Today I am interviewing retired Lieutenant Brian Cook, the author of the blockbuster book “Hands Across The Sea”. Before we start, Brian, I’d like to thank you for your 25 years of service to the citizens of Alameda County.
Author Brian Cook
Thanks, Bud, I appreciate it especially in this day and age when law enforcement, as a whole, has been put under intense scrutiny.
1. What does Brian Cook’s writing process look like?
I’m iPad reliant, so I have the majority of my research notes and materials a click away. With my law enforcement administrative background, I learned early on to have hard copies of redundant information available should my technology crash or hiccup, which has happen already. On most occasions, I’m sitting at my desk typing away.
2. Do you have any strange writing habits (like standing on your head or writing in the shower)?
Haaaa, Im lucky, I don’t require absolute peace and solitude to create, but that’s just different strokes for different folks stuff. Because of my law enforcement background, I’ve learned to perform under pressure and extreme circumstances, so I haven’t developed any quirks in order to get down to writing. My philosophy since I retired is I don’t make any real decisions before 10 am, so I typically go to the gym early, handle some busy work and to-dos, and then in the afternoon dive into writing.
3. This is the first book you’ve written and I commend you for it. Which one of your characters is your favorite? And which is the biggest trouble maker for you?
I’ll have to cheat and pick two characters among the many that intrigue me: Lieutenant Declan Fitzpatrick and Sergeant Richard Ulrich. Fitzpatrick is a sort of extension of me, so when he goes into dialogue mode, it’s a piece of cake for me to formulate what he’d say because I think about how I’d respond in that situation. Ulrich is a man that despite his accomplishments, he has the vulnerability of yearning for his father’s approval. In a profession filled with macho Alphas, he’s the one with a hidden flaw that exposes his insecurity.
Commander Pete Harwell is what we call in law enforcement a shit-disturber. He brings that element of villainy that the book needs, a character you just love to hate. But he’s not some rogue cop as readers will discover as they follow the tale. He’s more of a blind loyalist and, in some respects, makes him just as dangerous.
4. Just as your book inspires authors, what authors have inspired you to write?
Number one on my list is Stephen King. I’ve read nearly all of his classics.
The man has this inane ability to scare the bejesus out of you with words. Amazing!
Number two would be Ralph Wiley. He helped awaken my consciousness with his book, “Why Black People Tend To Shout.” It’s a work of essays that every Black person should read to get a better understanding of one man’s view of the world and where we fit in it. His book would have such relevance today if it were pushed to the mainstream. It stunned me when I heard he died unexpectedly, that’s how much he impacted me.
Last and not least is Alex Haley.
His autobiography of Malcolm X was riveting, but ”Roots” was his defining work to me. Though the mini-series was epic, it didn’t do the pages justice. It’s a timeless classic.
5. If you could cast the characters from your latest book in the Hollywood adaptation of your book, who would play your characters?
Oh, I was hoping you’d ask me that question! As I was writing the book, I could see images of actors playing out particular roles. Since I have a large cast of characters, I’ll offer up only a few of my favorites! I could be flexible if Hollywood came a-callin’ and the studio had somebody else in mind, but they would earn Oscars nods in my opinion! Haaaaa!
Lieutenant Declan Fitzpatrick: Anthony Mackie
Lieutenant Michael Kendall: Chadwick Bozeman
Lieutenant James Donlan: Colin Hanks
Sheriff Garrison Cottrell: Jeff Bridges
Sheriff Brendan Callaghan: Jon Hamm
Phoebe Alexander: Felicity Huffman
Commander Pete Harwell: Mark Wahlberg
Mayor Woody: Reg E. Cathey
Captain Howard: Don Cheadle
Captain Belle: Mandy Patinkin
6. How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning? Do you have any name choosing resources you recommend?
Choosing names are like fingerprints – they have to be unique and fit that particular character. Take for instance, Declan Fitzpatrick. I loved that name and someone was going to be tagged with it in this book, but who knew it would be a Black man who had to overcome and accept it? It grew to fit him. Names should roll off the tongue, because they have the potential to become legendary down the road. I’ll research different websites for first and last names and use them if they have a certain ring or meaning to them or if I come across an amalgamation of a name such as Asa (Jingle) Belle, I’ll file it away for future use.
7. (A) Brian, you told me that you joined the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office and graduated from the basic academy in 1987. Your first assignment (more than one subsequent assignment) was working in the jail, how did the close association with some of the worst of the worst who were incarcerated there affect your outlook on people in general?
