Bouchercon 2017: Pretty Damn Good

Bouchercon 2017: Pretty Damn Good


This year I attended Bouchercon for the first time. It was pretty damn good. Here’s why.

View from hotel room

Wednesday, October 11th

*SinC Into Great Writing’s “Learn How to Give Your Novel Structure” Workshop with Alexandra Sokoloff

My friend and roommate, Mia Manansala, and I arrived in Toronto a day early to attend the Sisters in Crime’s workshop which was being led by the great author and screenwriter, Alexandra Sokoloff.

We learned about the eight-sequence structure in film. Originally, film reels could hold only fifteen minutes’ worth of film. To keep the audience’s attention while reels of film were being changed, filmmakers would end each fifteen-minute sequence with a question. Alexandra explained that in a 400-page novel, every 50 pages is considered a sequence. Each sequence should end with some sort of cliffhanger or climax of major suspense (someone dies) or minor suspense (phone rings).

We finished our session that evening with a scene-by-scene description of the movie, “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” I could write an entire post about that experience, but there’s no need since Alexandra has already done that for us here.

I’m looking forward to reading Alexandra’s book, “Screenwriting Tricks for Authors,” to learn more about structuring my novel.

Stealing Hollywood by Alexandra Sokoloff

In between sessions, Mia and I checked off two must-have Canadian culinary experiences: poutine and Tim Horton’s. I asked for a “double-double” at Timmy’s.

Mia & me

#WereBasically #LocalsNow

Thursday, October 12th

First thing in the morning, Mia and I attended “Speed Dating for Authors.” Authors ranging from brand-new to well-known were paired up and given two minutes each to sell us on their books. After five minutes, the authors would move on to the next table of potential readers. As writers working on their first novels, I felt this was an invaluable experience for us as someday (gulp) we might also be in the same position of pitching our completed books.

We met quite a few authors including fellow Finn, Antti Tuomainen, whose darkly humorous book, “The Man Who Died,” sounds wonderful. I was also immediately sold on Sara Driscoll’s “Lone Wolf,” a mystery about an FBI canine handler which features a black lab like the one I had left at home. I told Sara I would see her at noon in the Grand Foyer during her signing.

Grateful readers of Lone Wolf

There were so many other great writers and I was fortunate enough to get photos with a few of them including Leigh Perry (Family Skeleton series), fellow MWA-Midwest member, Lynn Cahoon (Tourist Trap series), and the writing duo of Caroline and Charles Todd (Inspector Rutledge series).

With Leigh Perry
With Lynn Cahoon
With Caroline & Todd Charles (*wow*)

In the afternoon, I went to a few sessions including the interesting “Changing Times: The State of the Publishing Industry” which was moderated by the very talented Clair Lamb.

With Clair Lamb

In between sessions, I ran into some familiar faces including writer Becky Bays, whom I had met at the Writers Police Academy two years ago  and fellow Minnesotans, Barb Lindquist Schlichting (First Lady series), Christine Husom (Winnebago Co. & Snow Globe Shop series), and Sherry Roberts (Maya Skye series).

With Becky Bays
Minnesota! Barb Lindquist Schlichting, Jessica Laine, Christine Husom, Sherry Roberts

I don’t know when we snapped this selfie,

With Mia

but shortly thereafter, Mia and I were happily ensconced in Momofuku, mofos.


After dinner, I ended up at the hotel bar where I ran into the Minnesota Mafia including Devin Abraham from Once Upon a Crime Mystery Books (seems like you can’t ever really get away from them).

MN Mafia: Sherry Roberts, Devin Abraham, Jess Lourey, Jessie Chandler, & friends

And I learned why you can’t assume everyone in the bar is part of Bouchercon.

Man staring at me in bar.

Me: You look like you have a question.

Man: What’s this? (Points at badge)

Me: Sisters in Crime.  It’s an organization for mystery writers.

