What was your journey to becoming an author?
Back when I was a kid, I wrote stories for fun. It was a great escape and a wonderful creative outlet, but being a writer never seemed like a practical life path. After college, I went into the army, and from there, right into the police department, and spent the next three decades focused on those all-consuming careers. Once I retired and started teaching and consulting part time, I had dozens of stories swirling around inside my head. You can’t carry a badge and a gun for a living, handle hundreds of murder investigations, make thousands of arrests, and deal with people at their worst for a lifetime and not have stories.
I attended several writing workshops and courses and rediscovered the pleasure and freedom of writing fiction. As a writer, I got to control whether the detective solved the murder or not, something I couldn’t always accomplish when I worked homicide in the real world. When I realized how little I knew about writing, I enrolled in an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) Writing program. I learned that creative writing is incredibly difficult to do well, but with the help of some fellow students who were amazing writers and many extremely talented and patient faculty members at Western Connecticut, I got better at it.
I wrote a novel in the MFA program, and the first literary agent who read it wanted to represent me. She negotiated a 3-book deal with a New York Publisher, Crooked Lane Books, and the first novel hit the bookstores August 2015.
What makes your writing different from all the other mysteries and crime thrillers that are published every year?
I strive to write authentic crime novels. I know police procedures. I know what real homicide detectives and cops are like—how they think, feel, and act. I know how criminals think and operate. I know the difference between a .40 caliber Glock and a Smith & Wesson revolver, and know what it feels like to shoot both, and know what it feels like to hold one in my hand and search a pitch-dark building for an armed felon who swears he won’t be taken alive. Many writers have the skill to put words together in a way that readers understand, and many cops know the procedures about how investigations are done. In my writing, I try to capture those feelings that only cops who’ve worked the streets have experienced, put them into exciting stories filled with authentic procedures and characters in language that resonates with readers.
Is your main character, Sergeant Matt Sinclair, you?
Gosh no! All of the characters in my novels are fictional, yet they all include pieces, personality traits, or physical characteristics of people I’ve worked with or met during my career. I believe that every writer’s imagination stems from his or her life experiences, and my experiences are what makes my characters unique, yet authentic. But Sinclair is definitely not me. He’s much better looking, smarter, smoother with women, a better fighter, and a better shot. In some ways, he’s the perfect homicide detective; however, he has some character defects that make him human, interesting, and a royal pain in the ass to his superiors.
How many books have you written and what is the order?
- Red Line—August 2015
- Thrill Kill—August 2016
- Shallow Grave—July 2017
What advice can you give to others who want to become writers?
Read a lot and write a lot. Get unbiased and expert feedback on your writing through writing workshops, good writers groups, or college programs. If you have the time and resources, enroll in an MFA program and make learning how to write your full time job for a few years. Meanwhile, continue to read a lot and write a lot. Oh, yeah, and live life so you have something meaningful to write about.
You’ve experienced so much in your career, why don’t you write True Crime?
That’s too much like work to me. During my career, I wrote thousands of police reports and investigative reports. Some of my cases received a great deal of publicity and could provide the basis for good true crime books. Gary Rivlin wrote a true crime book, Drive-By, about one of my homicide cases back in the 90s. But I enjoy the freedom of writing fiction, where my story and the outcome are not constrained by the facts. In fiction, I don’t have to worry about upsetting people if I write unflattering things about them, because my characters are imaginary. I’ve written nonfiction articles and essays, and I may take steps to see them published sometime in the future or write others for a specific publishing market, but for now I’m focusing on writing fiction.