When I first started, I was like a deer caught in the headlights, because it was the unknown, but once I got acclimated and gained confidence, I settled into the job and how to handle them. I mostly worked the Administrative Segregation floor in the jail which held the most violent criminals and they only came out once a day by themselves for an hour in a 24-hour period. They committed some of the most heinous crimes I ever read, so I expected that they were out to con me and the other deputies like it was a game to them. But when I got assigned to patrol, that’s when I understood where it started and how violent some people could be. I had to be vigilant and aware because I was on their turf and no in a controlled environment like jail. I came to realize over time that it didn’t matter if they wore a three-piece suit, a hoody, or covered in gang tattoos, anybody could do harm to me if I wasn’t prepared and confident in my training. It was my job to interfere with their plans to do wrong. It was nothing personal behind it; it was strictly the business of policing.
7. (B) How about on you as a writer?
I found I was able to depict and describe instances and people more vividly because I lived it firsthand. To walk inside a house of an elderly woman who’s been deceased for a week with the heater on knowing that an indescribable smell was going to hit my sinuses is a forever memory. Or managing a scene where a man is holding his family captive with a shotgun and to be the one on the PA talking him down for an hour that ends happily is nerve-racking. I never knew what to expect on any given day. To be able to transfer that kind of knowledge onto pages for people to read and experience as a form of entertainment is one thing; to actually experience it and live with it for the rest of your life is another.
8. At some point following the terrorist attacks on 9-11, you were assigned to the Oakland Airport. Can you tell us how being on the inside, and privy to the inner workings and intelligence that has been keeping us safe for nearly 15 years now affected you as a person, and as a writer?
When I was deputy, I only thought about myself: getting off on time, working OT, but when I got promoted to sergeant, I started thinking big picture and that helped when I became a lieutenant. I’m a passionate person, so being a passionate leader sometimes rub folks the wrong way, but my priority was always having the best ran unit wherever I landed. I gave a damn and when some folks weren’t rowing the boat in the same direction, we weren’t making progress as a cohesive group. That can be arduous especially operating under the unified command system with the alphabet federal agencies, the airlines, and the airport itself. With Homeland Security issues and incidents can disrupt flights and impact passenger safety. I wanted to be sure that if my mother, or my wife, or my son was coming through the airport, we did our utmost to ensure the safety of the everyday citizen flying out and arriving to the airport.
Because I was a voice in those rooms where the nut and bolts were being tightened, I had to interact with strong personalities, demeanors, their company’s interest – including mine – to finalize objectives. That’s a lot of elements in a contained space. It’s easy to become emotional and misinterpret tones and language in a room full of trained professionals posturing their titles and expressing their opinions. But sometimes, those perceptions can become reality and then people have to get together to smooth down the rough edges or grow thicker skin and move forward.
9. Brian, one last question on your career in law enforcement. Every good cop knows that not every situation, crime, or suspect is just plain black and white. So my question is, how much did you come to depend on your intuition, and were you usually right?
I didn’t learn how to do the job solely from a book or a class. I read up on policies and procedures and incorporated it with my training, mixed in my know-how, and rolled up my sleeves, and more often than not it worked. I worked with great people so my rank never overrode my ego to field input from them, but I’d still have the final say-so so they could execute it. When it all came together, I gave them the kudos they deserved for a job well done. That’s what separates a supervisor from a true leader.
10. Your email signature says “Living Happily Ever After”. What advice do you have for other aspiring authors, like myself who are still dreaming of “Living Happily Ever After”?
I’ve got a credo I live by: Carpe Diem, which is Latin for ‘Seize The Day’. You have to live each day like you’ll die tomorrow, because tomorrow isn’t promised. Do what you love and love what you do. Whatever your joy is don’t wait for the right time to do it, because the moment may be fleeting and pass.
11. In ‘Hands Across The Sea’ how much of that book is drawn from your 25 years of exemplary service to the citizens of California?
Ironically, only a few tidbits were drawn and overdramatized, but for the most part, the majority is from watching, listening, and talking to people everyday. You can learn something from anybody everyday or you’re not paying attention. I use my five senses and collect so much info I want to use everywhere I go. If I saw something fascinating or heard a phrase somebody said, I jotted it down on a scrap of paper. I began collected so much information I had to create a special folder for it on my iPad. But most of the characters are caricatures of people I’ve encountered in different walks of life and blended into one, except for Mayor Woody. He’s based on one man who we actually call Mayor Woody in fun, but I exaggerated the character for dramatic effect. As for some of the meetings and conversations, I converted a lot of real settings it into scenarios and created the dialogue for the entertainment value.
12. Is Brian Cook a plotter or a pantster? (Write by the seat of your pants)
I’m guilty of being a panster. I tried to plot out and choreograph ‘Hands Across The Sea’ when I started out, but found I was doing more plotting than actual writing! Then I came across three Ernest Hemingway quotes at the right moment: ‘Write what you know’, ‘Stop trying to figure out what to write and just write’ and ‘When writing a novel, a writer should create living people; people, not characters. A character is a caricature.’ I never plotted again.
