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Pull back the curtain and see how a suspense writer puts the thrills and chills together.

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I’ll never forget the first time I met Corporal Tyner Gillies. I was in author Jack Whyte’s masterclass, sweating bullets, waiting for the moment when Whyte would read my work in his wonderful Scottish brogue – and tear it to pieces.

As one of the only men in the room, Gillies stood out. But his work stood out even more. I quickly forgot my nerves when Whyte began to read Gillies’ story: it opened with a graphic scene featuring a team of police officers discovering a badly decomposed body. There was something different about his writing – something grittier, more authentic, more real than anything I had ever read – even though I’ve read tons of true crime. Gillies’ work was gruesome, it was dark, and it was funny as hell. Of course I had to meet the person who would write something like that.

We’ve been friends ever since.

tyner-gillies-1In this interview, Gillies gives you a rare peek into what it’s really like to be a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, with the honesty and heart he is known for. Ask him anything you like, and he’ll try his best to answer. Anyone who leaves a comment or a question will be entered to win a copy of Gillies’ new release, Dark Revolution. Winners will be chosen at random.

Q1. How long have you been a cop? Why did you become a cop? And why/when did you start writing? 

A1. I’ve been on the job for 12 years (anniversary in two weeks, hooray!) I grew up watching the cheesy cop shows, and when I was eight years old I thought that scoring a job getting in high-speed chases would be a good idea. As I matured, so did my ideas about what policing meant. The adolescent desire for intensity gradually grew into an honest desire to do good, to do the right thing when there were obviously so many wrongs.

I started writing in high school, with little short stories and what not, but got serious about it after I graduated from Depot and got posted to Surrey. Growing up, stories were a big part of my household – my parents were not particularly well educated, but they read a lot and encouraged me to do the same. My love of stories led me to want to write some myself.

Q2. What is the strangest situation you’ve ever encountered on the job?

A2. I think any time you have to deal with someone who is naked, it adds a special level of strangeness to an encounter. A couple years ago I went to a call where a man was butt naked and eating a curtain in a really sleazy motel. Needless to say he needed medical attention.

Q3. What is the scariest?

A3. Every encounter you have as a street cop has the potential to be scary because human behaviour is the one great, unpredictable element in every interaction. The most recent scary call I’ve been to involved a man holding a woman hostage. My team and I had to get engaged and I was terrified throughout the encounter for the life of the hostage. We brought it to a peaceful resolution but it was really intense.

Q4. What do people often get wrong when writing about cops?

A4. The two most common errors I see when I’m reading police procedurals or thrillers is the aspect of forensics (especially with fingerprints) and reference to equipment.

I am not a forensic expert by any stretch of the imagination, but there are some pretty clear errors. For example, you can’t get fingerprints from a tree; in order to get fingerprints from an object it has to be a smooth surface (like a glass, or highly polished wood), or something relatively smooth and porous that will hold the oil from your fingertips (like a glossy paper). You can’t get fingerprints off a rock. You can’t get fingerprints off the rubber handle of a hammer. If people did minimal research, instead of watching CSI, these details would be a little more authentic.

I read a book recently that, while being a superior story otherwise, had some abysmal errors in it as far as the handling of equipment goes. One of the characters, a cop, was going into a house where the bad guy might have been hiding, drew his weapon, and racked the action to chamber a bullet. The thing that makes it so wrong, is that no cop, ever, would carry their sidearm without a bullet chambered, ready to go. If you were to get into a situation where you really needed to use your sidearm, there would be no time to chamber a bullet, and it would be a fatal error.

Q5. What are a couple of details that would make a writer’s police stories more authentic?

A5. If you have a detail that you’re not sure about, go ask a cop. If you go down to your local detachment/station, tell them you’re a writer and would like to talk to someone about a few general research questions, someone is going to be willing to talk your ear off about all the things TV and novels get wrong.

Understand the equipment and how it works. For example: a pistol with an extractable magazine is not a “revolver.” If you put in a detail that is wrong, it is going to pull your reader right out of the story, likely in a way that is unrecoverable.

Gillies with his unfortunate Movember mustache, which he nicknamed "Benson."

Gillies with his unfortunate Movember mustache, which he nicknamed “Benson.”

Q6. How has your job influenced your writing?

A6. The greatest benefit my job has lent to my writing is the copious amounts of grist I get for the mill. I meet so many interesting people (some because they are very strange, and some because they are very cool), and encounter so many exceptional circumstances that I am rarely ever without ideas for a story. Even if the story isn’t policing related, there is usually something from my work life that sneaks its way in.

