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The Sirens of Suspense




James O. Born is a former US drug agent (DEA) and currently a Special Agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. He’s also a nationally known author of nine novels, including, Border War, co-authored with TV commentator Lou Dobbs. Born's new novel, Scent of Murder, about a police K-9 unit, has just been released.


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Writers and cops share more than you'll ever know. I've been lucky to stumble into separate careers that are engaging and challenging. As a young cop I was fulfilling all of the daydreams I had as a kid. What boy growing up in the United States didn't see police shows and wish he could be out there on the frontlines, driving fast cars and meeting women? It was a dream come true and I can say I never really tired of working in law enforcement.

In my 30s I started to dream about writing novels based on some of my experiences in police work. What American boy and his 30s didn't read novels and think, "This is so cool, I wish I could do it." I was lucky enough and persistent enough not to give up on my dream and eventually landed a contract with Putnam. I'm happy to say that I have been continuously employed since my first novel came out in 2004 and my ninth novel, Scent of Murder was just released by McMillan.

What the average writer or cop may not realize is that there is a tremendous amount of overlap in the skills needed to be successful in both careers. First and foremost is that just like police work, everyone in the public thinks they can write a book better than you. They give no thought to the training and talent required for either profession as they proudly declare that they should write a novel or, on other occasions, would be effective police officers. I don't know if either are true, but my experience tells me they would be in for a rude awakening if they jumped into either profession.

Being comfortable talking with people is a huge advantage in both professions. I know the stereotype is that cops just want to move things along and writers are shy introverts who prefer to work alone. I have found both of these beliefs to be incorrect. Most cops like people. One of the best parts of my job is talking to people on a daily basis. Most writers like to talk to people as well. Maybe they only like to talk about books, but they still don't mind the human interaction.

Experience is the single most crucial element for a successful police officer. Mistakes are made. Law enforcement agencies still are forced to recruit from the human race. Until we correct that by creating a force of robot cops, human error in judgment, tactics and practice will always occur. Always. That is where the phrase “We’re only human,” comes from. The key in police work is staying alive long enough to gain the experience that everyone assumes you have right out of the Academy. The interesting thing is, like with everything else in life, experience helps a writer just as much. Maybe not in the same way. Experience might not keep the writer from getting his or her ass beat or shot or stabbed. But experience can teach you a great deal about everything from the process of writing a novel, such as the practical points of structure, point of view and writing effective dialogue. No one is born knowing how to do any of this. It's only the experience we get as we write, read and start to understand how people react to certain situations that makes us effective writers. Another, misunderstood aspect of experience for writer is dealing with editors and agents. I've seen more than one author's career spiral down the drain because they didn't have the necessary communication skills and experience to deal effectively with an editor. Agents will tell you about the horrendous query letters they get all the time. The only way you get better at writing query letters is by studying manuals and gaining the experience of writing a query letter.

In both careers, no matter what anyone tells you, there is an unbelievable amount of luck necessary if you are to be successful. Every cop has a dozen stories about how they almost got killed one night. But if they're telling you the stories, luck was on their side and they weren’t killed (hopefully. If they are dead you have a different novel you can write). Getting a publishing contract takes that same amount of magic. The right editor has to pick up the right manuscript and be in the right mood to say, "Hey, this works."

Not everyone is as fortunate as me to have two careers that they love. So often I am asked if I had to choose one, which one would be? One day I say police work, the next I say writing. The truth is just the same as if I had to choose between my kids. I base it on how well they treated me (John and Emily, that is a very serious hint). If you ask me after I've spent twenty hours on surveillance, I might say I choose writing. If you ask me after I get a manuscript back that has 2.3 million red marks on it, I would probably say police work.

The greatest aspect of all is that I can combine both careers and use elements of my experience to formulate each novel. Hanging around with K-9 officers gave me tremendous insight while writing Scent of Murder. Their stories and experience are woven throughout the fabric of the story and made it a much better novel than if I just decided to write about dogs and never experienced what it was like to be next to a police service dog when they were in action.




WHAT CAREER WOULD YOU CHOOSE OTHER THAN YOURS? Tell us or leave a comment on the blog below or on our Facebook page and you’ll be entered to win a copy of SCENT OF MURDER! (U.S. only please.)



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