I was a boy in St. Anthony of Padua's Grammar School in blue-collar Greenpoint, Brooklyn New York, when I became enthralled with writing stories about the people and things happening around me. It kept up through high school and college. I was a sophomore at St. John's University, Brooklyn New York when I took my first Creative Writing course. What occurred in that classroom set the course for the rest of my life. I set out on what has always struck me as a pre-ordained journey to find the underlying purpose, the veiled truths of my life, as I lived it from the 1940s through today.
As a U.S. Army draftee, copy-boy on New York Hearst's New York Journal-American after, then New York City Policeman, Fordham University Law School, Legal Aid Society, Criminal trials Lawyer in Manhatten, and Queen's courts, published mystery author of novels and crime stories. Still a defense Lawyer, Upstate now. Defending abused women against their batterers in Family Courts of Albany.
Rensselaer and Schenectady are new for me but still a good fit. I intend to blog here about my cases, about the awful hopelessness and frequent injustice I see playing out inside The System and out.
And about writing, of course-the Craft, the Art,
the Mystery of it all.
My life as a Police Officer
I was an NYC policeman for 20 years, from 1967 to 1987; retired as a Lieutenant of Police. Patrolman 14 years, in high-crime Precincts in Brooklyn and Manhattan, Patrol Sergeant-Supervisor in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Ft. Greene-Clinton Hill Precincts in Brooklyn, and Greenwich Village Precinct, Manhattan. As Patrolman, assigned as writer/reporter on Spring 3100, the Police Department Magazine; as Sergeant, assigned as Instructor in Advanced & Specialized Training Unit, Police Academy; as Lieutenant-Supervisor in Police Legal Bureau advised Street Commands on applicable law.
Good thing I took my Irish grandmother’s sage advice way back in 1963 on discharge from the Army. “Join the cops, Bobby, why don’t you— steady work and a pension?” I did; that is why I am not a starving author…Wrote the first draft of my first mature short story in 1985 as an exercise given by Prof. Sandra Perl as I sat in class at Lehman College in the Bronx. The Police Academy had sent me to this Training for Teachers of Writing since I was then teaching Report Writing to detectives as In-Service Training. In a single burst, I got the essential story down; its germ had been with me for years. Based on a child-kidnapping case and the detective investigator whom I knew. The draft changed little over the years till I sold it in 2016 to the Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine— 31 years later, I called it “Conduct Unbecoming”. Safe to say, I’m not a fast writer. I have two crime novels and half-a-dozen short stories to my credit and an anthology of original crime stories I put together as Editor: “Queens Noir”.
My material is whatever’s happened to me, I’ve heard about, seen, or been told, whenever in my life. I found this, my direction, as a sophomore at St. John’s University College at 96 Schermerhorn St., Downtown Brooklyn, in 1959.
I’d written a story for my first ever Creative Writing Course; I still remember the Instructor’s name, James Harvey. I set the story in the City Room of a daily newspaper (where I’d never been), don’t recall the plot at all. What I do recall
piercingly is the smothered laughter of a fellow student and her comments on the piece. I remember her name, too. (Funny how you can’t forget this stuff). I fled; never read again in that class. But I learned my lesson: Know what you write about, go forth and experience life, a la Jack London, Brendan Behan. (In 1962, as an Army draftee in San Juan Puerto Rico, I was free to work nights as a proofreader on the San Juan Star, the English language daily newspaper.
In 1963, copyboy on the New York Journal American, Hearst’s afternoon daily, I was in the City Room on November 22nd with the newsmen stunned silent, the linotypes next door quieted, as Walter Cronkite reported Kennedy dead.)
So, I take the real events, people, and fictionalize them all. I do not write true crime, too hard, too restrictive. Much easier to add make-believe, and in the end, depending on your skill, truer.
How I started to write
A group photo of us all in 1955 at St. Anthony's Juniorate, (High School) for boys intending to join, (take vows) in the Franciscan Order of Teaching Brothers. "Smithtown" for shortin the Town of Smithtown, on the North Shore of long Island in Suffolk County. I resided there February 1954 thru 1956 when I was asked to leave; they judged I didn't have a vocation. I responded: "That's okay, I was going to leave anyhow." (I am 4th from the right 2nd row).
Went to Fordham University Law School, Night Division, 1970-1975, while a policeman during the day. Retired from NYPD, September 1987, and hung out a shingle, renting a room from an old Landlord/Tenant lawyer at 401 Broadway, Manhattan. Realizing how little I knew about practicing law, in 1989 I joined the New York City Legal Aid Society as an apprentice trial lawyer in its Manhattan Criminal Division. Tried cases in Manhattan and Queens Criminal Courts over the next 18 years. Left LAS and NYC, my birthplace, in 2008 to relocate to Albany. The next year, opened an office in Downtown Albany and began taking Assigned (indigent defendant) cases from the Criminal Courts in Albany, Troy and Schenectady, and the District Federal Courts; privately, represented clients in the County Family Courts. Still at it, the same office. Hanging on the wall is the only legal award I ever got: the Stanley A. RosenMemorial Award for Distinguished Service Representing Abused Women, given by the Albany Women’s Bar’s Domestic Violence Project in 2013. Got the plaque at a fancy luncheon, seated next to Mrs. Rosen, Stanley's widow, who confided in me that although Stanley was the premier Matrimonial lawyer in town, his early days trying cases in the Albany criminal courts were his best memories. Me, too.