Throwback Thursday - Behind the Scenes (NYPD ESU)

Readers of my books know that I reference a lot of different places and agencies. So today I am continuing the theme of Throwback Thursday, the 2nd in the on-going series, by introducing you to what I consider the preeminent unit within the NYPD; the Emergency Service Unit. In my second book, Queen’s Gambit, ESU plays a pivotal role in the hunt for terrorists threatening NYC.

The saying goes in New York City: ‘When a civilian needs help they call 911, but when a cop needs help they call ESU.’

 In 1964, the Philadelphia Police Department established what became known as the first official Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team in the United States. Three years later, the Los Angeles Police Department launched their SWAT team. These were the first units dedicated to specifically addressing escalating violence in urban areas. Without taking anything away from these two premier agencies, in my opinion they were about four decades late to the party.

In 2015, after five years of research, I wrote: Uncommon Valor, a history of the insignia of ESU. It was my goal to record not only the insignia of this acclaimed unit, but also the rich history. I was deeply honored when Police Commissioner William Bratton called me to say that he was having this book included at the NYPD Police Academy library.

The origins of the modern ESU date back to 1925, when NYPD Police Commissioner Richard Enright, created the Police Emergency Automobile Squad. This unit arose out of the need to address changes in the growing urban landscape in New York City.  A steadily growing population, coupled with increases in urban construction and a diversifying system of transportation, began to present new issues that the regular patrol officers simply could not begin to handle effectively. Officers were now being forced to contend with a myriad of issues, such as gas leaks, pedestrians being run over by vehicles or falling from elevated train lines, and horses that would fall into open construction sites. It soon became obvious that there was a need to have a specialized unit, which would be available to respond to the new type of emergency situations that New York City was beginning to face. 

On November 3rd, 1926, the officers of Emergency Service engaged in their first major gun battle when NYC mobster, Herman ‘Hyman’ Amberg, who was in jail for the murder of a local jeweler, attempted to escape from the old ‘Tombs’ jail on Centre Street, along with two other prisoners. Pistols had been previously smuggled into the jail for the three men. They faked illnesses so that they would be brought to the jail doctor. Once inside the doctor's office, they pulled their guns and attempted to escape. Newly assigned Warden, Peter Mallon, heard the commotion and came running to stop the escape. He was shot and killed as he entered the office. The three inmates then fled into the prison courtyard, near the Lafayette Street gate, where they exchanged shots with Keeper (the former title for Corrections Officer) Jeremiah Murphy and his partner, Daniel O’Connor. Keeper Murphy was killed and his partner was wounded.

Emergency Service responded and engaged the inmates from nearby buildings, raking the jail from all sides with heavy machine gun fire and gas bombs.  The gun battle at the Tombs went on for thirty minutes, with hundreds of rounds being fired. Amberg and the other two inmates hunkered down behind a pile of coal in the yard, before making their way to the safety of a guardhouse. They occasionally returned fire, wounding a police officer and a businessman in the Conklin Building across the street. At some point, two of the inmates were shot and wounded. With no escape possible, all three committed suicide. 

Over the decades, the role of the Emergency Service Unit has continually evolved. While they still respond to all major disasters, they have become the tip of the spear in the response to terrorism. On September 11th, 2001, of the twenty-three members of the NYPD killed on that day, fourteen were members of ESU. Sadly, in the years since, a number of members have succumbed to 9/11 related illnesses from the toxins they ingested during the rescue & recovery efforts.

In addition to its traditional role, ESU also provides Counter Assault (CAT) / Counter Sniper (CS) Team’s for major events and dignitary protection details. Like the NYPD’s Intelligence Division, ESU works hand in hand with their counterparts in the United States Secret Service and is part of the protection details for presidential motorcades and venues.

The motto of the NYPD ESU has always been: ‘Anytime, Anywhere, Any Place’.

If you have ever watched a newscast, concerning any major event in NYC, it is almost certain that you will see the familiar vehicles of the ESU. Contained within these trucks is a variety of equipment to handle any type of incident. When confronted with a situation they have never encountered before, they will find a way to perform the impossible.

The men & women of ESU are the epitome of the title: NY’s Finest.

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Photo courtesy of Tom O’Connor (NYPD ESU - Retired)

Photo courtesy of Tom O’Connor (NYPD ESU - Retired)

Challenges for Writers: Overcoming Literary Hurdles (Reviews)

Do you remember where you were when you first learned there were over seven million books in the Amazon Kindle Store? Hopefully it wasn’t just a moment ago.

It’s a staggering number, especially when you are about to release your first book. Hell, let’s be honest, it’s staggering even if you’re releasing your fiftieth book, but as difficult as it might seem, there are ways for you to reduce that number.

My writing career officially began in 2012, when I sat down and began work on my first mystery novel, Perfect Pawn, but its foundation dates back to a conversation I had with my wife in 2001. I’m glad I didn’t know back then the extent of the daunting road that lay ahead for me. As I mentioned last week, I have authored a total of ten books, along with two novellas, and I am currently writing my latest work-in-progress. During that time I have done a lot of things right, but an even greater amount of things wrong.

