This episode of the Crime Cafe podcast features my interview with crime writer Michael Hearns.
Join us for a discussion of his Cade Taylor series and his other work as a technical consultant and movie producer.
Before I bring on my guest, I’ll just remind you that the Crime Cafe has two eBooks for sale: the nine book box set and the short story anthology. You can find the buy inks for both on my website, debbimack.com under the Crime Cafe link. You can also get a free copy of either book if you become a Patreon supporter. You’ll get that and much more if you support the podcast on Patreon, along with our eternal gratitude for doing so.
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You can download a copy of the transcript here.
Debbi: Hi everyone. Today my guest is a Miami native who spent 27 years working as a South Florida police officer and detective. For a decade, he worked undercover investigating large-scale cocaine trafficking and high volume money laundering cases. He worked with multiple police and federal agencies and is a certified DEA instructor. He also has a Master’s degree in Investigative Criminal Psychology. He has worked and consulted on multiple serial offender homicide cases, and since his retirement from law enforcement, he’s worked as a technical advisor in film and television.
He is also a movie producer and an adjunct professor at multiple universities within the US, and he is the author of the Cade Taylor series of books, which I’m told is a completely new genre in the detective fiction realm—Dark Tropics. We’re going to have to talk about that. It’s my pleasure to introduce Michael Hearns. Michael, thank you for being here today. Thank you so much.
Michael: No, Debbi. Thank you. It’s been a pleasure to be here to get a chance to meet you.
Debbi: Excellent. Well, it’s great to meet you. So tell me about this Michael Cade. He sounds like an interesting character. He seems to be in a kind of a class all of his own with this weird agency or whatever he’s with. Tell me about the fiction that you write in this series about him.
Michael: Yes. The fiction I write is based on a fictional character named Cade Taylor. He’s a detective in Miami. He’s assigned to the Vice Intelligence and Narcotic unit, which is kind of a covert undercover operation, and the first book I wrote was called Trust No One. That came out in 2020, and then that was quickly followed up by Grasping Smoke: A Cade Taylor Novel in 2021, and then last year we had One More Move. And basically these books chronicle the exploits of Cade Taylor as he tries to maneuver through some very sticky and unexpected circumstances involved in working in narcotics and money laundering, dealing with the Cali Cartel and Medellin Cartel. Also, just some nefarious subjects and people and things in Miami, which we oftentimes refer to as a sunny place for shady people. So, Cade Taylor has learned to thrive and navigate in that system, and the books chronicle Cade Taylor as he works on these different cases.
Debbi: Was there something in particular that inspired you to write about this particular protagonist?
[M]any people had asked me about writing a book myself, and I think they actually wanted me to do a tell-all, and I just didn’t feel comfortable with that. So based on my work experience and my knowledge of that world, I was able to create this character Cade Taylor, and what I’ve tried to do with these books is bring a high level of authenticity and a high level of realism to the series.
Michael: Well, one of the things that came to me was, many people had asked me about writing a book myself, and I think they actually wanted me to do a tell-all, and I just didn’t feel comfortable with that. So based on my work experience and my knowledge of that world, I was able to create this character Cade Taylor, and what I’ve tried to do with these books is bring a high level of authenticity and a high level of realism to the series in the three books that have been written so far, where we see a lot of things that the average reader and/or even person in the visual arts, TV or movie doesn’t see or know. It’s a whole different world. It’s a whole different aspect of law enforcement that many people don’t understand or are exposed to. So through the tone of these tales, I’m able to give the readers hopefully a very good compelling story, characters that resonate with them as well, but also bring them into the nuances of what that world is like.
Debbi: I assume that a lot of your background feeds into this fiction. Would that be correct?
Michael: Yeah, yeah. There are a few people who know me who will call me on the phone or send me a message or something and they’ll say “Hey, I’m reading Trust No One, or I’m reading One More Move or Grasping Smoke”. And they’ll say “I’m on page 210”, and I don’t know what that means. So I say, you have to tell me what’s going on. And then they’ll say, “Oh, you just did this and you just did that”. And I’ll say, that’s just not me. It’s Cade Taylor. They’re like, “Yeah, yeah, I know it’s you.” But the reality is it is Cade Taylor. It is a fictional character. The characters are fictional, but everything going on around them is authentic.
