In a brief break from the wonders of grad school, I bring you an interview with my own mentor, Paul Bishop, retired LAPD detective and hard-working author.
I met Paul a few years ago when some mutual friends invited me to join the writing group he runs once a month. While he’s as tough as his portrait shows, he’s got a generous heart. Through Paul’s mentorship and the encouragement of the writing group, I discovered my best voice as a writer, and gained the courage to present my novel, The True Bride and the Shoemaker to the public.
So, without further ado, here’s the chance to get to know Paul Bishop and his latest novel, Lie Catchers.
Novelist, screenwriter, and television personality, Paul Bishop spent 35 years with the Los Angeles Police Department where he was twice honored as Detective of the Year. He continues to work privately as an interrogation and deception expert. His fifteen novels include five in his LAPD Homicide Detective Fey Croaker series. His latest novel, Lie Catchers, begins a new series featuring top LAPD interrogators Ray Pagan and Calamity Jane Randall.
What was the inspiration for you latest book, Lie Catchers?
I spent thirty-five years with the LAPD. More than twenty-five of those years were dedicated to investigating sex crimes – fifteen of them running a squad of thirty sex crimes detectives with jurisdiction over twenty-five percent of the city. During that time, interrogation became a more and more important part of what we did. By videotaping and critiquing every one of our interrogations, it became clear which techniques worked and which ones didn’t. As a result, our unit consistently had the highest sex crimes clearance rate in the city.
I now teach week-long interrogation classes to experienced detectives at wide variety of law enforcement agencies, including my old stomping ground – LAPD. Invariably, on Wednesday or Thursday, one of the more veteran detectives will approach me because they are angry. However, the great thing is, they aren’t angry with me. They are angry because they didn’t have the concepts taught in the class sooner. It is not the cases we crack that stay with us, it’s the ones we don’t crack that haunt us.
Having read voraciously in the mystery field, as well as writing a number of previous cop novels, I’d never come across anything dealing with interrogation in a realistic manner. Books don’t get it right. TV certainly doesn’t get it right – not even the real cop shows like 48 Hours.
How my team of detectives and I interrogate suspects – not just the techniques, but the psychological and physical sciences behind them – had never been captured on the page. With my experience ‘in the box,’ I was in a unique position to write an interrogation based novel and make it as realistic as fiction would allow. Lie Catchers is the result.
When did you decide to become a writer?
When I was in elementary school, instead of just using each of my homework vocabulary words in a separate, unconnected sentence, I would put all of them into a complete story – much to the delight of my teachers and the ridicule of my less creative peers.
Then, somewhere in my late teens, I remember reading a novel and thinking I could write something better. I sat down, rolled a sheet of paper into my typewriter and then sat staring at the blank page. I quickly realized writing might not be as easy as I’d thought. However, I stuck with it and started writing all kinds of derivative crap as I slowly learned my craft.
I became a pro in my mid-twenties when I actually started getting paid for writing freelance magazine articles. I then sold a couple of short stories to one of the last of the pulps (Mike Shayne’s Mystery Magazine), and, a year later, my first novel.
Who was your mentor when you first started writing?
One of the reasons I currently enjoy being a mentor is I know how important one could have been to me when I first started out. While I didn’t have a mentor, I did have a number of inspirations.
I had a natural flair for characters, but I taught myself to plot by tearing all the pages out of two copies of a Dick Francis novel. I needed two copies because I wanted to spread all the pages out on the floor – front and back. I then meticulously went through the entire novel taking notes and trying to understand how Francis constructed his plots.
Then Joseph Wambaugh showed me how being a real life cop could bring real life intimacy and immediacy to a novel like nothing else could. I started paying attention to everything going on around me, storing it away as fodder to use later.
You spend a lot of time mentoring novice writers. What traits and/or skills do you find helps novice writers grow the most?
As you know, in our writers group, we spend a lot of time reading each other’s work aloud. When somebody else reads your work aloud all of the flaws you didn’t hear in your head when you read it yourself become cringingly obvious.
I think it is important for a mentor not to try and turn out clones of his own writing style or genre. As a result, a mentor has to have a wide knowledge of genres outside his own in order to understand what a novice is trying to achieve.
