SPS-173: Cops & Robbers: How to Write Realistic Crime Fiction – with Holly S. Roberts
USA Today bestselling author Holly S. Roberts has so far made three dramatic shifts in professional careers from bookstore owner to police officer and detective to author. She explains how to avoid common mistakes in police procedural novels and the importance of getting the police mindset right.
This week’s highlights include:
- From bookstore owner to police officer
- The toll police work takes on officers
- Dealing with the press around high-profile cases
- Beginning to write as part of a therapeutic assignment
- How dyslexia affects Holly’s writing
- Getting the details right when writing a police procedural
- Getting to know the equipment from the police are you’re writing about
Resources mentioned in this episode:
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
HANDOUT: Detailed handout from Holly S. Roberts with a Glock blueprint, a glossary of police terms and more
SURVEY: Give us your opinions about a possible live SPF event in 2020
Transcript of Interview with Holly S. Roberts
Narrator: On this edition of the self-publishing show.
Holly S. Roberts: Every police officer will have a rookie story. It’s their stupidity story. What you did that was so stupid that you look back at and go I can’t believe I did that. These are things that give you that real inside of how police officers think how they look at the world. And I think it’s really important to have your head in that game if you’re going to write a cop’s perspective.
Narrator: Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers. No more barriers no one standing between you and your readers. So you want to make a living from your writing.
Join indie bestseller Mark Dawson and first-time author James Blatch: as they shine a light on the secrets of self-publishing success. This is the self-publishing show. There’s never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: Hello and welcome. Yes, it’s the self-publishing show with me James Blatch.
Mark Dawson: And me Mark Dawson.
James Blatch: And this week we are talking female detectives. We’re talking murder, rape, assault; the grisly side of life. All the things that you thriller the writers love a bit of that don’t you.
Mark Dawson: We’re talking detectives. I don’t think we need to specify if it’s a male or female detective.
James Blatch: We are specifically talking about female detectives.
You haven’t heard this interview yet. She gives advice on how to write a good female detective how basically not to put the woman in high heels and yes she lived this in her life. She’s been a female detective. So she’s coming up in a moment. Her name is Holly Roberts and she has a brilliant handout the show which I’ll give out the URL now: selfpublishingshow.com/cops.
And in that handout, she includes a breakdown one of the schematics of a Glock gun the kind of standard-issue sidearm for a lot of American policemen and women police officers.
A glossary of police terms and a guide to creating realistic female cops who don’t run in high heels.
And is there a safety on a Glock.
Mark Dawson: Yes. No there isn’t. They say relies on the trigger pull. I know this now.
James Blatch: Why did you put one in your novel then?
Mark Dawson: Yes, that was a mistake I made. I wish I’d listen to this interview three years earlier.
James Blatch: Actually she did explain to me there is a sort of safety. It’s an odd one but it basically is a double trigger pull. She’s not convinced by it. Plenty as she points out, plenty of inadvertent discharges of that weapon do happen despite that.
Okay look before we go ahead and get into that interview we have a plethora of people to welcome. New Patreon supporters to welcome.
They’ve been to Patreon.com/selfpublishingshow and they’ve pledged to support this episode just for as little as a dollar an episode as part of that.
You get enrolled in the self-publishing formula University. And last night we had a live event. We had an expert in Gwen Hernandez who wrote the book Scrivener for Dummies doing her webinar on how to master Scrivner. It was brilliant. I got a pad here full of notes and the way I’m going to be using Scrivener is definitely going to be changing as a result of that.
So if you get into the SPF university as if you become a Patreon supporter of the podcast you get access to that webinar. All the previous webinars and you get invited to our next life events.
I’m going to welcome we’ve got like 20 odd people to welcome is going to be I’m going to murder a few names and places here I’m sure gonna start with Andy Brown though. Can’t go wrong with that. Andy Brown from W.H. Washington I think in the US. Annette. Oh here’s my first one Borjey Cone. Maybe the way to pronounce the Bush a cannibal great cone California United States of America.
Steve Lander from Dallas Texas. Keelen Elwood. Welcome from Montreal. In Canada. Dennis Stevenson welcome me from Arizona. Hugh Smith from New Jersey. And then without location of Judy M. Baker welcome to you Ms. J Briggs welcome. Ruth Saad, Vanessa Monahan, Scott Brand, Bill Stout.
Robin Smith used to play for cricket for England Robin Smith. Connie Gilliam I remember Connie. I think you asked a couple of questions in the webinar last night. Nancy L. Hall. Elizabeth Harlow Hannah which is a great name. Paul Goh. That’s also good name. Anna Gerald. Michelle Hill.
Kathy, just Kathy. She knows who she is. Welcome Kathy. Lisa. Oh now here’s a difficult one. Lisa Loulsyliu.
JE Peterson. You are our new crop of Patreon supporters for this week. You are very welcome to the Self-publishing Show. The primary premiere self-publishing Show podcast in the world.
Mark Dawson: Well we might say that. Others may disagree but we’re certainly one of the self-publishing podcasts available in the world. I’ll leave it at that.
James Blatch: Okay. We mentioned last night that we had a live webinar. There will be more of those and that is the best and easiest way to become a part of the SPF university and there was no sales last night. It was just a teaching webinar about a tool that most of us use every day.
