Partners in Crime: Local authors, New Orleans and East Bank Regional Library writer’s conference

When transitioning to a new career the itch to learn is constant. You want to absorb as much as possible about the process of writing and the path to publishing.

I’m now on the verge of submitting my debut crime novel to agents. Creating and revising The Accidental Vigilante has been a long journey that has included set-backs, victories and a broad array of lessons and growth spurts.

Yet as I embrace my literary ambitions I can’t help but think back on my law enforcement vocation. When I was rookie I got a lot of help from veteran cops. Shouldn’t the same be true of authors?

You bet. That’s why I was thrilled to learn about the “Cops and Authors” writers conference scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 26, at 10 a.m. The sponsor is the East Bank Regional Library, 4747 W. Napoleon in Metairie. The event is free and open to the public. And one of the participants just happens to be one of my law enforcement colleagues. 

 I’m looking forward to catching up with O’Neil De Noux. He’s kept busy. Although crime fiction is his specialty, he has found time to explore other genres. I know he’ll have much to say about the balancing act of being a detective and prolific author.

And that’s the point of the conference. Provide helpful and practical information for new authors, or readers who simply love crime fiction and want to meet some authors and buy a few books.

My friend will be sharing the platform with another expert.

Write what you know is an old trope that still seems to hold power and make lots of sense. At my time in life, what else would I choose to write about? Obviously, my cop community agrees.

B.J. Bourg will talk about his work as a SWAT and sniper leader. I’ll be all ears because his expertise speaks to an important climactic scene in my novel. Although I’m pleased with the narrative sequence I’ve created, it never hurts to check in with a guy who has been there and done that.

Team work is also an important part of our career experience, so Bourg will be joined by his wife Amanda. Her topic is post-traumatic stress disorder. The information is meant to help authors create compelling characters who suffer from the dreaded P.T.S.D. 

With all that’s been happening in recent months to police officers nation-wide, I’ve got to believe that Amanda’s contribution will be riveting. How many other professions expect men and women to show up for work knowing that a gun may be pointed in their face that day?

This is why I’ve been drawn to the writing game. I can’t help but want to speak to the issues I see good people endure when they take on the work of keeping cities and towns safe. 

Not that authors have it so easy. It may seem sweet sitting in front of a computer most days. Yet when you take into consideration that many authors begin to write to confront their own demons, I guess the rookies in the publishing world had better be careful what they wish for.

 

Robert Sterling Hecker

Crime fiction author

For more information regarding this presentation, contact Chris Smith, manager of adult programming for the library, at (504) 889-8143 or wcsmith@jefferson.lib.la.us.

KATRINA AFTERMATH: Expect more movies and books to draw on the legendary hurricane

The Big Easy has long been a favorite locale for novelists and filmmakers. Yet Hurricane Katrina, now ten years in the past, has added a whole new dimension for storytellers.

Ava DuVernay, who directed the feature film Selma, has her eye on New Orleans. Participant Media revealed that she will write, direct and produce a story about love and murder with Hurricane Katrina as a focal point. Actor David Oyelowo, who portrayed Martin Luther King in Selma, may also be involved.

Can anyone blame artists for wanting to revisit the destructive days of Katrina? Recent ceremonies commemorating the heroes of that event reminded me how many deserving stories have not yet been told.

If we actually took a toll of how many movies and books have somehow used Katrina, the long list might dissuade some writers.

Best-selling N’awlins author James Lee Burke couldn’t resist the aftermath of HK in The Tin Roof Blowdown: A Dave Robicheaux Novel. The writers below also took on the apocalyptic wall of wind and rain:

·      Hurricane Song by Paul Volponi

·      Zeitoun by Dave Eggers

·      One D.O.A., One on the Way by Mary Robison

·      Map Of Moments by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon

·      Taken Away by Patty Friedmann

·      Murder in the Rue Chartres by Greg Herren

·      New Orleans Noir edited by Julie Smith

My debut novel The Accidental Vigilante does not include HK, but that doesn’t mean I won’t draw on it for future projects. And I know others will too.

And why not? Even without the fateful day that Katrina hit land, New Orleans resonates with fascinating people, cultures and settings. Also, crime continues to blemish the Crescent City in ways that are startling.

And the story of a city recovering from a near-death experience cannot help but draw on its history to illuminate why the new homes and buildings that have risen since 2005 are proud moments for people who were once in distress.

I wish DuVernay well with her unnamed project.  And I welcome other artists to keep New Orleans in mind when considering where to set a new movie, TV show or book.

Robert Sterling Hecker

 

Harbor Police Chief Robert Hecker to Honor Hurricane Katrina Heroes: Hall of Fame Ceremony set for August 29, 2015

Now let us praise brave men and women who wear the badge.  Many of these public servants lost their homes in the Katrina flood water, and for a time lost communication with their families.

