The Game of Thrones author is a “pantser”

“I think there are two types of writers, the architects and the gardeners. The architects plan everything ahead of time, like an architect building a house. They know how many rooms are going to be in the house, what kind of roof they’re going to have, where the wires are going to run, what kind of plumbing there’s going to be. They have the whole thing designed and blueprinted out before they even nail the first board up. The gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. They kind of know what seed it is, they know if they planted a fantasy seed or mystery seed or whatever. But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don’t know how many branches it’s going to have, they find out as it grows. And I’m much more a gardener than an architect.”

― George R.R. Martin (1948- )

So, the guy who’s written nearly two million words and has something over 2,000 characters in his “A Song of Ice and Fire” (aka “The Game of Thrones”) series claims he’s a “gardener,” otherwise known as a “pantser” – a writer who just writes by the seat of his pants.

FACS (eight): Shirley Watts and Penny Weiskopf

Although in “Ro’s Handle” Ro Delahanty is the only female deputy sheriff, she was not its first; there were two, both still with the FACS when she became a dispatcher in 2001.

Shirley Watts, an African-American, had joined the department in 1997, coming over from one of the city departments on the Illinois-side. She left the sheriff’s office in early 2003, just before Ro became a deputy, to join the Iowa State Police, a not uncommon occurrence as they offered better pay and were considered the more prestigious law enforcement agency.

While Ro had a first name relationship with Watts, she was closer to Penny Weiskopf.

Weiskopf had joined the Lee’s Landing Police in 1992 as its first female officer. Reading an article about Weiskopf in the Lee’s Landing Courier, Ro’d been greatly encouraged because it reinforced her then new-found ambition to become a cop.

She and Ro first met in 1996, when Ro was 14 and did a ride-along with her as part of an eighth grade “job shadowing” project. When Ro climbed into Weiskopf’s Ford Crown Vic patrol car, she was full of enthusiasm about what it meant to be a cop but was then deeply discouraged when Weiskopf confided all she’d been doing for four years was community service work, school presentations, and Neighborhood Watch recruiting and training. She had never been assigned to what Ro thought of a “real” police work, general patrol duty.

A year later, though, in 1997 Weiskopf switched over to the sheriff’s department and was assigned to general patrol. She and Ro maintained contact throughout the rest of Ro’s school-years, exchanging e-mails and phone calls, meeting occasionally for coffee.

In fact, it was in the summer of 2001, right after Ro’s freshman year in the Mississippi Valley Community College’s Law Enforcement program, that Weiskopf called Ro to give her a heads-up the department was looking for a third shift dispatcher.

When Weiskopf announced a year later she was leaving the department to get married and start a family, outwardly Ro wished her all the best and really did feel that way, but at the same time was disappointed at what she felt was Weiskopf’s betrayal of her duty as a cop.

While she didn’t realize it at the time, Penny Weiskopf became for Ro one of those seemingly insignificant day-to-day occurrences that turns into a key piece of defining who you are, because she vowed to herself it would never happen to her.

(C) 2018 Dave Lager

Shoot them while they’re happy…

If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of “The Elements of Style.” The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.

― Dorothy Parker (1893-1967)

Notorious for her acerbic tongue, like Mark Twain, Parker liked to express otherwise heavy thoughts through wit.

FACS (seven): Sergeant “Pops” Waters

One of the important secondary characters in “Ro’s Handle” is Sgt. Cyril “Pops” Waters.

When Ro joins the Fort Armstrong Sheriff’s Department in 2001 as a third shift disptacher he has already been on the force for almost forty years. He has kindly gray eyes, a shock of white hair and a thick mustache – think the actor Sam Ellioitt.

His deputy’s handle is “Pops” because he is not only the officially designated new deputies’ training officer but also serves as their mentor and father figure.

While he is not responsible for training dispatchers, he nonetheless takes a special interest in Ro:
Maybe it’s because he sees something special in her; maybe it’s because she is like the daughter he always wished he’d had; maybe it’s just because he thinks the department has way too much testosterone sloshing around and needs some balance.

