The author spotlight is shining this week on debut novelist Dave Case. Case is a native mid-westerner and the author of the Out of Cabrini, the first Stacey Macbeth mystery novel.
Macbeth is a Chicago cop, something Case knows well. Case spent time working with the Chicago police department as a uniformed cop, in a plain clothes tactical team and Special Operations Section. He's worked SWAT teams and as a sniper and now works in the Education and Training Division of the Police Academy.
Word Nerd: What’s your writing process like from when you get an idea to when it gets published?
CASE: Once I have a number of kernels of ideas to fit together as a story I try and work out the basics of the plot out on a legal pad. This might entail a significant number of pages and eventually leads to a series of index cards that essentially turn into chapters. I find the index cards are more convenient to shuffle around as I try and piece the story together to achieve its most dramatic sequence.
Once I have the plot ironed out it is a matter of writing the story. I find that is the most enjoyable part of the whole process. There are some changes as the manuscript is completed, but for the most part I stay relatively close to the index cards.
Then there is the less-than-enjoyable editing and rewrite portion. My experience with the publishing end was painless and less significant than what I was prepared for. I attribute that to the fact that my novel had been polished for nearly eight years and had been picked over by quite a few very talented people, in my opinion there wasn't much to do.
WN: How did you make the transition from being a beat cop to being a writer?
CASE: That's easy. I sat down and started writing. I don't want to sound ignorant, but it was perfectly natural for me. I studied Studio Art in college, so I do have a creative side and I think that is why it was natural. But as a police officer I write everyday, and as a beat cop my reports essentially tell a story.
What did take a while to evolve was my delivery. I was told by a number of people in my writer's group that I wrote "like a cop," meaning, I think, that I was too matter of fact. I even find myself struggling with that very issue today, probably a result of doing so much writing for my real job.
WN: How realistic of a Chicago cop is Stacey Macbeth… do some things change from how it is in real-life to work in the novel?
CASE: I really wanted my narrative to describe "real" life on the street, both for my cops as well as for my bad guys. In my opinion, since I profess to be a police officer I establish what I like to call an "expectation of authenticity" in relation to my police procedure. I want to extend that to everything I write about though, including but not limited to: life in the projects, the City of Chicago, life as a Chicago Cop, both on-duty and off-duty, really just about everything I address.
Having said that, my work with John Camp (AKA John Sandford) left me with this piece of wisdom among others; "Don't let realism get in the way of my fiction," meaning not to get so wrapped up with depicting something realistic that it detracts from the narrative of the story. That could apply to a procedure, to an action or even an investigative technique. I try and weigh everything with that advise in mind, asking; How does the story move with this procedure? Would it work better some other way? Can I cut a corner and improve the flow of the story?
I also feel that if you know the rules you can usually engineer a way around whatever problem you've encountered. I like to refer to that as "motivational engineering." An example of that would be in Out of Cabrini I wanted Macbeth (Protagonist) to pursue Boo (antagonist) alone, without a radio. A police officer wouldn't do that, so I had to engineer a way for it to happen. My solution was a brief shoot out that resulted in a traffic accident and a police officer shot. Macbeth was struck by the car and lost his radio. But he kept pursuing Boo and didn't discover the missing radio until later. The other officers at the scene were worried about the wounded officer and didn't notice that Macbeth was gone chasing the escaping shooter.
To answer the question more definitely, Out of Cabrini is as realistic as I could make it and I think it does a pretty good job of depicting life on both sides of the law.
WN: How did you know that “Out of Cabrini” was going to start a series? Was that your goal when you started?
CASE: Absolutely, it was definitely my goal to start a series with Out of Cabrini. Macbeth and his whole team will hopefully continue to return with stories from Chicago for awhile. I have a whole bunch of stories to tell.
WN: What is the best/most influential book you have ever read and why did it inspire you?
CASE: There is no conceivable way I could ever determine any one single book that inspired me or even influenced me, but I can tell you about a significant few. As I wrote Out of Cabrini initially I read through John Sandford's "Prey" series. I love his pacing and wanted to try and emulate his style as much as I could. I was hoping to learn subconsciously as I read and wrote.
Sandford turned me on to Stephen Hunter, specifically Dirty White Boys that really struck a cord with me. The opening paragraph is incredible.
Sara Paretsky also was terribly significant in my evolution as a writer/novelist, particularly as a Chicago based writer/novelist. She was my very first mystery writer.
There is a number of other Chicago area writer's that I'm influenced by. I'm fortunate enough to belong to their writer's group. They have been very influential in my evolution as well. They are Michael Allen Dymmoch, David J. Walker, Eleanor Taylor Bland, Libby Fisher Hellman, Steven Mandel, Mary Harris and Lisa Kartus. I also would be remiss if I didn't mention Julie Hyzy and Michael A. Black.
WN: If you had to live the life of one of your characters, who would you pick and why?
CASE: That is a terribly difficult question for more than one reason. One because my characters are who they are, flaws and all and I don't rightly know if I'd want to trade my problems for theirs. Another reason is that I have quite a few characters who do pose interesting possibilities, most of whom your readers haven't ever heard of yet. And finally, and most significantly, I happen to enjoy my life and my family and wouldn't change that for the world.
WN: What piece of advice helped you out the most as a writer?
CASE: Easy, another kernel supplied by John Camp (AKA Sandford). The absolute most important attribute for a writer to possess is persistence. No truer words have ever been spoken.