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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Inside The NYPD Bomb Squad Series With J.E. Fishman

Perhaps you have read my ramblings in book reviews or Facebook posts or heard me refer to the works of J.E. Fishman in person. But who is J.E. Fishman? What is this series based upon the NYPD Bomb Squad all about?

Well, maybe you should read further.

Let me introduce you to the worldly man himself, J.E. Fishman. He is no stranger to the pen...or in today's words...the keyboard. You can check him out on his website and Amazon if you wish to delve further into his background and certainly to explore his other writings. He is an interesting person and I found his website to be quite a window into his life.

I have never met Mr. Fishman, but I have found all of our communication to portray him as a gentleman, and an inquisitive and forthright writer. Additionally, I would call him a "thrill master" as well--that is not an insult, but points to a moniker I give him by his passion in thrill seeking, action-packed adventures-- which I surmise from his fictional books.

  Photo Credit: Amazon.com-Author's page

I found this interview not only insightful into J.E. Fishman's NYPD Bomb Squad series, but also poignant. Not in a sad or painful way by any means, but his words were moving and passionate to me. I can sense he has a keen interest in attention to details and an investigative sense about him. He has a backstory regarding how he came to write a series about the NYPD Bomb Squad. Not only did he dive right into researching and learning about the squad, he has a technical advisor. I believe he has a high regard for NYPD Bomb Squad Commander, Lt.  Mark Torre. I think I can say that with conviction and confidence.

Fargo: What inspired you to start a series around a bomb squad?

J.E. Fishman: Ah, there’s a story. We have a small apartment in New York’s West Village. Two and a half blocks from the apartment is the back of the local police precinct with a pair of garage doors that say Bomb Squad on them. We walk past there a lot and I figured, “Oh, this is one of the bomb squad stations.” Then, one summer night coming home from dinner, the doors stood open. There were a bunch of guys sitting by the response trucks smoking cigars. We got to talking, they showed us a robot and introduced us to one of the dogs, and I came to learn that this wasn’t “a” bomb squad, it was “the” Bomb Squad. Several dozen techs covering all of New York. I started to wonder whether anyone had delved into these guys dramatically, and I found out that the answer was no. They’ve sort of received cameos in fiction, but no full exploration. So I decided to write the series.

Fargo: Tell me more about The Concise History of the NYPD Bomb Squad:  Dynamite?

J.E. Fishman: The NYPD Bomb Squad is the oldest in the world, founded as the Italian Squad at the instigation of Theodore Roosevelt when he was a police commissioner. Since all the guys are so intense about the history of their squad, I decided to do some research on it--even though the books are contemporary. What I learned was pretty fascinating. There have been times when hundreds of bombs were going off in Manhattan per year. During World War I German saboteurs were attempting to--and sometimes succeeding at--using bombs to disrupt shipping coming out of New York Harbor. In the Teens, anarchists twice tried to blow up St. Patrick's Cathedral. In the Seventies, radicals were setting off bombs inside department stores and outside of office buildings. Crazy times.

The  precursor to the NYPD Bomb Squad began in response to bombings by organized crime extortionists of the so-called Black Hand around the turn of the last century. They would send notes to successful business owners demanding money under bomb threat. They blew up the most successful Italian-American bank (on Elizabeth Street) and drove it to ruin. They extorted the famous tenor Enrico Caruso for money. This stuff is touched upon in the third of the series, The Long Black Hand. But I thought it would be fun to give people the straight historical material, too, which is why I wrote the nonfiction book.

Fargo: Has your view of the inside workings of law enforcement changed since consulting with Lt. Torre? Any increased or different appreciation for the work? How so? How about for specialty assignments such as special tactics? Any differences from your expectations?

J.E. Fishman: I didn't start with a particularly well-informed view of the inner workings of law enforcement. Before I began working on this series, my entire personal contact with law enforcement amounted to a couple of tickets for moving violations! So any notions I had came from “public” sources: books, newspapers, television, movies. Out in the real world, if we law-abiding civilians interact with cops at all, ninety-nine percent of the time it’s beat cops in uniforms. The elite units like the NYPD Bomb Squad are like a foreign country. We sort of know what they do in the abstract, but we don’t know in detail how they do it. Fortunately for me—as an author and as a person—through Mark Torre I got a passport to that foreign country.

The biggest thing I’ve come to appreciate about the work of the Bomb Squad—and I’m sure this applies to all law enforcement, but especially to all elite squads—is to what degree cops like this have to hold opposing views in their heads at the same time. For example, they are well aware that what they’re doing has great importance for society, not to mention for the people whose lives they save. And yet, they also know not only that most of their work will go unacknowledged but that success is often defined by the very fact of having their work go unacknowledged by the public. After all, the media only tends to pay attention for any sustained length of time when the bomb goes off. No one wants to be famous for being the guy who got killed defusing the bomb.

