Because You Never Know…

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Personal situational awareness is being aware of what is happening around you, where you are in relation to other people or things, and what potential threats there might be to your personal safety. Everyone’s situational awareness is individual and potentially different. How we read a situation can be influenced by the type of information we’ve been given, our own experience and whatever distractions are present. Every environment provides unique conditions that will challenge your adaptability. Developing a practice of educating yourself on environmental surroundings is the best way to circumvent preventable threats to you or others.

Knowledge is power, and it’s absolutely true where situational awareness is concerned. 

But if this is all new to you, where does one begin? 

View each new setting as an opportunity to practice situational awareness.

Only use your phone, e-reader or iPod after you’ve determined you’re in an area where it’s safe to do so. Look up occasionally to re-scan your surroundings and make note of any changes. If you’re using headphones, consider using only one, or keeping the volume as low as possible in order to still be able to hear what is going on around you. Going shopping? Make note of where the exits are, and keep track of where the closest one to you is at all times. You might be thinking of a flight attendant at the front of the plane pointing out the exits, and you’d be right. There’s a reason they cover this before the plane leaves the ground. Just in case passengers need to know. “Just in case” happens more often than you might realize. Think of how many shootings have taken place in malls, clubs, schools and movie theaters in recent years. 

Many people have a sense of “personal space” that is usually about five feet. With COVID being an ongoing presence in our lives, personal space has expanded to six feet. Extend your awareness to a range of twenty-five feet if possible. Be hyper-aware of your surroundings. Marines have a saying, “Keep your head on a swivel”. I tell this to my sons all the time. Basically, it means, move your head along with your eyes. Out here in the woods, that applies as much to watching for holes on the trail as it applies to watching for bears. 

When dealing with other people, someone’s hands and face are good indicators of their intent. This includes hands being hidden from view, the downward cast or shifting of eyes, or inappropriate hand gestures or staring. It is during these times that listening to your body’s “gut” feeling can prove beneficial. It might just save your life. 

Good awareness habits should be built into daily activity. Some examples include describing people and places to yourself as you explore locations, identifying and familiarizing yourself with any and all exits, and keeping yourself on alert. Memorize license plates while in traffic or in a parking lot in order to bolster your sense of attentiveness and recollection. If self-defence courses are not an option, consider carrying personal protection such as pepper spray. Robberies and assaults are crimes of opportunity; don’t make yourself an obvious target! 

Practice devising alternate methods of escape if your primary exit becomes unusable. Not just in buildings, but in public transportation, elevators, and even in outdoor environments. This principle can also be applied to travel routes, and being conscious of obstacles, choke points, alternate routes, and so on.

Utilize walls and other barriers to protect your back and sides and maximize your field of vision, taking care not to back yourself into a corner. Practice this in public places, such as restaurants, waiting rooms, or shopping malls. When your range of vision is limited, get creative about ways to expand it and give yourself an advantage – practice utilizing store windows and car windows to detect threats you wouldn’t be able to see otherwise.

Learn to trust your instincts; if something doesn’t “feel right,” there is likely something wrong. Even at work, knowing that an office door locks from the inside or that a desk can be moved to barricade an entrance might be critical in case of a workplace crisis, such as an active shooter. Sudden and unexpected workplace violence has happened more often than you might realize. It happens even up here in “polite Canada”. 

Whatever you do, trust your gut. If you get the sense that something is wrong or doesn’t add up, don’t ignore it. Your instincts exist to protect you – it is always better to be overcautious than to ignore warning signs that turned out to be legitimate. Your gut might keep you from becoming a statistic, or worse, a victim.

Have you ever experienced a time when your gut kept you safe? Alternatively, have you ever been a victim of crime?

Your One Wild & Precious Life

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean –
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down –
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

– Mary Oliver

Murder and Gold~A Review

I wasn’t sure if I would be able to properly enjoy Cantor Gold since I was jumping into the midst of a series without reading the books that came before. But WOW! What a ride!

Cantor is the lesbian Sam Spade I didn’t know I was missing. She’s brave, honourable in her own way and unapologetic. But in this book, someone seems to be setting her up and she’s got her hands full trying to stay ahead of the law and a mob boss she can’t fully trust.

This was my first introduction to Ann Aptaker’s writing, and I’ve come away a  BIG fan. Her pacing is as fast and tense as a roller coaster ride and doesn’t let you breathe even for a minute. I cheered for Cantor every step of the way, even though at the beginning, I didn’t know her. Now? I’d be proud to call Cantor my friend, and I can’t wait to get my hands on the rest of her story while I anxiously await the next book in the series.

Many thanks to Ann for putting Cantor on the page for all of us to enjoy, and to Bywater Books for the review copy.

Legalese Lingo~Throwback Edition

evidence form and tape

It’s ThrowbackThursday, and time to expand our vocabulary. At least where things like crime are concerned.

Precautionary acts involving physical evidence are behaviors committed by an offender before, during, or after an offense that are consciously intended to confuse, hamper, or defeat investigative or forensic efforts for the purposes of concealing the identity of the perpetrator and/or his connection to the crime, or even the crime itself. They include disposal of the body, clipping victim’s fingernails or removing their teeth or fingers to prevent identification, cleaning up the blood at the scene, picking up shell casings—essentially anything that changes the visibility, location, or nature of the evidence.

And now you and I have both learned something new today!

(Fact above attributed to the textbook, ‘Criminal Profiling, Fourth Edition’)

How Do We Get Justice?

