I’ve noticed a large number of successful crime writers were journalists early in their careers. Has anyone else noticed this trend. Other than ex-police, I can’t think of any other profession so well represented.
I'm a recovering journalist myself. But like many a dry drunk who likes to drink their soda water in bars, I write fiction based on fact - stories I covered, or facts I uncovered during the years I worked in Asia.
I do have a book going that has nothing whatsoever to do with anything I ever covered or any life I ever lived, but it's slow going.
For nine years I was based in Hong Kong, but working for regional business and financial publications. In any given month I was traveling for about two weeks. I specialized in Hong Kong and southern China, Thailand, Indonesia and Korea, although I worked in pretty much every other country as well. The last two years in Asia I was mostly based in Jakarta, but working all over Indonesia and a bit in Singapore. I was there 1986-97.
Yep, I see what's happening to my pals still in the biz these days and I feel extremely lucky to be writing novels instead.
That's why I'm writing like hell on my book and hoping I can get it published. I've been lucky in my newsroom that we're not cutting, but by God it's getting tougher and tougher.
By the way Dennis and Eric, it's even tougher. With the Web stuff nowadays, we're being pushed more and more. Anywhere I go now, I pretty much have to have an audio recorder to put snippets on the Web and a video camera in case there's some good video to put on the Web.
Oh, and the layoffs. The more people laid off, the more work for the rest of us surviving. It's a tough business. And even tougher than when I got in eight years ago. Just a lot of pressure on us anymore to find the Golden Recipe to keep making money and nothing is working.
Definitely pick up Michael Connelly. The Poet is a masterpiece and I think his best work.
There is definitely a slew of crime writers writing crime books. Just off the top of my head you have Connelly, Carl Hiassen, Richard Harris, Stephen Hunter and John Connolly. Those are the larger names I can think of. Probably even more than that.
But the same can be said of lawyers. After John Grisham, there's all kinds of legal thrillers.
But I think it does give some advantages. I'm a newspaper reporter and have done the crime beat for years until recently switching to political coverage. But I think my profession gives me a bit of a leg up on the ordinary person. I've toured police labs, stood behind white blankets while they conducted homicide investigations and heard story after countless story from veteran cops about their past. So, I think some of this can convey to the page well since there is that experience. And, on another note, I think that's why you see more successful crime writers who are journalists than former cops. I've had cop after cop tell me they want to write a book when I was working in Florida, but the problem is they don't know how to write it. As a journalist, you get an instinct on what the reader wants to hear and what to cut out so you don't get bogged in details.
Anyway, that's a completely different animal. But I think there's some advantages. I know as I'm writing my book right now, I have more than two handfuls of sources I can email or call up and get some direction from to make my writing a little more realistic. Just in the last month, I've talked to a county detective, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the FBI and two medical doctors for advice.
On another note, being a crime reporter is also a weird, weird animal. You listen to cops telling you one thing and then you listen to crying relatives telling you something else. You get stuck in the middle and you have to show sympathy to everyone and somewhere along the line it just becomes a cold, cold place. And maybe somehow that translates to crime writing. For me, I know how it translates. I can exorcise my demons on the page.
But also know that for every good crime writer that was a journalist there's a couple more that are pretty bad. Some journalists just can't write fiction. They don't get the emotion and it's too subject verb oriented.
Good points, Cliff. Where did you work in Florida? Another side note. The stuff we didn't tell because of confidentiality arrangements are often better than the stuff we reported. That's the true insider stuff that can give us a leg up.
I worked at a bureau of the Tampa Trib up in Hernando County. It was Brooksville/Spring Hill area.
There was a lot of old Florida Cracker kind of crime up there. But it was an interesting place. Spring Hill and the coast side are practically suburbs of Tampa/St. Pete and Brooksville is old school Florida. They always had competing values there, so a lot of crime because of that. I had a lot of fun. A lot of fun.
And yeah, you're right about the insider stuff. That's why I have a lot of friends still down there in law enforcement because they knew they could trust me.
Rick Mofina, the Canadian thriller writer also comes to mind here. I suppose it's because journalists are good writers to begin with...remember, Hemmingway was a journalist for the Kansas City Star before he became a great novelist.
After reading the profiles of some members who backgrounds in law enforcement, I found myself wondering how people without similar backgrounds approached writing crime fiction. I have no background in law enforcement. I have no background in law violation. This used to give me a mild case of inferiority complex as a writer (the enforcement, not the violation part), but I believe it all ultimately comes down to what's between the sheets...of the crime novel. If your stuff is good, I think you could be a Tibetian monk and still capture fans. I don't think you should feel like the words from the Linda Rondstadt song, “you’re no good", are directed at you just because you've never written about crime scenes, or reported to them for a living.