Writer’s Police Academy Recap

Last weekend I attended the Writer’s Police Academy. Every year for the past three years, I had tried to attend but always had scheduling conflicts. This year they moved the dates to the beginning of September and it worked out perfectly. I was so thrilled to attend the event, even if it meant flying across the country to do so.

New Picture (10)

Image Credit: Writer’s Police Academy

The weather was perfect the entire time I spent in Greensboro, North Carolina. And I met a lot of writers and law enforcement that made the event well worth attending, even before the classes began! There were hands-on opportunities and Lee Lofland and his staff did an awesome job putting the event together. As a former event coordinator, I know the amount of work behind the scenes and organization required for an event of this size and magnitude. And it went off without any noticeable hiccups.  

For a writer, especially a crime writer, these types of events are crucial for background research. But I was surprised to find many romance authors in attendance as well.

I won’t go into detail about every session I attended (as I posted on my Twitter and Facebook feeds), but I did include a few photos below. I found some of the sessions were too general, such as Gangs and Prostitution, which could have been narrowed down to get more detail. In the Gangs session, we discussed the Bloods/Crips and touched on female gangs, but never really got into Prison Gangs or drug cartels and how they fit in the picture. Again, this session was pretty basic and was perfect for an introductory crowd.

Other sessions were taught by very experienced law enforcement and included stories of their professional pursuits. These were great to hear and provided great color to the world they live in. On the flip side, some of the information provided was so geared toward Greensboro, North Carolina that it was not as valuable to someone like me, writing about Los Angeles, California.

The most impressive sessions were the hands-on sessions. I was lucky enough to attend the Building Searches session, which gave us an introduction on how to search a building and the tools needed, and the ability to actual run through several apartments to test our own skills. It was thrilling and eye-opening. And definitely something I will use in future stories.

I was also able to join a select group to tour a local jail. The group was a bit large to get all our questions answered (and heard), but the experience was amazing. I am currently writing a scene that takes place at Twin Towers in Los Angeles, so it was very helpful.

I learned quite a bit at the conference and encourage anyone interested in writing crime to attend future events. In fact, I will try to attend a future event as well. Although, I have a few Citizen Academies to get through first.

Captain Randy Shepherd displaying the tools needed for Building Searches.

Felony Stop Demonstration

Explosive K-9 Reno alerting on backpack in the parking lot.

Explosive Robot inspecting backpack.

Greensboro Hazardous Devices Team suiting up.

Placing a charge to open the bag and “render it safe.”

Assistant Fire Marshall J.E. Coble setting fire to a couch.

Fire demonstration

Fire engulfs small room in seconds.

EMS Demonstration


How I Would Re-Write the Manhunt

Yesterday, as the massive LAPD manhunt scoured the Southern California region for fired LAPD officer Chris Dorner, I realized this was an amazing story. I mentioned to several people that this would have been a great suspense or thriller novel. A disgruntled and dishonored veteran and ex-police officer releases a manifesto and attempts to clear his name by resorting to the only option left, a vengeful campaign against those that have wronged him. A city is on edge as the manhunt and the attacks escalate. It would have made a great novel.

But today, as the story continues to play out, I realize I would have made some creative detours.

For one, I would want the reader to connect with the bad guy. Running around and killing innocent people doesn’t make him likeable at all. And let’s be honest, here. Despite what I’ve read on social media from people defending his actions, he is attacking innocent people. The ex-captain’s daughter and fiancé that he killed on Sunday had no idea who he was. They had no direct impact on his life. The officers he shot had no personal grudge with him. They had never met him. Yet he made them targets. If he had truly gone after the people who had wronged him, he might get some sympathy or understanding from readers. In reality, he is seen by most as a homicidal mad man.

The ex-officer talks a lot about racism in the police department. This is actually no surprise to most people. But he loses creditability when he says is targeting all officers. Sure there are some officers that are bad, but just as many are good. Just as many knew the LAPD had a bad reputation and joined to try to make a change from the inside out. We shouldn’t judge someone by the color of their skin and we shouldn’t judge someone by the clothes they wear or the profession they choose. Again, his actions would lose most readers.