Man: I’m a writer too.

Me: Really?

Man: I wrote a poem last year.  (Hands me phone) Here, you can read it.

Me: Sorry, I don’t have my glasses.

Man: I’ll read it to you.


Friday, October 13th

A new day, a new dawn, a new author’s breakfast. We heard from several break-through writers including fellow Chicagoan, Danny Gardner (“A Negro and an Ofay”),

Danny Gardner

met up with some cool people, and then had lunch with writer Kristen Lepionka (“The Last Place You Look”) where I ate my first (but not my last) chicken pot pie of the day.

Kristen Lepionka, Shaun Harris, Danny Gardner, Mia Manansala
Mia and Kristen
Lunch with Mia and Kristen
Kristen Lepionka signing
With Kristen Lepionka

After enjoying some more sessions, it was on to Mystery Writers of America – Midwest’s Happy Half Hour. Yes, we saw the Minnesota Mafia again, but also met some new folks including Cheryl Reed (“Poison Girls”), Penni Jones (“On the Bricks”) and Libby Kirsch (Stella Reynolds series).

MWA-Midwest Happy Half Hour: Christine Husom, Libby Kirsch Wamsley, Penni Harris Jones, Mia Manansala, Jess Lourey, Cheryl Reed, Jessica Laine & Jessie Chandler

We went out for dinner and ended up at the same place where we ate lunch. And yes, I had another chicken pot pie, they were that good.

Dinner: Christine Husom, Cheryl Reed, Libby Kirsch, Penni Jones, Mia Manansala, Jessica Laine


Somehow, we walked by the Pub Quiz that evening with several people including fellow Minnesotan Mindy Mejia (“Everything You Want Me to Be”) and author Dale T. Phillips. Someone (not me) suggested our small group enter the competition.

Mindy Mejia, Sherry Roberts, Devin Abraham, Dale T. Phillips

We were shoved into a corner far from the action (kind of like our own Island of Misfit Toys), and as of question #1, I knew we were screwed. It went something like this:

“On June 16, 1823, there was a steam train that ran through Vancouver every day at noon. Name the steam train, which is also the title of Elvis Murphy Brown IV’s mystery best-seller. Since this is such an easy question, we will only be awarding half a point for the correct answer.”

I am a high school quiz bowl nerd, and I was basically crying inside. Apparently, there was another table shoved into the opposite corner filled with hooligans who kept Googling their answers.

“Table in the corner, stop Googling your answers,” the emcee shouted through the microphone, garnering us tons of negative attention.

“It’s a different table,” we told tables nearby, but they didn’t believe us.

“Guys, we have to get out of here,” someone said (maybe me).

I won’t say *how* we escaped the Pub Quiz without having to walk in front of the emcee and surrounding tables. Suffice to say, we did.

And wrote a musical about it. At the bar. The songs went something like this:

“Take Off” – Bob and Doug McKenzie

“I Lost on Jeopardy” – Weird Al Yankovic

“Questions” – Chris Brown

“Hotel California” – The Eagles

“We Gotta Get Out of This Place” – The Animals

“Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” – Rupert Holmes

“Take the Long Way Home” – Supertramp

“Stairway to Heaven” – Led Zeppelin

“Oh Sherrie” – Steve Perry

“Don’t Forget Me When I’m Gone” – Glass Tiger

“Looks Like We Made It” – Barry Manilow

“Survivor” – Destiny’s Child

“I Got Friends in Low Places” – Garth Brooks

Requisite photos at the bar:

Mindy Mejia, Jessica Laine, Devin Abraham, Sherry Roberts, Christine Husom
Leslie Budewitz, Dale T. Phillips, Sherry Roberts
Past SinC Presidents Catriona McPherson & Leslie Budewitz
Devin Abraham & Christine Husom
Christine Husom, Sherry Roberts, Leslie Budewitz & Devin Abraham