13. Do you read your reviews? Do you respond to them, good or bad? Do you have any advice on how to deal with the bad?
I’ve read some, but I’ve also been able to speak with people one on one and discuss what they felt. That’s a luxury a lot of readers and authors rarely have. For example, one of my friends told me about an emotional section he read and found himself on the verge of tears. It evoked emotions he wasn’t ready for and hoped it wouldn’t be more scene like that. My book elicited what I intended: a reaction through the use of words. Reviews are just one person’s viewpoint and doesn’t necessarily represent the whole. You take the good with the bad. I let it roll off my back and don’t let it define me or my work.
14. In your previous line of work I’m sure you have encountered your fair share of hatred based solely on people’s race. Do you think as a country the United States, as a whole, is on the right path towards ending the racial violence? And what could we be doing differently as a country and as individuals to effect the change that is needed?
I’ve encountered my fair share even when I wore a uniform, so you can imagine how much I was exposed to in everyday clothes! I’ve heard the talk and conversations that Blacks have it better than they once did, which is evident to some degree, but the playing field is still far from equal. But what’re people gonna do? Shake a fist to the sky and scream? No, you pull up your boot straps and seize the day. I’m a quote guy and another quote I love is: we’re built for struggle. No matter what obstacle is in your way, you persevere and keep working. I don’t blame anybody if I don’t achieve something unless I want to blame them when I underachieve. I’m not built like that. All the catchy slogans and sayings tossed around sound nice when a public figure utters it, but it doesn’t mean squat when that same public figure gets caught acting human. Their message becomes white noise. You have to walk it like you talk it to be regarded as credible. With the advent of the Internet, it’s been a blessing and a curse with all the keyboard warriors spewing their hate message for all to read and the really sad thing is all the thumbs up from those who agree with the message. Emotions are cancerous. People can love together, but they can also hate together and like-minded people always seems to find each other and gain strength: people we may work with, ride in an elevator with, serve us our food, sit in church with us.
15. What is Brain Cook’s least favorite part of the publishing / writing process?
Finding the right person/company to do the editing and proofreading, and the marketing. If you’re lucky to hook on with a publishing house, they can be a one-stop shop, but with thousands of books jockeying to be published each year, they have to discern who to invest their time and money into, and the competition’s fierce. There’s a lot of great book out there that doesn’t get nearly enough publicity. With self-publishing, I got to experience all the phases from start to finish, but the marketing is pretty much left up to me. Thankfully with social media it’s easier to get the word out and I got a circle of folks who have gotten the word out for me.
16. Is there one subject you would never write about as an author?
As a retired law enforcement officer, I’ve seen and investigated incidents that was mind-boggling, so as an aspiring novelist, there’s not a lot of out of bounds subjects I wouldn’t tackle. Writing, like drawing, is an art form and it’s up to the artist/author as to how they want their art interpreted. Some will love it, others may loathe it.
17. In ‘Hands Across The Sea’ who is your favorite character?
Sheriff Garrison Cottrell. Here you have a man who raised a laughing stock agency into a major power. He became the face of the Agency and has to suddenly retire because of a medical condition! Can you imagine being in that position and how it would affect your psyche?! He’s about as Alpha male as you can get and put the old in old-school. Then he’s confronted with taking on his condition from a radical point of view outside of his conservative belief that if you get sick, you take a pill. Readers get to ride his rollercoaster of emotions with him and experience his struggle in dealing with it. For a larger than life individual, that’s overwhelming and to see his paradigm shifts unfold and how his past is affecting his present, it shows how it affects his loved ones, his isms, and his Agency family.
18. Is there a certain type of scene that’s harder for you to write than others? Love? Action? Racy?
I like writing about provocative situations that’ll evoke conversation and debate. That’s the beauty of being an artist and applying it to writing, attacking a subject and using what’s at your disposal – your five senses, backdrops, emotions – to paint a tale with words employing broad strokes to narrate the story. It’s been a great journey and I’m just getting started.
