Thursday, August 19, 2010

Jim Born, Author, Police Officer & Keynote Speaker, Write Now! 2010

Do you think I'll embarrass Jim Born if I say he's kind, and a gentleman?  Fortunately, I'm sure none of his fellow cops will read this to poke fun of him.  When is the last time you saw a gentleman stand up when women got up or sat down?  At happy hour on Friday night, with eight women in attendance, poor Jim spent the evening getting up and down.  And, then he carried another author's box of books to the restaurant for event organizer, Chantelle Osman.  A true gentleman.

Jim's biography for the Desert Sleuths' Write Now! Conference said, "James O. Born, the award-winning author of the Alex Duarte and Bill Tasker series, is a Special Agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.  He has investigated organized, violent and economic crime, drug cartels, and public corruption.  A former technical advisor to Elmore Leonard, he also writes science fiction under the name James O'Neal."

As keynote speaker for the conference, Born was terrific.  He had us laughing from the start, when he said on the drive over that morning, he was hoping his driver, Desert Sleuths President Roni Olson, would stop for Krispy Kreme doughnuts.  She told him Robin Burcell said that's a myth that cops eat doughnuts.   He said, when the cop looks like Robin Burcell, she probably doesn't eat doughnuts.  When they look like he does, he eats doughnuts. 

Jim reminded Robin that they had first met on a panel at Bouchercon.  The panelists were all cops and authors, Burcell, Born, and Michael Black from Chicago, who was 6'3'' and 200 pounds.  Some man stood up, and asked, "Don't you have to be sick to go back to your jobs every day?"  Jim said, "Sir, should Mike and I come down and whip your ass?"  Afterward, Black told him he did a good job, but one of our policies is, don't threaten the readers.

Since Write Now! was a writers' conference, Born told the audience if they were finding writing fun, they were on the right track.  He spent fourteen years writing and rewriting before he got anyplace.  You can have all the realistic details, but they don't mean anything if there isn't a good story, good characters, and a well-written story.

Born admitted he doesn't watch most cop shows.  He said C.S.I. isn't how police work.  And, as to that redhead on C.S.I. Miami, he wouldn't be able to put on those sunglasses the next time if he talked to him that way.

How did he begin writing science fiction crime novels?  Jim Born went through the DEA Academy.  At that time, it was at the FBI in Quantico.  Eventually, he joined the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.   As part of his job, he sits on boards and they talk about what the future of law enforcement  looks like.  He uses real techniques, and those ideas, to set his novels twenty years in the future.  He said C.S.I. is actually more science fiction than his books are.

After writing his previous crime novels, he wanted to write these books.  TOR, the big science fiction publisher, told him to write a fantasy about something that was important to him.  He answered that no one wanted to read about a tubby, middle-aged cop who women find irresistible.

For the group of writers, Jim Born was demonstrating police techniques and equipment.  Before starting, Jim warned the audience members if they dozed off, he would comment about it.  He also told us a lot of other people write a lot of his books.  He hears cops say things, and he puts it in his books.  Now that he's published, though, it's not as easy.  Now, the cops will say, "Are you putting this in your book, Jimbo?"   He's always listening to what's going on.  He still remembers when his boss was yelling at him and his partner fifteen years ago.  "I can't believe you guys can be that effing stupid!"  His quick response?  "Boss, that's another example of you underestimating us."

Born pointed out that he dresses for work just as he dressed for the conference; loose shirt, khakis, sometimes jeans, boat shoes (asking us if we knew what boat shoes were in Arizona), or running shoes.  No one expects a man dressed like that to be a cop.

Born had shipped equipment and props to the event organizer, Chantelle Osman.  So, he showed us a fake Glock 45, saying this was the gun he carries in a specially made holster.  He stressed when he pulls the gun, he says one thing, and one thing only.  "Police.  Don't move!"  He'll stand back, with something between him and the person he's drawn the gun on, but that's all he'll say.  Then, when he testifies, he can say he identified himself, and told the suspect not to move.  And, a witness can repeat what he said.  That's what he was trained to say.

