Crime Fighting Robots


The remote controlled Andros F-6 robot has the capability to stand tall at 6 feet 5 inches. It can also squat to a compact three-feet. The 500 – 800lb robot can be equipped with attachments to suit the needs of its department. Some of the available attachments and devices are: water pistols for breaking apart explosive devices, gripper arms, video cameras, shotguns, and microphones.


R2-D2  of the Butler County Ohio Sheriff’s Office – Richard Jones, Sheriff

Special tires and tracks enable the robots to travel across almost all terrains, such as sand and mud. Some robots are even narrow enough to travel along airplane aisles. They can even climb stairs.


Robots can be equipped to detect the presence of hazardous chemicals.


Robot armed with shotgun.


Robot equipped with window-breaking gear.


Robots can be used for handling dangerous chemicals.


U.S military robot disarming roadside explosive device.

*Photos by Butler County Ohio Sheriff’s Office – Sheriff Richard Jones, and Northrop Grumman – Remotec.



Insect Evidence

We’re still trying to work out the bugs in the new system.  In the meantime, here’s some real-life, crime-solving bugs.


Maggots are true eating machines. One end is comprised of biting and chewing parts. The other end is an open airway. That’s right, they have the unique ability to breathe while they eat – like cops at a buffet. 

If detectives discover only fly eggs on a body, with no live maggot presence, the victim has probably been deceased  approximately one day. The presence of larvae 5mm long indicates the  victim has been deceased for approximately 1.5 days, etc.

* Notice – Due to the technical difficulties we experienced during the past few days Tuesday’s guest blogger will be rescheduled. Nathan Bransford will be here as scheduled on Wednesday. Thanks for your patience.

Robin Burcell

Robin Burcell has worked in law enforcement for over two decades as a police officer, detective, FBI-trained forensic artist and hostage negotiator. She is the author of the Anthony Award winning SFPD Homicide Inspector Kate Gillespie novels: Every Move She Makes, Fatal Truth, Deadly Legacy and Cold Case, and the upcoming novel The Face of a Killer. You can visit her website at:

Robin Burcell:
When our fight-or-flight response is activated, chemicals in our body are released into our bloodstream. This causes our body to undergo dramatic changes. Respiratory rate increases. Blood is directed into our muscles and limbs for the specific purpose of fueling that “fight or flight.” Most of us know this part of it. But it’s the other responses I find fascinating. You’ve probably experienced it yourself, or heard others say things like “my life flashed before my eyes.” In a way, they were right. In the fight-or-flight response, our awareness intensifies, our sight sharpens, our impulses quicken, and the biggie, our perception of pain diminishes.
It’s the reason you can be injured in a serious car accident, get up, help others in more serious need, but not realize you are even injured until later.

In a nutshell, it is a form of stress, and it’s something that cops experience far too often. The problem is that cumulative stress is bad. It manifests itself in unseen ways, such as hypertension, heart problems, etc. I’ve had my share of stressful incidents, many of which resulted in nightmares, or prolonged bouts of PTSD. Any cop who’s been on the street a while will tell you the same. For me, when the stress of the job became too much to bear, when I was experiencing far too many complaints of what I call short-temper syndrome, I knew I was in trouble. I began to hate my job and the people I was dealing with. I needed help.

Strangely enough, I found that help writing fiction. My fictional world became my psychoanalyst’s couch. I could kill off all sorts of people, and never face an IA investigation. I could come back with zippy one-liners that made even the most macho I-hate-female-officers-type cop shiver in his boots. And best of all, those pesky supervisors who never quite recovered from their post-promotional lobotomies, well, they usually found their just rewards in the pages of my manuscripts.

Suddenly I was walking down the hallways of my department with a bounce in my step. I hadn’t even sold my first book yet, but it didn’t matter. When I came home, I fired up that computer, and voil‡, my day’s problems were resolved.

If only real life were that easy.

