Neal Griffin

Neal Griffin, Debut Author, Benefit Of The Doubt

After years of dogged persistence and several trips to the San Diego State University Writer’s Conference, a local cop turned writer, finally got the call he had been waiting for – his manuscript had been sold to a major New York City publisher. Neal Griffin says it was the lessons he learned at the SDSU Writers’ Conference that helped seal the deal.

Growing up in a small town in Wisconsin, Griffin had a steady diet of Joseph Wambaugh novels and episodes of Police Story and One Adam Twelve. There was never any doubt in his mind he would be a cop; however, he took a slight detour into the Marines beforehand. Griffin says, “It was a great way to be 20 something. I spent time working out of the White House, traveled a good bit of the world and ended up in Southern California, which played right into my cop plans. After eight years in the Marines I hired on with the Escondido police department and I have been there the past 25 years.”  Griffin has worked in a number of different assignments that include patrol, narcotics and homicide investigations.  A career highlight was the opportunity to attend the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia.

Over the years, Griffin’s work as a cop made him a proficient technical writer. “All the horror stories about police work and paperwork are absolutely true; there is a ton of it every day. Much of it is pretty uninspired, forms and such, but I never minded writing the actual reports. The meat and potatoes, cops and robbers stuff.”  Griffin always took pride in his ability to write investigations that would catch the eye of a prosecutor or even a defense attorney. “I never thought about tackling the world of fiction,” Griffin said. “It was really the influence of my family that got me headed in that direction.”

Like most cops, he has an endless supply of stories – family gatherings were never for want of lively conversation. Griffin says, “My kids loved the work stories. They practically had a top ten list. They even had some they liked at bedtime. I can still remember my daughter who was about five or six at the time, crawling into bed and saying, ‘Daddy, can you please tell me the home invasion robbery story?’”  So after years of these sorts of special requests, Griffin finally decided to listen to his family when they kept telling him, ‘You should write a book.’

The SDSU Writers’ Conference was the first conference Griffin attended – he knew nothing about the industry and was entirely untrained as a writer of fiction. All he had was a good bit of desire and a sneaking suspicion that if he stuck with it, things might eventually work out. Griffin arrived at the conference having no idea what to expect and came away with a whole new level of enthusiasm and a determination. “I’ve attended the SDSU conference four times, along with other conferences as well.  Each time I’ve come away with another nugget of information; another piece of the puzzle. I finally reached a point where I felt like I really got it. I not only started to have a good feel for the skills required but also how to navigate the industry.”

At the 2012 SDSU Writers’ Conference Griffin’s submission was awarded an Editor’s Choice Award. After that, he says things really started to happen. “I was able to land a fantastic agent, Jill Marr with the Sandra Dijkstra Agency. Jill guided me through the process and, after a bit more polishing, she took my manuscript to the market. We closed a two book deal with Forge Publishing within about a month.”

His first novel, Benefit of the Doubt, is due to be published by Forge (an imprint of McMillian) in fall 2014. It is entirely fiction; the characters are Griffin’s own creation as well as the stories, but he would like to think it is delivered with a strong voice of authenticity.

Griffin attributes much of his success in landing a publishing contract to attending the SDSU Writers’ Conference, and he offered this advice to others.  “Don’t be intimidated. All writers start in a very private place but at some point, if a person is serious about writing professionally or having a writing career, they need to step out into the public. The conference is not only a safe first step, it is a rewarding one. So much to learn and so many people to meet.  It will provide the framework of knowledge, style, rules, tricks and so on, any writer needs to take that rough but inspired idea for a story and turn it into a publishable novel.”

Griffin sees the SDSU Writers’ Conference as a rare opportunity to meet professionals from the publishing industry, noting the conference is well attended by agents, editors and publishers. “There seems to be something about San Diego that New York City folks enjoy, particularly in mid-January.”

Griffin is a strong advocate of the read and critique format at the SDSU Writers’ Conference.  “For a fee that is hardly worth mentioning, an unpublished writer has an opportunity to sit one on one with a top shelf professional. I would recommend venturing beyond the desire to landing an agent and meet with an editor or publisher. Let them read your work and then soak up as much feedback as you can in 20 minutes. Don’t go into the read and critique thinking you will close the deal, but know that you can come away with an honest assessment of your work and what you need to do to improve it. It is one of the best investments you can make in your writing.”

Griffin describes his first novel, Benefit of the Doubt as the story of two men whose lives are tied together in such a way that an ultimate confrontation is inevitable.  Convicted killer Harlan Lee is out of prison after serving seventeen years for the murder of a rival drug dealer. Having spent half his life in a jail cell, Harlan is set on revenge. Sergeant Ben Sawyer was fired from Oakland PD after committing an act of abusive force so outrageous it earned him nationwide media attention.  As the new poster boy for police brutality, Ben now seeks to reclaim his career as a cop and somehow reconnect with his family. The lives of these two desperate men, one a convicted killer and the other a disgraced cop, will converge on a small Wisconsin town in a way readers, particularly lovers of the sort of crime fiction written by Mike Connelly or T. Jefferson Parker,  will find entertaining.

“Suffice it to say the road they travel will be marked with blood, murder and intrigue,” Griffin said. “I’d like to think of it as not only gripping crime fiction, but also a commentary on one or two hot button contemporary social issues.  But to find out which issues you’ll have to read the book.”

Forge also bought a second novel from Griffin. That book is still to be written, and it’s a continuation of Benefit of the Doubt. Both books have also been purchased by Brilliance Audio.