I got an email from Lee Lofland a couple of weeks ago, asking whether I could donate a book to an auction at The Writers’ Police Academy event he’s organizing (September 24-26, 2010.) When I looked up the Academy website, I was overwhelmed with determination to go–it just sounds amazing.
I wrote him back saying I’d be honored to send a book, and asking whether I could interview him about the event here on Murderati, because this seems like something a lot of us would love to take part in.
Cornelia: I’m not someone who uses the word “unique” very often, but in this case it’s justified: yours is the most unique writing conference I think I’ve ever run across, and the one I’d most give my eyeteeth to attend this year. You said in your original email that “This is not a writer’s conference. There are no agents, no pitch sessions, and no editors – just plenty of handcuffing, police cars, firearms training, crime scene investigations, accident reconstruction, fire and rescue training with real fire and rescue equipment, explosives investigations (airport and other), SWAT, homicide investigation, and much, much more. All things to help you get your police, fire, EMS, and forensics facts straight.” Awesome!!! How did the conference come about?
Lee: First of all, thanks for having me here on Murderati, one of my favorite blogs. I spend so much time on my own site that I have little time to visit others. But this is one of my pet lurking spots. I am indeed a fan.
The Writers’ Police Academy was an idea that came to me as a result of stumbling through bad police information in books written by some of my favorite authors. Also, TV is not very accurate in its portrayal of police procedures and forensics. Of course, TV has a better excuse for fudging facts—they only have thirty to sixty minutes to cram in as much excitement as possible.
As a reader, I’m not as forgiving (although you’d never know I cut TV any slack if you’d ever read my Castle reviews) when I turn to page forty-seven and discover a modern-day officer smelling cordite while racking a round into the chamber of his department-issued Sig Sauer. Or, when a plainclothes officer wears an ankle holster containing a pistol that’s far too large and bulky for that purpose. Ten minutes online, or a quick email to me (or a peek at my blog) and you’ll know that neither of those things should/could ever happen.
Over the years, many writers have transferred, without thought or care, what they’ve seen on television into their books, possibly thinking that information is fact. And why not? We’ve been seeing this stuff for years. Television and film have crammed this garbage down out throats as fast and furiously as they can. Well, I’d finally had enough and set out on a mission!
First I started speaking at conferences and other similar events. Then I wrote my book a couple of years ago for the sole purpose of helping writers learn the truth about police procedures, police tools and equipment, and forensics. Of course, I’d like to think I can write like James Lee Burke, so that when you open the pages of my book you smell gunpowder and swamp water. Still, the book wasn’t enough, so I followed up with my blog. But I still wasn’t satisfied. I wasn’t doing enough! I felt that there had to be a better way to help writers experience this stuff for themselves.
I wanted them to have the opportunity to activate their senses, not just read that when an officer sits, the flesh on his side is sometimes pinched between his Kevlar vest and gun belt.
Writers should smell real burnt powder from a concussion grenade. They need to hear the explosion when that grenade is tossed into a building where a murderer is hiding out. They really must experience the rush of having a suspect point a weapon at them and then fire! They need to feel that heart-pounding moment when a little old lady suddenly pulls a weapon during a domestic dispute call. Do you shoot, or not? Well, you’d better, or she’ll blast you before you can bat an eyelash, for the last time. I’ve been there and done that. Now it’s your turn. We’re giving you an opportunity to experience a very realistic day in the life of your protagonist!
Attendees of the Writers’ Police Academy will be doing all those things—facing old ladies with guns, seeing burning buildings, arresting bad guys and taking them down, smelling the after-effects of explosions, and more. Never before has there been anything like this. We’re very fortunate to have the opportunity to offer this event.
We hosted a mini version of the academy last year at a conference just outside Cincinnati and it was a huge success. So, I contacted some friends at an actual police academy in North Carolina to see if there was any interest in hosting the event. Well, since many of the folks at the North Carolina police academy are readers and fans of mystery, romance, romantic suspense, and thrillers, they welcomed the idea to help stop the nonsense they read in books written by their own favorite authors. We quickly set up a meeting with the powers in charge, and within days the project was a go. We’ve had full cooperation from the entire staff since that day.
As soon as I had the go ahead, I contacted literary agent Verna Dreisbach (Verna’s also a former police officer) to see if she’d be willing to sign on as my partner in this madness, and we’ve been making preparations since. I’ve also been fortunate to have the assistance of a fantastic planning committee—Susan Greene, Nancy Kattenfeld, Lynette Hampton, and Mari Freeman, members of SinC, MWA, RWA, and local romance writers chapters. We wouldn’t be able to pull this off without them.
