Caged Spirits — An Interview with John Joseph Stanley

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John Joseph Stanley has worked in law enforcement and corrections as a peace officer for over thirty years.  He he is the author of over sixty articles on law enforcement history and tactics and has won awards for his fiction and historical nonfiction. 

In addition to continuing to write fiction, John currently writes a column for the website CorrectionsOne.com, contributes to the website PoliceOne.com and writes a tactical history column for the California Association of Tactical Officers (CATO) quarterly publication CATO News.   He is also the principle contributor to multiple law enforcement related Facebook pages including:  The Los Angeles County Sheriffs’ Museum, The Los Angeles County Peace Officers’ Memorial, and Tactical Science.

The depth and breadth of his accomplishments continue to astound me–in particular his fascinating novel CAGED SPIRITS. It seems like it was ages ago that he revealed that he to me that he was working on a novel. When I asked him what it was about he offered me only a few tantalizing bits  to ponder: Nazis, the supernatural, and law enforcement. As I discovered after reading it, It is also about love, loss, and redemption.

Recently, John was gracious enough to grant me an interview.

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Joan Renner: John, I want to congratulate you on your first novel, CAGED SPIRITS! I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s a unique book which defies categorization. It combines the best elements of mystery, thriller, and horror fiction. What inspired you to write the book?

John Joseph Stanley: Thank you, Joan. First, I want to thank you for interviewing me and sharing my book with your followers. Caged Spirits reflects my interests and professional experience. As a reader, I’m a big fan of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, J.K. Rowling, Tolkien, and C.S. Lewis, among others. But I also love the works of Tom Clancy, Vince Flynn and Brad Thor. Also, for the better part of thirty years I’ve worked in law enforcement. A lot those years were spent either working in jails or teaching those who worked in jails. Caged Spirits is the outflow of all those tributaries merging into a larger river flowing downstream from my Christian world view.

JR: Although set in the present day, the narrative of CAGED SPIRITS is driven by events from the past, in particular WWII. Is the book historically accurate?

JJS: Yes, I have a Master’s Degree in American legal history and have published articles in many articles historical books and journals. One of the lesser known parts of the Lend Lease agreement between the U.S. and Great Britain in 1941 called for the U.S. to train RAF pilots. Lone Eagle field is the doppelgänger for the very real Polaris Flight Academy at War Eagle field located in Lancaster, California. There were also prisoner of war camps for Axis soldiers all over the U.S. and Canada. Many were attached to existing military bases and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department’s aero squadron before the war did consist mostly of former military pilots.

JR: I read a lot of crime fiction and I know that most authors have to consult experts when it comes to the finer points of handling lethal and non-lethal weapons. How were you able to bring such remarkable authenticity to the scenes in which weapons were used?

JJS: In my case, I was my own expert. I’m currently a lieutenant on the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and command a platoon for one of our four Department riot control teams. I’ve taught less lethal weapons and jail riot and disturbance tactics for almost twenty years. I was also briefly a Senior Master Instructor for TASER International. So I know how all of TASER’s electronic control devices (ECDs) function. Having taken multiple Taser hits over the years, I also know well how the effects of a Taser feel.

john stanley taser

John’s knowledge of lethal and non-lethal weapons comes from his real life experiences. Here he is taking a Taser hit!

JR: Were the tactics employed to contain violent situations in the jail accurate? I found those scenes heart-stopping!

JJS: Yes. I’m very familiar with responding to all types of jail disturbances. In addition to my current collateral duties as a platoon commander for our riot control team, I spent almost ten years of my career teaching the LASD’s Custody Incident Command School. This week long class was designed to teach newly promoted sergeants and lieutenants how to command tactical units in any type of jail disturbance. We even did a shorter version of the class for command officers. I’ve also written a column on jail tactics for several years for the website CorrectionsOne.com and recently I started writing a quarterly tactical history column for the CATO News, the magazine of the California Association of Tactical Officers of which I’m a member.

