How To Speak Cop — Version 1.0

As a retired police officer and now starving artist writer, I pay attention to others who write true crime and crime fiction. I read (actually skim) more for craft than story because I’m still very much in the learning curve when it comes to writing. Like the investigation business, I think a writer never stops discovering new techniques and benefiting from mistakes. A regular flaw I see in reading some crime publications—the writer just doesn’t know how to speak cop.

Every vocation has its lingo. In my shadow life, I’m a ticket-holding marine captain. An old boat skipper. I know Sécurité, Pan-Pan, and Mayday-Mayday-Mayday. They’re common emergency calls in the airplane world, as well. Industries like film production have their unique terms like Rigger, Gaffer, and Abby Singer Shot. And the sex trade has… well…

I think that in writing convincing crime stories, whether true or false, it’s critical to get the cop-speak right—specific to the specific location (as variances exist). Part is not being scared to use to F-word because all cops and crooks swear. The trick is using it sparingly and not mimicking a realistic alcohol-fueled-end-of-the-night party at a truck loggers convention. Trust me. I’ve been to one.

Setting profanity aside, there are day-to-day conventions in police terminology. Some writers get it right. Some don’t. The difference is in research, connections, understanding locality, and personal experience. Here are the basics in how to speak cop. Version 1.0.

Radio Procedure – The Ten Code

I’ve never heard of an English-speaking police department that doesn’t use some sort of ten code on the radio. Some officers are so indoctrinated that they write tens in their reports. The reason for a ten code radio procedure is brevity. It’s not for secrecy. That’s a whole different matter with encrypted devices and mission-specific codes. Here are the most common ten codes that seem to be universal.

*Note – 10-Codes greatly vary between jurisdictions. These are the most common ones*

10-1 — Unable to copy

10-4 — Copy, Yes, Affirmative, Acknowledged

10-6 — Busy, Occupied, Tied-up

10-7 — Stopped, At scene, Out of vehicle

10-8 — Back in service, Available for calls

10-9 — Repeat, Say again, I didn’t understand

10-10 — Negative, No, It’s BS

10-12 — Stand by, Stop transmitting

10-19 — Return to, Go back

10-20 — Location

10-21 — Call by phone

10-22 — Disregard, Fuhgetaboutit

10-23 — Arrived at Scene

10-27 — Driver license info requested

10-28 — Vehicle plate info requested

10-29 — Check person/vehicle/article for wanted

10-33 — Emergency! Officer Down! Officer in Peril!

10-60 — Bathroom Break

10-61 — Coffee break

10-62 — Meal break

10-67 — Unauthorized listener present

10-68 — Returning to office (RTO)

10-69 — Breathalyzer operator required

10-100 — I have no f’n idea what you’re talking about

The Phonetic Alphabet

I see this screwed-up so often. Some attempts are quite creative. Amusing, if not hilarious. “Bob” for B is real common. So is “Dog” for D. But, I’ve heard “Banana” and “Dillybar”, and I’ve heard “Limmo” for L, “Monica” for M, and more “Nancy” than I can count. Then there’s “Sylvester-as-in-Stallone”, “Tattoo”, and “Ugly”. Here are the right phonetic alphabet radio calls (worldwide):

Note: Phonetic alphabet pronunciations vary in regions. These are the universal ones that international transportation uses.

A — Alpha

B — Bravo

C — Charlie

D — Delta

E — Echo

F — Fox or Foxtrot

G — Golf

H — Hotel

I — India

J — Juliet

K — Kilo

L — Lima

M — Mike

N — November (not Nancy)

O — Oscar (not October)

P — Papa (not Penny or Pork Chop)

Q — Quebec

R — Romeo

S — Sierra

T — Tango

U — Uniform

V — Victor

W — Whisky

X — X-ray

Y — Yankee

Z — Zulu

The Rank System

There are two main ranking systems in the western police world. One is the constabulary like used in British Commonwealth countries. The other is military which is common in U.S. jurisdictions. Both are top-down rankings where they start with an omniscient power that oversees minions. Here are typical organizational charts for the two structures.

Constabulary Commissioned Officers


Deputy and Assistant Commissioners



Constabulary Non-Commission Officers

Staff Sergeants




Military-Style Police Officers


Deputy Chiefs






Military-Style Police Rank & File


Detective Sergeant




General Cop Speak

I see a lot of crime books where the protagonist is a high ranking police officer like a DCI (Detective Chief Inspector) or a Precinct Captain. These sound good and powerful, but the reality in police investigations is the grunts do most of the work. Detectives, Beat-Officers, and Constables go out there and arrest suspects, interrogate them, and then get their butt roasted in court.

Commissioners are politicians and serve at the pleasure of their master. Superintendents, Sheriffs, and Inspectors are budget-driven paper-pushers. Most Staff Sergeants and Captains spend more time on HR matters than criminal overseeing. It’s the Lieutenants, Sergeants, and Corporals that supervise the police workhorses—the deputies, constables, and officers.

I could go on about cop-speak like surveillance terms. “R-Bender”. “Stale Green”. “Crowing”. “Taking Heat”. Or, administrative stuff that takes up most of the time. “Per-Form”. “C-264B”. And, “Leave Pass”.

Cop Speak Resource

I’m steering you to B. Adam Richardson. Adam is a still-serving detective with a Southern California Police Department. Adam can’t reveal his true name or actual location because of security reasons, but Adam runs two Facebook sites dedicated to helping crime writers get it right. Here’s the link to Writers Detective and his FB rules:

“There has been some discussion in this group about what the rules are. Since my day job is all about enforcing rules, I wanted to let this group grow on its own and develop its own feel without me having to create rules.

I have seen other groups that are nothing more than mean/cynical replies to honest questions and spammy book promos. I hate those.

For the most part, I have been quite happy that this has grown into a very supportive group. I want our atmosphere of support and the celebrating of writing milestones to continue.