And, he reads a suspect his rights, and has them sign it.  He doesn't recite it from memory after learning it on Adam-12, although he does remember it.

It's a shame everyone couldn't have been there for Born's demonstration of handcuffs.  Although he was perfectly serious about the use of all his equipment, he also made it funny, as he handcuffed a woman, and said he had failed to bring his key.  Fortunately for his victim, Robin Burcell has the standard handcuff key in her purse.  When presenting flex cuffs as prize, he also warned the audience that they are for one time use only, so be prepared with a heavy tool to cut them off, or your partner will be left attached to the bedpost.   He also told us he's the senior guy in his office, and usually handles corruption and fraud cases, so something probably went wrong if he's making an arrest.  And, Jim warned he's an equal opportunity shooter.  He doesn't care if the suspect is male or female.

From handcuffs, Born moved to demonstration of a big flashlight.  He had been on a SWAT team for ten years, and he demonstrated the stance with the flashlight resting on his shoulder, and the damage it can cause.  He said, if an officer looks casual, with the flashlight resting on his shoulder, he is assessing you.  The officer's safety, and the safety of the public is always his primary concern.

Born also carries a knife, and a small flashlight, as well as the big one.  He also mentioned as an FDLE agent, he has jurisdiction throughout the state of Florida.  (On a personal note, at this point, I wished my nephew, who had graduated in law enforcement, could have heard Jim's entire presentation.)  Then, he demonstrated the use of an expandable baton.  He said, like tissues are called Kleenex, cops call all batons ASPs.  They were the first company to make them, and then all expandable batons are just called that, although the baton he brought actually was an ASP.  He demonstrated the use on a man in the audience.  He said he could move anybody with the use of an ASP baton.  He could even move Shaq.  He reminded us Shaq had been a reserve officer in Florida, and Born wanted to demonstrate on Shaq, but his bosses wouldn't let him.  He showed how he would hit someone with it between the knee and hip, and could move anyone with it.

When Jim gets to work on the streets, he's revitalized.  He usually works public corruption cases, which are boring, since no one ever goes to jail.  But, about three weeks ago, someone threatened another state's governor.  That was aggravated stalking, a felony.  So, he told the story about confronting the suspect, and then chasing him.  He said usually suspects don't run from him.  Born said he doesn't stay this fat for nothing.  He looks like he could move anyone, and most suspects know it.

Asked about tazers, he said he's not a fan.  He was trained to use an ASP.  More officers are injured by carrying all that equipment on their belt than any other way.  But, he does see the value in it.  And, when asked where he aims when he shoots, he said there's no "aiming to wound."  You shoot to stop the person, not to kill, but if you have to kill, you do.

He mentioned two authors as mentors, W.E.B. Griffin, and Lee Child.  He says he does everything Lee Child tells him to do as a writer. 

That night, at the Poisoned Pen, Jim Born spent more time discussing his writing, both the thrillers written under his own name, and the futuristic crime fiction written as James O'Neal.  Asked to discuss his origin story, he said he worked for an agency that was created to handle complicated cases.  Sometimes he would write a fifty page affidavit.  If you get one fact wrong in a novel, no one gives a shit.  One bad note in an affidavit gets a whole case thrown out.  So, twenty-one years ago, when he wanted to write, he thought his police experience would be enough to carry a novel.  While serving as technical advisor to Elmore Leonard, Leonard would read and critiques his writing.  Finally, his first book, Walking Money, was published.

Born sits on a number of boards in Florida, and five or six years ago, someone said, what will happen if Florida's housing market ever slows down, since the state is so dependent on it.  If that happens, agencies will have to combine, and some positions will be eliminated.  So, his James O'Neal books use familiar weapons and tactics, but are set twenty years in the future.  They're crime novels set in the future, with cops. 

