‘I like to think I have a good ear for words’ 

By on May 21, 2024

“I want to entertain and maybe leave the reader with something to think about.” (Photo courtesy John Towler)

Writing is a way of life for recently retired KDH Police Captain John Towler

By Mary Ellen Riddle  | Outer Banks Voice

John Towler began writing at about the age of eight when he illustrated and wrote comic books with his three brothers. “We all had our own stables of silly superheroes and supervillains with occasional crossovers into each other’s creations,” he says. The main heroes he created were “Steel Strong” and “To The Rescue.”

“Besides the early comics, I wrote a bunch of short stories in college that got picked up by college publications and read by a small circle of friends and maybe some bored guy sitting on a toilet in the student commons,” he notes.

Along with his lifelong love of writing, Towler spent about three decades in law enforcement, retiring from the Kill Devil Hills Police Force this month as Captain of Investigations. On the Kill Devil Hills force, he rose through the ranks from patrol officer, regular investigator and sergeant in investigations to lieutenant before becoming a captain.

While working in law enforcement, Towler continued to write by penning a column for the now defunct Outer Banks Sentinel called “Blue Lights,” that was centered around commonly asked questions about police work. And he is proud of the written work he did while taking a “Robbery Response” course in the mid-2000s. It taught participants techniques and tactics for planning and responding to armed robbery.

“At the end, you had to come up with a draft operation plan for a robbery response to a business in your jurisdiction,” recalls Towler. “My plan was so well received by the instructor that he is still using it as a [teaching] tool for the class today.” Towler also wrote “lots and lots” of reports for work.

“I do believe that part of what killed some of my passion was having to write all day some very dreary non-fiction for my work,” he said.

When asked how policing experiences influenced his writing, Towler responded: “Overall, a comprehensive understanding of the absurdity of the human condition, and a completely different perspective of TV/movie law enforcement and real law enforcement.”

In the aftermath of Kosovo’s independence, Towler did a stint there from 2002 to late 2004 as a policeman, helping “train a police force made of locals to eventually take over the policing duties.” While there, he wrote a horror novel about a massive homicidal feral hog that was terrorizing the Kosovo countryside. “Wild hogs were a problem and people were scared to death of them for good reason,” he says. He submitted the novel to a number of outlets, but it never got picked up.

“At the time I wrote it, I was in my novice stage, so the prose was probably somewhat lacking,” he acknowledges.

Towler calls the decade between 2005 and 2015 his most prolific writing years. Producing flash fiction, which is short fiction usually between 500 and 2500 words, fit better with his tight schedule that included family responsibilities and his full-time job.

Towler writes in multiple genres and is drawn specifically to science fiction, fantasy, horror, and sometimes literary works. His writing has been published in anthologies—mostly in digital magazines called e-zines. He has also been published in hardcover publications, such as “Monstrous: 20 Tales of Giant Creature Terror,” “Darkest Dreamspell” and “Nightmares 2.”

Being an editor for the online magazine “Every Day Fiction” has helped Towler grow as a writer. He started there as a contributor of short stories and later became an editor. “I continued on in a sort of editor emeritus status since then and still read the slush pile and edit stories, but not on any kind of regular basis,” he says.

Towler says that proficient writing includes multiple components, such as continual learning and dedicated practice, but what is especially important are carefully chosen words. “I like to think I have a good ear for words: how they land on the reader,” he says. “How to shape words to give a certain emotion or feeling; what sounds good and what lands with a thunk on the page.”

Fiction can be challenging, he says. “Depending on what you are writing, you may have to create entire worlds and characters for the reader,” he says. “You have to imagine each character’s background.”

But, then again, says Towler, nonfiction can be tough, too, as it calls for a lot of research: “Nobody factchecks J.R.R. Tolkien to dispute elves live for centuries or only the fire of Mordor can destroy the One Ring.”

It was not a burning passion that sparked Towler’s desire to write, but rather learning through “peers and professors” that he had a talent for the craft. “So, the inspiration comes from feeling like I am good at something and that I should not waste that gift,” he says.

Towler was also influenced by the book recommendations given to him by his father John Sr., an attorney, who tried his hand at writing TV and movie scripts and had dreams of being an actor. “Dad introduced me to John D. McDonald, who I admire so much as a writer,” says Towler. He also introduced his son to Star Trek, both the original program and then various books that were written using the Star Trek Universe.

Towler’s mother Melissa did not have the same aspirations as her husband, “but interestingly she wound up finding a lot more success behind the scenes than dad did in front of the camera or in the writer’s room,” says Towler. She worked as an executive assistant on a number of hit shows, including M*A*S*H*. Melissa also impacted her son’s writing through books. “She was a huge fan of the Hobbit/Lord of the Rings and introduced me and my brothers to the world of J. R. R. Tolkien.”