Unlike most of the other dispatchers, who like to flirt with deputies or leaf through magazines when not busy, he sees Ro approach her job very seriously, like studying the big county map on the dispatcher’s area wall or reading the dispatcher’s procedures manual when she was not on an actual call.

What’s more, within a few months she begins volunteering to help Pops conduct the gun safety classes the sheriff’s department sponsors – she is already an expert handgun shot, having won target shooting championships as a teenager, and, of course, is well-versed in weapons safety and gun cleaning − which gives them the chance to talk outside of the department’s headquarters and regular work hours.

When she shares with him her ambition to become a deputy, he is very encouraging, not only giving her advice on what she can do to prepare herself – it’s Pops who suggests she investigate the Parker National Institute of Criminal Justice’s online bachelors’ program to continue to work toward her degree − but tips on how to avoid the political pitfalls that could trip her up – like never, ever date a deputy!

After she becomes a deputy and saves his life in a shootout… Well, it goes without saying the specialness of their relationship goes to a whole different level.

While Pops will appear in “The Berlin Riddle,” the second Ro Delahanty novel that is fully drafted and now being reviewed by some beta readers, he will play a major role in “Losses,” the third Ro novel I am currently drafting.

© 1918 Dave Lager

FACS (six): Deputy’s “handles”

As the title of the first Ro Delahanty novel, “Ro’s Handle,” obviously implies, it revolves around the fact that Fort Armstrong deputies all have “handles” or nicknames and how Ro acquires hers.

It’s a tradition that goes back many decades: The handles are “assigned” informally by other deputies; someone will start being referred to by something other than his or her name and eventually it sticks. Sometimes it only takes a short while; sometimes months.

Getting a handle is a big deal in the department as it is a sign of acceptance; only deputies use the handles to refer to other deputies. Here are some examples…

Sergeant Cyril Waters is called “Pops” because he is the new deputies’ training officer, acting not only as their instructor, but their mentor and father figure; it is very much meant to reflect respect.

Except Pops wasn’t always known by that handle. When he first joined the force in 1963, after serving in Vietnam with the Marines, he became known as “Grunt,” because when someone asked him what he did in the service, he would just say, “I was a grunt.” In the mid-70s, after becoming a sergeant, he began to work with the new deputies; it took a few years, but by the early-80s most deputies knew him as Pops rather than Grunt.

Terry Didian, a second shift patrol deputy, is called “Garth” because it’s known he likes to do Garth Brooks covers on karaoke.

Sgt. Ray “Buzz” Horton simply retained his childhood nickname when he joined the department.

Ro’s friend and fellow third shift patrol deputy, Rick Matero, was raised in Texas and is a big fan of the Cowboys – he even has a Cowboys bumper sticker on his car – so, quite naturally, his handle became “Cowboy.”

Another fellow third shift deputy, Corporal Mel Schreiber, is known as “Cue,” short for “Cueball” because he shaves his head.

Ro almost got a handle she definitely would not have liked: Soon after she became a deputy, Pops Waters overhead two deputies refer to her as “Three B’s.” When he asked what it meant, he was told “boots, buckles and boobs.” Pops laid an arm across each deputy’s shoulder, and very quietly explained, “If I ever hear that handle again, you two will be the first ones I’ll see get written-up for sexual harassment. Got it?” They did; the offensive handle was never heard again.

Ro got her handle a few weeks after being involved in a shootout in which she also saved Pops Waters life. Teaser alert: The handle had something to do with one of her favorite movies, James Cameron’s “Aliens.”

(C) 2018 Dave Lager

FACS (five): Patrols during the day

By preference, Ro’s regular duty shift is what cops call the “dog watch,” 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. In other words, she mostly gets to know her patrol area as various shades of gray and black, however…

If a deputy calls in sick or takes a vacation, the shift commander can’t just call up a temp agency and say, “Hey, send us over someone qualified to patrol the highways and byways of the county and who, by the way, can carry a powerful sidearm.”

So, the sheriff’s department instead uses its existing officers to cover for absent deputies…

Their first option is to ask if a volunteer from the preceding shift is willing to work an extra four hours to cover the first half of the absent officer’s shift, and then if someone from the following shift will come in early to cover the second half, with overtime pay, of course.

