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Write What You Know – How to Create Compelling Stories from Real Life

How One Police Officer Used his Experience to Turn Reality into Fiction


How do You “Write What you Know”?

A lot of writing pros will tell you to “write what you know”. But, obviously, that’s not particularly useful.

Taken literally, entire genres like Fantasy, Sci-Fi, and speculative fiction go out the window. So, of course, that advice needs to be adapted somewhat to your personal situation.

The advice “write what you know”, to me, means “write something that rings true for you”. In other words, use your experiences and personality to create something authentic, that’s a reflection of who you are and the ideas you want to express.

This is going to be different for everybody.

So, today, I want to elaborate and share an example from real life. Gavin Reese (not his real name) is an Arizona cop, who has built a career helping to solve crimes and bring those responsible to justice.

All this makes for great reading. Or, at least, it should.

But, as Gavin will tell you, there’s more to creating an authentic story than just regurgitating facts. And there’s a whole swathe of personal, ethical, and political considerations to bear in mind too.




Glory, Shame, and Attempted Anonymity:

How My Web of Lies and Deceit Facilitate my Brutal Honesty

by Gavin Reese

A bit of my background to put all this in perspective.

I’m a cop. Real badge, real gun, well, guns, and actual experience hunting, chasing, and intimidating those who victimize others. Almost a decade ago, I returned to writing as self-therapy and put a novel together. Actually, a work of forest-clearing proportions that took five years of varying dedication to produce. 700-some pages, 183k+ words.

I couldn’t understand why traditional publishers had no interest in it. Did they miss the part about how it was based on my personal reality? How it dripped with authenticity and numerous, complex, and simultaneous subplots that are the modern reality of organized crime investigations? The story was so rich with detail that readers had only heard rumor the main antagonist for the first 200 pages!

I followed the sage advice of an editor and friend, Vivian Caethe, and spent a year cleaving it in twain and turning each half into a stand-alone novel. Along the way, I attracted attention from Cyanide Publishing and now partner with them as an independent author.

The first book, “Enemies Domestic,” took almost exactly seven years from first word to publication on 3 Jul 17. Since then, I’ve dropped the follow-on novel, “Enemies Foreign,” and two novellas, “Room Number Three” and “The Debt Collectors.” In the last seven months, my publications have added just south of 500k words to the available noise on Amazon. I hope to add at least another half-million this year, but primarily in 40-60k-word novellas.



So, my honesty problems with the books. That’s why you’re here.

I write crime fiction. Half thriller, half modern hard-boiled detective story, half exposé. I try to present the world as I see it, from my own biased and emotionally-invested perspective. I try to be honest with the public, with my readers.

Trouble is, if I’m gonna tell it like it is, I have to tell it like it was. The gory assaults I’ll never un-see, the bloody and desperate crime scenes, the writhing murder victim fighting to avert the imminent and inevitable. All the unforgivable things suspects do to their victims. The horrendous confessions that, I’m told, used to bring out the rubber hose.



These days, they just motivate the defense attorney to force-feed their client whatever shitty plea deal the prosecutor offers. Not much incentive to roll the dice with a jury knowing they’ll first hear the criminal client discuss how much he relished…never mind, you don’t wanna know. And that’s part of my point.

My books and blogs are all based on my professional training and personal experience as a cop, which continues to take up at least 40 of my writing hours each and every week.

Still trying to convince the CPA that the cop job’s been a long-term research project for my still-underwater writing business.

Can’t understand why he refuses to retroactively re-file all those tax returns. Sorry, I talk in tangents. The primary benefit of writing from my own memories and experiences is that it’s cheap, fast, and easy. Just like the suspect I have cornered and sweating in the box, it’s easier for me to tell you the truth than to make up a load of recycled bovine feed and hope my audience buys it. It also feels better, telling the truth.

Easier to remember, easier to re-tell, easier to corroborate. Problem is, for Me-The-Author, the truth is a fickle and vindictive mistress.

She’s at once the angel on my right shoulder and the devil on my left, and she threatens everyone involved.

I lose what little mirage of anonymity my pen name offers, the victims and their families get their darkest hours paraded before the public, and the convicts get to bask in the glory of their achievements. Not a single benefit I can find in that scenario.



Turning Facts into Fiction

So, while I wish I could simply regurgitate the facts, events, and places as I knew them, I can’t allow myself to be that lazy. Even if my novels take off like wildfire through the tall, dry late-summer grass, even if Netflix calls to put my Alex Landon series up against Harry Bosch (I laugh, too, no offense taken), it’d all be tainted and undermined if I contributed further abuse to the victims I’ve worked so hard to help.

