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The Writing Life: Michael O’Keefe, Detective and Author of “Shot to Pieces”

What else is a retired NYPD detective supposed to do with his time?

Michael O'Keefe

Michael O’Keefe, a retired NYPD 1st Grade Detective, is now a novelist, blogger and commentator. For 24 years, he was on the same streets he describes in his first novel Shot to Pieces, introducing his alter ego, Padraig “Paddy” Durr, a brilliant yet troubled detective attempting to investigate a murder no one else wants solved. It’s an exciting roller coaster ride, a crime-thriller that rings true, as well it should. After all, O’Keefe has borrowed from over twenty years of personal experience to shape this well-written and detailed story that will satisfy the curiosity of any reader wanting to know how a true crime investigation operates, moves forward, and reaches its inevitable conclusion.

Michael O’Keefe came by his writing skills at an early age. Beginning in the eighth grade, he started experimenting with short fiction, essay writing, and poetry. He pursued creative writing through college, pausing for twenty-four years when he joined the NYPD. His writing from that point was confined to police reports. However, unlike other detectives, O’Keefe felt the need to write his investigative reports in a narrative style. Partly self-indulgent, he found he needed to write himself a story if he were to retain the information for the inevitable court proceedings. This style made for some interesting cross-examinations. He found it effective, even if his bosses didn’t. Some didn’t appreciate having to find a thesaurus to figure out what the hell he was talking about.

After retiring in 2010, O’Keefe picked up the pen again, so to speak. He began writing poetry and short fiction, publishing numerous stories and poems in a variety of literary magazines. He began writing Shot to Pieces in 2014, publishing in July of 2016. He has since completed a prequel, called A Reckoning in Brooklyn for which he is seeking agent representation. He is also halfway done with the sequel to Shot to Pieces, called Burnt to a Crisp.

We had to know what makes Michael O’Keefe tick, and why he became an author. Then we played the Proust Questionnaire with him to get his quickest responses!

Tell us about your latest book. What inspired you to write Shot to Pieces?

The book is the story of a contemporary, inner-city murder investigation. Much of the book is auto-biographical, however, I made it a novel because I didn’t want to be constrained by anything as mundane as the facts. I felt that by taking dramatic license I was able to tell a larger story with a greater truth. And truth be told, my wife Janet got tired of hearing me threaten to write a book. She told me to write the damned thing already. So, I did.

Is this based on a real case or cases and how did you choose what to share and what to leave out?

The central event of the story is based on a homicide case of mine from 2003. I updated it and changed the names to protect the guilty. Also, to prevent being sued. I have had quite enough of courtrooms.

You were a police officer for 24 years. What prompted you to join the force? What changes did you see in the NYPD during those 24 years?

I had been bouncing around several New York colleges in a less than energetic pursuit of an English degree when my father became gravely ill. I needed steady employment to help my mother out of financial hardship. A year later I entered the Police Academy. As far as the police department changing? In my experience, the NYPD reinvents itself every six years or so. The job I retired from is unrecognizable from what it is now. And the difference between the job I came on and the present iteration is otherworldly.

Where are you most comfortable writing? What sparks your creativity?

At my kitchen table. A cup of coffee and a blank page.

What are you favorite types of books to read?

I prefer fiction, but I read everything.

Tell us 3 interesting or crazy things about you that will introduce you us.

Since I have retired, my wife says my life consists of three things; gym, tan, laundry. She’s not wholly incorrect. I coach football at the middle and high school level, terrorizing a new generation of youth every couple of years. I intend to live forever, and I am not at all dissuaded by the fact that no one ever has.

You love Shakespeare. What is your favorite quote? Why?

It’s a tie. From Hamlet, “When sorrows come, they come not as single spies, but in battalions.” And, the Agincourt soliloquy from Henry V; “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers…” I think the why is self-explanatory.

What are the best and worst parts of being a writer?

Writing is the best and easiest part. Promoting yourself is difficult, bordering on maddening.

What is your advice for other writers?

I defer to Hemingway. Write drunk. Edit sober.

What was your favorite part of being a detective?

Interrogations. There is nothing as satisfying as getting some miscreant to tell you all about the murder he committed, even when he knows he shouldn’t.

What is the first book that made you cry?

Shot to Pieces, I cried all the way through that. Just kidding. Probably the Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton. Stay gold, Pony Boy.

Does writing energize or exhaust you?

Bit of both, I should think.

Have you ever gotten reader’s (not writer’s) block? How did you start rediscovering books to love again?

I re-read classics; Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Heller, Steinbeck and Roth to name a few.

Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?

