Robin Burcell worked as a police officer, detective, hostage negotiator, and forensic artist. The Dark Hour is her latest international thriller about an FBI forensic artist. The Black List will debut in January 2013. Visit her at www.RobinBurcell.com, https://twitter.com/RobinBurcell, and http://www.facebook.com/robin.burcell
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Ah, the time of year when we make our resolutions—and break them shortly thereafter. Don’t worry, I’m not going there. (But if you’re really into that sort of thing, Google “Robin Burcell+dust bunnies+zombies”.) I’m here to discuss my twisted path to becoming a writer, and it all started from a TV show when I was a kid, one that some of you born after I was—somewhere between the invention of color TV and cell phones—might have to Google to understand.
I had one clear career goal starting around the age of six or so, after becoming a fan of the Man from U.N.C.L.E., and later the Girl from U.N.C.L.E. I was going to be a spy. Unfortunately, spy jobs for schoolgirls back then were few and far between, so I had to settle on a fallback plan: elementary school. But there comes a point when a girl ages out—which meant no more playing spies at recess. I wandered a bit after that, trying to find myself throughout junior high and high school, where the kids I used to play spies with suddenly pretended they were too old for such games. It was during those formative years, however, where I found out that I was really good at something they were not. Daydreaming.
I could stare out the window and in ten seconds be on a different continent, even a different world. This is not the best trait to have should one fall into a career such as the one I fell into, that of a police officer. I quickly learned that I could be on a call, come across someone unusual or interesting, and in the space of time that it takes to read that person his rights, I was casting him as a character in a story. Unfortunately I had to tamp that desire, because it turns out that fiction in police writing is frowned upon. Severely. Especially when testifying in court.
It was, however, a problem I could solve. I decided to write about a fictional police officer, who got to say and do all the cool things I always wanted to—except that if I said them or did them, I’d get fired. I eventually retired that series, primarily because all the cases took place in San Francisco, and I really, really wanted to go to Europe and be able to legally write it off on my taxes. So I created a new series, and switched agencies, moving from San Francisco PD to the FBI, introducing a new protagonist, Sydney Fitzpatrick, a forensic artist/FBI agent.
While I’ve never been an FBI agent, nor played one on TV, I have worked as a forensic artist trained by the FBI, so I figured that counted for a partial credit, at least in the fictional arena. And since the FBI had a much bigger chance of picking up a case that might take them abroad, I could realistically create a story that is set in Europe, go there to research it, and get about 3 cents to the dollar back on the cost of my trip courtesy Uncle Sam. (Oh, and in case any IRS agents are mystery fans and reading this blog, that research trip resulted in The Bone Chamber in Rome, The Dark Hour in Amsterdam, and The Black List in England.)
Unfortunately, the closest I got to being a spy and fulfilling my childhood dream was working undercover as a cop. And while you might think that pretending to be a hooker doesn’t have the same cachet as being an international spy—well, you’d be right. Being an undercover hooker certainly had its moments (more acerbic than exciting), but it’s hardly something that looks good on a résumé. Hence my need to write fiction to fulfill that dream. Because the closest I’m going to get to becoming an international spy is to write about one.
Being a writer, however, is much safer. I get shot at a lot less than my protagonist.
How about you? What was your childhood dream?