But I digress. The reason I brought up the fight-or-flight response is because many of you who read Lee’s blog are interested in the real life stuff that you can use in your own writing. I’m no different. Aside from killing off pesky supervisors, I like to pepper my fiction with real-life scenarios, things taken from my own experiences to give my books that ring of authenticity. In FACE OF A KILLER, the first in my new series that debuts this fall (hardcover with Poisoned Pen Press, paper with HarperCollins), my character is an FBI agent/forensic artist, and I’ve tried to include a few scrapes for her to get into that give the reader an idea of what it’s like to become involved in a life-threatening moment where this response occurs.

One of the best scenes I ever wrote that never made it into one of my books (DEADLY LEGACY) was taken from a real life experience that happened when a suspect pulled a knife on me and my partner, a rookie barely on the street a few months. The strange thing about that real life case was that before it even registered in my mind, our guns were drawn. I couldn’t even tell you how my gun got in my hand. I was talking on the phone to dispatch at the time, trying to get information on the suspect, and the next thing I know, I’m pointing my Glock at this guy who has a knife drawn on us. Since I am also a trained hostage negotiator, I immediately began the process of negotiating the knife away from the suspect. The whole thing was caught on tape by dispatch, because apparently I had set the phone down to draw my weapon and the line was open the whole time. Up to that point, everything had happened so fast, but once we drew down on him, or rather once he drew his knife on us, everything happened in slow motion. Much like the special effect scenes in the movie THE MATRIX. It was all very surreal.

And the fictional account that I wrote about it was a great scene. Realistic, because it was taken from real life. Only in the book I changed the bad guy to a bad girl. Gender didn’t matter. Knives, as cops know, are deadly no matter who is holding one. Someone can pull a knife from twenty feet away and kill you before you ever get your gun out. Unfortunately for me, but probably fortunate for the readers of my series, my editor made me take the scene out. Actually she made me take out the entire thread involving this woman, because it didn’t move the story forward. And she was right. But it was still a great scene. It showed the fight-or-flight response in a cop, exactly what happens when danger strikes and a cop has that split second to act.

As humans, we’re all susceptible to this instinctual response. It occurs whenever you have been involved in any near-death experience, and even some not-so-near-death experiences. It’s your body’s way of reacting to protect you. You’ve probably experienced the mildest form on more than one occasion, maybe without even realizing it. Ever had to slam on your brakes in a car, because some nitwit turned in front of you? Felt the pins and needles in your wrists as you gripped the steering wheel, the pounding of your heart after the threat was gone? That was a rush and release of adrenaline, the start of the response designed to allow you to take action far quicker than you could have, had you not been scared.

But what if you haven’t experienced the real thing, and you want your cop or your protagonist in your story to experience it? What does it feel like? What happens when it’s over and done with?

Remember the part where I said I had my gun out and didn’t even know I’d drawn down on the guy? That occurred because when faced with fight-or-flight, a person resorts to training. It’s why cops spend hours on the range doing nothing but drawing his/her weapon at the sight of a threat. And further hours on proper shooting techniques, which sometimes means eliminating bad habits or developing good ones so that when under stress, when faced with fight-or-flight, the automatic response is to do the right thing. Training is all about developing good habits. Had we not been trained over and over to draw our guns for this “threat,” chances are we might have done something else without thinking. Dove. Tried to grab the knife. Fled, which is the other part of the response. Who knows?

But what about this whole Matrix thing? This life-flashing-before-your-eyes feeling, as if time-has-fragmented thing? It occurs because your senses have been heightened. You actually develop tunnel vision, the better to concentrate only on the immediate threat in front of you. In my case, the guy draws the knife, but then points it to his belly and says that we might as well kill him. My finger on the trigger actually releases past that first click. He is now a threat to himself. Not me. But then he lifts the knife. Trigger finger pulls slightly, hearing/feeling that first click. He’s a hairsbreadth away from dying. Then the knife is back down at his belly. Trigger finger releases again. It’s at this moment that our third backup, a lieutenant, arrives, walks in the door, assesses the situation. The suspect reaches up, grabs his sunglasses off his head and throws them at the lieutenant.

