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 It was written in 2001 and is out of date now.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 Quora.com, 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 Officer.com’s owners, who hired me to be their first editor-in-chief. I stayed with them I moved to LawOfficer.com.
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?
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.
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.
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.