Thursday, September 15, 2022

An Interview With Frank Zafiro, Author of Too Many Books to Mention on This Line


Award-winning author Frank Zafiro writes gritty crime fiction from both sides of the badge. He was a police officer in Spokane, Washington, from 1993 to 2013, and retired as a captain. He write police procedurals in his River City series and Charlie-316 series (with Colin Conway) and the criminal side of things in his SpoCompton series, Ania series (with Jim Wilsky), Bricks & Cam Jobs (with Eric Beetner), and others. To date, he’s written more than forty novels and done so much collaborating crowds gather demanding his haed be shaved..


Frank lives in Redmond, Oregon, with his wife Kristi, dog Richie, and a very self-assured cat named Pasta. He is an avid hockey fan and a tortured guitarist. (Editor’s Note: I can’t speak to Frank’s guitar playing, but, as a devotee of the Philadelphia Flyers, he can also be described as a tortured hockey fan.)


One Bite at a Time: Frank, welcome back. it’s always a pleasure to have you. Next week marks the debut of your eleventh River City book, The Worst Kind of Truth. Tell everyone a little about this one.

Frank Zafiro: Thanks, Dana! Glad to be back. In The Worst Kind of Truth, Detective Katie MacLeod investigates a pair of sexual assaults, and struggles with all of the obstacles that come with these cases.


OBAAT: The Worst Kind of Truth is a bit of a departure from its predecessors in the series. How is it different?

FZ: It’s the first time I’ve opted for a single point-of-view. River City has always been an ensemble cast of police officers. As a result, the books all had multiple viewpoints. That generally works well for a police procedural of this nature. However, I felt like the series was beginning to suffer from too much sprawl… that is, too many viewpoints. Too many spices in the soup, if you take my meaning.


For this book, I tightened the story by sticking to one POV – Detective Katie MacLeod.


It’s an approach I plan to stick with for the next outing. After that, I may allow a couple of minor secondary viewpoints back into the series, but nothing like the way it was in the earlier books. There’s nothing inherently wrong with how I did it before, mind you. In fact, it was probably the best way to lay the groundwork for the series. But now I can tell a tighter story because the foundation is already there—I don’t have to establish it anymore.

OBAAT: You re-tooled the entire River City series earlier this year. What did you do, and why?

FZ: River City has always been a big setting. I had the main series, the spin-off Stefan Kopriva mysteries, four collections of short stories, and three standalone novels.


I eventually realized that the larger story that I was telling—the River City story, if you will—wasn’t

necessarily getting through to all the readers. Some read the main series and nothing else. As a result, there were entire character arcs that the reader missed. Large (and small) events in the canon that weren’t seen. And frankly, some books that were getting less attention than I think they deserved.


So I merged all of the books set in River City into the series proper. The only exception was the Stefan Kopriva mystery series, which I think has its own style and is more effective if remains separate. And a significant majority of readers make the jump from River City to Kopriva anyway.


This process took some thought. Chronology had to be factored in, especially in terms of where to put the short story collections. But I think the current order of the books is one that will work for most readers.  Of course, it might confuse some as well, since The Worst Kind of Truth is #11 and #12 and #13 are already published. Also, books #14-18 in the series are still forthcoming, even though #19 and #20 are also already published. This ordering was necessary to keep things chronological. It will take me until sometime in early 2024 to “catch up” and fill in those forthcoming titles.


Even so, the intention is that, if one were to read the series from the beginning, the meta-story is much more complete.

OBAAT: My work in progress is a return to the private eye genre, which will limit the focus of the book somewhat from what I’ve been doing, as well as shorten it. (I think. It’s still a work in progress.) The Worst Kind of Truth is also a little narrower in both scope and length, so I’m curious. What brought about that decision and what was its practical impact on your writing?

FZ: As I mentioned, I felt like the series was beginning to suffer from too much sprawl—specifically, too many viewpoints. I routinely spent time with each important event in the book through the eyes of the person I thought was the best character to relate that event.


For this book, I tightened the story by sticking to one POV. All of the things that would happen in a multiple viewpoint presentation still occur in the River City world, but the reader gets all of it through Katie’s eyes.


This creates a more concise telling, which was my goal.


