Friday, February 28, 2014

PTSD in Law Enforcement: FIREWALLS

I didn't set out to write a novel about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It's not as if I saw the recent spate of headlines and decided to show military and police organizations the proper way to deal with members with PTSD. wasn't that.

In fact, I don't think the disorder was even mentioned by name in my new release FIREWALLS until the final few edits. In fact, the novel was written years ago--when PTSD was still a whisper.

I set out to write a novel about a young woman whose violent childhood has scarred her. About her struggle with the past, the pain of the past, her inability to embrace her future. I believed my story to be about young Cst. Katrina Randal who is struggling to fulfill her dream of following her deceased father's footsteps into a law-enforcement career...and failing miserably because she's totally focusing on her past.

The first three-quarters of FIREWALLS is about Katrina's inability to accept the help that's being offered. She is angry and hurting and wants to stay that way. It seems unfathonable to her that she should laugh, or love, or achieve success while her brutally-murdered friend lies rotting in his grave. She wants justice, wants to assauge her guilt, wants...she doesn't know what she wants but she does know that she doesn't want to let go of the pain.

My story was to show the importance of relationships in her healing--how without her friends and co-workers standing with her, beside her, patiently waiting for her to heal, beckoning her into a brighter future--how without them, she'd have succumbed to the darkness.

Yes, there was professional help, but as Katrina herself noted, her psychiatrist could not cry with her (or for her), could not wrap her in his arms, could not be there at night for her when the nightmares visited--all the things she needed from someone to get to the other side of her personal hell.

That's what FIREWALLS was about...until I started editing. "That's not credible," I thought to myself  as her boss, Sgt. Kindle, once more put up with her dangerous behaviour, once more forgave her insubordination. "She's armed. She has a badge. She can't be allowed to do things like that."

About then, however, the PTSD headlines began climbing up the news ladders. That's when lawsuits against the RCMP were launched, when military suicides gained ink, when people began speaking out. That's when I realized why Sgt. Kindle did what he did.

Yes, to some extent he was making up for the fact that it was him in charge of the police operation that saw Katrina and his undercover officer, Shrug, experienced their trauma. He likely felt a personal debt to his two officers that had sacrificed their sanity for his operation. He likely felt the Alberta Police Force owed them, too. But more than that.

He seemed to know that letting these two wounded officers keep the jobs that were so important to their dreams, to their confidence, to their sense of self, was vital to their recovery. He saw the potential greatness in Katrina and Shrug. He knew they could contribute to their communities in a big way, should they overcome their emotional turmoil. He knew that by him accepting their behaviours he'd get in trouble with his superiors...and the media, but he did so that his officers could recover.

With that realization, I decided I needed to officially diagnose my characters with PTSD. I needed to splash the name of that disorder throughout the pages and onto the back cover, so my readers could better understand not only PTSD but the officers that were in its clutches. They needed to be aware that it was PTSD causing my characters to 'act out of character' and that their illness merited the leniency of Sgt. Kindle and merited their leniency, too. 

PTSD is easiest to treat immediately following the trauma, but that is not always possible, such as in cases of unreported child abuse or out on the battlefield, or during uncover operations. PTSD does not necessarily have as dramatic an origin as Katrina's and Shrug's--few of us will ever witness a gang slaying. And unlike Shrug and Katrina, many PTSD sufferers harbor no guilt or sense of responsibility for the horrors that life handed them. The diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder covers a vast array of circumstances, treatments vary, and individuals respond in their own ways to both the trauma and the treatment.

However, when a book club member told me she's been treated for PTSD and FIREWALLS was credible to her and enlightening, I realized my new release truly is more than just a story about an awesome crime-fighting lady with a painful past.

For more information about this novel check my press release.

FIREWALLS--special New Release limited-time price of $1.99. Paperback only $15.00. (Retail prices may vary.) Available in all popular eFormats from most online booksellers. Smashwords sells ebooks in a variety of formats--for your tablets, phones, eReaders and computers. Use Smashwords coupon code at check out to get the special price.

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"Packed with humanity, crafted with insight."

"Schuh has created a character worthy of being called a hero."

"A tale of comfort and hope that we, too, can slay our own dragons." 

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 FIREWALLS is Book III in the BackTracker Series. Book I THE TRAZ as well as THE TRAZ School Edition (with teaching guide)  are also on sale for a few more days for only 99₵ £0.77

Purchase THE TRAZ on Smashwords Use Code: UX54T at checkout to get for 99₵

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Also available in paperback

Saturday, February 01, 2014

The Drug Dog and I - Part III

With several bottles of rum lined up on the counter, my laptop sitting naked beside them under the glaring fluorescent lights, and the time coming up to 2 a.m. my body decided to do a hot flash—which normally, and in the time zone to which I’d become accustomed, would’ve been my usual 4 a.m. night bed.

One cannot do anything discretely when being searched for illicit drugs so I just whipped off the poncho I had on which sent my hat and hair clips flying. I imagine sweating profusely isn’t the most innocent gesture one can make, but I had no control over that. I scrambled around on  the floor gathering up my barrettes and for lack of anywhere else to put them, shoved them in the back pocket of my jeans...