Although I am the one that started this group, I don’t own this group. You do. The intended purpose of this group is for writers like you to find the law enforcement related answers you’re looking for. I try my best to keep up with the Q&A, but I can’t answer every question. The beauty of this group is leveraging the collective experience and/or research of the membership. So, allow me to clear something up:

Anyone can post a question or an answer in this group.

We have a wealth of collective knowledge and experience in here. I know our members include a former CSI tech, a criminal defense attorney, a former MP, a former Coroner, and a ton of crime-fiction writers with solid research into serial killers, forensic science, and criminal psychology. That’s just the members I know about and that doesn’t even include the cops in the group. You do not need to be a cop to answer questions in here.

Yes, the quality of the answers will vary. I want to recognize that everyone offering an answer is doing so to help a fellow writer and spark discussion.

Many have come to this group seeking answers from a cop’s perspective and we’ll continue to offer that. I fully admit that answers coming from a cop’s perspective aren’t always right either. (Just ask a defense attorney.)

Often, the reality of how things play out on the street is very different from how textbooks and courtroom testimony portray things. We (the cops in this group) do try our best to give you the truth of what we’ve seen and experienced. I just ask that you recognize that our answers may differ from what research into a subject indicates. Research, textbooks, and courtroom testimony often paint things in black and white, while reality is a blur of varying shades of gray. Recognizing these differences are key to identifying and capturing realism for your own stories.

Sure, there may be answers posted that are solely based upon what someone saw in an episode of Miami Vice or CSI…but I’d prefer to not censor answers, especially when the poster’s intention was to be helpful. It is up to you to figure out what is relevant, factual, and useful for your own writing projects.

I propose we start using our Like buttons to act like a Reddit/Quora style “up-vote” on best answers to a particular question.

There may be some debate over answers, but that is to be expected. We can all learn from civil discussions about the issues at hand. These debates happen in criminal justice all the time; it’s the very basis of our judicial process.   ~ Adam”

Adam R. also has a FB site at Writers Detective Bureau. Check out this link:

So, that’s it for How To Speak Cop — Version 1.0. Anyone interested in a more detailed post… Version 2.0 ?

— — —

Garry Rodgers is a retired homicide detective with a second career as a forensic coroner. Now, Garry has re-invented himself as a writer with a based-on-true-crime series on cases he was involved in. Check out Garry Rodgers on his Amazon Author Page, Twitter, Facebook, and his website at DyingWords.

Garry’s newest book in the true crime series, On The Floor, will be out in mid-August 2020.

Firehouse Slang

By John Gilstrap

I might have mentioned a few dozen times in this space that I spent 15 years in the fire and rescue service, at a volunteer department that ran over 14,000 calls per year. My name is on thousands of those reports. I’ve been burned, shot at, and threatened by one very large knife. I ran two plane crashes, uncountable car crashes, delivered two babies and performed CPR hundreds of times. In the end, I saved more lives than I lost, and I never got paid a dime for any of it. That’s a point of pride to me.

Every line of work has its own vocabulary–rhetorical shortcuts that relay information that others might not understand, but mean very specific things to insiders. I thought I’d take you inside the firehouse for a peek at our peculiar dictionary. (Warning: Some of what follows is . . . insensitive. If you’ve never been an emergency responder, it might be hard to understand, but trust me when I say it is entirely possible to be compassionate and insensitive at the same time. Sometimes, the humor is the only good part of a really crappy day.)

Now, in no particular order . . .

FNG: The full pronunciation of effing new guy, aka rookie. Also known as a red hat, because in my jurisdiction, FNGs wore red helmets on the fireground. I wanted them to wear cowbells, but they refused. We also called them wheel chocks, even though real wheel chocks always knew what they were supposed to do, and they never did stupid stuff.

Blue flares: There is no such thing as a blue flare, but FNGs didn’t know that. It was always entertaining to send them over to the farthest-away fire station with orders to bring back a box of blue flares. Of course, when they arrived at the target station, those folks would have just given them away to another station, miles away of course. That fun could go on for hours. It was like a cat chasing a laser pointer. Smoke shifters (either left-handed or right-handed) could be used in lieu of blue flares.

Box o’ Rocks: The intellectual assessment of someone who, say, didn’t catch on to the blue flares gambit after two or three stations.

Ticks: The name paid firefighters used for volunteers, purportedly because we were annoying and always hanging around. The fact that said volunteers built the firehouse and purchased all of the rolling stock they rode on and furniture they sat in often went unacknowledged.

Squirrel: This one had at least two meanings. One was another derogatory term for volunteers, but another dealt with enthusiasm. To “squirrel a call” meant either to drive to the scene in your POV (privately owned vehicle) or to respond from the firehouse with a spare piece of fire apparatus.

Paid maids: In the early days, this was the volunteers’ term for paid personnel. Among their daily tasks was to clean the kitchen and the bathrooms. (No, the two sides of the house did not always get along.)

Big eye: Have you ever encountered a challenge that was so huge and so out of the ordinary that you kind of vapor locked and didn’t know what to do first? That’s the big eye. When the world is on fire or people are screaming for assistance, it’s a bad thing to get. FNGs get the big eye a LOT.

Fireground: The general term for the scene of any emergency involving fire and rescue apparatus. In my jurisdiction, the senior OIC (officer in charge) of the First due (see below) wagon (see below) was in overall charge of the fireground, while the senior aide (see below) on the ambulance was in charge of patient care.

OIC: Translates to officer in charge, but is not necessarily tied to rank. In my jurisdiction, the OIC of any piece of apparatus was the person in the shotgun seat (right-hand front seat). If, for example, a captain was driving, but a sergeant was in the seat, the sergeant would be in charge of the fireground. It was a great way to train up-and-coming officers.

Fireground Commander: For larger incidents, command would be passed to a chief officer. Chiefs were the senior officer of their respective fire departments, but they rarely commanded individual pieces of apparatus. Chiefs had their own buggies but rarely wrested command from the first due OIC. It was, however, customary for the OIC to offer command to the chief, who then decided whether or not to take it. To be relieved without first offering would be a slap in the face.