Q7. How do you manage to balance writing with police work?

A7. I am very fortunate in the fact that I work a four-on, four-off schedule. I have almost zero free time during my working block, but on my days off I usually get down some words. Often I have to battle through bouts of lethargy and exhaustion and force myself to sit down at my writing desk, but I’m generally successful in putting my time in.

Q8. What is the most difficult part of being a cop?

A8. The hardest part about the job is seeing how people have been affected by the circumstances that lead them to have contact with me. The father of one of my best friends told me when I left to join the Mounties, “The only time you’ll talk to good people is when something bad happens to them.” This hasn’t been universally true, but it is awfully close.

While it is nothing compared to what the victims of crime and their families feel, it takes a toll on the first responders when we have to show up and be first at the scene for a murder, or tell someone their child has been killed in a vehicle collision. I think that is one of the reasons that PTSD for first responders (Police, Fire and Medics) needs to be addressed. No matter how strong the individual, if you see enough of the bad side of life it is going to leave a mark.

Q9. What makes it worth it?

A9. The days when you really get to help someone out: save a life, protect someone when they’re terrified, even make someone feel better about something bad that has happened to them, make the bad days all worth it.

Q10. What do you wish the public knew about cops? 

A10. I think people often forget that cops are people, same as anyone else. Are there cops that have done wrong? Of course there are, but I think that people forget that 99.9% of us are good and do the right thing every day. And those of us who love our jobs, and walk that thin blue line, don’t want to work with the crooked bastards any more than people want to be policed by them.

***
Dark Resolution Amazon cover

Thanks so much for the awesome interview, Tyner! Now it’s your turn–ask Corporal Gillies anything you like. Anyone who leaves a comment or asks a question will automatically have an opportunity to win a copy of Gillies’ new release, Dark Resolution. The lucky winner will be chosen at random and notified on January 19, 2016.

About the book:

Two years have passed since Quinn Sullivan vanquished the Demon of Resolution Cove armed with only Autumn Donnelly’s dagger. Now new forces conspire to test the Guardian once more as he is sent to discover who, or what, was behind the suicide of Inspector Green’s son. Little does he expect what awaits for him in the mountain town of Cranbrook.

Devoid of the Guardian’s protection, Quinn’s fellow RCMP constables are set in a trap they cannot escape as piles of human bones begin turning up. A serial killer is on the loose, searching for a little girl with abilities that will release others of its ilk to rain Hell down on earth.

Armed with only Autumn’s dagger and her courage, Quinn must save those he loves, lest they too become nothing but bones. To win, the Guardian must make a sacrifice. For him to succeed, one must fall.

About the author:

Award-winning author Tyner Gillies works and lives in Fraser Valley, Canada, with his beautiful wife Ewa and two moderately chubby cats.

Connect with Tyner Gillies:

Website    Twitter    Facebook

1 part newsletter, 1 part unnerving updates,
2 parts sneak peeks of new projects.

48 Comments

  1. Denise D Hammond

    Former cops, lawyers, doctors and journalists all seem to write books that I want to read. I also end up thinking they’d make really good criminals, lol.

    Reply
    • JH

      A few forensic pathologists have written some good ones too. The difference is that Gillies writes with heart – he’s not afraid to show his sensitive side, which is rare in crime fiction or thrillers.

      Reply
  2. Alex J. Cavanaugh

    His job adds a thick layer of realism to his writing, I’m sure. I was aware shows like CSI were faulty, if only because real forensics don’t move that fast. There is a real-life show about police officers in Alaska that is sobering because of what they face out there and often alone.
    And yes, encountering anyone naked would be weird.
    My question – what has been the most rewarding moment so far in your career, Tyner?

    Reply
    • JH

      Great question, Alex! Thanks for asking.

      The show about Alaskan law officers sounds interesting. I grew up in a small town near Alaska, and it is extremely isolated out there – I always felt sorry for the RCMP, but thankfully, almost all crime in my town was petty.

      Reply
    • Tyner

      Thanks for the question, Alex.

      The most rewarding moment that I can readily speak to is the day I was involved in the hostage situation. It was incredibly intense, but we brought it to a successful conclusion and everyone involved walked away safe and sound.

      Reply
  3. Chris Chelser

    Thanks to you both for this interview. Everyone who works for emergency services – and especially first responders – deserves our utmost respect. Which is sadly not always what they receive…

    My question for Tyner may sound more like cliché than it’s meant to be, but: What does it feel like, physically, to use a firearm?

