When author Frank Scalise’s short stories began to be published in anthologies and magazines, and he entered talks around 2005 with a small publisher interested in releasing his first crime novel, the author (who lives in Redmond) realized he had a problem.
At the time, he was an officer with the Spokane Police Department and worried his bosses might object to some of his writing or think the plots in his crime novels reflected poorly on the department.
“The subject matter is kind of gritty with some bad cops and some good cops doing bad things,” Scalise explained.
Police in Spokane were required to receive approval for any off-duty employment. So to help ensure his superiors wouldn’t object, Scalise changed the name of the town his story was set in from Spokane to River City. He also decided to publish under the pen name Frank Zafiro, rather than use his name.
His chosen pen name wasn’t a family moniker or the name of a childhood pet.
“It was the name of the so-called film production company I created in high school with some friends,” Scalise said. “It means sapphire in Spanish, but we just thought it sounded cool back then, and I decided to use it as an homage to some guys I had fun with.”
To Scalise’s relief, the assistant police chief at the time gave him the green light to move forward with his writing career and his first novel, “Under a Raging Moon,” was published in 2006.
A few years later when the local paper revealed that Scalise was the author of the Zafiro novels, reactions from his fellow cops were generally very supportive.
“I got teased about it in a good-natured way, but they were some of my biggest fans,” Scalise said.
He continued working full time as a police officer while moonlighting as an author up until 2013, releasing 12 more novels in that period. After his retirement from the police force, Scalise published another nine novels, including his most recent, “Fallen City,” co-authored with Lawrence Kelter and released in November. He also ran leadership training courses for police departments across the United States and Canada.
In an unusual approach, nine of Scalise’s novels written under the Zafiro moniker have been co-written with other authors, and he has more collaborations in progress. He’s partnered with five other writers so far — Colin Conway, Jim Wilsky, Eric Beetner, Bonnie Paulson and Kelter.
Scalise connected with some of his collaborators through writers forums and newsgroups, while others approached him with story ideas. He’s never even met three of his writing partners in person, instead just working with them via phone, email and Skype.
Scalise has developed an effective method to ensure continuity and avoid plot holes when working with another author.
“There are generally two protagonists, and each author writes a different character, then each character’s perspective is presented in alternating chapters,” said Scalise.
The co-authors usually hash out a loose plot structure to at least the midpoint of the story and then begin to write the chapters in order. One author will draft the first chapter and pass it on to his or her co-author to review and provide some basic feedback. The second author then continues the story thread in chapter two. They continue back and forth this way until the story is complete.
The first exception to this formula was “The Last Collar,” co-written with Kelter, about an obsessive homicide detective in Brooklyn who is determined to solve the murder of a wealthy socialite at any cost.
Kelter wanted a single narrator with both authors writing the main character. Scalise was concerned the different writing styles might make the character, detective John “Mocha” Moccia, sound schizophrenic. But in the end, Scalise found the challenge was a positive thing.
“When it came out, I couldn’t remember with most of the passages if I wrote it or Larry wrote it,” said Scalise. “I was astounded that it was a very singular, cohesive voice.”
Scalise believes the other critical factor in the success of these collaborations has been the willingness of all the writers to subordinate their egos for the good of the story.
“No one’s trying to win an argument about a plot point,” he said. The only thing the writers sometimes argue about is when one feels a favorite character needs to be killed off, but the other isn’t quite ready to let that character go.
Overall, Scalise finds co-authoring novels very motivating.
“When you get that chapter back from the other author, you’re excited to read it and see where they’re going with it,” he said. “Then you want to give your best and not let your partner down.”
A new home
In September 2016, the author moved from Spokane, Washington, to Redmond. Late this year, he decided to focus on his writing full time. Scalise has five books scheduled for publication in 2018. Some will be released by a traditional publisher and some will be self-published.
He’s also planning to branch out from crime fiction and write an alternate history political thriller, a romance mystery and perhaps a fantasy novel.
And just to make sure he doesn’t find himself with time on his hands, Scalise (under his Zafiro pseudonym) hosts a monthly podcast called “Wrong Place, Write Crime,” where he interviews an author — usually about crime fiction — and also shares reading recommendations from bookstore owners and employees across the U.S.