Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Narco-Traffickers, Murders & Mexican Cartels: All in a day's work for cop-turned-writer C.L. Swinney

By Mark Young
Author Chris Swinney—writing as C.L. Sweeney—pens stories drawn from his own experiences. His day job is catching bad guys and whenever he can grab a few extra moments—he writes about them. Chris’ non-writing job is as a detective with a sheriff’s office in California. He has been loaned out to work on a Department of Justice task force focusing on drug trafficking and violent crimes. As an author, he writes crime thrillers, his debut novel Gray Ghost released a few weeks ago and his  second novel Collectors coming out later this year. It is always refreshing to read fiction written by someone who has lived the life—you know the cop-stuff is dead on. Chris is one of those writers.

Mark: Chris, thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to join us here on Hook’em & Book’em. Tell us a little bit about your day job as a detective with the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office in California.

Chris: First, thanks for having me on Hook’em & Book’em. Now, a little bit about my job. I’m assigned to a DOJ Task Force as a representative of the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office. We basically do everything, from street level dealers and crimes against people to large scale narcotics and homicide investigations. This basically means we try to plan our days, but normally something else pops up that needs to be handled.

Mark:  As a crime fiction writer, I am highly interested in your expertise in cell phone forensics. On television and in the movies, viewers have grown accustomed to having law enforcement use cell phone technology to track down and catch bad guys. Everything from retrieving cell phone conversations to backtracking a person’s movement based upon tower pings and other contrivances. Tell us where reality leaves off and fantasy begins with cell phone forensics. What does law enforcement hope to gain from cell phone forensic? 

Chris: Without giving up too much information, I’d say cell phone forensics has gotten better and has led to solving crimes. Some of the stuff you see on TV is a little exaggerated, but I can tell someone with a cell phone forensic background has schooled them on what to do and say. Law enforcement is always behind in this technology, however, and we struggle with knowing others (NSA and secret squirrels) have the ability to assist local law enforcement, but they choose not to share the technology.  

Mark:  You are a narcotics detective assigned to work a task force operation with the Department of Justice. Tell us about these duties. Who do you team up with? Who are your general targets—street level traffickers, organized crime groups, Mexican cartels?

Chris: We team up with anyone who asks us for help or we work together as one large team. Some days we can’t get to our own work because major issues spring up, but, it’s satisfying when we’re successful. Among the other interesting things we do, I get to process clandestine labs, which helps keep the community safer. We also work organized crime groups, cartels, and essentially anyone doing bad things from San Francisco down to Monterey.

Mark:  What do you see as major drug trafficking trends? Years ago, cocaine exploded on the scene and flooded the market. A short time later, meth became a serious problem within our communities, later morphing into crystal meth. And heroin, which has plagued us forever, is always lurking out there looking for more victims—i.e., tragic death of Hunger Games star Phillip Seymour Hoffman last month. What are you seeing now as an emerging threat to our communities?

Chris:  I hate to say this, but ALL the drugs are on the streets in an alarming amount. In the San Francisco Bay Area, crystal methamphetamine is probably the most used and seen, but recently I found two kilos of cocaine on a guy, so you can’t dismiss cocaine. We have young people using heroin because it’s cheaper than OxyContin. And, we know heroin is being used, but we tend to focus on the crystal methamphetamine. As far as a trend, I’d say we’re not getting the support we need from the community or the people with the money these days. Having said that, we don’t give up and we continue to try to make the surrounding communities safer. Not really an “emerging” threat, but one that needs to be discussed, is the rampant abuse of pharmaceutical pills. 

Mark: As part of drug trafficking investigations, you are sometimes required to use wire taps to gather evidence. Explain to our readers the reality of this investigative technique, its limitations, and how it differs from what we see on television or in the movies.

Chris: The wire taps I’ve worked have been wild, from complex narco trafficking to murder for hire. However, they are very difficult to obtain and we tend to keep the entire process a secret. As far as the TV shows or movies I’ve seen featuring wire taps, they’ve been a little off. We don’t “flip a switch” or snap a finger and start hearing phone calls. It takes months to develop these types of cases.

Mark: Let’s switch subjects and talk about your writing life. Last
year, you came out with your debut novel, Gray Ghost, a crime thriller that takes place in the Bahamas where your main characters discover their fishing guides died in a mysterious explosion. Give our readers a little taste of what to expect?

Chris: I’ve always had a passion for the outdoors and law enforcement, so I took personal experiences and what I see every day and wrote a novel. I wrote inverted, that is, the reader knows fairly early on who the bad guy is, but I leave enough doubt and concern to provide a climatic ending.

Mark: How did you come up with the idea for this plot?

Chris: While flying into Andros, Bahamas, I noticed several downed planes on the tiny runway. I asked the locals about the planes and quickly learned about the narcotic trafficking occurring on the island headed to Miami. I interviewed and spoke to law enforcement, coast guard, and locals. Then, I just mulled the idea for years while life sort of took over. Fast forward eight years and I get into law enforcement-eventually working narcotics. It took four years for the novel to get published.

Mark: I would imagine your day job takes a big bite out of your time. What kind of writing schedule do you follow?

Chris: My writing schedule is as chaotic as my job. I write any time I can. Sometimes I speak out loud in my car into my cell phone recorder when I’m sitting on surveillance. When I get home, I help with the kids and try to write after that. When I have something that needs to be completed or an upcoming deadline, I buckle down and get it done.

Mark: What is your next writing project? Where are you in this process?

Chris: The next novel in the Bill Dix series is called Collectors. It’s written and I’m editing it now. I was able to feature a mentor of mine in the novel, Koti Fakava, who passed away unexpectedly leaving his wife and five kids. I’m donating the proceeds from Collectors to Koti’s family. I can’t describe how excited I am about this project. I’ve been able to get some great support, and the book is contracted. It should be out sometime in August.

Mark: Since you have one novel under your belt, what have you learned about the publishing and marketing business? Are there some things you might change or do differently this next time out?

Chris: I’ve learned quite a bit about the industry in the last five years. Publishing and marketing is a very difficult business. There are publishers out there that will prey on people who desperately want to see their work in print. I think if you continue to write and write well, you will get published. I think if you stick to your work and find an audience for it, you will become successful. I think it’s amazing to get published, but the real work comes with promoting. There are over ten million books on Amazon; somehow you must find a way to compete with all of them. As far as what I might try differently, I did that when I found a new publisher. I’m hopeful that I can be successful and keep my sanity while continuing to entertain readers.

Mark: Where can readers find you in the social media world? How can they reach you if they have any further questions?

Chris: I’m a big social media guy. I’m on Twitter, Facebook, Linked-In, Instagram (clswinney), Google+, and Goodreads. If you can’t reach me on these sites, you can reach my via email at swinster11@yahoo.com Thanks again for this wonderful opportunity!
About the Author: Chris Swinney (C. L. Swinney), is currently assigned to a Department of Justice Task Force that investigates a myriad of cases ranging from street level drug dealers and bank robbers to homicides and complex Mexican Cartel cases. When criminals run, Chris is called to find them. He puts his unbelievable experiences and everyday life as a Detective into his writing.

Chris officially began his writing career when his feature article was published in Fly Fisherman Magazine. After this, his work continued to appear in PointsBeyond.com, Alaskan Peninsula Newspaper, California Game & Fish, and again in Fly Fisherman Magazine. He's now a contributor to PoliceOne.com, the nation's premier law enforcement online magazine.