Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Meet the Author: Frank Zafiro

This month's Meet the Author highlights an exceptional and prolific writer, Frank Zafiro, author of some 40 books. His police procedurals and detective novels are set in River City, a fictional name for Spokane, Washington, where Frank served as a police officer for 20 years, before retiring to write and -- where I met Frank first -- to teach workshops on writing. 

Frank's passionate writing takes us behind the scenes to a fictional world where real people struggle each day with that tension between what is right, what is lawful, and what is compassionate. Frank's gritty writing tackles difficult, sometimes hard-to-read issues, like domestic violence, prostitution, emotional burnout, and violent and white collar crime, but he does so with grace and caring. Unless we work in criminal justice, social work, or medicine, most of us are shielded from the reality these men and women wearing a badge face every day.  


What drew you to write crime fiction? Your bio says you began writing at about 13 and never stopped. Are part of your reasons tied to why you became a police officer? I've always felt like a writer. It's how I identified myself to myself (and occasionally to others). But I knew I would likely need another career to support myself while working on the writing part. There were a few I considered, but the two that resonated the most were being a teacher and being a police officer. The timing worked out in a different order, but I've been fortunate enough to do both in my life. 

As a writer who became a cop, it only followed that what I was experiencing would be what I wrote about. If I'd become a teacher, I don't think the majority of my work would be crime fiction, though the genre has a strong enough draw that I think I'd still have a few entries.

What risks do you encounter in balancing ‘real life’ with fiction? One risk is finding the sweet spot between telling enough of the truth and the process to remain genuine, while eliminating enough of the boring parts to keep a reader interested. Another risk was how to draw from the flavor and texture of my police experience without writing directly about anyone or any event. This is one I "failed" at a few times, as there are a few stories that are closely based on real experiences. One of the most iconic River City characters -- veteran officer Thomas Chisolm -- was closely based on a real person (with permission). 

How did other officers react to you being a writer? It was all over the map, actually. There was support from some, a little derision from others. Mostly, though, indifference, as everyone had their own life to live. I will say, though, that those who took the time to notice were almost always positive and supportive.

What did you learn from their reactions? And how might this help other writers? I learned that I was actually not the center of the universe. Realizing this--that people don't sit around thinking and wondering about you--should free you up to write whatever you want. I'm not saying to be libelous, but I've noticed an overabundance in caution when it comes to writing anything that remotely resembles real experiences. Your ex-girlfriend doesn't have a trademark pending on being a statuesque blond, nor does you ex-boss have a copyright on being a jerk.

What specific advice do you have for writers of crime fiction specifically – and other writers as well? Be authentic, and be true to the story you're writing. Obviously, stay on the right side of your legal comfort zone, but write what feels right, and edit later. Likewise, don't use your fiction as a pulpit, at least not in a way that isn't true to the story itself.

Your characters are richly drawn and suffer – physically and emotionally, until the reader cares about them all, perhaps even the bad guys – a little. That combined quest for justice and compassion seems to influence your stories. Would you agree? Yes, most definitely. The idea of nuance, of shades of gray in a personality, is something I've tried to portray in all my characters . . . because that is how I see them. 

Are there other themes that matter to you? Redemption has been a big one. I mean, Waist Deep is one hundred percent about a character striving to redeem himself for a terrible mistake he made ten years prior. Another theme that has crept into my work lately should be no surprise as I am in my fifties now -- mortality and legacy.

Who is your favorite character? Kind of a tough question, like who is your favorite kid? I'll stick with River City novels to make it easier, though that only makes it marginally easier. Gun to my head, I have to say Katie MacLeod. Why? She is not afraid to be vulnerable or admit that vulnerability, but she has grit. She is afraid but does her duty anyway. That, to me, is true courage. Plus, she started out as two separate minor characters in the first draft of River City #1, and by #3, she was the core of the series. 

What is your favorite story? Another toughie. Honestly, I think this might change depending on how I'm feeling when the question is asked, but one that I often mention is "The Worst Door." And why? I could say that it is because it was a Derringer Finalist (one of four times I've been a finalist--but zero wins). But the real reason is because I like how the intersection of the personal and professional side of a police officer's life is explored. I like the raw emotion that Detective Finch feels. What happened to him never happened to me, but I've felt what he felt.

If you could change anything about your writing career, what would you change? Not a thing. Because it has gotten me to right where I am now, mistakes and all. I may not be on the NY Times bestseller list, but I've written forty novels, all of which are rated above four stars on Amazon. The lessons I learned that got me there were hard won. If I changed any of them, would I be here?

How do you connect with readers? A variety of ways. I have a newsletter and use social media. I exchange emails sometimes. But the most fun is meeting them at conferences like Left Coast Crime and Bouchercon. 

What would you like your readers to know about you? That it really matters to me that they have read my book. More than that, if they connect to a character or a scene that resonates with them, then my goal in writing it has been achieved. I think it is magical that a writer can feel something, write about it, and evoke that same (or similar) emotion in another human being. So, on those occasions when a reader has shared with me that this has happened, it represents the highest form of satisfaction.

Now, for that killer question: What’s next? The Worst Kind of Truth (River City #11) is out September 20, featuring Katie MacLeod. Also, Live and Die This Way (SpoCompton #4) will launch October 11, featuring a pint-sized burglar who is trying to stay above the water line while she takes care of her addict brother. 

I'm also currently working on the next Stefan Kopriva novel (#4). The Stefan Kopriva Mysteries are a spinoff from River City, but instead of a police procedural, they are private investigator books. Outside of that, there are too many other projects to list here. I'd encourage folks to check out my website and subscribe to my newsletter to keep abreast of my new work. And if I'm new to you, there's a significant back catalog you can jump into.

NOTE: I'm excited to read The Worst Kind of Truth because I had just finished reading Frank's riveting novel, Beneath a Weeping Sky, and was drawn to Katie MacLeod's character for her courage and tenacity in a predominantly male world. In The Worst Kind of Truth, Frank revealed that Katie has been promoted to detective. She's the lead on two rape cases that will bring her face to face with her hidden vulnerabilities as a victim. Frank has that ability to create characters that inspire us, and I'm looking forward to discovering anew Kate's strengths. 

A LITTLE ABOUT FRANK. I hope you enjoyed Frank's insights into writing. It's hard to shrink Frank's experiences down to a paragraph in ways that include his U.S. Army work in military intelligence, to his 20 years as a police officer (from patrol officer to detective to captain); to his teaching criminal justice at the college level, and, teaching writing workshops. Thank you, Frank, for writing and for sharing your thoughts with us today!

Frank Zafiro, Auntie's Bookstore, Spokane

If you haven't already, perhaps you will read his books, short stories, his blog, or listen to his podcasts. Here's where to find out more:

Frank Zafiro's website: 


  1. I really enjoy reading mysteries and ones featuring detectives. I think I'd really like the River City novels. Thanks for introducing us to Frank. It was a great interview.

    1. Thank you, Natalie. I'm looking forward already to the next Zafiro book I read!

  2. Thanks for interviewing me today, Beth -- I really appreciate the care you put into your questions! And for anyone reading this blog that hasn't tried out Beth's work, you should!

    1. Thank you, Frank. You already know how much I like your writing -- and your thoughtful responses. Keep those River City stories coming!