Writing What You Know
Upper West Side teacher draws on experience for new crime novel set in New York public schools
Tim O'Mara has been a public school teacher in New York City for 26 years. His brother has been a cop for over 30 years. The character in his new novel, Raymond Donne, is a little of both.
Crooked Numbers is O'Mara's second novel after Sacrifice Fly, which was released last October. Both novels follow Raymond Donne, a NYC public school teacher and former cop who moonlights as a detective when his students turn up dead.
In Crooked Numbers, to be released Oct. 15, Donne is working to solve the murder of a former student who recently transferred to a high-stakes private high school in Manhattan.
O'Mara, 51, lives in Hell's Kitchen and teaches math and special education at a public school on the Upper West Side. His character, Donne, is a special education teacher in Williamsburg who used to be a cop until an accident cut his career short.
"I was a special education teacher in Willliamsburg, and my brother Michael is a sergeant in the Nassau County police department," said O'Mara. "He's a gang and prevention specialist."
O'Mara said that Donne is a combination of him and his brother. "It's mostly me, but the tough side of Raymond is my brother."
He frequently has people ask him where the "cop stuff" comes from.
"My answer is just by hanging around with my brother and listening to him talk to his friends," said O'Mara. "Cops love to talk, cops have to talk. I really get to hear the attitudes, I get to hear the speech patterns."
In Williamsburg, O'Mara worked closely with youth officers of the NYPD's 90th Precinct on juvenile-related crime in the school, which has further deepened his understanding of police culture.
He stressed that he has the utmost respect for cops and that too often novels portray them as uncaring.
"My genre wouldn't exist if cops were not overworked," said O'Mara. "My experience is, and I hope it comes across in both my books, that these people became cops for a reason and some of them are just overwhelmed, and that's where my genre comes in. My school teacher gets off at 3:30 p.m., so he has a little time to look into things."
O'Mara has plans to extend Raymond Donne to a final novel that is currently unsold, but he anticipates interest from his publisher.
Sacrifice Fly received positive reviews from the New York Times and NY Post as well as niche mystery publications.
"It's been everything I've wanted it to be as a first time writer," said O'Mara. "I've gotten to read at Barnes and Noble, I've gotten to read at libraries, I've gotten to read at some great independent mystery bookshops."
Through Donne, O'Mara hopes to communicate what teachers go through on a daily basis and highlight the similarities between teaching and police work.
"I want to show that some of these skills that [Donne] had as a cop apply to what he does as a teacher," said Donne.
For example, O'Mara said, both cops and teachers have to ask the right questions to do their job well. "If you ask the right questions you're going to get a lot more from students - in a positive vein - and you're going to get a lot more from victims and perpetrators in the world of police."
O'Mara draws on his teaching experience to add authenticity to Donne's character in scenes that take place in the public school context. "If it's done well," said O'Mara, "[teaching] is the least boring job I can imagine. As a writer, and as a teacher who's attuned to what's going on, you're faced with dozens of stories a day."
O'Mara has a daughter with his wife of 14 years, Kate Bushmann, a veteran New York actress and director who also serves enthusiastically as his marketing team.
Sacrifice Fly and Crooked Numbers are published by Minotaur Books, a division of MacMillan. O'Mara is represented by Folio Literary Management.
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