Saturday, October 14th

Finally, the moment I’d been waiting for all weekend: the 30th Anniversary Sisters in Crime breakfast where I would receive the Eleanor Taylor Bland award for unpublished manuscript by a writer of color. Keeping it short and sweet, I thanked four tremendous women: Eleanor Taylor Bland, Sisters in Crime founder, Sara Paretsky, and my mentors, former Twin Cities SinC President, Erin Hart (Nora Gavin/Cormac Maguire series) and MWA Grand Master, Ellen Hart (Jane Lawless & Sophie Greenway series). Then I got a hug from Sara Paretsky and decided I could die happy now.

SinC Presidents Diane Vallere & Kendel Lynn

Thanks so much to everyone at Sisters in Crime for their support, especially SinC President, Diane Vallere, Beth Wasson, and Gigi Pandian. It was so amazing to win this award. I hope I make you proud.

Next, I attended the excellent “New Kids in Town” panel with fellow Minnesotan Matt Goldman (“Gone to Dust”), Steph Broadribb, Kristen Lepionka, Jennifer Soosar, Mary Torjussen, and moderator, Eric Beetner.

New Kids In Town
With Matt Goldman
More Minnesotans: Matt Goldman & David Housewright

Later, the “Best Novel” panel delivered some of my favorite quotes:

“The first chapter is Medusa-like. It turns people to stone.” – Laura Lippman

“I didn’t think Still Life would be published so every decision I made in my writing was selfish.” – Louise Penny

“Reading takes away people’s time. I want to make it worth their time. I want to be good company.” – Laura Lippman

I followed this up with the “50 Minute Novel” panel where authors created a plot with audience participation. Well, we lost the plot (something about a Yeti, some spaghetti, the Himalayas, and a finger in the dryer), but nobody cared. Because Charlaine Harris.

Because Charlaine Harris

I sort of redeemed my high school quiz nerd past life by sweeping James L’Etoile’s prison trivia game during his 20 on 20.

James L’Etoile

Here were my fabulous prizes. Can’t wait to read his arc, Bury the Past.

I ended the day with my favorite panel, “Reading the Rainbow: an LGBTQ+ panel.” Minnesotan Jessie Chandler, John Copenhaver, Stephanie Gayle, the hilarious Greg Herren, Owen Laukkanen, and moderator Kristopher Zgorski from BOLO Books made for an amazing discussion of LGBTQ+ mysteries, past and present.

Reading the Rainbow
With Owen Laukkanen

Overall, I had a great time at Bcon17. I met people, came away with tons of free books, won an award, got a hug from Sara Paretsky, danced to “That’s Amore,” and shared a meal with Devin Abraham on the way home.

With Penni Jones and Libby Kirsch
My pretties

Devin Abraham

Pretty. Damn. Good.





Top Ten Reasons I Love the Writers Police Academy, Part Two

Top Ten Reasons I Love the Writers Police Academy, Part Two

Last year was my first time at the Writers Police Academy and it was amazing.  I wasn’t sure what to expect this year, but there was no need to fear: the 2017 WPA was awesome.  Here’s why:

1. Road Tripping with Me, Myself, and I. When you drive by yourself, you can roll down the windows while you blare Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again”:

“And here I go again on my own
Goin’ down the only road I’ve ever known,
Like a hobo I was born to walk alone”

Although with my hair blowing in the wind, I felt I was a little less “hobo” and a little more “Tawny Kitaen”.  But I digress.

Tawny Kitaen "Here I Go Again"

2. Old and New Friends. That song we sang in Brownies said make new friends but keep the old so that’s what I did.  It was great to see my old buddies Shoshona Freedman, Savannah March, Tes Brown, Jim Bennetts, Josh Cejka, and Mike Riegel of the “Riegel Island” Riegels (sorry, inside joke).  Plus, I met some cool new people including Heather Wilson and Rebecca Faye Koss.