JR: Your protagonist, Gary Conner, personifies the traits associated with the term “compassionate warrior”. Would you mind explaining to readers what that term means?
JJS: It is the job of law enforcement personnel to be firm but fair. This is especially true when working in a correctional setting. It is not our job to punish. Being incarcerated is punishment enough. Still, inmates expect us to maintain control. Most prefer this. Gary Conner reflects this view. Unfortunately, he finds himself in the middle of extraordinary circumstances when he arrives at Lomax. So his compassion is tempered with his need for decisive forceful action.

JR: Is there anything that you would like to share with readers about the story or its setting.

JJS: At its heart, Caged Spirits is a story about redemption and forgiveness. I set it in a part of the country that is equal parts enchantment and isolation. Those elements are in the story as well. I challenged myself to write a novel that I could throw down with satisfaction next to books of some of the authors I read. I’m very pleased with how Caged Spirits turned out.

JR: Are you planning to write another novel?

JJS: Actually, my next novel is already written. It’s titled Racing Apollo. I’m in the process of rewriting it now. My main character is another Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputy, but this one experienced a significant episode in his youth that turned his adult life into a mess. In the story, he is given a very unique opportunity to correct this. Like Caged Spirits, Racing Apollo also involves malevolent dark forces at work to tear down my protagonist, but his biggest enemy is the one looking back at him in the mirror. This was a very fun novel to write. It is a road novel that involves time travel. It is actually two parallel stories that intersect over forty-five years apart. In one story my protagonist, at age ten, is reluctantly moving with his family from Buffalo, New York to Anaheim, California. In the other, his adult self is retracing the journey his family took across the country decades before. The original trip took place in July 1969. Specifically, between the 16th and 20th of July. The novel derives its title because my main character’s father tries to make a game of their move by saying they are racing Apollo 11 as it journeys toward the moon while they head west for California. Like most road novels, this one takes a while to tell and is quite a bit longer than Caged Spirits.

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Many thanks to John for the interview, and I’m already looking forward to his next novel.

CAGED SPIRITS is available Amazon (see right sidebar) and also through Barnes and Noble.

The Kept Girl — An Interview with Kim Cooper

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Kim Cooper and I have been friends for several years, and while she may be familiar to many of you for her tireless efforts on behalf of historic preservation in Los Angeles, she is also the brains behind the seminal Los Angeles crime-a-day blog THE 1947 PROJECT, Esotouric Bus Adventures, and endeavors such as the remarkable Los Angeles Visionaries Association which hosts monthly salons covering topics that will open your eyes and your mind.

Now, with today’s launch of THE KEPT GIRL, Kim may also add novelist to her list of accomplishments.

THE KEPT GIRL is set in Los Angeles during 1929 and it explores a demented cult of angel worshipers as they are investigated by oil company executive (and future novelist) Raymond Chandler, and a straight-arrow LAPD cop, Thomas James. Remarkably, Kim’s novel is based on a true and utterly deranged L.A. story which I know that you will enjoy. Her novel is available today on Amazon and I urge you to pick up a copy.

I also want to encourage you to follow Kim on Facebook and via social media at #keptgirlbt

To track the progress of Kim’s blog tour, on which Deranged L.A. Crimes is the first stop, go HERE.

Now, let’s get to the good stuff–earlier today Kim and I sat down to discuss her novel.

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Joan Renner: Congratulations on your first novel, The Kept Girl! I’m curious, there were so many esoteric religious groups and cults in L.A. during the 1920s — what was it about The Great Eleven that captured  your imagination and compelled you to write about it?

Kim Cooper: Thank you, Joan! I can still remember the moment I discovered the Great Eleven, while researching crimes for Esotouric’s Wild Wild West Side tour, which you co-hosted with me.

I was searching the historic “Los Angeles Times” archives for strange keywords, and because these folks were so deeply strange, an article about the discovery of the long-missing teenage priestess Willa Rhoads popped up immediately. There were so many
intriguing elements in that one story– weird rituals, financial fraud, the Santa Susana hills best known as the hideout of the Manson Family, runaway wives, divine resurrection, etc. — that I had to learn everything about the group. Six years later, here they are in a novel!

(Parenthetically, I hope you’re not offended that I kept the Great Eleven to myself for that crime bus tour and didn’t give you a chance to tell the tale. The truth of the matter is that I fell a bit in love with Willa, and didn’t want to share her. I think you understand the feeling.)