19. Brian what can you tell us about your book that nobody knows?
‘Hands Across The Sea’ is something that’s ever been attempted before, at least not that I’ve read or seen. It’s the telling of a law enforcement story not relying on any gunfights or the overt police corruption by bad cops pretending to be good. It involves the Command staffers’ families and backstories that helps explains how they came to be who they are and how it influences them on the job. I bring up issues that can make it uncomfortable to read but it’s not immersed with horror, sex scenes, or white-knuckle suspense, it’s real life topics like racism, nepotism, prejudices, spirituality and religious beliefs, and dialogue people say in their heads, outloud. If I were a reader looking for a good book to read, I’d pick up a copy. I know, that’s a shameless plug, huh? This book might make you pissed, sad, cry, laugh, and uncomfortable, but that’s a good thing. A good book should jar your insides and make you stop and think. The followup book, The Thin Blue Li(n)e coming up next year will pick up where Hands Across The Sea leaves off and take on a whole new direction, but will address the cliffhangers and subplots yet to be answered. Readers will be rewarded at the end of this trilogy…, I guarantee it!
20. Brian, you and I met our wives at about the same time, and I know that without my wife’s total support I could not do what I do. So how has your wife helped you to become a successful writer?
She allows me the time to bang out chapters uninterrupted, but I’m also aware we need our quality time together, too. I don’t sequester so remote just to type, I can step away from the keyboard and spend time with her. She’s the main reason one of my female characters is so strong and into spirituality. I’ll even bounce questions and terminology off her, and let her read some unfinished work to see if it read credible, so I don’t sound off-base.
The following is some Crazy Questions That No One Ever Asks Authors yet they are the most popular questions and answers according to my readers.
1. What has been your biggest disappointment in life?
Not being as close to my father as I should be.
2. What is your greatest joy in life?
Finding my wife Dauphne and the birth of my children.
3. Characters often find themselves in situations they aren’t sure they can get themselves out of. When you find yourself in such a situation, what do you do?
I take a step back and access the situation. Patience is not one of my virtues, so I take an assessment and come up with the best course of action. If it means falling on the sword, I’ll sharpen the tip. If it means making the tough decision, I’ll do it in order to resolve it for everybody involved. I know it sounds robotic, but sometimes people overthink or overreact on a situation and then damage control has to be done to handle a situation that became worse.
4. What is your biggest fear?
It’s not so much a fear as it is a concern. Getting injured playing basketball and being laid up for weeks again. Not fun!
5. What do you want your tombstone to say?
Brian L. Cook, 1963 – ? He Lived The Dash. One of my characters describes what living the dash means to him. Readers will have to buy it to find out. Sorry!
6. If you had a superpower, what would it be?
Indestructible with super-human strength.
7. If you were a super hero, what would your name be? What costume would you wear?
Bison. Compression suit that would be rip-proof; no funky cape either to get in the way.
8. What literary character is most like you?
I can’t put my finger on one in particular, but a character that’s racially-conscious, not afraid to speak his mind, can tend to go against the grain. Hmmm, sounds a lot like Declan, huh?
9. What secret talents do you have?
It’s not really a secret, but it’s something I haven’t done in years. I love to draw and have drawn several charcoal and pencil pieces that are hanging in my house. I’ll make time for it again soon.
10. Where is one place you want to visit that you haven’t been before?
Hawaii. I’m determined to see the islands in this lifetime!
11. If you were an animal in a zoo, what would you be?
For one thing, I wouldn’t be in a zoo, that’s for damn sure, haaaa! No cage can contain me! But I’d be a silverback gorilla because he is an Alpha and the rest of the group answers to him, despite his gentle demeanor.
12. What is something you want to accomplish before you die?
I wanted to have a one-man art show back in the day, but now I’d love to have a book signing tour with a line out the door of people clamoring for me to sign my latest work.
Original Artwork By Brian Cook
Original Art by Brian Cook
13. If you could have any accents from anywhere in the world, what would you choose?
French. I studied it in high school and loved the spoken words.
14. What were you like as a child? Your favorite toy?
I know it’s hard for people who know me to believe, but I was a very introverted child, you couldn’t get two words out of me! Funny, right, for somebody who published a 500-page novella, huh!? Obviously, I overcame it. I didn’t have a favorite toy, per se, but I’m a recovering video game junkie.
The first step I made was admitting I had a problem and I was clean and sober for years. But I suffered a setback when these damn smart devices came on the scene. When I’m not writing or watching TV, I’m playing NBA Jam or Madden on my phone.
15. Do you dream? Do you have any recurring dreams/nightmares?
Everybody dreams, but we don’t always remember them. I’ve had the dream any street cop has or will have of being in a shootout, except mine involved my gun jamming, having no bullets in it, or it wasn’t in my holster, so I guess you could call that a nightmare. That’s when I’d force myself to wake up to dream another day!
Find out more about Brian Cook on his website:
Brian Cook Novels
Online Book Club
Thank you Brian, It has been a real pleasure working on this as well as Mayor Woody’s interviews with you!
Don’t miss Mayor Woody’s Eyeopening Interview:
Purchase “Hands Across The Sea” here: