Interview with Frederick Douglass Reynolds
Frederick Douglass Reynolds is a retired LA County Sheriff’s homicide sergeant. He was born in Rocky Mount, Virginia, and grew up in Detroit, Michigan where he became a petty criminal and was involved in gangs. He joined the US Marine Corps in 1979 to escape the life of crime that he seemed destined for. After a brief stint in Okinawa, Japan, he finished out his military career in southern California and ultimately became a police officer with the Compton police department. He worked there from 1985 until 2000 and then transferred to the sheriff’s department where he worked an additional seventeen years.
Frederick retired in 2017 with over seventy-five commendations including a Chief’s Citation, five Chief’s commendations, one Exemplary Service Award, two Distinguished Service Awards, two Distinguished Service Medals, one city of Carson Certificate of Commendation, three city of Compton Certificates of Recognition, one city of Compton Public Service Hero award, one California State Assembly Certificate of Recognition, two State Senate Certificates of Recognition, a County of Los Angeles Certificate of Commendation, one Meritorious Service Award, two city of Compton Employee of the Year Awards, and two California Officer of the Year awards. He lives in Southern California with his wife, Carolyn, and their daughter Lauren and young son, Desmond. They have six other adult children and nine grandchildren.
What is your favourite dragon in literature?
Lisbeth Salander’s dragon tattoo. Just kidding. Actually, I think my favourite dragon is Smaug, from The Hobbit.
Everyone has a ‘first novel’, even if many of them are a rough draft relegated to the bottom and back of your desk drawer (or your external harddrive!). Have you been able to reshape yours, or have you abandoned it for good?
Black, White, and Gray All Over is my first novel, but I definitely reshaped it over the years. There came a time early on that I knew I wanted to write a book, because I had seen so much misery and had experienced so much trauma. And this was even before I became a cop. I knew what the title was going to be, because that is what I felt my life had been. I messed around for a little while, jotting down ideas and notes on line-loose leaf paper that I kept in a green colored binder with the title written on a post-it affixed to the front. But I put it away when life got in the way. When two of my colleagues were murdered in 1993, I knew that I would write about that night one day. When I retired in 2017, I started writing again, only now the murders weren’t going to be the focal point of the book. They were certainly going to be a huge part of it, though, as they were such a seminal point in my life.
Over the years, what would you say has improved significantly in your writing?
Being able to hold the reader. For years as a police officer and then as a Homicide Detective, especially as a detective, writing is a huge part of the job. You have to be able to convey the story to the district attorney. What you write may one day be read and discussed in the Chambers of the Supreme Court. I worked hard on my writing, being as descriptive and detailed as possible. Before I became a cop, my ideas were a bit jumbled and in disarray.
Some authors are able to pump out a novel a year and still be filled with inspiration. Is this the case for you, or do you like to let an idea percolate for a couple of years in order to get a beautiful novel?
Well, my first novel was drawn from true-life experiences. I do know whether writing about yourself is easier, or harder. I do know that I cried several times while writing this book. I think the next book will be easier. I’m going to write a science-fiction crime novel, I think. But its going to have to get put on the backburner. A long-retired detective, who is approaching 80 years old, just dumped about 300 pages of handwritten notes about his life on me, and asked my if I could ‘fix’ it for him. So, I guess I’m going to be a ghost-writer, first. It will probably take me a year to get his notes straightened out and typed up. But I love him, and I am going to do it for him because I know how expensive ghost-writers can be.
I have heard of writers that could only write in one place – then that cafe closed down and they could no longer write! Where do you find yourself writing most often, and on what medium (pen/paper or digital)?
I won’t have that problem. I love to get up early in the morning, make a cup of black coffee and have a slice of cheese and toast in my backyard while looking at the hummingbirds feed. I named two specific ones ‘George’ and ‘Orwell’. I can easily identify them because one has red on his chest and the other one has yellow. After eating, I will break out my lap-top and begin typing. I do love writing with a thick lead pencil, but my hands and fingers stiffen rather quickly and start hurting so I don’t do it as much anymore.
Before going on to hire an editor, most authors use beta-readers. How do you recruit your beta-readers, and choose an editor? Are you lucky enough to have loving family members who can read and comment on your novel?
I didn’t have a beta-reader. There was so much that I didn’t know about this business! My wife, although she has infinitely more education that I do, doesn’t really like to read. She prefers watching sports. However, she would read certain parts of what I wrote. When it held her attention, I knew that perhaps I had written something worth reading. I knew I had her when I caught her crying as she read one part.
The publication company that I went with did editing, and we went back and forth for about two months with suggestions and changes. It was really important to me that I had the book published on August 18, because that is the date my father died and the book is dedicated to him. I got the last version back from the publishers about four or five days before, and I saw four mistakes. I asked the publishing company if the could correct those mistakes and still have the book published by the 18th. When they said it couldn’t be done, I told them to go with it as is. It was more important to me to have that publication date than it was to correct those mistakes. They cost me an award from Feathered Quill, it turns out. Someone who works for them told me that my book was one of the best ones in the contest, but their editors are sticklers for grammar. She commented on a mistake that I didn’t even catch: A quotation mark is missing from the back cover!
I walk past bookshops and am drawn in by the smell of the books – ebooks simply don’t have the same attraction for me. Does this happen to you, and do you have a favourite bookshop? Or perhaps you are an e-reader fan… where do you source most of your material from?
I love physical books. I have hundreds of them at my house, and even more in storage. E-books just don’t hold the appeal for me, either. I guess you and I are relics of the past. I don’t like the big box bookstores. I like the mom and pop bookstores, where there are one or two people working, both wearing eyeglasses, and at least one of them sitting behind the counter next to a cash register that is surrounded by dusty old books with yellowing pages. Unfortunately, these stores are fading fast and they are hard to find now. I always spend at least fifty dollars whenever I go in one.
I used to find myself buying books in only one genre (fantasy) before I started writing this blog. What is your favourite genre, and have your tastes changed over time?
My favorite genre is fantasy and science-fiction novels. I am a big fan of George RR Martin and Aldous Huxley. I worked in True Crime for so, so many years, and I would often escape from that sobering reality by reading fantasy and science fiction. Although a graphic novel, the Watchmen by Alan Moore covers both genres and is one of my favorite books.
Social media is a big thing, much to my disgust! I never have enough time myself to do what I feel is a good job. What do you do?
I use a delightful lady by the name of Monica Kelly, and she has created a very nice author’s page for me. I chose to publish my book with Mindstirmedia, and part of that package included the services of Monica for a few months. Other than that, I post information about my book on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I spend quite a bit of time on my phone now, much to the dismay of my wife, who gets livid if she is talking to me and I pick up my phone and start scrolling. And understandably so.
Answering interview questions can often take a long time! Tell me, are you ever tempted to recycle your answers from one to the next?
Boy, am I! But I realize that hardcore readers are a close-knit bunch and tend to read up on everything about an author they like or a new author that they want to get to know. Because of that, even though a lot of interview questions are similar if not the same, I try my best to give the same answers if only phrased differently.
Thanks so much for your time, Frederick! True crime always facinates me, and it’s fantastic to have you add more diversity to the books out there.