"Well, what will you do with all your time now? I know you don't play golf." I was talking to one of my first supervisors on the day he officially pulled the pin.
"The first thing I'm going to do is finish the book I started a year ago," he replied.
"I had no idea you were writing a book." I answered.
"No, I'm not writing a book. I'm reading one."
"That's very funny," I said with a laugh, as if I had never heard the joke before. I've taken a lot of ribbing from fellow officers about my writing career and jokes don't bother me at all. What really does bother me is to see a fellow cop coming towards me with a real manuscript in hand. And it happens more often than you might think. Maybe it's a normal thing in all professions and would happen to a banker if he began to write books. I can't say. There are most definitely a lot of cops and former cops out there who write, or at least start writing books. Since I'm the only writer a lot of cops know personally, guess who they track down for help in getting published?
It doesn't seem like much of a favor to most cops. After all, it's just (ital.one) book. I really feel bad when I have to say no. And I've learned to do it, for several reasons: It's time- consuming and I can't afford it; I'm not an editor and have no such skills; even if it's the best thing I've ever read, I can only do what the author would have to do, anyway, which is send it to a real publisher and editor; but most of all, I hate having to tell friends and colleagues that they don't write very well.
Most people wouldn't get upset if you told them that they couldn't play the saxophone skillfully on the first try. And most individuals wouldn't be disturbed if you told them they would have to learn karate before competing in a tournament or that they must learn to draw before they become artists. But for some reason, a lot of people think they can just sit down and write a best-selling book with no preparation at all. There are a lot of cops in that group.
Maybe you do have a best-selling book inside you. I don't know. Joseph Wambaugh made his reputation from the first novel he published. He was in a tiny minority, however. And I have no idea how many books he wrote -- if any -- before hitting the bestseller list with "The New Centurions." My educated guess is that Brother Wambaugh worked very hard for a long time before he became a published author. It's not an immutable law of nature but it's the way the writing business usually goes.
It took me over 20 years to become an overnight success as a writer. One year I papered my bedroom with rejection slips from book publishers and magazine editors. And while I was doing this work, nobody was paying me or even patting me on the back. After 12 published books, uncounted magazine articles and 10 years with a weekly column in a major daily paper, I'm still not rich. In fact, almost all freelance writers I know have day jobs or pensions or rich spouses to keep them from starving.
I have been very fortunate. My day job as a police officer was also the place where I gathered most of my material. But I was a writer long before I pinned on my star. For years I kept telling newspaper reporters and magazine writers that I was a writer who became a cop, not vice versa. But you know what? None of them ever listened because "cop-turned-writer" sounded a lot
more dramatic than the truth.
Every profession has its own style of writing. Lawyers fill their briefs with "therefores ," "hereafters," and "if the court pleases." Cops lace their reports with "the suspect was traveling west" or "the subject was observed in possession of a thermonuclear device," or whatever. When most people sit down to write creatively, their prose sounds pretty much like their daily reports. City cops, deputy sheriffs, park rangers, state troopers, federal agents and probably animal control officers all tend to write the same way.
I know this for a fact because after my first book hit the stores, my publisher was flooded with manuscripts by cops and former cops. He told me that most of the manuscripts sounded as if they had been written by the same person, and that he was sending out a letter to very would-be author explaining that he already had one cop writer and it wouldn't be ethical to
The truth is, I knew if a better cop writer came along, I'd be dropped in a heartbeat because the publishing world, in its own way, can be just as tough as the streets. There's no quarter asked and none given. It's a struggle for survival.
David Hunter is a retired detective and the author of several books. His e-mail address is: email@example.com