SARAH CORTEZ – Award-Winning Author and Law Enforcement Veteran

ATSNStop the ThreatChuck Thompson

Sarah’s latest crime fiction thriller is The Carlucci Betrayal.

Here is a glimpse into Sarah’s award-winning career:

Sarah Cortez, a Councilor of the Texas Institute of Letters, Fellow of the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, and Fellow of the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She has poems, essays, book reviews, and short stories anthologized and published in journals, such as Texas Monthly, Rattle, The Sun, Pennsylvania English, Texas Review, Louisiana Literature, The Midwest Quarterly, Southwestern American Literature. Winner of the PEN Texas Literary Award, her debut poetry collection is How to Undress a Cop. Her books have placed as finalists in many contests, such as the Writers’ League of Texas Awards, Los Angeles Book Festival Awards, and the PEN Southwest Poetry Awards Latino Book Awards, Border Region Librarians Association Award, Press Women of Texas Editing Award. She has been both a Houston and Texas finalist for poet laureate; she is a law enforcement veteran of 28 years. Her memoir entitled Tired, Hungry, Standing in One Spot for Twelve Hours: Essential Cop Essays brings the reader into the patrol car as it reveals America’s most dangerous profession.

The Carlucci Betrayal takes readers deep into the Mississippi Delta during Prohibition to witness the founding of a criminal empire, and not since The Godfather has a Mafia family captivated readers the way the Carlucci brothers do in Robert Wilkins’ and Sarah Cortez’s rollicking novel of love, lust, and naked ambition.

Michael Bracken  – Anthony Award-nominated editor of The Eyes of Texas

 Genres in Which I Write: I write in more than one genre, and I love seeing how the interaction of skill and intention translates and doesn’t translate across genres.

I began as a literary fiction writer, then to poetry, then to memoir. At this point, I think I’ve been published in almost all popular and literary genres and subgenres. I love all kinds of writing and edit all genres.

Writing Process: In terms of my writing process, I don’t have much leeway to choose a particular set of locations or circumstances to write. As a full-time professional writer/editor, I write when and where I can. I always seem to have deadlines breathing down my neck, whether for writing or editing. I am also an editor for a large international Catholic online journal of the arts. Those deadlines keep me very busy. www.catholicartstoday

First Publication: My first book came out within less than three years of beginning to write poetry. I now have 14 books—all traditionally published. For quite a few years, I had one or two books published per year. I have been very fortunate to work with publishers who really believed in my book projects.

Characters: In the popular genre of crime fiction, there are usually two strong-willed characters: the criminal and the sleuth. They must be fairly evenly matched in order to have a drawn-out conflict that is sufficiently interesting for a reader to read the entire novel.

The process of creating a 3-D character, particularly a main character is involved and mysterious. Tomes have been written about it. Curiously enough, it is the one critically important step that most fiction writers, particularly beginning fiction writers, don’t spend enough time doing. All the hours of research, imagining, taking notes, thinking through personality and choices, and personal history of the character pay off. Yet, most fiction writers either skip this step or do it quickly—a fatal mistake to both plot and the possibility of writing a book that readers enjoy.

Writing Characters of the Opposite Sex: Due to police work and my corporate career before policing, most of my life has been spent working with men. I do not find it a particular challenge to write from a male’s POV. In fact, most of my literary and popular fiction is written in a male’s POV.

Do You Base Characters on Real People? As a freelance editor who has been privileged to work with many writers, I think that basing a fictional character on a real person is an absolute no-no. Fiction that does this results in erratic character motivation and is often boring. Characters must be free to act according to the psychological and emotional dimensions based on the imagined history and personality that the writer has given them. So, you can see from this line of thought that I never base my characters on real people and certainly never on myself.

How To Raise the Stakes for Characters? Especially in popular fiction, but also to a lesser degree in literary fiction, the author’s “job” is to apply stress on the main character. These stresses of circumstance create conflict, and conflict creates plot. The way the stress is applied to each character will be different since each character has a different personality and history.

