From Handcuffs to Keystrokes; My Journey to Becoming a Writer, Part I

Guest post by Bradley Nickell, originally published on his blog, Nickell’s Corner

A Cop, Not a Writer

2015-04-06 Police CarHave you ever wanted to be a writer? If you’re like I was before 2008, your answer is no. From childhood forward, the only thing I wanted to do with my life was to be a policeman. But I already told some of that story in a previous post. I never wanted to be a writer; I didn’t even read books much unless I had to for school or something. I have always just wanted to be a cop.

In 2008, I had been a police officer in Las Vegas for sixteen years, nine of those as a detective. I was working as a detective in a unit called the Repeat Offender Program. We deal with the worst criminals Las Vegas has to offer. I lead an investigation into the most prolific criminal I had ever encountered, Daimon Monroe. The investigation led to the recovery of several millions in stolen property, and the seizure of several hundreds of thousands of dollars in bank accounts. Information also came to light showing that Monroe had sexually abused his daughters. Many unpredictable things that happened during the investigation, including the shocking discovery that Monroe was trying to have me, a judge and a prosecutor murdered. No cop I know had ever seen anything like it.

After these events took place, I knew someone needed to write a book and tell the public about it. The local news media and even some regional outlets picked the story up, but they didn’t have the inside scoop like I did. They hadn’t been there to witness and live through every important detail. I spoke with my father-in-law, a university professor, who suggested the person to write a book about it should be me.

At first blush, I laughed. How silly. I didn’t know a thing about writing a book. I had some writing ability and some formal training back during my college days, but to write a book? – that’s an entirely different thing. Do you know how many books get written, bought and read through the first couple of chapters only, never to be picked up again?For me, I try to do things that have purpose. I am always seeking purpose in things and try to live deliberately. I’m probably too serious most of the time and need to lighten up a bit. But what’s the purpose of writing a book that doesn’t keep readers up late with the reading light on? I knew I didn’t have that kind of writing skill, but I also knew there was no possible way anyone could write the story like I could – I was the lead detective with a birds-eye view.

Becoming Both a Cop and a Writer

2015-04-06 DeskAfter praying about it for a few days, it came down to one remaining question: why? If I wrote this book, what would be my motivation? What did I want out of it?Funny enough, the answer then and still today has nothing to do with financial gain, prestige, or anything centered around me. No, my motivation is to tell people a harrowing and very personal story of greed, lust for power, horror, justice, love and redemption. It’s something where I think readers will find a few parallels with their own lives that bring meaning and understanding, maybe even in the midst of hardship and destruction.

I’m not chasing dollars with my writing and that’s a good thing. Many writers who do it full-time, struggle to keep their bills paid – it’s a tough business unless they’re one of the most popular in their genre. I have the luxury of doing it not to pay bills, but because there’s passion. If my writing makes a few bucks, great – I like paying bills. But the more important thing with success would hopefully be that large numbers of people read the story, found the takeaway, and found it meaningful for their own lives.After coming to that understanding, it wasn’t a decision anymore, I couldn’t not write the book. It was a commitment that despite some really difficult times where I wanted to quit, I couldn’t.

In Pursuit of the Subject: First Draft

2015-04-06 NotepadI began by writing down everything I knew about the case. Every little detail went into what a few months later ended up a 186,000 word, first-draft manuscript. For those that don’t write, just know that’s a monster. Depending upon font and page size, that would be somewhere around a 500-page book. Those don’t get published much anymore and even fewer get read. One thing quickly emerged: there was no doubt that the title of the book would be Repeat Offender.When a writer is preparing to write a book, especially a non-fiction book, an enormous amount of research must be done to present a factual account of the subject. That wasn’t terribly difficult. I had lived and toiled through the entire story line. But in fact, there was so much information, I had forgotten a lot of the details in the case. I made public records requests through the courts to get old documents – many of them I had written myself – to refresh my memory of how events took place. In the end, the research and writing of the manuscript made me a better witness in court, because my memory was organized and reinforced.

At the same time, I began to read everything I could get my hands on about the publishing industry – how it works, what the different entities are and how they function. I bought The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Published, 4th Editionand read it in two days. Google provided a wealth of material about ghostwriters, literary agents, editors, publishers, and thankfully, a long list of scams in the industry where predators lurk, waiting to cash in on new writers trying to learn the ropes. I learned to watch out for some publishers and ghostwriters who want a fat check from the writer before they do their jobs and never really put much skin in the game.

