Writer's Notes

Getting it Right-Technical Advice for Novelists by Danny R. Smith

Police and detective stories have withstood the test of time, and they are not going away anytime soon. If you’re writing crime novels but have no law enforcement experience, how do you get it right?

Most crime writers have no personal experience with the crimes about which they write, nor with the resulting investigative processes and procedures. If you don’t know the subject matter of which you write, you somehow need to learn it.

It is not enough to rely on what you have read or watched for entertainment as your main source of expertise. If you do, you will inevitably get it wrong. Maybe you’ll be close, but for me, personally, close doesn’t cut it.

Authors Who Get it Right

One of my favorite authors has always been Elmore Leonard. Unlike most, the “King of Dialogue” had the remarkable ability to write as a twenty-year veteran cop, and as a twenty-year convict, though he was never either one. Clearly, he spent a tremendous amount of time studying both, and he probably had great technical advisors along the way.

Joseph Wambaugh is a cop-turned-author, the trailblazer of authentic police procedure novels. Now, as decades have passed since he worked a beat himself, Wambaugh consults today’s cops so that his writing is authentic and true to the time.

Michael Connelly has a host of LAPD technical advisors, and he gets the details right most of the time. (He could use an advisor from the sheriff’s department because he has made glaring mistakes when speaking of my former department.) As a former cop-beat reporter, Connelly knows the importance of being technically correct in characters and scenes, and I give him credit for that.

How to Find Experts

One great resource for crime writers who have no police experience is Writer’s Detective, a website and blog hosted by a California police officer named Adam. (He uses the pen name B.A. Richardson, as he is still an active duty law enforcement officer.) He also has a Facebook group where he and other experts will answer questions. If you join the group, you will learn who has true expertise and learn to rely upon them and ignore some of the others who love to answer every question, though they have no experience themselves.

Many writers use Adam’s services, and I can personally tell you that his advising is always spot on. He also now hosts a podcast, and it is my understanding he will be releasing a book that will offer even more technical advice for writers.

Another great resource is a recently-retired Milwaukee PD sergeant named Patrick O’Donnell. He published a book on the topic as well: Cops and Writers. Though I haven’t read the book, it has good reviews, and I contributed to some of the material he used to write it.

Along the lines of Facebook groups, there are other great resources for writers. Legal Fiction, which is hosted by an attorney, and Trauma Fiction, a group hosted and attended by medical experts, are both worth joining for writers who need direction in those areas.

Lee Lofland’s book Police Procedure and Investigation: A Guide for Writers is another great resource for writers. Lofland is the founder of Writers’ Police Academy-MurderCon, “a special training event for writers of all genres, with a specific focus on solving the crime of murder,” and is a highly regarded consultant for writers.

My Experience

I have personally served as a consultant on several books. I’ve been mentioned in a couple, including one by a best-selling romance author. She had found me through a friend and asked if I would be willing to answer questions and provide some guidance while she wrote her book. I made myself available to her for several months as she worked on her novel.

Some consultants charge for their work, which is completely appropriate. However, many authors don’t make enough (or any) money on their books and do not have a budget that would allow them to pay for technical advisors. My technical advising thus far has been without compensation, but I wouldn’t do it again unless the person asking for help was a friend or associate, and the commitment was minimal.

Are All Cops Experts?

If you do find a cop or someone retired from law enforcement who is willing to help, make sure he/she has expertise in the area you seek. Not all cops are investigators. (In fact, most are not.) Not all cops are experts in traffic enforcement, or gang enforcement, or arson investigation. If you want an expert, find someone who could qualify in a court of law as an expert in the field of whatever it is you are seeking information.

A word of caution: There are those who have “supervised” and claim expertise in the field to which they were assigned. In some cases, this may be true. But most often, at least in the field of homicide investigation, supervisors do not conduct investigations themselves; rather, they oversee the work of their staff. That does not necessarily make one an expert. Many of the supervisors who were selected to go to the homicide bureau at LASD had no investigative experience because it was not necessary that they did. Their roles as supervisors had nothing to do with being investigators.

What Does it Cost?

The aforementioned Facebook groups are examples of where to find free advice. Just make sure the person offering the advice has some level of expertise and didn’t Google the answer to your question. (You could have done that yourself.) Books can be inexpensive, and of course, podcasts and blogs are free.

If you do find someone with expertise who is willing to help you without compensation, you should be very appreciative of his/her help. The knowledge they share with you was hard-earned, and likely has a greater value than even they know. The romance author I mentioned thanked me in her book. I didn’t expect anything more than that, but you might consider sending a gift certificate for a coffeehouse or maybe a steakhouse as a way of showing your appreciation. Most importantly, don’t use them and move on. I reached out to that author I had helped when I published my first book, and she never responded to me.