Mia Manansala, S.M. Freedman, Jessica Ellis Laine
Mike Riegel & Josh Cejka
Josh Cejka, Jessica Ellis Laine, Rebecca Faye Koss
Laine, Manansala, Bennetts, Cejka, & Riegel
Sarah Bennetts, Jim Bennetts, & Jessica Ellis Laine

I lucked out and got an awesome roomie, Mia Manansala.  Mia and I are both having an excellent year; Mia recently won the William F. Deeck Malice Domestic grant and I found out the week before the WPA that I’d won the Sisters in Crime Eleanor Taylor Bland award.  We were ready to learn a lot at the Writers Police Academy and celebrate a little, too.

Jessica Ellis Laine & Mia Manansala

3. Sisters in Crime President Diane Vallere. It was a great honor to meet SinC President Diane Vallere at Thursday’s reception.  She was amazing and very down-to-earth.  I’d like to give a big shout-out to Sisters in Crime for sponsoring the Writers Police Academy, a great resource for both aspiring and seasoned writers.  Looking forward to seeing all of my Sisters at Bouchercon in October!

Mia Manansala, Diane Vallere, Jessica Ellis Laine

4. Craig Johnson. On Friday morning, I met Craig Johnson, the author of the Longmire series.  He was very friendly and offered up a great speech at the banquet on Saturday night.  It was interesting to hear about his career as a writer and his involvement in the Longmire television series.  Plus, he said “howdy” to me on Twitter and I almost fainted.  

Jessica Ellis Laine & Craig Johnson

5. Shooting Range. I was fortunate enough to shoot both hand guns and long guns at this year’s academy.  I was incredibly impressed by our instructors who had a gentle touch with the people who were nervous about shooting.  They were also good eye candy (LOL).

Jessica Ellis Laine

6. Emergency Driving.  My instructor’s face after my emergency driving session is priceless.  He looks terrified.

Jessica Ellis Laine

7. Martial Arts for Writers. Our instructor, Esoma kung fu master, Howard Lewis, beat the crap out of me as he showed us how to defend ourselves from potential attackers and I liked it.  That is all.

Howard Lewis & Jessica Ellis Laine

8. Gifts and Prizes. As an unexpected bonus, I was given a WPA mug and patch after Saturday’s banquet for referring my roommate, Mia, to this year’s academy which was cool.  Mia and I also purchased raffle tickets and Mia ended up winning two K-9 plush animals.  She graciously gave me the Mason the Retriever doll to take home as a gift for my son.

9. Purcell’s Lounge. There was drinking and music in the hotel bar each night after the academy wrapped up.  It was great to catch up with friends and hear about the classes others had taken.  On Saturday night, we let it all hang out and danced with our favorite dance partners, Colleen and Jill.  One memory I will take to my grave is when a grown-ass man ran out of the bar while screaming these words at me: “Fine!!  You’ve proved your point!!!”  I’m not sure what my “point” was (perhaps that I’m a good salsa dancer which I am) but in any case, I will not stop dancing next year until at least *two* grown-ass men run out of the bar screaming at the top of their lungs.  #goals

Heather Wilson, Josh Cejka, Mia Manansala, Colleen Belongea
Heather Wilson, Jessica Ellis Laine, Mia Manansala, Colleen Belongea
Mia Manansala & Jessica Ellis Laine

10. Kroll’s East. Before leaving Green Bay, Mia and I met up with another mystery writer, Julia Lightbody, at the famous Kroll’s East.  My dining companions, the spaghetti with chili, and the cherry shake were all wonderful.

Mia Manansala, Julia Lightbody, Jessica Ellis Laine

Overall, I had another amazing year at the Writers Police Academy.  I learned a lot, partied a little, and came away with many great ideas for my work-in-progress, The Sundowner.  Special thanks to Lee and Denene Lofland and the instructors, staff, and volunteers at Northeast Technical College for all of their hard work and planning.  I can’t wait to see what will happen at next year’s academy!   