From there, I began to grow and understand what the writing industry looked like behind the curtain – what it takes to go from an idea to a bookshelf. It exposed me to what the advent of e-publishing and the explosion of self publishing has done to the book industry. I also learned how difficult the prospect of having any real success with self publishing is.Hundreds of thousands of self published titles hit the industry each year, many of them good, but many more of them not so good. The traditional publishing industry has some natural obstacles in place – such as literary agents who operate as freelance gatekeepers to the publishing houses – that prevent undeveloped writing from being published. The self publishing industry has no such obstacles, which brings about overpopulation and an expected result: great writing can easily get lost in the ocean of self published works.

I quickly recognized that my writing wasn’t good enough. I wrote with good grammar, punctuation, organization and pace, but some of the most important parts of good writing weren’t there. My manuscript was one big, long, boring, newspaper article devoid of emotion, drama, tension and release, no real character development, no feelings and no emotional investment from the reader. If the reader wasn’t someone already invested in the story or a personal friend or relative of mine, they probably wouldn’t read it past the first few chapters.

Readers give writers the keys to their imaginations, their dreams, and their fears. They expect us to not disappoint them. As a writer, if you disappoint a reader just one time, you stand a good chance to have lost them for good.When some readers want to get away from the crushing reality of their own lives, they turn to their favorite writer to build an escape hatch that leads to a place where they feel unbothered by their troubles. That’s a pretty heavy responsibility to take on. I want to be the writer who has people staying up late at night to get one more chapter in while their spouse tells them to turn the lamp out. As a writing mentor once said to me, “I want them to smile when I want them to smile. And I want them to cry when I want them to cry.”

Field Training Officers

2015-04-06 apple dictionaryI enlisted the help of a co-author, Warren Jamison, who operated as a backstop, an editor, and a writing coach. I continued to grow and learn how to work with plot, pitch, theme, premise, dramatic tension, foreshadowing, conflict, dialogue, and the return (proof to the reader that finishing the story was worth it). I wrote and Warren edited. I wrote and I edited. I wrote and wrote and rewrote. And I learned.After the second rewrite of my manuscript, I was introduced by a friend of a friend to a well-respected literary agent with a tough reputation, Chip MacGregor. I gave Chip a synopsis of the story behind Repeat Offender, and a couple of sample chapters.From day one, Chip said, “You’ve got a great story there Brad, but the writing needs work.” He gave a few pointers, wished me luck, and probably figured that would be the end of it; he probably thought I wasn’t determined to see it to the end. Writing … really writing for public consumption is a difficult thing to do and even harder to do well. Rejection is a common occurrence, but by this time, I had begun developing a passion for it. Rejection became fuel to get better. I had something to prove to myself.

The second part of Brad’s story will appear next week, on Monday, April 13th, 2015. You can check in again, subscribe to our blog posts, or hop on over to Brad’s website for the rest of the story. 

About the Author

2015-04-06 Bradley NickellOut of high school, Bradley Nickell spent almost four years in the United States Air Force, working on the super-secret SR-71 and U2 spy planes. in the last two years of his military service, Bradley also worked as a Reserve Police Officer in Marysville, California. In 1992, Bradley joined the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and was promoted to detective in 1999. For the past sixteen years, Bradley has been assigned to the Repeat Offender Program, specializing in identifying, catching, and helping convict career criminals who prey on the citizens of Southern Nevada. Although still a police detective, Bradley is a credentialed member of the press and has written several law enforcement-themed features for both American COP Magazine and POLICE Magazine. Bradley has been interviewed on TruTV (formerly Court TV) as a subject matter expert and was a key speaker at the Fifth Annual LeadsOnline ® Law Enforcement Leadership Conference (2012). Bradley’s debut true-crime thriller, REPEAT OFFENDER, is being released by WildBlue Press on 04/14/15.

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About His Book

2015-04-06 Bradley Nickell, Repeat OffenderMillions in stolen property, revolting sex crimes and murder-for-hire were all in the mix for a Las Vegas police detective as he toiled to take Sin City’s most prolific criminal off the streets for good.

Las Vegas Police Detective Bradley Nickell brings you the inside scoop on the investigation of the most prolific repeat offender Las Vegas has ever known.

Daimon Monroe looked like an average guy raising a family with his diffident schoolteacher girlfriend. But just below the surface, you’ll learn he was an accomplished thief with an uncontrollable lust for excess. His criminal mind had no bounds—he was capable of anything given the proper circumstances.

You will be revolted by Monroe’s amassed wealth through thievery, his plot to kill Detective Nickell, a judge and a prosecutor, and the physical and sexual abuse to which Monroe subjected his daughters.

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