Mystery Writers Key West Fest: Murder and Mayhem in Paradise!

Interview with Author James O. Born

Tagged in 2009 as one of Florida's 21 most intriguing people by Florida Monthly Magazine, award-winning crime and science fiction writer James O. Born’s works include three series, a stand-alone novel and a suspense thriller co-authored with Lou Dobbs. He is a former US Drug Agent (DEA), a player in the late 1990’s Miami drug war and later a Special Agent with the elite Florida Department of Law Enforcement, working undercover and spending eleven years on the agency’s SWAT team.

Born, who weaves many of his own crime-busting adventures through his police thrillers, will appear as a guest presenter and panelist at the upcoming Mystery Writers Key West Fest, where he will also moderate a juicier than fiction “Crime in the Florida Keys/Florida Straits” panel with area true-crime law enforcement professionals Jim Linder (JIAFT), Ken Davis (DEA), Sheriff Rick Ramsay, KWPD Chief Donald Lee, Jim Fitton (USCG), and Carol Frederick (FDLE).

Sponsored by the Mystery Writers of America – Florida Chapter, The Florida Keys Council of the Arts and the Key West Citizen daily newspaper. - The 2nd Annual Mystery Writers Key West Fest will take place August 14-16 at the Key West Marriott Beachside Hotel.

Written under the name James O’Neal, “Double Human” and “The Human Disguise” feature Detective Tom Wilner and are the author’s two near future science fiction police thrillers. “Walking Money,” “Shock Wave,” and “Escape Clause,” follow the “darkly comic” adventures of Florida Department of Law Enforcement officer Bill Tasker and his sometimes sidekick Derrick Sutter. “Burn Zone” and “Field of Fire” star the quietly tough ATF agent Alex Duarte, and Born’s most recent book, “Scent of Murder,” is a buddy-team adventure that uniquely describes events from the perspectives of both Deputy Tim Hallett and his partner Rocky - a Belgian Malinois K-9 cop.


Q&A with Author James O. Born

Q: Male/female, several ethnicities, temperaments that range from honorable to treacherous, straight-laced to flamboyant, and most recently the perspective of a K-9 cop. How do you develop such a diversity of characters and their traits? Do you outline each one thoroughly before you begin writing? Do they develop spontaneously as you go?

A: All my characters are based on people I know.  Having a career in law enforcement has given me a broad spectrum of people to choose from on both sides of the law.  Just like meeting someone in real life, the character on the page evolves as you know more about them.  I never outline characters.  I know they are right when they step off the page for me.

Q: What kind of homework did you have to do to write the character of Rocky? 

A: This was really the first book I had to do home work on.  I read all I could about police service dogs and I spent a lot of time with K-9 units.  I think my videos on YouTube demonstrate that.  Rocky is an amalgamation of many of the Belgian Malinois I met.

Q: Do you have a #1 favorite line that you have written for one of your characters?

A: Not a dialog line but I liked it (from “Walking Money”): As a suburb of Miami, Hialeah had no established traffic laws or at least that was the general perception.  You never hit your brakes; it was a sign of weakness.

Q: A #2 favorite line?

A: Only because the Merriam-Webster dictionary uses me as an example (
When he was sober, he was an okay guy, but when he'd had a few too many Pabst Blue Ribbons, he was a major ball breaker. — James O. Born, “Field of Fire,” 2007

Q: As an undercover agent, you spent a lot of time in surveillance situations. Did anyone ever turn the tables on you? Did you ever find that you yourself were being watched?

A: No one has really turned the tables on me.  It's not like TV where you're dropped into a situation and left alone.  There are always a lot of other law enforcement agents nearby if you need help.  Occasionally, someone will conduct what we call "counter surveillance" but they're really smart enough to make it worthwhile.

Q: Is there a particular criminal (or criminals) in your past experience who particularly fascinate you, and if yes, can we find him/her/them in any of your stories?

A: I don't know if it's because of my career or my upbringing but I do most criminals as just anchors on society and they don't fascinate me much.

Q: You provide professional consultation services for filmmakers and for other novelists. Can you share a story snafu or two that you were able to prevent?

A: On one show I reviewed a script where the main character, a law enforcement agent, enter someone's house and ends up hitting the occupant within expandable baton.  By the end of the script I had to point out that the only crime ever committed in the show was by the law enforcement officer who burglarized the house and assaulted the resident.  The writers were appalled at their mistake.

Q: Best advice you’ve ever received regarding your writing career?

A: Don't get discouraged and keep writing.  It's trite and simple but effective.

Q: You wrote on the Naked Authors blog that you have several different (and unusual) projects in the works. Can you give us a clue?

A: Currently I am working with Chris Fox Gilson on a project to develop an idea involving crime writers and real detectives.  We put a lot of time and energy into the concept but don't expect to see any movement for at least a year.  That's taking up most of my time now.  I'm also working with Lou Dobbs on a sequel to our 2014 book, “Border War.”

To Contact Mystery Writers Key West Fest

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926 Truman Avenue,
Key West, Florida 33040
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