Confessions of a Crime/Suspense Thriller Writer

I don’t usually write long blog posts (no one reads them) and my posts usually focus on writers and writing. Sometimes they focus on something else related to my books of interest to my readers. This one is a little different, and perhaps this title is ill-advised. At the moment, in security conscious, over paranoid America, I’m reluctant to change it, in hopes it will entice some of you to read it. We live in a nation with heightened fear of the NSA, skepticism about the effectiveness of the TSA, yet with a need for the government to “do something” to protect us every time there is a school, mall, or theater shooting. So I’m here to dispel the myth, and tell you from a stranger than fiction standpoint: there’s nothing anyone can do to make you safe 100% of the time.

My search history and books purchased or checked out of the library would make many of you run in fear. Don’t worry. It’s only research, and it remains unlikely that I will turn into a serial killer or a mad terrorist. I have fiction for that. Still, it provides me with a wide perspective on crime, terrorism, and the security of Americans. Here are some reasons our safety is only an illusion.

DiversityWeapons are everywhere. Despite gun control, regulation, and registration, there are both legal and illegal weapons widely available. Don’t have one? You can make one. Three dimensional printers and advanced machining technology aside, effective but crude weapons can be made from things found commonly in almost any tool shed. I won’t give you instructions (so don’t ask) and if I use these in my books, I change little details, so if you follow them they won’t really work. But materials and instructions are easily found if you look hard enough.

Bombs are easy to make and hide. ATF, NSA, FBI, and TSA don’t panic. I certainly don’t plan to write a recipe book, but if a criminal wants to make a bomb, it is easy enough with ingredients almost everyone has in their home. Think the mall is safe? A smart bomber can make a simple but effective device on site, using items found in the janitorial closet (especially if the mall does its own grounds keeping) and his cell phone.

hidingHiding them? Please. The TSA (an 8 billion dollar a year reactive agency that regulates itself, and has been criticized openly for ridiculous failures) even admits that with all the precautions they take, some rather arbitrary, it is relatively easy to get explosive materials through an airport checkpoint. Scary right? Not yet.

Our utility systems are at risk. You know the nightmare novels you read about contaminating water and food systems? They scare us because they are easily possible. Utilities of all sorts are vulnerable, and communications? With the rise of cell phones and the abandonment of land lines, most households could be easily cut off.

You see why we thriller and horror writers drink? You know how you get a cold every time you start to read Stephen King’s The Stand? (Okay, I do, maybe you don’t) Every time I write a thriller of some sort, I think of how to change details or leave something to the paranormal so no one figures out how to do what I describe, and so it seems a little less frightening. Face it, for most of us a vampire is less threatening than a food shortage, and the Zombie apocalypse is a weekend without internet or cable. So what do we do to feel and remain safe?

northkoreansoldiersmarchingThe only sure protection is an armed militia, watching all of us around the clock. Absolute security means you will have no privacy, and assumes that the militia guarding us only has good intentions. To be honest, 100% security is simply impossible, especially in public spaces like malls, theaters, and schools.  However there are some things that prevent large scale violence, and almost none of them have to do with the government.

Good wins over the desire to do harm. The first, an assumption based on human experience, is that most intelligent people want to do more good than harm. The most intellectual, the smartest of society usually use their intellect for good. The result is programs like “World’s Dumbest Criminals.” The dregs of society are often inhibited by drugs, alcohol, or simple lack of ambition and thus easily get caught. The amount of planning it takes to pull off a successful criminal operation is similar to that needed for a legal one, but the legal one usually carries less personal risk.

Fear of personal losses. Thus even though I will acknowledge that many individuals and corporations are selfish and motivated mostly by personal gain, the risk of personal loss associated with criminal activity keeps them at least on the gray side of the law. So as a society we are somewhat protected from true atrocities by selfishness and personal greed, and most people’s desire to hang on to freedom. Generally speaking the criminal element (at least related to terrorism and murder) is populated by the mentally unstable, overly fanatic zealots, and victims of substance abuse or other addictions.

See something, say something. Typical government rhetoric? No. Most of us not only want what is good for us, but we want what is good for society and others. Not only do we not want to be harmed, but we do not want to witness harm come to others. There is a problem with this point though, and it may have contributed in a large way to increasing public violence in America.

seesomethingTypically when you go out people do not meet your gaze. Often, even when walking, they are absorbed in phones or tablets, and have ear buds blaring music and clouding one more of their senses. Thus our “sixth sense” or the instinct that tells us something is off, is also dulled. The guy with the too-heavy parka in spring? The backpack that looks like it just doesn’t belong? All warning signs we should heed, and in the past have been better at spotting.

Personal security is your responsibility. The can of worms no one wants to open, but here goes. No one is responsible for your security like you are. Things the police, security and other agencies do enhances and supports it, but ultimately the job of keeping you safe falls to you. Government does have a role, and those who would threaten individuals and society are also responsible and should answer for violations. But the only person with you 24/7 is you. So what do you do?

  • Be aware of your surroundings
  • Learn to defend yourself
  • Leave yourself an out
  • Watch out for others, and help protect them
  • Report something, even if it is only a suspicion

We can’t live life in a bubble. We can’t be protected all the time, and we could save millions, hell billions by eliminating government agencies that are not doing anything to protect us, but merely causing long lines at the airport while amateurish agents make fun of us, or cataloging our phone calls for later use.  (Not that I am naming any specific agencies)

Be safe out there, and be the change you want to see in the world around you.