When I write these books, I actually do a lot of research. There’s a lot of checking tidal charts, moon phases. When they order something from a restaurant, it actually comes from the actual menu of the restaurant. The streets they drive on, the places they go are true, actual places. So it’s almost as if while you were living your life, you’re getting a very spy-optic view of these individuals—most notably Cade Taylor—as they are going through their exploits all the while amongst you. You weren’t just aware of it.
Debbi: You know, I wanted to ask you about research, because I was going to say you spent 27 years working in this field, but you need to do additional research to write these books, correct?
Michael: Yeah. I mean, research is never going to hurt you. From some of the work I’ve done post-retirement, I feel like the audience is a lot more sophisticated than we give them credit for sometimes as authors. They really do understand weaponry. They understand a lot about the geography. These books are set in Miami, but even though you may not live in Miami, it’s still a city that most people have either visited or passed through. And many people have a clear understanding of tactics, although they’re not tactical, maybe. So these books kind of bring in an aspect of tactics and technology and authenticity with them.
From some of the work I’ve done post-retirement, I feel like the audience is a lot more sophisticated than we give them credit for sometimes as authors.
In this book, I don’t have them drive down Elm Street and make a right on Maple Street and make a left on Birch Street. The streets stay where we’re on; the doors they walk through, the doors they walk out of are real doors. They are real places. So I think for many people who live in New York City, live in Miami, live in Los Angeles, when they see television shows filmed in their cities, they sometimes put their palms on their forehead and close their eyes and wince in pain because they recognize that they were just in the Bronx and now they’re in Brooklyn, or whatever the case may be. I try to be very geographically accurate and very chronologically accurate with the books.
Debbi: You know, it’s funny. When I think of South Florida, I think of a few things related to crime and its depiction on television. I think of Dexter, I think of Miami Vice and I think of Carl Hiaasen. Where do you sit in this grand scheme of South Florida crime?
Michael: South Florida is my hometown. I was born and raised there, and it’s amazing how we all have rubbed elbows with each other. I’ve had conversations with Carl Hiaasen. I’ve been on the set of Miami Vice in their early days. I worked for the actual real Miami Vice, and I remember when Dexter first came out, when Jeffrey first wrote it. We all kind of bounce around each other a little bit, and it truthfully is an entity unto itself. It’s the only part of America or North America that’s subtropical, and it’s the end of the earth basically. People come down and they don’t go back up again. They’ve already seen what’s behind them. They’re not going to go back up. I lived in Richmond, I lived in Raleigh, I lived in Roanoke. I’m not going back. I’m staying here. And they come down and it’s very transactional and people and things, they learn to groove and move on a different beat.
We all kind of bounce around each other a little bit, and it truthfully is an entity unto itself. It’s the only part of America or North America that’s subtropical, and it’s the end of the earth basically. People come down and they don’t go back up again.
We are a peninsula; we’re surrounded by water, and there’s lots of things that come in on the air and come in on the water. In our books—I should say not our books—in my books, Cade Taylor, what I’m trying to do is bring you, the reader, a view of law enforcement in Miami that may not be as stylized as Miami Vice because Miami Vice was a highly stylized TV show, but it’s got some definitely true components. If you were drawn to those shows—CSI: Miami, Miami Vice, Dexter—then you’ll be drawn to these books as well. They run into what we said earlier in the conversation, Dark Tropics. Even the cover of Grasping Smoke is what’s behind me, but it’s like dark palm fronds. So it’s really a different genre.
Debbi: I was going to say you had those books nicely arranged behind you there on the shelf.
Debbi: Very nice covers.
Michael: Thank you. Thank you very much.
Debbi: Sure thing. So are you working on your next book in the series, or are you working on something else?
Michael: I am.
Debbi: Oh, okay.
Michael: I’m working on the next book in the series. What originally happened was the first book that I wrote was Trust No One, and I actually kind of thought it’d be a one and done, and I started to write a book about an individual in Los Angeles. I had spent some time in southern California and had a good familiarity with it, and then I started getting lots of mail, lots of email, lots of messages, lots of social media postings about Cade Taylor.