That brings me to my deception, and there’s lots of it. Here’s the Cliff Notes to the onion of my lies, at least the layers I’m willing to talk about.

First thing, I read up on Joseph Wambaugh. Not just his books, but his life as a cop and writer. I reached out to him with my plan to become a working-cop-author, and he’s kind enough to have offered some advice and a dialogue. He’s still one of the tallest yardsticks in crime fiction, and his books, TV shows, and movies ruined his cop career.

Turns out the cop bosses who work in the department’s Ivory Tower don’t like a real cop using their real name and their real police department as a backdrop to discuss real cop behavior.

They apparently don’t think it’s good for public relations to admit that cops are people, after all, with a lot of the same shortcomings and failings as the population at-large. I wanted the freedom to share the good, the bad, and the ugly of my career with my readers, and I didn’t wanna feel forced out of the profession like Sergeant Wambaugh did. I needed a pen name.

Gavin Reese. Nice to meet you.



Second, I decided to create a fake town.

If future species study us through our crime novels, they’ll justifiably arrive at the supposition that acronyms ended our civilization; they must be the most dangerous places as almost all detective stories and crime fiction take place there. NY, LA, SF, NO. That’s not the experience of the majority of cops or the reading public.

By the way, would you believe the average American police department has 12 cops? That’s it. 12. No homicide detectives, no crime scene techs. Just cops, a supervisor, and a chief. And, you can rest assured, some vicious small-town politics. That means most crime fighters, just like crime readers, haven’t actually been on Wilshire Boulevard, so I chose to not write another series about it.



The bulk of my fiction is based on my experience working as a cop in Arizona, so that’s much more authentic to me. I didn’t want to write about Phoenix PD, though, too similar to LAPD in size and culture. It’s already been done. Didn’t want to pick a suburb, either, and worry about giving blame or credit to a specific agency and their people.

I needed a fake town outside of the real cities where the reader and I get introduced to this place together.

As an 80s kid, I wanted to use Hill Valley, but that seemed risky and brought uninvited lawyers to the party. Welcome to Dry Creek, Arizona. I placed it on the far west side of Phoenix metro surrounded by real-life drug trafficking corridors and cartel influence.

Town’s gotta have tax payers and DCPD needs personnel. I needed realistic characters, but I didn’t want to cast any of them as an image or portrayal of any individual I’ve met along the way. I had to intentionally construct the residents of Dry Creek so that each is an amalgamation of real-life characters.

Even the main protagonist, Alex Landon. He and I have some similar background, but he’s not me. I’m in pieces of about a dozen characters, little snippets of my personality spectrum mixed with varying components of others to try to make them diverse, genuine, and three-dimensional. Some, like Alex, are better than me, some are worse.

I’ve met very few suspects who are entirely bad, most are the product of their environment and their decisions, the personification of the options available to them over time.



Just the same, I’ve yet to meet the cop who’s also a true and pure saint.

We do good work, we mostly do good things, but we have a lot in common with the criminals we hunt. I can’t take a pure, lilly-white personality into the gutters and sewers of human existence and ever think that experience’ll bleach out of ‘em. I have to possess the same capacity and comfort with violence and swift, immediate consequence if my partners and I are going home tonight. The difference between us and them is control and justification.

I won’t ever murder anyone, even if they have it coming, but I’ll certainly end your bloodline if you push me to it.

I needed the cops in and around Dry Creek to uphold that realistic tasking and perspective, and I wanted readers to understand why criminals are who they are. There are always reasons, even if they’re shitty ones.

Fake town in a real setting, pieces of criminals and cops rearranged to create new characters. Crime time. This has been the most complex part of my entire fictional operation, and this is still new enough that I haven’t yet hashed out a consistent and thorough process. The first book started out with a simple theme of righteous retaliation, but the final product had almost nothing to do with my original intent.



Each subsequent book has been slightly more efficient, more consistent. The current, general formula looks something like this: (Real Crime) + (real-life cop experiences) – (suspect and victim identity) + (new circumstances and legal considerations) / (compressed timeframe) x (different outcome for all involved). As an example, “Room Number Three” is a shuffled deck of crimes, cases, and my experiences.

The suspect behaviors are taken from at least four different cases I and my partners have worked, but the legal backdrop of the fictionalized crimes is different from each of those real-life cases that contributed to the story. The victims are different, the suspect is mostly different, but also similar in some minor behavioral traits.



The outcome is almost entirely fiction.

I won’t spoil it, but for both of you who’ve already read RN3, I’ve been part of the “reveal” conversation between Detectives Wall and Melner, but not for the same reasons. I might’ve, though, shared Landon’s last line with a suspect. Maybe. Maybe not. I can’t recall, Senator.