I can see the sunglasses spinning end-over-end. The lieutenant later tells me that he has no idea what the guy has thrown at him. Why? The lieutenant’s body has yet to react to fight-or-flight. His perception isn’t as heightened as ours, because he hasn’t perceived that his life has been threatened yet—that is until the sunglasses come flying at him. Because he doesn’t know what that object flying at him is, he perceives it as potential danger, and it changes his body’s response instantly. He sprays the guy with OC (pepper spray). But because I am fully in the threshold of the fight-or-flight response, I can see the clear liquid of the spray, the tiny droplets coming down as it arcs across the room. It hits the suspect in his face, and he’s not fazed—because his body is also in full fight-or-flight response. His sense of pain is diminished. He taunts the lieutenant, asking him what he thinks he’s doing. In the meantime, I’m trying to negotiate with him to drop the knife, because we really don’t want to kill him in his mother’s house, and I tell him to think of how bad she’d feel. Eventually, he tells us he will drop it. He spins, throws the knife into the couch, and it is buried hilt deep. (Open, the knife was eight inches. There is maybe an inch of the hilt left showing. I realize that could have been us, our bodies. But that thought does not enter my mind until later, when we remove the knife from the couch.) We rush forward, take him into custody.

When it’s all over and done with, we escort him outside and throw him in the back of my car, so I can drive him to mental health. The threat is now over, but our bodies have yet to recover. Slowly our senses are returning to normal. We begin to feel things that we were not aware of in the midst of all this. Our suspect begins to scream in pain that the pepper spray is hurting his face. I can actually start to feel the effects in my own eyes, the remnants of a sting, the taste of it in my mouth. I stand there by my patrol car, and suddenly my knees get shaky, and I feel nauseous. The adrenaline is now leaving my body, and the blood that fueled my extremities is returning to other parts, trying to get my body back to normal.

I’m pretty much good for nothing for the next several minutes. But I have an easy job. It’s my call, so I have to drive the guy to mental health, which means I have at least an hour or more to slowly get back to normal. The rookie isn’t so lucky. He has to return to the street.

What I find amusing in cop shows are the scenes where a cop is fully in the midst of the fight-or-flight, saves his partner, or kills the bad guy, or performs some other brave feat, then stands there and has a normal conversation like it’s no big deal, never even breaking a sweat. Hands aren’t shaking, voice isn’t quavering.

Not gonna happen in real life.

Lee Lofland

On Wednesday May 7 our guest blogger will be literary agent Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown LTD.

Nathan has requested to receive questions in advance of his post. If you’d like to submit a question you can do it here in the comments section, or you can send it to me at [email protected] and I’ll forward it to Nathan.

Weekend Road Trip will return next weekend

Monday – Author/Police Officer Robin Burcell

Tuesday – Jane Friedman of Writers Digest Books

The Graveyard Shift is temporarily out of order. We’re experiencing some weird technical difficulties. We hope to have the issues resolved before Monday morning. Thanks for your patience.


Friday's Heroes - Remembering the fallen officers

Officer Tabke

Gary Tabke has lived a life in motion almost from his birth on an Air Force base. Attending four different high schools in various states and abroad helped to shape the individual he is today. Often the new kid in town, Gary learned early the narrow mindedness and prejudices that permeate society. It was one of the forces that drove him to become a police officer. Fourteen years of patrol including a stint as an FTO (Field Training Officer) on city streets lead to several injuries and an early retirement.

Not one to sit on his laurels, Gary started a successful swimming pool and spa design business and began coaching high school football. Five years later, the pool business has given way to a rising coaching career. Gary is currently coaching college football at a NCAA Division III school and is cofounder of two highly successful football camps in California.