Throughout this ordeal, the officers were swabbing items and running with the swabs and sometimes the entire item to some lab (not the Chocolate Lab, the other kind of lab), in the back. About this time, one officer returned from behind the closed doors with a pair of my shorts.

“Why,” he demanded, “Are the back pockets in these sewn half-shut in the middle?”

What I wanted to say: They’re women’s pants, idiot. I’m lucky I even have pockets. Besides, what woman ever puts anything in their back pockets—that would make your butt look even bigger than it is!”

What I actually said: I have no idea. I didn’t know they were. 

 “Do you have anything in your pockets?”

“Only my hair clips...that I just put there.”

He stares at me and I realize he wants to see these hair clips so I dutifully lay the plastic golden clips on his counter. What else to do?

We were asked if we had phones on us. I said there was one in my luggage but I had none on me. (When I got home I discovered I’d taken the phone from my luggage and put it in my purse in anticipation of having to call for a shuttle bus to our hotel when we reached Edmonton. Ooops!)

When one more bottle of rum was unwrapped in the final suitcase and placed beside the others, it became painfully obvious that not only had we been negligent in properly declaring my ring—we hadn’t properly declared our Jamaican rum. Since the officers hadn’t found any drugs, would they justify their existence and the search by hitting on these two facts?

“This customs declaration form is a legal document,” he said, flicking his finger at the paperwork full of errors on which we had marked the maximum limits for both of us. “We need exact figures.”

What I wanted to say: While in Jamaica we learned that financial help from the Canadian Government, among other huge investments, had built the water treatment facility in Jamaica that allowed that country safe drinking water—to the point that even Caribbean cruise ships fill in their ports. Does it not make sense that that same Government allow Canadian tourists to further support this developing nation by purchasing a tad more than a mere $800.00 CDN during a two-week visit? Tourism, we learned, is Jamaica’s number one industry. Tourists enjoy re-distributing the world’s wealth by purchasing items such as rum, Red Stripe, rings, beach bags and dresses for the granddaughters. These purchases might cost the government a bit in taxes and the Canadian economy might take a miniscule hit, but overall is it not better than having all Canadian taxpayers, travellers or not, shell out money in the form of grants and donations? This way, the country is working for the money, the dollars spent are stimulating its economy, and everyone wins.

What I actually said: I see

“We understand that you are dealing with Jamaican dollars, American dollars and Canadian currency and exchange rates, but we need an estimate.”

What I wanted to say: Make up your mind—do you need exact figures or an estimate? Perhaps an exact estimate?

What I actually said: I see.

As they finished checking the last bag he ran his eyes over the rum purchases and pointed out that not only had we gone over our liquor limit, we had not included the price of the rum in our declaration. Nor the proper price of the ring and if we added in the beach bag, the T-shirts, the hats...

“We’re not concerned with what you did in Jamaica,” the other officer interrupted. “We’re only interested that you didn’t bring anything illegal back. If you smoked marijuana down there, we don’t care.”

What I wanted to say: Yeah, right. We already told you we don’t use. If we change our minds now will you come after us for lying? Or, perhaps, sir, you are wanting to justify the actions of your demonic Chocolate Lab.  If we say we smoked marijuana, you can write a little note that it was the suspects’ own marijuana use that set your dog off. 

What I actually said: We didn’t use marijuana. Never have, never will.

Back to the official who has counted up our rum and expenditures—the one who read all our receipts. “You are over your limits and we can do one of three things. We can make you pay duties and customs on all your purchases or, we can confiscate everything and it becomes the property of the crown or, we can let you go and use this opportunity to educate you."

What I wanted to say: I suggest it is your dog that need educating

What I actually said: nothing

“So, tonight we are letting you go.”

It was left to us to repack our bags, so much for me carefully laying out my pj’s for tonight and a clean set of clothes for tomorrow’s journey home to St. Paul. So much for knowing exactly where our morning drugs (the prescription ones) were. I heaved a sigh of relief, probably audible, when he slipped my laptop into its case.

It was wonderful to discover our friends had waited for us, eager perhaps, to hear our stories. Good stories that will be repeated time and again around the campfire as we sip Jamaican rum cream and roast marshmallows while savouring the colours of an ammolite ring flashing brilliantly in the firelight.
The legalities:
Canadian and US Customs and border officials do not need search warrants, do not have to prove to anyone just cause for a search.

They can access all your digital devices without your permission, even insisting you give them your passowords

You do not have the right to contact and lawyer or have a lawyer present.

A Kinder Surprise is a large egg-shaped chocolate that contains a plastic yoke with a small toy inside.Why the yoke of one was one in my suitcase is anybody's guess.
Where my fictional drug smuggler will hide his joint: in the yoke of a Kinder Surprise.

The Drug Dog and I - Part III 
is brought to you by 
Mystery, Murder, Mayhem and Drug Dealin'