    I realise this is different depending on the weapon in question, but assuming we’re talking about your sidearm, can you tell a bit about the weight/weight distribution, bulk/shape, sounds before and when firing, the force of the kickback and where you feel that? Does the surface or mechnical parts pinch or scrape anywhere (on your skin or on the gun’s metal) when you hold/fire it? Anything specific about gun maintenance?

    Okay, that is actually a bunch of questions. Suffice to say that any detail you would wish to share is more than welcome. 🙂

    Reply
    • JH

      Wow, Chris, those are some great questions, and I think they’ll help a lot of writers. Thanks for asking!

      Not cliche at all. I know Tyner will have some good answers for you.

      Reply
    • Tyner

      Hi, Chris,

      Like you said in your question, every sidearm is going to be different, but I’ll try and give some insight.

      Most police agencies use either a 9mm or .40 calibre semi-auto pistol. There is some recoil when you shoot it, but only enough to lift the muzzle a little (like, a couple inches).

      No, the gun doesn’t scrape or pinch anywhere, provided you use it properly. And if you use it improperly, you’re probably gonna lose a significant piece of skin. When you fire a round, the slide (top of the pistol) travels backwards, ejects the spent round and chambers a new one. I don’t know the exact speed the slide travels, but let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that it’s about a thousand miles an hour. Anything caught in that slide is getting ripped/pinched right off.

      As far as the sound, racking the gun to load it causes a fairly distinct “clack”, but when you discharge a round, all you hear is the pop of the report.

      I hope that helps,

      Tyner

      Reply
  4. Heather M. Gardner

    I’m lucky to be surrounded by a plethora of cops, firefighters, and EMS personnel. They are THE most awesome people in my life and they do love to talk about their jobs. 🙂
    But, yes. I think the job gets to all of them sometimes and there needs to be more help available. Help that doesn’t look or sound like help. 🙂

    Thank you for sharing in this great interview.
    Best of luck to you!

    Heather

    Reply
    • JH

      What do you do for work, Heather?

      I agree – in my experience too, they *are* awesome people. I’ve always enjoyed working with cops as a journalist, and they have my utmost respect. Firefighters and paramedics as well.

      If the job didn’t get to them, you’d have to wonder. More help definitely needs to be available.

      Reply
      • Heather M. Gardner

        I was referring more to my geographic location because I live about an 90 minutes outside of NYC, so my neighbors are mostly FDNY and NYPD. Also, we are involved with our local fire department and EMS, which are both volunteer. A lot of the career guys also volunteer.

        I’m certainly not as cool as any of these guys, but I will make them sandwiches and bring them coffee if they’re on a fire scene too long. 🙂

        Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Anna! You’re entered to win a copy of Tyner’s book.

      Reply
  5. Fox

    Any workplace superstitions with law enforcement? Kinda like saying “Things have been quiet today” can lead to shit hitting the fan shortly thereafter. Smiling while filing is bad luck. Things like that.

    Reply
    • JH

      Oh, fantastic question, Fox! I’m looking forward to seeing the answer.

      Reply
    • Tyner

      Interesting question.

      The biggest superstition, that almost every cop in the world ascribes to, is to never say the word “quiet”. (I don’t even like typing it while I’m at work).

      Uttering the “dirty Q word” is a sure recipe for disaster.

      Reply
  6. Roland Yeomans

    Corporal Tyner Gillies makes a fascinating subject for an interview. He sounds grounded, intelligent, and compassionate. Trauma repeated confronted has to leave its mark. Best of luck, Corporal Gillies with your latest book — only the highest of sales!

    Reply
    • JH

      Aw, thanks for the kind words, Roland. I’ve been friends with Tyner for over three years now, and I can tell you without hesitation that he is all of those things.

      I’m glad it came across in the interview.

      Reply
  7. Rob Wozny

    Interesting perspective, Holli. My question: We often hear about the scenarios of police and the public in intense conflict, but I’d like to hear your take on a scenario where you worked with the public that left you beaming with pride to be an officer?

    Reply
    • Tyner

      Every day I put on my uniform and step out on the road I am extremely proud, and grateful that I get to do so.

      As far as times that I was really proud to be a copper? I think any time I really get to help someone out. Even if it is something as simple as making someone feel better after their car gets broken into and a thief makes off with their favourite pair of sunglasses. Every time someone is grateful for my intervention, or feel better after talking to me, those are the things that get me out of bed in the morning.

      Reply
    • JH

      Thanks for asking and commenting, Rob! Much appreciated.