The mistaken identity situation where three innocent people were shot at by the LAPD is pure gold for suspense writing. It is sad and I am glad to hear no one was seriously injured. I’m sure the LAPD (and the tax payers) will have to pay dearly for the mistake. In a novel, the incident would be important to show the tenseness in the force as well as indicate the possibility that the ex-officer could be right about his corruption claims. Unfortunately, in real life, it just shows how worried the officers are for their own safety and how easily one mistake can further ruin the reputation of the department.

The search moving from coastal San Diego to the mountains of Big Bear are also a plus in a fiction novel. The disabled boat and the burned out truck could be great plotlines if these connected to his character in some way. If these events could be used to show his planning and cunningness, the reader might root for him. Unfortunately, it looks like the San Diego spotting was a failed attempt to flee the country. Still no word on the reason for torching his vehicle. If he ends up still in Big Bear, it was probably another mistake that only caused the police to move in faster.

Although this story is still unfolding, it probably won’t end well for the fired officer. Sources say much of what he claims in his manifesto isn’t accurate. We’ll have to wait for the media to dig in for the truth. And don’t fear. They will, because there is a very interesting story here.

 As for the ending I’d write?  I’d probably have him find the only cop willing to listen to him. After a week-long manhunt and trust growing between the ex-officer and the cop, he’d turn himself in as the cop agrees to look into the corruption, and with the media behind him bring down any guilty parties.

Again, the important part is that this would end with no loss of innocent lives.


*Remember: This is not fact or fiction. These are just my musings.


Ripped from the Headlines

Musings from a Crime Writer

Cousins, 8-year-old Elizabeth Collins and 10-year-old Lyric Cook-Morrissey were last seen on July 13, riding their bikes near a lake in Evansdale, Iowa. An extensive search has been conducted and police recently announced this is now an abduction case. As normal, investigations into the families has started. And disturbing information is coming out.

Missing Iowa Girls

Misty and Daniel Morrissey, the estranged parents of Lyric Cook both have criminal records that appear to be causing concern for police.

Misty was just released from federal prison on May 30 after being convicted of nine crimes, including illegal drug use, association with persons involved in criminal activity, excessive alcohol use, and failure to comply with drug testing. Eight years earlier, in 2003, she was sentenced to four years behind bars for conspiracy to manufacture and distribute methamphetamine.

Dan has recently been charged with assaulting his estranged wife and possessing, manufacturing and distributing methamphetamine. Morrissey had been expected to accept a plea agreement July 12, the day before the girls vanished, but decided not to do so because he was not ready to go jail. Prosecutors had cut his sentence from more than 45 years to 10 years, because he has cooperated and given investigators information on other meth makers in the area. Since the early 1990s, Daniel Morrissey has been convicted of burglary, theft, drug possession, intoxicated driving, parole and probation violations and interference with official acts.

Could Lyric’s parents drug connections have caused their abduction? Could the girls have been taken by a rival meth maker out of revenge for cooperating with police? Or could the girls have been taken by a family member to keep them safe from Lyric’s parents?

To me, these don’t sound like the people who deserve to care for a child and I only hope that the girls are found safe soon. When found, I hope the state can place Lyric in a safer home environment.

*Not fact or fiction, these are just my musings.

My Top Crime Stories for the Week

MISSING. In Evansdale, Iowa, 8-year-old Elizabeth Collins and 10-year-old Lyric Cook were last seen by their grandmother on Friday when the two cousins left to go on a bike ride. Their bicycles were located hours after they were reported missing near a lake. A massive volunteer search over the weekend failed to locate the girls. Scent dogs used by searchers looking for signs of two missing young girls in Iowa ran around a lake and stopped at the water’s edge, but the mother of one of the girls doesn’t believe the girls had gone swimming. She believes the girls were abducted.