A father of four and married for 25 years to the same romance writer, Gary loves helping Karin mete out plots, scenes and dialog. He also secretly harbors a love of writing and has had numerous sports articles published in his home town paper, as well as several poems of comic relief appear on various web sites. Rumor has it, Gary has the first six chapters completed of a police procedural novel that he hopes to someday see in print. Rumor also has it this is the third time the book has been started…

My book is about cops working the street and life through their eyes. I’ve incorporated many aspects of the job both funny and horrifying, as the main character works through his demons while trying to stop a string of violent bar takeover robberies. I love watching the expressions of surprise and disbelief on Karin’s face as she reads my story. Thank God it’s the story and not my writing she is reacting to. A sampling of Karin Tabke’s published list includes, What You Can’t See, Good Girl Gone Bad, Skin and the soon to be released Jaded, and Master of Surrender, Simon and Schuster.  Gary can be found on his web site at:

Gary Tabke:

Lee, thank you for the invitation to blog on your web site. I am an expert at nothing and couldn’t imagine why you would want my in put along side so many notables already posted here. Then my wife, Karin, pointed out all that has brought me to where I am presently. I think there is value to a life lived and experiences survived and learned from.  In many ways, my life has been one tutorial after another but I’ve taken those lessons to heart. As an FTO and later as a football coach, I have tried to pass on those life lessons to others in the hope of somehow making their journey a little easier.

Training a recruit is always an experience, whether they are fresh meat out of the academy or an old salt that just transferred to your department. As per Wikipedia:  The duties of the FTO involve being a role model of the expectations of training, teaching the trainee the policies of the department and to correctly apply the concepts they learned in the classroom to field operations, and evaluating the trainee on his or her progress in the program. Ultimately, the FTO is responsible for making sure shift duties are performed properly and completely, making the position a particularly challenging one.

Along with the department line, I always felt it was the duty of the FTO to make sure his recruit knew how to stay alive at three in the morning, alone in the meat grinder. The meat grinder is that section of the city where the crime rate is the highest, the income level the lowest and the neighborhoods the toughest. We worked one man cars, approximately ten-twelve per shift, plus two S-units. More than anything else, I needed to know my recruit could survive on their own.

There are several names of affection that can be given a recruit; rookie, boot, probie, trainee, asshole, idiot, Gomer Plye. The list is endless and varies with each individual and where they are with their training. There are just as many ways to test their metal. Most are by assuring the recruit gets to be in the middle of the action as often as possible. They love it when you answer up for someone else’s detail, “One-Adam-Twelve, we’ll take that for training.”

One dinosaur I worked with was a former Marine and Golden Gloves boxer. After about one week with a recruit he would have them drive to a quiet out of the way place and advise dispatch that they would be off the air for a few, “training”. He had one particular spot he liked to go and when we heard it come over the air everyone knew what was up.  This officer would get out of the car and light up one of those short, thin black cigars and invite the rook to get out as well. He’d start by questioning them about their life’s experiences and then move onto personal physical altercations and self-defense training taught at the academy. This was followed by a hand to hand demonstration and finally he would invite the recruit to punch him. Actually, he’d tell the recruit to kick his ass or get his own ass kicked. Relax, almost all survived, almost all.

“Many here the call but few are called to answer.”

One young redheaded lad who was affable enough but just not very tenacious had heard the stories and was getting ribbed pretty good about his upcoming tour with the old salt FTO. To say he was nervous would be an understatement. The moment he heard his FTO advise dispatch that they were headed to the sacred spot for some training, he broke into a sweat, getting out of the car and into the conversation just added to his tension.  When the big moment came, he ran around the patrol car in a panic refusing to engage his FTO who was in hot pursuit. After several minutes of this the FTO got back in the vehicle and told the rook to drive them to the station.  25% of our recruits washed out for one reason or another and Red ended up in that group.

There is much a recruit must learn and be taught. Being an FTO is a huge responsibility and must be taken seriously. They need to learn procedure, report writing, citation writing, officer safety, General Orders, the penal code, the traffic code, municipal codes, investigation techniques, driving skills, firearms, self defense, patience and when to escalate things. Knowing how to roll code three, talk on the radio and hold a cup of coffee at the same time isn’t bad to know either. However, common sense and a command presence pretty much have to be inherent.