Bugles: Fire officer rank insignia. Lieutenants wear one bugle on their collar points. Captains wear two . . . chiefs of departments wear five.

Wagon: This has changed in many jurisdictions, but where I ran, every fire station housed two pumpers (what you think of when you think “firetruck”). The first one out the door on a call was the wagon, and the second was the engine. Together, both the wagon and engine were called an engine company. Thus, Wagon 14 or Engine 14 were individual vehicles. Engine Company 14 was two vehicles, and when they were on the road, it was time for the fire to be very scared.

Aide: The OIC of the ambulance.

First due: The area to which a department or a specialty vehicle (ladder truck, hazmat truck, etc.) is dispatched first. The next closest is second due, and so forth. In my jurisdiction, for a commercial alarm, the dispatch would sound something like this: “Box 1404 for the structure fire. Engine companies 14,13 and 2, Trucks 14 and 13, Squad 2, Ambulance 14.” The first number of the box number (in this case 14) indicates who’s first due, the second part is a rough idea of how far the call is from the station. (Fire station 14 sits in the center of box 1400. Ditto every other fire station.)

Smells and bells: I can’t begin to imagine the number of dispatches that started with “odor of smoke” or “fire alarm sounding.” These calls got the full boat (full alarm assignment–see below), rousted a bunch of people out of bed, and left the beleaguered first due engine company officer with a complex report to fill out.

Working fire (or a worker): A real fire with real flames. The opposite of smells and bells.

Second alarm (or third . . .): Different types of structures have different alarm assignments. In my jurisdiction, a single family house fire had an alarm assignment of two engine companies, a truck (ladder truck), a heavy squad (think rolling tool box with lots of cool toys) and an ambulance. At the top of the heap, the hospital had an alarm assignment of four engine companies, two trucks, two squads and (I think) three ambulances. When the fireground commander strikes a second alarm on a fire, he’s ordering up a duplication of the first alarm. Remember this when you hear about a four-alarm fire.

Special alarm: Say the fireground commander only wants one more engine company or one more truck. That would be a special alarm, not to be confused with an additional alarm (see above).

Scratch: I think this one’s unique to volunteer departments. A piece of apparatus scratches when it fails to mark responding within three minutes after dispatch. When a house scratches, the next due piece of apparatus will be dispatched in its place. There is no greater humiliation.

Second (or third, or fourth) call: These happen quite a lot during weather events, when everyone is running their wheels off. Let’s say Wagon and Ambulance 14 are already running a call, when the station gets hit again for an incident. Dispatch knows that Engine 14 and Ambulance 14-2 are in the station, but they have no way of knowing if they are manned. So the dispatch would sound like, “Box 1425 for the auto accident. Engine Company 14 (your second call), Ambulance 14 (your second call), Engine Company 2, Ambulance 2.” Whoever got out first got the call.

To cut numbers: Occasionally, someone would walk into the station with an injury or illness, or we would wander up on something while in service (see below). In this case, because the dispatcher has no idea that there’s an incident, we’d radio in and ask them to “cut numbers” on a new incident, and we’d give them the address. This would make the incident official and take the appropriate vehicle out of service.

In service/out of service. This is counter-intuitive to a lot of people. A piece of apparatus is in service when it is available for a call. When on a call (not available for another call) it is out of service. It was common, when we were assisting an ambulance with a medical call, for the dispatcher to ask us if we could “go in service for a call.” If we were, then there no second calls would be needed.

Bidding a call: Say that Ambulance 14 is just clearing the hospital (which is in Station 13’s first due) after dropping off a patient when a call comes in for, say, an auto accident in Box 1313. If Ambulance 14’s OIC thinks he’s closer, he can bid the call. It would sound something like, “Ambulance 14, Dispatch. We’re closer. Put Ambulance 13 in service.” It’s kind of humiliating for Station 13. In the old days, on rare occasions, there were bidding wars, where neither vehicle agreed to go in service, so there’d be a race to the scene. Whoever got there first, got the call.

Tapped (or tapped out): To be dispatched. “We got tapped last night for a wreck on Walker Road.” “They tapped us out for worker at the Bates Motel.”

Putting a good stop: When a crew extinguishes a fire quickly and with minimum damage, they’ve put a good stop on the fire.

Cellar saver: Exactly the opposite of a good stop. When the roof ends up in the basement (i.e., the structure is a total loss), the fireground commander is credited with saving the cellar. That’s . . . bad.

Snot-slinger: A big fire. Aka, the big one.

Teeth-hair-and-eyeball: The kind of incident where the most useful pieces of equipment are body bags and tweezers.

DRT: Dead right there. (A play on DOA.)

Federal Q: That wonderful siren on the front bumper that sounds like an air raid siren on speed. Melting the Q meant to have it spun up really high. Combined with the air horn in rush hour, melting the Q created lanes out of stopped traffic where cars had nowhere to go. I had a driver for years who would melt the Q at oh-dark-early, shouting his mantra out the window: “If I gotta be up, you gotta be up, too!”

I’m sure there are many I’ve forgotten, but this is a good start. So, what about you, TKZers? Y’all come from interesting backgrounds. Give us a peek into your secret dictionary.


One last thing. If you’re a teacher or if you’re with a book club, and you’d like me to Zoom with you, drop me an email at


Is It Okay To Quit?

“You get to a point where you get to the edges of a room, and you can go back and go where you’ve been and basically recycle stuff.” — Stephen King

By PJ Parrish

I knew something was up when I started looking forward to pulling weeds.

Every morning, I’d check the Tallahassee weather and plan my day. First, I’d survey the front and back yards to see what needed attention. Then I’d dead-head the rose bushes. The azaleas needed pruning, so that took a good hour. Eventually came the highlight of my day — pulling weeds. A blissful hour of mindless productivity. As the sun dipped lower, it was time to head out to the nursery because you could never have enough mulch or Miracle-Gro tomato food.

