By Connie Berry
I met Bruce Coffin for the first time at Malice Domestic in 2016 after his first Detective John Byron crime novel, Among the Shadows, was released. To tell the truth, I was a bit awe-struck, especially with his background as a detective sergeant focusing on homicide and violent crime. He was (and still is) the real deal. Since then he’s gone on to publish three more books in the series to critical acclaim. The latest, Within Plain Sight, has been called “witty,” “exceptional,” with “flawless prose” and a plot that “will keep you guessing until the final bullet-riddled revelation.” Bruce was kind enough to answer a few questions about his journey from police officer to award-winning crime novelist.
Bruce, how did that happen, and how did you learn your craft?
Thank you so much, Connie! The truth is I was a novelist in waiting who spent nearly three decades as a police officer. Long story short, following a less than inspirational experience in a college writing class, I made the decision to follow in my uncle’s law enforcement footsteps. As the years passed, I honestly believed I would never return to writing. In 2012 my passion for writing returned in part because my wife gifted me with an iPad. I was like a kid with a new toy. The iPad was like a portable typewriter. Better still, I could type without need of correction tape or Whiteout. After that it didn’t take long before I was creating and spending time with my imaginary friends again.
How long did it take you to write that first novel? And since we share an agent, Paula Munier of Talcott Notch, how long did it take to sell the series?
Bestselling spy novelist Gayle Lynds once said to me, “One day they’ll call you an overnight success, but you and I will know how many years that really takes.” I spent two and a half years writing a drawer novel titled DEATH WATCH. Honestly, it was terrible. But I learned so much from writing that bad novel. And I used that knowledge to write another, THE REAPING. On the strength of that second novel, Paula Munier offered to represent me. I signed an agreement with Talcott Notch in November of 2015. By December we had interest from two major houses, and in February 2016 we agreed on a three-book deal with HarperCollins. THE REAPING became AMONG THE SHADOWS and was released in September 2016 as the first in the Detective Byron mystery series. In truth, my overnight success took more than four and a half years, two novel-length manuscripts, more rewrites than I can count, great advice from fellow authors, and a fabulous literary agent, to achieve.
I can identify! Except I refused to let that first terrible novel go and finally wrestled it into something I could sell. I’m interested in your police background. Most crime writers don’t have your experience. How much of you and your experiences end up on the pages of your novels?
There is no question that my experiences greatly inform my writing. As a crime fiction author I couldn’t have picked a better prior career. And not just the procedural aspect. I draw heavily on all of my experiences. From human interactions, stressful situations, life, death, and everything in between. During my career I felt as though I had given up writing to do something else. I now realize that what I was actually doing was research. Some folks take the road less traveled. I opted for the long way home, and it has made all the difference.
What advice do you have for aspiring crime writers in today’s publishing world?
Publishing is a tough business. The landscape is forever changing. Nobody really knows what will be in demand next year, or even ten years from now. If your only reason for writing is publication, you’re in the wrong business. Publication can certainly be a goal, but it shouldn’t be the reason. I write is because I love doing it. Telling stories and playing make-believe inside my own head is such a cool concept. My stories provide me with an escape from real world troubles. Hopefully — if I’ve done my job well — they’ll provide that same escape for all who read them. Never give up or lose sight of your goal, but remember to enjoy the act of writing, and enjoy the journey.
That’s wonderful advice. Thank you so much, Bruce, and best of luck in all your future writing.
Bruce Robert Coffin is the award-winning author of the Detective Byron mysteries. A former detective sergeant, he supervised all homicide and violent crime investigations for Maine’s largest city. Following the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, Bruce spent four years investigating counter-terrorism cases for the FBI, earning the Director’s Award, the highest award a non-agent can receive. His short fiction appears in a number of anthologies, including Best American Mystery Stories 2016. You can find him at www.brucerobertcoffin.com.