Thomas Fitzsimmons grew up in an Irish neighborhood in the Bronx, part of a family of career cops. He served in the Navy on a guided missile cruiser on its way to Vietnam after high school before joining the "family business" as a cop with the New York City Police Department. He spent 10 years in the precinct dramatized in Paul Newman's move Fort Apache, The Bronx, collaring armed robbers, drug kingpins and arsonists.
Then his career took an unusual turn. He came to the attention of a talent scout who signed Fitzsimmons up for modeling with the Ford Agency in his off hours, which eventually led to on-camera positions as co-host for the magazine-format talk show Now and stints on soap operas and TV commercials. But he never completely left his law enforcement roots, becoming a security consultant and bodyguard to A-list celebrities including Catherine Zeta Jones, Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow and appearing on shows such Good Morning America, Geraldo Rivera and Montel Williams as a security expert.
Turning his attention to writing, Fitzsimmons penned a memoir, two short story collections, three screenplays, pieces for Esquire and New York Magazine. His first novel, Confessions of a Catholic Cop, has an autobiographical edge, as it follows ten-year police veteran Michael Beckett, who lands a small role on Law & Order, and decides he can start a new life in front of the camera. But when the neighborhood of a young, hot Law & Order scriptwriter, Solana Ortiz, becomes the target of a string of arsons, Beckett uncovers a scheme that reaches into the deep pockets of power and greed in New York City and lands him on the same path as an old friend Beckett would rather forget.
Formally published by Forge Books as City of Fire (which sold more than 20,000 copies worldwide), Fitzsimmons has re-released Confessions of a Catholic Cop under its original title. A portion of the proceeds from the re-release will go to support the New York City Police Foundation, which works to make New York City a safer place for residents and visitors. He took some time out to participate in a Q&A:
IRTM: First of all, part of the proceeds from the re-release of Confessions is designated to support the New York City Police Foundation. Can you tell us more about that organization?
TF: The New York City Police Foundation was established in 1971 by business and civic leaders as an independent, non-profit organization to promote excellence in the NYPD and improve public safety. The Foundation supports programs designed to help the NYPD keep pace with rapidly evolving technology, strategies and training. The proceeds I donate are earmarked for their “Crime Stoppers” program which offers rewards of up to $2,000 for anonymous information to the 800-577-TIPS hotline, which leads to the arrest and indictment of a violent felon. This public/private partnership between the NYPD and the New York City Police Foundation has been an invaluable crime-fighting tool since the program’s inception.
IRTM: How did you get from police work, modeling and acting to becoming a security expert, bodyguard and private investigator? Were there classes or licensing you had to go through, or did you mentor with someone or work in a firm?
TF: I was an active duty cop when I started acting and modeling. I acquired a New York State license and bond and founded my own security company soon after leaving the NYPD. Once word got around that I was a cop, (and later an ex-cop who was licensed and bonded), celebrities frequently asked me for advice on everything from what to do about drug addicted children or spouses, to checking up on new employees, and even verifying the finances of potential film investors. If a stalker appeared on a film set, or a jealous spouse, or jilted lover, or if there was a physical altercation of any kind—you’d be surprised what transpires on film sets—I was the one they’d usually ask to handle the situation. Which I did with as little ruckus as possible.
IRTM: You've said you decided to turn to writing due to all the stories and unique characters you'd collected from your job as an officer and security expert. But you were initially discouraged from writing until Truman Capote read a short story of yours, told you that you had a future as a writer and introduced you to an agent. How did all of that come to pass, and were you influenced any by Capote's writings, such as In Cold Blood?
TF: Truman Capote and I worked out at the same gym, the now defunct Profile Health Club on East 47th Street in Manhattan. I also saw him frequently at Studio 54 and other nightclubs, and spoke to him at length about his writing and the merits of In Cold Blood and the novella, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, two books I related to. As a cop, I’d known more than my share of sociopaths, like Hickock and Smith, (the killers depicted in In Cold Blood). And I’d known more than one Holly Golightly; still do.
IRTM: You've mentioned Dennis Lehane, Donald E. Westlake, Walter Mosley and Robert B. Parker as authors who inspire you. What is it about their styles that impressed you, and do you see any parallels between their writing and yours?
TF: Lehane, Westlake, Mosley and Parker’s works are entertaining and readable. Judging by the fan mail I receive, my books are too—I hope.
IRTM: Confessions of a Catholic Cop has been called a "scandalous romantic thriller." What made you decide to choose that genre rather than, say, a straight hard-boiled police procedural or private-eye tale?
TF: I know it may sound like a dodge, but I didn’t decide on the genre; the characters in my book did. I had the general story in my mind, and when I began writing, the book sort of wrote itself. Although the book has elements of a typical hard-boiled police and private-eye tale, I felt like a spectator during the writing process, rather than the creative force behind the book. That make any sense?
IRTM: Since you're a former cop from a family of cops with lots of friends and connections in law enforcement—do you ever worry about getting a detail wrong? I doubt they'd ever let you live it down!
TF: A few would say that I have gotten a few details wrong already. In an early draft of Confessions of a Catholic Cop I had a cop clicking the “safety” off of a Glock .9mm. Half a dozen cops balked, told me that there is no such feature on a Glock—but there is, of course. It’s a custom gadget that several cops I know had installed. But, I took out the reference just the same. Also, because the Browning’s .9mm rounds didn’t photograph well for the front cover, the art director insisted on using .38 rounds—there’s no way that that Browning could fire a .38 round. I still get some grief from a couple of my cronies for that one.
IRTM: Did you base any characters on friends or colleagues? Has anyone given you a hard time thinking that you did? (Especially those celebrity clients.)
TF: One cop took a swing at me for using his name. (I ducked). The fact the character was nothing like him didn’t seem to make a difference. And so I avoid using the names of anyone I’ve worked with. In reality, all the characters are composites. Although everyone seems to recognize that the R. J. Gold character is, in reality, based on my old pal Donald J. Trump. Donald has yet to say anything to me.
IRTM: Publishing is a tough business, even for folks who have excellent credentials such as yourself. You apparently experienced this first-hand when Confessions was first published under a different title, and apparently you had one horrible experience after another during the publishing and marketing process. What would you do differently, if you had to do it all over again?
TF: In a perfect world I would have waited to find the right publisher. As it was, I jumped at the first opportunity to be published by a major publisher. Although there were early signs that my youthful editor was wrong for the project—he thought the cops on TV were for real—I figured things would work out. They didn’t. And once a publisher buys the rights to your book, you have little, if anything to say.
IRTM: What's next? As I understand it, there are Confessions of a Suicidal Policewoman and Confessions of a Celebrity Bodyguard in the works, which sound like continuations in your series with your fictional partners Michael Beckett and Destiny Jones. Any standalone thrillers ahead?
TF: Confessions of a Suicidal Policewoman is a Michael Beckett novel, but Confessions of a Celebrity Bodyguard is a standalone thriller. I’ve also written about 15 short stories that are standalones. “Rockers” is available everywhere. You can find more information on thomasfitzsimmons.com.
IRTM: So—the Yankees or the Mets?
TF: Yankees, dude!