Frank Scalise (Frank Zafiro) served with the Spokane Police Department from 1993 to 2013, holding many different positions and ranks. He retired as a captain. He writes gritty crime fiction from both sides of the badge. He is the author of over thirty-five novels, including the River City series of police procedurals and his hardboiled SpoCompton series. In addition to writing, Frank hosts the crime fiction podcast Wrong Place, Write Crime. He is an avid hockey fan and a tortured guitarist. He currently lives in Redmond, Oregon.
I spent twenty years and a day as a police officer. Along the way, I had a lot of the experiences that many police officers encounter, from the mundane to the extraordinary, from the sad to the scary, from the frustrating to the satisfying.
As a lifelong writer, I saw these experiences through that additional artistic lens. So when I started publishing short stories in 2004, it was no surprise that most of them were crime fiction. By the time I retired in 2013, I’d written dozens of stories and ten or so novels. Since then, I’ve added to that catalog, putting my novel count at around thirty-five.
But the latest one, The Ride-Along, may be my most important one yet.
Before you think that is an ego-driven, self-promoting bit of hyperbole, let me add that I don’t think everything I have to say is important. Most of it is just like the things we all say—in other words, the stuff of daily life. My books are meant to entertain and make readers feel and occasionally think a little—this one is different.
As police-involved deaths gained more and more public attention and this subject became a consistent (and loud) part of public discourse, I found myself in an uncommon position.
On the one hand, I’d done the job of law enforcement for two decades. My roles were many and varied, including the heavy lifting of patrol and investigations and leadership. Almost immediately after retiring, I embarked on a four-year mini-career teaching police leadership all over the US and Canada. As a result, I knew the profession well.
So I was frustrated by the lack of understanding shown by much of the public when it came to the job. By this, I mean everything from the ludicrous “shoot ’em in the leg after you kick the knife from his hand” crowd to those with more grounded criticisms. It wasn’t necessarily that they didn’t sometimes have valid points. It was that they were uninformed when it came to the realities of actual police work, and this lack of understanding often resulted in a wide swath of cops being seen in a bad light. Since I’ve known, and sometimes worked closely with, hundreds of men and women in the profession, I knew the high quality of dedicated people doing this difficult job. So that frustrated me.
At the same time, as I got a little distance from the day-to-day workings of the job—and, frankly, outside of the echo chamber of the profession—I saw places where we didn’t do things well. A fair chunk of this revolved around poor communication, or the lack of, with the public. In other words, we don’t do ourselves any favors with the attitude of “we don’t need to explain this to you.”
Some of the prevailing attitudes in the profession seemed wrong to me, too. Same with some of the overarching strategies that have been in place for decades. It seemed clear to me that law enforcement needed to change.
To be fair, we ask a lot of our cops. Some of those tasks would be better done by other professionals, with the result being a) better service delivery to the citizen and b) better use of our law enforcement resources elsewhere.
These two competing frustrations combined to create the most significant frustration of all. That was, I saw hardly anyone actually discussing the issue with the goal of understanding and problem-solving. Instead, things devolved into entrenched political positions. People debated with sound bites and chanted slogans. The best you could hope for was that they’d wait until the other party had finished speaking before launching into a diatribe… but most people sought to drown out the other instead. This tendency existed all across the opinion spectrum.
That wasn’t merely frustrating. It was maddening.
No one was listening.
So I wrote a book that forced people to listen to each other. I put two characters—a police officer and a police reformer—into the same patrol car for an entire graveyard shift. Due to their opposing views, sparks fly… and not the romantic kind.
Make no mistake; this is still a procedural. The officer and the ride-along go on calls for service. But they also talk. They get angry. They are challenged. But… they also listen a little bit.
My goal in writing this book was to fairly present the ideas of both characters. Both are good people with strong convictions. Neither is a straw man for the other to beat up on and then convince of his/her views. Both get the opportunity throughout the book to tell their own truths.
