Thursday, December 06, 2007

Life Breaks Out

I’ve always separated different aspects of my life. I’ve tried to keep my police work away from my family. More recently it has been a challenge to keep my life as an author separate from my day job in police work. What I’ve discovered is trying to maintain strictly separate worlds is a losing proposition.

Over the years my family has come into contact with my other world a number of different ways. A story on the TV, a photo in the newspaper and, several times, unplanned contact with someone I’ve arrested. For years we attended the Boynton Beach Christmas parade, a simple, almost hokey display of local holiday spirit. One year, while I held a two-year-old in my arms and my son was six and standing next to me a man walked by and said, “Hey man, how’re you?”
I responded, “Pretty good. When’d you get out?” A simple question I ask people who I know were in prison, in this case for cocaine smuggling. My wife figured out our relationship immediately and it freaked her out. It also taught her just how well I kept her and the kids insulated from my daily life.

About six years later I was coaching my son’s soccer team and had to get a roster together the first day. Each of the boys told me their names, about half of which I knew from coaching or the neighborhood. One kid told me his somewhat unusual last name and I froze. One of the few serious threats I had received as a cop came from a guy with the same last name. I calmly asked what his dad’s first name was.

Whew, no match.

Then I asked if he had any uncles and he nodded, “Oh yeah!” He named four men, none of which was the man I had arrested, then, at the last second threw in one more name.


He was late with the name because he had never met that uncle. He had been in prison most the boy’s life. And I was the reason. This time, even though I was the only one who knew the story on the field I told another coach in case something happened. I waited to tell my wife until the end of the season. A season, I might add, where I was alert every game and really didn’t look forward to practices like I usually did.

Now my problem is my life as an author barging in on police work. On any scene I have to go to there is always a cop asking how the books are going or if I have a book coming out soon. The other thing I get, almost every day, is a cop telling they have a great idea for a story or some case that should be a book. They want me to write it, oh joy, and they’ll split the profits. Great career plan. I have to find tactful ways to politely decline and go back to focus on my own ideas.

If I had a choice, I’d much rather deal with too many cops knowing about my writing than too many criminals knowing about my family. It’s funny how life changes no matter what you do to contain it.

What about you? Do you ever try to keep parts of your life separate? Maybe a boyfriend from your husband or a bank account from your spouse. How has that worked out for you?


  1. Jim, I've seen a T-shirt in some catalog or another:

    "If you're not careful, I'll put you in my next novel."

    Wonder how that would go down at work ....

  2. My family knows about the drug addiction, the hookers, and the bodies in the crawl space but I try to keep them from knowing that I've read your novels.

  3. I know exactly what you're talking about, Jim. Hence the pseudonym. I'd love to keep my book life and my private life completely separate. Doesn't always work, but I try. You know better than any of us what a scary world it is out there. I applaud you, both for your own integrity and for keeping the rest of us safe.

    Now, I've got this great story that you might be interested in...

  4. Jackie,
    That's another comment I get. "You gonna put this is a book?" I name caharcters after people I know but they have to ask me specifically to be in a novel.

    As I recall Shelby threw out both our novels in his little film. Your hate is directed at the wrong hack writer.


  5. Jim,

    I still think we should hire a leg-breaker to send to Texas.

    And that's not hate. That's annoyance.

    (Seriously, when I saw Shelby's little video, I laughed out loud.)

  6. Great post today.

    Instead of keeping my writing life separate from real life, I steal everything I can from family, friends, spouses, ex-spouses, children, strangers to put in the books.

    As my imagination is limited and I'm basically lazy, I took Renee's personality for "Victoria Lord" and her mother's personality for Victoria's mother, Irene the Queen. (Victoria's mother was indeed named "Irene," and she was called "The Queen.")

    So sue me.

    For years, I drank Grolsch beer and had Jake Lassiter do the same. The Lassiter books were published in Holland, and of course, I was hoping that Grolsch would send a truck laden with beer to my house. No such luck.

    Which is why I now drink Jack Daniels and carefully watch book sales in Tennessee.

  7. Paul, I remember reading an interview with Barbara Kingsolver, and she said that after "Pigs In Heaven" was published, people began sending her toy pigs, pig charms, pig ornaments - pig everything. She said she wished she'd written a book with Ford Mustang in the title. Personally, I'm still waiting for the MG. My next character will drive a Morgan, and I expect the same sort of wait.

  8. Very creepy stuff about the uncle, James O. Just one more thing to worry about, eh? I'll agree about cops having stories to tell. Every one who knows I'm a writer either wants to collaborate or wants to write their own book.

  9. I'm with Paul on this one. I crib everything from real life. In fact, some days it doesn't feel like writing, it just feels like taking notes.

  10. Practicing law in a small town, I run into people I've either sued or defended all the time. One time I found myself at a cookout seated across from someone I'd ripped to shreds in a deposition a month or so before. Everything remained remarkably civil. Then there was the time I sued the mayor for deceptive trade practices...

    I've had a few people half jokingly, half nervously ask if they were going to end up in my next book. I just smile evilly.

    J.T: That isn't your real name?

  11. I haven't been published yet but I do wonder what will happen once I become a published writer. Will people begin to hold back for fear that some incident or story will enter my book?

    My mother-in-law has angered close friends and family members by using personal information in her stories.

    But this is something to consider when I find myself reaching into the real world for material.

  12. I steal copiously from other people's lives, too. I have no idea how to imagine things. I think it stems from a basic insecurity over having been so sheltered as a kid.

    On the other side of the coin, I'd really like for my family to be part of my writing life, however they can. I'd hate to think of my kids feeling excluded from such an important part of my life. Even if their role is limited (book signings or whatever, though I admit I'm years away from worrying about that).