When I left the FTO program I was told they were going in a different direction than in the past.  They wanted training officers who would be “cheerleaders and mentors”. I never wanted to work with a guy or gal who needed a hug to get through a shift. In the end, I guess I too had become a dinosaur.

Books by Karin Tabke

Master of SurrenderWhat You Can't See

Homicide investigations


How many of you thought murder and homicide were the same? That’s what I thought. Well, they’re not.

Homicide is the killing of one person by another. It can be legal if the killing is in self-defense, in the defense of others, or in the case of court-ordered executions.


Murder is an illegal homicide.


Manslaughter is a criminal homicide without deliberation, malice, or premeditation.

Involuntary Manslaughter is usually where a death occurs as the result of an accident.

The first officer – normally a patrol officer –  to arrive at the scene of a homicide is in charge of the scene until she is relieved by her supervisor, or a detective.  It’s the job of the first responding officer to:

– Assess the scene. Make sure it’s safe to enter – no dangerous fumes, chemicals, or armed subjects.

– Check the victim for signs of life

– Administer first aid, if needed

– Call for emergency medical and fire services, if needed

– call for back up, if needed

– Secure the scene


– Make the scene safe for arriving officers and medical personnel


– Obtain initial information from witnesses


– Call for investigators

– Call for medical examiner or coroner (there is a difference)

– Protect the evidence

– Provide security for investigators

– Keep media and citizens at a safe distance



Tomorrow – Field Training Officer Gary Tabke










* Tomorrow – Literary Agent Lucienne Diver On Creating Buzz

Lt. David Swords: Precinct 7-11


Lieutenant David Swords (ret.) is a thrity year veteran of the Springfield, Ohio Police Department. Nearly half of Lt. Swords’ police career was spent as an investigator, working on cases ranging from simple vandalisms to armed robberies and murders.

David is the author of a novel, “Shadows on the Soul.” He and his family live near Springfield.

The Miranda Warning

You have the right to read this blog. If you give up that right – you’ll be sorry!

Anyone who has watched American television for the past forty years can probably recitethe Miranda warning as well as most veteran police officers. You know the routine. Sgt. Joe Friday facing down a wisenheimer suspect, little white card in hand, and spewing out the warning most cops, and half the sixth graders in this country, can say in their sleep.

You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in court.

You have the right to speak with an attorney and have an attorney present with you during questioning.

If you can not afford to hire an attorney, one will be appointed to represent you before any questioning, if you wish

Now, for those who might be interested, I typed the above warning from memory, and it’s been over four years since I’ve given it to anyone. It is nice to know my brain hasn’t completely atrophied.

So, where did the Miranda warning come from?

Contrary to what some may believe, Miranda’s first name was not Carmen. No, no, that was the hootchy-kootchy girl with the fruit salad on her head.

The Miranda referred to in the famous Miranda warning was Ernesto Miranda, who was arrested in Arizona in 1963 for rape and kidnapping. He was convicted, based mostly on his confession, but subsequent appeals went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court overturned his conviction in 1966 and issued the now well-known Miranda decision, which basically said that persons being questioned by the police should be advised of their Constitutional right against self-incrimination and their right to speak with a lawyer. They must also be told that, if they are indigent, they can have a lawyer appointed to represent them at no cost to themselves.

Miranda was retried and convicted using other evidence that the police had, and was returned to prison. He was paroled in 1972, but his freedom was short lived. Miranda was knifed to death in a barroom cutting scrape in 1976. In what some might call poetic justice, the man taken into custody as a suspect in Miranda’s killing was given his Miranda warning, decided not to answer questions, and was eventually released. It is my understanding the case remains unsolved to his day. Oh, well.

Are all Miranda warnings the same from state to state?