It was great and good to have a crowd there.
We’re gonna crack straight on with this interview because I want to talk to you a little bit off the back of this as somebody who writes in this area, to ask you a few questions about that.
Our guest is Holly S. Roberts. She introduced herself at the front. She’s a former murder detective has really dealt with some of the grisly side of life but wanted to write and is now a writer and is employing that and teaching the rest of us about the reality of that side things that perhaps we do get wrong from time to time.
So let’s hear from Holly and then Mark and I’ll be back.
James Blatch: Holly welcome to the self-publishing show. Thank you so much for joining us.
Holly S. Roberts: Thank you, James. I’m so happy to be here.
James Blatch: We’re happy to have you and you’ve had a very interesting life. You’ve done something I do which is change careers quite dramatically every ten years or so. And now I think is the right time to be a writer isn’t it, because you have those experiences and they’ve led led you to to where you are writing. Well let’s go back a little bit.
Give us the skinny as they say.
Holly S. Roberts: I am going to make this in a shorter story than what it really is. But when I was 21 years old I was in a pretty serious car accident and when everything was said and done and I got the money for that car accident I got twelve thousand dollars, which if you go back in time, 30 something years ago, that was a lot of money.
And so I did something with it that had been a dream of mine and I bought a small independent used bookstore in Phoenix Arizona. I owned it for 20 years. I took it from a small used bookstore to about 40 percent new books. I had huge authors then. I actually worked for Random House and would drive their authors around when they would come to town, so I’d take them to my bookstore.
I had a book radio show and for many years while I was doing that, which was a lot of fun and thought I was going to my career would go more towards radio. But something happened when I turned 40 years old and I started thinking about all the dreams of the younger me. And so I decided to get my butt in shape that it was probably the last chance I was going to have. And when I was 45 I went to the police academy.
And made that huge change after 20 years. I sold the bookstore when I was 41 so I owned it for 20 years and then spent the next three years procrastinating of course but finally made it to the police academy. Came out, became a police officer. I was an officer for almost two years when I was promoted to detective and then everything kind of went crazy and haywire and we had some of the largest homicide cases in the country.
I specialized in sex crimes. I traveled all over the country to take the best trainings that were available.
I was always told I was one of the best trained detectives in the state when it came to sex crimes. But my interesting cases tended to be homicides, the high sex crimes and homicide.
And then let’s see it was about 2011 I started having a mental breakdown with my cases and I was told I wasn’t given any choice. As a matter of fact I had to go to see a therapist and I was pretty pissed off about it and not a happy camper we’ll say.
I went to see this therapist so I could get back to work and she asked me what I always wanted to do and I said, “Well I always knew I’d be a writer and I just haven’t had time. I can’t sit still.”.
She said OK well I’m not going to release you to go back to work yet but when you come in next week I want you to bring me three pages. I want you to write anything you want to write. Bring me three pages.
And so I brought her three chapters of my first book and I never stopped writing.
James Blatch: Did you start the writing process because she asked you to write three pages at the beginning of the first book?
James Blatch: It wasn’t something you’d started already. That’s amazing. I’ll come back to the writing in the moment.
But first of all, 45 years old and you become a police officer. I’m immediately thinking can you become a police officer at 45? I’m not sure in the U.K. you can. It seems to be like a young person’s game.
Holly S. Roberts: You can. Matter of fact, we hired someone or actually we didn’t hire them. They went to another agency who was 70 years old and he’s still a police officer out there. You can be a police officer at 70 as long as you can pass all the requirements and all the testing.
I actually feel that police should be older. I think you’re too young. And my son in law has been a career police officer and started when he was 21 years old, which is the minimum age limit. And his personality, everything has developed as a police officer.
I think mentally he would have had I don’t know to say more luck because he’s a great guy but I think mentally it wouldn’t have been as hard on him if he would have started older. And that it’s it’s really a rough place for young men and women to see the horrors in life.
James Blatch: So your time is a as a police officer. I was a BBC News reporter for a couple of years and exposed to some of this myself and it was a fairly relentless treadmill of grisly content. They never sent us to the nice cases. And I had some absolutely horrific ones to deal with. And I got quite close to the police officers then so I had great admiration for them.
But I also saw close up the relentlessness of dealing with with that very dark side of life and clearly it took its toll on me. It takes its toll on everyone by the way. We all deal with it in different ways it better than hiding it and maybe survivors.
But for you there came a point where you thought I’m not sure I can go on like this.
Holly S. Roberts: Yeah. Well. I just I had a couple of really rough back to back cases. One was a national news story I was slammed pretty bad by the press. I had a lot of resentment towards the press for a long time.
James Blatch: I got that as well as well as the supportive and friendly people. There were some who just didn’t want to have you anywhere near them.
Holly S. Roberts: But what was funny is, I swore on this one case I handled that I would never interview with the press about it and I had a lot of bad feelings and I would never do it.
A year ago I got a handwritten two page letter from a woman from the Associated Press and she told me how much that case messed with her head and how she couldn’t let it go. And she asked for an interview. And like I said this is a handwritten two page letter that came to my house and I called her and at first I called my attorney about it but I called her and I said okay.