Writing Advice for the Cops

Conversely, if you are a cop who is determined to tell your story, you, too, should get it right — the writing part of it. Learn to write so that your prose is enjoyable to read. Writing to entertain is far different than writing police reports and affidavits. I learned that valuable lesson the hard way, having submitted some of my early work to an editor and an agent at a writer’s conference only to have it returned peppered with red ink. The harsh reality was that I had a lot to learn (and still do) about writing. Since I didn’t take college courses on creative writing, there was much I didn’t know, such as identifying and slaying as much passive voice as possible and paying attention to proper sentence structure.

Hire an Editor

Lastly, I have an editor. She is invaluable to me. Every published author has at least one. If you are self-publishing, you need to find a qualified editor (or two) and submit everything you write to her for review. Doing so has freed me to write more and worry less about commas and trying to figure out that whole lay, lie, lain, and laid thing (my greatest grammatical nemeses).

Best of luck to all of my fellow writers, authors, novelists, dramatists, bloggers, scribblers, and other assorted and glorious wordsmiths.

About Danny R. Smith:

Danny R. Smith spent 21 years with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the last seven as a homicide detective. He now lives in Idaho where he works as a private investigator and consultant. He is blessed with a beautiful wife and two wonderful daughters, and he is passionate about his dogs and horses, all of whom he counts among his friends.

He is the author of the bestselling and award-winning Dickie Floyd Detective Novel series, and he has written articles for trade publications. He publishes a weekly blog called The Murder Memo, which can be found at

He is a member of the Idaho Writers Guild and the Public Safety Writers Association.

Blog: The Murder Memo

Books: Dickie Floyd books

Thonie: I thought I’d add my comment to Danny’s post.

As a LE veteran, it galls me to find gross inaccuracies in the novel I’m reading. Some errors I can put down to the author using a municipal agency procedure applied to a state agency. They can be vastly different. Here in NorCal, I never heard “vic” or “perp” except on TV. A cop character’s language can speak volumes to their make-up. Danny’s list goes a long way to helping the author with resources. Another is Citizen Academies. My local police and sheriff’s office do academies (including one in Spanish) which help introduce the cop culture to the public.
Also an agency Public Information Officer may be able to help. If nothing else he/she could point you to a department or individual who may be able to answer your questions. Authors can make contacts via these two above avenues.
One last thought: cops are suspicious by nature. Cold-calling seldom bears fruit. If you need assistance, do your research first. Find out what you can from the internet, etc. about the organization. Cops also hate wasting their time. If you are professional (make an appointment, business cards, etc.) they are more likely to help. The trick is simple: build a relationship. As Danny said earlier, the romance author he helped didn’t return the “favor” when he reached out. He probably won’t help her again.

Writer's Notes

Breaking My Own Rule

A review of Shot to Pieces: A Novel by Michael O’Keefe

Review by Thonie Hevron

Shot to Pieces coverBlurb: SHOT TO PIECES is the story of NYPD 1st Grade Detective Padraig Joseph Durr. Durr is tasked with solving a particularly grisly gang related homicide in Brooklyn. When Paddy catches the squeal, he is also on the verge of an emotional and psychological breakdown. Because of his penchant for self-destruction, fueled by a childhood of abuse and sexual exploitation, coupled with an ingrained sense of worthlessness and abandonment, Durr has brought his entire life to the brink of ruin. Can he hold it together long enough to solve this murder? Can he fix himself enough to be re-united with the one true love of his life and his family? Or will he implode, irrevocably destroying his career, his family and himself?
A few weeks ago, I was contacted by fellow Public Safety Writers Association author Michael O’Keefe. He asked me to read and review his debut novel, Shot to Pieces: A Novel. I told him that I would happily read it as it is a genre in which I write—police procedural, but I don’t do book reviews on my blog. I don’t have an MFA, nor any formal education in literature. I felt unqualified to make a comprehensive review. I am religious about leaving reviews on Amazon, however, and that is what I told him I’d do. We exchanged books the next day. He read mine and posted a very nice 5-star review on Amazon. Read it here.

I, however, was bogged down enough that I couldn’t finish his book until today. I began Shot to Pieces with the expectation of reading a depressing police procedural. Check out the blurb above to see why. But I’d committed to read the book, so I read on.
And boy, am I glad I did! This was one exciting, wild ride with a lot of heart. I’m a west coast law enforcement veteran, so some of the situations hero Paddy Durr gets himself into seem foreign to me. But here’s the deal: they are believable. I can see these things happening during an active career. As can be expected, NYPD differs from small town agencies I worked for. But the personalities of the other detectives, brass, and mutts are collages of many personalities I know!