Not exactly.


As I mentioned before, the 1966 Miranda decision was primarily concerned with the right to remain silent, the right to a lawyer, and the right to a government appointed lawyer for indigent persons. The court did not dictate how these rights must be conveyed to a suspect, but only that the person be so advised prior to questioning.

I won’t get into where the familiar word-for-word Joe Friday recitation came from, but suffice it to say that at one point it was all standardized in the familiar warning.

States and agencies can add to, or try to simplify, the warning, as long as the basic warnings are in place. Many agencies add something to the effect of “having these rights in mind, are you willing to talk with me now?”

As for what warning the detective may use in your story, you may wish to call a police agency in the jurisdiction in which your story takes place to find out how they do it. One good way to do research in that area might be to get yourself arrested and see what the police say (just kidding!)

When must the Miranda warning be given?

Remember, if your story takes place prior to 1966, you need not include the Miranda warning. It did not exist prior to that year.

The basic rule of thumb for when Miranda must be used is when a person is suspected of a crime and being questioned while in custody. Usually, custody means at the police station, but a person can be in custody anywhere, even in their own home. What the court will consider is what the police said or did that may have made the person believe they were not free to leave. A person may even feel free to leave from the station house. It’s all in the details.


What happens if a suspect invokes his right to remain silent or wants to talk to a lawyer?

Very simple – you’re done.

If a suspect decides to invoke their right to remain silent, usually by saying something to the effect of, “I ain’t got to talk to you, and you can’t make me,” then you may not continue questioning. You may never re-attempt questioning. The suspect must be the one to reinstitute contact.

When do the police NOT give Miranda?

Have you ever seen a TV show where two uniformed cops chase down a suspect, tackle him, cuff him, and as they are leading him away, one starts reciting Miranda? When you see that, know that officers all over the country are reaching for the remote and switching to “Dancing with the Stars.” You only read Miranda if you are going to question a person concerning a crime. If you see the crime committed, what’s to ask? And you will certainly wait until things calm down if you do wish to question the person.

I can’t tell you how many times I arrested someone and before they were booked into jail, they complained, “You never read me my rights.” To which I answered, “No, and I’m not going to either.” That always made them happy.

Also, any statement a person makes without being prompted by a question, a spontaneous outburst, if you will, is admissible without Miranda. This is a fact lost on some inexperienced officers. Often I have heard officers stop a person that has started to make such a statement to read them Miranda. You feel like choking someone in that situation, and that could make a nice little aggravating episode for your protagonist investigator.

As with all matters of law, I have covered about a tenth of what I could concerning the Miranda warning. In a nutshell, it must be read before custodial questioning of a suspect. If it is not, any statements could be inadmissible in court. Of course, that could put a mad killer back on the street for your detective to hunt down.

Dr. Katherine Ramsland: Inside the Archives of Rome's Crime History


Author Bio:

Dr. Katherine Ramsland has a master’s degree in forensic psychology from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, a master’s degree in clinical psychology from Duquesne University, and a Ph.D. in philosophy from Rutgers.  She has published thirty-one books, including The CSI Effect, Inside the Minds of Serial Killers, Inside the Minds of Healthcare Serial Killers, Inside the Minds of Mass Murderers, The Human Predator: A Historical Chronology of Serial Murder and Forensic Investigation, The Criminal Mind: A Writers’ Guide to Forensic Psychology, and The Forensic Science of CSI.  With former FBI profiler Gregg McCrary, she co-authored the book on his cases, The Unknown Darkness: Profiling the Predators among Us (Morrow, 2003), and with Professor James E. Starrs, A Voice for the Dead (Putnam 2005), a collection of his cases of historical exhumations and rigorous forensic investigation. She has been translated into ten languages; published fifteen short stories and over 400 articles on serial killers, criminology, forensic science, and criminal investigation, and was a research assistant to former FBI profiler, John Douglas (Mindhunter), which became The Cases that Haunt Us (Scribner, 2000). With FBI profiler Gregg McCrary, she wrote The Unknown Darkness, and with James E. Starrs, A Voice for the Dead, about his various historic exhumations.  She currently contributes editorials on forensic issues to The Philadelphia Inquirer; writes a regular feature on historical forensics for The Forensic Examiner (based on her history of Forensic science, Beating the Devil’s Game) and teaches both forensic psychology and criminal justice at DeSales University in Pennsylvania. Her most recent book is Into the Devil’s Den, about an undercover FBI operation inside the Aryan Nations (with Dave Hall and Tym Burkey), and forthcoming are True Stories of CSI and The Devil’s Dozen: How Cutting Edge Forensics Took Down Twelve Notorious Serial Killers.  In addition, she has published biographies of both Anne Rice and Dean Koontz and penned three creative nonfiction books about penetrating the world of “vampires” (Piercing the Darkness), ghost hunters (Ghost), and the funeral industry (Cemetery Stories).  From these experiences, she wrote two novels, The Heat Seekers and The Blood Hunters.  Currently she’s working on a book about murders in her local area.

