Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Indie Scene: Paul Bishop

I first noticed author Paul Bishop during a viewing of Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane, the documentary by Max Allan Collins, where Bishop stated that if Mike Hammer was a real detective, he, as a bona fide police office, would end up booking him instead of assisting him a la Pat Chambers.

So I Googled Paul Bishop and was impressed with his background as a veteran detective and crime writer; when I began my ebook venture, Paul was kind enough to mention my work on his own blog, Bish's Beat, and has mentioned each of my books upon release. Thanks, Paul!

To repay the favor I wanted to interview Paul about his own ebook effort (reissues plus originals) and an upcoming reality television project which sounds great.

The books include his Calico Jack Walker/Tina Tamiko series, and his Fey Croaker series, both of which feature police protagonists, and an original series called Fight Card, the first story of which features a boxer fighting under the watchful eye of L.A. gangster Mickey Cohen. I have read parts of each book, and Paul has a crisp writing style and a narrative energy that really grabs you.

Here’s Paul….

BD: Who or what inspired Calico Jack Walker and Tina Tamiko from your first books, Hot Pursuit and Deep Water?

PB: When I first joined the L.A.P.D. in 1977, rumors abounded about on-duty cops driving either to Las Vegas or Tijuana in their police cruisers, getting their picture taken in front of a casino, or a moth-eaten donkey with a sombrero, and driving back to L.A. all in one eight hour and forty-five minute Morning Watch shift.  I’d already started on my path to become a writer and I knew this  legendary jape was the stuff from which cool action novels were born.

To lengthen the odds against my hero, Calico Jack Walker, I gave him a female rookie partner – Tina Tamiko – turned the run into a grudge match race against two other police officers, and put Calico’s pension at risk by having it all go down on his last shift before retirement.

This was wild and wooly stuff and I wanted to anchor it in the realism of a job I knew intimately.  I’d read a lot of Wambaugh, and knew the kind of vibe I was trying to achieve, only with my own personal twist.

At the time I wrote Hot Pursuit, I had no idea there would be a sequel.  When I first started writing, I had a tendency to put my protagonists through hell.  By the end of the book, they were distinctly changed both in personality and circumstances.  This made sequels very hard.

However, when I was asked for the sequel to Hot Pursuit, I found I did have another plot specific to L.A.P.D. I wanted to play out.  In the late ‘80s, the police department would pile massive quantities of confiscated guns and illegal narcotics onto a barge, point it out into the Pacific, and dump the contents several miles offshore.  Eventually, environmental concerns – including beached whales found to have PCP and other drugs in their dissected brains – brought this practice to a halt.

With Calico retired to run a charter fishing business and Tina promoted to detective, it gave me a perfect scenario to play out in Deep Waters – the story of the planned hijacking of the last property barge with guns and narcotics aboard.

BD: Fey Croaker is a great character in her Detective Fey Croaker L.A.P.D. Novels. Was there anyone in particular who inspired her?

PB: All of my long-term partners on the job have been female.  I learned a ton from all of them.  In my opinion, the average woman in law enforcement is much better than the average man – and yes, I know saying that is sacrilege to many.  Women on the job are natural problem solvers and can instinctively deescalate potentially violent situations far quicker and easier than their male counterparts because they are not hung up on their own machismo.

Working for so many years with female partners, I saw firsthand how they were mistreated by bureaucracy, how every time they turned around they were being hit on sexually.  It got to the point where I’d heard every pick-up line in the book a hundred times used on my partners.  I got really tired of it, so I had some inkling of how they felt. 

I also came to understand why female cops have a very hard time sustaining personal relationships outside of the job.  And through investigating sexually related crimes for thirty plus years, I came to believe the majority of females have some kind of sexual abuse – almost always unreported – in their background.  This was inside knowledge, and I wanted to bring it to the character of Fey Croaker. 

Before I had even started writing the first book, I had plotted out a four book story arc for Fey’s personal life.  I knew each book would contain a standalone plot, but would also be designed to isolate Fey more and more personally, before forcing her to deal with her demons in the fourth novel.