Jim suggested his agent try Tor to publish his futuristic crime novel, The Human Disguise, since they were the largest science fiction/fantasy publisher.  They bought it that week, and asked if there were more of these.  The second book in the series, The Double Human, is Jim's only one with a serial killer.  Now, a number of agencies work together if they suspect there is a serial killer.  But, all agencies have been combined in the O'Neal books.  There are no detectives.  The police have very little money.  Florida has been depopulated.  All agencies were combined when the economy collapsed.

Born always liked writing.  He did have one article in the FSU newspaper, under the byline, "Staff writer."  He said he loves writing on a computer, because police work is large gaps in your day, when you're working on surveillance, for instance, and you're on back-up.  So, you read or work on the computer.  He first read W.E.B. Griffin on surveillance, because cops were trading the books.

Jim started writing one futuristic crime novel, and now he's calling it the Human trilogy.  He said writing for Tor is like the mob.  Tor sucks you in, and the next thing you know, you're working for them. 

When Robin Burcell and Born traded cop stories, he admitted he was the butt of a practical joke between crime writers Randy Wayne White and Tom Corcoran.  They told him they had a disgusting line, and they'd been trying to see who could get it in a book first.  So, Jim said he'd try.  He and White have the same editor, and then Randy sent a message to the editor, copying it to Born.   It said, "I know you've taken this out of my writing as classless too many times, but I don't think it would be classless in Mr. Born's."  Born knew he'd been had.  The editor replied, "Boys, this would be much funnier if both of you met your deadlines."

Born had the perfect ending for this piece.  Jim said he doesn't let his work writing interfere with his police job.  But, the Commissioner likes the attention the science fiction novels bring.  One time, Born was getting ready to make an arrest when the Commissioner called, and said, "I understand you're getting ready to make an arrest."  And, Born thought he was going to tell him he hoped it went well, when he actually said, "This isn't going to interfere with your book tour, is it?"

(Oh, and for all my fellow cat lovers.  Here's a warning.  When he learned I had five cats, Jim told me five is OK, but if I had seven, the cops would start taking note.)

James Born's website is

The Human Disguise by James O'Neal. Tor, ©2010. ISBN 9780765359773 (paperback), 381p.

Double Human by James O'Neal.  Tor, ©2010. ISBN 9780765320155 (hardcover), 336p.


Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

A gentleman cop who writes well! Sounds like an all-round great guy. I'd have loved to hear his talk on police procedure and equipment!

Lesa said...

It was a terrific talk, Elizabeth, addressed at writers so they get the techniques right. If you ever get the chance to hear him talk, grab it.

I really wish my nephew, who graduated in law enforcement, could have heard it.

Chantelle Osman said...

Tell your nephew not to worry, we'll try to get him back here! Hopefully my inability to comprehend the word no may have rubbed off and instilled in Jim an inability to SAY no :)

I've heard Jim several times - and each time is more entertaining and informative than the last. I think we Desert Sleuths will be hard pressed to find a future keynote that can top him!

Anonymous said...

What a fun day. Jim was hilarious.

This was a great recap, Lesa! How the heck do you remember it all so well!!!

Lesa said...

Ah, but, Chantelle, my nephew is in Columbus, OH. He'll have to read my recap instead of hearing him in person.

Oh, that's good. I'm glad you have that inability. (Or, am I going to regret that at some later date?)

I'm afraid you're right. It's going to be hard to top Jim as a keynote speaker.

Lesa said...

Lots and lots of notes, Robin. It was a fun day. And, everyone I've talked to was impressed with your work. You were informative and entertaining as well. Thank you!

James O. Born said...

You're too kind. It was my honor to sit next to the "Guest of Honor".


Jim Born

Lesa said...

Well, thank you, Jim. It was a very nice day, and I enjoyed spending the day listening to you and the other authors. Thanks for a great presentation.