MY FIRST NOVEL
MY FIRST NOVEL
Technically, my first novel was a title in the Diamondback series of adult westerns. Written under the house pseudonym Pike Bishop, the series of paperback originals was created by Raymond Obstfeld and published by Pinnacle. My entry was Diamondback #6: Shroud of Vengeance. It featured plenty of six-gun and sagebrush action built around the two required explicit sex scenes – the raison d’etre for the very existence of the successful adult western genre.
I would never disparage the genre or disavow my connection to it, but despite my gratitude to Ray Obstfeld for taking a chance on a novice, and the coolness of the Pike Bishop pseudonym echoing my name, I actually consider Citadel Run to be my first novel – I created the characters, the plot was uniquely mine, there were no required sex scenes to wedge in, and my real name was right there on the covers of both the hardback and the paperback.
To understand how Citadel Run evolved, I need to digress. In 1977, I joined the Los Angeles Police Department. As I moved from uniformed patrol to the detective squad, I still pursued my writing aspirations on the side. For most writers, life necessitates another career – one that pays the bills, provides health insurance, and has all the other perks of a real job.
Still, I’ve always considered myself a very lucky guy being able juggle two careers and doing the work I enjoy – putting villains in jail and putting words on paper. One career is a lot more dangerous, but it is also a lot more financially secure. I spent thirty-five years with the LAPD. For thirty of those years, I also worked as a professional writer, completing twelve published novels, multiple hours of episodic television, and a produced feature film.
Police and detective work often fed my creative muse, but there were also many times the creativity I honed as a writer led to a breakthrough in a case. This was particularly true in the latter part of my LAPD career as I moved deeper and deeper into the art of interrogation.
When I joined the LAPD in 1977, Joseph Wambaugh was my writing idol. He was and continues to be the gold standard against which all other police writers are judged. Wambaugh’s early novels, including The New Centurions, The Onion Field, and The Blue Knight, influenced both my writing and my police career. I was already on track from an early age to pursue both of my chosen professions, but Wambaugh’s books were the light in the window guiding me home.
Wambaugh is a great storyteller. He also tells stories in a complex, layered, provoking manner which elevates his prose into the stratosphere of literature. Wambaugh knows cops at a primal level. He also knows how to capture them on the page in all their flawed glory.
However, in my era of LAPD’s history, things were changing fast. The Wam-boys – cops who woke up hungover in beds other than their own, spent all day trying to get and keep their act together while dealing with the worst denizens of LA’s gutters, and then drowning it all in a bottle of forget juice at night – were not the cops I saw daily working around me.
The era of Wambaugh’s choirboys was transforming into a sharper, harder, more professional LAPD as the demands of the job itself changed. There were still colorful characters within the ranks, but the harsh penalties for questionable behavior dampened all but the most innocuous hijinks. It wasn’t anywhere near as much fun as Wambaugh’s generation of cops, but it did provide me with a different perspective and approach to bring to my own cop novels.
While I aspired to Wambaugh’s artistic prose, I had to earn my own chops and skills first. This explains my foray into the adult western genre, however, Diamondback was a far cry from the brilliance and emotional power of The Onion Field.
While I had always read voraciously and widely in an autodidactic manner, it was the world of hardboiled mysteries, high adventure novels, and pulp that sparked my imagination. If I was going to find my own unique voice as a writer, I had to find a way to marry my Wambaugh-like aspirations with my love of popular fiction – and I thought I had found just the story I needed to do it.
While my early years with the LAPD might have been the tail-end of the wild days Wambaugh had chronicled so assiduously, but there was still some bite left in the dog. As a rookie I often heard rumors and stories about Morning Watch (graveyard shift) patrol cops driving, while on-duty and in their police cars, to either Tijuana or Vegas and back in one shift. All the other Morning Watch cops would cover for them by handing any calls for service assigned to the missing unit (in those days, all on-duty cops heard every call for service over the radio in their divisions and could buy calls from other units). The cops doing the run would get their photo taken (remember Polaroids?) with their patrol car prominently displayed outside a Vegas Casino or behind a guy in a sombrero leading a moth-eaten donkey. Proof of the deed was always needed.
Since the statute of limitations hasn’t run, I’m not going to admit to any involvement in these types of outrageous japes. However, from the first time I heard about a run, I knew I had a never before told story. This was as valuable as all the gold in Fort Knox to a novelist with grand aspirations.
Like with any great idea, the hard work of turning it into a story was still ahead. I knew I had to up the odds to create conflict, so I turned my fictional run to the Citadel Casino in Vegas into a grudge match between two sets of police partners.
I knew my hero, Calico Jack Walker, was an old school cop – so old school, he is only a week away from retirement. If he were to get caught doing something as foolish and out of policy as driving to Vegas and back in his police car, he could lose his pension. This was something Calico’s brown-nosing, politically crawling, promotion lusting sergeant, Sal Fazio, would love to see happen. Fazio hated the freewheeling and popular Calico for any number of reason – plus he’s dating Calico’s ex-wife.
Alright, conflict and confrontation, but I still needed more. Enter Tina Tamiko, Calico’s Asian rookie partner.
In 1977, women were only just making inroads into the department. A lot of old time cops were virulently against what they saw as an invasion of their testosterone loaded men only club. There was a lot of grumbling about how a female partner couldn’t cover your back in a physical confrontation, shouldn’t be doing a man’s job, and were far too emotional – and that was just the tip of the iceberg of sexist ignorance. Since those days, it has become clear having women on the job has proven to be one of the best things to ever happen to law enforcement. However, Citadel Run was set in less enlightened times.
