Kicked in the Head: Writing Advice from James O. Born/James O’Neal

James O. Born is a law enforcement officer and a writer.  He’s also a native Floridian.  Those three things add up to award-winning crime novels set mostly in the Sunshine State.  

Born’s prose has a little bit of the poetry of James W. Hall‘s, the lunacy of Carl Hiassen‘s, and the muscle of Randy Wayne White‘s.  But Born adds layer upon layer of realism, drawn mostly from his years on duty.

Recently, under the pseudonym James O’Neal, Born has written The Human Disguise and The Double Human (forthcoming in June from Tor), both of which are post-apocalyptic science fiction set in a near-future Miami. 

As a fellow Floridian, I picked up The Human Disguise with both excitement and trepidation.  The Florida in Born’s crime novels is so real, so true that I feared he would predict an equally true future in his science fiction.  The result is terrifyingly feasible, and one heck of a good read.

Recently, I asked Born about his double life as a cop and a writer.

Jones:  You’ve been shot with a jacketed hollow-point by W. E. B. Griffin, with an arrow by Michael Connelly, and been called “Bill the FDA Agent” by David Hagberg…  those comments aside, what have been some of the most helpful comments you’ve received on fiction-writing?

Born/O’Neal:  My two careers share one common element: Everyone you meet on the street has advice for both writing and police work.  The one piece of advice I got years ago they can be applied to both is, “Don’t be a dumbass.”  If you can live by that simple motto, life and work are a lot easier.

As far as writing specifically I take it very seriously and study other writers as well as the craft of writing itself.  I also listen to my editors and work hard never to make the same error twice.  So that I hope, with each book, I become a better writer.  It all starts with character.  The plot must develop organically from what the character would do based on his history and the situation in which he has been dropped.

For aspiring writers I cannot stress enough the need to read everything possible.

Jones:  Are there any other similarities between working as a law enforcement officer and working as a writer?

Born/O’Neal:  Everyone thinks they know how to do your job.  It’s not until they get kicked in the head in a fight that they realize maybe they don’t know exactly what they’re doing.  Just as when they get kicked in the head (figuratively) by an agent or editor.  It takes a little time to realize they may not know exactly what they are doing.


Jeremy L. C. Jones is a freelance writer, editor, and part-time professor.  Jones is a frequent contributor to Clarkesworld Magainze.  He is also the director of Shared Worlds, a creative writing and world-building camp that he and Jeff VanderMeer designed in 2006.

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  1. Pingback: As Good As You Possibly Can: James O. Born on Novel Writing « Booklife

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