Dr. Katherine Ramsland:


“You’re not Losing Your Voice, You’re Gaining Another’s”

By Katherine Ramsland

I have been an FBI profiler, a bestselling author of vampire novels, a law professor who digs up the dead, and a tattooed biker from Kentucky, and yet I’m none of these things.  I’m a co-author and biographer, and the trick to making that work so everyone’s happy is to create an authentic voice.

To accomplish this – at least for me – it takes intense immersion, wherein over the course of a project I try to experience my day-to-day world through someone else’s perspective.  I read what they read, watch what they watch, listen to music they like, meet people they know, and visit places that mean something to them.  (For fiction, this means total immersion in your character analysis.)  It’s fun, even exciting, but it’s all done in the interest of focus and voice.  If I want readers to feel close to the people I’m writing with or about, I must get close to them myself.  While this intimate art can risk your sense of balance, if done well you can fully tell a story through a voice not your own.

Let’s consider this notion of a writer’s voice, because it’s foundational to fiction, narrative nonfiction, and even certain technological pieces. Opinion columnists rely on a distinct voice, as do movie and book reviewers. Bloggers certainly need it if they want to maintain interest, and even how-to manuals benefit from a distinct and colorful attitude. So do memoirs, autobiographies and biographies.  There’s no need to belabor the point; getting the voice right matters.  It defines how characters, real or imagined, think and speak.

Voice conveys attitude, motivation, and credibility, providing the tone through which character and setting are rendered. If you have multiple points of view, as I did with the duo-memoir of Into the Devil’s Den, you work doubly hard to become both people. (The same holds true for multiple points of view in fiction.) You must learn their belief systems, their typical word choices, their cultural background, the parameters of their experience and education, and even how they use words in a sentence.  Ultimately, it’s the attitude that makes each voice distinct.

Before describing how I developed the voices for this book, let me first give some context.  The F.B.I., just recovering from the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, was expanding its domestic terrorism program and needed informants to infiltrate the Aryan Nations, the most dangerous white supremacy group in the country.  Special Agent Tym Burkey worked out of Ohio, where a particularly fiendish AN member, Ray Redfeairn, was using his pulpit to connect with other white power groups.  Burkey needed someone who could win over these paranoid militants, and circumstances brought him together with Dave Hall, a tattooed, 350-pound, six-foot-four former biker with a photographic memory and a firm sense of decency.  Hall agreed to take the job

As he penetrated this violent society of hate mongers, he looked to Burkey to watch his back, while Burkey prayed that Hall would not be seduced by Redfeairn’s manipulations.  Neither quite knew what to expect from the other, so to convey this tension the story unfolds through their shifting perspectives, and the way their partnership evolved into an unlikely friendship sets Into the Devil’s Den apart from every other undercover tale.  In the process, they helped stop another major bombing and an assassination.

