Writing Cops

How does one “write cops?”

A very serious, studious man editing one of my manuscripts differed with me on a point of order. I had a character - one I knew pretty well - saying something in a moment of pique. Specifically, it was a juvenile moment between…

It was Karen. Early in her relationship with Adam, they had something of a tiff. He explained that he did not care to be touched at that moment. A “can-cannot” exchange intervened in an otherwise adult conversation. I thought it was hilarious. The editor’s comment?

“Policewomen don’t talk that way. I’ve met several, and…”

It is the writer’s privilege to stop listening at that point. He was a great editor, Out of Ideas is a good book because of him, but… Several? One ignores a good editor at their peril, so I asked a subject matter expert. I asked a woman cop at work if the scene had any hint of authenticity.

What transpired might be labeled “grade school behavior” by an outsider. Any outsider. She started poking the nearest male cop in a fairly exact rendition of the proposed scene. He responded in kind and… Well, we were pretty sure I had written Karen accurately.

And then, I went home and fixed it. I had a contract.

Coming For Guns

“When guns are outlawed, only the Government will have guns. The Government - and a few outlaws. If that happens, you can count me among the outlaws.”
Edward Abbey, Postcards from Ed: Dispatches and Salvos from an American Iconoclast


Americans have a centuries-old respect for firearms ownership. From the early years of settling “The New World” through the Revolution… Firearms play an important role in defining who we are, how we got here and where we are going.

The discussion of what to ban, how to ban it and what the Constitution allows is all very interesting, from a law porn perspective. Certainly Heller and the like make excellent reading. A recent poll was used to suggest that the majority of Americans favor banning the ubiquitous AR-15 (in its plentiful forms). The Second Amendment was written to remove this question, in the main, from the vagaries of public opinion. But…

Nothing is absolute. Much discussion is being had about gun confiscation. Reckless opinions are everywhere - some suggesting that the police and military will refuse to comply with orders to take guns from American citizens.

I disagree.

I wrote A More Perfect Union not as a cautionary tale, but as an exploration of how gun prohibitions might begin, and what might be expected of public servants torn between their personal opinions and their sworn duty.

Click on the link and give it a try. I’m not asking you to agree. I just want you to think about what would be asked of good men and women who made certain promises to themselves, and their country.

Looking Toward the Sky

A B-25 Mitchell flew over, gear and flaps down. The radial engines sputtered and grumbled, throttles back as it approached the runway. It was our first glimpse of an aircraft at AirVenture 2005. John and I had driven the eleven hundred miles to witness the airshow of a lifetime.

Our second glimpse was of an ultralight aircraft in a ditch, surrounded by traffic cones. We found out later that the engine had quit, the glorified umbrella descending with all of the grace of a coal shovel. The pilot wasn't seriously injured.

Over the course of the next week a thousand airplanes came and went. So did a monster rainstorm. Therein lies a life-changing tale.

I had already written my first novel...er, manuscript. That's how the power of presumption seems to work, for me at least. I've written several million words of fiction - none of it in police reports, smart ass - but never considered anything a novel unless it was published somewhere. 

A Miracle of Zeros and Ones was written, and had been read by several friends. It wasn't very good, was grossly overweight... Most commercial novels are less than a hundred thousand words. Miracle was almost 200K. Oops. I guess I got a little carried away.

I got a lot of rejections from publishers. What did I expect? Although several returned nice comments there didn't seem to be much interest in a policewoman being stalked through the mobile data terminal in her car. I had guessed wrong, sort of.

Any number of the books I'd read for writing classes I'd taken (among them how to write romance...really) talked about providing variety as a means of getting published. I'd tried what I knew best - law enforcement from the grunt level. I felt like Sundance.

"We've gone straight," Sundance says, the effort having resulted in death and disaster. "What do we try now?"

Tuesday, I think it was, in soggy Oshkosh. Damp and overcast from the previous evening's downpour. The afternoon airshow went on as advertised, with some modifications to account for the lower cloud deck - the ceiling. Overhead were Mustangs, Spitfires, AT-6s... Lots of them. Formations, single aircraft passes. John had a receiver (he's a pilot). We listened as the airplane drivers talked to each other, coordinating a 200 mile per hour, 3D ballet.