Towler’s formal education included classes related to creative writing in college at California State University at Chico, where he majored in German and minored in English. “As it related to creating realistic dialogue, playwriting was invaluable, even though I had no intention to be a playwright,” he says. He also took formal classes in writing while later working in Washington, D.C.

In 1989, Towler’s family moved from Glendale, California to the Outer Banks where they had vacationed in the 70’s. He did a Capitol Hill stint as a legislative assistant for Congressman Tim Johnson (D-South Dakota) before joining his family on the barrier islands in late 1993. As the principal videographer for the Town of Kill Devil Hills for a number of years, Towler was able to sharpen his skills as a storyteller.

Towler occasionally dips into books based on the craft of writing if they are strongly recommended, but mostly, he re-reads the ones he’s found useful in the past to be reminded of certain techniques, strategies and rules. Online writers’ groups helped him develop a thick skin and to accept constructive criticism.

Getting distance from his writing helps, as well.

“Once I feel a piece is finished—an article, an essay, a short story, I put it aside,” he says. “Depending on the time constraints, maybe I only have a day or two for it to marinate. But it doesn’t go out into the world until I’ve had time to let it lay fallow for a bit and then read it with fresh eyes. Sometimes I think ‘good enough’ and sometimes I think “Wow, did I write that?”’

Identifying Larry McMurtry, John Grisham, John D. McDonald, and Dave Berry as among his favorite authors, Towler has his own literary goals. For one thing, in the wake of his retirement from law enforcement, he plans to work on a science fiction novel that he began writing many years ago.

“I’d like to have a successful series of novels – create a character who people enjoy reading about and send him or her out into the world on adventures. “Think of Robert B. Parker’s “Spencer” novels, Patricia Cornwell’s “Scarpetta” books or Lee Child’s “Jack Reacher” novels,” he says. “I’m not looking to be the next Fitzgerald, Eliot or Steinbeck. I wouldn’t mind being the next Larry McMurtry, though that is probably aiming a bit high.”

“I don’t have any particular message I want to share with the world,” he explains. “I want to entertain and maybe leave the reader with something to think about.”


Barnhill Building Group has been selected as the Construction Manager @ Risk by the College of the Albemarle and is seeking to pre-qualify construction trade contractors to submit bids for the furnishing labor, materials, equipment, and tools for the new College of The Albemarle – Allied Health Sciences Simulation Lab (COA Health Sciences) located in Elizabeth City, NC. Please note: Only subcontractors who have been prequalified by Barnhill will be able to submit a Bid.

The project consists of the new construction of a 38,000-sf, 2-story expansion to the existing Owens Health Sciences Center and will house classrooms, labs, and a simulation lab. The site is just over just over 4.5 acres and is located on an active campus. This new construction will be a steel structure with a brick and metal panel veneer, curtainwall, and storefront glazing with a PVC roof membrane.

Principal trade and specialty contractors are solicited for the following Bid Packages:

BP0100: General Trades

BP0105: Final Cleaning

BP0390: Turnkey Concrete

BP0400: Turnkey Masonry

BP0500: Structural Steel & Misc. Steel

BP0740: Roofing

BP0750: Metal Panels

BP0790: Caulking / Caulking

BP0800: Turnkey Doors/Frames/Hardware

BP0840: Glass & Glazing

BP0925: Drywall

BP0960: Resilient Flooring

BP0980: Acoustical Ceilings

BP0990: Painting & Wallcovering

BP1005: Toilet Specialties / Accessories / Division 10

BP1010: Signage

BP1098: Demountable Partitions

BP1230: Finish Carpentry and Casework

BP1250: Window Treatment

BP1400: Elevators

BP2100: Fire Protection

BP2200: Plumbing

BP2300: HVAC

BP2600: Turnkey Electrical

BP3100: Turnkey Sitework

BP3290: Landscaping

Packages may be added and/or deleted at the discretion of the Construction Manager. Historically underutilized business firms are encouraged to complete participation submittals.

HUB/MWBE OUTREACH MEETING: Barnhill Building Group will be conducting a HUB/MWBE Informational Session. You are encouraged to attend the following session to learn more about project participation opportunities available to you. These seminars will help to: Learn about project and scope; Inform and train Minority/HUB contractors in preparation for bidding this project; Assist in registration on the State of North Carolina Vendor link; Stimulate opportunities for Networking with other firms. Location and time TBD. Please visit our planroom at https://app.buildingconnected.com/public/54da832ce3edb5050017438b for more information.

Interested contractors should submit their completed prequalification submittals, by July 22, 2024, to Meredith Terrell at mterrell@barnhillcontracting.com or hardcopies can be mailed to Barnhill Contracting Company PO Box 31765 Raleigh, NC 27622 (4325 Pleasant Valley Road, NC 27612).


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