Writers Police Academy – Best Place for Hands-On Research in Murder Short of Killing Someone and Getting Arrested

Lauren Carr gave up her career of writing mysteries for television and stage to try her hand at writing novels. She wrote A Small Case of Murder while staying at home with her young son. Her first book, A Small Case of Murder, was named finalist for the Independent Publisher Book Awards. Old Loves Die Hard is Lauren’s fourth book. She learned to love mysteries as a child when her mother read Perry Mason to her at bedtime.  She resides in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.

Lauren returns today to tell all about her recent trip to the Writers Police Academy and what makes a mystery writer a little bit different.

Writers are different from other people. If you know someone that’s a writer, you may or may not understand. If you don’t know any writers, especially a mystery writer, then you can’t possibly comprehend how very different we are.

To begin, we’re always on the lookout for the opportunity for hands-on research in forensics and law enforcement. It’s not because we want to practice it at home. It’s so we can give our books that sense of realism.

Sure, the Internet brings information right to your fingertips. But, reading a list on your computer screen of what a police officer carries on their belt while sitting in your bathrobe with your feet up and drinking coffee – Well, it’s not the same as strapping on that belt yourself and experiencing the weight and sense of authority that goes with it.

Unfortunately, when you’re a mystery writer, unless you know a cop or a killer, or you are a cop or a killer, it can be tough doing hands-on research.  Generally, most crime writers have absolutely no connection or experience in law enforcement. So when we get the opportunity to spend a weekend at a real police academy learning from the pros who actually work in the field, we’re going to jump at it with both feet.

The Writers’ Police Academy offers the most hands-on, interactive and educational experience writers can find to enhance their understanding of all aspects of law enforcement and forensics. It’s been a week since I’ve returned from the second annual Writers Police Academy in Greensboro, North Carolina, and I’m still giddy.

Not only was it the learning experience that I found so exhilarating, there was the added thrill of spending the weekend with other mystery writers – people just like me.

I had the pleasure of rooming with Tamara Ward. Her current book is Storm Surge, a Jonie Waters Mystery, which I read and highly recommend. Wonderful characters. Twists and turns. Read it and find out for yourself. Tamara and I were both so excited about the weekend that we couldn’t sleep. Even after driving five hours from Harpers Ferry, WV, I was too keyed up. Then we were so excited after the first day because we were having so much fun, plus learning so much, that we still couldn’t sleep.

Nina Mansfield, Lauren Carr and Tamara Ward

We buddied up with another writer: Nina Mansfield, who writes plays as well as fiction. Another super lady! She is currently working on a young adult paranormal novel. Last weekend, one of Nina’s short plays was being performed in New York, so she had to rush back to see it performed before it closed. If you live in San Pedro, California, you can see her latest ten-minute play Bite Me performed at the Little Fish Theater from October 12-30.

When writers get together, especially with mystery writers, there is this sense of comfort that comes from finally being with one of your own. It’s like a space alien living among earthlings. With no one to understand him, he has to adapt to those around him. When he finally meets up with other aliens, he can let out a sigh of relief. Ah! Now I can be who I really am, because you’ll understand me!

You see, writers are always on the lookout for ideas, and twists and turns to weave into our current works in progress.

Writers of more (shall we say?) polite genres can talk openly about ideas that may strike them while socializing with their “civilian” friends. While sipping lattes in Starbucks, when a romance writer spies a couple in the corner having a lovers’ spat, she can point them out to her friends and openly discuss the story idea that has struck her:

“What if the love of her life’s plane went down in the Pacific while carrying supplies to survivors of a tsunami? They told her that he was dead, but in her heart she never believed it. But finally, after years of waiting, she buried him in her heart and decided to move on with her life. She devoted her life to her career, because she knew that she could never love like that ever again. Now she’s engaged to the powerful and heartless CEO of her company. No, it is not love; it’s strictly a marriage of convenience. Then suddenly, the new vice president of her company walks in and it’s him! The love of her life. But he doesn’t remember her. He’s got amnesia. Now, she’s torn. Should she make him remember her so that she can regain the love and happiness that they once had, or should she turn her back on the past and marry the man she doesn’t love for the sake of riches and power?”

The romance writer’s friends would swoon over their lattes to hear such a story.

Not so with a murder mystery writer spotting the same lover’s spat:

“What if she used to be engaged to the love of her life and his plane went down in the Pacific while carrying supplies to a Navy Seal team preparing to take out a terrorist cell in a top secret base in the Middle East? They told her that it was an accident, but in her heart she never believed it. She investigates and discovers that her fiancé’s romantic rival was spotted at the airport shortly before the plane took off. With the aid of his powerful friends in high places in the United States government, he covered up the murder to make it look like her lover was a terrorist that had infiltrated the government. Determined to clear her lover’s name, she plays dumb and goes undercover. The villain buys into her cover. They marry and she quickly works up in the defense company. Then suddenly, the new vice president of her company walks in and he looks very familiar. His face is different, but there’s no fooling her. It’s him! The love of her life. He had survived the crash, got facial reconstruction, and established a new identity with the goal to seek revenge by bringing the whole company down to its knees by blowing the lid off it selling arms and secrets to terrorists. When he discovered that the love of his life had married the man that tried to kill him, he believes she was in on it and plans to take her down as well. So she follows him to Starbucks and corners him to try to convince him that she has spent all these last dozen years married to the man that tried to kill him in order to punish him. Meanwhile, her husband has hired a private eye—the guy sitting over at that booth reading the Wall Street Journal—”

“Do you mean the guy with the Glock concealed in his pocket?” a fellow writer will interrupt to ask.

“No,” another writer will answer, “the one over there with the Beretta hidden in his briefcase.”

“How did the villain bring the plane down? Was it a bomb or did he drug the pilot?”

A hand will go up. “I vote for bombing the plane.”

“It would be easier to drug the pilot,” someone will argue. “A bomb would be more difficult to get onto the plane, even if it was a private charter.”

“But drugging the pilot is so anemic. A bomb has more kick to it.”

Then the conversation will dissolve into a debate: Polite murders that involve drugs and poisons versus high-powered MO’s like guns, knives and bombs. Even as we each chose sides, our cheeks are flushed with excitement. It isn’t every day that writers can embark in a live debate among fellow writers of mystery about such topics.

Nothing against my friends back home, but none of them knows the first ingredient that goes into a Molotov cocktail, and they really couldn’t care less.

Yes, this past weekend was a blast between learning about how real police work happens and rubbing elbows with my fellow mystery writers. If the Writers Police Academy offers another go around next year, I will be sure to sign up again.

I have to go. A nice little silver-haired lady with an oversized knitting bag in the hotel lounge promised to show me how to mix a suicide cocktail that tastes just like a pina colada.