Does a Protagonist Ever Disappoint You? As an author, I am not thinking about my reactions to characters in a book. I am always thinking, however, about what the scene needs to be of interest to a reader. Sometimes a protagonist needs to fail, whether that failure is of his choice or imposed on him. If the writer is writing a protagonist that changes throughout the book, the protagonist will make mistakes. Some characters, like James Bond, do not change over the course of a book. But even this type of character does experience failure of action and choices.

vintage Italian mafia gangster in 1930 in New York

What Kind of Research Do You Do? I research what I need to research. Sometimes that involves an entire era with its cultural artifacts of music, dance, clothes, attitudes, disasters, politics, etc. Sometimes research is very specifically related to a particular scene. For instance, in The Carlucci Betrayal, I had to find out how a young male below the age of military service would get to Europe in 1938 to volunteer to fight against Hitler. Since 1938 was before the U.S. declared war, I had to see which avenues were open to this young man. This only affected a couple of sentences in a phone conversation between two main characters, but it had to be historically accurate.

Also, for The Carlucci Betrayal, I had to research Mississippi law regarding homicide and manslaughter in the late 1920s for a courtroom scene and for the lawyer’s arguments to be accurately based on the law.

A Writer You Admire: I greatly admire Megan Abbott, a wonderful noir writer. She successfully combines what’s best about crime fiction with exquisitely styled prose. She is so successful because so few writers write with her precision and energy in such gorgeous prose. My favorite title of hers is Bury Me Deep.

Advice for New Writers: I’ll pass along some wise advice from a professional saxophone musician: don’t choose anything but your horn. In other words, writing demands a serious commitment to practice and learning. When the others meet their friends to go bowling or drink at the bars, you must be reading, learning, revising, drafting, studying, etc. If you’re going to be a good (highly skilled) writer, then writing isn’t a hobby. It is your job.

Anything Else You’d Like to Mention: Getting to work on The Carlucci Betrayal was tremendously hard work and also tremendous fun! I’ve always wanted to write Mafia-era fiction. This gave me an opportunity to research plus create three-dimensional characters that acted according to a different era’s pressures in a society that was both more constricted and more free-wheeling than today’s.

I also relished my research into Mafia fashion. Not only for the men but for the women. Holsters, spare magazines, stilettos, razors, cigarette lighters, etc. Types and calibers of guns. Several PWSA members helped me out with these questions. For me, becoming conversant with places of concealment, fashions for men and women, mobsters on different coasts, and what they wore—fascinating! It was a delicious peek into the psychology and practicality of why the mobsters and their ladies wore what they wore.

Readers can contact me at: or at

Our website, – Search Results | Facebook, also has a “Contact Me” button.

Phone: 713-331-9342

I am available for virtual book readings and presentations on Mafia Fashion.

Follow us on Facebook at   The Carlucci Betrayal | Facebook




  1. Joseph Bryce HAGGERTY Sr

    Sarah, great post, your Advice to New Writers should be the Pre-amble to any book about writing. I am totally intrigued with The Carlucci’s Betrayal and will add it to my reading list.

  2. Madeline Gornell

    Sorry I’m late to the party, Sarah, but what an interesting post. Very impressed by your accomplishments and inspired! Especially awed by your writing in so many genres. Continued success!

  3. Ana Manwaring

    What concept–Mafia Fashion! Thanks so much for your interview. Thank you too, George!

  4. sarah cortez

    Thank you, John Bluck, for your positive comment. I appreciate it!

  5. sarah cortez

    Hello, Michael,
    It is good to remember how you gentlemen (and ladies) of the listserve helped me with research.

    We all need to stay strong . . . you are so right.
    Bless you,

  6. sarah cortez

    Oh, Holli,
    I’ve thought of you during the years since Gabe and I attended you and your husband’s opening in NOLA. Email me sometime and let me know how and what you’re doing these days!!

  7. sarah cortez

    Oh, Marilyn,
    It always makes me happy to see your name! I have an entire “Marilyn Meredith” section in my bookcases.

    I hope to make it to another conference soon.

  8. sarah cortez

    Thank you, John, for your comment. You’ve always been so great to me.

