Q&A Interview for LA Times Feature Article

On Wednesday, June 1, the LA Times published a feature article by reporter Tony Perry that discussed me and my novel, “The Sticking Place.” I’ve added a second link to the article below and am posting a slightly edited version of the Q&A interview he used as source material for his article.  Readers might enjoy comparing the raw material Mr. Perry used to craft a fine article.

 http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/la-et-sdcop-book-20110601,0,6366303.story

 1/First some bio please. Age. Number of years as a cop. What assignments did you have? When did you switch from SDPD to SD schools dept? Tell me a little about the injury that led to your retirement?

I’m 55 for a few more minutes. My birthday is April 24, the day after Shakespeare’s– probably. I spent in the neighborhood of twenty-seven years in law enforcement between the two departments.

I enjoyed a variety of assignments with the SDPD, with heavy doses of patrol and administrative jobs. I patrolled downtown,LoganHeightsand Northern Division where I worked the beach team a couple summers and as theLa Jollabeat officer. I also worked in-service training and field operations management and opened the first community relations office in the Gaslamp.

I was a patrol supervisor in the Southern and Southeast Divisions before working as a supervisor in the duty lieutenant’s office, then in Special Projects/Long Range Planning. With the school district, I worked atLewisMiddle SchoolandMorseHigh School, and then as a detective and as an operations lieutenant.

I took a couple years off from law enforcement beginning in October of 1990, and tried a freelance writing career that never managed to sputter off the tarmac. Starting over with the school district’s police department gave me a chance to enjoy working with educators.

I was on my way to meet with the officer who worked for me atMissionBayHigh Schooland had to come to a complete stop on Highway 8 westbound where it merges with I5 North. As I looked in the rearview mirror, I saw the driver behind me was looking out his side window. He never applied his brakes, slammed into my car and pushed it forward into three other cars. As a result, I’ve had two back surgeries with a third one pending.  

  2/What is your favorite Shakespeare play? Why?

There must be an easy answer to this, but I always find a way to complicate it. I love the Roman plays for their commentaries on the insidious malleability of the masses. Richard II has the most beautiful language I’ve ever seen or heard, so that’s a big favorite. But, I guess my choice really has to come down to King Lear or Hamlet, big shock, right? Hamlet is an intrinsic exploration of what it means to be a human being. By that I mean that, other than a few nudges from his father’s ghost, nearly all of Hamlet’s conflict occurs in his mind. Even the revenge scene falls short when it comes to decisive action by the protagonist. Still, Hamlet may be the only work of literature with a character smarter than their creator. Now, that’s transcendent and preternatural.

Lear is an extrinsic exploration of what it means to be a King or potentate. He sets the conflict in motion with a stupid decision then gets assaulted by the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” that Hamlet only talks about. He’s destroyed in the process, but learns how to be a human being instead of just the King of privilege. The lessons of life pound him and he’s not a fast learner.

Hamlet has the greatest character I’ve ever encountered in literature and Lear has the most far-reaching moment. It’s that moment, one doomed to be perpetually repeated in real-life with persons of power that makes me choose Lear.  

 3/How much of Luke Jones is you as a young officer? You apparently were known to quote the Bard occasionally. Can you think of such an occasion?

The character name Luke Jones comes from a pseudonym given to me by James McClure in his 1984 book, “Cop World: Inside an American Police Force.” It’s a non-fiction look at the Central Division of the SDPD that mostly focuses on the “innovations” of community policing in the early 1980’s. Using a pseudonym for a character of my creation that was provided by another writer is a good metaphor, since any character will almost certainly take on a life of their own apart from what the author consciously thinks he or she is accomplishing. Luke is me, but he’s not me. He’s certainly more interesting than me for anyone willing to pay close attention. One thing is sure, his worst qualities hold up a pretty good mirror to who I used to be. He’s pugnacious and somewhat arrogant, intolerant of hazing and too willing to stand up for his rights and the rights of others when he should sit down, shut up and take his lumps. Nobody who knows me would try to claim that doesn’t sound like me, either now, or back then.

I mostly quoted Shakespeare to prove a point. I never used it as a weapon the way Luke does in the book. There were several occasions when someone would ask what I did before becoming a cop, I’d tell them I studied Renaissance literature and they’d accuse me of lying. That was when I’d hop up on the bar or a nearby table and belt out a little something to prove my point. The usual response was a barrage of apple cores or wadded napkins. The groundlings are still hanging around it seems.

4/Is the down-and-out UCLA prof modeled on someone?

The Professor comes from five sources. A former political science professor of mine went on a series of ride-alongs when I was fresh from the academy. We’re still friends and he’s certainly at the top of his game, not at all like the Professor in the book. Then there’s a notorious downtownSan Diego drunk known as “Bugsy,” another drunk who quoted poetry with me in my police car and wrote me a poem, my imagination, and a newspaper article I read. 

