10 September 2009

Pre-Bouchercon Guest Blogger #10 -- Brandt Dodson

Move over, Fox Mulder. Today's pre-Bouchercon blogger -- Brandt Dodson -- knows a thing or two about the FBI (he used to work there) and now, his protagonist, Colton Parker, used to work there too. Here, Dodson explains how his past with the FBI has influenced his writing.

The FBI and Me
by Brandt Dodson – Author of the Indianapolis-based, Colton Parker series

I’m a man. That means I like the things that most men like. I shoot guns, follow boxing, lift weights, eat steak (rare), watch military /action /western movies (John Wayne is still tops with me), and read fiction that is testosterone-driven and that allows me to live vicariously through the male lead. I read Tom Clancy, Jack Higgins, Robert B. Parker, Vince Flynn, and Raymond Chandler along with a little Hemingway thrown in for good measure. Consequently, it was no surprise that when I began to write and publish I would choose a genre that attracts a strong male readership and that would feature a character with whom most men can identify – even if they don’t always admire him. And, like most writers, when it came to developing the right character, I found myself being heavily influenced by the life I’ve lived. In my case, that meant the FBI.

I was born into a family of police officers. My mother’s family (cousins, uncles, and aunts) were members of the Indianapolis Police Department going back as far as the early 1930’s. My father was a Marion County Deputy Sheriff (Marion is the county in which Indianapolis is located) for almost forty years, and I have a cousin who is the current Chief of Police in Mooresville, Indiana, the town which gave birth to John Dillinger. The result of all this influence was that when it came time to decide on a career, it was a foregone conclusion that I would choose law enforcement. That being the case, there is no better police agency than the FBI (which, by the way, is neither “police” nor “agency”. It’s a bureau of investigators. Hence the name.)

I began my career as a clerk just prior to my 19th birthday with the intention of finishing my degree and joining the ranks of the bureau’s Special Agents. It was a job I thoroughly loved.
During my employment with the FBI, I met and talked with foreign intelligence agents, bank robbers, serial killers, bombers, and would-be assassins. I had a high-level security clearance and was privy to information involving national security and domestic terrorism – and all of this prior to my twenty-first birthday.

But as time progressed, and I began to learn - truly learn – about myself, I knew that I would have to embark on another career track. This change in career lead me into medicine, so I left the FBI in 1981, but I left with a level of respect for the men and women who work there that was as high as it was before I started my employment. That level of respect is even higher today.

The FBI is comprised of people who take their job very seriously – recognizing that they are often the first (and sometimes, only) barrier between a calm and orderly society and the people who would tear that society apart. The Bureau (a term commonly used by FBI employees) functions as a team and by doing so, rises or sinks on the weakest link in that chain. It is no wonder, then, that “failures” such as Robert Hansen, the FBI agent who was brought down by an FBI clerk for spying on the U.S., stain the reputation of all the good men and women who do their job admirably. His arrest stained me, and I’ve been gone from the FBI for almost 28 years. (Gee, that’s along time. In fact, I just read where the Deputy Director of the FBI, who will be speaking at my alma mater, The University of Indianapolis, in October, began his career two years after I left.)

When I began my Colton Parker series, I initially envisioned a man who was as suave as Matt Helm, as debonair as Napoleon Solo, and as deadly as James Bond. Instead, what I ended up with was an ex-FBI agent who was fired because he couldn’t function as part of the team. And that weakness haunts him still. I also chose Indianapolis as my setting since it was the Indianapolis Field Office in which I was employed, and because I know the underbelly of that city in a way that most do not.

Colton is an amalgam of people I’ve known (yes, including me) and he is a solo-flyer; he is true loner whose only friend (and burgeoning love interest) is FBI Special Agent Mary Christopher.
When I created the series I knew that, despite my initial desire for a super-human character, I would need an average man. Someone who does right, but does it wrong. I wanted a man who has his heart in the right place (as most men do) and with whom most men could identify. So I chose to give him an FBI background, because the people who populate the Bureau are, first and foremost, people who care. But since I wanted a PI – a fictional PI – one who could work outside the law, I had to get him out of the FBI. No one who shares Colton’s proclivities could work there for long. As I’ve said, the FBI is a team in which no one person rises above the organization. (At least, not now. Although Hoover unquestionably promoted himself above the Bureau that is another discussion entirely).

So, twenty-five years after I left the FBI, the Bureau’s influence on me is still profound. Colton Parker was born out of that influence, and I’m glad that he was. He’s a better character for having served with the FBI, despite his failures, and I’m a better writer for it.

For more information on the Colton Parker series or the FBI:

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