Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Sherry Harris--The Making of Officer Awesome



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…

 






43 comments:

Joan Emerson said...

Characters that are just a bit vulnerable and, at the same time, believable tend to resonate with me.
I’m already looking forward to reading “All Murders Final” just to meet Officer Awesome!

Ramona said...

If that "this isn't weed" thing doesn't show up in a book, I will be disappointed in you, Sherry!

Can't wait to meet Officer Awesome. Congrats on book #3! It's nice to see our Seascape class' work out there in the world.

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

This is wonderful fun Sherry--can't wait to read what you came up with! My first ride-along was with a cute cop with dark hair and dimples. Our biggest excitement was taking a very intoxicated woman to the county jail so I got to see that too. He was very interested in becoming a book character (Officer Ryan in MURDER WITH GANACHE.)

What astonished me is how close they let civilians get to the action. Did OA tell you at any point to stay in the car, or when that point might come?

Debs, you could probably take people on ride-alongs at this point! But wouldn't that be interesting to have one in England?

Hallie Ephron said...

Officer Awesome - I love it! What we do for our art, right? I've never done a ride-along but I will if I write a main character who's a cop. My next door neighbor is a Statie who answers all my cop questions.

Sherry: #3? How fabulous!

J.A. Hennrikus said...

I loved doing the ride along with you! So proud of your success with this series. The books keep getting better and better. Love seeing you on the Reds as well!

Michele Dorsey said...

Sherry, this tale, and especially Officer Awesome, make me want to read your book and do another ride-along. The last one I did was forty years ago with my ex-husband who was a cop in a New England city. The police department he worked for encouraged family members to do this so they would understand the stress of being a cop. I remember it was a long third shift and how the tedium was occasionally broken by a burst of adrenaline when an exciting call came in. I'll be writing about this as soon as the PTSD dissipates. From the marriage, not the ride.

Sherry Harris said...

That is a great way to describe characters, Joan -- vulnerable and believable!

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

Welcome, Sherry! Officer Awesome -- so fantastic. I have a police officer friend who reads my manuscripts, but I've never done a ride-along... Hmmm....

Sherry Harris said...

Our Seascape class has been amazing -- Hallie, Roberta, and Susan must have put something in our drinks! It still remains the most information ever dispersed in forty-eight hours!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

What wonderful story! And his voice comes through so naturally--I can just hear him saying that! What a terrific experience..

And hey, how was it so sign next to Charlaine HArris? Isn't she great? What a serendipitous name you have…

And yeah, there's always something to learn on a ride along. Even if it's seemingly tiny--like how the back seat is hard, or what the car smells like, or how much gear is in the front seat. I

Hmm. Maybe there should be other ride-alongs. With a toddler's mother .With a busy businessperson. With a lawyer who has a duty day in court.I wish I could take you in a news van! That's all about empty potato chip bags, coiled cables, flashing tv monitors and a million power outlets and the complaining of reporters and photographers.

Congratulations on book three!

Sherry Harris said...

Hi, Roberta -- it makes me smile to know about your Officer Ryan! I wasn't ever told to stay in the car! I did at our first traffic stop because I'm a big old chicken. And I still haven't worked up the courage to do a ride along in Washington, DC where the first thing they ask you is "Do you want to wear a vest" (bulletproof of course)!

Sherry Harris said...

Thanks, Julie! I'm so glad you arranged our Bedford ride along! I just emailed some questions to Patrick last night.

Sherry Harris said...

Ha, Michele! Let me know what you think about Awesome!

Sherry Harris said...

Thanks for having me Susan. Do a ride-along! It's so fascinating -- whether there's any action or not.

Sherry Harris said...

Thank you, Hank! I've always wondered if I'd get to do a signing next to Charlaine and it was so fun. She's lovely, of course, and told me a few stories when she wasn't busy! When I was at Left Coast Crime a very excited woman came up to me -- I'm thinking I've finally arrived -- but she thought I was Charlaine! She was so disappointed. If I ever need a pen name I'm thinking: Holly Ephron, Lily Burdette, Harry Phillippi Ryan, Dorothy Crombie -- you get the picture! (I promise I won't really do that!)

Kristopher said...

So great to see Sherry here today on JRW. Officer Awesome sounds like a great character. I often think society overlooks the compassion that our law officers must have. Of course, as with most things, we tend to hear all the bad news and very little of the good. Thanks for recounting the story of Officer Awesome and that crying lady in the parking lot as a small reminder.

Edith Maxwell said...

How fun, Sherry! I hadn't heard those details about your ridealongs. I did one in my town as part of the Citizen's Police Academy, with a young officer on a Saturday night. He kept apologizing at the lack of action. He sidewalked tested one guy for DUI, but apparently the dude passed because he got to drive away. Despite the quiet evening, I learned so much about crime in my small city - we cruised the gas stations in one section where he said there are often drug handoffs because it's between two interstate highways. He said, "Even drug dealers need to use the bathroom or get a soda." We also cruised the public housing complexes and a couple of old mill buildings that were pretty dark and deserted at night. Lots of details! I can't wait to read about Officer Awesome.

Sherry Harris said...