As an up and coming author, you need to accept that when you put the proverbially: The End, on your book, it is a lie. It would be nice if it was true, but that’s just not reality. Your job as an indie author is more like that of a general contractor.  Now that the foundation is complete, you have to focus on getting the rest of the job finished.

If you read last week’s post: Challenges For Writers, maybe you decided that cover design, editing and formatting just isn’t your thing. I can’t find fault with that thinking because not everyone has the time or the background to undertake those tasks. Most indie authors have full time jobs, so focusing on writing when you can, and outsourcing the other stuff, is probably the best option. But there are things beyond those critical issues that you will also need to address.

For the most part, when authors such as James Patterson, Lee Child, or J.D. Robb finish a book they do a lateral pass and their publishing houses take over. As an indie author, you are that publishing house. This means that if you want to effectively compete against those seven million other books on the market you are going to have to do some heavy lifting for yourself. This is where the proverbial rubber hits the road. I would love to be able to tell you what to do, but as I previously mentioned, I am still learning as well. I can only give you advice about what hasn’t worked for me.  At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing, all that matters is what you are doing.

I’d originally wanted to address several topics in this post, but I realized it was getting a bit long. So I decided to address them individually. This week I am going to touch on the topic of Reviews. In the upcoming weeks I will talk such issues as: Social Media, Publicity, Stagnant Sales, Keywords and Ads.

Begging for Reviews – Go on Amazon and look at your nearest competitor and marvel at the astronomical review numbers they have. All of a sudden that concept of ‘redistribution’ begins to sound a lot more palatable.

Damn you, James Patterson………………

Damn you, James Patterson………………

Once you start to compare your numbers against theirs its hard not to get bummed out. Hell, you might even begin to wonder if your own mother hates you. I mean, she still hasn’t written a review for you and you gave her that free book years ago. Trust me, you’re not alone.  I can’t begin to tell you the number of free books I have given out to family and friends over the years, but I can tell you the number of reviews that it has generated; which coincidentally is the same number of Super Bowl appearances by the Detroit Lions: ZERO.

Let’s be honest, reviews are really important to authors for a variety of reasons, including:

1) Writing books is a really poor way to make a living, unless you enjoy a regular diet of ramen noodles and tap water, and reviews are your only source of literary validation

2) They factor into the algorithms that sellers like Amazon use when they recommend books to others

But are they worth the time and effort you put into trying to generate them? Sadly, the answer is no, at least not from your inner circle. If you are interested, I have written a more in-depth examination regarding the problem that authors face, in terms of reviews, here: The Labyrinthian World of (Fake) Book Reviews

Since that article, I have reached the conclusion that it is just not worth the effort, at least when it comes to your inner circle. Here is my advice to you: Stop asking and if you feel like giving a book away for free, do it without any thought that you will get a review. You’ll save yourself from a lot of disappointment.

Your focus should be generating enough sales of your book(s) from other sources that will lead to organic reviews. What you (and potential readers) want to see on your Amazon Review page are the ones listed as: Verified Purchase. This means that the review is an organic one from someone who purchased it through Amazon. You know who also likes it? Amazon and their algorithms.

Beyond that, are the reviews by folks listed as: #1 REVIEWER, TOP 10 REVIEWER, TOP 50 REVIEWER, TOP 100 REVIEWER, TOP 500 REVIEWER, TOP 1000 REVIEWER, HALL OF FAME REVIEWER. Next to the aforementioned James Patterson endorsing your book, nothing says ‘buy me’ more than a review from an established Amazon Reviewer.

That being said, you want those reviews to be 4 & 5 stars, so it behooves you to make sure your book is the best it can be when you publish it.   

Next up I will be discussing the topic of Social Media.

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Challenges for Writers: Slip-Sliding Down The Rabbit Hole

In his book, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, author Lewis Carroll was kind enough to provide the perfect metaphor for us as writers.

If you are like me, it can sometimes feel that we are tumbling head-over-heels down a Rabbit Hole in the pursuit of our chosen profession.  The casual reader (along with your family and friends) has a skewed sense of what it actually means to be a writer. They see folks like James Patterson, J.D. Robb and Lee Child and think that we all fall into that category, but that’s like comparing someone who plays for the New York Yankees with a Double A player on the Trenton Thunder.

The harsh reality is that the role of an indie author is much more complicated.

As an up & coming author, you need to realize that your ‘work’ does not end with the final draft of your book. In fact, it is only the beginning and there will come a point in time when you look back fondly on the writing phase as being the fun part.  As of this post, I have authored a total of ten books, along with two novellas, and I am currently working on my latest work-in-progress. You would think that I would have a firm grasp of the publishing process, but you’d be wrong.  I learn new things pretty much on a daily basis; which I guess is a lot better than not learning.