It’s a bit of a spoiler here, but both also have moments in which they pause and actually consider what the other has said.
his isn’t a Pollyanna, Kum-bay-yah novel. There are ragged edges. After all, it is a Charlie-316 novel, and anyone reading the first four containing the Tyler Garrett arc will know better than to expect something utopian. But it does represent two people doing something I wish more of us would do, myself included.
Have an honest, hard conversation that includes listening as much as—or more than—speaking.
I’ve outlined the premise of The Ride-Along already, but for the sake of clarity, here’s the description:
The Tyler Garrett scandal rocked the Spokane Police Department two years ago. Now, a consent decree governs the agency, with Washington D.C. directing its reform. It’s a tumultuous time in the city, and public outcry over local and national events is high.
Change is in the air.
Officer Lee Salter is a third-generation cop who bleeds blue. Amid the departmental chaos, he does the only thing he can—be a good officer. That means showing up for every shift, responding to calls for service, and always doing the right thing. All the while, the Department of Justice and its local supporters hope to catch another officer in its net of reform.
Salter refuses to be that officer.
Melody Weaver is a teacher and activist who believes in a better way. Despite her demanding profession, she dedicates herself to the cause of reshaping policing in her city so that the terrible events—both local and national—can stop. To understand what needs to change, she needs to see the reality of the job up close.
That means a ride-along on the graveyard shift.
And a nation's problems
As you can imagine, it’s a big night for both of them.
If you are looking for a police procedural, it’s in here. If you’re looking for something to make you think. No matter where you are on the opinion spectrum, there will be times you’ll pump your fist in agreement and others where you’ll shake your fist in disagreement. And I suspect there’ll be a few times where you might drop that fist entirely, cock your head, and consider something in a way you hadn’t before.
And that’s why I think this might be the most important book I’ve ever written.
Ellen Kirschman, PhD. is an award-winning public safety psychologist and author of I Love a Cop: What Police Families Need to Know, I Love a Firefighter: What the Family Needs to Know, lead author of Counseling Cops: What Clinicians Need to Know, and four mysteries, all told from the perspective of police psychologist Dr. Dot Meyerhoff. She blogs with Psychology Today and is a member of Sisters-in-Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and the Public Safety Writers Association.
Thanks, George, for inviting me back just in time for the December 12th launch of my latest, never-before-published fourth Dot Meyerhoff mystery—The Answer to His Prayers—and my first venture into the world of independent publishing.
Poor Dot is in trouble again. She’s trying to plan her wedding to Frank when a 911 dispatcher takes the worst call of her young life. As Dot helps track down the possible arsonist, she proves herself a sensitive yet doggedly persistent sleuth—even when ordered to mind her own business. The case drags her through the seedy underbelly of her small town and finally to the local prison where she meets the imprisoned puppet master Badger, who is an unexpected acquaintance from her past. Badger believes Dot is the only one who can help him get what he wants most in life—contact with a son he’s never met. Stopping at nothing, including kidnapping, his efforts to bend Dot to his will endangers Dot and everyone she loves.
Crime is not the only thing on Dot’s mind. Her anxiety about getting married is causing rifts in her relationship with Frank. Memories of her family and her first marriage are overwhelming, prompting Dot to start therapy with Dr. Philipp Rogoff. Their relationship is contentious. Dot thinks Rogoff doesn’t know what he’s doing. Rogoff thinks Dot is resistant to his advice and only pretending to want help.
I had a good time writing this book, especially the dueling relationship between Dot and Dr. Rogoff. Therapists make the worst clients. Ask me; I’ve been on both sides of the couch. I loved writing about Rivka Meyerhoff, Dot’s plucky widowed mother. Rivka’s rants about anti-Semitism are timely, given the recent rise in hate crimes against Jews. Even though I am Jewish, writing and thinking deeply about what it means to be Jewish in the modern world is a first for me. I have written about religion before. Buddhism is at the heart of The Fifth Reflection, as the mother of a missing child cloaks her pain with kindness, frustrating the police who need her cooperation to catch the abductor.
