DEBORAH CROMBIE: Ever wonder how writers come up with their characters? I love our Jungle Red friend Sherry Harris's account of the making of Officer Awesome! (And of course now I'm dying to read the book...)
SHERRY HARRIS: Debs and Reds thanks so much for having me back! It's always a blast to be a Red for the day and hang out with some of my favorite authors.
The Making of Officer Awesome
Sometimes a character is born through a long painful labor of writing full character sketches, thinking about how the character affects the story, and how the character helps/hinders the protagonist’s journey. Other times a character comes in a flash from a comment or experience. Officer Awesome, who shows up in my third book, All Murders Final, is the latter.
I’ve been lucky enough to go on two different police ride-alongs in two very different situations with two very different officers.
My first ride-along was with Sergeant Patrick J. Towle of the Bedford, Massachusetts, Police Department. He is also a member of the Northeastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council’s SWAT team. Patrick is a great contact for me because my fictional town of Ellington is based on Bedford, and Patrick gave me an insider’s view of policing there. (Patrick is the cousin-in-law of my friend and fellow Wicked Cozy Authors blogger Julie Hennrikus. Thanks, Julie, for introducing us and joining us on the ride-along!)
There’s not a lot of crime in Bedford but Patrick showed us where past crimes had occurred, took us to an old Nike missile site, pointed out where a body had been dumped, and told us about the one unsolved murder in Bedford. He also shared tales (some fact, some lore) about Bedford that I’d never heard. Our biggest call during the ride-along was for a python in the road. Another officer picked it up and somehow wrangled it into a pillowcase. We met the officer at the station and peeked at the injured animal. It was taken to an animal rescue.
Patrick is a season professional with a laid back manner. He’s knowledgeable, confident, and just the kind of guy you want on your side out there fighting bad guys. Interestingly enough, the night before I met Patrick, I was writing about Officer Pellner for my first book Tagged for Death. I gave Pellner dark hair and then I added some dimples at the last minute. I was stunned to meet Patrick and find that he had dark hair and dimples.
My second ride-along was with the Fairfax County Police Department in Virginia. The county has over a million people. The department is the 33rd largest in the country. And while Fairfax County isn’t the crime capital of the world, there is plenty going on.
The officer I rode with was just completing his first year on the job, but at 40 he had already started and sold a tech company. He’d wanted to be a police officer since he was a teenager and now was fulfilling that dream. We started the ride-along with him showing me the panic button on the computer monitor and how to work the radio to call for help just in case something went wrong. That got my adrenaline going. Then we went to court, a traffic accident, sat waiting for people to run a stop sign, and we also answered house alarms going off. We caught teenagers with pot (the pot was in a glass container that said “this isn’t weed” on the lid) and pulled people over for traffic violations. At one point we roared down streets, lights blaring, looking for guys who had stolen a pizza delivery guy’s car. The police helicopter was flying above us as we joined other officers in the search. It was so exciting but we didn’t catch the bad guys. We also patrolled closed parks and parking lots—yes there were a lot of fogged-up windows.
In the parking lot of a closed, dark park, surrounded by woods, we came across a woman sitting alone in her car, crying. It was a scary place—nowhere for someone to be alone. My officer talked so kindly to her, explained that she couldn’t stay there, that it wasn’t safe, asked if she needed any help, or if there was anything he could do for her. I was impressed more in than moment than at any other time.
It was quite a night! At the end of the evening I asked him if I could name a character after him in All Murders Final. He smiled and said, “yeah, Officer Awesome.” Figuring out how to name a character Officer Awesome was a bit of a challenge but ended up being a lot of fun. I gave him the years of experience that Patrick has and a bit of swagger from my own Officer Awesome. I hope you’ll like him as much as I do.
Readers: What draws you to a character? Writers: Have you had a similar experience writing characters? And do you have any fun ride-along stories to share?
DEBS: Sherry, this is so much fun. I love Officer Awesome. I've never done a ride-along--I definitely think I should. Wonder if they do them in the UK...
When Sarah Winston started the virtual garage sale, it seemed like a keystroke of genius and the next logical step in her business. No more collapsing card tables and rainy-day washouts. But what began as a fun way to run garage sales during the long New England winter has become a nightmare of managing people and putting out fires. Online, she can avoid the crowds–but not the crazies.
She certainly never bargained on dealing with frightening threats. And when a client is murdered, it’s time for Sarah to swallow her pride and seek the help of her ex–C.J. Hooker, chief of police. Forging a tense alliance, they search–online and off–for the killer. But solving this crime before someone else gets tagged seems virtually impossible…