Wednesday, November 09, 2022

An Excerpt from my November online class on Writing Police Heroes

Dear Writer:

Beginning Nov. 21st, I'm teaching a month-long online class at called "Hearts and Handcuffs: Writing Believable Police Heroes. You'll find more information about the class and how to register here. I'll be posting lessons in the forum at Savvy, where you can read and ask questions at your convenience. You'll also be able to send me scenes from your romantic suspense or other police-related book for critique by me and my husband, Detective Michael Woodcock of the Spartanburg City Police Department. 

Here's a taste of the first lesson, which discusses the lessons and structure of the class.

Lesson 1: Introduction to Hearts and Handcuffs

By Angela Knight

Trends come and go in the romance industry. Sometimes vampires are big, sometimes it’s knights in armor, sometimes cowboys or Regency dukes. I remember when books about sports heroes or rock stars were poison, but both have been big recently.  

But one thing is always hot: romances about cops. Romantic suspense is an evergreen sub-genre, and you can mix and match it with all sorts of other genres, from paranormals to steampunk. 

Thing is, writing about law enforcement can be tricky. According to figures from 2008, there were an estimated 1.1 million people working in law enforcement in 17,985 police departments. Laws vary from state to state and jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and every department has its own rules and procedures. There are also all kinds of cops: police, deputy sheriffs, state and federal law enforcement agents, etc.

Police work has interested me for decades. I’ve been Michael Woodcock’s wife for 38 years, and Mike’s been in law enforcement for 34 of them. He began his career in 1988 as a uniformed patrol officer during the most violent years of the drug war as a member of the Spartanburg Police Department's Complex Team, which patrolled the city's dangerous housing projects.

He worked his way up to sergeant over a team of detectives who dealt with murders, domestic violence, and burglaries. He then trained as a polygraph examiner and went to work for the Spartanburg County Sheriffs Office, where he interrogated everyone from accused pedophiles to murderers to rogue cops. 

He also served as lieutenant of the department’s crisis negotiation team, which handled barricaded subjects threatening to harm themselves and others. As a crisis negotiator, he dealt with subjects who were often violent. One schizophrenic opened fire on him and other cops. When the SWAT team finally took the man down, they found his stockpile of dozens of weapons included an assault rifle, a gas mask, and a bullet proof vest.

Now Mike’s back with Spartanburg PD as a detective. I haven’t seen him this happy in years.

I've also had first hand-experience with police that had nothing to do with Mike.

During my newspaper days, I followed murder cases through the entire criminal justice system, from the commission of the crime to the court and sentencing. I’ve also seen people get off when I was sure they were guilty.

Though I worked in Cherokee County, SC for the most part, I once watched my husband hunt 14 pipe bombs with a team of other Spartanburg officers. One of those bombs went off, scaring the hell out of me. Luckily, no one was hurt.

Mike and I have given talks on writing about crisis negotiation at the Romance Writers of America National Convention, as well as other writer’s conferences around the country.

Several years ago, Mike and I presented an RWA National Convention workshop called “Hearts and Handcuffs: Creating Believable Police Heroes.” It was very well received, so I decided to present a more detailed online version.

To write it, I interviewed Mike and several other veteran cops, and wrote lessons based on their comments. Here’s a quick outline:

1.) Introduction 

2.) Interview with Master Deputy Mike Clevenger on why people become cops, and how officers deal with psychological aspects of policing and balancing the needs of the job and family life.

3.) SWAT commander Lt. Mark Gaddy discusses officer training and how television gets it wrong. What makes a good officer? 

4.) Weapons Use with Lt. Gaddy: What are some of the weapons, lethal and otherwise, police use, and what are their limitations?

5.) SWAT Teams: How the teams are trained and organized

6.)  An Interview with Lt. Diane Lestage: Why do women become cops? What are some of the advantages women bring to the job? How do they deal with people who are generally larger and stronger than they are? How do they handle hand to hand? Since women are often the chief caregivers in the family, what are the techniques they use to juggle those demands and policing?

7.) Investigating Sex Crimes with Lt. Lestage and Lt. Mike Woodcock: Sexual assaults on adults and children, and how you go about dealing with victims.

8.) Mike Woodcock on Investigating violent crimes: What are the steps a detective follows in investigating a homicide? What are the psychological effects on the officer? 

9.) Interrogating witnesses, suspects and informants with Lt. Mike Woodcock: How do detectives question witnesses, informants, and suspects, and how do they tell who's lying?

10.) Crime Scene Investigation with Sgt. David Hogsed: What are the techniques officers use to collect evidence and document crime scenes?

11.) Hostage Negotiation with Lt. Mike Woodcock: How do crisis negotiators handle confrontations with armed suspects?

13.) Interview with Lt. Ashely Harris on bombs and drug testing: Harris, now retired, discusses being a forensic chemist and bomb tech. He discusses methods for testing different kinds of drugs, including marijuana, meth and cocaine. He also discusses how to dismantle explosives, bombs and grenades, as well as the use of bomb robots.

We'll also add a brand-new lesson on how detectives use social media  to investigate crimes. 

I have other lessons I’ll present on a variety of subjects like conflict of interest, which can add all sorts of interesting implications to your romantic suspense plot.

I’ll also take questions from the class. Mike has always been willing to answer questions about police work and whether a story idea is realistic.

You may email me scenes from your book on Tuesday and Thursday, and I will critique them privately. For reasons of practicality, I ask that you submit scenes of around 2000 words in a Word file. Make sure that you put your email address in the file so I’ll know where to return it.

 If you have law enforcement questions, I’ll pass them on to Mike. Please don’t hesitate to ask. It’s my goal to help you get comfortable with law enforcement techniques so you can give your work the ring of truth. 

I will post lessons to the class on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

I hope you'll consider taking the class!

Angela Knight