Monday, January 27, 2014

A Real-Life Superhero - By C.P. Stringham

My upcoming book, Rest in Peace, is the third installment in my Ellis Springs Series and will follow the story of Grace Werner, a county victim/witness advocate. I’m sure some of you are reading this and thinking, “A what?” Grace is a victim/witness advocate.  Those familiar with this field, most likely, learned about it out of necessity. Using this description from :

“Victim advocates are professionals trained to support victims of crime. Advocates offer victims information, emotional support, and help finding resources and filling out paperwork. Sometimes, advocates go to court with victims. Advocates may also contact organizations, such as criminal justice or social service agencies, to get help or information for victims. Some advocates staff crisis hotlines, run support groups, or provide in-person counseling. Victim advocates may also be called victim service providers, victim/witness coordinators, or victim/witness specialists.”

A victim/witness advocate is the unsung hero behind the scenes. Their sole existence is for the victim and seeing the victim through the excruciatingly long process of the criminal justice system. The wheels of justice turn slowly, remember? An advocate steps in to bridge the gap between incident and conviction.

I met with Dani Gorman, Victim Witness Coordinator from Bradford County, Pennsylvania, for my latest character research. While my book is a work of fiction (and I will use creative license to the hilt,) it is my desire to provide an accurate portrayal of a victim/witness advocate through my protagonist, Grace Werner. It gives me an opportunity to put a spotlight on this very noble career and make people aware of its existence. After meeting with Dani, let me just say, I have a new superhero to idolize. Forget about Wonder Woman, Storm, or even Natasha Romanoff. Dani is a true superhero—protector, companion, coach, and purveyor of justice. Her superpowers include, but are not limited to, compassion, integrity, tenacity, ingenuity and, maybe, a tad bit of well-placed intimidation where appropriate.

Hero worship makes it sound like I'm in elementary school.
 If I was, the drawing I'd make in class would look something like this. 
When asked to describe her job and how she protects her clients while waiting for justice to be served, Dani said, “I have to balance the fence between holding hands (the victim’s) and kicking ass (those who threaten her client.)”

Her job, serving the victim, is serious business and her duties, during the criminal process, involve court accompaniment, courtroom orientation, tours of the courtroom for children, court testimony preparation, supportive counseling, and notifications. She also offers assistance with Victim Impact Statements, claims for restitution, filing for the Victim Compensation Assistance Program and enrollment in the Inmate Status Notification Program. Victim/witness advocates are a system-based program. In Bradford County, there is only one advocate to serve the entire county. This gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “stretched thin.” Dani’s office, within the DA’s office, handles, on average, 1,000 cases a year; six to eight are homicides and eight to ten are violent crimes which include domestic abuse, sexual assault, etc. Forty to fifty percent of her cases involve DUI’s. While she can be brought in at the point of a preliminary hearing, most of the time she doesn’t see the victim until their case has already been processed through one of the four magistrates within Bradford County.  Just one case can have as many as fifteen contact clients. Her position is grant-funded through the state and she reports to the Bradford County Commissioners through their Policy Board. Some counties in Pennsylvania have larger operating budgets within their district attorney’s office, and can support their own program, in which case, the advocate would serve at the pleasure of the district attorney.

At this point in our conversation, I switched gears. In order for me to write Grace in an authentic manner, I needed to get personal with Dani. I asked her how she mentally coped while working through particularly difficult cases. She told me those cases just pushed her harder to bring justice for the victim and it drove her to reach that goal. I asked if she took the baggage of a hard day home with her. The answer was yes. She said the key was not to dwell on it negatively, but to use it in a positive manner to build herself up for the next hurdle. The victims she serves, she reminded me, are the ones with the hardest challenges. They will be the ones with lasting effects. She will do everything in her power to help prepare each victim and coordinate services for them so they can reach the closure they need within the legal system. I asked her if she was ever scared. She answered, “Not inside the courthouse. They take care of us.” Sheriff’s deputies are always on scene, manning the security screenings, stepping in when tensions flare, and providing escorts to and from the building. All she needs to do, in most situations, is convey a look or a gesture, and deputies come out of the woodwork.  Dani has the upmost respect for them. She’s had experience being around law enforcement officers her entire life. Her father is retired from the local police force.  Following in the family tradition of public servant, Dani studied Criminal Justice at Marywood University and served as a probation officer before taking her current position. Her prior job gave her experience working in direct contact with those convicted. That experience gave her a backbone. She doesn’t intimidate easily. All of this is beneficial to the victims in her care.

Dani Gorman - Victim/Witness Coordinator of Bradford County, Pennsylvania
As our time spent talking over coffees drew to a close, Dani spoke with grateful admiration for the network of professionals in her everyday life. She made sure to recognize their contributions to the criminal justice system. Members from the Abuse and Rape Crisis Center of Towanda, a community-based service that assists victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse, the Bradford County Sheriff’s Office, Children and Youth Services, and the Bradford County District Attorney’s Office, as well as other departments and law enforcement agencies, both local and state, each play an integral role in ensuring justice is served for the victims they represent. Dani also praised her fellow members from the National Organization for Victim Assistance and how she and other members collaborate, on a regular basis, to provide even better services to those in need. She stressed that it takes teamwork to make the system successful. NOVA members are a great sounding board of support for each other.

Leaving the cafĂ© and walking to my car, I thought about the impression Dani made on me. I wasn’t being flippant earlier about the superhero thing. I have to stress that fact. Dani, regular citizen, mother, and wife, is friendly and engaging. We hit it off and about ten minutes into my interview, I wanted to invite her to join my book club! But just under that friendly exterior lies the seasoned victim/witness coordinator of Bradford County. The lioness. And God help the defendant who tries to mess with one of the victims in her care.  

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Old Story IS the New Story

by :Robin Janney

One of the thing I love about Facebook is scrolling through comments on various page posts; unless they're negative comments then I hate it because I get so angry and worked up.  This past week I saw a Page ad for the new movie opening this weekend Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.  Of course, my outdated iPhone 4 decided to glitch out at the moment I tried to watch the clip!  So I had to start all over and then I couldn't find it.

Of course!!!

So I moved to the "search box" and typed in "Jack Ryan" hoping to find the Page.  I did.  After I had a good laugh at my friend Ryan Jack's name being at the top of the search list!  I kid you not, when he first starting working with us at Cargill, I really seriously thought his name tag on his hard hat was on backwards.  Every time I saw it, it just creased my forehead.  I didn't believe it was his real name until a coworker referred to him by his full name - a necessity when there's more than one Ryan in the department.  Ok, it still creases my forehead because everything in me insists the name ought to be the other way around!  But then I've never claimed to be 'right in the head' lol!

Once I'd found my page and my clip, I scrolled down and read some of the comments.  A lot of people were positive, looking forward to the movie either because it's Jack Ryan or because it stars Chris Pine.  A few had to make negative comments.  I really want to argue with them about certain things.  Like: Did Chris Pine really make Captain Kirk cool again...or did playing Captain Kirk make Chris Pine cool?  But it's really not worth engaging "trolls" in conversation.

One comment really struck a nerve with me.  I saw it a few times.  People complaining about prequels and sequels and can't Hollywood come up with any new stories?  For starters, if something is making money, Hollywood's going to play it to death until it stops making them money.  And secondly, there aren't any new stories!  That line in the bible about there being nothing new under the sun really is true.

My challenge as a writer is to take that old story and make it fresh.  Plot twists, plot devices, so on and so forth.  For example, the heart of my novel Farmer's Daughter really is "boy meets girl"...a rather classic story plot.  What makes it interesting are the different flaws, conflicts, and personalities.  I mixed things up a bit by giving the male lead an issue that is usually seen only in female characters.  I can only think of two movies of the top of my head I've ever seen in which a male was sexually abused by a woman, and I can't even tell you what they are.  I'm sure there must be more, but I don' t think it's common.  It wasn't something I planned on doing when I first started writing the story, it was something that came out in an early free write and I decided to keep it.