By the time I got back, there was just enough time to shower, make a vodka gimlet and take it outside where I’d sit in a lawn chair while I hose-watered the lawn.

I was as happy as a little garden slug — except for a gnawing guilt that seemed to abate as the vodka glass emptied only to return as I went back indoors. The guilt, of course, came because I wasn’t writing.

I passed the whole of last winter this way. My garden flourished as my novel lay fallow in the laptop. And then, one morning, it hit me: I didn’t want to write anymore.

It was gone. The urge, the need, the pleasure. It was all gone. At first, I was upset. For two reasons. First, I write with my sister and thus had a contract, a commitment, to our partnership. And second, well, that’s complicated. So many folks want to be published writers, and I have known that success. It almost felt ungrateful to stop.

But here’s the truth. I want to quit. I have quit. I have not worked on my novel for months now, and after the initial bad feelings, I’m finding I’m relieved.  I’m relieved that I don’t have to worry about getting the book published, be it by traditional means or the hard slog of self-publishing. Relieved that I don’t have to climb on the self-promotion hamster wheel.  Relieved that I won’t have to feel the sting of disappointment if it doesn’t sell or get well-reviewed. But mostly, I feel relieved that I can channel my energy, creativity, time and love into other things.

I’m coming up on my 70th birthday soon. That doesn’t bother me that much, because outside of aching knees and bad eyes, I’ve got good health. We’ve got some money in the bank and not many bills. I have family and friends to sustain me. I have two great dogs to take me on walks.

Phillip Roth said he was done when he was 79 and 27 novels deep. Alice Munro did so at 81, a few months before winning a Nobel for a career that includes 14 short-story collections. Munro told a reporter, “I don’t have the energy anymore.” Roth left a Post-it on his computer reading, “The struggle with writing is over.”

I read up on Munro while writing this post. She gave a fascinating interview about her decision where she said she wanted to rejoin the world. “I think you do get to a stage where you sort of think about your life in a different way,” she said. “And perhaps, when you’re my age, you don’t wish to be alone as much as a writer has to be. It’s like, at the wrong end of life, sort of becoming very sociable.”

I get that. My time now will be given to my real people, not my imaginary ones.

Will I change my mind? Perhaps. Things can happen in your life, things you can’t anticipate, that can alter your universe — and it can happen in a split second.

Stephen King, in 1999, was hit by a car while walking down a road near his Maine home. He almost died. He described the pain of recovery as unbearable.  His wife, Tabitha, knew he was drowning and set up a writing nook downstairs in their house. King didn’t want to try another novel so he decided to write about writing. A year later, he produced On Writing. In it, he writes with brutal honesty about his struggle with drugs and alcohol and how hard it was to recover his love of writing again. He went on to finish a script for the miniseries Rose Red, calling it a therapy that was more effective than any drug the doctors gave him. But once the script was finished, he decided to quit.

“I don’t want to finish up like Harold Robbins,” he said, referring to the pulp novelist who started with well-reviewed works such as A Stone for Danny Fisher, later suffered a damaging stroke and ended his career in steep decline. “That’s my nightmare.”

King found his way back. With last year’s novel The Institute, he’s closing in on 100 novels. He still needs to write. I don’t. At least not now.

What about you guys? Some of you have sturdy careers and a nice back list. Some of you are still working on your first book. Most of you are probably somewhere in between, maybe published but not as successful as you’d like, maybe finished a couple manuscripts and still looking for that one editor who says yes.

You might have considered giving up. How do you know if it’s time to quit?

Well, if you want to read a funny but very truthful take on that question, click here and read Chuck Wendig on the subject.

If you’re thinking of quitting, maybe I offer some things to chew on before you do. Here are some signs, in my opinion, that you SHOULDN’T quit for good.

You’ve got some life issues that are sapping your energy. A divorce? A family health problem? Financial issues that might mean you have to focus harder on your day job? That’s okay. Take some time off and deal with whatever’s distracting you. Work the problem. Then, when the clouds clear, you’ll might find your creative juice coming back. Don’t let anyone try to tell you that you MUST WRITE EVERY DAY.  If something is off in your life, you might need to step away.  Writing is like exercising. Yeah, you should do it every day if you can. But if you’ve got a broken foot, stop and heal first.

Your story is going nowhere and you can’t see a way out.  All writers stall. All writers paint themselves into corners. But some folks stay with a story out of pure stubbornness. (I know this twist will work. I just gotta find a way!) Find a reliable beta reader who will TELL YOU THE TRUTH. They won’t be able to tell you how to fix it (and shouldn’t; that’s your job). But talking about the log-jam will help clear your brain.

You’re writing the wrong book. Here’s a dirty secret: Almost every successful writer has abandoned a book in mid-stream. Quitting is not the sign of a loser; it’s the sign of a professional. You have to face the fact that not every idea is a good one. Let it go. Sometimes, you have to give up on story that’s not working so a new story can move into your brain. I worked on a series book for four months (and hated every moment of it) until I finally tossed it out. Soon after, discouraged and depressed about the book, I went on a scheduled vacation to Paris. A week later, I had an idea for a stand-alone that got me so excited I finished the thing in three months. (click here to see The Killing Song). 

Your character(s) bore you. This sounds like a no-brainer, but sometimes, we grab onto a character and gnaw him or her to death. We think he or she sounds fascinating but there’s something fundamentally flawed about them. And I don’t mean in a good, deeply human interesting way, but in a death-to-the-story boring way. Unless you are foaming at the mouth to meet up with your character every day, ready to follow their every move and take down their every word, how can you produce a good story? You have to be in love with your characters, even the black hat ones. If you don’t want to spend time with them, how do you expect a reader to want to?