On the topic of crime, I’ve recently made some changes with my last release and the next few upcoming novellas. I felt a need to specifically give back to the basis of my stories, the victims of real crime whose lives are shattered or forever altered by their experiences. I empathize with them, and I understand what it means to have your yesterdays taint and sully your tomorrows.

Part of all my sales proceeds benefits law enforcement and veteran charities, but a portion of all sales of “The Debt Collectors” goes to two organizations that combat drug trafficking and violent criminals in Arizona.

The next book, which touches on domestic minor sex trafficking, will help support efforts to rescue, recover, and rehab victims of sex trafficking and prostitution. Their atrocities deserve to be told, and they deserve the best second chance we can give them.



My last Biggest Problem is giving away police and investigators’ tactics and legal considerations. After 9/11, Tom Clancy had the displeasure of an interview with the CIA about the similarity those attacks bore to one of his fictional works.

I strive to allow readers to experience as much of my actions, emotions, and reality as I can without teaching you how to manipulate circumstances and justifications to evade detection and apprehension.

The way my fictional patrol cops, detectives, and SWAT operators move and communicate should feel very real, but, actually, are not how we’d necessarily address real life problems. Sorry. I’m not giving John Q. Public a How-To Guide for Police Tactics, even though there’s sprinkles of real life in everything I write.



What About Results?

Good question, and a complicated one. Not sure yet. To date, my Amazon reviews have consistently commented that readers get a sense that I am writing from real-life or personal experiences. For what it’s worth, the four- and five-stars outnumber all the others. So far. I have cut back on the raw language that has become my norm, just based on reader feedback.

I’m content with the growth of my fanbase and response to my books, but I’m too project-oriented to think much about the books post-publication.

There’s another story to write, more crime to fictionalize and bring forth for therapy and criticism.

I’ve tried to keep this project a relative secret, but it turns out a few of my blue family can’t keep their doughnut-holes shut. Institutionally, we’re great at keeping the public’s secrets, but we’re the gossipiest bunch of school girls ever recorded in human history. It’s only a matter of time until all the effort I put into the pen name and fictionized crime are threatened by a jealous, vindictive, or careless coworker.



So, I think a better measure of my fictionalization success is the current lack of correlation between my fiction and my cases. A couple of the crimes and scenes I’ve written about will ring true to the cops who were there with me, shoulder-to-shoulder, but, they’re also gonna be familiar to almost every other cop who’s worked anywhere in central Arizona for the last two or three decades.

Every unique, memorable crime is a 93% DNA match to at least a dozen others. They’re close enough cousins they can’t legally marry in any US state, territory, or the District of Columbia.



Actually, though, I’d prefer to measure the success of my fictional efforts in simpler terms.

I self-medicate with these books. Not the reading, but the writing. Getting the caustic realities I’ve known as a cop out onto paper is therapy; it lets just enough pressure off my collection of boxed-up miseries to keep me upright, vertical, and just.

I genuinely hope the public buys and enjoys them. I want them to arrive at a more intimate understanding of what we endure to keep the watch, but, at the end of the day, these are for me and those like me.

They’re my textual graffiti on the Internet’s concrete underpass, and I’ll keep writing regardless of the Amazon stars, Goodreads ratings, or irrational reviews.

I’ve used lies like tainted currency to buy the freedom to be brutally honest, and I hope the reading public will forgive my necessary deceptions. I’d prefer that you enjoy my work and buy ten copies of everything I ever type, but I’m doing it for me and the victims. I have to protect us without letting the wolves we’ve met enjoy the notoriety of seeing their sins in publication. Our stories’ve cost us innumerable treasure and happiness, and we deserve the most righteous and accurate retelling possible.

My lies are necessary to facilitate that, and I’m honestly grateful for their company.


Gavin Reese answers his call to service by working as a professional cop. He spends most weekends and holidays in a patrol car, and is honored to protect and serve the public. His ongoing training and experience in Patrol, Narcotics, Undercover Operations, Counter-Terrorism, Sex and Human Trafficking, S.W.A.T., and Dark Web Investigations provide an ever-growing queue of ideas and stories for his fact-based fiction. Gavin’s rare free time is devoted to family, travel, martial arts, SCUBA diving, mountaineering, and pursuing the perfect ice cream.


If you enjoyed reading about Gavin’s journey, pick up a copy of his first book, Room #3, and see how he puts it all into practice. It’s available on Kindle for a ridiculously low price of $0.99. Pick up a copy here.

A portion of all Gavin’s sales is donated to charities that serve law enforcement professionals and veterans, their families and heirs, and honour the memory of Fallen Heroes.