Believe me, this is a ton of hard, hard, work, because not only do we have the usual logistics to work out, we also have the added worries of lining up real police officers, academy instructors, actual police equipment, canines, bomb experts, jail cells, police cars, weapons, lab equipment…well, you get the idea. This event is the real deal!
You told me in your most recent email that “We’re actually going to blow up stuff, set a building on fire, investigate a murder, reconstruct an auto accident, train on a firearms simulator, handcuff, learn defensive tactics, spray someone with pepper spray, Taser someone, examine evidence in a real crime lab, and…well, you get the idea.” I LOVE the idea of blowing stuff up, of course—and everything else listed here– but who gets to be Tasered and pepper-sprayed?
I was hoping either you, Tess, or Alafair might volunteer to be our bad guys. No? Well, in that case, we’ve lined up actual police academy recruits (remember, we’re hosting this event at a real police, fire, jail, and EMS academy) to act as our unfortunate victims. I’ll be the first to tell you that it’s no picnic getting pepper-sprayed, or shot with a Taser. I’ve experienced both. Never again!
Your keynote speaker will be Jeffery Deaver, who’s terrific. Tell us a little about the other people on your faculty…
Jeff Deaver is a fantastic speaker. He always delivers a message that’s not only inspiring and entertaining, it’s very informative. We’re lucky to have him on board. We also have Jonathan Hayes as a special guest. Jonathan is a wonderful writer, and he’s also a senior medical examiner in New York City. He’ll be presenting a few pathology-related workshops, and he’s also presenting a major session on autopsy in the main auditorium on Friday afternoon.
Immediately after the Friday evening reception (we have a special musical guest from Atlanta lined up to entertain us during the reception) I’ll be presenting a night owl session where I’ll be taking everyone through an actual homicide case, involving love, drugs, homicide, and dismemberment. This is a case that I’ve been a part of for quite a while, and I’ll be sharing actual crime scene photos, and other evidence. It’s a very compelling story, a story that’s perfect to experience just prior to turning in for the night!
We’re also featuring:
ATF Special Agent Rick McMahan, who’ll be teaching workshops on weapons and fight scenes.
Verna Dresibach is scheduled to teach classes on jail searches and DUI’s (there may be some actual drinking involved in this workshop).
Dr. Denene Lofland will be conducting workshops about microscopic murder and bioterrorism (chemicals, poisons, bacteria, and viruses).
Forensic psychologist Rick Helms will be dazzling us with his vast knowledge of serial killers.
We also have many, many actual police academy instructors who’ll be leading workshops on crime scene investigation, crime labs (you’ll be testing actual evidence in a real crime lab), FATS training (firearms training simulator), SWAT, building searches, arson investigations, explosives, accident reconstruction, fire department operations, and much, much more. We’re also going to have representatives from several police departments on hand through out the academy to answer your questions. They’ll have booths set up displaying police and fire equipment, as well as offering live demonstrations on Friday and Saturday, such as SWAT, motorcycles, fire trucks, ambulances, and canines. A few of those instructors as follows:
- Eric Holloman, Dept. Chair Criminal Justice – Accident reconstruction:
- Susan Pons, Assoicate Professor, Criminal Justice- Crime lab (fingerprint and impression evidence):
- Mike MacIntosh, Bomb and HazMat Expert
- Jerry Coble, Ass’t Fire Marshall for Guilford County – Arson investigation and basic firefighting
- Jerry Cooper – FATS training/Taser Demo
- Deputy Catherine Netter – Jail searches
- Bob Walters, BLET Coordinator; Lt. Randy Shephered, Deputy Vic Maynard – Police equipment and tools:
- Defensive tactics/Handcuffing and arrest techniques: Guilford County Sheriff’s Dept.
- Bill Lanning, Assoicate Professor in Criminal Justice
Where and when will the conference be held?
The Writers’ Police Academy (remember, this isn’t a conference) will be at Public Safety Academy on the campus of Guilford Technical Community College in Jamestown, N.C., which is just outside of Greensboro, and very near Mayberry and Mt. Pilot. The event kicks off on Friday September 24, 2010 and ends Sunday at noon after a fun de-briefing session.
By the way, the Mayberry Days celebration takes place the same weekend—I planned it that way—so if you’d like to drive on over while you’re in the area, you can see Thelma Lou, The Darlings, Otis, Floyd, Karen Knotts (Don Knotts’ daughter), the old Mayberry Jail and sheriff’s car, the Andy Griffith Museum, and more. You can even participate in the apple peeling contest or enjoy a pork chop sandwich in the diner while the Mayberry patrol car zips by on the street outside. You might even see Otis stumble by on his way to the courthouse. Oh, there are mule-powered wagon tours of the town, too. It’s a real hoot!