Another of this psychological balancing act is how the bomb tech has to be calmest—literally have the clearest thinking and the steadiest hands—at the moment of greatest tension. You have to know in some part of your soul how dangerous the situation is while at the same time putting the danger completely out of your mind. The NYPD Bomb Squad is unique in many ways, both in relation to other specialty units and even compared to other bomb squads. (I should hasten to add, however, that being unique in many ways doesn’t mean being unique in all ways. Every bomb squad in the country, for example, undergoes similar training at the FBI’s Hazardous Devices School.) What makes their jobs unique is not just the fact that New York remains in some sense the No. 1 target for terrorists in the U.S., but also, the very reasons that’s so make for increased challenges: the density and the constant media attention.

The biggest surprise for me was learningand I say this with all due respecthow seriously these guys take their work. They’re not just trying to get through the day and punch the clock. There’s a total embrace. It’s a kind of fraternity and they really do have one another’s backs. The Bomb Squad is the only police unit I know of that suspends the notion of rank in the presence of a known threat. If you’re the guy closest to the bomb, you’re in charge of that scene, even if there's a guy who outranks you standing five hundred feet away.

Fargo: What have you learned about the NYPD Bomb Squad since consulting with a technical advisor? 

J. E. Fishman: Well, first off, since my technical consultant is the active commander of the unit, I’ve learned all that a person in that position has to juggle. One second he’s fighting the bureaucracy for more equipment and the next second he’s trying to keep New York from getting blown up. Then he’s advising a terrorism task force about precautionary procedures and an hour later he’s counseling one of his guys who’s in the midst of personal problems. He’s like an older brother and an advocate and a boss all at the same time. And meanwhile, of course, he has to maintain his own edge in the craft, so to speak…maintaining his own level of expertise in a highly technical field.

Besides that, well, in a sense it’s all there in the books: the specialized equipment, the procedures. The most impressive thing to me is how dedicated the detectives are (and they’re all detectives). When they’re not out on a case, they study the techniques of bomb makers around the world, trying to stay out ahead of them. They understand the science and mechanics of bomb making. They also generally have a great sense of the history of their unit. Not surprisingly, perhaps, there have been several instances in which multiple family members have served in the squad.
Fargo: What is next in the works after Bottle Rocket?

J.E. Fishman: The series will continue, although not at the torrid pace I set last year. I haven’t even worked out what Bottle Rocket is about exactly, although I have some ideas. Meanwhile, I just finished a horror novel under a pen name, which will be shopped by my agent early this year. Then, too, I want to write the long-overdue second book in the Phu Goldberg series, Ruby Red Dead. I have several concepts for standalone thrillers, too. And right now I’m working on a historical screenplay based upon a friend’s novel about a riot of fugitive slaves in 1851.

Fargo: You have great character development and details to draw the reader in. What do you want readers to capture most from your books?

J.E. Fishman: Wow. Thank you for noticing that. There are a ton of series where the main character never changes. And, although many series like that are quite commercially successful, for me that style eventually leads to cartoon characters. I wanted this series to be about flawed heroes. Not the kind whose supposed flaws are all about that one-in-a-million time when their whole family was murdered by a serial killer, but the kind who are flawed because all humans are flawed. And because we’re flawed, we may or may not improve ourselves, but there’s always something to learn about ourselves and how to get along in life. And, again, it doesn’t mean you have to change deep down, but that learning about life is the character arc. And doing your job well in spite of your flaws is what makes you a hero, in my opinion.

So that’s what I want people to take away most of all. Real heroes aren’t perfect people. They’re in many ways the opposite of perfect. But what makes them different from you and me is their willingness to set everything aside and overcome those imperfections at risk of their own lives.

Fargo: Anything you would like to add?

J. E. Fishman: Thank you for having me and for being a fan of my books. With the new year, I hope book readers will resolve to support their favorite authors by paying full price occasionally for their books and not only focus on the flash sales and the freebies. Even at full price, a great novel is a great value.

Fargo: And I, as well, agree. Thank you, Mr. Fishman, for opening the door to your books and for such an honest and revealing interview. I am anxious to read The Concise History of the NYPD Bomb Squad:  Dynamite?-- my purchase waiting for me! You can also get it in paperback as well which I prefer. Check out Amazon for J.E. Fishman's entire collection of works!    


1 comment:

Old NFO said...

I'll add him to my read list! :-)