Jessica Ellis Laine

Jessica Ellis Laine is the winner of the 2017 Sisters in Crime Eleanor Taylor Bland award and the 2016 Mystery Writers of America-Midwest Hugh Holton award.  She lives online at


World Building: Why Flaws Matter

World building, normally associated with sci fi and fantasy novels, is something all writers regardless of genre should find important.  Whether you’re writing a biography, a memoir, a mystery, or a fantasy, your novel’s world should come alive for the reader.  It’s pretty hard for readers to suspend disbelief when they don’t feel grounded in your story.

One way to accomplish world building is to think of your story world as another character.  Good characters have flaws, not only because it makes them more human, but because it makes them more interesting. Here’s why story world flaws are important:

  1. If something isn’t out of whack in your story, then you probably don’t have a story. Story world flaws are created by imbalance, instability, and/or corruption (also referred to as the Chaos Factor). In The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, we have a world called Panem which is divided into districts.  The people in the districts live in poverty, while the people in the capitol live in splendor.  This imbalance of power eventually leads to rebellion and insurrection.
  2. Flaws create conflict and tension. As punishment for a past insurrection, the government in The Hunger Games has instituted a Reaping.  Each year, young people from the districts are sent to the capitol to participate in a televised death match called the Hunger Games.
  3. Flaws create dilemmas that must be solved. Prim, the younger sister of The Hunger Games’ protagonist, Katniss, is selected to be in the Reaping.  To save Prim’s life, Katniss volunteers to take her place in the Hunger Games.  The act of volunteering then triggers other problems/dilemmas for Katniss (like how to stay alive) over the course of the novel.       
  4. Flaws can stem from anything, even things like natural resources. Story world flaws can stem from problems such as discrimination, persecution, censorship, and genocide.  Flaws can also originate from things like natural resources and who controls them.  Below is the write-up for Salt: A World History:

“In his fifth work of nonfiction, Mark Kurlansky turns his attention to a common household item with a long and intriguing history: salt. The only rock we eat, salt has shaped civilization from the very beginning, and its story is a glittering, often surprising part of the history of humankind. A substance so valuable it served as currency, salt has influenced the establishment of trade routes and cities, provoked and financed wars, secured empires, and inspired revolutions.”

Bet you’ll never look at salt the same way again.

  1. The world and its inhabitants should react with credible response to the chaos effect. Now that you’ve created a flawed world, your main characters should respond/react to those flaws in a realistic manner.  We’ve all seen those movies where the protagonist’s over-the-top actions (The Day After Tomorrow, anyone?) have killed our suspension of disbelief.  Writers, don’t let this happen to you.


Interested in World Building?  I’ll be teaching a class this weekend for all genres of writing and for people who are currently writing a story or have an idea for a story. In class, we will discuss stories in which the world really comes alive for the reader. Everyone will leave class with a story bible template to help them jump start or finish their story world.
Email me at to register.  More info at:

Workshops Aplenty: Short Story & World Building

At last week’s Twin Cities’ Sisters in Crime meeting, noted mystery writers Jessie Chandler and Pat Dennis walked members through the “do’s and don’t’s” of writing a successful short story.  Below are a few highlights from the workshop:

Jessie Chandler and Pat Dennis
Jessie Chandler and Pat Dennis
  1. A short story isn’t a seven-layer cake, it’s a cupcake.
    I like the visual of the short story as a few bites of delicious storytelling.  Don’t overload your story with too many characters or scenes.  I’ve noticed that the more I write short stories, the shorter they get.    In a short story―unlike in the bedroom―less really is more (lol).
  2. A short story is a watercolor not an oil painting.
    Paint a portrait of character, mood, atmosphere and setting with brushstrokes, not a trowel.  One thing I’ve heard repeatedly is that you don’t have to do all of the work for your reader.  Letting the reader fill in some of the blanks in your story makes it a more rewarding experience for them.
  3. Start your story with a bang and end it with an epiphany or “aha” moment.
    I think this is good advice for writing a story of any length.
  4. Avoid common mistakes.
    These include sloppy writing, poor grammar, and not following submission guidelines.  While each publisher will have their own guidelines, I found a link where you can download the standard format for a manuscript at  *You’re welcome.*
  5. More common mistakes.
    Pat pointed out that if you have any questions about your work, you should listen to your inner voice and figure out what’s not working in your story.  Both Jessie and Pat mentioned a big no-no for writers is not taking constructive criticism to heart even if they’ve asked for it.  And please thank everyone who reads your work―whether you agree with their comments or not.  In this business, it never hurts to be professional and polite.

The timing of the workshop was perfect, coming as it did on the heels of the announcement that the Twin Cities chapter is now accepting submissions for its upcoming anthology, Dark Side of the Loon. As usual, Jessie and Pat were both amazing and Michael Allan Mallory’s handout was super-helpful.  Thanks to everyone for a great workshop and a great night.

TC SinC Short Story Workshop Attendees
TC SinC Short Story Workshop Attendees


Interested in World Building?  I’ll be teaching a class this weekend for all genres of writing and for people who are currently writing a story or have an idea for a story. In class, we will discuss stories in which the world really comes alive for the reader. Everyone will leave class with a story bible template to help them jump start or finish their story world.  Email me at to register.  More information at:

Top Ten Reasons I Love the Writers’ Police Academy

I heard about the Writers’ Police Academy from my Sister in Crime, Jessie Chandler, and decided to go this year. It was awesome. Here’s why:

  1. Girls’ Road Trip. On Thursday morning, I took my first road trip in years (sans dog, child, and husband) with two up-and-coming crime writers, Michelle Kubitz and Emily Gorman. Although we had spoken at several Twin Cities Sisters in Crime meetings, it was on this trip that I got to know Shelley and Emily and their writing.
    1. Road Trip
  2. Beer and Cheese. You can’t shake a stick in Wisconsin without hitting a can of beer or a block of cheese. On Thursday afternoon, we ate lunch at the Great Dane Pub & Brewing Company in Wausau. I drank a beer in something called a crowler, which is a growler in a can. You learn something new every day.
    2A. Crowler
    Supposedly, authentic cheese curds will make a squeaky noise when you bite into them. Did ours do that? I’m not sure because we inhaled them in less than five minutes’ time.
    2B. Cheese Curds
  3. Sisters and Misters. In Green Bay, we realized we were not alone; there were Sisters and Misters everywhere. At the Sisters in Crime table, we introduced ourselves to President Leslie Budewitz and Debra Goldstein. It was a nice way to kick off Thursday night.
    3. Sisters in Crime
  4. Special Ops Show and Tell. At the hands-on demonstrations, we spent some time watching the K-9 officer and his police dog. Then we spoke at length with an officer on the bomb squad team who gave us insight into the challenges his team faces on a regular basis. I came away with some great ideas for my novel-in-progress, a police procedural set in Australia. We wrapped up the event with a photo on this super-humongous bear cat.
    4. Bear Cat
  5. Emergency Driving. On Friday morning, I took a “crash course” on Emergency Driving with driving partners, Leslie Budewitz and Karen Heines, and our instructor, Colleen Belongeo. Part of what makes the WPA great is the opportunity to take note of how cops talk, walk, and hold themselves. Our instructors (including Colleen and John Flannery) were so incredibly personable, intelligent and self-assured that I’m sure they’ll end up in many of the writers’ stories. (I know they’re going to end up in mine).
    5B. Emergency Driving w Colleen
    Among other things, Colleen taught us the proper way to round corners at high speed. The experience definitely made me think about what those high-speed chases would be like for my story’s protagonists, a Latina constable and her partner.
    5A. Emerg Driving all
  6. Peeps. On Friday and Saturday, we hung out with Doug Dorow and Carol Huss, fellow crime writers from Minnesota. It was fun to review the classes we’d taken and to discuss our stories. We also met crime writers from Milwaukee, Toronto, Vancouver, Virginia Beach, and Seattle. I feel fortunate to have forged connections with all of these incredible people.
    6. MN Writers
  7. Diversity. I had no idea that Green Bay skirts Oneida tribal land. As a writer of color, it was very powerful to see diverse police officers in action at the Writers’ Police Academy. All ages, sexes, and races were represented. Also, as you can see, the “eye candy” quotient was very high. Just sayin’.
    7. Diversity Looks Good
  8. Real Cops for Real Writers. Retired Madison police officer, Paul Smith, tugged at my heartstrings when he explained how he developed PTSD following two fatal shootings (he was cleared in both incidents). I can’t imagine a more stressful job than that of a police officer. While the high-stress situations police officers face make for great fiction, the actual toll stress takes on officers can be devastating.Trying to create the mental health support needed for officers is an overwhelming task. I have been following the Victoria Police’s attempts to create a safety net for its officers in Australia following a review last year which stated the department’s “suck it up” management style was its greatest weakness. At one point, Smith considered suicide but was able to turn his life around and now works as a PTSD counselor and law enforcement trainer. The session was very moving, and Smith’s service dog had me at hello (shhh, don’t tell my black Lab, Sinjin). Here we are together―and in love.
    8. We're In Love
  9. Tami Hoag and Long Gun: Live Fire. What can I say about this unbelievable experience? Shooting a .223 patrol rifle. With Tami Hoag at my side.
    *Mic drop.*

