Wednesday, December 23, 2015

FINDING THE INNER COP

In March we’ll be publishing Connie Dial’s sixth thriller, Set the Night on Fire, all of them taking place in Los Angeles, where Connie, until retiring in 1999 (“on July fourth, my Independence Day!” she laughed), was the first female captain and later the first commanding officer in the Hollywood Division of the LAPD.  Four of her thrillers featured the ongoing story of Captain Josie Corsino...with Fallen Angels (2012), Dead Wrong (2013), and Unnatural Murder (2014) preceding Set the Night on Fire

It’s been our pleasure and privilege to meet her at mystery conferences, know her, publish her, and find so many readers have shared our pleasure when reading her mysteries. With that, I turn this blog over to Connie.

*         *         *

“I never thought of myself as a cop who became an author, but rather a writer who, until her adventure bug had been thoroughly satisfied, couldn’t sit still long enough to do the thing she loved. A lifetime of notebooks full of short stories, poems, plays and even a few book manuscripts tucked away in my file cabinet was a constant reminder of a habit I never could or really wanted to kick.  My writing obsession always made me think of an alcoholic who stashes bottles around the house to sneak a sip now and then.

“Journalism was supposed to be the perfect answer to my dilemma, but after several years I found investigative reporting wasn’t nearly as satisfying as the characters and stories I could create in my imagination, and the excitement level never met my expectations.  Police work on the other hand turned out to be an adrenaline junkie’s dream—going to work every day looking for trouble, driving fast with lights and sirens, shooting guns, and chasing bad guys.  No need to make it up.  I was living the dream.

“After nearly thirty years in law enforcement, the desire to write finally grew stronger than my fascination with adventure, and I discovered that all those hours spent scraping parasites off society’s underbelly wasn’t wasted. It exposed me to some of humanity’s finest and nastiest moments and best of all provided a cornucopia of ideas for plot and character.  

“Usually cops interact with people who have had something out of the ordinary happen in their lives, sending them to the police for help, empathy or in too many cases plain old vengeance.   I’ve seen more than my share of dead bodies and gore, gone to too many funerals, but there were those amazing acts of courage rarely observed outside life and death situations.  My stress level bounced up and down at least a hundred times each day, but within every interaction, every bit of fear, excitement, and aggravation was a potential story. 

“I was lucky. As one of the first women patrol officers in LA, I was exposed to a lot before the nature of police work changed.  In the early seventies, Los Angeles was a little reminiscent of the Old West. My first night out of the police academy involved a foot chase, a pursuit, a shooting, and our cruiser was involved in a traffic accident. And it only got better. I worked undercover intelligence and participated in a group that wanted to overthrow the US government. We went to jail together after a particularly violent demonstration and I was one of the few cops who knew what it felt like to get hit with a police baton, gassed, handcuffed and thrown in the back of a paddy wagon.   

“My time as a detective in narcotic enforcement supplied a feast of characters.  I had an informant who suggested my partner and I take out a life insurance policy on him. He expected to be killed 
but couldn’t resist the urge to snitch. I worked undercover and bought heroin from Jimmy Lee Smith the police killer in Joseph Wambaugh’s non-fiction book The Onion Field.  Just before we arrested him, he told me he’d never go back to prison because he could always spot a cop and would never get caught again.  

“Almost every cop will tell you he or she has a great idea for a book. They probably do. Real life is stranger and sometimes a lot funnier than fiction.   However, most of them quickly discover that the idea is the easy part; writing is much harder.   My first manuscript was over four hundred pages. Practically everything I knew about police work got into those pages. It was a good story but also a wordy primer on how to do a murder investigation.  Paul Bishop, a very fine writer who also happened to be an LAPD detective, agreed to read it and gave me some great advice.  He told me to find the story buried under all that procedural stuff and he was right.  

“One of the questions I’m always asked is, “What bothers you most about the way writers portray the police?”  The answer is easy—just about everything.  I’m certain doctors and lawyers feel the same way about their professions.  It’s difficult to reproduce the true nature of what it’s like to be a cop even if you’ve experienced it.  I try to give readers a peek into that world and they tell me there’s authenticity.  That’s gratifying because most civilians and a lot of authors have formed their impression of detectives and the work they do from books or movies.  Those characters usually display a litany of psychological defects and seriously need an AA sponsor.  They’d survive about a day in any legitimate police department.

“Granted, there must be something different about a person who would want to do police work.  Trust me, I speak from hours of soul searching and self-analysis, but limiting a detective’s personality to a few external characteristics does that investigator a great disservice.  

“The best cops I know do their jobs knowing that in today’s world they are walking targets. They love police work, and their gallows humor is recognition of how tenuous life on the streets can be. They have an urgency to live fully at an accelerated pace and do most things such as loving, playing, drinking, as if they might not have another opportunity.  They might not. Camaraderie comes from a dependence on each other to stay alive, not a code of silence, and fear is unacceptable. They are warriors who feel the need to help others as much as the desire to battle criminals. They’re complicated and need to be written that way.” 

*         *         *

I HOPE YOU WILL POST YOUR COMMENTS HERE. If you wish to reach Connie directly, you can email her at conniedial06@aol.com

We’ll be taking a two-week break from posting these weekly blogs and resume them again on January 13. 

If any of you, dear readers, want to contribute to these blogs, contact me directly at shepard@thepermanentpress.com and send me your suggestions during the interim, since none of us working here are taking two-week vacations. Anyone who has blogged before and has something new to add is also welcomed back.

Wishing you all a good holiday season and a rewarding 2016.

Marty

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