I said I you know and I put down all these rules: I have to see the interview before it’s released. I have the right to make changes. I thought no way she won’t do it. But she actually came out to my house and was here for about five hours.
And we discussed that case and another case and I like to think we became friends over that. And I kind of had to let go a lot of my hard feelings about the press because I saw how destroyed this woman was over this case.
And so I finally talked about it.
James Blatch: Journalists are people too, Holly. There was a very good guy who ran the press office in Cambridge and went on to bigger things working in that space between the press and the police and he always used to say everybody laughed about it. He used to say the press are your friends, to the detectives. He said, they will help you solve cases. Treat them as friends and you’ll get on well. See them as combatants and enemies and things aren’t so good.
But then despite that I know detectives got a rough ride, particularly I was reaching big national cases we had a couple of girls really really horrible case a few years ago and the local police force here who did a brilliant job solved the whole thing within a couple of weeks, which in those cases is not normal. Sometimes it can be months before they even find the body.
And they got torn to shreds nationally. They just had this picture in their heads the national newspaper that there was this yokel police force who didn’t know what they were doing and the facts were neither here nor there. I was very frustrated about that. So I can end up on the wrong side of this roller coaster.
I apologize on behalf of the press.
So there you are. You’ve had a rough time and I’m not sure if there’s an easy murder detective life to have but you had it an emotionally rough time and professionally rough time and then you came out of this.
What I’m interested in is, at what point did you think I’m going to start writing books.
Was there a thought in your head back in the bookshop days or before your therapist said to you, “Write something down.”
Holly S. Roberts: Oh yeah. I started writing when I was probably in fifth or sixth grade. I’m dyslexic so I read very late in childhood and I couldn’t read. I really struggled with it. And so once I was able to read I started reading everything I could get my hands on.
And I always knew I would write. I mean just in my head I wrote stories in my head at night before I would go to sleep. I used to put myself in Star Trek episodes – that kind of really shows my age.
I always knew I would be a writer. I just had no doubt. Then when the therapist told me all right. I mean I literally I brought her three chapters and then a week later I brought her three more and I never stopped. I just didn’t stop once I got that writing bug and said OK I can sit still finally. And that’s a big problem with me. I never liked sitting still.
James Blatch: So the writing that started is this therapeutic process. When do you transition into a career?
Holly S. Roberts: The surprising thing happened when I started writing and people actually started buying my books. I talk about how shocking that was. I just kind of sat there in shock and and I was writing some nonfiction and police stuff. But funny. I tried to remember the funny times of being a police officer and the fun times.
And then I decided I’ve always loved paranormal romance. So I wrote this horrible, horrible paranormal romance. All my readers will disagree with me because they’ll all say oh that’s how I found you. But I wrote a really paranormal romance.
It started to sell and we’re looking at 2011, 2012, 2013. In those years and then I decided to switch to contemporary and wrote a few contemporaries. I had always wanted to write a football romance, a sports romance for my husband. He’s a huge football fan and I’m a football widow
James Blatch: This is the egg-shaped one you hold your hand.
Holly S. Roberts: Yes this is American football not for football. So I wrote this little book called Play.
James Blatch: That is already a great title.
Holly S. Roberts: And the sequel The next book is called Gold. So anyway I wrote this book. Edit It just kind of surprisingly hit the USA Today bestseller list. It was at the bottom end of the list.
So that happened and in that same 30 day period my chronicles series, which was that first book and I was writing the fourth book by this time that took off. And then I got this amazing email from a woman Christy Hammer who is a procurement producer asking about my life rights for my police writing. So I locked up my life rights.
I had my Chronicle series taking off and I hit the USA Today bestseller list and literally this was just in a very short period of time.
James Blatch: Just explain to me what you mean by life rights.
Holly S. Roberts: I had to ask that same question. I’m learning. Life rights for basically the life of me becoming a police officer at the age of 45. And everything about my life. They tied up in for a couple of years. They tied it up and then we never got anything going as far as a movie or television network show or anything so we went our separate ways.
And now I’m back into another – it’s not a negotiation. We’ve actually sold the rights to a new book I’ve written called Bullets for Breakfast and it is the story of my life. It’s the true story of my life: why I became a police officer, why I had that strong feeling, why I’m a writer.
So that’s out there with my agent right now trying to get a really good book deal and I’m tied up, which is a great thing, with Dream Street entertainment and so hoping to get a movie or television deal.
James Blatch: CSI seniors. I can see CSI seniors being a spinoff franchise where every cast member is in their 60s.
If you could tell a story that’s the heart of it you got that right. And I’m getting the sense that that bit came to you quite naturally.
Holly S. Roberts: That’s easy. That’s the easy part. The English language is the hard part for me.
James Blatch: Just let’s talk about dyslexia for a moment then. How does that impact your writing?
James Blatch: There’s so many different types of dyslexia. It’s not that I see things backwards. People seem to think that you see things literally backwards.
But in my type of dyslexia if you take the words strange I get the R and then I get the E and then I get the G and it all kind of goes into my head willy nilly. It doesn’t just. You know it doesn’t go from S T R A N G.