You’re tired. We all are right now. The forced isolation of the virus, the political climate, the constant slow simmer of dread. Understand that the fatigue you’re feeling might have nothing to do with your book. It’s exterior to that but it’s deep and it’s not going away any time soon. I can’t tell you how to deal with this black cloud; we’re all finding our coping mechanisms. (Mine is a hard break from news, exercise, walks with my dogs.). Get outside. Reconnect with old friends but call, don’t email or text.

Okay, now here are some signs that you should quit, in my humble experience:

You’re not having fun anymore. 

That’s it. There’s only one good reason to quit. The whole process of writing has become something of a chore, a duty rather than a delight. Again, I don’t mean to sound like I’m whining here. Or that I am dismissing all the years of wonderful writing time I’ve had. Or, as I said, that I am ungrateful for the success that has come my way.  I have been blessed; I’ve been lucky. I had a helluva a run for twenty years in the mystery biz, and seven years in romance before that. But I’ll let Chuck Wendig speak for me:

You’re not having fun. This one, too, is tricky, because writing isn’t always an act of eating cotton candy while happy puppies squirm at your feet. Some days are purely reserved for shoveling earth. Some days are like pulling bad teeth. That’s normal. It isn’t always fun. Hell, it isn’t often fun. But there’s also an evaluation you might make — again, after some time with it — where you realize, you’re just not enjoying this. It holds no surprises for you. It feels rote and routine, and if it feels that way to you, it may very well feel that way to a reader. Once again, a strategic retreat is called upon.

With our most recent book, last year’s The Damage Done, I think we left our hero Louis Kincaid in a good place. The circle, for him, feels complete. We done him good. I don’t want to start phoning it in. So I am retreating. Into life, friends, and especially reading, where I am ready to get acquainted with the dazzling spectrum of new writers who are infusing our genre.

I am putting down the pen. Except for this blog and you all, which I have grown to love. I might pick up the pen again. I probably will. But now now, this feels right. Thanks for listening, friends.


Writing Hacks: Keyboard Shortcuts

Picture this. You’re in the zone rockin’ the WIP, the words flowing from your fingertips faster than you can type. And then . . . splat. You’ve hit a brick wall. That special character or symbol isn’t on your keyboard.

Sound familiar?

So now, you need to stop, go to Insert, then to Advanced Symbols and scroll through the list to find that pain-in-the-butt character. You could leave yourself a note in the manuscript to deal with it later and continue on, but wouldn’t a keyboard shortcut make life easier?

With that in mind, I offer the following . . .


Please note: these shortcuts can be used on the web or in Word by using the numbers on the top row of your keyboard. If you use your numbers keypad, you may get different results.

ALT + 1 = ¡

ALT + 2 = ™

ALT + 3 = £

ALT + 4 = ¢

ALT + 5 = ∞

ALT + 6 = §

ALT + 7 = ¶

ALT + 8 = •

ALT + 9 = ª

ALT + q = œ

ALT + SHFT + Q = Œ

ALT + w = ∑

ALT + SHFT + W = „

ALT + e = ´

ALT + r = ®

ALT + SHFT + R = ‰

ALT + t = †

ALT + SHFT + T = ˇ

ALT + y = ¥

ALT + SHFT + Y = Á

ALT + u = ¨

ALT + i = ˆ

ALT + o = ø

ALT + SHFT + O = Ø

ALT + p = π

ALT + SHFT + P = ∏

ALT + a = å

ALT + SHFT + A = Å

ALT + s = ß

ALT + SHFT + S = Í

ALT + d = ∂

ALT + SHFT + D = Î

ALT + f = ƒ

ALT + SHFT + F = Ï

ALT + g = ©

ALT + SHFT + G = ˝

ALT + h = ˙

ALT + SHFT + H = Ó

ALT + j = ∆

ALT + SHFT + J = Ô

ALT + k = ˚ (degree)

ALT + SHFT + K = Ó

ALT + l = ¬

ALT + SHFT + L = Ò

ALT + ; = … (to create ellipsis you can also press CTRL + ALT + .)

ALT + SHFT + : = Ú

ALT + “ = Æ

ALT + ‘ = æ

ALT + z = Ω

ALT + SHFT + Z = ¸

ALT + x = ≈

ALT + SHFT + X = ˛

ALT + c = ç

ALT + SHFT + C = Ç

ALT + v = √ (square root)

ALT + SHFT + V = ◊

ALT + b = ∫

ALT + SHFT + B = ı

ALT + n = ˜

ALT + m = µ

ALT + SHFT + M = Â

ALT + , = ≤

ALT + SHFT + < = ¯

ALT + . = ≥

ALT + SHFT + > = ˘

ALT + / = ÷

ALT + SHFT + ? = ¿


On my keyboard “Command” equals the “WIN” key—I use a Windows keyboard on a Mac—but yours might be CTRL or COMMAND (Mac users) depending on the keyboard type.

<Command> + C = Copy

<Command> + X = Cut

<Command> + V = Paste

<Command> + Q = Quit

<Command> + W = Close File or Window

<Command> + N = Open New file

<Command> + O = Open Existing file

<Command> + S = Save

<Command> + P = Print

<Command> + F = Find a word or phrase­­­ on web pages or in Word. If the word or phrase appears more than once, press ENTER to move to the next instance.

