Crime images linger, ugly stories haunt: a police chief grapples with the past to create a literary future

Years ago I attended some writing classes to explore what I hoped would be my next career. Authoring crime fiction was a natural choice for a man like me who has spent his entire career in law enforcement. I’ve seen a lot, and in the early days was surprised — no, shocked — by the cruelty and abundance of criminal activity.

Courtesy of The Times-Picayune

Courtesy of The Times-Picayune

Nothing surprises me now. But images linger, stories haunt, including the solved and unsolved crimes that have rocked New Orleans through the years.

And then there is the city’s history, its many characters and temperaments. As well as, Katrina and other acts of nature that have pummeled the community, and ungodly events that have shattered respect for law and order and decency.

It has been said that the pen is mightier than the sword. The inherent power of the written word became clear to me once I began working on my first crime fiction novel. The satisfaction was unlike any I had experienced when capturing perps or resolving conflicts. It ran deeper and exploded outward, like fireworks, simply by expressing fears, frustrations, pain and courage. Not mine, necessarily. But those of the characters I was creating. I found that whether writing with a pen, pencil or keyboard I could harvest some dark memories or demons, pull them apart for re-evaluation and cultivate them into fictional layers of new awareness. Redemption might be a way of describing the sensation of becoming a writer. Not for anything ill-begotten or mishandled on my part, but for the human beings with whom I’ve crossed paths and grieved for or celebrated.

The Criminal Mind

I began with NOPD and then accepted the position of Police Chief for the Harbor Police Department-Port of New Orleans in 1995. No regrets. I’ve been proud to serve.

Courtesy of The Times-Picayune

Courtesy of The Times-Picayune

My first novel certainly draws on my decades of experience, while not being bound to them. With pen in hand, I’m free to invent and create dramatic events that have not necessarily been pulled from the headlines of local media. The mind can run amok when given the chance.

Also, when retirement nears, a cop can’t help but realize that learning the rigors of law enforcement also demands an attempt to understand the criminal mind. We can’t stand in awe or fear of audacious incivility. We can’t simply wonder why oh why. No, the goal is to empathize just enough to get beyond the judgments that can blind us to the hunches and modest revelations about people that can solve mysteries.

Do I have a criminal mind? No. But I have a mind that by necessity has explored the unbearable and the unconscionable. Now it is time for all that distasteful human calamity to be forged into stories that free me and entertain my readers.

No hints yet as to the plot of my first book. Just don’t expect it to be pretty.

Robert Hecker, author