The conference website mentions The Don Knotts Silver Bullet Writing Contest and the Krispy Kreme Golden Donut Award for best short fiction. Who can enter, and what are the deadlines? And, of course, the most important question: will real donuts be involved?
The Don Knotts Silver Bullet novel contest is named after, of course, Don Knotts from the Andy Griffith Show. Don’s daughter, Karen, is a good friend of my blog, The Graveyard Shift. She once wrote a wonderful article for the blog about her famous dad, and even supplied us with a couple of never-before-seen photographs.
Karen has graciously offered to let us use her father’s name in connection with the contest, which is open to everyone and anyone. The Silver Bullet award will be presented for the best manuscript presented to our panel of judges—literary agent Kimberly Cameron of Kimberley Cameron and Associates, literary agent Elizabeth Pomada of Larsen Pomada Literary Agency, publisher Benjamin LeRoy of Tyrus Books, and Poison Pen Press acquisitions editor, Annette S. Rogers. The winner will not only receive the physical award, they’ll also be afforded the opportunity to submit their entire manuscript for possible representation by one of the agents, or for publication by the publishers. Of course, the winning manuscript must be worthy of publication for the publishers to accept it.
The Krispy Kreme Golden Donut contest is a short story contest. Writers can submit a story about a common theme ( a photo by photographer Sunday Kaminski) similar to the monthly contest seen in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. There’s a reason for that particular rule, and we’ll tell all a bit later. (Sunday Kaminski’s work has been featured in the Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, and quite frequently on my blog).
Details for both contests will be available on our website within the next few days.
Of course donuts are involved. In fact, Krispy Kreme is the sponsor of the Golden Donut contest. They’re also furnishing donuts and coffee for the event. We simply could not have a real police academy and not have donuts on hand!
Conference proceeds benefit the Criminal Justice Foundation of the college that’s hosting the event, Guilford Technical Community College in Jamestown, N.C. What are the aims of this foundation?
The Criminal Justice Foundation is in place to help fund basic and in-service training needs for police officers. The money we donate to the foundation will be used for equipment, teaching supplies, and other necessary items that simply aren’t available through normal state funding. Times are tough for education, especially when it comes to training law enforcement officers. And this particular group of police instructors have a special connection to writers. Many of them are the experts who’ve answered police-related questions, either directly or through me, or they’ve provided some bit of information for my book and blog.
Anything else you’d like us to know?
Yes. If you can only attend one event this year, the Writers’ Police Academy should be it. Writers conferences comes and go—they’re fun and I love them, but they’re the same old, same old. But you may never have this opportunity again. There’s not another place in the world where writers can train like real police officers. This is not a watered down citizens police academy. Not at all. We’ve put all our energy into making this event special. We want everyone to learn and have tons of fun while doing so.
This will be an action-packed weekend. In fact, we’re starting Saturday off with a BANG (literally). Do yourself a favor, and be there. We’ll need help putting out that fire!
Thanks again for having me, Cornelia. I hope we see you there. I think we have a pair of handcuffs with your name on them.
For details and updates, please visit the Writers’ Police Academy website at http://www.writerspoliceacademy.com/index.html
Or, visit The Graveyard Shift at http://www.leelofland.com/wordpress/ for more of the same.
If anyone has questions they can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I would like to take time to thank our sponsors, if I may.
The Oak Ridge Boys
Singer/recording artist Joe Bonsall, The Oak Ridge Boys
Author Deborah LeBlanc
Just Write Sites
They’ve all been wonderful and quite generous with their contributions, and with donations for the academy attendees. In fact, The Oak Ridge Boys have donated a really nice raffle basket containing several of their CD’s, signed books, and other neat items. Joe Bonsall (the voice on Elvira) and the Oak Ridge Boys’ manager/agent Kathy Harris have been simply wonderful. We’ve been in almost daily contact since they first signed on. What a great group of people!
Writers Digest has gone all out with their generous offerings. One of the items they’ve donated for the raffle is a complete set of the new Howdunit series, which includes Poisons (Serita Stevens and Anne Bannon), Police Procedure and Investigation (my book), and Forensics (D.P. Lyle). The new Weapons book may be out by that time as well. Just Write Sites designed, hosts, and maintains our fabulous website (they also take care of my website and blog), and author Deborah LeBlanc dug really, really deep into her bank account.
See you in September!
Okay, don’t you totally want to go to this, ‘Ratis? I think I might even agree to be pepper sprayed… totally worth it!
(BONUS: Everyone here on Murderati will be donating books for a group blog basket at Lee’s WPA auction. Yea!)