<Command> + Z = Undo Action (To redo the action, press <Command> + Y)

<Command> + A = Select All

<Command> + B = Bold (To stop bold, repeat command)

<Command> + I = Italics (To stop italics, repeat command)

<Command> + U = Underline (To stop underline, repeat command)

<Command> + T = Open New Browser

<Command> + D = Bookmark Page

<Command> + B = View Bookmarks


Most of the above commands also work on WordPress. Here’s a few extras exclusive to WordPress …

<Command> + 1 = Heading 1

<Command> + 2 = Heading 2

<Command> + 3 = Heading 3

<Command> + 4 = Heading 4

<Command> + 5 = Heading 5

<Command> + 6 = Heading 6

<Command> + 9 = Address

ALT + SHFT + n = Check Spelling

ALT + SHFT + j = Justify Text

ALT + SHFT + d = Strikethrough

ALT + SHFT + u = Bullet List

ALT + SHFT + o = Numbered List

ALT + SHFT + q = Quote

ALT + SHFT + w = Distraction Free Writing Mode

ALT + SHFT + p = Insert Page Break Tag

ALT + SHFT + l = Align Left

ALT + SHFT + c = Align Center

ALT + SHFT + r = Align Right

ALT + SHFT + a = Insert Link

ALT + SHFT + s = Remove Link

ALT + SHFT + m = Insert Image

ALT + SHFT + t = Insert More Tag

ALT + SHFT + h = Help

Most social media sites offer their own shortcuts in the help menu. YouTube, however, offers several cool hacks to save time.  


Press 1 = jump ahead 10% through the video.

Press 3 = jump ahead 30%

Press 4 = jump ahead 40%

Press 5 = jump ahead 50%

And so on.

Press 0 = restarts the video

Spacebar = pause/un-pause video

← Go back 5 seconds

→ Go forward 5 seconds

↑ Raise volume

↓ Decrease volume

F = Fullscreen

ESC = Exit Fullscreen


CTRL+ALT+DEL = Quit Frozen Application. This command opens the Task Manager. Select the application that stopped working and press END TASK.

Do you have a favorite shortcut that you use regularly? Please share!

Want to have a little fun? Include a special character in your comment. ♠♣♥♦ If it’s not listed above, be sure to tell us how you created it. 

The Vision on the Stairway

by James Scott Bell

Forty years ago—today—I went to a birthday party for one of my best friends from high school. It was held in his second-story apartment in North Hollywood, and the place was packed.

At one point in the festivities I went downstairs to the courtyard to chat with a couple of buddies. We sat there chewing the proverbial fat, the subject of which I have long since forgotten. Then it happened. A glance that changed my life.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw someone bounding up the stairs toward the party. I turned. And saw a vision. If I may purloin Raymond Chandler’s line from Farewell, My Lovely: It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window.

The Vision on the Stairway

To my courtyard companions I said, “I’ll see you later.” Up the stairs I went and into the apartment as my friend Daryl was hugging the vision, who had her back to me. Daryl saw me and silently pointed to her as if to say, This is the one I’ve been telling you about.

For several years Daryl had told me about a beautiful, funny, talented singer/actress he knew from a restaurant where they had both waited tables. Somehow I was never in the right place to meet her. Indeed, at the time of the party, I was living in New York, pounding the pavement as an actor. A strike by Actors’ Equity had dried up auditions, so I’d flown out to L.A. to see if I could drum up some work.

Daryl finished the hug and turned the vision around to meet me. I looked into her eyes for the first time and was a goner. Cupid used me for target practice.

Cindy—for that was, and is, her name—and I talked for a couple of hours, much of it over a bowl of peanut M&Ms in Daryl’s kitchen. We talked about Broadway and Sondheim and growing up in the San Fernando Valley. We shared funny anecdotes from our waitering stints. We even discovered we were on a similar spiritual journey. When Cindy mentioned she was thinking of attending church the next day, I adroitly suggested we go together and have brunch afterward.

Which is what we did.

Two and a half weeks later I asked her to marry me. Cindy wisely suggested we pump the brakes a bit. I cared not for brakes. I was doing 150 on the Ardor Motor Speedway. So I cajoled and coaxed. I even inveigled. And she finally said Yes.

Eight months later we were wed. It is still the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Astonishing, too, when I think of all the pieces that had to fall into place: Actors’ strike in New York, which is why I happened to be in L.A. Cindy told me later she almost didn’t make it to the party. She’d put in a hard day’s work performing with a song-and-dance troupe at Magic Mountain. She was just going to go home, but somehow missed her turn off the freeway and decided, what the heck, she was close to Daryl’s. She almost didn’t stay because there weren’t any parking spots on the street. But just before she drove off, one opened up. And then, of course, I happened to glance at the vision on the stairway at just the right time.

Life imitating art, wouldn’t you say? Our fiction is a series of moments that lead to other moments, a connecting of dots to form a pattern of our choosing. Forty years ago, a pattern chose Cindy and me. We’ve been working on that tapestry ever since, weaving in two children and three grandchildren.

This evening I will take my wife to a lovely, outdoor restaurant overlooking a lake. We will not talk of lockdowns or viruses or politics. We will talk—with gratitude—of forty years together. At one point I will mention, as I have many times in the past, that Cindy is a saint for being such a loyal life partner for one such as I.

And still a vision.

“To-may-to” or “To-mah-to”?

Photo by Tincho Franco from

A brain worm has occupied my cerebrum over the past couple of months. Its conception resulted from the death of a dear friend who was more than a decade older than I. His wife called to inform me of his passing and then proceeded to give me too much information as to what had occurred. They had apparently engaged in a bit of strenuous activity during the night and in the morning my friend failed to wake up. She felt that she was somewhat at fault. I assured her (while struggling to keep the smile out of my voice) that, even if she had been the cause of his departure, I was sure her late husband would have preferred that sendoff to, say, a fiery car crash (which is the comparison Richard Pryor made when his father passed under similar circumstances). 

My friend’s wife then asked me for some advice about his obituary. Her issue was whether she should say that my friend passed “suddenly” or “unexpectedly.” She was worried that someone might think that he had committed suicide and wanted to be sure she used the right word. My off-the-cuff response was that she should avoid using either and just list his date of birth as “sunrise” and his date of passing as “sunset.” She liked that and told me that her husband used to tell her that I always knew just what to say. 

I actually dodged a bullet. I was unsure about the answer to her question. I subsequently started to obsess over what the difference may or may not be when one uses either “suddenly” or “unexpectedly,” particularly when describing the occasion of a death. They seem to be used interchangeably, particularly when the individual being memorialized has voluntarily gone ahead, as it were. 

