JUNE 4, 2003

At what point in time did you realize that writing was the "thing for you"?

When I was a kid, I was always writing stories. In junior high school, I read a million sports novels  - the kind where the junior high school kid suffers through adversity and then becomes the big baseball hero. So I wrote those kinds of stories myself. In high school, I read a lot of action/adventure/war novels, and wrote lengthy stories with my own heroes.  Most of them people never read. It didn't matter - writing them was such a blast, it never occurred to me to show them to anyone.

What advice would you give to someone interested in becoming a writer?

Do it. Don't think about becoming a writer - start writing now. Today. Get something down on paper before you go to bed tonight.  Turn off the TV, log off the Internet. Write.

What is the name of your favorite mystery movie?

Chinatown. It's a classic private-eye story with a knock-your-socks off ending. And it's got Jack Nicholson!

What other authors do you enjoy reading?

Dennis Lehane, Harlan Coban, George Pelicanos, Michael Connelly, Herman Melville (hey, Moby Dick is a mystery - what the heck is going to happen to that whale?)

What other types of jobs have you had?

In addition to being a novelist, I'm a full-time reporter for the Philadelphia Daily News. Over the years I've covered every kind of story, including breaking news, police, politics, race, corruption, organized crime - you know, the usual. All the knowledge I've gained goes into my
writing in some way. As I told my editor at the Daily News, what I put in the books is everything I couldn't put in the paper.

What led you to write mysteries?

Several years ago, I spent about six months with a group of cops in Philadelphia to do stories for my paper. I saw everything, I was a part of everything. Many of the cops became friends of mine. But I realized there was no way I could sum it up in a few news articles. So, I decided to try to portray the cop world I saw in fiction. None of the events in my books actually happened - but they're the kinds of things that could happen. Cops who have read the books tell me they're very real.

Do you read reviews of your books?

Yes. Fortunately, nearly all my reviews have been very positive. But there have been a few negative comments, and those affected me far more than I ever thought they would. It's astonishing how much you put yourself on the line when you write a book. Pete Dexter, a wonderful novelist who used to be a columnist for my paper, once told me that he stopped writing books partly because of the reviews. Even the good reviews, he said, had some negative things in them, and he just didn't want to deal with that any more. That's a shame.

How would you like to be remembered?

As an honest, ethical and caring person. To me, that's far more important that being remembered for what I write.

What do you believe is the highlight of your career so far?

Walking in a Borders bookstore in Philadelphia and seeing my book - for the first time - on a table at the front. I'd been in that bookstore a million times before, and I'd always dreamed of that happening. And it did.

Do you write on a fixed schedule?

I get up at 7 a.m. on weekdays and write until about 12:30, when I have to start getting ready for work (by choice, my hours at the newspaper are 2 p.m.-10 p.m.).  On weekends, I often write all day Saturday and a half day on Sunday.

How do you come up with plots?

I start with a basic scenario, and take it from there. Four to Midnight, for example, opens with two white cops getting accused by beating a black city councilman during a car-stop. When I first came up with that idea, I had no idea what would happen next. I just worked it out, one step at a time, lying on my couch, writing on a legal notepad, over  a three week period. When I had worked out the plot and characters, I sat down to write. Though in the course of the actual writing, much of the plot changed - including the entire ending. Writing a book is like trying on clothes - you have to see how they actually look on you before making a decision. You don't know whether a plot element works until you see how it plays out.

How do you spend your free time?

I love long-distance cycling, which I usually do alone. I enjoy the solitude, the challenge, the physical exercise, the good excuse for not writing.

Do you have a message you would like to give to all your readers out there?

Thanks for making my dream possible.

                                                ABOUT THE AUTHOR

I write fiction because it's more true than what I write for my newspaper.

That's not to say I make up the facts for my stories in the Philadelphia Daily News. But while news stories must deal with the specifics of a situation, novels are a kind of composite of everything I've learned.

Four to Midnight and Sons of the City are novels about Philly street cops. But they're really about the city itself -- and in a way, about every city.

What's in the novels is what I couldn't put in the paper. They reflect 15 years on the streets of Philadelphia, in its neighborhoods, with its people.

As a reporter for the Daily News, I've ridden along with police officers hundreds of times, through every kind of neighborhood. I've seen just about everything. Cops have joked that I've got more time on the job than some of the younger officers.

I think this ongoing experience has given me a lot of insight into the way cops see the world. And my friends in the Philly PD have also helped me make the books more real.

For example, in
Four to Midnight there's a shootout between cops and drug dealers in a high-rise public housing project. A cop who has been involved in several fatal shootings assisted me with how the shootout would unfold, step-by-step.

Over the years, I've covered all kinds of stories -- politics, organized crime, racial conflict, breaking news, you name it. If it made people spill their coffee at breakfast, I probably wrote about it. For a while, I even had a humor column.

These days, I mostly write about police, often doing longer stories on a particular unit. You can read some of the more recent ones on the DAY JOB page on this web site.

I love writing, of any kind, and helping other people to become better writers. I've served as an unofficial writing coach at the Daily News, and I've traveled to other newspapers around the country to talk about writing.

Before coming to the Daily News, I worked on the Charlotte Observer, and before that, newspapers in Annapolis and Havre de Grace, Maryland

Havre de Grace is a small town, not too unlike Coalinga, California, the small town where I grew up.

Neither of them are much like Philly, which is my adopted city. I love it here. It's a real place. The people are real. I think a lot of Philadelphians don't really appreciate what they have. But then, who ever does?