So, Fey is a combination of many of the great female detectives with whom I’ve had the honor of working.  And the best feeling was when I would be approached by female law enforcement officers who had read the book and demanded to be told how I knew this stuff – it meant I’d gotten it right.

I also had a blast creating the crew of detectives who work for Fey.  I need them to be a mixed lot so I had plenty of grist to play with while keeping the plots rolling along.

A reviewer labeled the series as Prime Suspect colliding with Ed McBain’s 87th precinct with a California twist.  I really liked the description because it cut to the heart of what the series was about for me.

BD: Please explain a bit about how you chose the traits of your characters, what you wanted them to express to a reader, and if you found those traits in real-life equivalents or not.

PB: I strive to create flawed characters who really try to do the right thing in difficult situations.  They don’t always accomplish it, but they always try.  I like putting my characters into situations where they are finally pushed to put everything they cherish or think they cherish on the line – and then push them over that line.

I’ve found that type of dedication in many of the detectives with whom I have worked or who have worked for me.  Law enforcement in Los Angeles has had its share of violent controversy, like any big city department – or little city, for that matter – but in my experience, those who violate the law under the banner of their badge are the very small minority. 

For ten years, I ran a sex crimes unit with 28 detectives – to a man and woman, they felt called to that particular investigative discipline.  Every day they did their job to the best of their ability, sometimes under adverse and very dangerous circumstances, and they never flinched. I want to capture that in my characters.

BD: Why did you choose to write about the police?

PB: I chose to use cops and detectives as literary foils because law enforcement excited and still excites me.  I felt I could bring to the genre the sort of realism that comes from having done the job.  There is nothing like breaking a big case, coming up with the one piece of evidence that makes sense of everything.

In my particular investigative discipline it’s all about interrogation.  I get a huge charge going into the ‘box’ and getting a suspect to talk to me, to tell me not only what they did, but why they did it – and I want to capture that feeling on the page.

That said, I’ve also written westerns, sports novels, and documentary films, so my writing is not exclusively cops and robbers.

BD: When I was a radio news reporter and wanted to write about somebody in that line of work, I found there was a ton I didn't know about my own job (!) and I needed to research those blank spots to make my story work. Did you have the same experience with writing about police officers? If so, did that surprise you?

PB: Yes!  There is always a surprising amount of questions you come up with about your own career when you start writing about it.  You think; how do we do this, or how does this process occur, and you have to start calling people to find out.  The good thing is you know who to call and you can get access to them.
BD: Who inspired you to write and how have those authors influenced your writing?

PB: There have been a number of novels and authors, during different decades of my life who have provided inspiration  The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham inspired me in my late teens, not only to write, but to live life. 
Mr Bishop Comes Up for Air

In my twenties, I discovered Nevil Shute’s Round The Bend and Trustee From The Tool Room, both of which inspired me to create characters with depth. 

Also in my twenties and through into my thirties, the novels of Dick Francis further showed me the kinds of characters/heroes I wanted to create.  Ian Chapel, the hero of my novel Penalty Shot, was specifically created in the Dick Francis hero mold.  I literally took apart a Dick Francis’ paperback, laid all the pages out on the floor, and then charted how his plot was paced and tried to create the same feeling for Penalty Shot.

Authors who have personally inspired me as friends an mentors include Dennis Lynds, Lawrence Block, and Lee Goldberg.  All three taught me not just about the art or writing, but also the business of writing.
BD: Does a single novel stand in your memory as the book that made you want to write?

PB: Thoreau’s Walden Pond has stayed with me from the first time I read it in high school, I wanted to be able to articulate those kinds of ideas on paper.  If I was shipwrecked on a deserted desert isle, it is the one book I would want to have with me.

BD: Are you going to only do your backlist as ebooks, or will we see more originals, like Felony Fists, from you too?