To “dance with the devil,” Hall developed innovative strategies to maintain his role and avoid being “erased,” even as it battered his health and cost him relationships.  He learned the specialized vocabulary, gestures, and mannerisms expected of insiders, and had to deal with suspicious members who tested his loyalty.  Because he was so good at it, he earned several promotions, which gave him unprecedented access to the top brass. Here’s where the need for distinct voices occurs: What Burkey relates about the group that Hall infiltrates heightens the sense of suspense, because the reader gets privileged access to information  – and awareness of danger – that Hall does not know.  The necessity for him of working blind spices his side of the tale with a heightened anxiety that only Burkey’s friendship can assuage.  Burkey just hopes he can keep Hall alive.

The task for me was to take what Hall had written as a daily journal and shape it into a suspenseful story with a clear narrative structure. Then I interviewed Burkey and sent him questions for written answers so that, in strategic places, I could slice in his perspective to advance the story without impeding the pace. That meant getting Burkey to talk about his feelings, too, because he had to grow beyond his role as an agent and come alive as a person.  Hall’s was the easy voice, because he wrote the way he talked, in a good ol’ boy manner that was effortless to absorb. Burkey’s personality was more formal, although he was very easy to talk to as well, but it required more attention.  The great thing about these two was how distinct their voices were and my job was to preserve that quality.  I did that by making each a foil for the other whenever I could. Response and reaction were key interactions.

There’s one more angle on the mastery of voice I want to mention: protecting the voice through the editorial process.  There were things that different editors wanted to change and sometimes I accepted that, but often I had to call Burkey or Hall, because I sensed the request violated who they were.  Putting words into Burkey’s mouth that he’d never say, for example, or eliminating a peculiar phrase that Hall naturally used seemed to make them different from who they were, so I was prepared to fight for the integrity of the narrative.  Sometimes I lost, but mostly I used the writer’s trusty friend, “stet” (leave it alone!), and got it through.

Although writing this book was a real challenge, it has been one of my most interesting experiences as a co-author.  I’d already penned two biographies via my immersion method and had co-written four books, so I had some experience with losing my voice and acquiring another’s, but immersing in two people while crafting a story’s structure was often daunting.  I was the one who decided where Burkey’s voice should cut in, so the pace was fully my responsibility, and sometimes with immersion you lose your perspective.  But in the end, it seems to work.  Several readers have affirmed it, and I hope many others will feel the same.

It’s not just an undercover procedural, it’s the story of an unlikely friendship: There are amusing moments, poignant ones, and harrowing incidents as Dave Hall and Tym Burkey move together through this treacherous landscape.  There’s even a chapter that has made grown men cry (and me, too).  But for me, it was another step in the art of crafting voice and privileged access to two men who bravely made a significant difference.  Thanks to them, the AN took a critical blow from which it may never fully recover.

Please visit Dr. Katherine Ramsland



Into The Devil’s Den: How an FBI Informant Got Inside the Aryan Nations

and a Special Agent Got Him Out Alive

by Dave Hall, Tym Burkey, and Katherine Ramsland (Ballantine, April 2008).


Garden of the Gods


I’m in Witchita, Kansas at the Scene of the Crime conference, so this week’s Weekend Road Trip will be hosted by author Terry Odell. She’s decided to take you guys to Pikes Peak, Colorado for a tour of the Garden of the Gods. Terry promises to have you back in time for our visit on Monday with publisher Ben LeRoy. Enjoy.





Photography by Jason Odell

* Tomorrow (Monday April 14): Publisher Ben LeRoy On The Importance of Introductions

Tuesday – Author/police secretary Joyce Tremel on Civilian Police Employees

Wednesday – World renowned forensic psychologist Dr. Katherine Ramsland. Dr. Ramsland has written over two-dozen books, including The C.S.I. Effect, The Human Predator, and the biographies of Dean Koontz and Anne Rice.

Next week: New York Times bestselling author Allison Brennon, Literary Agent Scott Hoffman, and author Martha Alderson.