What I’m Working on Now: Moral choice and moral pain are themes in many of my books, including my WIP, a standalone that is taking up a lot of my time. The provisional title is Call me Carmela. It’s the story of a young girl searching for her birth parents. What she discovers will destroy one family and heal another. The theme is courage: The courage to let go of someone you love, the courage to overcome trauma to help someone who needs you, and the courage to pursue justice, no matter the cost.
For the first time ever, I joined NaNoWriMo with my buddy, Anne Gelder, author of much short fiction and the enchanting, off-beat novel, Bigfoot and the Baby. Another first, I joined up with a NaNoWriMo sub-group of the NorCal Sisters-in-Crime chapter. About ten of us, including our blog host George Cramer, met online almost every day for a short chat and shared writing time. It was more helpful than I anticipated. It helped me stay on track, kept me accountable, and reduced the isolation that is part of any writer’s life. These groups will continue after NaNoWriMo. I intend to keep on going.
Another first is the entrance into the world of independent publishing. When my traditional publisher rejected The Answer to His Prayers, I decided to get my rights back so that I could publish the series all under one roof. I am working with an online marketer. All four books are now available as eBooks on Amazon, with a boxed set coming in January. So far, so good. The first book in the series, Burying Ben, was a #1 best seller in the Kindle Store, Literature & Fiction, Women Sleuths, Police Procedurals, and Jewish American Fiction. The others are also doing better than ever before. Stay tuned to see where this heads.
Thanks again, George, for the opportunity to vent, crow, and indulge in SSP. I am happy to assist my fellow writers with any questions they may have about police psychology, PTSD, psychotherapy, self-publishing, etc. Your readers can follow my occasional blog on Psychology Today or sign up for my occasional newsletter at www.ellenkirschman.com. New signers get a copy of my mini-memoir about my short-lived career as a dance hall hostess.
John Schembra spent a year with the 557th MP Company in Vietnam in 1970. His time as a combat M.P. provided the basis of his first book M.P., A Novel of Vietnam.
After returning from Vietnam, he became a police officer with the Pleasant Hill Police Department, retiring as a Sergeant after nearly 30 years of service.
John has six other published novels in the mystery/thriller genre. One mystery, Sin Eater, has supernatural undertones. His latest book, The List, won the 1st place award in the Public Safety Writers Association 2021 writing competition. John has earned nine writing competition awards. You can find out more about him and his books and read their first chapters, plus a couple of short stories at his website; www.jschembra.com. John can be reached at his email; firstname.lastname@example.org.
John is currently writing his eighth book, Southern Justness, number six in the Vince Torelli series.
What brought you to writing? I’ve been an avid reader ever since I was a little boy (thanks to my mother) and have admired authors who could weave a story that made me feel I was there, inside their words. While with the police department, I wrote several trade articles on police procedures but didn’t get into fiction until I was 50. I‘d spent a year as an MP in Vietnam. Another police sergeant and Vietnam infantryman and I would swap stories at the police department. Other officers would stop and listen, and one of them told me I should write a book based on my experiences. So, one day, I grabbed a yellow paper pad and a pencil and started writing. 2 years later, my first book, M.P., a Novel of Vietnam, was published. In case you are curious, yes, I did do most of the writing on a computer.
I enjoyed writing the book, and many people liked it. I decided to write a second book, then a third, etc., etc., and here I am, working on my 8th novel!
Tell us about your writing process: I am strictly a pantser. I never was very good at outlining and dislike it immensely, so when I start a book, I write the first chapter, then write an ending. From there, I go back to the beginning and start filling the story in, letting it flow as an active document—a way to say the story flows freely as I write.
Who is your favorite author? Edgar Rice Burroughs. I was introduced to the Tarzan books by my uncle when I was eight or nine. Burrough’s ability to create new worlds, beings, creatures, and plants is amazing. He is the best I’ve read at writing to show, not tell. Burroughs has written eighty novels, and I have read every one of them, most more than once.