What I wanted was for Tina Tamiko to be the complete opposite of what the male chauvinist old school cops were expecting. What I didn’t want was for Calico to be one of those male chauvinists. I wanted him to be evolved enough to see through sexism and judge his partner by how she did her job, not by the fact she didn’t have man bits down below.
While I didn’t want to create the typical partnership clash standard in bad police movies, I also didn’t want a May/December romance to develop between Calico and Tina. Both approaches were too cliché, and I was determined not to go there. But here’s the rub so many writers have come up against – sometimes your characters just won’t do what you want them to do.
The more I fought against Calico and Tina becoming romantically involved, the harder the two characters fought to get together. My battle with them created a bonus of unexpected tension, but it was still a battle I was destined to lose. Calico was non-judgmental and willing to give his new partner a chance. Tina was very confident and competent while being respectful (and a little in awe) of Calico’s legacy. But as the pages flowed, the characters grew on the page to take on a life of their own. Calico came to be completely sold on Tina’s abilities and intelligence. Tina knew she had to cover her more experience partner’s back – even if it meant saving him from himself or going down in flames with him.
Then the story hit a major snag. Driving from LAPD’s Van Nuy’s Division to Vegas and back during an eight hour and forty-five minute shift was a high speed, sit down, shut up, and hang on endeavor. It was also kind of boring if there was no time for anything fun and dangerous to happen along the way.
This niggled at me and niggled at me until my subconscious set free a solution – Morning Watch always has an extra hour added onto their shift when the clocks are set back for daylight savings time! I knew if I openly addressed the time crunch in the story then explained about the extra hour, I could have all kinds of things happen along the way. It didn’t matter if these things added more time than an hour. I had given readers a way to willingly suspend their disbelief – which is all you can ask of somebody entering your fictional world.
Energized, I went back to outlining the story, which was the process I followed when I started writing novels. Soon, however, another issue raised its ugly head. I had created an action piece akin to the popular fictions I loved, but what I hadn’t done was bring a different level of meaning to the story as Wambaugh always did.
I couldn’t see it then, but what I needed was actually already in my outline. I fretted for a while until I finally asked myself what my story was about. It was about two sets of battling cops racing each other to Vegas and back, in their patrol cars, during one Morning Watch shift, wasn’t it? That certainly was the framework of the story, but was there something deeper?
When Wambaugh writes about cops he takes readers past the badge to the human behind it – to what made the human a cop and price paid for being a cop. Wambaugh’s focus usually involved damaged individuals, often corrupted by the things they saw and the work they did. I knew some cops like that, but the cops and detectives I admired were different. They weren’t screw-ups, they didn’t take the law into their own hands, and they never stop pursuing their altruistic goal of helping others. They were good cops. They kept their integrity and always did the right thing – even when it was hard or came at a personal cost.
So, what was it inside the man or woman behind the badge that made a good cop good?
I looked at my outline and there it was…When our heroes and villains arrive in front of the Citadel Casino, they realize there is a major robbery going down not just in the Citadel, but up and down the Vegas Strip. Villains doing what villains do immediately started hauling ass back to LA with a few minutes lead.
But what would good cops do and, more importantly, why?
Calico Jack Walker was a good cop. So was his partner, Tina Tamiko. There was a crime going down. They are way out of their jurisdiction. But people are in trouble and there is nobody else to help. Good cops run toward gunfire not away – no matter what the cost to them personally.
That’s what I wanted to write about. That was the layer behind the action. It wasn’t at the level of what Wambaugh does, but it was in the right direction. I couldn’t write a Joe Wambaugh novel. But I could write the best Paul Bishop novel I was capable of writing at the time.
Was the writing easy after my epiphany? No, because I was reaching out of my comfort zone, pushing myself to be a better writer. Eventually, however, I’d sat my butt in front of my small K-Pro computer screen enough times to finally type the end in little green phosphorous letters. Many times this is where the difficult mountain of finding a publisher rears up, but I had a secret weapon.
Michael Siedman was a popular and successful mystery editor at Tor Books. I had met him once at Bouchercon – the annual world mystery convention. Sitting in the bar one evening, I had explained the rough outline of Citadel Run. Michael was kind enough or drunk enough to tell me to send it to him when I finished it. I’m sure he never expected me to finish the book as most aspiring novelists never get past the aspiring part. I chose to take him at his word.
I called the number on the business card he had given me. Michael answered.
I said, “This is Paul Bishop.”
Michael asked, “Who?”
“I’m the LAPD cop who met you last year at Bouchercon. You told me if I ever finished my book you would take a look at it…”
“I did?” Michael’s reaction was not helpful.
“Er…yes…” I was beginning to understand the depth of my naiveté.
“Was I drunk at the time?”
“Ah, then you do know me.” Michael’s voice became friendlier. He then uttered a magic incantation by saying, “Okay, send me your manuscript.”
I immediately boxed up the unbound pages with return postage, and sent it out into the wilds of the publishing world. Three weeks later to the day, Michael called me. “I love the book,” he said. “We want to publish it.” I was elated, but them Michael said, “And we want a sequel. When can you have it to us?”
It was a good thing I was near a chair. A sequel? How the hell was I going to write a sequel? I’d put everything I knew into the first book. What was I going to write about? Then a little voice in my head said, “How about what makes bad cops bad?” And suddenly, I was beginning to see the outline of Sand Against The Tide.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Novelist, screenwriter, and television personality, Paul Bishop spent 35 years with the Los Angeles Police Department, where he was twice honored as Detective of the Year. He continues to work privately as a deception expert. His fifteen novels include five in his LAPD Homicide Detective Fey Croaker series. His latest novel, Lie Catchers, begins a new series featuring top LAPD interrogators Ray Pagan and Calamity Jane Randall. www.paulbishopbooks.com , Twitter @bishsbeat, Facebook, Amazon