Auntie M recently had a wonderful experience at the Writers Police Academy, held in Greensboro NC over three and half days, and filled to the brim for any writer whose work contains any element of crime.
The instructors were culled from all aspects of crime: police, fire, EMT, self-defense, Secret Service and more, even a microbiologist. Classes were a mix of group assembly and individual lectures. I learned all I needed for my next book about smallpox from Dr. Denene Lofland, wife of Lee Lofland, retired police and author whose is the brainchild of this compelling event.
These were long days and I filled a notebook with information. Friday and Saturday mornings started with group events and then you took off for your chosen classes. Friday AM we watched a setup scene play out: A vehicle had plowed into a group setting up for a yard sale. Seven victims were made up with with realistic injuries except for the two dummies who stood in for the dead ones the car had run over. At GO: The Fire Dept arrived and used the Jaws of Life to raise the car off the dead victims, while the police arrested the drunk driver and the EMT’s rolled in, sirens blasting, and triaged the patients, then set about doing first aid and taking them on stretchers by ambulance. The entire scene was cleared in 40 mins. Sat AM’s was watching two officers use C4 to blast open doors and gain access to a building.
You could sign up for physical events, like ride-alongs with real officers for half a shift, riding in an ambulance, learning about fire calls and deaths and scenes. You could shoot a fake gun and do the same routine offers train with, running through an area to flush out criminals and hope you don’t shoot the baby in the stroller! (Author Lisa Gardner, one of the Everyone’s Assembly speakers, shot the baby–and then was so adrenaline pumped she shot the real criminal over twenty times!). You could sign up for the driving simulator, too, and most everyone crashed chasing a criminal. Harder than it looks.
There were at least six different lectures you could choose from in EVERY slot, two in the AM, two in the afternoon. Lunches were provided. The Everyone’s Assembly speakers were Lisa Gardner and Alafair Burke, both very good presentations, more notes, lots of time for Q/A after. All of the instructors were real hands-on law enforcement, psychologists, EMTs, including Secret Service, FBI, and even the Chief of Police of a Louisiana parrish who was a SWAT agent for 16 yrs. Then there was Dr. Katherine Ramsland, who does forensic autopsies and specializes in serial killers. She has worked with serial killers, collects chainsaw suicide cases (yes, you CAN commit suicide using a chain saw on yourself and she had photos to prove it!) and focuses on paraphilias–graphic photos and fascinating stuff. We were riveted. I also took a class from Robin Burcell, a police officer and artist, now author, who writes a series with a protagonist who does that. We learned how she gets the information she needs from witnesses to create her drawings. She showed us her sketches and then the photo of the criminal who was subsequently caught and how close those were. And most give their talk twice so if class size meant when you arrived at their classroom and there were no seats, you simply chose another in that slot and took it on the second try. All had Q/A so you could ask about your particular book, and this helpful to me in the Microbial class I took, taught by Dr. Denene Lofland, about viruses and bacterial spread and attacks.
Even though my particular series is set in England, there was plenty there for me to use. For instance, one session was with the head of Forensics at Durham’s Police Department–a real CSI–and the methods for photographing and gathering and preserving evidence apply through most countries.
At the Sat evening banquet the guest was Michael Connolly, interviewed by former Secret Service agent Mike Roche, who described writing his Harry Bosch and Micky Haller series and then graciously sat at a table and signed books for another hour, as did all of the guest lecturers who had books in print.
If you write any type of novel that hits on any of these highly recommend this chance to meet other writers, learn a lot from the experts, and have a few laughs. The fee without the hotel room was $270 for the conference and HALF of that is paid for by Sisters in Crime if you are a member. They are a huge sponsor of this event. Well run, and worth the time and money. And don’t forget to check out Lee Lofland, the retired officer who writes Graveyard Shift, a great blog on things for writers to help them get cops and criminal justice “right,” and who blogs every week after CASTLE episodes with author Melanie Atkins who hits the romance angle, about what they got right and where they are lacking, often with tons of humor.
www.leelofland.com/wordpress/ Lee is the author of HOWDUNIT, a volume that makes police procedures easily understood for writers, and MASTERS OF TRUE CRIME.
One of the assemblies for the group was by Alafair Burke, a wonderful presentation on the myths she learned as a prosecutor. Now teaching law at Hofstra University, Burke explained the exceptions to needing a search warrant and the facts behind search and seizure law.
The title refers to a sentence of life without parole, the harshest New York can hand out in the absence of the death penalty. It’s been given to serial killer Anthony Amaro, convicted two decades earlier of a murder and believed responsible for several others. That is, until he receives a letter in prison stating that the recent murder of psychotherapist Helen Brunswick contained the same signature as those murders attributed to Amaro: the victim’s bones were broken after she was dead.
With Amaro asking for his sentence to be vacated and a tough celebrity lawyer on his case, things heat up for Det. Ellie Hatcher and her partner JJ Rogan, who are brought in to review the past evidence in what is termed a ‘fresh look’ team. In theory it means going over the past evidence. In practice, it means questioning everything done by the first team on the case, and isn’t designed to win them friends with their colleagues. It doesn’t help that Ellie’s boyfriend, ADA Max Donovan, is the one who’s given them this assignment.
What follows is the taking apart of a case from twenty years ago, with the added heat brought on by the distaste of the previous officers, compounded by Amaro’s lawyer, Linda Moreland, who has managed to spirit young lawyer Carrie Blank away from her elite law firm to this cause. Carrie’s half sister was one of Amaro’s victims–or was she? Does she represent an outlier? And who is really responsible for the murder of Helen Brunswick?
As Carrie Blank and Ellie and Rogan run similar investigations, things heat up when they all travel to Carrie’s upstate hometown, and culminate in an attack on Carrie that makes it clear someone has gotten too close to the truth.
Burke’s complex plot and ability to keep her detectives human is the hallmark of the series. This story involved the choices women make, and all of those repercussions on so many angles. Readers will feel like they are in the midst of this investigation with the detectives, even as the twists are thrown at them.