If that doesn’t work they will temporarily transfer a deputy from a different shift, again using volunteers whenever possible.

So, whenever one of those opportunities presents itself, Ro is always among those that volunteers.

She does it for two reasons – the overtime pay, though nice, is not one of them.

First, it’s just plain fun to her to see the landscape in full color and in the kind of exquisite detail that, of course, is invisible at night.

But the more important reason is it is a chance to get to know “her” county better − and yes, Ro Delahanty does think of it as “her” county, not in a jealous guarding her turf from another deputy way, but rather like protecting her people in the same way a mother instinctively protects her kids − because that will, in turn, make her a more effective cop.

(C) 2018 Dave Lager

Finding just the right shade of…

“Style means the right word. The rest matters little.”

—Pierre-Jules Renard (1864-1910)

Just as artists torment themselves over their palette of paint colors, writers agonize over their palette of word connotations…

FACS (four): Patrol Deputies (continued)

Ro’s assigned patrol area is roughly the western third of Fort Armstrong County, an area a little over twenty miles north to south and not quite nine miles east to west. It is bordered on the south by the Mississippi River (picture the top of the big Illinois bulge, where the river actually runs east to west), on the north by the Pincatauwee River, on the east by the western city limits of Lee’s Landing and on the west by County Line Road, the common border with Makuakeeta County.

It is the ruggedest section of the county, shaped into a series of hills and valleys by the headwaters of more than half-a-dozen creeks, as well as a pair of unique geological features; the spectacular rock palisades overlooking the Mississippi in Five Falls State Park in the southeast corner of the county, and a more than two-mile long “hill” – really a narrow esker left over from the last glacier – known locally as Rickett’s Ridge in the northern part of the county.

There are nearly two-hundred miles of roads in her patrol area, about half of which are paved and half of which are gravel, plus half-a-dozen unincorporated towns, for her to cover, or try to cover each night.

Ro once bumped into a quote attributed to the great aerialist Karl Wallenda: “Life is on the wire; the rest is just waiting.” Her variation might go something like, “Life is in my patrol car; everything else is just getting ready.”

Every night as she climbs behind the wheel of her black-and-white Ford Crown Vic Police Interceptor she has the feeling, though not necessarily consciously, but nonetheless there: “I’m home.”

Ro Delahanty loves being a cop. As such, when she pulls out of her apartment’s parking lot to begin her patrol, always in the back of her mind, again not necessarily consciously, but nonetheless there, are these driving goals:

– Visit all sections of the county at least once a night…
– …be as visible as possible throughout her assigned area.
– Avoid any predictable patterns that bad guys might detect and take advantage of.
– Be ever diligent; always check-out anything unusual, however small.
– Engage informally with citizens whenever possible.

To be continued…

(C) 2018 Dave Lager

FACS (three): Patrol Deputies

Ro Delahanty becomes a deputy sheriff with the Fort Armstrong County Sheriff’s Department in July of 2003. Her first couple of months on the job are the focus of “Ro’s Handle,” the debut Ro novel. While a little of this information is in that book, in this a post I wanted to share some further background context for Ro’s job.

The Sheriff’s Department, at just over a hundred employees, is the county’s largest by far; Public Works, which includes county road and highway maintenance, is the next largest with almost seventy people.

The department has not quite fifty deputies, including two dozen regular patrol deputies – “street cops” like Ro − plain clothes detectives, deputies assigned to prisoner transport at the county jail and to courthouse security, and the department’s command officers.

Of course, there are patrol deputies on duty twenty-four hours a day, three-hundred-and-sixty-five days a year.

The department’s general practice is to have at least four, and preferably five deputies on duty on all shifts; three are assigned to regularly patrol specific areas of the county, while the other two work the entire county, concentrating on major highways and freeways and serving as back-up for when there is any kind of incident, like an accident or a disturbance (bar fight, domestic dispute).

Ro works third shift – 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Her assigned patrol area is roughly the western third of the county.

To be continued…

(C) 2018 Dave Lager

Unassigned chapters

“Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now.”

— Annie Dillard (1945- )

I have no idea what she’s talking about − just because I have more than a dozen drafts in a Word folder called “unassigned chapters…”

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