A bulletproof debut carries the flash of fact
Author transforms her police past into stories with style
The looming threat of physical harm is not what takes the biggest toll on police officers, says writer Laurie Lynn Drummond.
Rather, it's the constant exposure to the unfortunate, the unruly and the dangerously antisocial among us that corrodes the spirit.
Drummond should know. An assistant professor of fiction at the University of Oregon, she spent five years as a uniform patrol officer in Baton Rouge, La. Her experiences there are the basis for the 10 fictionalized stories in her acclaimed first book, 'Anything You Say Can and Will Be Used Against You.' The Los Angeles Times calls it an 'astonishing debut collection.'
The worst part of police work, Drummond says, is the way violence and tragedy come to color a cop's view of all humanity.
'The job really changes you,' she says. 'It doesn't matter who you are when you go in, it hardens a part of you. You put up this barrier between yourself and the public. You learn to suspect everybody, not trust anyone. You develop this animosity.'
Right at the outset of 'Anything You Say,' a character reveals seething impatience toward those who ask if she's ever used her gun.
'Their minds can twist the various elements of a woman-with-a-gun-killing-a-man into their own vicarious masturbation of facts,' an officer named Katherine Joubert says in the first paragraph of the book's first story.
'It breaks my heart, but it is necessary,' Drummond says of the wall police construct around themselves. 'You're cold and you're distant because you're being observant and you're being wary. I don't know how to fix that.'
Of course, the very curiosity that inspires the ire is what will drive readers to Drummond's bravely honest accounts of life on the thin blue line. And they'll find the author's heart Ñ anything but bulletproof Ñ in the middle of most of them.
One senses that Drummond was a good cop. But she also writes with sensitivity and sensuality about both the settings and the characters in her stories. Her humanity and what she surely paid to preserve it are the real central figures in the book.
'I find it fascinating to walk that line between strength and softness,' she says.
In 'Finding a Place,' Drummond gives a short, haunting account of a patrol officer who escorts a teenager, mortally wounded in a car crash, on afinal ride to the hospital.
She takes the reader on another kind of adrenaline-fueled adventure in 'Keeping the Dead Alive,' in which an unofficial, late-night memorial service for a murder victim leads to a deadly confrontation and a torturous moral dilemma for a group of female officers.
Drummond's law enforcement career ended when, like a character in one of her stories, she was badly injured in an automobile accident. But it may have been a blessing.
'I was losing my compassion,' she says. 'And I am intrinsically a very passionate person. I had been thinking about leaving.'
As she recovered from her injuries, her mother encouraged her to go back to school. She enrolled at Louisiana State University, studying history, philosophy and literature, but was missing a required course.
'They put me in a composition class,' she recalls. 'A light bulb went off. I'd always loved to read, and I had all these stories. The first essay I wrote was the first draft of the story 'Finding a Place.''
The piece appears in her new book.
After earning a master's of fine arts degree from LSU and taking a teaching job in Texas in 1991, Drummond eventually began work on 'Anything You Say,' but at a price.
'I was afraid of my fiction,' she says. 'I knew how much it took from me. I had to go back into therapy because of the stuff it brought up. It made me realize how much that work had impacted me and how I dealt with it back then.'
Drummond didn't always have the warrior spirit she found as a cop.
'I was the wimpiest kid,' she says. 'I was scared of the dark, scared of loud noises. I think the reason I went into that work was to discover how strong Ireally was.'
Now, she says, 'There will always be this strong, tough ribbon in my personality. I'm not sure I want to lose that.'
A long way, but É
Drummond says women have made much progress since she entered the male-dominated realm of police work: 'We have come a long way but we're still breaking through barriers. There's still that sense that we need to work harder.'
She has heard of canine units being off-limits to female officers because of the belief that a woman's menstrual cycle would somehow distract police dogs from their work.
'I had one sheriff say, 'Over my dead body we'll hire a woman,' ' she says.
'You learn to work with it. Once they figured out I wasn't going to cry, that I was going to be right in there behind them backing them up, I had no problem. I always got along with guys.
'The ideal team is a male and a female because they bring these different strengths to a call,' she says.
Drummond, who moved to Eugene in August, is working on a novel and will follow it up with a memoir. Both will trade heavily on her experiences as a cop. But she's confident her writing will take her away from her law-enforcement past and believes the Pacific Northwest will serve her well as a home base.
'There's a really good energy here,' she says.