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Justice:

noun. the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness: to uphold the justice of a cause. … the maintenance or administration of what is just by law, as by judicial or other proceedings.

Justice is a concept on ethics and law that means that people behave in a way that is fair, equal and balanced for everyone.

Most of us expect our fellow men & women to conduct themselves in a way that is fair and equal to everyone. Expectations like that range from “don’t take my stuff out of my yard, because it’s not yours” to “don’t let your dog roam free so it can bully my dog in my yard”. Going a bit further, we expect that those who do not follow the law will be dealt with by the justice system of the land, learn their lesson and refrain from repeating their actions. But we are so frequently proven wrong.

Politicians, big business, drug dealers and even my neighbour somehow are allowed to carry on as they always have, believing they are right in their actions – that they’re doing nothing wrong – and everyone else be damned.

So it’s no surprise that specific genres in the entertainment world are so attractive to those who no longer have faith in their justice systems. Mystery novels and short stories allow both writers and readers to live for a time in a world where bad guys (and gals) get their just desserts. They are apprehended and forced to pay the consequences of their misdeeds. Westerns, too, fill this need. Now, those two genres split off into sub-genres, but they fill one driving need – to see justice done. To see murderers caught, to see drug dealers captured and put away behind bars, to see extortionists, thugs, car thieves, rapists and con-men all stopped and forced to face justice.

But we all know modern life isn’t that simple. Our justice system (in any country) is not perfect. Not all the criminals are caught, not all are handed down punishments stiff enough to be a true deterrent from a life of crime. It has been said that in North America, we have more drug users behind bars than people convicted of hard crime. That may be true. If it is, then we are forced to admit that our justice system is falling off a horse of its own making. It is in a downward trajectory, and we mere mortals are powerless to fix it.

I believe that fiction has a role to play here.

Fiction can allow us to escape to a world where the bad guy is eventually caught, after a thrilling, nail-biting chase riddled with danger. Whether justice is delivered by a bounty hunter on the back of a horse in the desert or delivered by a cop that always gets his man…we read to find the justice we don’t always see in real life.

I think that’s why I write the stories I do. Because I want to see the bad guys get caught too. And in my stories, I have far more control than I do over my neighbour who lets her dog roam and bully my dog.

In my stories, the criminals are always caught. They always face justice, and it is always more than a slap on the wrist and an admonishment to live a better life.

Come and join me in my stories. While you’re at it, sign up for my newsletter and don’t miss out on subscriber-only perks, story updates, character reveals and more!

Where Not To Take A Break!

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As a writer of mysteries, and someone who wonders about strange things in general, I’ve often taken note of odd places that might be good places to hide bodies. In years past, I worked in a convenience store, and I have to admit, never once did I ever look at the space between a cooler and a wall and think of hiding a body there.

In 2019, when workers moved some coolers away from the wall of a defunct No Frills Supermarket location in Council Bluffs, Iowa, they found the body of Larry Ely Murillo-Moncada. The 25-year-old, who had worked at the supermarket, had gone missing nearly 10 years earlier. It was suspected that he had climbed atop the coolers—a concealed storage space frequented by workers during unsanctioned breaks—and fallen into the 18-inch space between the coolers and the wall. Murillo-Moncada hadn’t been scheduled for a shift at the time, so the other employees may not have known that he entered the store at all; and authorities believed the loud noise of the coolers blocked out any shouts for help.

I’ll admit, I’ll never look at the coolers in my grocery store in quite the same way ever again.

School? At My Age?

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If you’ve been to this blog before, you likely know that I’m a writer. A fiction writer, to be specific. And no matter what anyone tells you, writers are never done learning. Some of us teach ourselves, others search out writing coaches, workshops and online courses. All in an effort to strengthen our writing chops and stay relevant. Not quite a year ago, I joined the Golden Crown Literary Society so that I might network and make some connections in LGBT+ writing circles. Shortly after that, I applied to the GCLS Writing Academy.

I’m not ashamed to admit I’m middle-aged, so why would I want to go back into a learning environment?

As a writer and curious human being, I never assume that I’m done learning. I’m constantly asking questions – I guess that part of me never grew up. The GCLS Writing Academy came highly recommended by a number of authors on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, many of whom have gone on to award-winning careers. They all advised that if I was willing to put in the work, that I would absolutely come out of the program a better writer. So I applied for one of the available scholarships, sent along my first ten pages of my mystery novel in progress and crossed my fingers. I was stunned and elated when I got word that I’d been accepted into the Writing Academy and had won the inaugural Erica Abbott Mystery Scholarship. Why? Because my writing, and my quest to improve it, and my dream of publication by a publisher (better than the first one) felt validated. Like someone else finally agreed that I had potential. 

Maybe there was hope for me and my dream yet.

I’ve been in waiting mode since I’ve been welcomed to the GCLSWA. Waiting for the book list, waiting for September when classes start. I have a manuscript picked out that I’ll be working on as we go through the 9 month program. I know, I’m being impatient and the folks that run the Writing Academy probably still have a hundred things to do, but I’m fairly beside myself with excitement. Over a writing program. Writing school. School.

At my age?

Hell, yeah!

Because I’m just a little bit closer to learning how to properly write the stories that have been rattling around in my head. A little bit closer to changing someone’s life with fiction, like stories changed my life all those years ago. And just a little bit closer to giving back to the LGBTQIA+ community.

How do you, as an adult, feel about school?