Yet they continued to report for duty and provide the necessary police services to the city and the Port of New Orleans. 

These heroes went above and beyond the call of duty, performing dangerous tasks far outside their job description.

Yet they never complained.

The Port of New Orleans is fortunate to employ such dedicated and conscientious police officers and firefighters. For that reason, on August 29, 2015 – the 10-year Anniversary of Katrina – I will announce that these 60 people will have their names placed on a Hall of Fame plaque.

This plaque will be displayed, on this day and forevermore, in the lobby of Harbor Police Headquarters.

For those heroes who attend our ceremony, I will also present a 10-year Katrina Anniversary Medal of Honor. 

The Katrina emergency was an event like no other. The mass flooding, the rescue operations, death toll, chaos, gunfire, looting, Blackhawks hovering above …

… and the frantic radio chatter, lack of resources, unbearable heat, courage, cowardice, suicides, and the smell of mold that lingered throughout the city …  all of this will forever haunt those of us who endured. 

For those members of the Port of New Orleans Harbor Police along with the core group of first responders, who survived this history-making event and remained on scene for that emergency period after the storm, I am convinced you very likely saved our city and the port.

Now let us praise brave men and women who wear the badge.

I am extremely proud of each and every one of you and will never forget the blood, sweat and tears we endured as a family under duress, a team, a group of men and women who upheld their oath of office under the most difficult conditions.

Never leave the fight.  Never give up. 

And never forget the bravery these men and women showed in the face of disaster.

Thank you for your service to the City of New Orleans and the Port of New Orleans.

I am honored to be your chief.

IN MEMORIUM-- 1,577 NEW ORLEANS CITIZENS LOST THEIR LIVES DURING THE KATRINA DISASTER

Robert Sterling Hecker

In ‘Hollywood South’ does the YouTube Generation Mistake On-Camera Crime for Celebrity Brand?

‘Reality’ Crime may be the next wave of phony entertainment

New Orleans has some choice nicknames. Take your pick:

  • The Big Easy
  • The Crescent City
  • N'awlins
  • NOLA

But the crime outbreak our city is suffering makes me wonder if Hollywood South isn’t the best.

Although most of us in law enforcement assumed the surveillance cameras modern technology provides would be a deterrent to shoot-outs and another broad daylight crimes, what if the YouTube generation of young criminals just wants to have fun — on videotape?

“It’s my brand,” you can imagine a sociopath saying. “I’ve got thousands of ‘likes’ on my Facebook page.”

Hollywood South, in case you don’t know, refers to the many feature films that have been shot here. Shot. No pun intended.

Unfortunately, some (but not all) experts are baffled as to why the footage NOLA cameras provide doesn’t seem to stop stupidity and sinful behavior.

Don’t get me wrong. If we have an image of an assailant wreaking havoc in public we’re more likely to make an apprehension.  That still makes me wonder why the ‘reality’ show doesn’t entirely deter outrageous acts of violence.

Can you imagine a Twitter feed or Instagram site dedicated to a young criminal’s heinous acts? I can. In no way am I suggesting that you, a law-abiding citizen, should not engage with social media. Enjoy, if it suits you.

Yet in a society that lauds meritocracy when, it seems, notoriety often reaps the bigger reward, I must ask: Is there a new breed of people who see true crime as entertainment? If the answer is yes, more cameras won’t help.  Psychological intervention may be where the funding must go.

A business colleague once told me, “You can’t fix stupid.”

Allow me to amend: “You may not be able to fix some young minds that have been irrevocably damaged by social circumstances.”

If the phenomenon New Orleans —  The Big Easy, The Crescent City, N'awlins, NOLA, and Hollywood South —is experiencing is beyond the grasp of police work and the criminal justice system . . .

Consider this thought from oft-quoted poet and philosopher George Santayana: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Allow me to amend: “Those who are entertained not appalled by recorded public memory —city videotape — are condemned to see endless acts of destructive behavior.”

Robert Sterling Hecker

 

 

Brazen: Let’s Give the New Crime Trend a Name

Historically, New Orleans has had a high crime rate when compared to other American cities. Murders peaked in the mid-1990s, fell off, and then began to rise again in 2015.

Courtesy of The Times-Picayune

Courtesy of The Times-Picayune

“The 35 murders through last Friday represent a 94 percent jump compared to the same period in 2014 … Just as worrisome, the rise in deadly violence comes as the number of NOPD homicide detectives is at its lowest in five years -- raising questions about the department's ability to effectively handle the murder caseload. At stake could be the city's hope of extending a three-year decline in murders.” 

