses sold for $6500.

The Pattons moved around the corner into a second-generation Lincoln Village home with a car port and a storage closet. That storage closet became Dick’s workshop. I was there when Dick brought home a Shopsmith, one of those do-it-all power tool setups which he and Dad used to make gunstocks. Forty years later he got another one. How many people do you know have two Shopsmiths?

I reconnected with Dick and Sally in the 1980s when my career brought me to the Bay Area. When I moved back to the Pacific Northwest Dick and I maintained contact by email. We were both interested in history of all kinds. Much of the history Dick took part in himself. I recorded an interview of him where he related his up-and-down military career.

Dick explained to me that when he was 17 he lied about his age and joined the army. He volunteered for parachute infantry to avoid being disciplined for evading KP.

Dick joined the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment in the 82nd Airborne Division. After some action in Africa, Dick parachuted—dropped as they call it—into Sicily in 1943, into Normandy on D-Day in 1944, then into the Netherlands. In Normandy he lost an eye, but ran away from a hospital in England to rejoin his unit. Dick said he didn’t want some idiot taking over his squad. Such was the bond those men held for each other. In France he liberated Leedy, an Alsatian shepherd pup, from a German Army kennel. He got caught up in Battle of the Bulge. There were two drops into Germany ahead of the advancing Allies. He was captured and escaped during an air raid. Dick’s rank during these adventures ranged from private to lieutenant and back down a bit. The 82nd was the “other” division from the Band of Brothers. The 82nd saw the same action, more in fact, but the 101st had Stephen Ambrose, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks.

Dick received the Silver Star—twice—and several purple hearts and was entitled to go home. Dick told me he knew he wasn’t ready for polite society and stayed on with the military government as an investigator, a detective. He investigated the automobile accident that killed George S. Patton.

Dick came home in 1946 and smuggled Leedy aboard the ship. In 1948, Dick volunteered to return to Europe to help repatriate the remains of the fallen.

If I have one memory of the two Dicks it is laughter. They joked about everything, but to watch them you would think they detested each other. The day after Christmas in 1964 the three of us were bird hunting in the Delta. Always having a sense of history I asked Dick, “Where were you 20 years ago?” He stared down at the ground a moment to do the math and then uttered an expletive before laughing. Christmas 1944 was the Battle of the Bulge.

The only time Dick and Dad didn’t chatter like middle schoolers was when they were fishing. Fishing for them was it’s own reward and required, no, demanded, silence and introspection.

When Dad passed away in 2005, I left a message for Dick. Dick called back and just had nothing to say—silence on the other end of the line.

Dad said he never knew anyone to spend more money on his dogs than Dick Patton. The last time I saw Dick was a year ago. I knew then that I had just one more chance to sit down with him. We talked for three hours—about dogs.

My mother, Big Sally, is 89 and not doing too well, but she managed to write something of her feelings upon hearing of Dick’s passing

“It's hard to reminisce about Dick Patton without first acknowledging the influence of Sally Logan. She was the love of his life and the pattern for contentment and peace of mind that chronically eluded him.
Our family became friends when his new found gentleness fit perfectly with our three children under the ages of five. It was a shame that our gift for his generosity was a case of  chicken pox.
Primarily my gratitude to Dick stems from his friendship with Dick Wilma. He was Dick’s sounding board and his loyal friend. No amount of thanks could ever express my feelings.
Thank you Sally for how your love transformed DickieP. Thank you DickieP for giving us your friendship. We love you.”



Dick Patton touched all of us in many wonderful ways and that’s not a bad legacy.

I miss you, Dick, we all do.