And so basically what I had to do to start to be able to read is I started memorizing how words look and I literally sat with the dictionary and I would look at how that word looked. And this is back before internet or anything like that. I would look at each word as a picture and I would memorize the picture of the word and not the phonetic spelling. I can’t spell to save my life. That’s one of the bad bags.
My use of the English language, when I go to write it, the rules and stuff have been very difficult for me. But I’m learning. I think my writing improves all the time. There’s no comparison in what I was writing in 2011 when I’m writing today.
But like I said, getting a good editor who says OK you need to stop with this. I’m like OK I’ll never do that again. Getting someone who can work with me and really bring out that. I am a writer. I’m a storyteller. I always like to say I’m a storyteller.
James Blatch: The language stuff can get fixed and those sorts of people. Very few of us would say we’re good spellers. It’s a tough thing.
That’s really interesting to hear you describe it like that and I wonder whether dictation is something that you’ve explored.
Holly S. Roberts: I haven’t. My husband keeps asking me about it and I have not. I think I’m self-conscious, to talk my book out loud. And even when I listen they have my book read back to me before I send it off to the editor. I do it with earphones. I just I want it quiet. I don’t share a lot.
I know my readers. I’m not one of those authors that’s always putting out these promos with sections of the books and things like that. I keep it very close to my chest when I’m writing. It’s kind of like a artist with their canvas and they don’t want anybody to see it. And that’s kind of how I am. So dictation; I don’t know but I need to try it. I have to try.
James Blatch: But it seems like because you speak very well eloquently, it seems like a natural solution to if there’s a problem with writing the words then but you’re obviously battling that and that’s brilliant. Okay let’s just get up to date then with the book.
So the NFL sequence where are you now in terms of what you’re writing what you’re currently doing.
Holly S. Roberts: It is so great of you to ask this because I have to give a shameless plug today is release day for me for my new book. I’m going to see if we can hold it up. This is only the not for resale copy, it’s the only paperback copy I have. And it’s called Shadow. And it’s a duet.
The second book will come out in two weeks because it has a huge cliffhanger audits on it. Not a will she die, won’t she die, will he die, won’t he die. But it leaves you with a POW and you’re like oh my gosh I need more and this is what everybody’s told me so. Shadow was out today. I’m really excited about it.
It’s urban fantasy by the way. I should say that the Hellhound apocalypse has begun and it’s about the Hellhound apocalypse.
James Blatch: I’m going to London tonight. I really hope the Hellhound apocalypse can stave off the least till tomorrow. So I can have my dinner tonight.
Holly S. Roberts: You guys are totally gone off the planet.
James Blatch: London always first.
Holly S. Roberts: Yeah. A few people did escape but they all piled into the US and came for us to ask to be rescued.
James Blatch: Sounds familiar. I remember two world wars.
Holly S. Roberts: I will say this. We have a very corrupt new government and they’re the bad guys. So I’m going to give that away so. So we’re not the good guys. Is this a metaphor.
James Blatch: So you’re moving through the genres a little bit. It started off with nonfiction and you did some contemporary romance, I think you said.
Holly S. Roberts: Contemporary but I started at paranormal. Then went to contemporary. I still write contemporary and now I’m jumping back into the paranormal.
James Blatch: How many books have you published now. Holly.
Holly S. Roberts: Forty-six.
James Blatch: Forty-six in fairly short order since 2011.
Holly S. Roberts: Yes. 2011 and I wrote more when I worked full time, when I worked 60 hours a week for two years I pumped out 17 books in two years.
James Blatch: So nobody has any excuse. Look at me. Nobody has.
Holly S. Roberts: No one has an excuse. Well except a lot of children running around. If you have rugrats. I don’t know how anybody could write but they do it and I give them props.
James Blatch: They do something to your brain as well, the children.
Okay so you moved through genres a little bit. Let’s talk about process and the way you are now. When an idea of a book comes to you, do you plot it out? How to get into the writing process.
Holly S. Roberts: Well. That’s funny because yesterday, the day before release everything going crazy trying to test out this equipment everything else that you could possibly imagine day before release.
And a story idea came to my head. So I went in and I don’t do my own cover design but I made a cover because I’m a very visual person as I told you with my dyslexia. So I made a cover and I’m going to write that book this year.
I always leave a blank spot open in my writing schedule to write a book that I just feel I need to write. And this one came to me yesterday and it’s called Ugly Tears.
James Blatch: Is it a romance?
Holly S. Roberts: I love romance. I love happily ever after because they don’t really happen in real life except in mine. I have a great spouse. Anyway yeah it’s an ugly cry book and you see all these people all the time and they’ll say does anyone have an ugly tears book. I feel like reading one.
I decided you know what I’m going to write an ugly tears book and that’s what I’m going to need.
James Blatch: I have to be educated about these sub tropes and subgenres. So ugly tears. I thought it was just the title. Now I understand it’s like reverse something or other.
What is ugly tears?
Holly S. Roberts: Ugly tears are when you start crying in a book and you literally can’t stop and you can’t read the book anymore because your tears hurt. You’re crying so hard but you keep going back.
When you’re in the mood for an ugly tears book you actually go and reread all your ugly tears books.
James Blatch: Crying’s therapeutic, right?