Joan Renner: I understand very well becoming attached to some of the people we run across in our research. I’m half in love with a crazy multiple murderer myself! But speaking of research, in your novel Ray refers to “the myth” of his relationship with Cissy. What inspired you to deviate from the romanticized version of their story that has so often been told?

Kim Cooper: Like many fans of the writer, I have long been charmed by the narrative of Ray’s deep affection for Cissy, despite their large age difference and her inability to fit in with his Hollywood colleagues. But when new research casts a fresh perspective on a familiar story, I’m always eager to see where truth and fiction meet.

A few years back Loren Latker, who maintains the Shamus Town website and who was instrumental in the successful legal plea to finally put Cissy Chandler’s forgotten cremains into her husband’s grave, set himself the task of going methodically through the chronological records of the County of Los Angeles for anything related to Raymond Chandler. These records are not digitally searchable, and no Chandler biographer had previously taken the time. Loren didn’t know what he might find, but like a panner for gold, thought it was worth looking.

Sure enough, he soon found a nugget: records from early 1930, documenting the formal separation of Ray and Cissy in their sixth year of marriage!

Since their marriage was breaking down at the exact time that the Great Eleven cult came into the public eye, if I was going to write truthfully about Raymond Chandler at home, troubles with Cissy had to be part of the story.

Joan Renner: In your novel Raymond Chandler’s relationship with his secretary, Muriel Fischer is a love story, but it is also the tale of a woman who discovers and embraces her independence. Would you mind telling the Deranged L.A. Crimes readers on whom Muriel is based?

Kim Cooper: The character of Muriel is inspired by our mutual friend, much missed, Dorothy Fisher. About twenty years after my book is set, the teenaged Dorothy was selected out of the secretarial pool at Paramount to be Chandler’s right hand girl. She had lovely, tender stories about their working relationship that she shared with us. These stories gave me insights into Chandler’s personality–and Dorothy’s character gave me insights into the kind of woman that Chandler was drawn to.

Joan Renner: All of the characters in your novel are finely drawn and fully realized portraits, and I sensed that you felt some affection even for the most reprehensible of them. I wonder, if you could be any character in The Kept Girl for one day who would you be?

Kim Cooper: Thank you, Joan– I’m glad you think so. Even before I thought about writing this novel, I worked hard seeking to understand the motivations of the various characters, to be better able to quickly describe their odd behaviors on the bus in a way that made sense to our passengers.

This is a very good question. Although I feel more of a personal affinity to other characters, if I could spend the day as one of them, I’d pick the policeman Tom James. My reasoning: he is the one person in the book who can move freely among all levels of society, and he visits all the most interesting locations.

As Tom, I could go from a basement speakeasy to the County Morgue, from police headquarters to Chandler’s oil company offices, from an off-limits downtown rooftop to a stranger’s parlor on Bunker Hill, and be welcomed wherever I went. Of course, first thing I’ll have to do when I get to 1929 Los Angeles is call in sick from my beat at 7th & Broadway. I don’t want to waste my one day as a time traveler helping people cross the street!

Joan Renner: Raymond Chandler and Thomas James seem to me to be a perfect one-two punch — the ideal crime solving duo. Do you have any plans to feature them in a future novel?

Kim Cooper: I’m definitely thinking about it, and looking for another old Los Angeles problem that might be suitable for their particular talents.

Joan Renner:  I’m glad to hear that you’re thinking about writing another novel — The Kept Girl is simply wonderful! I want to thank you, Kim, for spending time with Deranged L.A. Crimes. Do you have any parting thoughts on your novel, or anything else for that matter, that you’d like to share?

Kim Cooper: It’s been my pleasure. Thanks for having me, Joan. I can’t think of another site where I’d rather launch the February blog tour for “The Kept Girl” than “Deranged L.A. Crimes.” You and I have had so much fun over the past few years, blogging weird history and telling tales on the Esotouric bus, and bringing these forgotten Angelenos back into the spotlight. I hope your readers have enjoyed learning a bit about “The Kept Girl,” and look forward to returning the favor as blog tour host when YOUR book comes out!

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