I do have to admit the best book I have ever read is Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. What a terrific story. It was books like Burrough’s and Hemingway’s that inspired me to become a writer.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? The five Vince Torelli mystery/thrillers all take place in the San Francisco Bay Area. Vince is a homicide inspector with SFPD, but his cases take him to various locations around the Bay Area. Since I grew up across the Bay from San Francisco, I try to use real places—streets, buildings, businesses, and surrounding cities are real places. I know when I read a book, if it takes place somewhere I am familiar with, it makes the story more enjoyable for me. Using real places makes the need for research a must. I use Google and Google Maps quite a bit when finding settings for various scenes. Also, I have a couple of close friends who are SFPD officers, so I rely on them to ensure I have Vince doing things according to SFPD procedures. Research is one of the tasks I most enjoy doing in my writing. I actually got the idea for my sixth book, The List, while researching information about the 19th century tunnels under San Francisco. I reconstructed the tunnels, which have mostly been filled in, and used them in several crucial scenes.
Do you write in more than one genre? Yes. I have two books, one at the publisher undergoing editing and getting the cover art done. The other one available through Amazon, Sin Eater, is about a serial killer in a fictitious college town in the central valley of California. There is a supernatural twist to the story that adds a dose of creepiness to the book. The other book, An Echo of Lies, is the story of a police officer who gets gravely wounded during a traffic stop. Not expected to recover fully, he makes a complete and astonishing recovery due to being possessed by a demon.
Do you have any advice for new writers? The best advice I can give is don’t let any doubts you have about writing stop you. If you worry about the mechanics too much, you will never get the book done. Attend a writer’s conference or two. Join a writer’s group— there are tons of them out there, easily found with a google search. Groups such as Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, California Writers Club can be very helpful in getting you started and on the right track. There will likely be a group near you, wherever you call home.
If you write with a public safety theme, check out the Public Safety Writers Association, which I am the president of. It is a nationwide group of very talented authors willing to help other members with anything to do with writing. We also have a wonderful three-day conference in Las Vegas every year, with terrific keynote speakers and many informative panels, plus it is loads of fun! It is well worth attending. Check us out at www.policewriter.com.
Thank you for taking the time to visit with me. Many thanks to George Cramer, himself an award-winning author, for having me as a guest on his wonderful blog. Keep writing!
“The Felony Murder Rule is a real winner.” Michael A. Black
Thonie Hevron is a retired 911 dispatcher who makes her home in Petaluma in the Sonoma Wine Country, California with her husband, Danny. When not writing, Thonie rides horses and enjoys traveling. Her work has appeared in Beyond Borders: 2014 Redwood Writers Anthology and Felons, Flames and Ambulance Rides: Public Safety Writers 2013 Anthology. She is the author of four award-winning mystery/thriller novels, By Force or Fear, Intent to Hold, and With Malice Aforethought, are currently available on Amazon but will be re-published by Aakenbaaken & Kent (A&K) in the future. A&K has published the fourth mystery, Felon with a Firearm.
Please tell us about Felony Murder Rule and any comments about any other of your books: All the titles are elements of the main crime. My newest book is titled, Felony Murder Rule, which mandated a sentencing enhancement for felonies committed in which a homicide results. In 2018, this rule was abolished in California with one exception. The book takes place in 2018 before the court ruling. Meredith and Nick are tossed into a decades old crime involving her father. The clock is ticking as rival criminal factions jockey to use her to find a cache of stolen money.
At home one night, sheriff’s detective Meredith Ryan surprises an intruder leaning over her baby’s crib. Unable to catch him, she launches a dangerous journey to protect her family. The death of her father the next day steers her onto a path of deceit and mystery where the two incidents are connected by the mysterious man in her nursery. With Nick, her husband, they unravel her father’s involvement in a robbery/homicide years ago. To find the hidden loot, competing crime rivals plot to use her family as bargaining chips. Meredith and Nick must find the truth in the next 24 hours before the criminals close in on her family.