  9. Lynn Hesse

    I found another author’s work with law enforcement experience I want to read. Thanks, Lynn

  10. John Schembra

    Great post Sarah. Interesting to
    Learn other author’s writing process, and how they plan/organize their characters and plots. Best of luck with your new book!

  11. Darlene Record

    Congratulations on your new book. Just purchased it and look forward to reading it. Really enjoy your work.
    Thanks for your helpful advice on writing.
    Darlene Record

  12. John G. Bluck

    I like your comments about building strong characters. I look forward to reading your books!

  13. Marilyn Meredith

    Great post, Sarah, with so many valuable tips. I was so glad to see at the recent PSWA conference and catch up with you some. Hope you’ll come again soon.

  14. Holli Castillo

    Sarah, loved learning about your writing process. I find it more difficult to write from the male perspective so I envy your ability to do it so easily. I also find the idea of mafia fashion fascinating. Your thorough research is evident in your work as it always rings authentic.

  15. Michael A. Black

    Hi, Sarah. Great advice about writing and the dedication to learning one’s craft. I loved the saxophone allusion. Your new one sounds interesting. I’ll have to check it out. I remember when you were researching the holsters and such. Good luck and stay strong.


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A Visit From Tim Dees – Self Proclaimed “Computer Geek”

Tim Dees – Writer of Non-Fiction Police Procedure and Technology

I’ve written two books, the first a guidebook for law enforcement officers on how to use the internet. It was written in 2001 and is out of date now. The other is a collection of some of the answers on law enforcement I have posted to, titled “The Truth About Cops.” The publisher has gone out of business, and there is a used copy for sale on Amazon for $1052.00. That’s steep for a book whose content you can get for free on a website.

Most of my writing has been articles of 800-1500 words. I started out pre-internet, writing for Police Magazine, Law Enforcement Technology, and Law and Order. I was Law and Order’s technology editor for about eight years.

I got noticed by’s owners, who hired me to be their first editor-in-chief. I stayed with them I moved to

Do you write in more than one genre? My go-to topical area was police technology for many years. I’ve since branched out to discuss police training, management, and ethical areas.

What brought you to writing? When I was a working police officer, Police Magazine had a feature on each issue’s last page, titled “The Beat.” It was a first-person short form “war story,” usually from a cop who wasn’t a regular writer. I am told it was the most popular feature of the magazine. I started thinking, “I can write this stuff.” I wrote a short essay about getting ready for a winter graveyard shift in uniformed patrol. They bought it for $75. I later wrote four more articles for “The Beat,” which I think was a record.

Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I live alone (except for my dog) in a three-bedroom house. One of the bedrooms is set aside as my office.

I allow my aging dog to interrupt the writing process, as he can be very insistent when he wants attention. He never bothers me unless he hears me typing. When I’m writing, I try not to visit any websites or read emails, as that will send me down the rabbit hole.

Tell us about your writing process: When I get an assignment, it has to ripen in my head for a few days. I’m thinking about it, even when I’m involved with something else. When I sit down to write the piece, I start classical music from Amazon Music or my iTunes collection. I try not to get up except to refill my coffee or go to the bathroom. I usually write an entire article in one sitting.

What are you currently working on? I have an assignment about what President Biden can do for law enforcement in his first 100 days in office. I also write a regular column for a trade magazine on various aspects of law enforcement. The magazine goes out to owners and managers of government surplus/Army-Navy stores, which illustrates how there is a trade magazine for every profession or business sector.

Has an association membership helped you or your writing? I came to the Public Safety Writers Association when it was called the Police Writers Club. When he handed the club over to what would become the PSWA, I came with it as the web manager. Eventually, I was asked to join the board of directors as a member-at-large and tech consultant.

Like many other members, I’ve benefitted from being able to pick the brains of PSWA members, usually via the listserv. I’ve also met some characters among members, people I wouldn’t have even known about without the PSWA.

Who’s currently your favorite author? I’m partial to Marko Kloos, who writes several military science fiction series.

