During 30-plus years on the city of Atlanta’s police force, Trudy Nan Boyce was determined to serve and protect citizens. From beat cop to homicide detective to lieutenant and, finally, second in command of Atlanta’s East Precinct, Boyce’s dedication translated into steady promotions till her 2008 retirement.
In her second career, she is proving just as successful. In 2017, Boyce, who is now the author of a trio of novels inspired by her experiences on Atlanta’s streets, was named Georgia Author of the Year.
With 2018’s publication of “The Policeman’s Daughter,” the prequel to her acclaimed first novel, “Out of the Blues,” Boyce’s trilogy reflects a career fittingly summed up in bullet points:
- Beat officer in Atlanta’s projects.
- Supervisor in crimes against children, including the investigation into the House of Prayer child abuse case.
- Lead homicide detective for the investigations into the murders of two Atlanta police officers.
- Lead investigator in a mass murder in Atlanta’s Adamsville community involving the shooting of six family members; only one child survived.
- Senior crisis negotiator her entire career, responding to calls involving jumpers, hostage situations and suicides.
With a literary style that begs comparisons to the best crime writing, Boyce soon found herself with a New York literary agent and a three-book deal from Penguin Putnam. While retired life in Grant Park is decidedly quieter than her decades in law enforcement, Boyce talked about her literary future, making it clear that years spent serving Atlanta’s citizens will surely color everything she writes, whatever the genre.
How did you choose a career in law enforcement? Is the author of “The Policeman’s Daughter” a policeman’s daughter in real life?
My father was a Presbyterian minister, as is my sister. We have no other law enforcement in the family. I guess I had an adventure-seeking gene I didn’t really pay attention to early in my life. I think it was dormant till I finished my degrees. After receiving my Ph.D. from Georgia State University in community counseling, I became an in-house counselor for the Atlanta Police Department. But I grew interested in the more immediate crisis work that police officers do and decided to take my intervention skills to the street as an officer.
How much of your three novels about Atlanta police officer Sarah “Salt” Alt might be considered autobiographical fiction?
Many of the scenes and characters of my novels are inspired by my experiences. Salt is, however, younger, stronger, faster and better looking than I; and she's experienced childhood tragedy that I did not. And Salt is single.
Reading “The Policeman’s Daughter” brought to mind gritty crime novels like those by Joseph Wambaugh, who also weighed in on your first book. Was he an inspiration?
I first began reading crime fiction via Joseph Wambaugh's books. He's considered the father of contemporary crime fiction. I was overjoyed when he wrote a lovely blurb praising my work. These days, I mostly read literary fiction — Marilynne Robinson and Jesmyn Ward are favorites — and the classics. “Crime and Punishment” has the prototype character for a detective.
How did the transition from the public work of a policewoman to the private life of a writer happen?
I began writing in 2001, seven years before retiring. I needed an outlet in order to try and make sense of the tragedies that I had experienced, both as a police officer and personally. 2001 was a terrible year. My best friend died of cancer, I was going through a divorce, plus I supervised a shift of detectives in crimes against children. The morning of Sept. 11, I was doing my usual reading through 30-40 reports of the previous day’s tragedies — child sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect, runaways — when a detective called me to the break room to watch the 9/11 coverage unfolding. Then I went back to my desk and my own tragedies. It was terrible what was happening in our country, but also it was terrible what was on my desk. Police officers, especially in cities like Atlanta, see so much tragedy. Normally, you would weep or be angry, but police officers can’t afford to do that. You have a job to do. Still, it wasn’t healthy just not to do anything. So I took a creative writing course, and I was hooked. It turned out to be a healthy outlet.
Have decades of serving your community shaped your activities in retirement?
I am now a volunteer board member of the city of Atlanta's Citizen Review Board. It’s another avenue for citizens to have an entity address their complaints about the police department and individual officers, and it’s an opportunity for their voices to be heard.
After three novels featuring the same captivating character, what’s next?
Salt and company are on hiatus while I work on a stand-alone novel with a more literary bent. At the end of "Old Bones,” the last, chronologically, of the series, there is a natural "pause" in the action.
Where can readers meet you and hear more about your books?
I will be appearing at the Decatur Book Festival, which is Aug. 30 — Sept. 1. I am also available to speak to book clubs or other groups. Connect with me on Facebook or at trudynanboyce.com.
Contributing journalist Kathy Des Jardins Cioffi, owner of Johns Creek’s KRC Communications. Connect with her at krccom.com.