During a lunch at a local Mimi’s, Steve said, “One of the things I really pride myself about is creating a work that is multi-layered. Scrafitto touches on photography, art, ex-pats in a foreign country, women’s rights, the environment, macho attitudes in a Latin country and even anger management. And of course, police procedure and crime scene investigation. I wanted the reader to learn about these issues.
I am currently reading his book, Scrafitto, and must agree when he says his work is multi-layered. As I read, it is also evident that he understands his way around a camera.
Steve, you worked for the FBI and as a CSI. How did that come about?
Well, I grew up in Long Beach, California and my first job was renting beach umbrellas on Seal Beach. My protagonist in Scrafitto is an ex-Seal Beach cop. While I was going to Cal State Los Angeles where, by the way, the LASD crime lab now exists, I worked for the FBI. I became fascinated with the science of fingerprints and so when a job opened up with the Las Vegas Police Department (LVMPD), I jumped at the chance. I spent 30 years working with latent prints and have lectured around the world on the infallibility of fingerprints as a forensic tool.
That first-hand knowledge must be very handy in crafting mysteries.
As I worked on the idea for the book, I drew from my experiences with law enforcement as well as my frustration with fiction pieces I had read over the years that didn’t quite get the details right. I was reluctant at first to use a lot of the current CSI jargon, as it is often incorrectly used, but I thought I would at least be able to model for other writers and readers what forensics can truly do without stretching the truth.
Scrafitto isn’t really a procedural, though. It’s written to appeal to a wide audience, and manages to teach while intriguing. Was that a conscious choice?
I wanted the book to be reader friendly…not just to hard-boiled mystery fans but to my daughters and my own mother, so the book is pretty clean cut. No disrespect intended to popular crime fiction writers, whom I do enjoy reading, but the language in my book is clean and the scenes are not written in overly graphic detail. There is a love story woven into the book, but even it is pretty tame compared to some of the scenes that are currently in popular fiction. I also have a few subtle Christian references within the book, but so subtle most readers won’t even notice.
I know I draw on many of my own life experiences when I write novels. Was this the case for you?
Having some personal experience with this in my lifetime, I wanted to address the issue of how a man learns to deal with frustration and anger. As a young man, I was often too quick to share my opinion and I must admit I shared it quite forcefully at times. Never physically but my tongue could do its share of damage. So I wanted to show how men need to take a step back, remove themselves from the situation and evaluate their response because when you don’t, often disastrous results can occur.
How did you feel about those memories as the book took shape?
For me writing this book was a type of therapy. Although I still enjoyed my work, as I neared the end of my career, I wasn’t really working in the field anymore. I transferred to the police union and was representing police employees in trouble which led to some internal affairs references in the book. I was experiencing a kind of boredom with the day-to-day tasks I undertook. The book gave me a way to use all my knowledge of forensics, photography, etc. and put it to good use.
Writing with a partner sometimes sets up challenges. I write some of my books with my sister, but we worked out our ground rules very early and we work together quite smoothly. Your mother was involved in your project. How did that work out?
As far as writing the book with assist from my mother, I tell a joke at writer’s conferences – “If you are considering writing with your mother or a relative… DON’T! It was very bitter-sweet. In the end, very rewarding, but also pretty grueling. My mom, Elizabeth, is a retired teacher and not only did she look for grammar and spelling but she also had some definite ideas about the style and content. She even wanted me to add a lot of cuss words and more violence to make the book more like those by established authors. We constantly squabbled over word choices.
One thing I learned from working with my mom was the need to appeal to the general reader. Several times I wrote something I thought was very clever and my mom didn’t understand it. I learned that if she didn’t get it, many readers wouldn’t either. Some style choices still exist in the book that she considers ‘mistakes’ and thinks we should get the publisher to make the changes. Overall collaborating on a book with my mom was a very rewarding accomplishment, and a very satisfying, family experience.
Please give me a specific example of a type of knowledge you used in the plot of Scrafitto.
When I first hired onto Metro (LVMPD), I worked crime scenes, saw a lot of dead bodies and a lot of blood splattered about. Blood spatter is of central importance in Scrafitto. As a CSI I also got a lot of experience with crime scene photography. This added to a growing interest I have in general photography. Naturally, this interest shows up in Scrafitto. There is a photography thread throughout the book.
I draw on a lot of my career experiences for the book. In fact, I find it interesting that my current work at Mideo Systems, a technology company that provides digital imaging software to police departments, seems to have been predestined by all of my career experiences. I was among the first forensic scientists in the country to embrace and promote digital imaging (DI) and wrote some of the first technical articles about DI. On another project, I helped design an innovative AFIS that eventually inspired Mideo’s software concept. Contact with various forensic disciplines and police procedure certainly prepares you for your writing.
Steve’s story will continue in next week’s Spotlight.
For more information, visit Steve Scarborough’s website http://www.steve-scarborough.com
Spotlight appears every Tuesday in the Las Vegas edition of modenook.com and every Wednesday in the Los Angeles edition. Writers’ Tricks of the Trade appears every Thursday in the Las Vegas edition and every Friday in the Los Angeles edition. If you have an event to list, a suggestion for Spotlight or the monthly Writers’ Tricks of the Trade newsletter/magazine, please send an email with the subject of Submission, Suggestion or Comment. Follow me on Twitter @LVWritingExamin.
More information about Morgan St. James and her appearance schedule visit www.morganstjames-author.com and www.silversistersmysteries.com