For someone just starting out you need to face the fact that, unlike the authors listed above, you probably do not have access to publishing resources, meaning: Tag, You’re it. When addressing this issue, you have two choices: 1) Pay someone to do it, or 2) Do it yourself. Personally, I opted for the latter, because I have always been a hands-on person, but that does not mean it will always work. You have to know your limitations.

Your first concern, upon completing what you believe is the final draft of your book, is to get it edited. I know, I know, you’re sitting there going: “I took AP English, I’m good.”  - No, you’re not.

There is a lot more that goes into the editing process than just grammar. Authors wear one hat, editors wear a different one. We create stories in our mind, which we think we translate well onto paper, but sometimes we forget to add some of the details. An editor will go through and pick that up, because they don’t have the backstory floating around in their heads. If they have questions then the reader will be left with questions, and that only works in cliff-hangers, not the middle of your story. If you do not know someone who can help, then this might be an area where you want to pay, but be prepared for sticker shock: Grammar Nazis are not cheap.

Beyond the text, one of the critical parts of a book, that is often underappreciated, is formatting it. Simply put, people expect your book to look like any other book produced by a legacy publishing house.  Take the time to learn how to format correctly. If you want to be a professional writer, your book has to look like it was professionally written. Go to your library (ever writer should have one in their home) and peruse the interiors.  Make sure you learn how to emulate what you see. If you want to be the next James Patterson, ensure that your book is on the same level as his.

Consider the writing process like mowing the grass. Most anyone can take a patch of rich soil, sprinkle some seeds on it, water it and grow a pretty nice, grassy field. But if you don’t maintain it, it will end up looking like crap. The more upkeep you do, the better it looks and the more it will be appreciated.

Cover Art is another critical area that is often overlooked. There is an old saying that goes, “You only have one opportunity to make a good first impression.” You could have someone create an amazing cover, but when you shrink it down to thumbnail size, which is what most of your potential readers are going to see, it looks like an undefined blob. Conversely, I have seen some folks who grab the first ‘clip-art’ image they can get, slap it on the cover and think, “I’m done.” – Well, in a way you’re right and so is your book.

There are several critical things to consider:

1.       Is it appealing looking to the audience?

2.       Does it correspond to the plot of your book?

3.       Can you see the title clearly?

4.       Can you see your name clearly?

5.       Does it look cartoonish?

 Whether you agree or not, the truth is that people do judge a book by its cover. You could have written the next Hunt for Red October, but if your cover looks like it was put together by an 8th grader for art class, the odds are pretty good that a potential reader is not going to be willing to plunk down their hard earned cash just to give you a chance. You have to make them want to buy your book instead of that best-selling author’s book.

Remember, you’re a combatant in the ‘thumbnail wars’ so fight accordingly.

When I wrote my first book, Perfect Pawn, I thought I had nailed it on the first go-round, but as time went on I began to rethink that. Over the years I had grown in experience; so I went back and made alterations to not only the text, but to the cover as well.

Bottom line: Don’t be afraid to re-evaluate things from time to time.

Coming Up Next: REVIEWS.

That is, after all, what we should be focusing on after we launch our books. If you are not driven to be a best-selling author, then ignore everything you have just read, because it really doesn’t matter. Write your book, publish it, and walk away. But, if you are like me, and do want your book to appear on the NY Times Best-Selling List, then you have to be prepared to do the heavy lifting.

Next week I will be discussing some of the things you can do to boost your sales.

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Interview: INFOWIND News

I had the opportunity to sit down and have a chat with Chip Peterson over at INFOWIND News. We discussed a number of things including my career with the NYPD, my response to the September 11th terror attack at the World Trade Center, politics and my career as an author. I hope you enjoy it.


In the news: Where Was God?

The initial period, following the release of any new book, is always a time of great trepidation for an author. It isn’t till the first reviews come in that you’re finally able to breathe a sigh of relief. Fortunately for me, the reviews are coming in for my latest book: Where Was God? An NYPD first responder’s search for answers following the terror attack of September 11th 2001, and they are all positive:

I have read this book during a time of personal struggle and pain. While I try to make a correct decision in life, this book has shined [a] light and reminded me of what I need to do.”

If you are a skeptic and you think God is all BS. Give this book a chance, it will very possibly change your life forever.”

It is one thing to receive a positive review for a fiction book, but getting them for a book on spirituality is deeply humbling.  I recently received a letter from one reader that I wanted to share. He wrote in part, “Early in my journey with God I read ‘The Case for Christ’ and I was disappointed. It was not persuasive and frankly left more food for the cynic in me. Your book felt like a real case for Christ, as if a seasoned trial lawyer was putting on a case.”

This statement was significant to me because the writer is an attorney by profession. Receiving that type of compliment, from someone who is in the legal profession, is truly remarkable.

I was also honored by the fact that FRONTLINE Magazine, the official publication of the NYPD Sergeants Benevolent Association, featured Where Was God? in their latest edition. I have attached a copy below.

In closing, I would just like to reiterate the importance of leaving book reviews, especially for indie authors. So if you have enjoyed any of my books please head on over to Amazon or Barnes & Noble and leave a quick review. I’d greatly appreciate it.

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