Interviewer: E.E. Kennedy
His expertise in legal and military matters have proved invaluable to other members of the group, me included. The unusual conveyance used by the police during the snowstorm in Incomplete Sentence was Jim’s idea. He also gave me some great advice about how to write about a bounty hunter, among many other topics. His information helped fellow writer Nancy Panko properly portray the way soldiers were transported via ship during WWII for her novel, Guiding Missal. We all owe Jim a lot.
|Detective Lewis (R) is also a Vietnam vet|
Here is my interview of this kindly, canny, self-deprecating family man. I hope this interview gives my fellow writers—and readers—a glimpse into a world only a few of us experience.
SS: Jim, would you tell us a little about your police credentials?
JL: I was a law enforcement officer for 35 years in Louisville, Kentucky. (And yes, I had to work the Kentucky Derby almost every year!) At the Police Department, I started as a uniformed officer riding in a marked car answering radio runs, and I tell young officers that that’s the best job on the force.
About sixteen of my years, I worked as a detective in a semi-undercover job. For instance, I once bought weapons from the KKK and even a baby from a baby broker. One of my major cases involved uncovering the influence of organized crime and resulted in indictments of a number of lawyers, government officials and other influential members of the community.
After that, I became a district detective in the downtown area, where I met lots of street people, prostitutes, honkytonk barflies and cab drivers. This group knew everything there was to know about what happened in the downtown area. I finished up my career in Robbery Homicide where I was involved in some shootouts and car chases, all the fun stuff.
SS: Do you read suspense novels involving the police?? Do you watch police shows on TV? If so, what are your favorites and why?
JL: Two of my favorite authors are James Patterson (I grew up wanting to be Alex Cross) and W.E.B. Griffin. Both writer use heroes that are true to life, that make mistakes, have family problems. They don't always know who the bad guys are and need other people to help solve the crimes.
As for TV, My favorite TV show is Blue Bloods. I like it because Donnie Wahlberg—Danny Reagan--is the kind of officer that I was, always trying to get the job done but not always pleasing the bosses when he does and wanting everyone to care as much as he does. My wife Marilyn and I both commented on the fact that we have had some of the same experiences portrayed on the show.
SS: Do you have a pet peeve about how police matters are portrayed in the various
JL: What the media doesn’t understand is that the police often can’t talk about an open investigation so, being impatient, they report speculation and rumors and by the time the truth is out there, it’s too late to correct the damage that’s been done. I’ve seen reports on
cases I’m working that I barely recognized. It’s as though they think good stories about law enforcement won’t sell. It’s really important to have a good relationship with the press: good for the media, good for the police and most of all, good for the community.
SS: You’re known as a devoted family man. Can you tell us about the stresses that a police career puts on families in general?
|Jim reading to his granddaughters|
Where to start? It takes a special kind of person to be a first responder/police/
fire/EMS and it takes a really special person to be married to one! For example, at the twenty-year reunion of our police academy class, out of twenty-eight, we had one killed in the line of duty, one fired, two quit the force and only eight were still married to the same wife. Two were on their third wife. There’s a lot of temptation in this line of work.
Here’s another example of the stress we’ve experienced: When I was working on an organized crime case, we started making the politicians and big money men uncomfortable and phone calls started coming to my home, asking my wife if she knew where I was or where our son was. Right away, she called me to say that she was going to take our son and move back to her parents’ house out of town. It wasn’t until my boss assured her that there would be someone watching our house and keeping an eye on our boy at school that she decided to stay.
Then the Deputy Chief gave me and my partner permission to go to the mob boss’s home and tell him that we carried guns and would use them if this ever happened again. The guy claimed he knew nothing about it, but after that visit, it never happened again.
[In the middle of our exchange, Jim remarked via email, “I'm enjoying an interview where the questions do not include ‘How many time was he shot?’ and ‘Did he have a gun?’”]
The stress on the family in the everyday police job comes from working nights, holidays, missing birthdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter. So on the next holiday that you and your family are together, stop by a firehouse, police station or hospital and thank those folks. It means a lot knowing that someone cares.
SS: Can you tell us a little bit about the book you just finished, She’s Coming to Town?
JL: She’s Coming to Town is a look at the life of a retired cop and a street person that he befriends. While I was working as an officer, I met many homeless people on the street. The main character of the book is the Colonel, a black homeless man that I meet while drinking my coffee at a bus stop and dreaming about what the street was like a few years back.
The Colonel is a vet and has a story that’s locked inside his head. He’s estranged from his family who does worry about him, but doesn’t understand the nightmare in his head. He becomes my friend and through him I meet other street people, giving the reader a look inside the homeless community; how they live and how they think, the people that we look at with pity from afar.
The reader also gets a look at the FBI, the Secret Service and the news media. The Colonel and I meet the First Lady, stop a robbery, help a young police detective on a case and eat dumpster burgers. (If you don’t know what a dumpster burger is, then you will just have to read the book. I will tell you that they are a rare delicacy enjoyed only by those with a palate for fine dining.)
SS: Jim, what will you be doing next?
JL: My next book has a working title of Send in The Clowns. It will carry on with the Colonel, whom everyone seems to like, and we’ll be on the trail of the drug dealer from She’s Coming to Town. There will be a whole new group of characters this time. They won’t be found sitting around a camp fire drinking cheap wine and eating soup, but wearing suits and ties, carrying briefcases and generally being full of their own importance. Writing about the lawyers, both defense and prosecutors, is proving to be more fun than my time spent creating Maggie, the homeless lady with only five teeth.
SS: In your first book, there’s a lot of kidding around among the police, the FBI, the DEA and the Secret Service. Is that taken from your own experience?
JL: I work with, drink with, and play golf with the FBI, DEA and Secret Service. Picking at them is something every police officer I know enjoys doing. They always want to know what you know, but will withhold information from not only the local police but from each other. This seems to create distrust. I never had the feeling that they didn’t have my back; they are, after all, part of the good guys. It’s just the mission that they have sometimes causes friction with other agencies. Most of the Feds can’t do anything without a note from their mother at the DOJ. I have a nephew who is an FBI agent and I’m extremely proud of him, but still pick at him for being a school boy cop.
SS: Jim, do you remember the lady who visited our group a few times and wanted to research about bombs online? Do you remember the advice you gave her?
JL: Oh, yes, the Bomb Lady. I remember her reading part of her book that had someone killed by a bomb. As she was talking about the book, she said that she was going on the Internet to research how to make a bomb. I remember informing her that that would get the FBI to her front door before she could log off. I suggested that she go to the police station and ask questions of the officers there. They would probably be happy to answer her questions once she told them about being a writer. Most first responders love to talk about what they do, especially if it goes “boom.”
SS: Finally, Jim, what would you say you learned as a law enforcement officer over the years?
JL: Let me start by saying that the big thing that I have learned is that I was not working all that time, I was actually doing research for writing books!
Now for the real answer to your question: When I came out of the police academy I saw the rules of the world as black or white with a thin gray line in the middle. If you broke the law, you went to jail; if you broke a traffic rule, you got a ticket. With the help of a great training officer and much time and experience later, the gray line got bigger and the idea that everyone needed a ticket or jail got smaller. I learned to listen to what people said and then maybe to help find an answer other than in court.
Many thanks to James Lewis for that fascinating glimpse into the world of law enforcement!
**Since Jim’s book hasn’t been published yet, I will be offering an eBook copy of my latest cozy mystery, Incomplete Sentence, to one of the people who comment below and leave their email address with their comment.**