ARRESTED. Police have made an arrest in the abduction attempt in South Philadelphia that was caught on video. The surveillance video shows a 10-year-old girl, with her 2-year-old brother, walking home on Tuesday afternoon. The video shows an unknown male following them in a white vehicle. The video shows the suspect grabbing the girl and attempting to carry her away, but she bit him causing him to drop her. He tries again, but the girl fights as her brother screams. The man eventually let the child go and ran back to his vehicle. A suspect was arrested after turning himself into authorities.

IDENTITY THEFT. An Estonian man was sentenced to seven years in prison on Thursday for his role in stealing more than 240,000 credit card numbers. Aleksandr Suvorov hacked into a computer system belonging to the Dave & Buster’s restaurant chain to steal the credit card numbers of 81,000 customers. Suvorov attempted to sell more than 160,000 stolen credit card numbers to a buyer in San Diego.

ART CRIME. Undercover FBI agents in Florida found what investigators believe is a stolen Henri Matisse painting that had been missing for nearly a decade. Pedro Antonio Marcuello Guzman, 46, of Miami and Maria Martha Elisa Ornelas Lazo, 50, of Mexico City were charged with transporting and possessing the stolen painting after trying to sell “Odalisque in Red Pants,” valued at $3 million to undercover agents.

And finally…

STRANGE. A woman in Texas was charged with child endangerment for leaving her children after her car collided with a Houston bus. She allegedly walked to a nearby CVS drug store and started taking off her clothes as she ate ice cream. The Texas mom’s three children, ages 5, 12 and 16, were in the car when the collision occurred.  Officials say all three suffered minor injuries and have since been released to their grandmother.

And this is why I write crime fiction…

Have you read STRANGER?

The e-book, STRANGER: A DEATH VALLEY MYSTERY by Melissa M. Garcia is currently on sale for only .99 this summer at smashwords.com, iTunes store, and the Sony Reader Store.

Just read some of the reviews so far:

Sometimes the road to ruin is often paved with good intentions. That is the motto of most of the characters in Stranger: A Death Valley Mystery. The good intentions of Police Detective Will Stellar leads him down a path he will never recover from, and the good intentions of sibling Ric and Alex Delgado makes their quiet life more frantic. Stranger, the second novel by Melissa M. Garcia, starts off with a dead body in a motel, and the book twist and turns until it is full of more red herrings than a Seattle fish market. Garcia uses a unique blend of movement and dialogue from each person in the book and gives everyone a personality, a soul, and a hint of life.That realness helps in making almost anyone a killer, and it left me guessing until the very end.

Another intriguing device used by Garcia is the use of the “whydoit?” Many times, a crime novel cares more about the mysterious “who” and the killer’s identity. In Stranger, we get a refreshing new outlook on how important the motive is to a crime. Any two-bit hood with a gun can be a killer, because murder is an effect. The book wants you to care about the cause, and the importance of each character. With the skill of a painter, Garcia creates beautiful and soulful players for her play. At the end, I was as conflicted about the real killer as was Detective Stellar. Another thing that worked was the theme and how each person was dealing with the same problem in different ways. Everyone had a similar conflict of family over duty. This is a mystery novel done right and is as enjoyable as a cool drink on those hot desert nights.

*Originally published for San Francisco/Sacramento Book Review*

Every mystery has its dark secrets, but the best ones reveal them with a kind of perverse, teasing finesse. And author Melissa M. Garcia does so deftly in Stranger, her second mystery.

Ex-con Alex Delgado and her brother Ric have fled Los Angeles for a new start in the small, gritty town of Lake City, Nevada, safely removed from the disturbing memories and unhealed wounds of their past. Their sanctuary is the Death Valley Motel, the dog-eared roadside motel they run together, comfortable in their anonymity at the edge of civilization.

So when an aging ex-L.A. gang-banger’s corpse is found on the bloody floor of Room 110 at their hard-luck desert motel, a fresh dead guy is the last thing the Delgados need. And their anxiety proves to be caused by something deeper and darker than expensive carpet cleaning and bad press.

They’re not alone. Soon it appears that everyone in Lake City is hiding something – even the squared-away detective who catches the case. And in the closed room of a small town, everybody is a suspect – including the Delgados, whose entangled pasts prove to be both a curse and a blessing.

