For Writers

KN, p. 314 “Does Your Protagonist Need Total Knee Replacement?”

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Twelve years ago, Kerrian’s Notebook came to life because of several bullets that managed to find their way into my body during a drug bust gone bad. Yup, I was injured on the job. The bullet holes healed, but bones were broken during that same shootout and intense rehab began. I was out of commission for over a year, bored and with a bad attitude, until I found that people were interested in what I had to say about life as a law enforcement officer. I could focus on something besides quad lifts and stretching.

I did get back on the job on limited duty at first, then went back fulltime as a Detective when the doc cleared me around the 18 month point. Truth be told, I lost a step in the ‘racing after the bad guys’ part of the job when we caught a runner, so I mostly left that to younger partners with better knees. Light repair surgery took care of torn ligaments, but a few months ago, total knee replacement became a necessity when Osteoarthritis settled into my achy bones.

You know me, I asked the Doc a LOT of questions pre & post surgery. My surgeon builds the knee replacement device to fit the specific patient on the day of the surgery. Other surgeons take the one-size-fits-most approach.

During my total knee replacement surgery, any remaining damaged cartilage was removed. The end of the thigh bone and the top of the lower leg bone were sliced off to create a flat surface, then areas drilled out to accommodate the titanium implants. Those implants were press fit (inserted) into the bones where the two bones join together, then Palacos Bone Cement was used to permanently attach the implants to the existing bone. Fun fact: the cement is green.

My own ligaments and tendons are still there. A plastic spacer (replacing the long gone cartilage) was inserted between the metal pieces to create a smooth surface, making it easier for the bones to glide against each other. The result should be that my stride will return to normal.


Recovery has taken longer than the average Knee Replacement Surgery since I have bowed legs. Because of that, one of the bones needed to be turned a bit during the surgery, allowing the knee apparatus to line up properly with the thigh and calf bones.

Surgery took a little over two hours. The brochures state that each person/situation/surgery is different. Yup. I’ve had stabbing pain in my knee cap, like somebody stuck a screwdriver in it. Repeatedly. I had no feeling in a large section below the surgical spot for about three months, making rehab a tad strange at times. The knee was massaged, iced, rotated, pulled on, you name it, we tried it. Then finally, when feeling partially returned, I began to make real progress with stairs, standing to get out of chairs, etc.  After five months, my knee function is returning to normal, slowly, but getting there.


Physical therapy consists of strengthening the muscles above and below the knee. Quad lifts, leg lifts, all manner of moving that leg to get the body used to the new thing invading the space. Occasionally, the knee buckles, due to weaker-than-they-should-be quad muscles. We’re working on that. Sometimes, I hear/feel clicking when I walk. That’s normal.

Balance issues do occur as the body adjusts to its new position in space. One leg is marginally shorter than the other. After the other knee gets replaced in a few months, the body will adjust again.

If your legs are physically toned before the surgery, recovery is easier. If you sit around the house a good part of your day, then rehab will take longer. Sometimes, people are allergic to the metal being used in the implants, infection sets in, and the surgery has to redone. Sometimes, scar tissue builds up, locking the knee in place, and the surgery has to be redone.


Attitude is everything in recovery from any major surgery. Younger patients (below 50) will recover more quickly than older patients, based mostly on physical fitness and willingness to do the demanding rehab.


Several TV shows and movies have included injured characters in the storyline. The protagonist is reluctant to go under the knife ostensibly because the team will have to work without their leadership. People hem and haw over the decision, with lots of drama involved. BUT, what’s really going on with the reluctant patient is that they will miss doing the job they love to do if anything goes wrong. If you write an injured character into the plot, don’t forget the emotional toll that major injury causes. The worry and sleepless nights are real. However, if the character needs a legitimate excuse to leave the job, the damaged bones can be a hidden gem.

Think Jason Hayes in the popular military TV show, “Seal Team.” During the third season, to avoid going under the knife, he had PT after wrecking his knee. Eventually, he followed the doc’s initial advice and had the work done. He needed a minor, rather than major repair, only missed one mission, and his anxiety level dropped dramatically.

If you or anyone in your circle sustains an injury, use it in your stories. Courage in the face of months of recovery, fears, tension, the effect on loved ones (good and bad) who have to change their routines to help? It might not be fun in real life, but it all works on the page.


*Charlie Kerrian is a fictional character, but this knee replacement story is real and rehab is ongoing.




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KN, p. 310 “The Writers’ Police Academy 2023” by ML Barnes

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In 2013, I’d published my second novel, Crossing River Jordan, which had a mild thriller component, and I really wanted to write something with more grit–a serious crime-based mystery. I attended the Writers’ Police Academy, created to help writers “write it right.” The WPA provided a terrific opportunity to learn from law enforcement professionals.

Organized by Lee Lofland, whose law enforcement career spanned 20 years, the Writers’ Police Academy was jam-packed with hands-on workshops, exciting demonstrations, and fascinating lectures, all designed to help writers create believable crimes, characters, and investigations.

Ten years later, and I still haven’t written that book. The 2023 WPA was scheduled to be the last, so I was overjoyed when Patti Phillips shared a free registration so I could attend.

I knew I was in the right place when I arrived at the Hilton Appleton Hotel Paper Valley. The wall behind the reception desk was papered with books and there was a Starbucks in the lobby! I had misjudged the time it would take to navigate highway construction as I drove to Appleton, Wisconsin so I missed the “Touch a Truck and Ask the Experts” event which offered access to public safety vehicles, fire apparatus, CSI Unit, police boats, drones, SWAT vehicles and other equipment on that first afternoon.