And now we want to hear from you: How do you use your real-life experiences to create stories? Are there any difficult aspects of your stories you try to hide from the public? Let us know in the comments.


  1. Chris Brooks says:

    Whooo… helluva post. Great reading

    1. Gavin Reese says:

      Thanks, Chris, I appreciate the feedback. I’ve been honored and humbled by this “hobby” and the opportunities it’s presented to give folks a look behind the curtain, as it were.

    2. Julie Bergman says:

      Hi, what a fascinating story and great information. I write suspense/thrillers based on the military. I retired from the Air Force in 2016 and I’m working on making my second career as an author. I write my stories to provide a safe place for people to escape. Also, I find it extremely therapeutic to deal with my own personal trauma. I hope to one day be able to turn a profit so that I can donate to organizations that help veterans.

  2. Gavin Reese says:

    Thanks again, Nick, for the opportunity to share this with your folks. I hope my “honest deception” practices help other aspiring authors find ways to make their own writing more authentic and personal. Be safe out there.

  3. Norman Sorensen says:

    Hi Nick: I wrote my own Bio 2 years ago, to date sold 4548 copies, it is 356 pages and 136 photos.. I also am the publisher. Sales come from retail stores, Internet, Amazon and Google. The book has won 2 awards from Readers Review, one as Finalist for nonfiction, the other for Honorary Mention in Sports.Takes a lot of push to make it on your own .Book Is The Man Called Red.

    1. Gavin Reese says:

      Thanks, Norman! Congrats on writing and publishing the true bio, I hope to someday get mine together and published. Be safe out there.

  4. Jan Vermeer says:

    Fantastic! Now I will have to check out the novel too

    1. Gavin Reese says:

      Thanks for the feedback, Jan! While RN3 is a short time commitment, it is a bit of an emotional investment. Have a great weekend!

  5. Wendy says:

    I find all the blacked-out eyes in the photos . . . amusing. Given the recognition technology today, it practically screams “ID me and talk about me!”

    As to the subject of real-life experiences in my work, I’ve got an unfinished novel “seeded” by my greatest fear and the germ of another novel (which currently is pretty far down in the queue to even get started on). I’m also struggling with how to approach a memoir–I’ve read a few essays on THAT SUBJECT (and that’s how you find the research I accumulate from various emails and websites on my computer, in a folder names “THAT SUBJECT”–all caps) to my writing group, and even though I downplayed the emotional aspect of how horrifying I find it is for me and put in plenty of facts supporting my position, they still though I was “ranting” and not trying to convince anyone of the validity of my position.

    1. Gavin Reese says:

      Hi, Wendy, thanks for sharing! If I understood you correctly, I think I have had some potentially similar experience. For me, some of my experiences, personal and professional, lie outside what others consider feasible or realistic, and that makes my facts and my truth hard for them to accept. Best of luck!

  6. Lori L. Robinett says:

    Great article. I loved the note that you write fiction that isn’t a how to get away with it reality book. I like to read books that FEEL like they could be real, but I don’t necessarily want to read facts.
    A bit of me is in everything I write. In Fatal Obsession, my main character is pregnant and gives birth to an extremely premature baby (who is the subject of a secret cancer research experiment). That birth scene in the book is what really happened when I gave birth (emergency c-section) to a 2 lb, 7 oz baby girl. Interestingly enough, I’ve seen a couple of folks comment about how this detail or that detail would “never happen” – yet it did.

    1. Gavin Reese says:

      Thanks, Lori, for the feedback and sharing some of your personal story. Depending on the inflection in their text, if there truly is such a thing, I either chuckle, shake my head, or feel my blood pressure rise when someone denies my truth. It is amazing to me how people who weren’t there can know so much about my reality. In the immortal words of defense attorneys everywhere, “Sir, isn’t it possible (fill in extraordinary here)…” The answer is almost ALWAYS “yes.”

  7. Paula Pettit Skender says:

    Good read. And thanks for your service, Gavin. We certainly appreciate those who defend us. . . even though that is not your real name

    1. Gavin Reese says:

      Thank you, Paula, I can’t tell you how much that means to all of us. Those simple words will erase almost anything the rest of the world has done, and they’re a wonderful reminder of why we do what we do. Without the gratitude of our public and the trust of our partners, only a self-loathing masochist would show up for this job. Genuinely, thank you. Be safe out there!

  8. mary hagen says:

    I write western romance histories and women in jeopardy stories. Of course, I use some of my own experiences in my writing, but I’ve never experienced the events in my books. I grew up on my parents ranch in Wyoming so I know and use western slang. I’ve been a rock climber, not a good one, but I use some of the knowledge I gained. I hope I never experience the events I write about. Good blog and good luck with your crime stories.

