When writing a non-fiction book, at some point it’s a good idea to show a draft of it to people who are experts on the topics you’re covering. Since my book was true crime, I figured the best constructive criticism I could get would be from cops.
Actually, I didn’t have much hope as far as the “constructive” part. Since the main storyline of the book centered on the case of a serial rapist (Brent Brents) I expected the conversations to go something like this:
“No, I didn’t read it. And why the hell would you want to write about that sonofabitch?”
Still, I called on four screening candidates; two in Tampa (where I used to live), and two in Denver. A homicide detective, a street cop who was now a private detective, a narcotics detective and a vice detective.
I emailed the first chapter and the summaries of the rest, now filled out by notes, and braced myself for a flurry of contempt, like I was proposing a tax increase on the upper bracket to a room full of Republicans.
Instead, much to my surprise, the reaction was curiosity and encouragement.
“It’s pretty good,” said the street-cop-turned-private-detective. “You need more detail about what he looks like in that first scene, though.”
“Good for you!” said the vice cop. “I thought it was interesting.”
“Are you alright?” asked the homicide detective on the phone. He called me immediately after reading a section that detailed the emotional difficulties of covering the case. “Yes, that was years ago!” I told him.
And the biggest compliment came from the narcotics detective, who said he was intrigued by the revelations about how Brents’ mind worked, but that he found the parts about the life of a reporter the most fascinating of all.
“You work the same way we do–it’s just you’re going after a story and not the arrest,” he said to me in surprise. And then he added the line that at this point I was used to hearing: “Put more of you and the reporter stuff in there.”
So I did. And about the time I started thinking things were taking shape and the story was really coming together, I got a call from someone who wanted me to write a different book altogether.
To be continued…