Retired police Lt. Tim Smith believes cops are among the best storytellers out there — and he wants to help them get their tales told.
After a 27-year career, the Ashland resident has founded an independent publishing house devoted to authors who have a connection to law enforcement.
“Over the decades, I’ve spent a lot of time around cops,” says Smith, 61. “Everyone has amazing stories. If you’ve done it long enough, you think you’ve seen everything. But you’re wrong. You haven’t heard everything. Cops are wonderful storytellers.”
With consolidation in the publishing industry, Smith believes his CopWorld Press provides a needed outlet for authors.
It’s no self-publishing, vanity press. Smith aims for well written, well edited and well produced books.
He knows most authors will need some help getting to that level, and he’s willing to help them hone their words.
“So many police officers come to me asking for my help to write a story. I can’t do that, but I can provide mentoring and editing,” he says.
Writing under the pen name T.B. Smith, he is the author of two police procedural novels — “The Sticking Place” and “A Fellow of Infinite Jest.”
The books follow the career of a recently graduated, Shakespeare-quoting cop named Luke Jones.
Smith, who studied writing and Renaissance literature at San Diego State University, says in some ways his fictional creation is modeled after himself.
“I got into police work to have something to write about. At a young age, I knew I was a writer, but I also knew I had nothing to say,” he recalls.
A sergeant early on warned him real police work is not how it’s portrayed on television or in the movies. Officers are like social workers in uniform. Many go their whole careers without having to shoot at anyone.
That sergeant’s police-officer son and son-in-law were later killed.
Smith says he started work in San Diego in 1978 at a time when police officers in the city had the highest per capita death rate.
He put aside serious writing for years.
“I was adjusting to all this chaos around me,” he says.
Police officers have to be able to switch quickly from helping an elderly person who has fallen, to racing to a street corner where a man is threatening others with a shotgun, Smith says.
The graveyard shifts handed off to rookie officers didn’t help. Just when he would go to bed at 8 a.m., neighborhood noises like lawn mowing would pick up.
“It was impossible to get any real rest,” Smith says.
He was constantly exposed to the worst side of humanity. Like many police officers, he started to feel his friends and family members who weren’t in law enforcement could never understand his work.
“It’s a soul-killing job,” he says. “You have to find a way to let your soul die and then grow again.”
While some police officers react by building their social lives around other cops, Smith built friendships outside law enforcement and maintained his interests in literature and Shakespeare.
In his books, Smith says, he tries to show how his character adapts and develops over time as a police officer.
Borrowing from a common tactic in police novels, Smith’s main character clashes with his superiors.
Smith says good stories involve conflict, and writing about internal police department strife is a way for authors to ramp up the tension beyond the obvious conflict with a criminal.
“It’s a vehicle to put the main character in a crucible,” he says.
But Smith says he did experience conflict among officers, especially when senior cops hazed the rookies.
Smith eventually had to leave his career after he was rear-ended in his police vehicle by a man going 70 mph on a freeway. Multiple surgeries followed.
These days, Smith says police nationwide have not faced such a toxic, dangerous environment since the 1960s — another reason he wants to help them get their stories out.
Although police work is a harrowing career, Smith says it was still worthwhile.
“There were a few instances where I clearly saw the impact I had on people’s lives. If you are in it to protect and serve, as the saying goes, you can have an impact,” he says.
Smith is joined at CopWorld Press by Harley Patrick, owner of L&R Publishing, an Ashland-based company specializing in military history that published Smith’s first two books under its Hellgate Press imprint.
Prospective authors with a connection to law enforcement can contact Smith through his website at www.copworldpress.com.
Smith also writes a blog, copworld.wordpress.com, where he offers concrete advice about writing crime-themed books, gives an insider’s view about current crime issues and addresses other topics.
He is currently at work on a true-crime book about a haunting case of sexual slavery and murder.
— Reach staff reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.