From Badge to Books

By Jack Murray

Retired police officer Michael A. Black loves to write and teach the craft to others.

An adjunct professor at Moraine Valley Community College, Black is the author of 34 books and more than 100 short stories and articles. He writes thrillers, mysteries, Westerns and science fiction. But he always returns to the police procedural, or police crime drama — the genre that he knows best after 32 years working in law enforcement.

At Moraine Valley, Black teaches creative writing and has also taught courses in short story, mystery and memoir writing. He began teaching there eight years ago, renewing a tie he formed with the school in Palos Hills years before. 

“I went to Moraine a long time ago to get my associate degree in criminal justice and really liked the campus,” Black said. “They gave me a distinguished alumnus award when I retired from the police department. I was looking for someplace to teach, and that led me back to Moraine Valley.”

Black tells budding writers to “keep writing and keep working. Write two pages per day every day, and at the end of the year, you have a book finished.” He also advises new writers to brace themselves for rejection and not be discouraged when trying to get their manuscripts published. “I went through several years getting rejection slips for the works I sent in,” he said. “It takes perseverance and tenacity to keep writing and submitting.”

With those days well behind him, Black’s latest novel, “Legends of the West,” was released this week. Set in 1870s Arkansas and the Indian Territory that later became the state of Oklahoma, the book’s main character, Bass Reeves, is based on a real person.

“He was a former slave who went to Arkansas after the Civil War and became a U.S. deputy marshal,” Black said. The plot puts Reeves and his partner, an Indian deputy, on the trail of a ruthless killer whose gang of cutthroats take over a town and plan to rob a train full of gold.

A voracious reader since childhood, Black says his fondness for reading made him want to become a writer.  “From a young age, I always enjoyed books, especially adventure stories,” he said. Favorites included “The Three Musketeers,” “The Prisoner of Zenda,” classics by Robert Louis Stevenson and comic books. Today, he prefers thrillers and mysteries.

“I’ve always liked writing,” Black said. “I wrote my first story in 6th grade and have written ever since. I kept pestering my teacher who finally let me read it in front of the class. I left school that day ecstatic and wrote a detective story over the weekend. But she didn’t like it and told me to never do this again.”

Black grew up in Blue Island, where he lives, and graduated from Eisenhower High School. He studied English at Northern Illinois University and earned a master’s degree in fiction writing from Columbia College in Chicago.

A decorated police officer for south suburban Matteson, Black worked in investigations, which included homicide cases, and tactical operations. He was also a patrol supervisor and SWAT team leader. Sheriff Tom Dart awarded him the Cook County Medal of Merit in 2010, the year before he retired.

Among Black’s published works, his Ron Shade series of four books, featuring a private eye kickboxer based in Chicago, earned several awards. His police procedural series, featuring main characters Frank Leal and Olivia Hart, also won awards. His novel “Fatal Prescription” won the Best Original Novel Scribe Award from the International Media Tie-in Writers Association last year.

Black is also among ghostwriters who write the Executioner series under the name of the late Don Pendleton, who originated it. The 12-book series follows protagonist Mack Bolan, a former soldier turned vigilante after the mob kills his father and sister. 

Black wrote two novels with television star Richard Belzer, a cast member of “Law & Order,” and other cop shows. “Back in 2009, he wanted to branch out and write some novels,” Black recalled. “I flew to New York to meet him and we hit it off because we both love animals. He even brought his dogs to a restaurant we met in.” Their literary collaboration resulted in “I am Not a Cop!” and “I am Not a Psychic!” They made Belzer the main character of both.

As a book doctor, Michael A. Black diagnoses weak spots in the works of writers who hire him to fix them.  He gives them guidance, edits and rewrites sections of their manuscripts. “I enjoy working with people to give them the experience I have after going through the school of hard knocks,” he said. Although it’s difficult for new writers to get published today, Black noted that another option is self-publishing.

Black, the book doctor, can be reached by email at DocAtlas108@aol.com. Most of his works are available on Amazon.com.

Photos supplied by Michael Black

Published in The Regional News and The Reporter Newspaper on November 13, 2019