I immediately bonded with a group of writers in a spirited search for the WPA registration area. And suddenly, that gritty crime novel was shoved into a mental closet. A group of writers in search of a registration room? No, five writers on a life-or-death scavenger hunt in a haunted hotel. For the rest of my time at WPA, I saw great characters and compelling story ideas everywhere.

That evening, after an orientation, there was a presentation from Mike De Sisti, a photojournalist and creator of The Story in Photos of the Darrell Brooks Trial and Waukesha Parade Attack. A story about a photojournalist and what he does to heal from a traumatic assignment? That would definitely write!

Breakfast at 6 am and then onto buses that transported us to and from Northeast Wisconsin Technical College where our classes for day one were held. First, we had an exciting and entertaining (because of a belligerent suspect) SWAT team demonstration. Afterward, we were allowed to ask questions of the officers and to examine the SWAT vehicle (it was massive!) and equipment.

The best part of that demonstration was the access to real, boots-on-the-ground humans who do the complicated jobs of law enforcement. The officers were surprisingly candid about the difficulties, frustrations, and rewards of everyday policing. I learned that good cops are frustrated by having bad cops on the force and that officers in small cities and towns may have to wear several hats—street cop by day, SWAT officer when needed, meanwhile being trained for crime scene investigation, just in case a crime scene tech is absent one day. Story idea 3 was generated by quotes from the officers: “I get scared too,” and “Good work is rewarded by more work.”

Later I attended Crime Scene Investigation taught by Dan Feucht and his protege-turned-partner Holly Maas. It was an in-depth lecture and hands-on workshop. I got to do a palm-print transfer! Holly Maas is a civilian crime scene technician, married to a cop and mother of three boys. Awesome character, right?

I’d originally wanted a different class than the one I attended last and now, I don’t even remember what that class was. K9 Emergency Aid presented by Dr. Lisa Converse was riveting! The OPK9 program is designed to provide prehospital care education to first responders assisting Operational K9s. Dr. Converse’s training has been responsible for saving the lives of K9s injured in the line of duty. I don’t write animal stories, but I saw so many possibilities for tales of courageous K9s and their handlers.

Death by Powders and Pills was my first session the next day, taught by Drug Recognition Expert Nick Place an officer with more than 21 years in law enforcement. We learned about the current scourge—fentanyl—and how fake drugs are being used to get people addicted to opioids. We learned how easy it is to make pills and how much of the equipment and ingredients are available online from our favorite retail distributors. We even made a pill using baking soda. I came away from this class with a story idea about rival gangs and their problems with marketing.


Cold Cases, taught by Det. Sgt. Bruce Robert Coffin began with our learning the first Rule of Cold Case investigation: “You don’t know anything.” I loved this session because Coffin was himself a character, dry witted, cynical and wise. He gave us information from the perspective of a cop AND a writer. I bought two of his novels at the WPA bookstore later that day.


A final awesome benefit of the Writers’ Police Academy is access to other authors on every rung of the literary ladder. Insight advice, commiseration and delight filled every spare minute as we chatted during meals and breaks, on the buses and in the moments before evening activities. In addition to meeting keynote speaker, Hank Phillippi Ryan, I also got to know several amazing women for whom writing is more than a hobby. That kind of inspiration is priceless.


Lucky for writers, the WPA is retooling for next year, rather than closing its doors, as was the original plan. I hope to see everyone there!


Many thanks to Mari Barnes for writing about her terrific experiences at the 2023 Writers Police Academy! The classes she attended were led by experts from all over the country and are the source of invaluable research for future works.

Click on the titles to take you to more information about her novels:
Parting River Jordan
Crossing River Jordan

Find Ms. Barnes’ “Grow Your Story Tree: A Writer’s Workbookhere.


Her publishing company, Flying Turtle Publishing, can be found here.


*Photos provided by ML Barnes.
Bruce Coffin’s headshot is courtesy of his website.



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KN, p. 306 “Secrets of a Crime Writer”


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My little sister, Bridget, and I chat every few days. We trade stories and joke as we catch up on the stuff of life. She calls to pester me about coming to visit her in North Texas. I call her to make sure she’s staying out of trouble with the Sheriff and avoiding speeding tickets on 287 South.

This time she had me choking with laughter. She has been keeping a list of handy bits of information she swears that she picks up from Kerrian’s Notebook. This is what she shared tonight. Bridget’s guidelines are based on a few articles on the site, and I’ve included some links in bold so you can see what she read.

  • Hand guns are not a good choice for self-defense in the middle of the night if the gun is on a closet shelf in a locked box. I keep an axe next to the bed, so I will use my champion axe throwing skills to take out the bad guy.
  • Bodies in the basement tend to stink up the place. Good thing I don’t have a cellar. Not even a crawl space – in case some nefarious person is looking for a place to hide a body.
  • My phone is not safe from cloning or hacking in these days of cyber attacks, so I shouldn’t use it to pay for anything. That’s okay, since cash is accepted in most places, and I save a bunch on credit card fees.
  • I need to practice at the firing range so that I don’t shoot my foot.
  • Always remember to check the inside of a second-hand refrigerator I might buy, in case the seller stuffs a body inside it while I’m getting the truck ready.
  • Don’t look inside dumpsters at the mall. Ewwww.
  • Don’t travel by air during pollen season. The plane might not make it.
  • Don’t spend the night in jail. There are small spaces and other drawbacks.
  • Avoid having cups of tea in the houses of little old ladies.
  • Attend a writers’ conference. All that talk about murder and mayhem might be fun.

There ya have it. Handy tips from Bridget. Gotta love that sister of mine. Sheila and I just might be taking that road trip soon.



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