about james greer
Writing is a solitary pursuit where introverts pretend to be extroverts just long enough for others to reveal themselves. Then we retreat into our own little worlds.
One might reasonably conclude, given the biographical information contained on the back covers of my books, that I am outgoing, superbly confident and, when the mood strikes, raucously gregarious. I am. It is all an act.
In fact, I am a painfully shy introvert. If you are hoping to play the reader’s game – into which of the characters has James Greer invested the most of his own personality, I would love to know what you conclude. Maybe I have just created dudes with whom I’d like to have a beer.
Writing fiction is the art of taking reality, shaping it to fit the writer’s purpose and enticing the reader with it one scene at a time. But, to capture the real world one must indulge in it.
Oh… You will meet our kids. One is a lawyer (as was I) whose youthful indiscretions and adult wanderings have provided places for my characters to reside. Another is the mom of a preemie, who graciously let me tell her story through several characters. Our son is also an officer. He is a pillar of strength and virtue – my favorite theme.
We have dogs. Maybe, someday, my main characters will settle down enough to have their own. It will be a shepherd, or a Portuguese Water dog. Write what you know.
Finally, writing for publication is hard. Lest you suggest I call the waaambulance… Consider my poor wife. It isn’t just the solitude.
We are on a cruise ship in the Caribbean. Vacations represent departures from the sometimes-stifling professional lives that keep us apart. We are sitting on our balcony, enjoying a cocktail. She is reading, I am gazing off into the distance as we navigate south. The bow wave splashes semi-rhythmically, tons of water folding onto itself in foamy green berms. On the horizon, forbidden (and placidly beautiful) Cuba. I turn to my bride, my soul mate. The love of my life.
“Do you think Karen and Adam would ever take a cruise?”
Being a police officer, working patrol, is an amazing experience. We call it a ringside seat to the greatest show on Earth and it is every bit of that. People unfamiliar with the real world of law enforcement (I’d recommend my books as a start) believe it is all danger, heart ache and misfortune. It can be those things. But, there is also compassion, comradery and, above all, humor. There are times when human nature leads to the most incredible professional experiences. Gold in the hands of a fiction writer.
Taking risks is essential. The quintessential introvert experience is air travel. No, hear me out. Headphones and a book (or – pro tip – an eye mask) are the international signal you want to be left alone. When my parents were alive, but elderly, I flew a ton. I always tried to book seat 1A on the puddle jumpers. Why? The flight attendant sits directly across the aisle. I’ve killed a hundred hours, created half a dozen characters and written ten blogs chatting with the men and women in those seats.
Writers abuse their friends. Okay, let’s just put that out there. They become accustomed (mostly) to the thousand-yard stare, the moment when a plot twist suddenly reveals itself. They know about the notebook. They’ve provided personal information accepting that Karen, or Amy, or Cici will suddenly be just like them. Long bike rides, lunches… Then, the ultimate compliment.
I had asked one of my good friends, someone who was reading raw manuscript material (a sometimes awful experience), for an assessment of something I’d emailed. “Thanks for sending me to work in tears” was the response. I was on the right track.
why these characters
"Why Should I Care What Happens?”
I hear you.
Manipulating the plot is actually fun. A lot of fun. Who wouldn’t want to throw pretend people into mayhem, only to have them improvise. Adapt. Overcome. Or, die trying.
Well, okay… One way to permanently lose some readers is to kill off too main of a character. Whack the protagonist’s husband, especially two or three books along, and the hate mail just rolls in like campaign leaflets in November. Some characters are made to be mourned. But, the main players mostly must make it.
Conflict breeds tension. Tension breeds page-turning. Page turning breeds trips to Amazon to see what else an author wrote. The trick. Oh, the trick.
Sometimes, a writer has solid gold in their fingers and it all just flows. Compelling characters become friends. What happens to them matters. Once that’s done (even though fleshing them out is ongoing), giving them something to do is the essence of a novel. Such as:
An officer works diligently to avoid having to do their job. Sergeant Amy Painter “happens” upon a call he is handling. The cop is about ten words into his latest excuse when Amy takes over. Literally.
Some writers outline plot. I don’t. I want Amy to tell me how she’d handle the problem I’ve given her. And…we’re off!
I love a lot of things about writing. This is one of them. Picture a beautiful, clear Colorado spring afternoon. I’m in my writing studio, which is to say I’m on my back porch, dogs at my feet. The warm breezes swirl pine and newly-mown grass scent to accompany my coffee. I’m totally immersed in how Amy is going to get us both out of a difficult situation. Sometimes, it’s easy. She’s an adept, talented police supervisor. She can handle it.
It’s the how that is so much fun to write. I can’t wait to see what she does.
At the same time, I want to say something that matters to me. Police women are heroes. Despite what some people think they know, there isn’t just a place for women in police work. It is their profession, too. They live it (and some die doing it) just like men.
I want my readers to think of Amy not as a woman police officer, but as a talented professional who is a woman. My job is to make it fun for you to find that out.
why law enforcement
“Me, too,” Amy’s new chief said. “So – Sergeant – what exactly do you do for my police department?”
“I’m the liaison to Homeland Security, sir,” Amy replied.
“Yes, the organizational chart Palmer left me said that.” Kunz’s smile was automatic, as though he needed it to end his sentence. He didn’t mean it at all. “What do you do?”
Body Man, an unfinished Amy Painter novel.
At the outset of every officer’s career, while he or she are happily immersed in the academic portion of their training, they are given a warning. It was the same caveat offered when I sat with friends at Camp George West, attending the Colorado Law Enforcement Training Academy in the summer of 1979.
“This business is stressful,” the instructor said. “The average age an officer dies is fifty-eight. Among occupational groups, we rank first in alcoholism, divorce and second in suicide. Dentists are first.”
“Dentists?” I said to the guy sitting next to me.
“Always down in the mouth, I guess.”
We’d rather be out chasing armed suspects, intervening in domestic disputes, and stopping cars in the dead of night than poke our nose in the one building in town where we are “safe.” That’s how difficult both environments are to endure.
It isn’t just the one-time super traumatic events. Day in, day out. Officers are trained to hold the negative aspects of the job at arm’s length, but…
My first SIDS call – Sudden Infant Death Syndrome – came on a Christmas Eve in 1982. The baby’s presents were still under the tree. My own daughter was seven months old. Bloody traffic accidents…a crash where the driver’s crushed left arm was pinned in wreckage, but the person was totally conscious, begging for help we could not provide (special tools and medical intervention required). A guy hit his live-in girlfriend in the head with a brick. I could see the ceramic flecks driven into her skull. She wanted to get stitched up quickly, so she could clean up the blood. He would be angry if it wasn’t. Believe me we tried really hard to find him that night.
So I write. If Amy, or Karen, or Cici can process it successfully, so can I. If I can put words to the stress, understand the root cause and deal with it, I can cope.
And not be so down in the mouth.