 5/Got to ask: were u ever in an officer-involved shooting?

NO. Can I kill someone if necessary is a question any prospective cop had better answer before putting on their uniform. I knew I could if I had to, hoped I wouldn’t have to, and maintained a fascination with the possibility of it from the day I walked into the academy. As a result, I always interviewed peers who did have deadly encounters.

To be only slightly off topic, I did turn down an assignment to be squad supervisor on the south bay task force that once patrolled the border hills because of a near certainty I’d have to use deadly force in that assignment. About a week later, the sergeant who took the job instead was involved in a deadly shooting. I responded as the supervisor who took initial control of the scene and called in homicide. To a degree, I was able to choose which role I played in the inevitable by making a decision a week or so before the encounter.

 6/Who are your literary heroes? Shakespeare,  Jack London and Coleridge, I presume. Any contemporary crime writers?

Jack London definitely fits the description of a hero. He died at forty and had written more than forty books and hundreds of short stories and articles. He traveled the world on his boat, in mule-pulled wagons and on freight trains. All this in an age that required hand-writing his thousand words of daily prose and handing it to his wife Charmian for typing. He was one of the most famous people of his age after a childhood of abject poverty solely because of his will to succeed as a writer. That’s more than heroic. It’s colossal, which, of course, reminds me of Shakespeare’s description of Julius Caesar. “Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world like a colossus; and we petty men walk under his huge legs, and peep about to find ourselves dishonourable graves.”  

I admire too many modern writers to name them all here. I’m a big fan of James Lee Burke, Ian Rankin, Peter Robinson and Nevada Barr to name a few. I definitely admire Joe Wambaugh, but had to give up the habit of reading his books when he started writing about San Diego. One of his preferred tactics for gathering material is to take a bunch of cops out for dinner and drinks and let the liquor and stories fly. Since I undoubtedly know many of the people and their anecdotes, the only way I can avoid potential innuendo about ripping him off is to stay away from his work.

Heading down a completely different path, I love Irvin Yalom, Frederick Exley and John Irving. The type of books Dean Koontz writes doesn’t necessarily appeal to me, but watching his words flow across the page is like watching lava erupt from a volcano to flow into a heap of highly polished basalt at the bottom of the mountain.

 7/What were your goals in writing The Sticking Place? It seems to me that one thing you’re saying is that law enforcement is a fairly blunt instrument when it comes to fixing society’s deeper problems, no?

My goals in writing “The Sticking Place” were manifold. One major point for prospective cops is, don’t get into this career lightly. It’ll erode your soul.

Moreover, there’s no such place as “America’sFinestCity” or paradise for the cops encountering broken bodies and souls on their beats. Having said that, police work is like a ministry that can bolster people’s lives and save them from imminent disaster. That’s an important calling, but it’s almost certainly only a side benefit of the job. I think American society is learning they’ve placed too much responsibility on the cops for solving their myriad and worsening woes.         

8/What next? More Luke Jones? Will be still be quoting Shakespeare?

“TheSticking Place” is the first in a series of Luke Jones novels. Each will focus on a major theme in policing and Luke will definitely keep quoting the Bard. I’m also working on a follow up to the deceased Mr. McClure’s “Cop World” with an eye toward how policing has changed since that book’s release in 1984. It’s a rich topic and one that deserves to be explored.

 9/How is SD and the PD different than when you started on the force in 1978?

In the late 70’sSan Diego’s downtown looked like it belonged in a town of about thirty-thousand people. It’s had a tremendous growth spurt that includes public art, top drawer restaurants,PetcoParkand a huge improvement on Montezuma Mesa. Take a quick spin by Petco though, and you’ll soon see there’s a mighty ugly, unsolved problem of homelessness in “America’sFinestCity.” It’s the topic of conversation for a lot of people I know who visit San Diego.

Answering the question about how the PD has changed is the stuff of my Cop World follow up.

 10/How’s life inAshland? Do you go to the festival much?

Life in Ashland is laconic and wonderful for a writer who loves literature and the theater. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival stages 11 plays per season and I see them all– some several times. The wine industry has exploded up here and the restaurants are great. The economy is really taking a hit. Home prices have plummeted and “Harry and David,” the largest employer in the RogueValley, just declared chapter 11. Both inAshlandand inMedford, I’ve been shocked to see the number of businesses closing. Oh, and those homeless people I talked about in the previous answer, there’s plenty of them up here too. Shakespeare set King Lear in pre-historic times and, way back then, Lear discovered he’d done nothing to solve that basic conundrum for society and human dignity. Nothing much has changed. 

 

 

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