We learned later that evening a Mustang had crashed off airport grounds. Sadly, the pilot rode it in and was killed. And, the words just started spilling forth.

What if?

Years later, I would have jumped onto my travel laptop and started typing. Heck, my daypack has several notebooks that would have come in spectacularly handy. But, this was 2005. I was a rookie. John had a pad of sticky notes. It would have to do.

Over the course of the drive back to Denver I invented Deputy Karen. Her marriage over, her life a shambles. Dispatched to an airplane crash, meets a guy...

Out of Ideas was published by a small California imprint, and then reissued through Amazon. The day it went live - I became a freelance writer. A novelist.

Every July I think about the extraordinary trip to Oshkosh with a fabulous friend. I came home with a ton of memories, and an aviation story to tell. Now I have a web site (Jamesgreer.online), many more books to sell and a dream. All from looking toward the sky one gray day in Wisconsin.

Fiction, Meet the Future

A few years ago, in the aftermath of a mass shooting, I began a novel. I needed a new character, a new theme and a new setting. I chose rural Colorado, and created a person named Cici. Gun control was the theme.

Gun control. The middle ground is drowned out, shouted down. The extremes - the "Cold, Dead Fingers" crowd on the one hand, the gun banners on the other, shout past each other with tirades that only harden. One is persuaded not of the need for additional gun control, but of the necessity to abandon social media for being, well, anti-social.

What happens if one extreme holds sway, and imposes their will on the other? Since only government has that capacity... What happens to the officers who are at ground zero, face the unenviable task of doing things the Founding Fathers were afraid of?

A More Perfect Union may not answer every question. It will make you think about how difficult this subject truly is.

"To Secure These Rights"

"Not might makes right, might for right." Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford), The West Wing.

I admit it - I'm a little confused by the Women's March. I'm told that most women don't want to be viewed as an impersonal orifice, but then...the costumes.  It has something to do with rights, respect and privilege. I'm still kind of hung up on the costumes. Go figure.

It isn't my gig and, apparently, I'm not alone. The blogosphere is rife with guys wondering just what in the holy hell. Etc. "They have the same rights as men, maybe they even have certain privileges men don't get to exercise." Oh, woe is me, they add.

I flash to the Hallmark Channel in the run up to Christmas. You know the movies - the big city guy/girl sent to the small town to buy out and close up the restaurant/inn/cookie factory. The women are pretty, the men handsome and true love takes over. The company that produces these million-ish dollar little bits of fluff have no pretense to Casablanca or Citizen Kane. Still, they are hugely popular.

One of the ads that played periodically was a little vignette about a woman architect. She had a terrible time convincing her male...boss, I gather...to take her seriously in the darkly-photographed and uninviting big firm setting. In the final scene - bright office, lots of windows - she answers the phone. She has gone into business for herself. She has a huge smile and a cheery expression. I don't remember what I was supposed to buy, but it's a cute commercial.

But, then I'm probably not the main target demographic for this commercial. I don't think this company spent millions on shooting, prepping and placing this ad on several hundred prime time spots over Hallmark's busiest time of year for me to think it's cute. I think they know their audience all too well - women who have gotten, or are getting shitty deals at work and wish they could do that. The company is as much as saying "We get you. Trust us with your next purchase decision."

Now, boys. Many of us are free-market capitalists - at least I am and most of my friends are. What do you think of this business decision? What do you think it says about the marketing department's opinion on the number of professional women with money to spend who watch that commercial and feel like someone understands?

It isn't about funny hats, creepy costumes or hastily-painted signs. It's about respect. Don't think so? I've written four books on this subject. I've interviewed dozens of women to lend authenticity to my characters.

Respect is in short supply right now. We should change that.

What Does This Button Do?

"Emergency. Everybody to get from street." The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming." (1966).


Humor in writing is like...salt, or hot sauce. A little bit goes a long way. This is especially true when the underlying incident isn't all that funny. That creates a terrible dilemma for a writer.