Not a good one. What could be compelling about weakly felt emotion?

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

As an economic consideration, write shorter!

What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?

James Joyce, Thomas Hardy and Thomas Wolfe. And actually, I didn’t like Shakespeare until I saw it performed. Once you hear it read correctly, you get it.

What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

The first time I heard the Gettysburg Address. I dare you not to be moved by that. In my opinion, the single greatest piece of American oratory—hands down.

What is your next book? Are you continuing with Paddy Durr? What will be different?

The next book is a prequel. Paddy will appear as a boy in one chapter. The third book will be another Paddy Durr case. A Reckoning in Brooklyn takes place in Bushwick, Paddy’s neighborhood, through the fifties, sixties and seventies. It is rife with gangsters, violence, abuse and corruption. Tasty, no?

Now for the Proust Questionnaire: This is a questionnaire about personality. Its name is derived from the responses that were given by Marcel Proust (a French writer) in 1890, to these questions.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? With my wife on a beach in Mexico, with a good book.

What is your greatest fear? Being
irrelevant
.

What is the
trait you most deplore in yourself?

My awesomeness, it can be excessive. Just kidding. I hate that I procrastinate
sometimes.

What is the
trait you most deplore in others?
Falseness.

Which living
person do you most admire?

Retired 1st Grade Detective Genaro Georgio. Big
Daddy
was the detective I hoped to grow up to be. He’ll tell you I made it, but I’m not
even close.

What is your
greatest extravagance?
I only wear Under Armour boxer briefs, and I own lots
of them. At twenty bucks a pair,
that is an extravagance.

What is your
current state of mind?
Tragically bemused.

What do you
consider the most overrated virtue?
Candor. People don’t always need to know what
others think are wrong with them.
That’s just selfish over-sharing.
When I am told that “someone tells it like it is”, I’m reasonably
sure it’s being told to someone who doesn’t want to hear it.

On what occasion
do you lie?

When I sleep. Usually on my back.

What do you most
dislike about your appearance?
My fleeing
hair.

Which living
person do you most despise?
I will not be sharing information
like that for fear that my enemies will find out I’m coming for them.

What is the
quality you most like in a man?
Self-reliance.

What is the
quality you most like in a woman?
Strength.

Which words or
phrases do you most overuse?
I use the word “that” way too
much.

What or who is
the greatest love of your life?
My wife, Janet. She is the Bomb!

When and where
were you happiest?
April 16, 1993, Holy Redeemer church in
Freeport, NY.

Which talent
would you most like to have?
I wish I could play the guitar
and write a song like Bob Dylan.

If you could
change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I would undo the hurts I caused to
others over the years. Apologizing
sometimes isn’t enough. I want some
atonement. And the hair. Did I
mention the hair?

What do you
consider your greatest achievement?
After my family, it was making 1st
Grade detective, but surviving all the gunfights was pretty good too.

If you were to
die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
My wife’s
dog. No one will ever be treated
better.

Where would you
most like to live?
Villa on the beach on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.

What is your
most treasured possession?
Not really into possessions,
maybe my pickup truck. Maybe the underwear.

What do you
regard as the lowest depth of misery?
I can only speculate, but I
imagine it would be the death of one’s child.

What is your
favorite occupation?
Toss up between novelist and Detective. But I’m only allowed the one these days.

What is your
most marked characteristic?
No better friend and no worse
enemy.

What do you most
value in your friends?
Loyalty and honesty.

Who are your
favorite writers?
Too many to
mention. Presently, I am a big fan
of Nelson Demille, Michael Connelly, and Lee Child.

Who is your hero
of fiction?

Yossarian from A Catch-22, by
Joseph Heller.

Which historical
figure do you most admire?
Abe Lincoln. Up from nothing and a tough
sumbitch. Brilliant too.

Who are your
heroes in real life?
The cops and detectives I worked with. Amazing human beings.

What are your
favorite names?

Padraig Durr and Mairead Durr, what else?

What is it that
you most dislike?
Lima beans.
They suck! They are, however,
necessary.

What is your
greatest regret?

Not being a U.S. Marine.

How would you
like to die?

Very, very old.

What is your motto? “Illegitimi
non carborundum.”
It means in
Latin, Don’t let the bastards grind
you down
. I have it tattooed
across the back of my right shoulder.

Michael O’Keefe’s book Shot to Pieces may be found on Amazon.com, B&N.com and at bookstores such as Turn of the Corkscrew and The Mysterious Bookshop.

You can read more of Mike’s writing, or listen to some of his interviews at his website https://www.michaelokeefeauthor.com/

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