      Reply
  8. Birgit

    You are so right about PTSD and how it affects first responders. People who are out everyday seeing death, collisions, anger, crying, and just the plain weird need something more than what they are getting now. CSI always killed me at how fast they got things done(the never had to change clothes!) and how they could analyze everything. If I saw Ryan Gosling naked or George Clooney,…not so bad. Ugly fat smelly naked guy?…..Bad! Eating a curtain? Not good dieting. The media loves to bring on more bad news and stir up trouble. What’s your take on all the negative press cops are getting regarding how some cops have dealt with people who are from another race? I know some of the cops used undue force but others, I question and know that we only get half the story. I’d like to hear your feedback

    Reply
    • Tyner

      Hi, Birgit,

      This is a very touchy subject for any police force, anywhere in the world.

      When people ask me to offer my opinion on a particular subject, that has been reported on by the media, that I have no direct knowledge of, I always give the same answer: Take everything you hear with a grain of salt.

      It seems to be a popular option to vilify the police, and there are myriad reasons for this. Are there instances where a police interaction goes horribly wrong and the police are wholly at fault? Of course there are. But when you think that there are approximately 75,000 police officers in Canada, who have contact with thousands of people every day, the vast majority of which go peacefully, maybe we are doing something right after all.

      When it comes to media stories about anything (police included) I think they publish a certain perspective, and cling to that particular thing to the exclusion of others. And if you’re not publishing both sides of a story is it 100% accurate?

      Reply
  9. Frank Julius Palumbo

    Hi. As a 16 year veteran as a Sergeant in the NYPD, it seems from your words that cops all over share the same joys, fears and sorrows. But let me ask you this. Are police officers north of the United States boarder feeling disgruntled about the publics demonizing all police officers for the actions of a few. Recall the recent NYC protests were the protesters chanted, “Fry them like bacon, ” or “a good cop is a dead cop.”

    Reply
    • JH

      Welcome to my blog, Frank. Thank you for your years of service in the NYPD – it is an honour to have you here.

      I’m looking forward to Tyner’s answer to your question, which should come soon, but in the meantime, I wanted to reach out and thank you for your comment.

      Reply
    • Tyner

      Hi, Frank,

      I have certainly been on the receiving end of some pretty hateful comments in the last 12 years. I’ve been called every negative moniker who could associate with law enforcement, but I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced exactly the same intensity that I’ve seen (on popular media) in some of the bigger centers in the US.

      I got into a “discussion” with a client a number of months pack, where he expressed the opinion that I was a “pig” and “waste of tax dollars”, and he hoped someone would shoot me.

      I told him that no matter how much he hated me, if he called for help, I would still come running. That kind of shut him.

      Reply
  10. Chrys Fey

    It’s so funny that he said the strangest situation is whenever someone is naked. My cop character, Blake, in the prequel to 30 Seconds, says just about the same thing.

    I can’t believe anyone, let alone writers, would think you could get fingerprints off a tree or rock. How silly!

    Reply
    • JH

      Ah, but writers make silly mistakes all the time. I know a few that think “research” is a dirty word. 😀

      Reply
  11. Lexa Cain

    Thanks for bringing a real RCMP member for an interview! I can imagine how frustrating it must be for him (and other law-enforcers) to read books (or see movies) with obvious procedural and scientific errors in them. Very interesting about the encounters that stuck in Tyner’s memory. I have enormous respect for first responders, especially police who put their lives on the line every day and don’t get enough appreciation. His book looks awesome! Wishing him much success!

    Reply
    • JH

      You’re very welcome, Lexa. Thanks so much for the kind words. I wish the same for Tyner. If you know of other channels where we should be spreading the word, but all means, please clue us in. 🙂

      Reply
  12. C. Lee McKenzie

    I have a couple of cops in my pocket–so to speak. I go to them every time I need some details about guns and blood and gore. The problem is they don’t write, so I have to be very careful about how I couch my questions. You’ve found the perfect combination! And what a super interview!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Lee! You’re very lucky to have cops in your pocket. 😉

      I’m grateful to my forensic anthropologist friend, and now Tyner has helped me a lot as well. It’s a relief and a blessing to have expert sources.

      Reply
  13. Frank

    Oh, so many questions.

    You told us what writers get wrong about policing, do you think they do a decent job with portraying criminals?

    What is the most important characteristic you need to have to succeed in law enforcement?

    When encountering a crime scene, whats the first thing you look for or do you try to take in a general sense of the scene?