    1. Gavin Reese says:

      Hi, Mary, thanks for the read and telling us how you work your personal experience into your tales. Even if only a part of your story, those examples of personal knowledge and experience certainly add authenticity that readers recognize and appreciate. For me, I prefer “possible fiction,” kinda like the ghost stories I heard growing up around our family campfire. Just enough fiction to be entertaining, but with enough reality to blur the line between them. Thanks again, best of luck!

  9. Sophie says:

    Wonderful post! Right after my mother died, on the plane
    home from the funeral, I was struggling not to cry, so instead I tried to put the grief I was feeling into words. I ended up using that description a few months later with one of my characters. Since Mom was a writer, I think she’d approve!

    1. Gavin Reese says:

      I can relate to that, Sophie. Beautiful name, btw. My wife and I decided to deal with one of our family funerals by writing a screenplay about all the drama, in-fighting, and shenanigans we had to witness at one of ours. The dramatized version would, of course, have to be a little more over-the-top, but not by much…

      I’m glad you were able to turn that experience into a positive, especially one that honored your mother. That’s very special. Thanks for the dialogue. Be safe out there!

  10. Maxwell Ofoegbu says:

    Hi Gavin,
    Thanks for sharing your ideas with us. I am particularly interested to know the implications of each of these mathematical symbols (+,-,/,x,) use in your expression below:
    (Real Crime) + (real-life cop experiences) – (suspect and victim identity) + (new circumstances and legal considerations) / (compressed timeframe) x (different outcome for all involved).
    As an engineer into writing, understanding the meaning of each of these mathematical signs with respect to writing could help me become more productive in my writing. Thanks once again.

    1. Gavin Reese says:

      Hi, Maxwell. Sorry for any confusion from that. I merely wanted to eccentrically demonstrate some approximation of my efforts. It really isn’t that simple, but, for those of you uninterested in things like appellate case law and search & seizure issues , that’s about as easy as I can depict it. I thought explaining that my efforts to make everything different while keeping it all mostly the same just wouldn’t make sense. It hurts my head just to write that last sentence. Again, sorry for the confusion. Be safe out there!

  11. Amy Waeschle says:

    Hey Gavin,
    Thanks for this post, and for your service. I am married to a firefighter, so I know firsthand the sacrifice you make every day. And I have a secret love for crime fiction, so am excited to read your RN3.

    In my writing, I use a lot of my personal travel experiences. My books are set all over the world: Costa Rica, Mexico, Fiji, Sicily, etc. Also, I surf and in both of my books, my characters are surfers. I think there’s a lot of great material that writers overlook that can benefit their writing. They think, “no one wants to hear about this” and yet, if harvested in the right way, it’s brilliant fodder for the characters or setting.

    One thing that I try to hide from my readers are the exact location of my surf spots! Surfing is a very selfish sport, and also territorial. I try to keep my favorite spots off the radar.

    I’m curious how you are an independent author with your publisher. How does that work?

    I’ve also had great luck reaching out to published authors who are a few rungs above me, and it’s been one of the most important aspects of my career. I hear it’s getting harder to do that, so I’m stoked for you to have found a good mentor. I would encourage all authors to do this.

    Take care and be safe, Gavin,

    1. Gavin Reese says:

      Thank you for YOUR service, Amy. I think it is much harder to watch us go to work than it is for us to actually go. No one who hasn’t watched a loved one wave and drive away toward potential, unknown danger will understand what that’s like. We can do our jobs only because of our under-sung heroes at home.

      I like your locales, as well as working to keep your own secrets. I’m planning an international series for 2019, and I hope to visit all the places I intend to drop my characters. My Thanksgiving trip to Vienna and Rappottenstein inspired this upcoming series, and I’d like to add that local, authentic accuracy. I also like your “personal” characters; I think authors get hung up on creating this intriguing, mysterious, almost super-human lead, and then remember to add in some intrinsic kryptonite. We forget that humans, just as they are, are pretty interesting. Even the most mundane habits, preferences, or personality traits will help make the cast three-dimensional, even if the reader doesn’t directly share their affinity for knitting cat sweaters. That hobby alone allows us to fill in a lot of their personality with our own biases and presumptions.

      On Cyanide Publishing. They have a blended business model and I have contracts with them for marketing and publication. I’m VERY happy with their work, their efforts, and their expertise. Tim Flanagan is a wizard.

      Lastly, I agree. We all need mentors, and I believe we should have the decency to look back and offer a helping hand and hard-earned advice to those following us. I am in no way credible as an author-mentor, but I do hope to be there someday.