As it plays an important role in later novels, I'm glad it's a plot twist I decided to keep.  As before, my challenge is to keep it interesting and not just replay the same old hangups you see in every other novel.  How will my male lead handle it when his abuser apologizes and tried to be his mother again?  Is he really as healed as his marriage and his re-found Christianity makes him think he is?  Things I have to come up with answers for that will be believable but not easily anticipated.

Writing is a lot of work, but it's enjoyable work.  I'll pick up on that thought next time.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Holidays, Damn Holidays

The Matterhorn. Yep. It isn't an illusion.
It goes up and up and disappears into the trees.
By C.P. Stringham
It’s my week at the Broads of a Feather Blog and I’m discussing diets. I’ve been attempting the balance between shameless foodie and healthy dieter since June 2013. The results have been positive, although the holidays proved to be extremely difficult for me. My initial weight loss was forty-three pounds, but I went backwards gaining twelve pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. I’ll admit it, I went CrAzY during the holidays. Reckless abandon. Baked goods, wine, candy, and fatty foods. As I went hand to mouth, I kept telling myself, “Tomorrow, you’ll get back on track.” Yea, it didn’t happen.
And then, on January 2nd, I tried on my “skinny pants.” When I say skinny pants, you all know the pants I’m talking about. They’re the smallest pants you own, your way of gauging your weight without stepping onto a scale. When I say I tried my skinny pants on, I mean I wiggled them up over my hips and cursed like a trucker when the button was an elusive 1 ½” from the button hole. No amount of pulling of lying down on the bed while sucking it all in was going to make the two meet. I took them off, tossed them onto my bed, and stared at them with loathing.
Once I rationalized my H&M cargo pants weren’t responsible for my Holiday Gorge Fest, I vowed to overcome the setback. Through rain, sleet, snow, and frigid temperatures (thank you, Polar Vortex,) my friend, Paralegal Jenn, and I have resumed our exercise routine in the way of trekking a 2.6-mile walk along rural dirt roads. I’ve nicknamed our route The Matterhorn because, I swear to God, the one freaking hill has got to be a 45 degree grade that we climb. We’ve walked it eleven out of sixteen days (we started walking it before January 2nd) and I still can’t do it without taking a 3-5 minute break mid-hill. That’s when my heart is pounding between my ears and I feel as if I’m going to vomit. But I’m determined to conquer that hill before the end of January! Once that happens, we’re adding distance to our walk.
I’m happy to say my skinny pants are buttoning again. Do they look painted on me? Absolutely. I still have a ways to go.

Did any of you fall off the dieter’s wagon during the holidays? If you did, I’d love to hear what you’re doing to get back on track! Share it in the comments section.  

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Introducing Ourselves: Broads of a Feather

Broads of a Feather is a concept shared to me this morning by my fellow author and friend, C. P. Stringham.  She thought it would be a great idea for the two of us to unite our creative talents and set up a Facebook page, and a blog, and maybe even a Twitter account.  It sounded like a great way for the two of us to share our talent, enlarge our influence, and introduce you to the crazy worlds we have created.  Along the way, we plan on finding more indie authors in our local area and adding to our circle.

And just who are you? you might be asking right now.

The other half of this team is Robin Janney and I gave C. P. the go ahead this morning with her idea.  She created the Facebook page, Broads of a Feather.  And I get to set up the blog.

Of the same name.  I'm sure you're familiar with the saying, "Birds of a feather, flock together."  Well, the same is true of authors.  At least these two do.  We'll each take turns posting and promoting this page, as well as our Facebook page.

I'm excited to be a part of this.  I love writing and I love blogging.  I will introduce myself and my writing more later as I have work to do with the layout of this blog.

~Robin Janney
Author of A Novel Idea and Farmer's Daughter