PB: Felony Fists and the other books in the "Fight Card" series are only the first of a number of planned projects set to come out between now and the middle of next year.  E-book publishing has completely changed the paradigm for mid-list or niche authors such as myself. We are now in control of our words, our covers, our blurbs, our marketing, our futures . . . The kings of publishing are dead!  Long live the revolution!

BD: Tell us about your publishing background and when your books originally appeared.

PB: I began my writing career freelancing for magazines.  I sold my first short story to one of the last pulp magazines, Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine.  I then fell into an opportunity to write westerns under the publishing house pseudonym Pike Bishop.

From there, I wrote my first cop novel, Citadel Run, now published under the new e-book title Hot Pursuit – with a much better cover! Five other novels followed over the next ten years.  All were mildly successful, but none really broke out.

I’d been dabbling in writing for television, but it was Lee Goldberg who gave me my first major episodic scriptwriting break on Diagnosis: Murder.  Lee is still kind enough to maintain my first Diagnosis: Murder episode, "The Last Resort", as his favorite of all the episodes in the series.  He is far too kind, but he opened the door for me to do more scripts for Diagnosis: Murder and then onto such shows as L.A. Dragnet, The New Detectives, and Navy Seals: The Untold Stories.  One History Mystery episode, The Magic Bullet, in which I made my screen debut, still seems to show at least once a month on some obscure cable channel at an insomniac hour.

The episodic television work lead to doing the script for an independent feature film, Beat The Drum.  The script writing was fun, fast, and paid a lot better than mid-list novel writing, so that’s what I stayed with doing.

All of this was done, of course, while still working full time as a detective with the L.A.P.D. running various sex crimes units around the city.  I’m a very lucky guy being able to dual careers I love – putting words on paper and putting bad guys in jail.

Now, however, I’m excited to see my backlist given new e-life, and even more excited be being back writing novels like Felony Fists in a whole new publishing environment.

BD: I know a former Chicago detective who once told me of a case where he knew the suspect, a wealthy individual with political connections, was guilty as hell, but he couldn't prove it. He wants to write a "fictionalized" version of the case and, as he says, "fry the punk on paper." Have your own unsolved cases inspired any of your stories?

PB: I have to tell you, most of the bad guys I’ve chased have been caught and done their time.  I chased one guy for two years, even going down to Mexico twice chasing leads on his whereabouts.  One day, out of the blue, he walked into the station, looking like Howard Hughes in his hermit days, and gave himself up saying he couldn’t take being pursued anymore.

On the page, I like to incorporate the gallows humor from the life around me in the squad room.  On rare occasions, I’ve taken a real life situation and fictionalized it out to the Nth-degree. However, by the time the full fictional plot plays out, there is little of the real life situation left beyond the inspiration for the idea.

When I wrote Sand Against The Tide, now rechristened Deep Water in the new e-version, West L.A. Division, where it was set was the most unknown area in the L.A.P.D. The plot involved a black football player turned sports broadcaster who is accused of a series of murders.  I’d almost finished the book when the O. J. Simpson case occurred in West L.A. and busted my plot wide open.  It caused the biggest rewrite I’ve ever had to do.

BD: Tell us about your current television effort.

PB: Imagine getting a phone call at work one day from a vice president of a major production company who asks you if you’d come down and see the casting director for a new show for which they think you’d be perfect – and the wild and crazy thing is you are!  Life never ceases to amaze.

Take The Money And Run premieres on ABC on August 2, 2011, at 9 PM.  It is a reality game show, from the producers of the Amazing Race, Bertram Van Munster and Jerry Bruckheimer, in which average citizens are pitted against law enforcement officers for a prize of $100,000.

My professional partner, nationally recognized prosecutor Mary Hanlon Stone, and I are regulars on the show, using our interrogation skills to try and pry the truth out of the citizen contestants in order for the law enforcement contestants to find the hidden briefcase full of cash.
We’ve filmed six episodes around the country and it was both exhausting and incredibly satisfying.  I can’t wait for it to premier.  I think the audience is in for some big surprises.



  2. Nice interview Paul and Brian. Many thanks for the insight.

    Tom Roberts
    Black Dog Books