Holly S. Roberts: Yeah. And that’s what it’s all about. But it’s that catching you in your heart and making you feel so hard that you get it and sometimes you just need to release that energy so. So the title is Ugly Tears.
James Blatch: We’ll look forward to that when we’re in the right mood for a cry.
I want to talk about police procedurals. You are in a fantastic position to talk to people about getting this stuff right. If authenticity is important to you. I think it probably should be if you’re writing in this area.
I think you’ve got a fantastic set of hand out a material for us, which I’ve had a sneak preview of and it looks really good. Shall we start with where should people start when it comes to writing police procedurals.
First of all, is it important to get this detail right?
Holly S. Roberts: Well if you want me to read your book, yes, it’s very important. And you’ll find most police officers don’t watch CSI shows and things like that. It’s the same with their reading. Joseph Wambaugh was great at writing police procedure and so first off you need to read it. And know your police procedurals.
I think that there are some things you can fluff when you write it and that I get. But my whole thing that I love is when I read that story and I think, okay, he either was a police officer, is a police officer, or he has a close family member who is a police officer because he knows his stuff.
And it’s not that he knows it’s this gun or that gun or something like that. It’s that he knows the mental state of police officers. And I think it’s more important to get the mental state right than anything else.
And so how can you do that? Well, they have this wonderful thing called a ride-along. At least in the United States. And I don’t know how it is in England but here you can do a ride along. You can just call a police department or any member of the public can do this. You can actually do it from starting at age 16. My daughter went on a ride along, as long as you have parental permission.
So you’re going to get stuck with someone who is probably getting in a lot of trouble, hasn’t been good. Because no police officer really likes to have somebody on a ride-along.
You have a civilian in your car who can monitor every single thing you do and they don’t look at the world the way we look at the world. So this is not something you want.
You need to get in a police car with a police officer. You need to see the way they look, the way they act. You need to talk to them.
One of the best things you can ask a police officer once you’ve talked a little bit. Ask them to tell you their rookie story. Every police officer will have a rookie story. It’s their stupidity story, is what it is. It’s what you did that was so stupid. But you look back at and go I can’t believe I did that.
These are things that give you that real insight of how police officers think, how they look at the world. And I think it’s really important to have your head in that game if you’re going to write a cop’s perspective.
James Blatch: That’s really good advice. I’ve been lucky enough to be on a few ride-alongs but obviously because I was a journalist and I can tell you the heart starts thumping a little bit when you get an RTA, a road traffic accident, and you’re speeding to the scene. I did that a few times as a journalist anyway and you suddenly are very much in the world.
And you get to scenarios, classically, where everyone’s moving one way because there’s a sense of danger and then there’s people dressed in blue uniforms who are going in. Nothing quite focuses your attention on the heroic side of that job in those moments. I see no reason why in the UK, or wherever you are, you couldn’t run to your local police force and say I’m an author, I’m writing police procedurals.
Can I spend a shift with you so hopefully they won’t get some boring answer about health and safety.
Holly S. Roberts: Ask to speak with a detective. Ask if they have detective who will answer your questions. Detectives love to talk about their cases. There’s nothing we love more.
I do public speaking and I do talk about the hard cases when I’m public speaking. But I love the fun side of policemen and black humor.
I think most police officers are that way. I remember being in the police academy and our instructor walked in and said I’ve got some pictures up here. We have a lady that was in love with this man they were getting married. He broke up with her. She put her wedding dress on and blew her head off with a shotgun. And you should’ve seen the entire room run to those pictures.
That’s disgusting. It really it’s disgusting.
James Blatch: On the other hand, a striking image you never going to see again.
And thinking about, how did she position the shotgun? And in her wedding dress. She had to get the trigger. She probably did it with their toe. We sat there and just dissected it.
James Blatch: To be fair, it’s a coping mechanism for people who deal with this stuff.
And the second thing is somebody to put a wedding dress on for this big moment, I think they want to be seen. This is a set piece moment for them. So however tragic and sad it is. And not to make light of suicide of course if it’s an issue that affects people, please do seek help.
Holly S. Roberts: And the thing is, it’s affected my family so I’m not making light at all. But the moment you walk onto a crime scene and this is something else that goes to the psychological part. The moment you walk onto a crime scene you don’t look at it as a human being. And that sounds horrible. But you have to put that aside.
When you go to a child’s autopsy you have to put that aside. What you are watching. I worked in a small town and I knew these kids. And so I knew these adults. So when you go to these autopsies you know the people and you can’t think that way.
When you look at those pictures yes I am talking about suicide and thank you so much for bringing up that point because I’ve got a smile on my face and stuff and that is not how I look at it. But when you when you look and stuff that you go into your police brain and you learn. And like I said dissecting how she did it was how we learned. And I had a case similar. So it goes back to what I saw.
James Blatch: I’ll tell you why this is important Holly because that’s how policemen and women police officers think.
So they set an image and their mind is turning over, how did this happen? How did they do that where were they sitting?
And when’s that little bit of information going to be useful to me in the future when am I going to walk into a crime scene and think, I know from experience that that doesn’t work that well.
This is what you’re talking about. Getting into the head of a police officer you’re going to write authentically.
Holly S. Roberts: Right. And that is what I meant to say without making it all laughter and I’m sure people understand that.
