Monday, September 16, 2019

Cop Writer: At 82, Joseph Wambaugh, Author Of ‘The New Centurions,’ ‘The Onion Field,’ 'The Choirboys' And Other Classics, May Be Done Writing, But His Influence Endures

John Wilkens at the San Diego Union-Tribune offers a good piece on Joseph Wambaugh, one of my favorite writers.

Joseph Wambaugh laughed at the question.

“Am I done writing?” he said. “Hell, I’m almost done living. I’m 82.”

His last book, “Harbor Nocturne,” came out in 2012. It was the fifth of his Hollywood Station novels, full of the bawdy insider cop talk that first made him famous and populated with memorably quirky characters like the badge-wearing surfers Flotsam and Jetsam. A couple of TV studios are looking at turning the books into a series.

“I’d be thrilled to see that happen before I kick the bucket,” he said.

This is not the first time Wambaugh has seemingly stopped writing. He went six years in between “Floaters,” a 1996 novel set in San Diego during the America’s Cup, and “Fire Lover,” a 2002 non-fiction account of a serial arsonist. And then it was another four years before he published “Hollywood Station.” But then he wrote four more novels, all in a period of six years.

So it seems like a fair question: Maybe some story will come along that moves him to add to his catalog?

“Not this geezer,” he said.

Even if he is done, his influence will continue. Legions of crime novelists in San Diego and elsewhere cite Wambaugh among their earliest influences. That’s because he broke the mold, moved police officers from the “Dragnet” realm of clean-cut heroes into the real world of complicated, flawed human beings.

"All I did was turn things around,” he said. “Instead of writing about how cops worked the job, I wrote about how the job worked on the cops.”

Wambaugh came to that approach naturally. His dad was a policeman, and then he became one, too, after a stint in the Marines. He rose through the ranks of the Los Angeles Police Department to detective sergeant. In his off-hours, he pursued English degrees in college and nurtured a passion for writing.

His first novel, “The New Centurions,” came out in 1971 and follows police newbies as the idealism they had in the academy evolves into a street-wise cynicism. 

… Ask him how he’d like to be remembered, though, and he has a quick answer. Short, too.

“Cop writer,” he said. “That will work.” 

You can read the rest of the piece via the below link:

You can also read my Washington Times review of Joseph Wambaugh’s last novel, Harbor Nocturne, via the below link:

And you can read my Q&A with Joseph Wambaugh - Semper Cop - via the below link: 

Note: Joseph Wambaugh inspired me. Not to be a cop, like so many others, but rather he inspired me to be a writer who covers the cops fairly and accurately. 

I’m thankful that I was able to interview him several times and occasionally correspond with him.

Let’s hope he doesn’t, as he put it in the piece, “kick the bucket” any time too soon. 

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