Hollywood Crows
Hollywood Crows

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BEHIND THE BOOK

Thirty years ago I had used up my own police experiences in the writing of my first three novels, so I was forced to do research in order to collect fresh anecdotes and ideas for my fiction. The most sensible approach, and one that I thought would work, was to invite groups of police officers to dinner meetings at good restaurants where they could dine and drink and ventilate.

I learned almost at once that three or four was about the right number at each dine-and-drinks session. More than that and they might talk to their closest dinner partner, and I would miss a lot of the conversation. Fewer than that and the shyer ones might get stage fright, not finding the safety in numbers that two or three colleagues provided. After only a few sessions I also learned that I must segregate by gender. When I mixed male and female cops at these meetings, the men often got a bit macho after a few drinks, hoping to impress the women. Then the women would resent the machismo pose and shut down. Sort of a playground syndrome.

In general, the women were freer talkers, more willing to reveal powerful emotions. And of course, the communication of powerful emotion is what storytelling is all about. And the women were cheaper dates. The men needed about two-and-a-half drinks to really cook, but the women only needed to smell the cork to catch fire. Moreover, at the end of our chats, the women never failed to hug me—a definite bonus.

I also learned very quickly that I should curtail my detective instincts and not interrogate. Rather, I should just let them talk about anything they wished. This way, things might emerge that they really hadn’t intended to share—and that is definitely the stuff that novels are made of. For certain, I had to leave any recording devices at home. Cops are super suspicious by nature, and though they will hold still for note taking (information they can deny if it later seems inaccurate or embarrassing), they will clam up if they see a recording device. That made for a lot of food stains on my shirts when I had to suddenly drop my fork and grab my pen to write down something juicy.

The acknowledgment page for Hollywood Station lists 54 coppers, male and female, with whom I visited in these dine-and-drink sessions. Hollywood Crows lists 57. As of this writing I am doing dinner meets and am currently at 49 officers. Soon I hope to discover that I have enough raw material to begin a story. I shall be forever grateful that they share with me. Without them my writing would not exist and I’d probably have ended up an old retired copper with a part-time job catching shoplifters at Wal-Mart.

Copyright © 2012 by Joseph Wambaugh