Paul Bishop is an author, screenwriter, and 35 year-veteran of the LAPD where he was twice honored as Detective of the Year. Paul has written fifteen novels, a variety of scripts for television and film, and his latest book, Nothing But the Truth (Almost): Mostly True Stories From a LAPD Detective of the Year is now available from Wolfpack Publishing.
I caught up with Paul in June to visit with him about the new book and writing about a policeman’s life.
RP: Your new book from Wolf Pack—Nothing But the Truth (Almost)—is enjoyable for its immediate sense of intimacy. I really felt like I was there with you in the scenarios you described. How did it feel to recount those real-life experiences?
PB: It was cathartic. Putting true stories down on the page helps access my subconscious to process and understand how stressful events affected me, to learn from them, and move on.
I’ve always been a verbal storyteller, which is all about engaging your listeners and drawing them into your world. When I write, I try to capture the same voice and immediacy, as if we were trading tall tales around the campfire.
Cop stories are perfect fodder for this because of their inherent truths, drama, and hubris. But to make them accessible, you have to be self-deprecating, revealing your own flaws, in order for your listener/reader to relate to the situations you are describing. If you admit to being scared, angry, confused, or to making mistakes, your listener/reader is able to connect with you and see themselves in the scenario.
RP: At the conclusion of the New Year’s Eve story, you mention that the bad guy is on the street today. Have you ever had a run in with one of your old collars that shook you up? Ever have a reunion that went well?
PB: I arrested a twenty-five year old violent sex offender (let’s call him Joe for the sake of anonymity and clarity) who eventually confessed—in sordid detail—to a series of brutal rapes involving women in their seventies and older. Joe plead guilty in court and was sentenced to a hundred and twenty years in prison. He was sent to Pelican Bay, a facility for the most violent offenders where they are often locked down twenty plus hours a day.
Three years later I received a call from the Pelican Bay warden. He said they had an inmate, Joe, who was so insistent on talking to me, the warden felt he should at least give me a courtesy call. I agreed to talk with Joe having no idea what he could possibly want.
The following day, the warden allowed Joe to call me. Once I was on the line, Joe was polite, but clearly very agitated. He told me he had been receiving letters from his twelve year old niece who told him she was being molested by her father. Joe said he ‘knew’ if I investigated, I’d get the truth and save his niece. I assured him I would follow up on the information.
The niece lived outside of LAPD jurisdiction, but I was able to get cooperation from the local agency where she lived. Within short order, we had her removed to safety. We arrested her father who relatively quickly, and tearfully, admitted to what he had been doing to her since she was eight. He, like Joe, remains in prison.
It was an odd position to find myself in—being asked by a violent convicted felon to investigated a case involving one of his family members because he trusted me to get the truth.
RP: Putting away sex offenders for 30 years, you’ve seen some of the worst that humanity offers. How did you stay above it? What kept you happy, healthy, and functioning?
PB: There were plenty of positive factors in my life, including my wife and son. It also help that I didn’t hang out with cops off-duty. Instead, because of my concurrent career as a writer, my friends tended to be creatives, which was a great antidote to the stress of my detective career.
I read constantly, both fiction and non-fiction. I also ran…A lot…Sometimes sixty to eighty miles a week when preparing for marathons. I ran Boston for my 50th birthday. My knees are now, unfortunately, paying the price of all those miles—along with years of playing soccer.
RP: Do you approach non-fiction differently than fiction? Similarly, do you approach crime stories differently from westerns?
PB: With non-fiction, I spend more time researching and confirming the correctness of the subject matter. With fiction, I never let facts get in the way of a good story. However, working in either venue, I strive to make my ‘voice’ consistent. Westerns, crime, non-fiction, I approach them all with the intent of making my prose as straightforward and lean as I can. I work much harder on rewrites than on my first drafts.
RP: Three-part question: What does TV consistently get wrong with cop shows? What do they get right? Best police drama ever?
PB: Where to start…Seriously, most TV cop shows are laughable. The all have a computer nerd who can illegally hack into any system anywhere in a matter of seconds. The CSI shows all have cutting edge technology available all the time and can get DNA results back between commercials. And don’t get me started on interrogations—good cop, bad cop is illegal, folks. It’s a violation of our 5th Amendment rights not to be intimidated, yet you see it all the time on TV…And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Shows like Justified and Bosch have such terrific character driven storytelling, I’m willing to cut them a ton of slack. Lazy storytelling relies on computers, centrifuges, and pinged cell phones to spoon feed information to their characters to resolve plots. Good storytelling allows clever, complex characters to use their own resources to earn the resolution to storylines.