      Thanks for the feedback and inquiries, Amy. Be safe out there!

  12. Crystal Snoddon says:

    Thank you, Gavin, for your hard work on and off the beat! As an RN, my previous hospital work included the ‘prison private room’, and I’ve always enjoyed the camaraderie of cops. There’s a great deal of symmetry between the frequently caustic, cynical sense of humor our professions share. Plus my dad was a firefighter, and you’re right – the firehall was as gossipy as any high school I’ve ever been in!
    I’ve shied away from writing about nursing, simply because I didn’t want to imperil the public’s confidence in my profession’s discretion and confidentiality standards. Some friends have urged me to take on a pen name, but I’ve been so reluctant to do so. I appreciate your advice regarding the weave of pure fiction with fact. You very well may have tipped me over the fence of reluctance!
    Stay safe, keep well!

    1. Gavin Reese says:

      Good morning, Crystal. My family is filled with firefighters and nurses, so many a holiday has turned into a one-upper story contest. All of us have to find a way to fit ourselves into that jaded, cynical mentality as a survival mechanism for all we must witness, and I have a great deal of respect and admiration for nurses. While you don’t have to see the atrocities that don’t make it into the bus, I don’t have much risk of developing an emotional relationship with the patient and their family; my tragedies are usually short-lived and I rarely ever have to speak their names. Thanks for what you do!!

      With your background and immediate access to experts in related fields, I think you could potentially pen a great series about a nurse, trauma doc, coroner/medical examination, or medical investigator. Extraordinary events and circumstances happen with you folks all the time! If you identify one significant such event, and weave together enough supporting circumstances to make a believable backdrop and subplots, you’ve got a novel!

      I, also, worry about focusing on bad cop behavior to the point of eroding public confidence. However, we’re all people with all the same problems; our professions just suffer from them in far lesser numbers. I think the bad behavior mixes in a dose of reality AND gives me an opportunity, through my characters, to show how much the rest of us abhor misconduct and strive to see such offenders identified and run outta town on a rail. I believe there is a balance to be struck there. Not all people are “good,” so all cops can’t be, either. Most all “bad” people got there by choice and circumstance rather than intrinsic defects. The fact that they stand out against the backdrop of all the good guys is a reality worth documenting and celebrating.

      Hope that helps. Thanks for the feedback, best of luck and success with your series. Be safe out there!

  13. Peter Blyth says:

    I write a sort of reacheresque character who’s a morally ambivalent ex special forces type, turned hit man. Obviously I’m none of those things, but he has facets of my character, a strong dislike of men who victimise women based on a childhood with a father who was abusive to his mum for example, although he tends to be more direct and permanent in his solutions than I could be,

    I also applaud Gavin tithing his book royalties to support those he writes about. Authors should do this more. I have committed to 10% of net profit from the Dusty Miller series going to help for heroes, and I’m writing an raf trilogy for the Battle of Britain anniversary in 2020 which will give a similar level of support to the raf charity.

  14. Gavin Reese says:

    Thanks for the response, Peter! Looking forward to meeting Dusty Miller. I was raised by a basically single mom, and share your loathing for violence directed at women. Glad to hear of your donation commitment. I hope that my writing has positive reach far beyond my in bank account, as well. Best of luck. Be safe out there.

  15. Chad Chadwick says:

    Writing about your own experiences had its challenges as I found out in my book Deckers, Punters & Dead Ants – Around the World in a Double Decker Bus 1979 – 1983
    There was the danger of it becoming diary or documentary-like, so despite it being about some amazing true life experiences, I had to acknowledge that my reader had to be, first and foremost, entertained.

    I enjoy books that keep me turning the pages, that have intrigue, funny and escapism – which is how I approached writing my own book. I always kept this in mind throughout the whole process.

    This involved introducing as much humour as possible especially when describing life-threatening incidents or particularly unpleasant situations.

    Not using real names to protect the innocent and the guilty! was another thing.

    Then once you have it all down edit, edit, edit. Test yourself to write the same event in three different ways, at least one version does not have to be 100% accurate so long as it gets the message across in an entertaining way.

    You’ll surprise yourself and your readers – as I did. Happy writing and reading.

  16. Dixie Jo Jarchow says:

    Very interesting. I struggle with some of the same issues and have my own fake town. Like you, I struggle with the after writing and promoting. I keep hoping my books will catch fire because of the awesome writing. Then, I go edit them again….