And in a classic case of give people what they want, I wrote Grasping Smoke: A Cade Taylor Novel, followed up by One More Move: A Cade Taylor Novel, and I’m writing currently the fourth version of Cade Taylor now. The books are all standalone. It helps if you read them in sequential order because Cade and the scenarios are evolving, but there are no spoilers in these books. If you read one out of order, you won’t be completely thrown off your trajectory.
Most people who read them seem to like them. Cade resonates with them. Cade is not a perfect character. He has flaws. He struggles with some demons of his own. He drinks a little more than he should. He’s on the back end of a pretty ugly divorce, which has kind of eviscerated him a little bit. He’s kind of emotionally numb, but he stays in the fight. He has to continue on with his job, and he doesn’t have the opportunity, especially being a vice narcotic detective, it doesn’t wait for him at all. So, he’s in the mix from start to finish.
Debbi: Interesting. What kind of direction do you see this series of books going? Do you see a certain number that you want to write, an endpoint that you want to reach with the character?
Michael: You know, I don’t really see a finality and I don’t really see a finite number. I think there’s still a lot of life for Cade Taylor, and as each book comes out, the legion of Cade Taylor devotees grows. There’s quite a few people who have endeared themselves to him and they’re asking for more, so as long as I can tell a compelling story. I mean, I think you have to have that great marriage between a character that readers enjoy and root for, and also a compelling story. It’s really not good to have a great performer with a terrible orchestra or vice versa. So I think as long as the stories are compelling, I think Cade has already been a pretty established character. I think he’s going to be able to hold his own.
Debbi: How did you get into providing technical advice to filmmakers?
Michael: Oh, that’s like a lot of things in life. You’re not really seeing that train coming, and all of a sudden you step on it and you’re like, oh, wait a minute, I’ll ride this one. I was asked because of my background to help out with a movie, and in that environment, in film and TV, you truthfully need to be well versed in a few things. And some of the things need to be versed in is obviously know your craft. The second thing also is you need to understand set protocol, and you also need to be reliable and dependable.
I was asked because of my background to help out with a movie, and in that environment, in film and TV, you truthfully need to be well versed in a few things. And some of the things need to be versed in is obviously know your craft. The second thing also is you need to understand set protocol, and you also need to be reliable and dependable.
TV and movies are very expensive to make, and they don’t have time to wait for anybody who’s late or not on time, or not in their right frame of mind. My reputation preceded myself and I did one movie and then that turned into a TV show, and then another TV show, and another movie. The word gets out, and as long as you’re agreeable and you work well with people, and you understand the framework you’re supposed to be in, it kind of worked out for me in that respect.
Debbi: Very cool. It’s very collaborative business, that part.
Michael: Yeah. As a technical advisor, you’re mostly working with the principal actors, the director, the showrunner, and maybe the stunt coordinator. You are there to bring authenticity, and you’re there to bring realism to their plotline or to their storyline, or at least to the actors’ movements—what they say, how they say it, how they stand, what they physically do. But you have to recognize also it’s entertainment. So sometimes you’ll be asked to coordinate or collaborate on something that you normally wouldn’t do in real life, but the director might pull you aside and say, I know you don’t do it like this, but I need a jeopardy moment so make this happen. So you find that hybrid between entertainment and authenticity. The main thing is, once again, I think the audiences are very sophisticated and they’re really not going to stand or sit down for something that doesn’t come across as being real.
So sometimes you’ll be asked to coordinate or collaborate on something that you normally wouldn’t do in real life, but the director might pull you aside and say, I know you don’t do it like this, but I need a jeopardy moment so make this happen. So you find that hybrid between entertainment and authenticity.
Debbi: Exactly. Yeah. There’s only so far you can push it. I mean, I fully appreciate that. Coming from a legal background, I often cringe slightly when I see lawyers depicted in certain ways, but then I think okay, they need this here for a reason.
Michael: Yeah, there’s a formula. There’s a formula. In a 60-minute drama, it could be a courtroom drama or it could be a police procedural, you have to establish a dilemma. You have to establish a bad guy or a bad person in that drama, and then you have to have it resolved, and you have to do it with commercials in 48 minutes, so the directors and the showrunners, they understand that formula and real life does not work that way. We know that for a fact—you being an attorney—trials and courtroom proceedings can go on for months, if not even years. But in real life and television, it’s usually wrapped up in about 45 minutes.