How long did it take you to write your first book? My (late) wife worked for Walmart loss prevention. When she was promoted and assigned to the Tri-Cities area of Washington, I followed her. I wound up a househusband for about a year. I wrote the book during that time.

Do you outline, or are you a pantser? This depends on how familiar I am with the topic. If I know it, I’m a “pantser,” writing out of my head with some guidance from the subject matter expert. If it’s all new stuff for me, I need the outline to cover the topic adequately.

What kind of research do you do? Ideally, I find someone who is using the new technology and pick their brains. When a tech company doesn’t give me access to any of their customers, it’s a big red flag.

One of the challenges of writing about legitimate new tech is that the manufacturers always want to connect me with the sales manager for that product line. He will have the best and most polished spiel, and they can go on forever. Whenever possible, I want to talk to the engineer who designed the device or service, to the “geek.” That person will answer my questions more accurately, if not as smooth.

What is the best book you ever read? I’d have to think about that for a while. It was probably something by Robert A. Heinlein or Tom Clancy. I discovered Heinlein via a school librarian (the unrecognized heroes of education who get kids to read by determining their interests) when I was in the 8th grade. I was the right age for what he called his “juveniles,” articles and books written for publications like Boy’s Life. By the time I graduated from high school, I had read his more adult works, which got pretty strange. One of his central characters is a time traveler who manages to return to his childhood years and has a romantic relationship with his mother.

What’s in store for you? My financial situation doesn’t require that I supplement my income with writing. I have only one regular writing obligation to produce an article of around 1200 words once a month. It can be about anything in law enforcement. I still accept one-off writing assignments from websites like PoliceOne.

 Do you have any advice for new writers? When I was a full-time editor, I received lots of pitches, mainly from working cops and correctional officers, who wanted to be the next Joseph Wambaugh. I had a rule that if I found more than five writing errors before I got off the first page, you were done. There are too many aspiring writers who seem to believe that the editor’s job is to correct their spelling and grammar. At the same time, they pontificate on more high-minded issues. Everyone makes mistakes now and then. If you can’t be bothered to proof your work or have someone do it for you before you send it off as a finished piece, I’m not going to do the work your high school composition teacher was supposed to have done.

If you haven’t mastered the basic skills, you will be wanting in the more advanced work. Before a writer can tell their story, they have to learn the fundamentals of writing. These include writing complete sentences, spelling all the words properly, inserting quotes that are formatted correctly, and so on. Those skills come from writing for someone who knows the craft and will be merciless in pointing out your errors.

I also look for competence in using a word processor’s features in the age of word processors. There is a feature in Word that displays all the formatting codes such as spaces, paragraph marks, indents, etc. If I turn that setting on and see that the writer has used the space bar and Enter key to position and format their text, rather than using text alignment, tabs, and paragraph spacing, that’s another red flag. I liken this to asking a journeyman carpenter to drive a nail. If he can’t do that quickly and cleanly, think about how much difficulty he’s going to have in framing a doorway.

Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and your writing? I still value the PSWA, and I’m happy to assist where I can with technical details of policing and anything else I know about. If your question concerns something I don’t know about, I can always make something up.

How do our readers contact you? Your website, blog links, any links you want to be posted?



  1. Marilyn Meredith

    Tim Dees has been my friend for a long time thanks to PSWA. One thing that wasn’t mentioned here is how funny time can be when telling a story. He has helped me in so many ways, giving me ideas for my books, and helping me with computer problems. He’s a great all-around person and I’m proud to call him a friend.

  2. Michael A. Black

    Tim is a good friend and a great guy. I met him through the PSWA and he’s been an inspiration to me ever since. He’s also one of the smartest guys I ever met. His modesty probably forbade him to talk about being a member of MENSA. Whether he’s telling a story, writing an article, or recounting a joke, he’s tremendously entertaining. The PSWA is much richer because of his involvement.

  3. Thonie Hevron

    Fun and insightful interview with Tim Dees. A note here: Tim is immensely helpful to writers with specific questions. I’ve used his expertise several times. He even gave me a wonderful blurb for one of my novels, With Malice Aforethought.


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