    Tami was the keynote speaker at the banquet on Saturday night. She was so open and honest with us; it was a speech I won’t soon forget.
    9. Jessica & Tami Hoag
  10. Dancing. Whaaat? Dancing in Green Bay, Home of the Packers? Yes, yes, and yes. On Friday night, we danced with the enemy (Packer fans) at The Stadium View Bar & Grille, but kept our identities as Vikings fans a secret.
    10A. Stadium View Bar & Grille
    Then we boogied down on Saturday night with our new WPA friends (including Jill and Colleen “The Rock” Belongeo) at Purcell’s Lounge until we shut that mother down.
    10B. Dancing at Purcell's

Overall, I had an amazing time at the Writers’ Police Academy. Many thanks to everyone who made this such an incredible experience for attendees. I will be practicing my dance moves in preparation for next year’s conference. See you in 2017!

Hugh Holton Critique Program opens

I won the Hugh Holton prize last year.  The feedback from my mentor, Ted Hertel, has proved to be invaluable as I begin revising my first draft, and just winning the prize has been a great morale booster.  I hope many of you will consider taking part in the program this year.

Citizen Law Enforcement Academy: Week 6 or The End

Last week we met in Plymouth at the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office Emergency Communications Facility (ECF).  The ECF houses both the data center and the PSAP or public-safety answering point (ie: 911 call center). The $32 million building, which opened in 2014, is an awe-inspiring hunk of concrete.  The PSAP area of the facility is built to withstand winds of 150 mph or the equivalent of an F3 tornado.  The data center area, which also houses technical services, can withstand winds of 250 mph or the equivalent of an F5 tornado.

Note to the big, bad wolf: You can huff and you can puff, but you probably aren’t going to blow this house down.

Big bad wolf Source: Walt Disney Co.
Big bad wolf Source: Walt Disney Co.

As you might expect, PSAPs, or public-safety answering points, are call centers that answer calls to an emergency telephone number for police, firefighting, and ambulance services.  Plymouth’s PSAP is one of a handful in Minnesota, answering emergency 911 dispatch calls for most of Hennepin County (excluding Minneapolis).  The PSAP answers over 600,000 calls per year for 37 communities, 21 fire departments, and 23 law enforcement agencies.

