Brian Thiem posting today.
One of the cool things about being an author is getting fan mail—or mostly fan email these days. Last week, I received this email from Cynthia:
I know you retired from the Oakland Police Department some years ago. After you moved to Connecticut, you took MFA writing at WCSU. Now you have 2 published books under your belt and another on the way. So my question is: Are you a retired police detective who writes, or are you a retired police detective in his second career as an author? And if asked, do you say you are retired or say you are an author? Maybe you divulge nothing about yourself and tell people to mind their damn business. Though you might like to say that, your publicist’s voice in your head would be telling you to play nice. At least I would imagine.
This question of who or what am I has swirled around my head ever since I retired and started writing. Although I think many authors have some “title” confusion, it’s probably stronger for those of us who had previous professions with a strong identity.
The motto of the Retired Oakland Police Officers Association is Once OPD, Always OPD. Most retired career police officers understand this. Even though we no longer have police powers, we will remain a cop until the day we die. Although I don’t necessarily share all of this with everyone who asks me what I do (when you retire in your fifties, everyone assumes you “do” something for a living), in my heart, I am still a cop, or at a minimum a retired cop.
I was in my second year of the MFA (Master of Fine Arts—Creative Writing) program before I had considered calling myself a writer. Since I was meeting people in the industry, I even got business cards with the word “writer” after my name. When my first book came out, I could no longer deny I was an author, but it still sounds rather pretentious to me to say I’m an author when people ask what I do.
Maybe the only thing more pretentious would be saying I’m a novelist. I imagine sticking my nose in the air as I say it. I probably shouldn’t feel that way since those titles are accurate, but I still think of myself as a soldier and a police officer who started writing after he retired, got lucky, and found a publisher who wanted me to write a series.
When my publisher approved the book cover for Shallow Grave last year, I figured it was time to get new business cards. There’s no mention of me being a writer, author, or novelist on the front of my card. I might hand my card to someone to plan a future round of golf for, instance or dinner with me and my wife. When they later call or email, they’ll often blurt out, “Oh, my gosh, you’re an author,” because the back of my card shows my book covers. But if I’m talking with someone about my writing, I can hand him a card with the back facing up. My publicist would be proud.
I now live in an area with many retired people. Most seldom talk about their previous professions. But they all know I used to be a cop and am now an author. It was impossible to slip into my new community quietly when my publisher was promoting my debut novel in 2015 with articles in the local papers and magazines. At parties and social functions, I’m often introduced as “the author,” which still sounds weird to me, but as Cynthia imagined, I graciously acknowledge that identity because I could be meeting a future reader.
To answer Cynthia’s question: if asked, do you say you’re retired or you’re an author? Well, it depends on the setting and to whom I’m talking. Most of the time, I prefer to be just plain Brian, a guy who lives in the house on the corner, walks his dog every day, plays golf poorly, and is married to the prettiest woman in the community. Oh, yeah, and I used to be a cop and a soldier and now write a mystery series.