  17. Gavin Reese says:

    Thanks for the read and comment, Dixie Jo! Are we rowing the same boat? Hemingway said that writing is never finished, it is only ever abandoned. I couldn’t agree more. It doesn’t matter how many times I read and edit my works, I will ALWAYS find something that requires further polishing. I am working toward a non-fiction series later this year that will really test how well I’ve managed to construct all my safeguards. Best of luck, looking forward to hearing of your wild success!

  18. John Reynolds says:

    Interesting account of the writing process. My recently published novel Uncommon Enemy is set in WWII and in one chapter I describe a couple watching in growing horror as the postmaster walks down their drive with a telegram in his hand. It informs them of the death of their son who was fighting with the New Zealand Army in North Africa. As the father starts to open the door he crumples to the ground. The description is based on the story my grandmother often told me of the news that she and my grandfather received from the postmaster of my uncle’s death in North Africa. True life adapted for my novel. (I still get goosebumps when I read this section aloud in my author talks.)

  19. Martha Knox says:

    I mixed things I’ve seen in real life. I lived for 40+ years in Northern AZ. I think an author can’t help but put the things they know and have seen into books. Names are changed. Timelines have changed but the feelings never change. Right now I’m writing the chapter where my main character has to tell her best friend about her a sister;s death,. Has my sister died ?, no. Sje’s alive and well and full of spunk. But my brother was murdered by a serial killer a long time ago when he was twenty-three. So I know every feeling leading up to that moment, but I’ve changed the viewpoint from me being a survivor to another character surviving. I’ve seen the aftermath of suicide. I’ve survived three forest fires and a flood. I’ve been in tornados and seen the aftermath of a town wiped out. I’ve had 80% of the people I’ve loved as a child die. But I keep chugging along, I hope my books give strength to survivors because the people who you love and love you will carry you on through hard times.

    1. Gavin Reese says:

      That’s an incredible an tragic reality, Martha. I’m terribly sorry for your lost as, and the terrors that you’ve witnessed. Thanks for working to inspire and encourage others.

  20. Martha Knox says:

    Read book 1. Loved it. Picked up 4 more. Loved the Coliseum picture on the book cover because I just got back from a trip to Rome. Keep up the great work can’t wait for the next one. Greece? London?

    1. Gavin Reese says:

      I’m flattered! Thanks for your kind words! The second book in the Saint Michael Series is centered in Vienna, and is on pre-order for it’s release on Feb 11. I’m blessed to work with a tremendously talented publishing company, Cyanide Publishing, out of Kent, UK. I write the words and they do everything else.

  21. Great blog. I need to find the time to read to the book as I’m in AZ north of Phoenix. Writing what you know it good, but what you don’t know, you can research and still use. It’s a great way to learn new things. (The advice was from Dan Brown and Randy Ingermanson.) Keep up the good work both in your job and writing. If you think about it, fiction with facts interspersed through out it is a lot of fun to read as you take out the boring parts, making it what you wish life really was.

    1. Gavin Reese says:

      Hi, Barbara, thanks for the response! While I try to write more realistic cops, crimes, and criminals, true authentic fiction would never sell. Our jobs are 98% mundane paperwork and 2% terror. I have added a few features in the crime books specifically because I wished the thing could exist.

  22. Hi Gavin! I began a federal career as a wildland firefighter in Alaska, Montana, Arizona, and California for the Forest Service, then U.S. Dept. of Interior. Then moved on to work in land law, oil and gas and a DOI regulator of Trans-Alaska Pipeline. When I began writing short stories and novels, my problem was, so many adventures, how to narrow it down? I picked firefighting to start. My short story of our crew’s narrow escape in a runaway fire won an Alaska Press Club award so I wrote a novel about it. Problem was, I had to change the names of my agencies, and some small towns. Although I no longer worked for DOI, my boss and friend still does and asked me to “be kind” in my novel. I wrote a subplot about gender discrimination with women firefighters, which unfortunately still exists. My boss told me about a gender desc case he was dealing with at the same agency. I freaked out! Now what do I do? Didn’t want him ticked at me, nor did I want to show my previous employer in a bad light. I panicked and changed names of EVERYTHING. But Alaska is a small town, as the saying goes. My critique group and beta readers pounced on me. No you can’t rename Fairbanks, we all flippin know what you’re referring to! Suck it up and write it real, they said. But do change all staff names. I changed the agency names anyway. Writing from personal experience has pros and cons LOL. My novel has had several agent and publisher rejections and all were generous with fixes. The most common one was that my firefighting scenes, my real life experiences…were stellar. But the romance part? No, that was the fiction. Talk about a wakeup call! When it’s real, it shows on the page. When it isn’t we must become vulnerable and bleed on the page. Which I didn’t do. Takes courage for you to write about your world. I can’t imagine what you must confront each day. Whatever happens, Gavin, don’t EVER stop writing. If we tell it true, straight from the heart, the rest will fall into place. Write On!