And the hero, Paddy Durr, has many traits—both desirable and unfortunate—that make him a realistic and exciting protagonist. He’s prone to trouble—you already know that. But his observations on the job are stunning, particularly one in Chapter 27 where his fiancé asks why all the cops in the area come to see him while he’s being treated in the ER. I’ll start the paragraph for you, but you’ll have to read it for the full effect. “Active cops are a different breed. We’re the gunfighters, the alpha dogs of the police department. We’re not special, just different. … So, this pilgrimage is as much away to say I’m glad we’re not meeting at your funeral as it is to say thank you for reminding me to get my head out of my ass. An event like this forces everybody to get back on their A-game.”

M O Keefe
Author Michael O’Keefe


Every page is laced with an unusual combination of intelligence, testosterone, and heart. It’s gritty, it’s real, and moved me to tears a few times. Make no mistake: Paddy’s story is basically a love story—his love for the job and all it stands for as well as his love for his wife and family. However, if you’re a romance reader, take a pass on this book.


But if you enjoy police procedurals like Michael Connelly and Joseph Wambaugh, this is right up your alley. I may not have the ed creds to analyze Shot to Pieces (aside from a little head-hopping now and then) but I know what I like.

So, it’s my blog and I can break my own rules: I highly recommend Shot to Pieces: A Novell!

Writer's Notes

The Next Big Thing

 Intriguing title, huh? I thought so, too. It’s a fun way for writers to share their newest works. A fellow Redwood Writers’ Club member, Sunny Lockwood, tagged me for The Next Big Thing blog chain. Sunny is a writer of short stories and essays. Her newest book is Shades of Love: Stories from the Heart. Check out her blog at Onword.

A blog interview of Thonie Hevron

What is your working title of your book? My working title is Intent to Hold, which refers to the kidnapping section 209 of the California Penal Code.

By Force or Fear
By Force or Fear

Where did the idea come from for the book? This is a sequel to my first book, By Force or Fear, which I published on Amazon in ebook form last June. The title, actually both titles refer to elements of crimes. By Force or Fear is taken from the stalking statute, 646.9PC. I like to use crime codes to foreshadow the menace I address in each book. The tension in the first book dictated one of the main characters deal with a family problem that erupts in the second book. I set it in Mexico to have more latitude in plotting, the setting is glorious, and the character’s family is there.

What genre does your book fall under? Fiction, specifically suspense, with a sub-genre of police procedural. It’s unfortunate the tag for police procedural is sounds so boring, but in reality, as a law enforcement veteran, reading fiction that is accurate as well as exciting is very satisfying.

Benjamin Bratt
Benjamin Bratt

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? When I started my first novel, I used Mariska Hargitay of Law and Order SVU as a model for my lead character Meredith Ryan. These days, I tend to visualize Daniella Ruah from NCIS-LA. She oozes the self-assured competence of my young heroine. Benjamin Bratt was my hero Nick Reyes although Reyes is heavily influenced by a friend and former co-worker. Using actors for “models” helps me characterize so much! I use body movements, facial expressions and generally either try the dialog on for size or let the character make their own dialog. That happens only when you have a clear picture of who is talking. 

Daniela Ruah
Daniela Ruah

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? Detective partners Meredith Ryan and Nick Reyes sneak into Mexico to rescue Reyes’ kidnapped brother-in-law.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? Self-published for now. I plan on continuing to query agents.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? It will take about 8 months to write the first draft. My goal is to have it done for submission to a contest for unpublished manuscripts by May 2013.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? My first book, By Force or Fear, certainly. I would like to think any fiction by Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, Harlan Coben and Sandra Brown. I read PJ Parrish, David Corbett and Paul Bishop. I’d love to write like PJ Parrish-wonderful stories, layered characters and snappy dialog.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? First, it is set in Mexico–the mountains above Puerto Vallarta–in the steamy jungle, dark hillside tunnels, and the ocean below. All have inherent dangers.  Second, the two lead characters have a chemistry that makes readers’ guts groan. Within the storyline, I have kept the sex and violence to a minimum yet ramped up the level of excitement to the max. These two are too busy for a romance–or are they?


Sandy P. Baker
Sandy P. Baker

And the Blog Chain marches on: Sandy Baker is a formidable force within the Redwood Writers’ Club (RWC). RWC is the largest branch of the California Writers Club with over 200 members. Sandy is currently a Vice President and will assume the Presidency in the upcoming years and is the co-chair for the 2014 RWC Writers Conference. In her spare time, she writes childrens stories, has a thriller, The Tehran Triangle out and will publish another thriller this  year. She is also a Master Gardener in Sonoma County. Check out her blog at Garden Plots or her site at