James Blatch: I certainly do. I’ve been in that environment. That’s absolutely important to understand.
But at the same time, we also say suicide is something that people need to deal with and seek help. And there are places to go if it’s an issue that affects you. I know that sometimes just a casual discussion about the subject can be upsetting some people say.
So thank you for pulling me back.
You’ve given us some fantastic handouts. I’m from a very practical dissection of a Glock which I’m guessing is a kind of standard police gun?
Holly S. Roberts: It’s the most common, but you need to check with the agencies in the area where you’re going to write a book. Different states have different laws. Different cities have different laws and in my department we were required to carry Glocks.
I was the first officer to actually get a Glock 27 when I became a police officer. I carried a Glock 35. And then as when I became a detective I went to a Glock 27. A Glock 35 has a much longer barrel but it’s still a Glock.
My biggest problem I have when writers write about Glocks and they say flip the safety but there is not a safety on a Glock. It’s called the trigger safety.
James Blatch: I’ve learnt this because I know an author who made this mistake and got pulled up on it. His name is Dawson. So he made this mistake.
So tell me how the safety works on the trigger then.
Holly S. Roberts: OK. Well, I think it’s a joke myself but they call it a safety trigger pull. It’s got a little double trigger and it supposedly takes more finger pressure. So a child doesn’t hold it correctly but that’s untrue because children get killed by police Glocks. We have a couple every year, kids that are killed by police officer’s Glocks. It’s accidental shootings.
So anyway it’s very important not to say ‘flip the safety’ but some departments don’t use Glocks. So it’s something you really need to look into the department that you use.
I now carry a Glock 19 and it’s a 9 millimeter whereas the Glock 35 is a 40 millimeter and the Glock 27 is the 40 millimeter. So these are the little things that you can do your research.
That’s why I gave that little handout of all the Glock pieces because I tear down my glock. You’ve got to tear all that apart and you get to know it. If you have a friend if you have anybody that shoots go out shooting you never shotgun blast doing so.
James Blatch: Easier in America than it is in the UK.
Holly S. Roberts: I’m sure it is.
James Blatch: So that’s the Glock breakdown. There’s two elements. One is a glossary of police terms, which looks really helpful. It’s not just a single sentence is it? Sometimes a good description of what what these mean.
And then the final part of the handout be provided for us writers is a really interesting couple of pages on writing a female detective without high heels.
Now I’m guessing yes this comes from you slightly jaded reading the way that people quite often portray female detectives.
Holly S. Roberts: Yes. The only place I feel you can really get away with it is urban fantasy. So if you’re going to write urban fantasy, a detective who’s maybe a vampire or something like that, she can run in high heels. I’ll give you that one.
I had maybe half an inch to three quarter inch detective heels. That was what I considered my heels. So you have to be able to run. You have to be able to move. You will be wearing a Kevlar vest. Your cleavage will not be showing in the shirt you’re wearing. Your department probably has something against showing your cleavage in the shirt. So these are things that really bug me and this is my full day seminar which is six hours long.
We do three hours before lunch three hours after and I bring all my equipment. I have my Kevlar vest, I have my belts, I have what I call a blue gun which is my Glock but it’s a rubber simulation. That’s exactly what my glock looks like. And you can pull it.
I let people put the spurs on and pull the lock and do the draw. I show my fancy draw. I can still draw really quick and I’ll show them and they all sit there going oh wow.
But I let them put on all the equipment and and feel the weight of it and feel what it takes for a police officer. Every piece of equipment you put on every single morning. Put your head in the game. I had music I played when I got dressed and slowly every single item of clothing goes on. And as each piece goes on my body my head is into cop mode.
And my husband will tell you, once I’m in that mode I’m like hi, bye, very stilted. I’m thinking about life and death before I go out on the street. So that’s important to get to that you understand that inside and just a key thing that I think is really funny.
Cops will tell you they’re not superstitious and that’s a bunch of bull. Cops are extremely superstitious and I do tell this publicly. I don’t care. But I had a thing with my underwear. I only wore black underwear. I never went out on the street that I wasn’t wearing black underwear. It’s just the way it was.
James Blatch: That’s very NFL, football, cricket. In every professional changing room in the country, and amateur, people put putting on their left sock first or the right sock first and then it’s very difficult however much you say you’re not superstitious once you started something like that.
And in your case it’s a life and death thing.
It’s a silly way of looking at it. But it’s it’s a very difficult thing. Well I’ll just take a chance and see if maybe that’s not.
Holly S. Roberts: I had a retiring police officer give me a coin. This was when I was just coming on I was I was just going out on the street by myself for the first time and I ran into him at the post office. He was retiring and his last three months they put him back out on the road. He hadn’t been on the road in two years. And they put him back out on the road.
And so we had this oh my gosh he’s going to die. But he gave me this coin and he said, “I carried this with me every single day I was a police officer and it kept me safe.” And I put that coin in my pocket and I carried it with me every single day.
Now I look back and he probably made that up. And he probably handed it to me and totally made it up. Didn’t matter. My life not about logic. So I carried it but inadvertently is also a very good little tips if you’re going to rock an authentic police officer just build something in that superstition even if they don’t like it it’s something they do.