    1. Gavin Reese says:

      Hi, Lois, I really am intrigued by your story ideas. Regardless of genre limitations and publicity issues, I think all readers just want a good story about characters they love and despise. Genre has realistic parameters based on reader expectations and wants, but think our mutual acquaintance Jim Rollins is a great example of both success and not being pigeon-holed. Whatever I can’t write what I know from experience, I try to do so from research. Hope that helps in some way. Thanks for the thoughts, and I’m looking forward to seeing yoru finished product!

  23. Pam Young says:

    Great down to earth honesty, direct, real, no stones unturned facts of his life. Love the reality. No hidden agenda. Captivating and on edge

  24. Author William Mangieri says:

    Thanx for your insights on writing fiction from real life.
    Also – thank you for your service.

    1. GavinTheCop says:

      I’m sorry, William, but I just now saw this. I hope you found some useful kernels in here, and that they prove productive for your writing. Be safe out there, and may the words flow freely.

  25. James Mecham says:

    I just retired after 30 years as a trooper/detective. Everything you’ve said is 100% true. My writing is also therapeutic. Unlike you I haven’t had the courage to revisit those memories, so I’ve focused on fiction in many of its genres. I wish you well in life and your writing career. God bless you Gavin. Keep fighting the good fight.

    1. GavinTheCop says:

      Thank you for your service, sir. My writing has saved many aspects of my life, most notably my marriage, I think. I’d like to chat about having you on the podcast to discuss your personal experiences and how that has influenced your writing. You can find me at gavin at gavin reese dot com and we’ll see about getting something set up to promote your books. Godspeed, Mecham, and let’s keep praying for all those still donning the badge and vest every day. Be safe out there.

  26. Jessica Jackson says:

    Thank you for this awesome blog – the first I’ve read on this site.
    I write what I’ve been told is called ‘creative non-fiction’. I write the stories of children who have been Abused To Death by their caregivers, and begin with a fictionalised story, often written in the child’s voice, followed by the pure facts of the case, and then most importantly, I explore how we can work towards prevention. I try to keep impartial; there’s no sensationalism in there, but I use my feelings of empathy when writing as the child. I kept really personal stuff out of it until recently when I decided to explain what started me writing (my friend’s grandson’s murder, and another connection I won’t go into here). Like you, I donate my royalties (to children’s charities). And I too find it therapeutic, as when I first hear about each new case, I’m distraught, but then I begin to write, in the hope that I can use it for a good purpose. I’m sorry if I’ve been a bit selfish here, waffling on about my own stuff!

  27. D. E. Heil says:

    I found some of the same problems Gavin Reese has in his writing in that the general reading public aren’t able to face the reality of life and do not want to wander outside of what they are already familiar with… and only then after it is sanitized to meet their worldview.
    After researching it, it appears that I must make some serious changes if I want to be commercially successful with my writing. Even though I have an average of four star reviews on my books (a prequel and five in the series) the readthrough is not what I want and need for success.
    My research turned up the fact that new and exciting is not a good thing. Readers like the same old tropes hashing over the same old story lines. It is where they feel safe being surrounded by familiar scenes.
    Therefore, I have abandoned my first series (hopefully it is only temporary) and have started a second series that I hope will be more in line with what readers are familiar with. Gavin may have to rethink how he writes and repackage his experiences in a watered down version. It is more difficult to write when it is not flowing from personal experience, but it may sell a lot more books in the long run.

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    You want to know how to write? It’s easy read. Take 15-20 years reading the greats Dostovesky, Hemmingway, E A Poe, Hillary Mantel, J R R Tolkien – take your pick the world is your oyster. Then, once you have gained a vocabulary pick a style and genre of your own choice and write, and keep on writing. The point being it’s a calling not a claim to riches unless you pick up the pen and follow Steven King or some other prince or princess of the potboiler.

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  34. Wanda Baham Sturrock says:

    When I started writing my first book, Honeysuckle Sippin’, which eventually became the first book of The Journey Home Trilogy, I wanted to tell the story of how my mother died when I was six and how things went after that but there were some things I did NOT want to write. So, I worked it into a novel. The first sentence was, “When the sunbeam shown through the kitchen door…my mama died.” This was true. After that I wove fact together with fiction that COULD have been true. I guess it worked well because readers wanted more. The most touching note I received by email was from a lady who had received the set as a gift from her brother. She wrote, “…I am thankful for the gift God has given you to write so others can lose themselves in their own memories as they read your books.”

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