Frank Zafiro writes gritty crime fiction from both sides of the badge. He was a police officer from 1993 to 2013, holding many positions and ranks. He retired as a captain. He is the award-winning author of over forty novels, most of them crime fiction. You can find out more at http://frankzafiro.com
On October 4, 2023, my novel, All the Forgotten Yesterdays, the fourteenth installment of my popular River City series, will be released. When I wrote the first book in the series, Under a Raging Moon, back in 1995, I couldn’t have predicted that I’d still be writing about these characters almost three decades later.
But I’m glad I am.
River City is a police procedural series that follows an ensemble cast of officers, detectives, and even leaders as they face a different challenge each time out. To date, RCPD has encountered robbers, kidnappers, rapists, gangsters, a school shooting, a serial killer, a terrible chief of police, and more. Through it all, one of my intentions was to show these events in a realistic light. In fact, these books have been favorably compared to the works of Joseph Wambaugh and Ed McBain in that respect—high praise, if you ask me. One reader called them “a paperback ride-along, ” which also sums it up well.
In the beginning, I thought I’d be focusing mostly on a young patrol cop named Stefan Kopriva. But by the time I hit the second book, Kopriva’s fate on the department was already sealed (though he lives on in a spinoff series, the Stefan Kopriva mysteries). Another officer, Katie MacLeod, rose to the forefront. And while she was certainly first among equals, I spent considerable time with a half dozen other characters—the veteran Thomas Chisolm, partners Anthony Battaglia and Connor O’Sullivan, and police leader Lieutenant Robert Saylor, to name a few.
That’s not to mention a score of others that the reader gets to know less well but still interacts with. Then add in the fact I’ve written enough short stories in this setting to fill more than three collections, and the result is that the River City canvas is heavily painted upon. (The nice thing about the short stories is that it allows me to explore main characters more deeply at times, and at others, to explore characters who don’t get to be stars in the novels but do in their own short story).
The River City timeline starts in 1994 with the first novel. The newest book, All the Forgotten Yesterdays, is set in 2010. That’s sixteen in-universe years. A lot of things change in sixteen years (especially when it’s been twenty-eight years for me in our world!). I’ve made sure these changes are reflected in the series. New technologies and tactics emerge. There are marriages, retirements, and even deaths. No one is safe from the ravages of time.
Katie MacLeod was in the very first book, and by the third book, she had emerged as the core character of the series. Even so, she sometimes plays a minor role in certain books, such as her sole appearance, Chisolm’s Debt. In other outings, she is the POV for the entire book—this is true in The Worst Kind of Truth and again in All the Forgotten Yesterdays. She will retain her status as a major POV for the next couple, as well.
But time marches on. More than half of the officers prominently featured in the first book have either retired, been promoted, or are dead. It’s been difficult to say goodbye to them, whether that was due to their demise or simply because their new position meant I wasn’t going to be featuring them nearly as much. This is the pain I’m referring to in the title of this essay.
The steady march of time also requires rookies to join the department and graduate to veterans. As Katie’s role changes, new officers fill in her old roles—whether as a patrol officer or a detective. Getting to know these new officers and introducing them slowly over the course of several books, is one aspect of that joy I referred to in the title.
Does this require knowing where things are going for the next seven or eight books? If you’re not an outliner, this might sap the fun of creation for you. I’m not an extensive outliner myself—more of a note-taker—but I have to say I have found it at least as satisfying to view my series through the meta lens as through the micro.
In the micro, I’m right there on the street with the characters in each individual book, reveling in the details that make for good police procedurals. That experience is about moments.
In the macro, I get to see the long view of things and explore the journey and the ultimate fates of these fictional characters. That experience is about the years, even the decades.
Honestly, there is joy and pain in both elements. Here’s what I mean: I’ve only been moved to tears while writing a scene on two occasions. The first was in the fourth entry of the series, And Every Man Has to Die. As the title suggests, someone does die. Writing that scene—indeed, reading it back to my wife later on—choked me up and brought tears to my eyes. It was all pain.
The other instance was in The Worst Kind of Truth, which I wrote eleven years later. This time, the scene was a wedding. Now, I don’t normally cry at weddings. But this one was a long time coming. It tied directly back to that death in book four and represented a sort of healing without forgetting. Thus, it was both happy and bittersweet. Pain and joy, you see.
I think, in the end, what it comes down to is this: after spending almost three decades of my life with these characters and shepherding them through almost two decades of their own fictional lives, I’ve come to see them as being real. I know it’s a writer’s worst cliché, but it is absolutely true. And because their journey hasn’t been a static one, but has passed through time and events as well, there has been plenty of opportunity for both pain and joy to occur.
But, on balance, mostly… joy.
(Note: Even though this is #14 in the series, each volume stands alone, too. You can start anywhere in the series, but if you want to experience what I just wrote about, I suggest going back to number one).
email: email@example.com (or contact button on website)
Buy ALL THE FORGOTTEN ESTERDAYS: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BSB6HFPJ
Check out the whole River City series: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07PRDW2SN