How did you become a writer?
I was a bookish child, so having skipped a grade and not being very big, all types of literature were my companions. My parents were big readers and my dad was an aerospace engineer and a skilled writer. They always bought me books, took me to the library every weekend, and encouraged my short stories. I sent crime stories to the Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen magazines in the 70s, when I was about 12 or 13, to no avail. I went to the University of San Diego and as an English major, I thought I knew how to write. Outside of college, I learned that comparing and contrasting the literary themes of Chaucer’s General Prologue was not going to be needed everyday. When I was working as a San Diego Police officer, I started writing a monthly column on officer safety for the Police Officers Association newspaper. I wrote that column for 14 years. That gave me the discipline to freelance to other police and specialty magazines. I left police work after my workplace violence book, Ticking Bombs, started to gain momentum in 1999, which was right after the tragedy at Columbine.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).
I still have the mystery novels I read as a kid and a young adult, including Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe, John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee, and Robert B. Parker’s Spenser. I re-read Mark Twain’s works and consider him and Ernest Hemingway to be two of our greatest American writers. Twain’s use of sly humor and Hemingway’s power and brevity had a big impact on my writing style. I re-read Roughing It and the Tom Sawyer / Huck Finn books from Twain and The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms from Hemingway every few years. On the modern side, I envy Sebastian Junger’s machismo on the page and Jon Krakauer’s take-you-there skill. I’ll grudgingly admit I learned something from every book editor I ever worked with; the best being my father, Karl Albrecht. We co-wrote several books together and he taught me early not to write in the passive voice, a bad habit I developed in college. My dad wrote an entire book in E-Prime, which is the absence of the verb form to be. He continues to be my biggest influence, especially with his ability to organize an entire book before he begins, which I do for each of mine as well.
When and where do you write?
I have an office in San Diego where it’s quiet and I can think. I have a table fountain and with some classical music I can write for long stretches on my Mac, while photos of Twain and Hemingway stare down at me. I also work out of my home on an ancient Windows XP computer with an old version of Word, which works just fine. My usual habit with book deadlines is to go to a cabin we have in the eastern San Diego mountains and write to completion for a week. The cabin schedule is quite Spartan: get up, write, eat, short nap, write, hike for an hour, eat, write, sleep, repeat, for a week. It sounds noble but it’s mostly because I procrastinate when the book deadline is months away and then I have to crash it to finish on time. A lot of genius words don’t make it into the final manuscript. Cutting chapters is not a bad thing.
What are you working on now?
I have written several books for police officers over the last 25 years, and I just finished my last officer safety book this week. Patrol Cop will be out next year and that will be the end of my writings for cops. I write a blog for PsychologyToday.com, which I find rewarding. My topic area is in their “Law and Crime” section, which is fun because I’m not a lawyer or a psychologist, so I can write about crooks, human conflict, workplace violence, and school violence issues, which are my primary training workshop subjects. I enjoy the blog process and do two or so a month at about 1000 words each. People don’t want to read stuff that goes on forever. I find the people who write vicious comments about my blogs to be tedious since they never argue from a position of facts, only their sourness. I’m also finishing a niche book for the American Library Association on library security. Most people don’t realize how tough it is in our libraries, with the aggressive homeless, thieves, sexual predators looking for kids, mentally ill patrons, and entitled people who give the library staff a hard time. They really have to be part-time social workers as well as full-time information providers.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
Once, for about 18 months and it was agony. I had a contract to write a small book on business ethics (never an easy subject) and one to write for the popular Complete Idiot’s Guide series on customer service. I had to send back both contracts — and the advance money — with my apologies that I just had nothing in the tank. Going back to writing articles broke me of the block and I learned to trust my notes on what I want to write about. They don’t have to be perfect, but they do give me a place to start instead of a blank screen.
What’s your advice to new writers?
I’ve had lots of people tell me their life story would make a great book. Fortunately for all of us, that’s as far as the conversation went. I believe you know you have the talent to write fairly early. I teach business writing workshops and some people enjoy them and others find it a miserable experience. I’m not convinced the desire to write can be taught, although we can all improve our techniques. Real writers write and when they aren’t writing they are thinking about writing. I have a tattoo on my inner left bicep that says, “Cacoethes scribendi,” loosely translated to mean “the burning desire to write.” I can see it every day as I type.
Steve Albrecht is based in San Diego and has written professionally since 1985. He co-wrote Ticking Bombs in 1994, which was one of the first business books on workplace violence, and featured his prison interview with a double workplace murderer. Steve worked for the San Diego Police Department for 15 years and retired to write and teach. He holds a doctorate in Business Administration; an M.A. in Security Management; a B.S. in Psychology; and a B.A. in English. His 10 business books include Added Value Negotiating; Service! Service! Service!; The Timeless Leader; Fear and Violence on the Job; and Tough Training Topics. His six books for law enforcement include Streetwork; Surviving Street Patrol; and Contact & Cover. He is finishing his first police novel.