I’ve done a couple of deep research dives into the topic and found opinions to be all over the place. The two words appear to mean the same thing at times, though not always. My favorite passage in an English language novel, that being the conversation between Bill and Mike in The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, illustrates this. Mike, in response to a question from Bill, tells Bill that he went bankrupt “gradually, and then suddenly.” If Mike had used the word “unexpectedly” instead of “suddenly” it would have been wrong since if one starts to go bankrupt, the completion of the process is not unexpected, though it can happen suddenly. It’s different, however, in many other cases generally — an earthquake or tornado, to name but two — and in obituaries involving someone who takes their own life. It seems as if either adverb could appropriately be used.

I’ll apologize for being morbid, but when you are reading an obituary and see that someone died “unexpectedly” or “suddenly” do you assume that they passed of their own volition? Is one word more appropriate than the other in those cases?  Or do they usually mean the same thing? Is it a case of “to-may-to” vs. “to-mah-to”? You don’t have to justify your answer though I am sure the reasons one way or the other would certainly be interesting. 

Thank you. Be well, happy, and good to yourself. Remember the oxygen mask rule: put yours on first and then assist others. 

Photo by Pablo Heimplatz from

But wait! There’s more. I will be absent on Saturday, August 8, as I am relinquishing this space to the always quietly gracious Joe Moore, who will reflect on TKZ’s very special anniversary which happens to land on that date. I will also be gone on Saturday, August 22, when Lisa Black, one my favorite authors and people (as we all know, that isn’t always the same thing!), will be discussing a topic which provides the driving force behind Every Kind of Wicked, which is Book Six in her Gardiner and Renner series and which drops on August 25.  I’ll be back on September 5 and happy to see you.


Reader Friday: Writing From Emotions

Sue Grafton, Wikimedia Commons (Mark Coggins)

Before Sue Grafton hit with her alphabet series, she went through a bitter divorce. In an interview she said, “I used to lie in bed at night just thinking of ways to do him in. And I came up with some doozies. But I knew I was going to get caught at it because I credit the police with quite a bit of intelligence. And I knew I’d flub it. So I thought, why don’t I put this plot between the covers of a book and get paid for it? And that launched this whole new career.”

Have you ever written anything to more positively channel some of your, er, more antisocial emotions?

True Crime Thursday – Scams That Target Writers

Public domain, Winsor McCay, Dream of the Rarebit Fiend, 1909

By Debbie Burke



Like mosquitos in summer, scammers keep buzzing in with new tricks to suck the blood from writers. Here are three that recently hit my radar:

Scam #1 – We Pay You to Write!

A couple of months ago, several members of the Authors Guild received emails from individuals claiming to need articles or workbooks written for an upcoming seminar. The bait is a substantial fee and a promise of wider recognition through their organization. They may claim to have a disability, with the inference that if you write for them, you also enjoy the satisfaction of helping. Or…if you don’t write for their worthy cause, you should feel guilty. Con artists are masters at manipulation.

Here’s a sample invitation from “Paula Smith”:

Hello, My name is Paula, an academic consultant. I have a speech distorting condition called Apraxia. I got your contact details online and I need your service. Can you write an article on a specific topic for an upcoming workshop? The article is to be given as a handbook to the attendees of the workshop. I have a title for the article and have drafted an outline to guide you. Please get back to me for more information

(442) 278-5255


Fortunately, the author who received the solicitation investigated a little deeper and discovered “Paula’s” phone number had numerous complaints against it for fraud. A helpful resource to check out questionable phone numbers is

More writers added their suspicions to the Authors Guild discussion group but weren’t sure how the scam worked.

Then AG member and travel writer Lan Sluder offered the following enlightening explanation:

This is a scam that is well known in the hospitality (lodging) industry. The target is usually smaller inns, hotels and B&Bs. Someone makes what seems a legitimate reservation, often for several rooms, and pays by check or credit card. There are various versions, but typically the inn owner is overpaid or part of the reservation is cancelled or changed and the scammer wants a refund. Much later, the original credit or check payment is found to be invalid, and the inn owner is out hundreds or thousands of dollars. Some of these scammers are pretty clever, and it’s not always easy to tell an authentic reservation from a fake one. Occasionally, hotel owners or reservations offices are fooled into thinking it is an actual guest reservation.

I’ve written a number of travel guides and other travel books that review hotels so I get a lot of these scam emails due to mistakes by the less sophisticated scammers.

A similar scam exists targeting attorneys, CPAs and small businesses of all kinds. I guess now the scammers are starting to target writers.

Lan Sluder

Another AG poster who’s a member of the American Translators Association added that their members have also been targeted and shared the story of one victim. The scammer “overpaid” then asked the translator to wire money for the refund. Unfortunately, she did, shortly before the scam check bounced and she was out $2000.


Scam #2 – Fake Marketing Offers

These scammers keep reinventing themselves with different aliases and websites. Be wary of anyone who calls out of the blue or sends an email with wording similar to this:

Dear Author,

Our expert book scouts discovered your fabulous novel and we are excited to offer you an amazing opportunity. Because we believe so strongly in the bestseller potential of your book, we want to invest [fill in outrageous amount of money] in your marketing and publicity at absolutely no cost to you. We will reserve a place of honor for your book at the upcoming [fill in prestigious book fair or festival]. Your success will be our reward.


A Company That Believes in Your Fantastic Talent (smirking)

After a few more flattering emails, they swoop in for the kill shot:

We reaffirm you do not have to pay one penny for our fabulous marketing package because our faith in you is so strong. To be fair, we know you’ll want to contribute your part by paying the bargain registration fee of only [fill in hundreds to thousands of dollars].

Here’s a post from YA author Khristina Chess who was contacted by Readers Magnet. Interestingly, they claim to be accredited by the Better Business Bureau as of 2019. However this BBB link shows multiple complaints against them.