As for impact, it forced me to find a way to show events in short snapshots through Katie’s eyes in a way that allows the reader to infer all of the story behind the event… without actually seeing it.


A good example (minor spoiler alert) is in the two events that bookend The Worst Kind of Truth. There is a wedding early on, and a retirement at the end. The journey of the couple getting married is chronicled in great detail in earlier books. Same with the cop who retires at the end. If I hadn’t changed my usual storytelling approach, there would have been multiple scenes from the POV of these characters sprinkled throughout the book to tell that continuing story. But since I’ve told enough of it already, what Katie sees at both of these events is enough to let the reader know all s/he needs to know about both of those story arcs. There’s no need for those additional scenes.

OBAAT: You got a lot of attention last spring with your book The Ride-Along. Tell us a little about that one, how it came about, and what you wanted to accomplish there, as it is also a departure from your typical stories.

FZ: The Ride-Along was born of my dual frustrations with both a public that isn’t very knowledgeable about police work (yet very opinionated) and a profession (my own, prior to retirement) that isn’t very keen to explain itself, and which is often its own worst enemy. I was torn by my own knowledge of how hard the job is, how dedicated the overwhelming majority of people are who do that job (and this includes support staff, too), and how misunderstood the true realities of the job are by the general public… while at the same time, I saw what I believe are strategic failures of the profession, and a few outright bad acts that are difficult to reconcile, to say the least.


These frustrations were exacerbated by the fact the no one listens to each other. They shout. They speak in sound bites. If they listen at all, it is to prepare a counter-argument.


So… I created a situation where two people have to listen to each other. I put a police reform advocate in a patrol car with a veteran officer on a graveyard shift. Two good people with very different views spending ten hours in the close confines of a police cruiser… so, yeah, they gotta talk. And sure, sparks fly. But they also end up listening, too.


Neither character is intended as a straw person for the other to knock down. Instead, we were very intentional in being balanced in our approach, making honest points from the perspective of each character. We wanted to explore nuance in a fair way, since nuance is something that people today seem to have little time for.


Neither Colin nor myself are full enough of ourselves to think we can change the world with a book. But we do hope that it will give readers some cause for thought. And that’s a start.

OBAAT: I introduced you as “Award-winning author Frank Zafiro.” What did you win and how did that come about? ( could have said, but it will be more fun for you to do it.)

FZ:  I recently won three awards from the Public Safety Writers Association. The big one was a first

place award for “One Fine Day,” my short story that is included in The Tattered Blue Line: Short Stories of Contemporary Policing. It is set in River City and explores the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, which sparked actual events—both peaceful and violent—in Spokane (the real life River City) that I drew upon for this story.


I also won second place for “Hallmarks of the Job” (A Stanley Melvin PI Story) and honorable mention for “The Last Cop,” which appears in the anthology To Serve, Protect, and Write: Cops Writing Crime Fiction.


Awards are subjective, of course. But I was thrilled to win these, especially since the awards for short fiction are judged blindly.

OBAAT: This is a standard closing question but one that’s loaded for you, who has replaced Eric Beetner as the Hardest-Working Writer in Show Business™. (Apologies to the late James Brown.) So, what’s on the horizon for you?

FZ: After The Worst Kind of Truth, my next release is my fourth SpoCompton book, Live and Die This Way, coming in October. SpoCompton is a fun series for me because it is, quite literally, the other side of the badge from River City. This time out, my protagonist is a pint-sized female burglar trying to scrape by on her wits while taking care of her addict brother. Aside from being the same gender, she’s about as far from Katie MacLeod as one can get.


I’m fortunate enough to have a story in Josh Pachter’s forthcoming anthology Paranoia Blues, featuring crime fiction inspired by the songs of Paul Simon. Mine is “A Hazy Shade of Winter.”


And by the time this interview goes live, I’ll be waist deep in the fourth Stefan Kopriva mystery, which still bears the inventive title of Kopriva #4. I suspect it will be out (with a much better title) in December or January.


For those readers who like River City specifically, the follow-up to The Worst Kind of Truth is on the docket after Kopriva, so Q1 of 2023. If you find yourself jonesing for police procedurals in the meantime, I’d like to give a plug for Colin Conway’s 509 series, or your Penns River series, both of which will scratch that itch.


Thanks for having me back!

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