Welcome back to Friday on the Firing Line. Last time you and I got together, we took a walk on the darker side of the street and had a short look at the shadow life of being undercover, acting in an alternate identity and keeping your story straight. Guess now you're about ready to move on into the realm of Playing the Game.
Active vs. Proactive
Most law enforcement officers are in the position of reacting to a crime which has been committed at a previous time. They get a call, respond to the scene of the crime, interview witnesses (if any) and collect whatever evidence is available. After that, they try to put the pieces together in a logical manner, determine the most likely suspect, build their case for prosecution and go after the criminal.
Undercover is a different animal. Here, the law enforcement officer is proactive instead of reactive. As an undercover operative, he is usually already on scene when prosecutable elements of the crime occur. If all goes as planned, he is the one who acts as witness, he is usually already holding the necessary evidence in hand and he already knows who the criminal offender is.
Getting on Scene
Here's the prologue to getting on scene for the crime to happen. The Undercover (U/C) guy normally has two ways in: the Cold Pitch, or the Informant Introduction.
With the Cold Pitch, an undercover operative introduces himself into the organization or criminal being targeted. How's he do that? Every situation is different. Here's a quick example. At the Sturgis Bike Rally one year, I slid up next to a couple of patch holders in a biker bar and started buying pitchers of beer. Naturally, I had taken the precaution of looking a lot like them before I made my approach. In the ensuing conversation, we swapped names and backgrounds. Of course mine was fictitious, plus I'd set up deep cover for this particular escapade. I soon became a Hang Around. Several months later, I patched in. But Cold Pitches don't always work.
Usually the way these things happen, the U/C guy gets "intro-ed in" by an informant, or Cooperating Individual (C.I.). Most U/C guys prefer the term "C.I.," especially if we're talking in front of that person. Seems the word "snitch" has acquired a negative connotation on the street, and we, being the sensitive people that we are, would rather that our CI's not feel bad about what they are about to do for the good of society. Plus, we don't want them to get a bad attitude and turn on us. However, snitch is the term used by the criminal side in order to convey contempt for those who betray them. Naturally, where you stand on this terminology situation depends upon which side of the line you're on.
Anyway, the U'C and the CI go to a house, bar, parking lot, or wherever the meet is set. The Cooperating Individual introduces and vouches for the U/C. If the criminal side trusts the CI (as much as they trust anybody), then the undercover guy is usually in, but from this point on, he has to carry his own weight, and he'd best do a good job. Fortunately for us, money talks. Like any market place, one party, in this case the criminal, has something to sell, be it drugs, weapons, documents, explosives, stolen goods or counterfeit currency. And, conveniently, the U/C has cash to purchase these items. The stage is set and the crime is about to be committed. The Game is in play.
One small problem with this little event is that the criminal has no rules. Oh sure, he has that one Maxim: Thou shalt not get caught. And, sometimes this makes him cunning, with a bag of tricks.
The U/C on the other hand, has a multitude of rules as mandated by his organization, plus the rule of law. Being a fed, my Special Agent Manual was over two inches thick, and that was just one book of rules we had to follow. In short, the bad guys had their game and we had ours. They did whatever they could to sell their product, make a profit and not get caught. We relied on blue smoke and mirrors, a con man's game, in order to be on scene when the crime was committed, bust the criminal at some point, and yet walk away without violating any laws or agency rules. Sometimes it was like tight rope balancing on a high voltage wire. No missteps allowed.
Often, for one reason or another, the deal didn't go down, the criminal skated and we didn't get him that day. Maybe he got spooked, or maybe he just got lucky. No long term problem on our part, we had our own Maxim: The bad guys had to be right every time, we only had to be right once. And that one time was when we took him off the playing board for several years, maybe even permanently. It was a game with potential consequences for both sides.
In the Shadows
C'mon in. Pull up a Bacardi and Coke, throw in a slice of lime, make yourself comfortable and let's talk. Some of you already know me and that's fine. Some of you may have heard a little about me amd that's fine too. And, some of you may be asking yourself, "Who the heck is this guy?" And, that's really okay. I don't mind at all.
See, I spent twenty-five years in the shadows using several different aliases on the street, trying to avoid publicity. In my prior business, if you became known then you'd best be working in a very large population area, else move on to other territory. There's nothing like walking into a house or a bar undercover and suddenly realizing there's somebody in the place who knows you and what you do. Yeah, it's happened, ...more times than I would have liked.
Oh sure, I had a gun tucked inside my belt and concealed back underneath my shirt, but I only carried one. The other side often had their own weapons, and there was usually more than one of those guys at our little get-togethers. Yes, I did have a surveillance team as close as they could get and still stay out of sight, but most of the time they were several minutes away when seconds might count. And no, I didn't like to wear a wire transmitting our conversation to the outside just in case the opposition decided to shake me down. Guns they didn't mind. After all, they had their own and half expected you to do the same, but wires tended to bother them. Plus, some of the more sophisticated organizations had electronic equipment to detect transmitting frequencies that weren't theirs.
Let's just say they were a very untrusting lot, so when I pretended to be someone else, I had to have my story straight. There were times in the old Kansas City days when I taped a piece of paper on the wall by the phone. The left hand column listed the aliases I was using and the right hand column had the names of potential defendants who'd be calling for that particular name. business was good. No doubt there're a few psychiatrists out there who have written dissertations on multiple personalities and therefore have strong opinions on the subject. As for me, to this day I'll still answer to a lot of different names if I think someone is talking to me. It's a different life, but you get used to it.
Don't get the wrong idea, the job wasn't all excitement. Our Rule of Thumb said it was ninety percent boredom: doing paperwork, or waiting for the snitch to call, or the potential defendant to show up at a pre-arranged meeting site. Seems a lot of them boys couldn't tell time very well even if some did wear a Rolex. Only about ten percent of the job was adrenaline: stepping into the criminal world with a made up story as to who you were this time, or kicking doors with an arrest warrant when the case was done and the object of your intentions might have made up his mind he wasn't going back behind the walls for another stint, or taking the wheel in a high speed surveillance breaking red lights and hoping nothing went wrong.
Anonymity was my friend back then. In any case, I think you can see why it's kinda difficult for me sometimes to step out into the bright lights where most authors go when they're seeking publicity in order to advance their writing career.
Turns out, even my first three short stories got published in an undercover fashion. In those days, the federal agency I worked for didn't allow its Special Agents to have any outside employment. Somehow, they even construed this policy to to prohibit the writing and publishing of short stories. However, since the agency also taught us how to construct an alias with appropriate documents, and how to work undercover, I merely put their training to use. The byline on those first three stories was a nickname I used on the street, the payment checks came to a Post Office box in the name of an undercover alias, and the checks... well, let's just say it was easier in those days to cash them under a name that wasn't yours. Obviously, the agency had an excellent training program because none of this came to their attention.
Now I'm retired, so I write short mystery fiction for fun and profit. Roughly a third of my stories have been sold to Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine where I have four different series going. Where do I get my story characters? Most of them walk right in off the street from the old days and sit down for a little chat from the past. Them people haven't aged a bit, they're frozen in time. Plots and story lines? These guys are all scam artists and they want their stories told, even if it is the fictionalized version. Call it a form of immortality through the printed word.
Okay, here's my first installment on this blog, so if you got any questions or topics you'd like brought up, just shoot 'em in. Who knows, they could end up in one of our future talks.
Well, it's getting late, my glass is empty and I got to go. Be looking for you in a couple of weeks. Seems I signed up for this gig on the Fortnight Plan. Guess you could say that way I can still keep one foot in the shadows where I find life more comfortable. See ya around.
to e- or not to e-
Today's bit is part personal experience in the e-publishing arena and part BSP. You may skim over the BSP part if you like, but it allows me to speak with a modicum of authority on various information I've acquired concerning the e-publishing world. By now, just about everyone has heard that e-books are outselling print books, which means some of the rules and procedures are changing fast. Authors, readers, book sellers and publishers find themselves in the position of trying to figure out the future of publishing and how it affects them now or may affect them tomorrow. My first venture in was about four years ago when I signed a contract for a non-fiction work for hire under one of my undercover aliases. The advance was a nice high four figures, the main print royalties were running at ten percent and the e-book royalty was about the same. What did I know? Two years later, I'm conversing with a print novelist and find she is getting twenty to twenty-five percent e-royalties on her newly contracted print novels. Another year goes by, and this same novelist has her agent going back to older contracts and getting her previous ten percent e-royalties also increased to twenty-five percent. Then a couple of months ago, I hear that her new print contracts now provide for a forty percent e-royalty. That's pretty good, especially since the publisher does all the e-formatting, cover art and advertising.
As for me, I'm prinarily a short story author. Okay, so I know an Edgar Nominee who started out writing short stories and who now has an e-collection out consisting of previously published stories, some in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and some in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Since stories in those two publications tend to have a life span of about one month on the racks, it makes sense to expand their reading life via another form. My inquiries into the how-to-do-it led me much deeper into this new e-world. Choices for e-books without print contracts: 1) Learn to do your own e-book formatting for Kindle and Smashwords (Nook, Sony, Apple, Kobo, etc.) and find your own cover art. Pro: you get 70% royalties. Con: you have to do your own advertising, marketing, promotion. 2) Do your own formatting and pay someone for the cover art. Same Pros and Cons as above, except you're out front on the cost of the art. 3) Pay someone to do the formatting and cover art. Same Pros and Cons, except you're out the cost of formatting and art as front costs. 4) Go with an e-publishing company who will do the formatting and cover art. In this case, the author usually receives 42% royalties. Pro: the e-publisher does everything, to include advertising. Con: the royalty is 28% less than if you could do it yourself.
NOTE: Formatting is different for Kindle than for other e-readers. My suggestion is to do both, but get the Kindle format up first. It seems that Amazon has much higher sales than Smashwords formats.
So, much of this equation comes down to how good are you at networking and marketing, and how much of the technical work can you or do you want to do on your own?
To receive payment for Kindle sales, you set up an EFT system with your local checking account. Smashwords requires a Paypal account to get your monthly e-book sales money. Or, the author can request a snail mail check for either e-market if so desired. Print and e-publishers have their own systems for paying e-royalties.
I happened to mention all this info to my Huey pilot buddy who in the past has parked us on pickup sized mesa tops for pit stops looking straight down at the lower landscape, dropped us out of the sky in auto-rotation, and flown nape of the earth where I could reach out and almost touch....oh, never mind. In any case, when he mentioned he could figure out how to do the formatting, I tended to trust him. Plus, he's the one who creates my annual custom Christmas card to Linda Landrigan, based on one of the stories she buys from me that year for AHMM.
Thus, in July 2011, we got 9 Historical Mysteries up on Amazon, quickly followed by 9 Twin Brothers Bail Bond Mysteries, 9 Chronicles of Crime and 9 Deadly Tales. Within two months, the same titles went up on Smashwords for other e-readers. Several of these stories were previously published in AHMM, Easyriders Magazine, Outlaw Biker Magazine or elsewhere. Some are seeing print for the first time. When I write two more stories in my AHMM previously published Holiday Burglars series, we'll put up a 5th e-book collection. The cover's already made.
How are e-book sales going? Aaaaahhhh, I need to do more promoting, because while the money is free, I'm not close to getting rich. However, according to my first ever e-book review for 9 Historical Mysteries, I am now a "consummate story teller." No, she is not a relative and has no financial interest in the success or failure of the book. I don't even know the lady, but I surely do admire her taste in short stories.
Not too long ago, Rob Lopresti gave me an excellent review on another of his blog sites for one of my Holiday Burglar stories in AHMM's October 2011 issue. He and I occasionally swap stories for critiques before subbing out to market. Whereas I consider Rob's clever stories to be in a more literary vein than mine, I see myself as merely telling stories to friends in a bar for laughs and grins.
By now, you've probably noticed this article hasn't addressed the issue of quality writing for e-books. Previously published works and those coming out from publishing houses naturally assume a higher level of copy editing quality than one put up as self-published by its own author. With self-published works, the potential reader risks a "buyer beware" situation. To counteract this, most e-book sellers offer a percentage of the book as a free sample download. The customer can then decide if the e-book is up to their reading standards and interest before they put their money down.
If you are a novelist, you are probably already involved in some aspect of e-publishing, even if it is merely the signing of your print contract. As a short story author, you may enter this arena by being accepted into an e-anthology or by deciding to put up your own e-collection of stories. For readers, your biggest decision is figuring out which e-reader works best for you, but you should know that those things are updating and changing rapidly with new technology. My current black and white Kindle 3G will download on a cruise ship in the middle of the ocean, and now there is already a color version for Kindle.
I can hardly keep up.
Flying Without a Parachute
There was a time early in my career when we wanted to get into a house, but had no probable cause for a legal entry. Without probable cause, any evidence found inside the residence becomes fruit of the poisonous tree. In short, this means any items found inside get thrown out as inadmissible evidence in court. So here's how it all went down.
The Setup A street informant called the office. "Hey, you guys got a warrant for Bopper, don'tcha?" "Yes, why?" "Well at ten o'clock this morning, Bopper's gonna be at James Lewis' house to make a score." CLICK. The phone got hurriedly hung up, the troops got hatted up and we all headed out to James Lewis' place where his apartment consisted of the entire third floor. We set up surveillance and waited. Time passed. A blue Cadillac pulled up out front, two men got out and went into the house. Ten o'clock went by. One of the two men, a tall thin guy, came out of the house and returned to the Cadillac, sitting on the passenger side. More time passed. Then it started. "Bopper's walking down the street," came the radio call. "Wait," replied the case agent. "He's headed for the house," said the radio voice. "Wait," said the case agent. "He's going up on the front porch." "Not yet," ordered the case agent. "He has his hand on the doorknob." "Hit it now," barked the case agent. Four government vehicles immediately came alive, screeching up to the front of the house and bouncing over the curb. Car doors opened and agents with drawn guns came screaming out, making as much noise as possible. "Police!" "Federal Agents!"
Survival Instincts: Fight or Flight Bopper morphed into Panic Mode. Bless his heart, he ran into the house we wanted to enter, but hadn't previously been able to acquire probable cause for a legal entry. However, there are exigent circumstances known as Hot Pursuit for situations like these. When law enforcement is in immediate pursuit of a fleeing felon, a search warrant is not needed in order for officers of the law to enter the same building which the pursued felon has just entered during the chase. Having now found himself inside James Lewis' house, and seeing no good exit, Bopper chose to ascend the stairs to the second floor. The Thundering Herd close behind him, still hollering "Police" and "Federal Agents," shifted into Hot Pursuit Mode. Having now arrived at the second floor landing and still not finding a good way out, Bopper continued his desperate journey upward toward James Lewis' apartment on the third floor. In full hue and cry, the mob followed at his heels.
Now, we take a short intermission to catch our breath and explain that in those days only seasoned agents had the privilige of entering the house. Snot-nose green agents, such as myself fresh out of the academy, were regularly assigned to the perimeter where nothing of consequence ever happened. Special Agent Pat got assigned to the back of the house and I got assigned to the front. We two newbies were designated to miss all the fun. Bored, I decided to do something. Since the tall, thin Cadillac passenger had previously been inside the house, I thought maybe he'd be holding, so I knocked on the passenger window and flashed him my tin. In no time, I had him out of the car, hands on the roof, legs spread into the proper position and was patting him down. Just as I found contraband in his hip pocket, I heard a great noise behind me. CRASH. I glanced back at the house.
The Not (W)Right Brothers Two bodies came flying out the front third-story windows and landed on top of the front porch roof. They stood up with guns in their hands. Neat.
A Sharp Drop in Business Unknown to us, James Lewis already had company in attendance trying to conduct a little business. His company's nerves began to unravel as they noticed the Thundering Herd was ascending the stairs and coming their way. By the time Bopper burst into the room, their taut nerves snapped and they departed via the front windows. At least now I had something to do. Wheeling the tall, thin Cadillac passenger around in front of me, where I could keep an eye on him, I placed my gun hand on his right shoulder and pointed it at the two miscreants on the porch roof, ordering them to drop their weapons. They looked at me, looked at their buddy the gun rest, looked at the distance to the ground and then decided, yeh, they'd drop their guns. Good thing. If there'd been a shooting match, I'm fairly certain my gun rest would have ended up hard of hearing in his right ear. Took another half hour before I had enough help to get them two off the porch roof.
One Landing for Every Launch Back to inside the house. When Bopper made his Mad Hatter entrance into James Lewis' apartment, he was still looking for a rabbit hole. However, since all the front exits, also known as the third-story front windows, were occupied at the time, he opted for the side window. Bad choice as Bopper soon realized. Left behind, James Lewis sat flabbergasted through it all. He'd never seen a show like this before and therefore sat quietly, readily giving up his two handguns, plus all his contraband to approaching members of the Thundering Herd. Bopper, outside the house and now in mid-air, suddenly saw that what he had failed to consider during his hasty departure was that there was nothing to deaccelerate his downward flight, except a concrete driveway. Turns out in all the confusion, none of us saw his exit. At a descent rate of 32 feet per second per second, his right leg failed to stand up to the pressure of cement bringing an end to his ill advised experiment of flying without a parachute. He then crawled through a bordering hedge and "ran" away from us. Our Probable Cause had literally flown out the window. Took us an hour to catch up with him.
After that, I graduated to the level of door crasher.
So now you have the background. If you want to compare the above telling with the fictionalized published version, you'll have to acquire the Who Died in Here? anthology. All short story submissions to it required a crime in a bathroom. Author compensation was a sum of money, plus an air freshener. I still have the air freshener.