In Detective's Mystery Novels, His Creativity Is Unshackled

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

As a veteran police detective, Paul Bishop spends much of his time solving mysteries.

After hours, he enjoys creating them.

Bishop has written seven mystery novels, drawing on his more than two decades of experience with the Los Angeles Police Department. His newest book, "Chalk Whispers," is scheduled for release in January.

Although being a police detective helps, writing detective novels can still be a difficult process, the 45-year-old Camarillo resident said.

In the real crime world, the easy answer is usually the right one, he said. In the world of fiction, however, the answer can never be easy.

Bishop's plots are often so complicated that he might change the identity of a killer several times while writing a book.

"It's a very strange and mysterious process," he said of writing, "and that's part of what I love about it."

Rather than lifting whole stories from his police work, Bishop said he tends to focus on a particular aspect of a case and stretch it to extreme proportions.

"Police work is 99% tedium and 1% pure terror" he said. "That 1% is what you write about."

Bishop, who spent three years in the Anti-Terrorist Division of the LAPD and the last 12 years investigating sex crimes, said he's had some terrifying experiences. But he declines to elaborate.

"I don't want to go there," said Bishop, whom the LAPD has twice honored as detective of the year. "Let's just say that in 22 years of police work, I've had my share.'

'I Knew I Wanted to Be One of the Good Guys'

Bishop said he had wanted to be a policeman since he was 8. TV shows like "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." and "I Spy" captivated him. His love for books, evidenced today by the overflowing 12-by-10-foot bookcase in his living room, strengthened his conviction.

"I discovered reading mysteries, and I knew I wanted to be one of the good guys,' he said.

Bishop also discovered his love for writing early on. He began getting published soon after he became a cop, writing magazine articles on the juvenile justice system and law enforcement.

He switched to fiction 14 years ago and wrote his first book, "Shroud of Vengeance." Written under the pseudonym Pike Bishop, the book is basically a mystery with a Western setting.

When he writes, Bishop always starts out with the characters and creates a plot around them. His more recent books have so many characters that he began putting lists at the beginning so readers could keep them straight. His last book, "Tequila Mockingbird," had 36 characters.

"I'm far more interested in characters than plot," Bishop said.

All of his characters, good and evil, include a bit of the author's own personality. With Fey Croaker, the star of his last three published novels, Bishop shares a dark humor, which they both use as a defense mechanism.

"All day I deal with child molesters and rapists," said Bishop, who supervises the West Los Angeles area sex crimes and major assaults unit. "If you don't develop a thick skin, that can destroy you."

The sharp-tongued Croaker was not originally meant to be Bishop's protagonist. While amassing two dozen rejections for mysteries with male leads, Bishop learned that an advocacy group called Sisters in Crime had convinced publishers to look for mysteries written by and about women. So Bishop decided to go with a female lead detective.

He wrote "Kill Me Again" and sold it to the first publisher he sent it to.

"Since then, writing Fey has been a tremendous experience for me," Bishop said.

Venturing Into Script Writing

Last year, he added script writing to his resume. Longtime friend Lee Goldberg, an executive producer of "Diagnosis Murder" and author of several thrillers, was a fan of Bishop's books and agreed to let Bishop pitch story ideas for his show this season. Because Bishop had no prior script-writing experience, Goldberg was surprised when his friend submitted his first teleplay.

"His story came in so good," Goldberg said. "He has such a natural sense of storytelling. It was one of the best episodes we've ever done."

Bishop wrote a second episode for the show, and now the movie rights to his second novel, "Citadel Run," have been optioned. He is writing a screenplay from the book, which is about on-duty police officers racing to Las Vegas and back.

Bishop's wife, Dell, a computer programmer, said her husband is not the dark person fans may imagine from reading his books. "He's a very positive, upbeat person, very easy to live with," she said.

Bishop said that is probably because he channels his gloomy side into his tales of murder.

Goldberg agrees. On the job, Bishop can't always tidily wrap up each case, Goldberg said. In Bishop's books, though, there is always closure.

"He finds a way to take the grim reality he faces every day and turn it into entertainment," Goldberg said. "I think that is how he deals with the stuff he sees every day."

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