Former county officer turns experiences into novels


March 21, 2002|By Lorraine Gingerich | Lorraine Gingerich,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

JAMES LILLEY has a lot of stories to tell after 25 years in the Howard County Police Department. But the Mount Airy resident never considered putting pen to paper until a friend suggested it. Now, Lilley has published two books and has written more than a dozen stories.

A karate teacher in Elkridge and a former Marine, Lilley has seen much that could provide fodder for his books. As in most jobs, he has had good and bad experiences, but some things have been tougher to deal with than others, he said.

"I can still vividly recall the first fatal accident I investigated only 2 1/2 months out of the police academy," Lilley said. "There were some very ugly crime scenes that are forever burned into my mind."

Lilley, 59, said he attended a military school in Southern Maryland during his middle school years.

He then attended and lived at Mount St. Joseph High School in Baltimore.

"That's where I learned to be a very creative writer because, when boys would be boys and get into trouble, we'd have to write for punishment," he said.

Lilley said some papers required thousands of words, but he soon realized the educators weren't reading the whole essay. When Lilley was assigned to write 10,000 words on "Why Fire Is Hot," he used the punishment to his best advantage. (The disciplinary action was provoked by an incident involving spitballs, water pistols and a paper airplane.)

"I'd write all the definitions for fire, heat, flame, match, etceteras, on the first few pages, and then make up stories for the rest of it," he said.

Before beginning his 25-year stint in police work, he spent four years in the Marines, where he learned karate.

"I was lucky enough to be stationed in Okinawa, and I found a school by asking a taxicab driver to take me to the best one he knew of," he said.

That's when he met Takeshi Miyagi.

"Not the Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid movies [Pat Morita], but the real Mr. Miyagi," Lilley said.

He said he was one of only two Americans who enrolled in Miyagi's dojo, or school, and he was the first and only American to be promoted to the rank of black belt by Miyagi in more than 35 years. (Another Marine was promoted to black belt in January 2000.) Now Lilley holds the rank of 7th-degree black belt.

Lilley says that in 1981, a friend, Sheldon Greenberg, told him that he had "a God-given talent" for writing, so he decided to try writing a book. He received his first rejection letter in 1982.

"Since then, I've received hundreds, and I still get them," Lilley said.

But he enjoyed writing, he said, and persevered.

Then, after 18 1/2 years of rejections and about a dozen manuscripts, Lilley found a publisher.

"I just took my father's advice and never gave up," he said.

In his first published book, A Question of Honor, Lilley wrote about a man betrayed by the justice system.

His topic evolved from his frustration with the publishing industry, Lilley said. He changed his main character from a hard-working policeman to a man who is let down by the system he serves.

"I vented a lot of anger in that book," said Lilley, who retired from the police force in 1992.

A Question of Honor was published in June.

His second published book, A Miracle For Tony Clements, was written 19 years ago and published in October. It is a humorous saga about a police officer who can't do anything right until divine intervention comes his way.

Lilley teaches karate part time in small groups. He ran the Shorin Ryu Karate Dojo in Ellicott City for eight years, but two years ago he went back to teaching small groups.

He also teaches defensive tactics as part of the Maryland Police Corps program.

Lilley will hold a book signing for A Question of Honor at 2 p.m. Saturday at Barnes & Noble Booksellers in Ellicott City.

Ping pong

More than 60 players from Maryland and surrounding states competed in the Maryland Circuit Tournament held March 9 and 10 at Carrolltown Center Mall in Eldersburg.

Howard County participants in the Maryland Table Tennis Association event included one adult, Phil Van Dusen of Clarksville, and several young people. The youngsters were Jeremiah Tsang, 16, Jonathan Tsang, 10, and Thomas Sun, 14, all of Ellicott City; Jimmy Pappadeas, 11, and Jim Millikan, 11, both of Clarksville; and Chris Shaw, 11, and Sam Drazin, 11, both of Columbia.

The Maryland Table Tennis Association Club is open for play and coaching from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays. The next tournament will be held April 13 and 14.

Information: 410-531-9664, or


River Hill High School senior Palak Parikh has been honored with a state-level Certificate of Excellence from the 2002 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program.

Palak was nominated for her volunteer service by River Hill Principal Scott Pfeifer and guidance counselor Annette Jackson.

The award is in recognition of Palak's leadership in student government and her work as a volunteer with Starlight Children's Foundation, which grants wishes to terminally ill children; Saturday Plus, a program for disabled and fragile senior citizens at the central library; Special Olympics; the Red Cross; and the Youth Committee of the Gujurati Samaj (Hindu society) in Washington.

She is the daughter of Jayprakash and Gira Parikh of Clarksville.

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