This sinister mix of secrets, longing and murder underlies Garcia’s tightly crafted story. You can taste the dust and feel the prickle of desert heat as a nicely tangled plot propels you deeper into the case.

Stranger evokes some of the best elements of Rick Riordan’s popular Tres Navarre mystery series before he abandoned crime writing for young-adult mythologizing. Garcia has delivered well-developed characters, strong dialogue and a scrupulously plotted yarn that propels the reader forward without too many distracting detours. The plentiful plot twists are never befuddling and readers are likely to keep guessing right up to the last page.

*Originally published for Blue Ink Reviews*


Strangerby Melissa M. Garcia is the fictional story of Ric and Alex Delgado, a brother and sister duo who manage a motel in “the middle of nowhere.” Escaping their former lives they settle where there is likely to be no trouble, but a dead body interrupts their new quiet life. A stranger’s death is just the type of crime that never happens in this small town, and everyone has a theory.

Detective Stellar and his team of officers work to solve the murder while Alex and Ric have their own ideas. Crossing paths with each other, additional lives are put in jeopardy.

Strangeris a good book. I really enjoyed reading it. The murder isn’t too intense. There aren’t too many characters. There isn’t too much intrigue with twists and turns. However, the characters are well-crafted and likable. Alex is a tough, damaged young woman, but she’s smart, and I found myself rooting for her even as a suspect. Ric is the protective older brother, and as is often true in real life, they both underestimate each other. Detective Stellar plays a pivotal role as the small town police officer whose personal life interferes with the investigation.

The plot contained in “Stranger” is enough to keep the reader guessing until the end. I wanted to read to the end, and I cared about the characters. I hope Ms. Garcia will continue to write as her stories are engaging and entertaining.

*Originally published for Reader Views*



There is a dead body in room 110 of the Death Valley Motel, and the evidence points to murder. Managers Ric and Alex Delgado, siblings with police work in their blood, chose this small Death Valley city specifically because it appeared to be a quiet place in which Alex could heal from the violent traumas of her past. Now a killer has struck too close to Alex, opening old wounds and threatening her new life.

The situation gets more complicated when Detective Will Stellar trains his observant eye on the siblings and ascertains they have something to hide. Murder seems to follow Alex Delgado, and Detective Stellar is certain she is a dangerous woman. Racing against time and against each other, the Delgados and Detective Stellar risk their lives to uncover the truth, which is ever more complicated and dangerous than any of them have imagined.

War on Cops?

I remember a time, when it was rare to hear a peace officer had been shot. Now it’s on the news every night. The official numbers are on the rise, making some believe there is a ‘war on cops’. For the past two years, officers shot on and off duty have risen dramatically.

Jarred Slocum, an El Cajon Police Officer

In fact there have been at least five in Southern California alone this year that I can recall (two happening just last week).

In January, a Long Beach antigang detective was shot while driving in the MacArthur Park area when a gunman opened fire.

Also in January, LA Sheriff’s rookie Deputy Mohammed Ahmed was shot after questioning a gang member on parole.

During a standoff after a domestic violence call on April 4, LAPD K-9 officer Steven Jenkins was shot in the face and chest.

On August 21, Jarred Slocum, an El Cajon Police Officer was shot in the neck upon arriving to a call about a child shot.

On August 26, an LAPD officer was shot multiple times when trying to question a suspect in Hyde Park.

Some say the rise of right-wing movements like the “sovereign citizens” is part of the problem. Also the expanding availability of guns and the growing willingness of armed citizens to use them.

But I believe the main reason for the increase in officer shootings is America’s declining respect for law enforcement and the US government in general. With dwindling budgets for law enforcement, often the first thing to be dropped is community outreach programs. These programs are needed to reinforce confidence and pride in communities. It is all about public perception in policing. The more you interact with police on a friendly level, the more likely you are to have a better image of them.

Police need to be seen as reliable, competent, fair, attentive, and have integrity to gain a public’s trust and respect. If the officer’s aren’t interacting with citizens during outreach opportunities, then a person’s perception may only be based on media that can often be skewed for entertainment purposes.