And that’s what I’m trying to put out there is you need to get into that cop’s psyche. I really think you have to talk to cops to do it. And also just so you know I have a lot less time now but I will take questions. If people e-mail me and say hey I’ve got a cop they’re doing this or this. Can this be done? I’ll answer.
I don’t read as much. I used to read books and check I actually did one for Russell Blake and checked his police procedural and went through it and he wrote me back and said I did all your changes.
I will do it. But I don’t read the whole books anymore. So that’s stuff short paragraph or something you can e-mail me.
James Blatch: This is this is great. We were having a chat this morning actually in SPF about doing maybe a once a week Facebook live with different authors of different backgrounds for Q and A’s and that could this could be a perfect one. I might sign you up for that.
All sorts of questions about what happens when you pull the trigger center or whatever questions people ask.
But in the meantime, you can get these downloads. I’m gonna say that we’re going to come up with a URL or else I’m going to say selfpublishingshow/cops. I think it will work.
You’ll get this three part PDF. So you get a couple of pages on some of the nuts and bolts of what an actual female police officer looks like and feels like rather than the high heel version. And a very good comprehensive glossary of police terms and then a breakdown of a Glock 27. A blueprint.
Do you do that thing where you put a blindfold on and put your gun together?
Holly S. Roberts: I have not tried that, although I am very good. My gun stays on my nightstand. I can reach over I can grab my gun. I can empty my clip I can reach in to my drawer with the lights off totallt, Without being able to see and I can actually put another magazine back and shoot some more. So that I do practice in the dark.
James Blatch: Hint. Don’t burgle Holly.
Holly S. Roberts: If my Rottweiler doesn’t get you first then my my glock will getcha. Sorry.
James Blatch: Well, aim high because I don’t want the Rottweiler to get a stray bullet.
Holly, it’s been brilliant talking to you. I think the meat of this and what people are going to get out of this interview is not an inspiration about doing things but dare I say my myself having published my first book hopefully this year and I’m 52 but doing things a little bit later in life which is a brilliant aspects of the writing industry it doesn’t really matter what age you are.
And secondly, we’ve got some great insight into the realities of police work, which I think translates. A lot of what you’ve said today translate certainly to the UK because ultimately it’s very similar experience for them. Fewer guns here at the moment. I don’t know how long that’s going to last. That’s great.
Holly thank you so much indeed for joining us. And I will see if we can get you on for a Q&A in the Facebook group.
Holly S. Roberts: OK wonderful.
James Blatch: There you go. Holly S. Roberts. Are you going to have a look at that Glock schematic? I think I asked Holly about putting the blindfold on to put your Glock together.
Mark Dawson: Yeah I can. I’ve actually shot a Glock now. A couple of years ago I was taken out by police here Hyder and her husband Chris. Chris is a Marine I think, in the military and he’s a guard. He works at guarding Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
He is an instructor in various firearms and he took me out and we shot an hour 15 and a Glock. And so I was actually quite good at it, which was quite surprising. I was better with the handgun than it was with the automatic.
But that was fun. You can never really learn too much about this kind of stuff and the way I get around it now is is I have a lot of people like Chris or with Chris’s kinds of backgrounds on my advance team who pick me up when I make I still make mistakes and they correct those for me. But yeah this is another good way to get a bit of information on making sure you get these kinds of details right.
James Blatch: And how important is it for you to be authentic in that sense because there is an ultimate it’s a fictional entertaining novel isn’t it.
Mark Dawson: Yes it’s true. But if you think about it from the perspective of a reader. If I’m talking about how to field strip a weapon and I get it wrong lots of people will know that I’ve got that wrong.
And if they can’t trust me with getting a detail like that right why should they trust me with anything else in the novel. So although some people won’t be bothered by that, a lot of people will be irritated that I’ve got something wrong and that can take them out of the experience. They’re not likely to respect me as much as a storyteller. They may not even finish the book.
I had an example of that. I’m in the process of sending the next Beatirx Rose book out to my advance team at the moment and I’ve had maybe 20 or 25 readers come back to me 99 percent of them love it and they’ve really enjoyed it.
Which is great because I’m never entirely sure until I send those books out how they’re going to be received. But one of my readers used to work for the American diplomatic service and he ran a consulate and there are scenes set in Hong Kong in the consulate in Hong Kong and I got lots of things wrong. Now he hated it.
He’s fairly brusque, usually brusque, in how he feeds back to me. But he hated it. He said he read about 100 pages in it. He’s not going to read anymore because he hates it so much because I’ve got lots of things wrong.
There aren’t many people who would know what he knows. So although I will always try to make it look as authentic as possible, I don’t think the minutia of how a US consulate works is that important. With regards to the narrative because only a very very small handful of people will know that I’ve got that detail wrong.
Now with guns and things like that, putting the wrong ammunition into a gun or saying it has a safety on it doesn’t or anything like that it’s not going to be a handful of people that recognize that. Especially in America. And especially with the kinds of books that I write and the kind of audience that I appeal to it’ll be much more significant than that.
So if he was writing to me and saying you’ve got this wrong I would probably edit and I’d change it with regards to this particular thing with the consulate. I probably won’t change it because the benefit is not going to be commensurate with the amount of work that I’d need to do to change it.
James Blatch: Yeah. No I can see that.