    You mentioned things that can’t happen, like finger prints taken from a rock, what, if anything, could happen that you think people might find unbelievable?

    How nervous were you on your first day?

    I have a lot more but these are off the top of my head.

    Reply
    • JH

      Great questions, Frank! I look forward to seeing Tyner’s answers.

      Reply
    • Tyner

      Hey, Frank,

      The thing about portraying criminals, I think, is capturing their motivation. It’s very seldom that you ever meet the cartoonish villain who is rubbing his hands together, giving a malevolent laugh and committing crime simply for the sake of being bad. Most people who commit “petty” crime are driven simply by the fact that they have no other way to sustain themselves. For higher level crime, the motivation is all monetary. If you want to capture the character of a criminal in your story, think first about their motivation, then everything else will fall into place.

      There are two characteristics you need to be successful in a law enforcement career: integrity and work ethic. You have to be willing/able to tell the truth, especially when it sucks, and you have to be willing to grind through the jobs that suck. There are a lot of unpleasant things about law enforcement, and you just need to batten down and get them done.

      The first thing I do at a crime scene is what we call a “risk assessment”, which means I determine if there is a risk to any of my people or the public (like a stabbing scene where the bad guy is still running around with a knife in his hand, or maybe a victim who is actively bleeding). Once that is settled, I worry about securing the scene so it can’t be interfered with or altered. Once the scene is secure, I worry about locating witnesses, getting concise stories, and start piecing together the actual elements of the offence.

      The things that amaze me about the scientific aspect of policing is the ability to collect DNA evidence. You can get DNA from a lot of surfaces that you wouldn’t suspect you could, and it leads to a lot of crimes being solved.

      My first day of service, I was 23 years old, and was wandering around a city I’d never set foot in with a gun on my hip and the ability to deprive people of their liberty. I didn’t have a clue, not the slightest sniff, of what I was doing. I was so far out of my comfort zone that I’d long forgotten what such a place even looked like. I got over it of course, but I will never forget my trepidation over suiting up for that first day.

      I hope I was able to answer some of your questions,

      Tyner

      Reply
  14. Police wife

    Have you ever had to deal with badge bunnies or a female with the intention of cop hopping? If so how did you deal with it.

    Reply
    • JH

      Ooh, great question. Thanks for asking!

      Reply
    • Tyner

      Hi,

      In truth, I have only ever been overtly hit on a handful of times in the last dozen years. I have been married for most of my service, and wear my wedding band to work. Given the jewelry, and the fact that I was punched in the face a lot during my tournament fighting days, I seldom ever get approached.

      For the times when someone did show an obvious interest in me, I treated the query with polite neglect, and talked only for the official reason I was there, giving no response at all to any other gesture.

      So far, it has worked out.

      Tyner

      Reply
  15. Sara C. Snider

    Fascinating interview, thanks J.H. and Tyner! Some great questions in the comments section too, I’ll have to remember to check back and see if they’re answered. 😀

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much for the kind words, Sara! I agree – people have asked some fantastic questions.

      I hope Tyner isn’t overwhelmed. 🙂 He’s got some work to do!

      Reply
  16. Doreen McGettigan

    This is such a great interview, thank you! For many years I worked with the elderly, many on Hospice. They are given serious medication and naked old people was a frequent sight. Traumatizing!
    My daughter as a police officer was afraid she would have to deliver a baby and was not wanting to ever have to shoot someone.
    Be safe out there!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks for the kind words, Doreen. Hopefully your daughter is able to retire without ever facing either of those situations.

      Reply
  17. Shadow

    Feeling something, living it, talking it is the edge one needs. He has it, obviously, wishing him success

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Shadow. He definitely does.

      Reply
  18. Crystal Collier

    Loved the interview. I’m all for tracking down people who work in an actual profession to consult on your writing. (Too bad I can’t resurrect someone from the 1750’s, eh?)

    Reply
    • JH

      Hmm…would a knowledgeable history professor do the trick?

      Reply
  19. Stephanie Faris

    Very insightful! I’ve seen many crime authors go through the Citizens Police Academy, which I think has really helped them. There really are so many details. I attended a course once where a police officer was saying small things like knowing that some officers take issue with sitting with their backs to the door in a restaurant can really add authenticity to a story.

    Reply
    • JH

      Hmm…I take issue with that too. I was told it was because my ancestors were Vikings.

      Does anyone like having their back to the door? 😉

      I’m not sure we have a Citizens Police Academy here, but it sounds like something I’d really enjoy.

      Reply

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