Backstory

Authors tell you what inspired their work

James O. Born, author of "Escape Clause"

I was always interested in writing and even took a shot as an undergrad at a student newspaper job while attending Florida State but aside from one article on street construction in Tallahassee I was unsuccessful.

I moved on to police work and have been quite happy with my choice since the first day in the academy. I like the physical nature of the job. I love the diversity I experience every day, never knowing exactly what my assignment might be. It may sound hokey, but I like helping people and see the relief on their faces when we show up at a disaster or particularly nasty crime scene.

When I was new to police work, I was an agent with U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. On TV, DEA agents are in shoot-outs and get the chicks but in real life they follow suspected drug violators around until they can make a case. If you're a new guy, no one in the DEA much cares about family life or other interests, you just drive. I can remember sitting people's houses (that's a slang for conducting surveillance) and waiting by their cars for hours with nothing really to do. This was in the late eighties and Gameboys were yet to be invented. So I read. I read a lot of Tom Clancy and W.E.B. Griffin because I liked the idea of learning something about the military. I would read the occasional police book but felt the books didn't reflect my experience as a cop. I was not a CIA trained assassin. I could not rip a shotgun out of someone's hands without suffering a catastrophic injury. I didn't crawl out of crushed police cars and shake off the injury. Neither did any cop I knew.

During this time I met Elmore Leonard through a family friend. He was popular but not super famous like he is now. We hit it off and he asked about calling me for technical advice from time to time. Over the years I started thinking that I'd like to write a police novel. One with realistic roots. Dutch Leonard and his assistant, Gregg Sutter, really supported me in this by reviewing my manuscript and offering advice. My first effort remains unpublished and resting at the bottom of a desk drawer. I wouldn't call it unreadable, but my kids have instructions that if anything happens to me it should be destroyed immediately. But that was practice for my second novel which used some of my experiences as an undercover agent at a Ku Klux Klan rally in Palm Beach County. Nothing really happened at the closed meeting. But my imagination supplied the intrigue that these ignorant rednecks failed to deliver. In real life these morons are not what I'd call a threat to national security but in my novel they are usurped by a local Nazi group and tricked into a deadly plan. This manuscript eventually landed me an agent. But ultimately every major publisher declined. Some emphatically.

Undeterred, although I should have been smart enough to quit, I started to work on my third novel, Walking Money. I used my experiences on a SWAT team during one of the larger Miami riots and incorporated them into the story of a FDLE agent framed for a bank heist which occurs during the riot.

Not wishing to relive the mounds of rejection from literary agents I had received on my previous books, I gave it to a friend in New York. He was a private editor and he said he'd look it over. He was so happy with the book that he gave it to a literary agent named Peter Rubie who liked the story enough to call me and ask if I needed representation. I agreed and within a few weeks he had a two-book deal from Putnam. The most exciting part was that my editor, Neil Nyren, was also the editor of my two favorite military writers, Tom Clancy and W.E.B. Griffin.

I went to work immediately on the second book in the series named Shock Wave and this time found myself incorporating a great number of experiences into the story to support the main, fictional plot.

Now I have an additional contract with Putnam and the third book in the series, Escape Clause, came out in February, 2006. The story follows the main character to a prison to investigate an in custody death that isn't what it appears. By chance, I was assigned to investigate a death at South Bay Correctional, the area I had used as a model for the town and prison in my book. Talk about life imitating art. Then, once at the prison, a Department of Corrections Inspector asked me if I was the guy who write the books. I gave him a postcard for Escape Clause and watched his face as he realized I wrote about the Department of Corrections.

I still work my police job every day with as much enthusiasm as I had when I started. I write every day with more enthusiasm than I had when I started. With two jobs I love and employment for the foreseeable future with an almost unlimited source for material and ideas. I couldn't be happier with the way things worked out.

James O. Born's latest book is Escape Clause. His website has current info and photos from police work, his book tours and other areas of his life.


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