Lynn Chandler-Willis: Go Ahead – Ask Them A Question

Lynn Chandler-Willis

This was my second year attending the Writers’ Police Academy. Last year, I was in such awe of simply being there I failed to notice one important thing. The instructors, and even the guest speakers, are very…approachable.

They really don’t mind answering really weird questions. The amazing thing about that is most of the instructors aren’t writers—yet—they get it. They get the stuck plots, or the plot twists, or the need for a perfect poison. Probably the only place where you can ask the best way to kill someone and not be looked at strangely. Or arrested.

The Writers’ Police Academy is not a writer’s conference in the grand scheme of things. Yes, there are a lot of writers who attend. Yes, the keynote speaker is usually a NY Times best selling mystery author (this year Lisa Gardner, last year Lee Child) and yes there are books for sale and authors ready and willing to sign. But you won’t find workshops geared toward the craft of writing, other than getting it right from a law enforcement point of view. There are no workshops or panel discussions on pace, or dialogue, or outlining. But there are workshops on blood spatter and collecting evidence.

Lee Child in the driving simulator

Lisa Gardner in the unmarked police car prior to her ride with a covert task force

And those workshop instructors are as approachable as any you’ll find anywhere. The Writers’ Police Academy recruits the leaders in their fields. The top guns. Professor David Pauly, M.F.S., holds a Master of Forensic Science degree from George Washington University. He’s currently the Director of Applied Forensic Science at Methodist University, Fayetteville, NC.

Dave Pauly

Dr. Katherine Ramsland teaches Forensic Psychology and Criminal Justice at DeSales University. She’s a renowned speaker on serial killers and psychopaths and has appeared on 20/20, Larry King Live, and numerous cable programs.

Dr. Katherine Ramsland

Dr. Denene Lofland holds a Ph.D in Pathology and is known for her expertise in DNA, bioterrorism, and new drug discovery.

Dr. Denene Lofland

Robert Skiff is a crime scene evidence collection expert and the Training Manager at Sirchie Fingerprint Laboratories.

Robert Skiff

These men and women can’t help you with your synopsis or tell you whether your dialogue works, but they are more than willing to hold a dialogue with you to help you work through that tricky plot point. They’re approachable. They freely give their email addresses. They’re a mystery writer’s dream come true.

Why do they do it? They enjoy it. And believe it or not, they learn some things, too. Robert Skiff of Sirchie says some of the questions we writers ask helps to keep him on his toes. Writers tend to ask creative questions so it allows the instructors to play the “what if” game, too, to come up with creative answers.

I sat in one of Dave Pauly’s classes with NY Times bestselling author Lisa Gardner. She asked questions, and Dave answered. And it was a really cool moment. I, little ol’ author, was in the same room with this award winning author with 16 million copies of her books in print—and I had the same access to the answers. Last year, I joked with Marcia Clark. Yes — that Marcia Clark. And she’s really, really funny.

Marcia Clark at the session on shallow grave investigations

No matter what you write, you probably have a stack of go-to reference books you frequently use. The instructors and speakers at the Writer’s Police Academy are those books. They’re walking, breathing books of knowledge more than willing to share.

Will I go back to the Writer’s Police Academy? Yes. Why? Because hopefully as my writing career continues to grow, new questions will arise. I’ll move on to the next work in progress which will bring new obstacles, new discoveries, and new ways to kill people. On paper, of course.

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Lynn Chandler-Willis has worked in the corporate world (hated it!), the television news business (fun job) and the newspaper industry (not a fan of the word “apparently” and phrase “according to”). She keeps coming back to fiction because she likes making stuff up and you just can’t do that in the newspaper or television news business.

She was born, raised, and continues to live in the heart of North Carolina within walking distance to her kids and their spouses and her nine grandchildren. She shares her home, and heart, with Sam the cocker spaniel.

She is the author of the best-selling true crime book, Unholy Covenant. Her debut novel, The Rising (Pelican Book Group) was released in July 2013. Chandler-Willis is the 2013 winner of the Minotaur Books/Private Eye Novel Writers of America Best First Private Eye Novel competition for her novel, Wink of an Eye.

You can visit Lynn at


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