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  • Melissa Westemeier

writers police academy

All fiction writers are making it up as they go along. Some of us shoot for accuracy in the details, others of us fake it all the way. Personally, I prefer a mix. I like my characters and situations to be pretend but I try to keep the settings and action in the plot plausible. To research home parties for my first book, Whipped, Not Beaten, I hosted a Pampered Chef party and interviewed a party hostess. I had an actual florist read over Kicks Like A Girl to check the details of Benton's Blooms. I really did tend bar in a fishing town, and I even pulled a few shifts in a bait shop. These experiences shaped my ability to write the Bassville series. But then I got cocky and started writing murder mysteries.

Full disclosure: I've never murdered anyone. I've never worked as a police detective and I'm definitely not retired nun.

Of course, a person can conduct some research by talking to experts, reading, and trying things on their own, but the trick to writing knowledgably is to know what you don't know so you know what questions to ask. If you're way out of your depth, you're guessing what questions to ask and there's a good chance you'll guess wrong.

I didn't want to make that mistake if I could help it, so when my good friend and writing partner MK Graff recommended attending the Writers Police Academy I knew I had to sign up. The conference takes place in Green Bay and Appleton, practically in my back yard, and the dates were open on my calendar. Then the Wisconsin chapter of Sisters in Crime gifted me a free registration. Attending the Writers Police Academy: Killer Con turned out to be an invaluable experience and I cannot recommend it enough.

Some conferences are fun, some provide good networking, and some are educational. Killer Con is all of the above, but mostly educational. I ended my weekend with over ten pages of notes written on a legal pad. Single spaced notes. It was ridiculous how much I learned. My experience involved over thirty hours of learning the finer points of homicide and crime scene investigations.

Thursday kicked off with a Touch a Truck event at registration and check in. We could walk around the expo center and talk to a variety of experts, including a coroner, EMTs, firefighters, and police officers. A wide range of gear and vehicles were on display, including drones. That evening Carrie Stuart Parks presented a fascinating lecture on how to determine deception in someone's words.


That's a Lucas device. It gives automatic chest compressions.

A literal lifesaver to people receiving CPR and to people giving it.

Emergency and law enforcement workers use some cool gear!


Friday kicked off at 8:00 a.m. at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (a shout-out to the instructors and staff there who treated us like gold and provided for our every need!). A live scenario of a shooting scene gave us a minute-by-minute breakdown of what law enforcement does in these situations. Then we got training in observation skills with a hands-on assignment to walk through a staged murder scene with a small group and apply what we learned. Lunch was spent with our groups processing the crime scene and coming up with which leads and evidence we'd use to solve the double homicide. Three sessions followed (I attended Crime Writer's Guide to Murder Investigation taught by the incomparable Bruce Coffin, CSI: Processing a Shooting Scene, and Homicide Investigation: the Reel to Real Story). We were cut loose at 5:20 and regrouped at 8:00 for Dr. Katherine Ramsland's presentation about her encounters with serial killers.


Fun fact: the GREEN area on the target is where you

aim your taser. NOT YELLOW!

Also, a taser will not interfere with your pacemaker.


I'll note here that Killer Con is NOT for the faint of heart. Some of what I saw and heard was pretty gory, but the conference appeals to True Crime fans and writers as well as people who stay in the Cozy Mystery lane. I skew to less gore, more puzzle-solving, but I appreciate how this conference has to hit all the areas.


Saturday began at 8:30 with sessions (I attended Interview and Interrogation, Overdose Death Investigation, and Reading and Interpreting Bloodstain Patterns and Spatter). We had more time to process the double homicide scenario before the debriefing where we learned what actually was important and who actually committed the crimes. That evening we enjoyed a banquet with this year's guest of honor, the one and only Charlaine Harris.


Charlaine Harris is a POWERHOUSE of a writer, yet she's barely five feet tall!


Sunday morning we were treated to a panel discussion that involved Q&A time with the experts who'd presented at the sessions. I learned much from other people's questions.

I won't go into detail about what I learned at this workshop out of respect for the proprietary nature of this event, but I learned a LOT and I was impressed by how hands-on the sessions were and how the presenters made time to answer people's questions.

Lee Lofland, the man responsible for this conference, pays attention to the details. Every aspect of this event, from the catering to the quality of the presenters to the information packet (which included maps and information about the facilities, contacts, and schedules) was top-notch. The content of this conference changes every year, too, because Lofland is dedicated to providing writers with a useful and current educational experience. I get why people came from around the world (seriously! from as far as Australia!) to attend and why several attend year after year.


To sum up: if you write mystery or crime novels, you owe it to yourself to attend the Writers Police Academy. And if you're just a huge fan of crime writing, you'd get a kick out of it, too.

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bluevirgin.graff
bluevirgin.graff
Jun 23

I loved my experience there and still refer to the notes I took and info handed out. To me, it's a must for any crime writer, and Lee Lofland runs a sterling event. Your overview was spot on!

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Amy Stingle
Amy Stingle
Jun 22

In my FSD years, I facilitated the long-distance learning program (KASCADE). We went to NWTC, Fox Valley Tech, Outagamie County Jail and somewhere in Neenah as well. It was interesting learning about real CSI techniques! I find this stuff so interesting! I'm sure what you experienced was exceptional!

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