Ken Daley, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

City dwellers have read and heard so much about this topic over the years I would not be surprised if they become inured to the warnings.

I understand. It’s easy to get lulled into thinking crime is just a statistic that trends up or down. Rather than use numbers, I wish we could plot crime rates with pictures — of the deceased, the many victims and perps — because crime is not a statistic but a never-ending story of needless loss, grief and survival. It’s measured in pints of blood, in terrified voices screaming for help, and in the deep wounds suffered by the body and soul.

The Face of Crime

Statistics also don’t describe the evolving personality of crime. We see categories and assume the rapes and other types of assaults committed over time are all basically the same. Not so.

In early July in downtown New Orleans a man pulled out an automatic pistol and began shooting at a moving car. This was mid-day, in broad daylight. The sidewalks were crowded with pedestrians — witnesses — and the busy streets were jammed with motorists. This type of behavior is not typical of our city’s history of crime. It is incredibly brazen.

We live in a time when all eyes are watching. Surveillance cameras are numerous and, thankfully, capture the faces and activities of those who do wrong. But the technology didn’t stop the shooter from pulling out a weapon and spraying the street with bullets.

It would seem the shooter didn’t give a damn about being caught. And we will catch him. It’s inevitable. We have a video clip of his performance. Someone will turn him in, for money or revenge, or he’ll simply run out of hiding places. He’ll likely be convicted, sentenced to prison time and then what? Return to his life of crime and begin the cycle all over again?

100 State Troopers 

Mayor Mitch Landrieu has order 100 state troopers to patrol the French Quarter. He fears this new rise in crime will harm tourism.

“New Orleans witnessed its 100th murder of 2015 a week ago.  A 29 year-old local man was shot in his car in the French Quarter. The city did not see it’s 100th murder last year until late August.  New Orleans had seen a decline in its murder rate the past three years.” 

JesseHardman, New Orleans Public Radio

Can’t blame him. If the presence of the troopers deters robberies, assaults and murder then city officials will likely find a way to fund this type of policing in 2016 and beyond.

But if it has no impact it may be an indication that criminals have quickly morphed into an even more threatening posture than brazen.

Robert Sterling Hecker

Crime images linger, ugly stories haunt: a police chief grapples with the past to create a literary future

Years ago I attended some writing classes to explore what I hoped would be my next career. Authoring crime fiction was a natural choice for a man like me who has spent his entire career in law enforcement. I’ve seen a lot, and in the early days was surprised — no, shocked — by the cruelty and abundance of criminal activity.

Courtesy of The Times-Picayune

Courtesy of The Times-Picayune

Nothing surprises me now. But images linger, stories haunt, including the solved and unsolved crimes that have rocked New Orleans through the years.

And then there is the city’s history, its many characters and temperaments. As well as, Katrina and other acts of nature that have pummeled the community, and ungodly events that have shattered respect for law and order and decency.

It has been said that the pen is mightier than the sword. The inherent power of the written word became clear to me once I began working on my first crime fiction novel. The satisfaction was unlike any I had experienced when capturing perps or resolving conflicts. It ran deeper and exploded outward, like fireworks, simply by expressing fears, frustrations, pain and courage. Not mine, necessarily. But those of the characters I was creating. I found that whether writing with a pen, pencil or keyboard I could harvest some dark memories or demons, pull them apart for re-evaluation and cultivate them into fictional layers of new awareness. Redemption might be a way of describing the sensation of becoming a writer. Not for anything ill-begotten or mishandled on my part, but for the human beings with whom I’ve crossed paths and grieved for or celebrated.

The Criminal Mind

I began with NOPD and then accepted the position of Police Chief for the Harbor Police Department-Port of New Orleans in 1995. No regrets. I’ve been proud to serve.

Courtesy of The Times-Picayune

Courtesy of The Times-Picayune

My first novel certainly draws on my decades of experience, while not being bound to them. With pen in hand, I’m free to invent and create dramatic events that have not necessarily been pulled from the headlines of local media. The mind can run amok when given the chance.

Also, when retirement nears, a cop can’t help but realize that learning the rigors of law enforcement also demands an attempt to understand the criminal mind. We can’t stand in awe or fear of audacious incivility. We can’t simply wonder why oh why. No, the goal is to empathize just enough to get beyond the judgments that can blind us to the hunches and modest revelations about people that can solve mysteries.

Do I have a criminal mind? No. But I have a mind that by necessity has explored the unbearable and the unconscionable. Now it is time for all that distasteful human calamity to be forged into stories that free me and entertain my readers.

No hints yet as to the plot of my first book. Just don’t expect it to be pretty.

Robert Hecker, author