I was a cop for twenty-eight years, until two heart attacks killed me in 2013. I was not allowed to continue serving and left the Alexandria Police Department. And, apparently, most of my friends. That brotherhood thing we like to tell about police work doesn’t always hold true, and I remain close to only five former partners among the more than 500 I served with over the years. But in my new world…
When I retired, I wrote a book and, in so doing, crossed over into a world of kindness and support and friendship that I never imagined existed. I found that writers are the most fraternal, maternal, and inclusive subset of society. I count dozens of new friends I’ve met since jumping ship, supportive of efforts, critical when appropriate (always valuable, though not always comfortable), good for a beer or coffee or lunch, trusted to show up for book launches and readings. Among the dozens, I will here mention three, though future columns may highlight others.
After I wrote my book, finishing it two years after retirement with no idea at all how to proceed, I read a thriller from an author I admired and noticed in his biography that he both lived in my town and had an email listed. I wrote and asked him to lunch and was astounded when he agreed. I mean, published author,to me a god among us here, deigning to waste time on a tyro. Tom Young was kind, thoughtful, interested in me and my beginning new career. And he flew and writes about airplanes! I love airplanes, and am (cough cough) a flyer myself, (if fifteen minutes in a Waco biplane at an airshow counts. But I held the stick and pushed the pedals and made a climbing turn. Thrilling for me if not for my wife Ruth, who didn’t know I’d signed up for the acrobatic ride until we recovered from a fairly lurid hammerhead stall.) Tom has written five in a series about Air Force navigator Michael Parson and Army warrior Sophia Gold and, more recently, two outstanding near-real World War Two flying novels. His first Parson/Gold thriller THE MULLAH’S STORM hooked me, and I’ve read every one since, with his full name of Thomas W. Young on the cover of that first book but subsequently shortened because the publisher thought Tom Young looked better. Publishers. Can’t live without them, or can you? See below.
Tom gave me the advice that started me down the path to published author: go to conferences, meet authors and agents, listen, and ask questions. Conferences? I went to Thrillerfest, the annual conference of International Thriller Writers in Manhattan, and had a ball. I walked around like a tourist among more of those aforementioned gods, and they talked to me. Me! At Thrillerfest I learned some of the business of the craft, attended panel discussions on writing action, using location, humanizing characters and punching up plot, and discovered what would eventually become my publisher – after about one hundred rejections.
I also met Ed Aymar, when he spoke on a panel about noir in fiction. Noir is a genre of dark and uncertain anti-heroes and violence into which, I decided, my book fit. He mentioned he was from the DC area – hey, me too – and he invited me to an event called Noir at the Bar, wherein writers read short selections to, one hopes, an appreciative crowd. Writers gathering, in public, applauding each other’s work? Unheard of, but there would be beer. I attended, had a ball, and was invited to read a short story at a subsequent event. I’d never written a short story. Hmm.
Ed writes devastatingly good short stories and novels under the pen names E. A. Aymar and E. A. Barnes. I read his YOU’RE AS GOOD AS DEAD on the train home from NYC after Thrillerfest meeting him and couldn’t even get up to eat, it trapped me so. Maybe the third most exciting book I’ve ever read (up there with THE EIGER SANCTION and THE GUNS OF NAVARONE.) And, of all wrong things, the middle in a trilogy, the worst way to start a new author, but it still grabbed me. And choked me nearly to death. Not intimidating at all to read my first short story in front of him. Turned out ok, got applause. A guy in the crowd said it was great and I should submit it to The Strand magazine. Like I knew what The Strand was, or who he was. He turned out to be James Grady, author of SIX DAYS OF THE CONDOR among other thrillers. I see him often and he knows my name. I don’t bow, anymore. (By the way, that story, Stay Here, Honey, appears in this year’s anthology from the Bouchercon mystery conference, called THE LAND OF 10,000 THRILLS, and is listed on my In Print page. You can buy it!) Ed is one of the kindest and most giving and supportive writers I know.
My third name today crosses over from police work to writing. Angelow Three (that’s a pen name, he’s shy) is an officer I worked with in Patrol, now a detective. After I retired and said I was trying to write, he reached out and offered encouragement, information and advice. I didn’t know till then that he had written an amazing rule-breaking novel that’s part coming-of-age, part romantic/erotic thriller, part stream of consciousness that dazzles, called SEARCHING FOR IT. Understand, this just isn’t done. The wall between a lowly patrolman and a very senior lieutenant, albeit retired, is rarely breached and I’ve always admired Angelow for risking rejection by reaching out. His advice on self-publishing was advanced for its day eight years ago and still bears examination as I creep closer to finishing by Book Two and loosing it on the world. He remains a source of information and plot points on investigative tactics (I was never a detective, though my characters play them in books) and a good friend.
Two worlds, as I said. My point? In the writing world I have dozens of good friends, close enough to visit and drink with and share lives with. From the cops, where I spent twenty-eight years. I count five remaining friends. Two pairs of married ex-cops who I see often and count among my best friends. Angelow Three. Maybe a handful of friendly others who are more than acquaintances and coworkers but with whom I’m not as close.
It should be noted that I am not the same person I was as a cop. Kinder, gentler, less aggravating and aggravated and angry, all of these. There is documentation that going through major heart surgery can change personalities, and I am different than I was, as my family can attest. They, of course, are also glad I am out of the line of fire, the chilling, fearful effect of which I had blinded myself to all my career and which they hid out of love for me. But I also note that when I left the police department, changed or not, few “friends” kept in touch.
Part of it may be due to the near-death experience I survived (for more, see my blog What I Did On My Summer Vacation, April 2015). I am a happier man with an eat-dessert-first outlook. My writer friends got to meet the new, improved me, lucky for them.
But, mostly, lucky for me.
(Future columns may highlight other writer friends, including but not limited to Paul M. Day, Sherry Harris, Colleen Shogan and Jeffrey James Higgins, each for different reasons, all worth examining.)