Debbi: Exactly. Yeah. It gets wrapped up much faster than in life and in much different ways sometimes. Let’s see. You’ve also produced movies. How did you get into that?
Michael: Same thing. As a technical advisor, you’re working with directors, you’re working with producers. They’re talking to you about other projects they may have in the wings that they’re looking to do. In my case, I was at the American Film Market in Santa Monica, meeting with different people who are in the industry and met some individuals that were trying to put out a very good film, a movie called The Cuban.
It’s a long short story. It is a tale of music and love and how it helps people with dementia, and we were able to get a great stellar cast with Louis Gossett Jr., Lauren Holly, Ana Golja, and a few others. It did quite well in Sundance and Whistler. It got released during COVID, so a lot of people saw it, but a lot of people didn’t see it, but it did quite well. It has a great musical score by Hilario Durán. The film is not in my normal wheelhouse, but I really enjoyed and believed in the project, so it worked out really well.
Debbi: That’s fantastic. What writers most inspire you and what screenwriters do you particularly like?
Michael: You know, I don’t really have any true favorites. In the genre, there are demigods and there are some really stalwart individuals out there like Michael Connolly and Lee Child and a few others. I don’t actually get the opportunity to read as much as I would like to, especially when I’m writing my own books, because it’s not that it throws me off, it’s just that I get so engrossed to what I’m doing on the writing side that actually my pleasurable reading kind of slips off to the side a little bit.
I don’t actually get the opportunity to read as much as I would like to, especially when I’m writing my own books, because it’s not that it throws me off, it’s just that I get so engrossed to what I’m doing on the writing side that actually my pleasurable reading kind of slips off to the side a little bit.
As far as screenwriters, I’m more of an old school kind of guy. Michael Friedkin I think did some really good work with To Live and Die in L.A. in the 1980s and things like that. But I really don’t have any person or people that I follow, but I do know what I like, and when I like it, I latch onto it, and I hope that people who read the Cade Taylor series of books adopt or have the same mind frame.
Debbi: Cool. What advice would you give to anyone interested in writing for a living?
Michael: Persevere! Stay with it. Don’t allow anybody or anything to detract you from what you want to do. Allow the creativity to come out of you. Don’t measure yourself against other people’s successes. There are lots and lots of people who are way infinitely more successful than I am, but whether they sell 20,000 books a day and I sell two a week, those two readers are hopefully enjoying my book. I think there’s room at the table for everybody, but the advice I would give is persevere and don’t let anybody or anything throw you off your trajectory.
Career advice for writers: Persevere! Stay with it. Don’t allow anybody or anything to detract you from what you want to do. Allow the creativity to come out of you. Don’t measure yourself against other people’s successes.
When you watch a movie, at the end of the movie, you’ll see hundreds, thousands of names come up that are associated with the completion of the movie. But when you write the book, it’s your name that’s on the spine of the book, and you put yourself out there for criticism. You put yourself out there for acceptance. You put yourself out there for review so be prepared. Take a couple hits, but also be prepared to take a couple battles.
Debbi: That’s right. Be prepared for whatever comes.
Michael: Yeah. And there’s people out there who are professional snipers. There’s people out there who just want to bring you down or bring your project down, or bring your book down, or bring your movie down, or bring your recital down. You could go to a kindergarten ballet recital and there’d be somebody in their back going, ah, that’s not how Swan Lake is played. I mean, those personalities exist. And then you have people who will say to you, “Hey, I read your book, and on page 211, there’s a typo.” And you go, okay. Typos occur in almost every book out there, and then you recognize, it’s not that they are being overly critical. They’re actually looking for an avenue to talk to you. They’re telling you they have read your book and they want to have a reason to talk to you.
So when you look at it next, you go, oh, hey man, 211. Okay! Tell me what happened. Were you enjoying it up to that point? I hope it didn’t throw you off. And once they engage in conversation with you, they seem to satisfy what they’re looking to do, which is basically just have a moment of your time.
Debbi: Yeah. Acknowledgement.
Debbi: Yeah, for sure. Let’s see. Do you have any advice for screenwriters or anybody who wants to get into film?