My series is called the Nick and Meredith Mysteries, but they’re really more thrillers than classic mysteries. They are stand-alones but follow Sonoma County Sheriff’s detectives on different cases. In By Force or Fear (an element of stalking), Meredith is stalked by a judge while she tracks a killer. Intent to Hold (an element of kidnapping) follows Nick and Meredith as they go to Mexico to rescue a relative being held hostage by a cartel. With Malice Aforethought is a necessary component of murder and a homicide is what the detective partners are investigating when they stumble upon a militia with violent plans.
What are you currently working on? I’m currently re-editing my first book, By Force or Fear. My current publisher, Aakenbaaken & Kent, has committed to re-publishing the three previous Nick and Meredith Mysteries. I want it ready when he hollers for it. They are currently on Amazon and self-published.
Has an association membership helped you or your writing? Yes, as a matter of fact. I belong to two such organizations. First, I joined the Police Writer Association back in 1997 or so when I first began to write seriously. It’s morphed into the Public Safety Writers Association. The thought of a bunch of police/fire/medical emergency personnel writing was captivating. Writing is a solitary enterprise—or at least, it used to be. The bottom line is you get what you give: I’ve gotten so much from these members. Expertise and experience sharing, networking, and building relationships with professionals from across the continent (including Canada). Sometimes, it’s just a shoulder (Marilyn, did you hear that?), but I found a terrific mentor and some darn good friends in this group. The second, Redwood Writers is my local writers club. Through membership and volunteering, I found out about goal setting, marketing strategies, immense help with the writing craft, and again, building relationships.
We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave, or do they run the show? My first novel took me almost a decade to write, so I was pretty clear on who was going to do what. By the time I was underway with the second manuscript, I had a plan, but these darn main characters decided to hijack the story. Originally, Nick and Meredith were partners and not supposed to fall in love. But things being what they are, in Intent to Hold, their feelings for each other emerged. By the third story, With Malice Aforethought, they both knew a relationship was unavoidable. So yeah, they tend to run the show.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? Funny, people ask me that all the time. Most of my characters are a mash-up of people I’ve known throughout my career in law enforcement. The criminal types are complete fiction, but the cop and civilians are part ‘so-and-so’ with a dash of ‘that guy.’ The only exception was a peripheral character in Malice. One of my readers recognized him (we had both worked with him), and we got a good laugh. He’d passed away at that point.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I’m an inveterate outliner. I like structure, and in mysteries/thrillers, the author has to intersperse clues and red herrings in appropriate places. I don’t like to go back and do it, so I plan them out. But, as I said above, sometimes the characters have their own agendas and take over the story. Thank God for computers. I’d hate to have to do all that on a typewriter.
What is the best book you ever read? Hands down, Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove. It has everything: drama, history, humor, romance, physicality, and horses.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? I’ve got another book percolating while I do my edits. It will be a new set of characters that I hope readers will be equally fascinated with. For now, it’s set in Ireland. I’ve never been there, but once Covid 19 is under control, I plan on traveling there and anywhere else where I can persuade my husband to go. He’s ready, too.
Comment by Michael A. Black: Thonie Hevron’s latest novel, The Felony Murder Rule, is a real winner. The engaging characters had me rooting for Meredith and Nick all the way through this complex case that involves a crime from the past that comes to roost in the present. Ms. Hevron’s smooth and elegant writing style, combined with the intricate plot and excellent characterization, makes it a very pleasant reading experience. ~ Michael A. Black, author of Legends of the West, Dying Art and Cold Fury in the Executioner series (as Don Pendleton), and Gunslinger: Killer’s Brand (as A.W. Hart).
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With Malice Aforethought,
Intent to Hold
By Force or Fear
Felony Murder Rule
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END OF WATCH
MURDER IN MCHENRY
FIGHTING CRIME WITH “SOME DAY” AND LENNY
Do you write in more than one genre? I’ve written nonfiction, fiction, comedy, poetry, short stories, and articles that required research.