Recently, a "missile  attack, this is no drill" warning was broadcast in Hawaii. Broadcast, in the 2018 style of cell phone messages and the like, in the manner of weather warnings and Amber alerts. Since the crazy little fat boy in North Korea has threatened same, the warning had a ring of authenticity. People took it seriously - can you blame them? There was panic, and more than a few folks called family on the Mainland to say they loved them...and good bye. Only after an extended period had passed was it called off. It hadn't been a good faith error. It was a screw up.

So, not funny.

Writers think differently. The words start to form sentences, paragraphs... Whole blogs, or scenes in a novel. People say things, events unfold and people are...people. They scream, they say earnest things in all seriousness...they make jokes. It helps relieve the tension. It helps gain a little bit of perspective.

But, writers need to be careful not to appear cruel. It is better to have characters point fun at themselves, or a trusted friend. Not at someone who suffers misfortune. Slapstick is fun (for a while) only if the understanding is that everyone is a willing participant. The Three Stooges was funny in large part because the eye pokes, head saws and face slaps turned on Moe as often as anything else. 

Two of us, both SWAT negotiators, were huddled next to a house, behind a shield wearing "full battle rattle." helmets, tac vests...and trying to get the attention of a man with a gun hiding in the home next door to where we were. We were using an ancient bull horn - another story - and getting no where. I was droning on about guaranteeing the guy's safety, no one had been hurt... Etc. I was getting no response. If you've ever tried to keep up a running conversation with someone you can't see, who is not responding at all, you know how tiring that is. My back-up, a woman SWAT member who is also a good friend, offered me helpful hints and suggestions, but I was running out of steam. Finally, she leaned over my shoulder and said quietly "Tell him - 'I'm an introvert. You're killing me.'" I started laughing, turned to tell her to shit up, and saw a guy in the window under which we had knelt, taking our picture. Eventually, the guy surrendered.

Now, if we'd had to kill the guy, or one of us had been injured it wouldn't seem all that funny. Finding humor in the pain of others is sadism. But...

Upon hearing about the missile non-attack, restraint was the order of the day. Because my writer's brain went immediately to a 60's, Alan Arkin's impossibly overblown "Russian" accent and a clutch of garishly-dressed Soviet sailors delivering their warning.

Glad it was a mistake. 



And They All Said "General...Who?"

General Tso's chicken, for tonight's dinner. Well, who, specifically, is General Tso, and why is his chicken dish so popular? The writer in me had to know.

Words, phrases...getting it right for even the most discriminating reader. Have you ever done this?

Some years ago, we were at a luxury resort in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. It is in the Yucatan, along the east coast just a bit south of Cancun. Life had been hectic. Life had been unkempt. So rather than do the typical (when I'm in charge) death march vacation, we sat by the pool, drank excellent margaritas and pina coladas, and read.

I had chosen a book by a well-known author... Well known - hell, his best-seller had found two-hundred fifty million buyers worldwide. So, with great enthusiasm (and something of a hangover) I tucked into his long-awaited sequel.

It was hideous. Aside from being something of a poor retelling of the movie National Treasure, it sported some amazing factual errors. One howler in particular had a Blackhawk helicopter settling onto its skid on the White House lawn.

Only, the Blackhawk's undercarriage has wheels.

So, writers do research. About everything. Including dinner.

The menu for tonight was General Tso's Chicken. I'll bite (I know, right?). Who was General Tso? I expected a Chinese warlord, maybe someone who hid in the hills ahead of the Japanese in the 1930s. Could be someone who was involved in the 1920s upheavals (Sand Pebbles, anyone?).

Well, it could have been anybody. What I wasn't ready to read was that it was nobody in particular. It was a dish cooked up (uh, huh) by a chef in the United States. It is a wildly popular dish that is fabulous, high in all of the bad things that make great food great and can be ordered - to be delivered - almost anywhere. In fact, at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD, it is called Admiral Tso's Chicken.

Research, reading... It's what's for dinner.

Writing Guy

Writing Guy

Guy Fleegman (Sam Rockwell) : I'm not? Then what's my last name?

Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen) : It's, uh, uh - -I don't know.