Michael: The door is open. We are in a huge content bubble. People, entities, corporations, things that you would never believe have their own channels have channels now, and everybody’s looking for the next big content. I’ve had the pleasure of sitting down with some of the biggest people in the industry on certain things, and I think they would say the same thing. Even though they’re titans in the industry, they had to start somewhere, but right now we are in a content bubble.
I’ve had the pleasure of sitting down with some of the biggest people in the industry on certain things, and I think they would say the same thing. Even though they’re titans in the industry, they had to start somewhere, but right now we are in a content bubble.
Be authentic. The biggest thing is be authentic, and that’s how it is with the Cade Taylor books. The Cade Taylor books are very authentic to life. They’re very authentic to law enforcement. I’ve tried to bring action scenes in these books that you don’t see in books and/or television or movies and they’re plausible. In life, we have three things. It could be possible, plausible or probable. Is it possible a meteor is going to hit the earth? Yeah, it’s possible. It’s not going to happen, but it’s possible. I mean, not today. Is it probable? Well, there’s probability and then there’s plausibility. So, work within those three things and you should be okay. Don’t let anyone … again, don’t let anyone throw you off and recognize that when doors close, there’s another door that’s going to open. You just have to be persistent.
Debbi: Absolutely. Persistence is important. Diligence.
Debbi: Tenacity. Commitment.
Michael: Commitment. Yeah. I will tell my wife sometimes, I’m going to write. I have to write today. And she’ll say to me, why are you telling me that? And I say to her, it’s because if I make that verbal declaration, then I have to stick to it. I can’t slack off. I can’t let it go. So, part of the dedication and commitment is to recognize that you have to do these things. I get emails, Hey, when’s the next book coming out? When’s the next thing coming out? There may not be a lot of people, but there are a few people there who are waiting for the next Cade Taylor, and I owe it to them and I owe it to myself to put it out there.
Debbi: The fact that they’re there is what’s important. And it feels great, doesn’t it, to know that they are there?
Michael: It feels good. This is good because these are pages and it’s ink on paper and it’s coming to life in people’s minds as they read. And as you know being an author yourself, you’re writing sometimes and you’re literally orchestrating dialogue between four different people. You’re setting the stage, you’re setting the scene, and it’s not easy. It’s not easy to keep all those voices separate, in alignment, all in the same forward moving aspect of it. And also as you move through your books and you’re now into your 200th page, your 300th page, you have to make sure that there’s continuity. There’s a lot of balls to juggle in the air, and until you do it, you don’t understand it. But don’t let what I just said dismay or dissuade you. Once again, we go back to perseverance. Just do it.
Debbi: Absolutely. Is there anything else you’d like to add before we finish up?
Michael: Other than my appreciation to spend some time with you, I think I’d just like to point out once again that the Cade Taylor series of books are very authentic. They’re very genuine and they also bring a lot of action and a lot of aspects that people don’t normally see. Most people who read the books come away enjoying the stories, enjoying the characters, but also enjoying the ride. And the books are written in the first person. So oftentimes people feel like they’re right with Cade while he’s going through these trials and tribulations out there.
Debbi: Yeah. First person is nice. I like that point of view myself.
Michael: Yeah. There’s an article that came out in Esquire last year, and it basically said we’ve been reading incorrectly for decades, that the first person narrative is so much more enjoyable. And I think a lot of people are galvanizing themselves towards it because they feel like they’re with him. They feel like they’re in a car with him. They feel like they’re in the middle of the gun battle with him. They’re not being told by a narrative what’s happening. It’s Cade that’s talking to them in the book.
Debbi: Identification and all that. Yeah. Okay. Well, well thank you again so much for being here today. I really appreciate it.
Michael: Well, thank you for having me.
Debbi: It was a pleasure, believe me, and I want to thank all of you listeners and anybody watching on YouTube. If you enjoyed today’s episode, please leave a review. For access to bonus episodes, ad-free episodes and free copies of the Crime Café box set and anthology, become a Patreon supporter today. I’m also offering perks to subscribers on my Substack publication, Paperback Writer, so check that out. Thank you again, and we’ll see you next time when I’ll be interviewing Willa Richards. Until then, take care and happy reading.
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