Best police drama ever…Barney Miller…
RP: What’s the scoop on Calico Jack and Tina Tamiko?
PB: Hot Pursuit (originally titled, Citadel Run), my first Calico Jack Walker Tina Tamiko adventure was designed to be a standalone. It has a plot specific to LAPD legend, which still stands as a genuine original.
When Tor wanted a second book with the characters (Deep Water…originally titled, Sand Against the Tide), I had to come up with a story that could deal with the consequences dealt by the ending of the previous book. I again turned to an LAPD specific plot, which quickly blew up into a Stallone-worthy action flick.
I have a trunk novel half written for a third book featuring Calico and Tina (Dark of the Heart), which I really should drag out and finish now the books are finding a new audience via Wolfpack.
RP: In the book, you mention your consulting company, and the LEO education and training you offer. Do you also ever work with writers or lead writing workshops?
PB: I often talk to writers groups and even mentored a writing group for five years. I also teach extension classes for the California State University system.
However, the most fun is participating in the annual Writers’ Police Academy conference in Green Bay, Wisconsin. If you’re an established or a budding mystery writer and you can only attend one writers’ conference, make sure it’s the Writers’ Police Academy (upcoming in August 2018). I had the opportunity to be one of the keynote speakers at the 2017 conference—making a presentation on interrogation—and came away convinced it was the best writers’ conference or convention I’d ever attended…bar none.
An exciting, fully immersive long weekend event, the Writers’ Police Academy gives attendees hands-on law enforcement, firefighting, EMS, and forensics experiences. The professional staff of law enforcement instructors provided training on an incredible range of subjects and activities including: Long Gun And Handgun Live Fire; Emergency Driving; Traffic Stops; Pursuit Termination Techniques; Defense and Arrest Tactics; SWAT Explosive Entry; Death Scene Investigation; Building Searches and Room Clearing; Shoot/Don’t Shoot Scenarios; Taser Training; Police Dogs; Evidence Collection and Processing; Narcotics; Prison Gangs; Mindset of Cops; Serial Killers; Fake/Genuine Suicide Notes; Arson Investigation; and so much more. The four track programming was so comprehensive and densely packed, it was impossible to do it all.
My experience at the 2017 Writers’ Police Academy involved hanging out with 250 crime and suspense writers avidly participating in every scenario and skill thrown at them—including 20 of them who volunteered to wear a standard police utility belt with all the trimmings—gun, ammo pouches, handcuffs, CS gas, etc.—for the whole long weekend. I was also able to interact with twenty other staff instructors and a wonderfully uncountable number of volunteers (all in highlighter yellow T-shirts) who could have not been any friendlier. And all of this to help crime writers escape the Hollywood Effect of bad scenarios being perpetrated again and again—silencers on revolvers, anybody?
I was impressed by the high quality and professional résumé of the instructors. Most were attached to the Public Safety program located on the campus of the Northeast Technical College in Green Bay—used as an actual police academy by many local law enforcement jurisdictions. It was also the location of much of the provided training for the Writers’ Police Academy attendees, along with the nearby newly opened pursuit driving course, and the excellent conference rooms and facilities in the conference hotel.
RP: Music. What do you listen to regularly and when?
PB: Jazz and the great American song book are my go to musical choices for active listening. Instrumental soundtracks, however, work best when I’m writing. They tap into my brain’s alpha waves and act as white noise, blocking out any other distractions and helping to keep me focussed. Ennio Morricone, Hans Zimmer, Leonard Bernstein, John Barry, and Henry Mancini are all on my current playlist, which I access via Alexa.
RP: When you were a kid did you want to be a writer, a cop, or a cowboy?
PB: I wanted to be a writer since I read my first book.
When I was eight years old, I said I wanted to be a policeman and never changed my mind.
I’m a lucky guy. I’ve been able to do the two things I’ve always wanted to do with my life—put villains in jail and put words on paper for people to read.
I also got to be a cowboy, but only for a week. While researching my first Western, I took the opportuning to spend a week in the saddle moving several hundred wild horses from their winter to summer feeding ground. This involved three months of riding lessons prior to going (to ensure I didn’t fall off the first day), the beginning of a love affair with cowboy boots, and the search (still ongoing) for the perfect cowboy hat. It was a blast and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
I’m not sure when I made the transition from being a cop who wrote to a writer who was a cop, but somewhere along the line it happened. Since the mindset of cowboys and cops are also interchangeable, all three professions have blended well for me.
Many thanks to Paul for taking the time to answer my questions, but more, for his continued good work with publishers like Wolfpack. Thanks again, Paul!