Hi, Kristopher -- it was nice to see you (all too briefly) at Malice! Cops get a lot of bad press but they deal with so many different situations in such short amounts of time and have to make decisions so quickly!

Sherry Harris said...

Thanks, Edith! It's funny that the officers will apologize! Patrick said something similar. But because of the timing of my trip and his schedule we were out on a Saturday afternoon instead of the evening. But so much of what he said creeps into my books!

Karen in Ohio said...

Hi, Sherry! So fun, to get the little peak behind the scenes of the genesis of a character.

I'm still owed a ride-along that was a part of the Citizens' Police Academy I took part in, three years ago! Too much going on.

Mary Sutton said...

Now I want to meet Officer Awesome. And I'm with Ramona - if you don't use that weed story, I'd be disappointed.

I did a ride-along with Pittsburgh. We responded to a report of stolen luggage at one of the 4-star hotels downtown. I tagged along, of course, and the officer was great. When the woman said, "Who the hell is she?" He just said, "She's with me. Don't worry about it." And they let me tag along to view the security footage. We also responded to alarms going off at the YMCA, but that was about it. He was very nice though. I've thought about naming a character after him, but haven't had the opportunity.

I just finished a mini-course with the PA State Police. I'd love to do a ride-along with them down in Fayette County (my setting), but haven't been able to. Darn it.

Sherry Harris said...

Karen, I hope you find the time to go -- it is an eyeopening experience!

Sherry Harris said...

I love that Mary -- she's with me, don't worry about it! I hope you get the opportunity to go to Fayette County! The one I did in Bedford was amazing even though it was quieter!

Vida A-J said...

Loved your Officer Awesome in the All Murders Final and love the back story of how he came to be even more! Book #3 is just wonderful - I truly couldn't put it down, so stayed up waaaay too late to finish it!

Sherry Harris said...

I am so glad you liked it, Vida! Hearing that someone stays up late to finish a book I wrote is so exciting! Thank you!

Deborah Crombie said...

Sherry, you just got the best compliment ever from Vida. And I can't wait to see how you worked Officer Awesome into the book.

Sherry Harris said...

Isn't that the truth, Deborah!

Lisa Alber said...

I like that the real Officer Awesome had a tech career before going into law enforcement -- that was his dream! That's so cool. I imagine he'd doing it because he truly loves the work (presumably, money isn't an issue). That right there makes for an interesting backstory.

Sherry, does your Officer Awesome have a prior career in this background too?

Sherry Harris said...

That is a great question, Lisa! I haven't delved too much into Awesome's backstory in All Murders Final. He was a cop in New York City before arriving in Ellington but beyond that we don't know -- yet!

Kathy Reel said...

Sherry, thanks for sharing your ride-along experiences with us. I would think actually going along on calls and seeing how they're handled would be a great help in writing mystery/crime stories. Love that the second policeman called himself Officer Awesome and that he was getting to live out a dream of his. The title of your book, All Murders Final, is wonderfully clever, and I look forward to reading this series.

Pat D said...

I've got books 1 and 2 on my TBR pile. They're getting moved up so I can anticipate Office Awesome! My husband was a Border Patrol agent and an Immigration Investigator in a prior life. Some of those stories are priceless. He has made a lot of friends and acquaintances in law enforcement over the years through his civilian jobs. Most people in law enforcement are brave and compassionate and deserve our respect as much as our military. Now I'll get off my soapbox. I want a ride in a news van, Hank!

Pat D said...

Oh. One bad joke here. While we lived in Ohio we had quite a few friends in the Cleveland P.D. We hosted a pig roast at our house and it rained solid that day. One of our police detective buddies arrived in clear raingear that he used at work. One of our friends (we were a terrible lot) told him he looked like a giant condom. He just grinned and said "call me Officer Friendly."

Sherry Harris said...

The ride alongs were amazing, Kathy! In our county any citizen can go on one. The title was my editor at Kensington's idea and I love it too. Thanks for stopping by!

Sherry Harris said...

Ha, Pat! That is funny and it sounds like a wonderful group of friends.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

So funny! I love Lily Burdette. Maybe I could swipe that…

People always ask me if I am related to Ryan Phillippe. HOW would that work???

Vickie Fee said...

Great stories, Sherry -- I'm glad you didn't have to use the panic button! On my only police ride-a-long experience, the cop made a couple of middle school kids -- with their parents full support -- wash the windows of an elderly neighbor whose house they had egged! Very small town, great community policing

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

wait, wait, I like Lily Burdette too:). Imagine being asked if you want to wear a bulletproof vest! I don't have the nerve for that cop job...

Sherry Harris said...

Hank, Lily Burdette is all yours! That way you will always have a friend beside you at signings!

Sherry Harris said...

Pat D you will have to let me know what you think of Awesome! And I agree that most of our law enforcement people help us rather than do harm.

Sherry Harris said...

Vickie, I love that the kids had to wash the windows. Big or small you learn a lot on a ride-along!

Sherry Harris said...

Roberta, You and Hank will have to arm wrestle over the Lily name. And I don't have the courage to do any cop job -- it's much more fun writing the exciting stuff than living it!

Pat D said...

You will have to borrow Castle's body armor that says WRITER.

Sherry Harris said...

That's funny, Pat! I was thinking the same thing!