What brought you to writing? What got me into writing was going to grad school. I did lots of research (I really enjoy doing research. I would rather turn in large term papers than take a test.) I was doing a paper on dreams related to Post Shooting Trauma and contacted Massad Ayoob for an interview. He was very kind and informative. I asked him if he would like a copy when I finished the paper. He said yes. Then he did something I never expected. He took it to the editor of POLICE MARKSMAN magazine, and they wanted to publish it. If not for Mr. Ayoob’s kindness, I probably wouldn’t have a writing career that spans almost 40 years.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I have a loft in my home. I have converted it into my Man Cave. It not only has my computer but has my filing cabinets, a stereo, and my awards for both writing and police work.
Tell us about your writing process: I like to come up with an idea and write and rewrite. The difficult part is finding something that not only interests me but will be of interest to readers.
What are you currently working on? Right now, I am working on a short story for the Public Safety Writers Association writing contest.
Has an association membership helped you or your writing? Yes. The Wednesday Warrior Writers, a Las Vegas group of local writers, meet 2 Wednesdays a month. We put together two books. The one I like the best is I PLEDGE ALLEGIANCE… a book of 54 short stories dealing with patriotism, heroism, and Americana. The book is published locally by Houdini Publishing. All profits from the sale of the book go to nonprofits that serve active military, veterans, and first responders. We have raised approximately one thousand dollars for the USO at Las Vegas’ McCarran Airport, two hundred for VETERAN’s VILLAGE, and a couple hundred for T.A.P.P.S. an organization of professional musicians who play trumpet and volunteer their time and talent to make sure veterans who pass away receive Taps played on a real trumpet, not a recording. For all our veterans have done for this country, they deserve a real final tribute for their service and sacrifice.
Who’s your favorite author? I would have to say my favorite author is Michael Connelly and his Harry Bosch series. My other favorite, W. E. B. Griffin, just passed away last year.
How long did it take you to write your first book? My first book (End of Watch) was written and rewritten many times and eventually self-published. My second book, FIGHTING CRIME WITH “SOME DAY” AND LENNY, was originally published by Universe.
How long to get it published? It was probably done within a year.
How do you come up with character names? Sometimes I will look in phone books. If I do that, I mix first and last names. Other times I think about names I like and create an identity that way. “Some Day,” my character in the comedy book, was a spoof on Dragnet’s Joe Friday.
We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave, or do they run the show? I think most of my characters are individuals. Even those in my many short stories work together with their partners.
What’s the most challenging thing about writing characters from the opposite sex? Keeping the storyline clean. Would I let my wife read this?
Do your protagonists ever disappoint you? I don’t think so. They may stumble along the way, but they learn a life lesson by the end of the story.
Do you ever kill a popular character? If so, what happens to your story? I wrote a fiction short story, and I killed off a character, a K9. I figured if Disney could kill Ole Yeller, I could kill my character. I took for granted that people would realize it was fiction. The story was published in the FOP Journal. I received a call from the office staff; a K9 officer wanted to speak to me. I called the officer, and she told me she wanted to meet the handler in the story. I told her it was impossible since the story was fiction. She yelled, “You bastard!” you had me and my entire family crying, and it was make believe!
Do you base any of your characters on real people? Yes, but with a lot of literary license.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? Probably a bit of both. I like doing research, but with short stories, I like to sit in front of the computer and let the story flow.
What kind of research do you do? I like doing interviews. Getting the story from the protagonist and letting him check my material to see if it correct.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? I use fictional locations. I try to keep it beautiful but general, so people think they know what location I am writing about.
What is the best book you ever read? I would have to say almost all the works of W. E. B. Griffin. He combined history and characters into a story that worked so well you didn’t want to put any of his books down.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? I have been thinking about a story for years. I just didn’t know if I wanted a fictional story about a location that I know from experience or to make it completely fictional. Also, do I really want to get involved in a long writing process or stay with short stories?
Do you have any advice for new writers? Don’t be overcome by rejection. Use rejection as a learning tool. Find a writers group or gentle critique group. Also, learn to love writing and storytelling but don’t expect to become rich. If you do, then you will be disappointed.
How do our readers contact you? email@example.com