What do you all look for when you’re reading about gay cops? What turns you on or turns you off when you find a gay police officer in your books?
If you haven’t noticed, I tend to write about cops. Looking back at my works, most all my novels feature someone in law enforcement. My most recent novel, All or Nothing, features Brandon Carr a Riverside, CA Detective. It’s the third in the Taking the Odds books. I put him through the wringer in this book and a lot of his reactions come from being a law enforcement officer.
Cops don’t necessarily think like the rest of us. There is a mindset to being a cop. Consider this, the salary may be great (LAPD starts HS grads at $45,000.00) but the downside is every day you step into a job that has a high probability of killing you. And not just from the scum on the streets. Labor laws in California presume that if a police officer has a heart attack it was caused by his job. They come in constant contact with the worst of us most times, and the best of us at our worst time.
Getting into the mindset of someone like Brandon or Chase from Personal Demons is not easy. A lot of the “war stories” I heard from officers while working in the prosecutor’s office filter into my books and how my characters view their world. How cops react to things and what they think is funny says a great deal about their mindset.
The video that Brandon views at the end of Cheating Chance – where the dog is screwing the guy – it’s a real video and was my hazing into the realm of us (law enforcement) v. them (the rest of the world). The detectives I worked with punked me by telling me I needed bring for review an evidence tape referred to as in-re-Bobo. As custodian of the tape, I had to watch it with the officers who requested it. I guess it says something about my personality that after the first cop slipped and cracked up… I was laughing right along with the detectives & uniforms. I also must have passed the “test” as that’s when I started getting offers of ride-alongs and recruitment pitches.
Trying to understand these dedicated professionals is a constant process with me. When I’m in court, I will sit near the Bailiff and talk with them. Cops love to talk about what they do – with the caveat of they will never let you into how they really felt about something. You have to be able to see into the types of words they’re using and how they’re saying things in order to glimpse the emotions under the surface. I am continually picking up books written by police officers about what they do. Again, a great deal will discuss what they did, but not directly how it hit them inside. The book I Love a Cop, dealing with what families need to understand about what’s going on in the minds of the their sworn loved ones, makes an appearance in All or Nothing.
I read law enforcement text books to understand the detailed minutia about the most routine task, like a traffic stop, that pervade every moment of a cop’s life. Cops live in a constant state of hyper vigilance. Officers don’t look at your eyes for cues, they watch your hands because that’s where an attack will come from.
Being a gay cop is even harder. Again, I don’t live the life of a gay cop. I do read their narratives. Coming Out From Behind the Badge and A Matter of Justice are both great collections of personal experiences of gay and lesbian law enforcement officers. Buttino’s A Special Agent recounts the witch hunt into his sexuality that led to his firing from the FBI. Police organizations are slow to catch up to the rest of the world especially in areas of diversity. It is a top-down paramilitary world where those who are responsible for making change are rooted in over a century of tradition.
Do I get it 100% right…heck no. I’m not a gay cop. But I strive for an era of authenticity that will ring true. I think that is one of the things that readers really like about my cops. They believe that guys like Brandon are cops. They believe in Brandon as a gay cop.
I know I appreciate it. I watch a show like Southland (TNT). Now, I don’t watch a lot of TV. Most stuff out there is crap. But this show rings true for me. It draws me in because the characters are believable as cops. Each one of them is a cop first and a father, mother, brother second. Mostly, I guess I connect with the show because I like Officer John.
He’s a stoic, hard ass cop – a field training officer who believes it’s his job to push rookies to breaking, because if they can’t survive him they won’t survive the streets. But the coolest thing about him, he’s gay. And gay in a way you’d probably never see on say, Will & Grace. Out, but not in your face about it.
What’s really great about the TV show is Southland gives you the story about John’s sexuality in the same manner it presents his addiction to prescription pain medications. Or in Officer Dewy’s alcoholism that is so rampant he shows up for his shift reeking. Or Detective Adams’ willingness to get involved in people’s lives to help them off the streets. Or Rookie Ben’s…yeah, you get the idea.
That is what makes it so great for me. Well, and the fact that the producers and writers have always been very up front about, “Yes, John is gay.”
I know what I look for in law enforcement characters. What makes it or breaks it for you as readers?