Here’s a list of companies that engage in practices that may technically be within the law but slide into slimy.




Before you engage any writing-related services, check them out on Writer Beware  whose mission is:  “Shining a bright light into the dark corners of the shadow-world of literary scams, schemes, and pitfalls.”

A big thank you to Writer Beware for watching out for writers!

Scam #3 – Impersonating Agents and Editors

Earlier this year, intrepid Victoria Strauss covered cases of scammers who assume the identity of legitimate agents or editors then contact unsuspecting authors. Of course, struggling writers are understandably thrilled to have a big-name agent contact them. Just be sure the person is who they claim to be. Here’s Victoria’s post.

On July 16, agent Victoria Marini @LitAgentMarini tweeted the following warning after learning someone had co-opted her name:

“It has come to my attention that someone is impersonating me online, likely in an attempt to scam writers. I am not associated with WritersDesk LLC, nor do I sell videos, materials, editorial work, or any other good or service. Many thanks to @victoriastrauss.”


Protect yourself from true crimes against writers. Always verify the source.


TKZers: Have you been solicited by questionable people or companies regarding your writing? Please share your experience and outcome.




Check out a devious scam with a unique twist in Debbie Burke’s thriller, Stalking Midas, available at this link.

If They Buy the Premise

If They Buy the Premise …
Terry Odell

A comment from my editor on my current manuscript, saying “This should have come up 200 pages ago” was a good reminder about using foreshadowing.

If they buy the premiseIn talking about comedy, Johnny Carson said, “If they buy the premise, they’ll buy the bit.”

The same goes for fiction. You have to sell the premise early on. You can’t stop to explain a character’s skill set, motivation, or fear at the height of the action. Nor can you bring in great-uncle Phineas in the last chapter of your mystery and reveal him as the killer. No fair using the deus ex machina method of resolving your story.

Consider Raiders of the Lost Ark. If the movie had opened with Indy in the classroom, would viewers have “bought” that he was really capable of everything he’d have to do in the movie? No, but by showing him in the field in a life-and-death situation first, we’ll accept that he’s a lot more than a mild mannered college professor.

Before James Bond pulls off his miracles, we’ve seen Q show him the gadgets that will save his life. We know MacGyver has a strong background in science, so he’s got the theory and knowledge to pull off his escapes using duct tape and a Swiss Army knife.

Foreshadowing isn’t only for the “Big Stuff,” though. You should consider making sure you’ve set things up for the “Little Stuff” as well. Think of setups as breadcrumbs you scatter for readers to follow.

You should set things up early on, and in a different context. Setup Scenes should occur throughout the book, and should set up minor plot points as well as major ones.

Example. In a scene from my When Danger Calls, my stalwart hero has been tasked with supervising two little girls who are playing with dolls. They come downstairs and show their mom the fancy braids he’s created.

Would my macho covert ops guy really know how to braid a doll’s hair, or did I stick it in because I thought it would be a cool way to move his relationship with the mom along? Would I have to stop the story to explain where he acquired the skill? Not if I’ve shown it, and better to do it in an entirely different context. Earlier in the book, readers see this:

Ryan leafed through the snapshots while he waited for the earth to start revolving again. He knew which one he wanted as soon as he saw it. He remembered the day it had been taken, right after he’d won third prize at the fair with Dynamite, his pony. He’d been so sure he’d get the blue ribbon and hadn’t wanted to pose for the family picture his grandfather insisted on taking. He saw the look in his mother’s eyes. So proud, she’d made him feel like he’d won first prize after all.

There’s no mention of him actually braiding the horse’s mane or tail, but it shows that he’s had experience with horses, all couched in a scene that’s about something entirely different—his emotional reaction to seeing old family photos.

Then, later in the book, when the girls display their dolls’ hairdos, Mom asks where Ryan learned to braid. One of the girls responds, “On real horses. He used to braid their hair. For shows.”

You’ve set the premise, so reader should buy the bit.

We know Indiana Jones is afraid of snakes at the very beginning of the movie. Because of that opening scene, we know to expect something with snakes, which adds to the tension.

Lee Child foreshadows almost everything he shows in his books. In Gone Tomorrow  a fellow passenger rambles on about the different kinds of subway cars in New York. That tidbit shows up front and center later on in a high-action climactic scene. And even the little things, that might not be significant plot points, such as the origin of the use of “Hello” to answer the phone will appear, letting the reader know that the character was paying attention, too.

What will lead to book-throwing by readers? How about this?

Hero and heroine are hiding and the villains are closing in. (Since I write romantic suspense as well as mystery, the genre requires both as protagonists, but it could be your hero and partner, or someone he’s been charged to protect.)

The hero is injured. He hands the heroine his gun and asks her if she can shoot. She says, “Of course. I’m a crack shot,” and proceeds to blow the villains away (or worse, has never handled a gun before, but still takes out the bad guys, never missing a shot). Not only that, but she is an expert in first aid and manages to do what’s necessary to save the hero’s life. Plus, she’s an expert trapper and can snare whatever creatures are out there. Or, maybe she has no trouble catching fish. And she can create a gourmet meal out of what she catches. All without disturbing her manicure or coiffure.

Believable? Not if this is the first time you’ve seen these traits. But what if, earlier in the book, the heroine is dusting off her shooting trophies, thinking about how she misses those days. Or she’s cleaning up after a fishing trip. Maybe she has to move her rock climbing gear out of her closet to make room for her cookbooks. You don’t want to dump an entire scene whose only purpose is to show a skill she’ll need later. Keep it subtle, but get it in there.

When you’re writing, it’s important to know what skills your characters need to possess. You might not know when you start the book, but if you’re writing a scene where one of these skills will move the story forward, and there’s no other logical way to deal with the plot, then you owe it to your readers to back up and scatter those breadcrumbs.

What about you? How do you make sure you’re not entering into deus ex machina territory? What kind of breadcrumbs do you scatter? How do you hide the clues?

Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.” Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.