It is also necessary to understand every novice is at a different stage in their development as a writer. Some are clearly a hair’s breadth away from publication and need just a polish and some confidence to move forward. Others can be so new, they don’t even know what they are doing wrong. It’s easy to mentor the former, but the latter are the ones who need the most guidance, patience, and encouragement. There is a homily about the hardest person to love is the one who needs your love the most. The same can be said of being a mentor…the most difficult writer to work with is the one who needs your help the most. The question is, how will they respond to your help?
Over the course of your career, how has the business (marketing, royalties, etc.) of writing changed?
There has been a revolution going on in publishing for almost ten years now. It is the same revolution the music industry went through ten years earlier as mp3 technology, YouTube, and the Internet made many of the established record companies obsolete, or at least forced them to change many of their business practices to treat artists better.
With the advent of Amazon, CreateSpace, and the e-book explosion, traditional/legacy publishing houses are quaking in their boots. There are the anointed bestsellers who ‘tradpub’ still fawn over, but for mid-list writers the wild west of self-publishing has become the route to wider success.
What made you decide to transition from traditional publishing to self-publishing?
Because of the current revolution in publishing, no longer does a writer have to wait eighteen months to two years for a book to be published by a traditional publisher (assuming they deign to publish your manuscript in the first place) for a monetary advance which probably wouldn’t cover your dry cleaning bill and pet food for the year. Then, when a book is published and the publisher does no promotion, it sinks into oblivion and the publisher blames the writer for the lack of sales. It is completely and utterly ridiculous and insane way to do business – and only the tip of the iceberg.
The wild west of self-publishing no longer has anything to do with the taint attached to the ‘vanity publishing’ of the past. There are still no guarantees of success, but at least you are the captain of your own ship either sailing forth or going down with it.
This means the ‘writer’ has to learn a whole new set of skills…formatting, promotion, finding and hiring a good copy editor (always worth the money because you can’t do it successfully yourself), covers, and a myriad of other things which keep you away from the actual writing. That said, it would take a pretty hefty advance and an airtight promise of promotion and support to make me even consider traditional/ legacy publishing again. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. Time to move on.
How is writing for television/screen different than writing for print?
I’ve done a fair amount of television and film work along with my novels. Almost everything in screenwriting has a different structure than a novel. If you are writing for an established television show, there are so many other factors the writer is forced to consider – which secondary characters are demanding their air time be pumped up, which stars are only on the set three days a week so can’t be in every scene of an episode, and on and on.
When I write the first draft of a script, I know in the second draft, I am going to have to cut all the dialogue by fifty percent. In the next draft, another fifteen to twenty percent is going to have to go until I get the dialogue down to the fewest amount of words with the most impact. In a novel, you can ramble some and get away with it. In a good script every word, every scene, has got to move the story along.
As a retired LAPD detective, what is the most common eye-rolling moment in cop stories, either written or film?
Cop shows are always able to illegally hack into any computer system anywhere in less than ten seconds. DNA results are processed and returned during a commercial break. The ol’ good cop bad cop routine – which is considered a form of intimidation and illegal under the fifth amendment. TV cops apparently have the luxury of working only one case at a time, they continue to investigate even when they are suspended, and they can always get their gun and badge back after tossing it on the chief’s desk in a fit of pique. Should I go on? Don’t get me started on interrogation techniques. I am a horrible person to watch cop show with.
What is the most accurate cop TV show and crime writer?
Cop shows I can tolerate: ‘Prime Suspect’ (both the highly applauded British version and the quickly canceled and derided American remake). Early seasons of ‘Law & Order’. Both seasons of the British show ‘Broadchurch’ and all but the last season of the British show ‘Cracker’. ‘The Wire’. ‘Homicide Life On The Streets’.
What is your number one piece of advice for new writers?
If you are not compelled to write, if you can breathe without writing, if your brain won’t explode if you don’t get the characters and stories out and onto the page – then don’t write…
Thanks for Reading! And now, questions for you:
- Who have been your mentors?
- What are your favorite crime shows or novels?
- What are your goals as a mentor?