I’ve got three pages of notes from my dad about things that I got wrong in the 1960s RF environment and there are some of them that are things that he specifically remembers that I don’t think are going to be worth correcting but other things are facts.
You know the cultural little bits. My dad doesn’t normally talk about swearing. You know how infrequent that was, certainly not in front of women, in that environment in the 60s, which is things you can forget in today’s environments. And that was very useful to have that.
My next question to you then is: you’re an open new man who buys flowers for his wife regularly.
How easy do you find it writing female characters?
Mark Dawson: I think I do okay. Beatrix is a woman and Isabella is her daughter and so I’ve written maybe 10 or 11 books with the two of them in various roles.
I find it no different really from writing from a male perspective. I don’t think about it particularly, definitely when I’m writing. I’ve never had anyone say to me you can’t write a female character. I don’t really make any distinction I think that as long as they’re strong characters and they behave rationally, they don’t make stupid decisions that would be unrealistic.
I don’t spend any more time thinking about what would how would a woman react in this situation. It’s just in my in my case, how would an assassin work in this particular situation? The agenda is frankly relevant.
James Blatch: Yeah okay good. There’s always challenges in that and you suddenly find yourself as a writer and it’s not just women it’s a very broad group of humans. There’s a massive range where you find yourself in the mind of somebody who maybe has a mental health issue or is a psychopath or both a mental health issue and you do find yourself in this odd position as a writer don’t you sit in there trying to think well what would they be thinking how would they be looking why would you know the answers to those questions. Well, that’s one of the joys of this job.
Mark Dawson: Yeah exactly. I think it doesn’t bother me particularly. It’s always come quite naturally to me to put myself into the shoes of other people. And generally I think I’ve got it right but I’m not going to get it right all the time.
James Blatch: I’m sure you do most of the time. Not wrong for long.
Self-publishing show dot com forward slash cops and you’re gonna get a three-part PDF breakdown of the ins and outs of the sidearm, the Glock, a glossary of police terms that be useful to you and a guide to creating realistic female cop characters.
Mark Dawson: It’s like doing a podcast with a goldfish. We spoke about this 10 minutes ago literally.
There’s another thing we need to mention and that is that we are thinking about doing a live event. We have touched on this before. And in the podcast previously and also mentioned in the email that I send out on Fridays and we are covering how much we said on the podcast but briefly, we think we did quite a lot did we.
James Blatch: You saw it we saw quite a lot. You did say who we’re teaming up with.
Mark Dawson: We may be teaming up with Amazon. Depends if they’re on board. They seem interested.
So it would be much I think March 15th. I think it is 2020. So the Monday before London Book Fair and so I sent the survey out just asking three simple questions: would you be interested? If you couldn’t come would you be interested in a really slick professionally produced video replay? And how would your ideal guest be?
We said that out we had maybe 500 responses and 300 people who said that they would want to come to. I suspect we would do 500 without any bother at all of it, which would make it the biggest self-publishing gathering outside of the States. And it also gives us the latitude to start thinking about some really cool guests. So I’ve actually put together just for discussion with Amazon and a list of people that we could think about getting so some big indie names in the states. I’m very confident that they would come. We try and get a big name from traditional publishing someone like E.L. James, someone like that or someone of that kind of level and we’d have an amazing day where we’d have live sessions we’d have.
I would do a session. We’d have genius bars where Amazon staff from various Amazon companies ACX, Audible, KDP print, all of those kinds of people could be there to answer your questions.
Advertising. I think it would be amazing. So if you’re interested in expressing an opinion as to whether you’d be interested in coming and also who you’d like to see if you were able to come out. There is a survey monkey survey which is doing the rounds, which you can get to by going to:.
James Blatch: Selfpublishingshow.com/survey
Mark Dawson: There you go. So do fill that out. Sooner is better than later because we are in talks at the moment and it’s very useful to know that we think it would be successful and hopefully the more people who say they’d come the better the odds that we will push on to the next level.
James Blatch: Yeah. Great. Okay. You forgot we were recording this right.
Mark Dawson: I did. Yes I did.
James Blatch: Don’t accuse me of being the goldfish here.
Well I really enjoyed talking to Holly Roberts. It took me a little bit back as you probably heard from the interview to my BBC reporting days and I really enjoyed mixing with the police because seeing people in those situations are very professional. Most of the time, nearly all the time actually, a huge operation for the UK police and seeing them in in really desperate situations with people but just doing the professional thing and trying to do it for the victims is to see it close up is pretty impressive and nice to really enjoy being in that environment as a reporter. It was great talking to Holly. Good. Excellent.
Well have a lovely weekend. The sun’s out in the UK.
Mark Dawson: I opened the swimming pool for the first time yesterday. It’s really nice. It’s actually warmer in the pool than it is outside of the pool, which is quite pleasant. I’ll be splashing around with the kids at the weekend.
Excellent good. Well, you enjoy that. And we look forward to talking to you again next week and thank you very much indeed.
Don’t forget you can become a member of the SPF university and you can support this podcast. Go to patreon.com/selfpublishinshow
That’s it. It’s all left for me to say. Is it a good bye from me.
Mark Dawson: And it’s good bye from him. Goodbye.
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