Monday, October 8, 2012

Special Report: Writers Police Academy!

We're interrupting our regular programming here at Sleuths, Spies & Alibis to bring you a special report from the mystery/thriller writing trenches! Ever wonder how mystery and thriller writers nail the details when dealing with crime, police procedures, and special investigations? Authors Megan Miranda (author of Fracture and the forthcoming Hysteria, Bloomsbury/Walker) and Elle Cosimano (author of Nearly Gone, coming 2014 from Kathy Dawson Books/Penguin) recently attended the Writers Police Academy in North Carolina to find out for themselves.

For the record, our own sleuth Laura Ellen was there too, but since she's busy getting ready for her imminent book launch, we're letting our guest posters tell you all about this fantastic conference!


“What’s the best way to get away with murder, officer?”

Smile so you don’t freak him out. Wait, the smile is totally freaking him out. Look serious. Wait, that’s a bad idea. Crap, too late.

Hey, remember that time your critique partner put you in cuffs and you got to play with Luminol and then you learned how to storm a building, SWAT style?

And then you came home with the answers to every inappropriate question in your manuscript (see above), and also ideas for four more stories, and a steady ache in your side from laughing all weekend? Or maybe that ache was from when the instructor challenged you to slip your cuffs . . . 

Yeah. Me too.

Wait, we should probably back up a second . . . 

A few weekends ago, we had the pleasure of attending the Writers Police Academy. Which is… wait for it… a police academy. For writers. Basically, it’s an opportunity to see and learn first-hand. And it’s also an opportunity to ask all those hypothetical what-if questions that might otherwise land you a) in someone’s spam folder, or b) on a watch list.

Oh, and also, it’s ridiculously fun.

Here are some of the classes we attended, and the crazy what-if questions these generous law enforcement professionals indulged for the sake of our art.

Really. It’s for the art. We promise.

Question:  “Hypothetically, what would you do if you got a tip that there was something, er, body-sized and, um, body-shaped hidden in a lake?”
Answer: “Deep questions require even deeper answers.”
Underwater Recovery Class

Question:  “What if the blood at a possible crime scene wasn’t really blood at all? What if it was beet juice or chocolate pudding or ketchup?”
Answer:  *snaps on latex gloves, hands over plastic vial and a bloody cloth* “There’s a test for that.”
Presumptive Blood Testing and Blood Spatter Analysis

Question:  “Is it possible to slip a pair of handcuffs?”
Answer:  “Here. Put these on your critique partner and let’s find out.”
Handcuffing Techniques
Question:  “If I was locked in a jail cell, where could I hide a weapon?”
Answer:  *passes out Scavenger Hunt Checklist and more latex gloves*  “I’ve hidden twenty items of contraband in this empty cell. Let’s see how many you can find.”

Jail Searches

Question:  “The detective in my story finds a body in the woods. What does he do next?”
Answer:  “He tapes off a perimeter and restricts the rabid fans and paparazzi from the scene, because Marcia Clark and Lee Child can’t be distracted while they’re working!”

Shallow Graves

Question:  “What if my bad guy is heavily armed and holed up inside a building. What does my hero do?”
Answer:  “Break into teams. Suit up.  Let’s go.” (For the record, one should not giggle while hypothetically searching a building, or one might end up with a hypothetical weapon pointed at one’s hypothetical head.)

Building Searches

Question:  “What does your average undercover cop look like?”
Answer:  You have to go to WPA to find out. We could show you this guy’s picture, but then we’d have to kill you.  And we don’t want to. If you haven’t already figured it out, covering up a crime scene is really hard to do!
Anatomy of an Undercover Cop (Photo redacted)
Question:  “What happens if a suspect doesn’t cooperate with the cops?”
Answer:  “Sign this waiver and follow me. Don’t worry about all that legalese in the second paragraph.  You probably won’t get killed.  Just don’t touch the dog or his handler. Don’t stand in front of the sniper rifle. Don’t step off the curb. And don’t draw a weapon. You didn’t bring a weapon, did you?”

Live Demonstrations
Question:  “Ooooh!”  *giggles and rubs hands*  “We get to play with Luminol?”

Answer:  *rolls eyes and passes the spray bottle*
Presumptive Blood Testing and Blood Spatter Analysis

Question:  “What happens when EMS arrives at the scene?”
Answer:  “Ever intubated anyone before?  Would you like to learn?”
EMS Demonstrations

Question:  “My heroine is trapped in a car. How long will it take to get her out?”
Answer: “This is the kind of question we can really sink our jaws into.”
(Side note: one of us may or may not have added a firefighter to her current cast of characters after this)
Jaws of Life Demonstration

We feel educated. We feel inspired. We feel ready to put our characters into horrifying situations. We feel ready to get said characters out of said horrifying situations.
And we’re ready for round two.
Will we see you there next year? Hope so! We'll be the ones holding the Glocks. 

ELLE COSIMANO is the author of the YA thrillers Nearly Gone and Nearly Lost, coming 2014 and 2015 from Kathy Dawson Books/Penguin. You can stalk her at her website, Facebook, and Twitter (@ElleCosimano).

MEGAN MIRANDA is the author of the YA thrillers Fracture (published in 2012, Bloomsbury/Walker) and Hysteria (coming 2/5/13, Bloomsbury/Walker). You can stalk her at her website, Facebook, and Twitter (@MeganLMiranda). 

Have you entered our current GIVEAWAY yet?  
The clock is ticking but there's still time to win a fabulous new YA mystery by Kathryn Burak (EMILY'S DRESS & OTHER MISSING THINGS) and gorgeous swag made by the author herself!


  1. But...did you have fun in the midst of all that education?

  2. BEST. CONFERENCE. EVER! Thanks for everything, Lee!
    Side note: Follow Lee Lofland on Twitter, and the WPA on facebook, and be first to register for WPA 2013! You'll be glad you did.

  3. That looked like so much fun!!! I want to know if Megan was able to slip those handcuffs...

  4. Great recap on a fabulous conference! And I'm definitely going back. There was so much to do there, it was impossible to catch everything the first time around.

  5. Yes, Talia! Megan managed to slip her cuffs! We have to watch out for her... she's got trouble written all over her!

  6. Who, me? You guys should have heard the questions Elle was asking.... :)
    Seriously, such a fantastic conference! Highly recommended!

  7. Fantastic post! Loved getting the recap:-)


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