911 Dispatch Center Source: HCSO
911 Dispatch Center Source: HCSO

Information sent to and from Minnesota’s PSAPs is delivered through the allied radio matrix emergency response (ARMER) program which was developed after 9/11.  ARMER is the infrastructure for emergency responders within the State of Minnesota.

ARMER services the radio communications needs of almost every city, county, state agency, tribal government and non-government public safety entity across Minnesota.  The only part of Minnesota that’s not covered by one of ARMER’s 328 radio towers (due to the terrain in that region) is the northwest corner of the state which includes Clay, Norman, Lake of the Woods, Marshall, and Red Lake counties.

ARMER map Source: MN Dept. of Public Safety

We tour the 911 dispatch area and see a moving video which includes the quote, “Just because you don’t see my face, doesn’t mean I’m not saving your life.”  We listen to calls coming in, and watch as the location and type of each call flashes across a flat screen on the back wall: a found pet, a domestic disturbance, a missing person, even a shooting.

911 Dispatcher Source: HCSO
911 Dispatcher Source: HCSO

Interesting things we learn:

  1. Hennepin County residents can call 911 for any type of emergency and will be connected to the right department.
  2. If you call 911 by accident please stay on the line. Don’t just hang up.
  3. 911 dispatchers categorize each call that comes in from first to fourth priority. A burglary report is an example of a fourth priority call.
  4. If someone’s missing, the police need a search warrant to find them. However, if an officer has a life-threatening situation, 911 can override a court order. Life-threatening emergencies include Amber Alerts, domestics in progress, and a verified suicide threat.
  5. 911 can get a geographic location and address for landline phones right away. With cell phones, they can triangulate and identify the area where the call originated, but not the exact location.

Our time at the Hennepin County Citizen Law Enforcement Academy is coming to an end (sniff, sniff) and it’s been an amazing experience.  I’ve learned so much more than I’ll ever be able to write in this blog, but I’m sure the information will come in handy as I continue to write my novel, The Rip.  As Midge’s husband, Tim, said to Sheriff Stanek, “Why is the academy so good?  It’s almost too good.”  I agree with Tim; the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office rocks.

This graduation cake takes the cake Source: HCSO
This graduation cake takes the cake Source: HCSO

Here are some photos of my Sisters in Crime friends, Midge Bubany and Kristin Lerstrom, Rose Stanley-Gilbert and me at the graduation party.  Standing next to us are Sheriff Richard W. Stanek (left) and Chief Deputy Mike Carlson (right):

Midge Bubany Source: HCSO
Midge Bubany Source: HCSO
Kristin Lerstrom Source: HCSO
Kristin Lerstrom Source: HCSO
Rose Stanley-Gilbert Source: HCSO
Rose Stanley-Gilbert Source: HCSO
Jessica grad
Jessica Ellis Laine Source: HCSO

Ways to get involved with the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office:

  1. Sign up for the Fall 2015 Citizen’s Academy and learn more about law enforcement.  Sheriff Stanek said our friends and family would have preferred sign up for the Fall 2015 academy which starts in September.
  2. Become a Special Deputy.
  3. Join the Community Advisory Board the next time there’s an opening.
  4. Volunteer at the HCSO’s MN State Fair booth. Here’s some information on last year’s event.

I would like to thank Sheriff Richard W. Stanek, Chief Deputy Mike Carlson, and Sergeant Jennifer Johnson, the driving force behind the academy and the recipient of a 2014 Award of Merit from the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office.  Sergeant Johnson told us we were her favorite group yet, and I think she was telling the truth because let’s face it — we were pretty great.  😄

Two other individuals who made the academy a wonderful experience for everyone are Deputies Mary Lelivelt and Kara Vanderkooi.  Several others (too numerous to name) have been extremely generous with their time and expertise.

Mil gracias.  Many thanks to you all.