Guy Fleegman : Nobody knows. Do you know why? Because my character isn't important enough for a last name, because I'm gonna die five minutes in.

Gwen Demarco (Sigourney Weaver): Guy, you have a last name.

Guy Fleegman : DO I? DO I? For all you know, I'm "Crewman Number Six!"

Galaxy Quest (1999).

It happens all of the time. I need a character to deliver a line, make an observation or fulfill a function in the story and the reader thinks "Awe, too bad for them. They're toast."

More often, the character grows into something. In The Heart of the Matter, I needed someone to say "Yeah, I've seen that boat." The next thing I know his name is John, he's a former Navy SEAL and the story evolves with him in the middle. The widow of a police officer offers insight into her husbands demise and that's it. I lose control of my own character and she's Dr. STEM, with a million secrets. I'm struggling to find a name for Karen's mom - a subplot that is meant to fill in the blanks in Karen's complex personality. I meet someone in the ordinary course of teaching, her name fits my character perfectly (sorry, friend) and suddenly "Mom" is circling in a billion dollar Air Force plane issuing a critical order.

I don't really write characters. In a very real sense, they write themselves. So, today, some members of a writer's group to which I belong offered suggestions about a character. One, an editor who I trust implicitly, thought him an improbable presence. Point taken, so I make him something different and give him a work partner. And...

She is dark and brooding. She doesn't say much, doesn't miss anything and is clearly sizing Karen up. What is her story? What does she conclude?

She hasn't told me that, yet.

At Peace

At Peace

At Peace

2:8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 2:9 And, lo, the angel of the LORD came upon them, and the glory of the LORD shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 2:10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 2:11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the LORD. 2:12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 2:13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 2:14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.


The Gospel according to Luke.


To the men and women serving who are missing some, or all, of Christmas with their families - firefighters, police officers, doctors and nurses, dispatchers, EMT/Paramedics and all of those others behind the scenes, to the men and women in the military on bases, in the field or in the air or at sea... The miracle of Christmas is about peace, good will and hope. You are the ones guarding those aspirations, sacrificing so that we may celebrate in peace and freedom.


God bless, be safe. From all of us here at Bikecopblog, a very Merry Christmas.

On the Mend

On the Mend


At Stonehenge, in Wiltshire, England, the sun rises perfectly between two 4000 year old columns. In the Northern hemisphere, it is the beginning of deep winter. Many cultures recognized it as the beginning of famine, the last feast of plenty until spring. That was, of course, before Nathan Wales and Alfred Mellowes invented the refrigerator in 1916. But, I digress.

The Greer household celebrates it as a time of letting go, mostly of the bad things we've carried as unnecessary baggage. A work-related inequity? Gone. An aspiration overcome by events? Recalibrate. Weather permitting, we set a fire in our backyard chiminea, write out our bits of discarded woes and toss them into the flames.

Maybe it's an ancient urge. We - my wife and I - are largely of Irish descent (my distant relatives emigrated there from Scotland). I can envision the cold, damp and very long nights in huts, burning mud to stay alive, without enough to eat. Somehow, these privations make my petty cares about not being properly respected seem...well, petty.

I'm going to retire soon from the business of training men and women to be police officers and write. Maybe it's time to let go of any regrets, and remember just how amazing my career has been. The good times, the good people, the strength of character I witnessed from my coworkers every day. The incredible bravery my friends showed in the face of mortal danger. I think I'm going to discard the angst, and remember how much I care about the men and women still in harm's way.

What are you doing for Winter solstice this year?


Take Kleenex, that was the advice we got. Well, give me a break. It's a cartoon.

Yeah, bring Kleenex.

It isn't just the great music, or the gorgeously-drawn visuals. It isn't only the examination and celebration of a beautiful Mexican tradition, Dia de Muertos. It's not even (this is the writer in me) the vivid characters, compelling story and the stunning plot twist. 

No, it's the striking conclusion one draws through the tears. Human beings share deeply-felt qualities of family, possibilities and hope. The movie doesn't make a political point, it makes a universal observation. 

We came home and gave our spirit animals big hugs. See the movie, you'll understand why.