Under the Spotlight: Paul Bishop

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Recently, I had a chance to throw a few tough questions at my friend and mentor, Paul Bishop, about his latest novel, Lie Catchers, which has just been released by Pro Se Productions. From my hollowed out volcano, I grilled him on the story, and his writing career.

David Foster: Firstly, Paul, welcome to P2K, and congratulations on the publication of Lie Catchers. It’s a sensational story, and readers are in for a real treat. Before we talk about your book, I thought we should begin with your influences. Who are the authors that inspired you to become a novelist?

Paul Bishop: Dick Francis taught me about plot and pace. At one point early in my writing career, I tore all the pages out of a Dick Francis paperback, laid them out on the floor of my office, and painstakingly charted the development and resolution of his plot.

Robert Parker showed me a lot about character and dialogue. He taught me to strip down my writing to the skeleton and then to add back on just what is needed.

However, when I joined the LAPD in 1977, Joseph Wambaugh was my writing idol. He was and continues to be the gold standard against which all other police writers are judged. Wambaugh’s early novels, including The New Centurions, The Onion Field, and The Blue Knight, influenced both my writing and my police career. Wambaugh is a great storyteller. He also tells stories in a complex, layered, provoking manner which elevates his prose into the stratosphere of literature. Wambaugh knows cops at a primal level. He also knows how to capture them on the page in all their flawed glory. I was already on track from an early age to pursue both of my chosen professions, LAPD detective and writer, but Wambaugh’s books were the light in the window guiding me home.

DF: Many readers will be familiar with your police procedurals, such as the Fey Croaker, and the Calico Jack Walker-Tina Tamiko series, but some would not know about the young pulp writer who cut his teeth writing stories for adventure magazines. Can you tell us some of your memories of your early writing career?

PB: There were more rejections than acceptances in those days. I was very derivative as I was trying to find my voice. When I stopped copying others and just wrote, the voice was there. It wasn’t developed yet, but it was strong enough for me to sell stories to Mike Shayne’s Mystery Magazine and some of the other digest sized pulps that were the last of their kind.

I’ve always been proud of the fact I started out in the pulps. I admired the guys from back in the day who wrote prodigiously for the pulps. They could be at a party, realize they had a story deadline, go off in a corner with a battered typewriter, rip through a 3,000 to 5,000 word story, and be back to the party before they were missed.

DF: What is your writing process? Is it organic, or do you outline the plot in advance?

PB: Went I first started writing novels, I outlined heavily. I needed to have a map to where I was going. I might change the destination as the story opened up, but I needed an outline for the confidence to begin.

Eventually, I moved away from outlining and would start writing if I had the characters, two or three turning point scenes, and the climax in my head. I worked that way until Lie Catchers, which I started with just a deep understanding of the characters and the decision that interrogation was going to drive the plot. I just started writing and let the story unfold as I went. The process was both frightening and exhilarating at the same time.

DF: Do you do any rewriting?

PB: I’m a firm believer in the Robert Graves quote, there is no such thing as good writing only good rewriting. I have a tendency to rewrite as I go along – if I write five pages, I go over those first the next day. By the time I type the end on the manuscript, I’ve already gone over it two or three times, so one last polish is all it takes before the copyeditor tears it apart.

DF: Let’s move on to the here and now. Tell us about your latest novel, Lie Catchers, and the lead characters.

Lie Catchers Cover imagePB: Lie Catchers features two top LAPD interrogators, Ray Pagan and Calamity Jane Randall. A few years earlier, Pagan has made a bad mistake in the box. As a result he banished himself to handling only deep freeze case – cases so frigid even the Cold Case Squad won’t go near them. Calamity Jane Randall is a Robbery-Homicide detective trying to come back after a gunfight, in which she killed the suspect, but got a chunk taken out of her leg by returned fire.

The LAPD chief wants Pagan back working his magic in the interrogation room and he wants Jane to get him there and work with him. Unbeknown to Jane, Pagan has singled her out. He has been waiting for a long time for somebody with her special gift – a gift she doesn’t even know she has.

When two five-year-olds – one with serious special needs – disappear on the same night in different parts of the city, Pagan and Randall have to hit the ground running to solve what appears to be two unconnected and impossible cries.

I didn’t want Pagan and Randall to be a riff on Holmes and Watson. I wanted the Pagan/Randall dynamic to be a symbiotic, equal partnership. Randall wasn’t just there to assist and marvel at Pagan’s brilliance – a foil used to listen while Pagan explained his cleverness. Randall is her own woman with her own strengths. Yes, sometimes Pagan acts as a mentor, but I wanted there to be an equal number of times when Randall’s actions saved the day. Jane couldn’t just follow, she also needed to lead sometimes.

In the end, this novel I started with no solution unfolded in the hands of these two characters who I came to admire and trust.

DF: The old adage is ‘write what you know’, and your thirty-five year career in the LAPD, and more recently presenting interrogation seminars, clearly influence this novel. But how much truth is in Lie Catchers? 

PB: Everything Pagan and Randall do in Lie Catchers, I have either done or know somebody who has. I’ve never read a novel that gets interrogations right. TV certainly doesn’t get interrogations right – not even reality cop shows like 48 Hours (I usually pull my hair out when watching). With my background, I wanted to write a novel that would be as close to what an interrogator really does as fiction would allow. Lie Catchers is the result.

DF: Lie Catchers is written from the perspective of ‘Calamity’ Jane Randall. Do you find it difficult writing from a woman’s perspective?

PB: I’d written the Fey Croaker novels in the third person. Those books obviously featured a strong female character, but I was once removed from her by perspective. However, Fey and Jane are very different characters and I needed to approach them differently.

I knew Lie Catchers needed to be told in the first person because of the intense intimacy between characters and readers the story demanded. Telling the story from Ray Pagan’s perspective just didn’t feel right. One of Pagan’s qualities is the unusual ways in which he approaches situations. This was best experienced from the point of view of another character who would come to understand Pagan along with the reader. That put me, as the writer, inside the head of Calamity Jane Randall – a very good detective, but still a woman who doesn’t truly understand herself. To become a great detective, a great interrogator, she needs Pagan to lead her on the path to self-discovery. But he also needs her to save him from himself.

As a male, writing in the third person about a female main character like Fey Croaker was one thing. Actually getting inside Jane Randall’s head to tell the story from her perspective as a woman was entirely another.

DF: Do you have any more interrogations planned for Ray Pagan and Jane Randall?

PB: The second novel in the series, tentatively titled Lie Killers, is moving along, and I have the glimmer of an idea for the third.

DF: What’s coming up next from the battered keyboard of Paul Bishop?

PB: I’m working hard on Lie Killers and have three or four short stories for anthologies I have to jump on. I’ve also been caught up in some non-fiction work with article appearing in the Huffington Post and elsewhere.

DF: Thank you for your time, Paul, and best of luck with Lie Catchers. I’m sure it will be a big success.

BIOGRAPHY: Novelist, screenwriter, and television personality, Paul Bishop spent 35 years with the Los Angeles Police Department, where he was twice honored as Detective of the Year. He continues to work privately as a deception expert. His fifteen novels include five in his LAPD Homicide Detective Fey Croaker series. His latest novel, Lie Catchers, begins a new series featuring top LAPD interrogators Ray Pagan and Calamity Jane Randall.

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