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Writers generally fall into one of two categories, panthers or plotters. Writers, you share these traits with killers, and this could be the reason your books are so devilishly delightful.

The Plotter

plotter starts each writing project with a plan, and before typing the first word of a new story they know how and why each action happens. They have a clear picture of their characters and setting. Plotters generally know where they’re going and how they’ll get there. They also know where and when they’ll stop along the way.

Plotter’s offices are decorated with multi-colored stick notes (red for character A, blue for character B, yellow for character C, etc.), and photos of celebrities cut from People magazine to use as inspiration for characters. Neatly organized stacks of notebooks filled with research material stand at ready on the surfaces of uncluttered desks. Pens are lined up next to keyboards, like sardines in tin cans. A predetermined word count must be reached each day.

A great example of a true plotter is top bestselling author Jeffery Deaver. Jeff once told me that he conducts extensive research and plotting for six months or longer prior to writing the first word of a new book. He’s extremely meticulous and organized, and records massive amounts of notes. Yet, he weaves this factual material into a story without even the slightest hint of an information dump.

Roadside Crosses

I often tell the story where, while reading Deaver’s Roadside Crosses, I learned about the use of a hard drive enclosure to retrieve data from a computer that had been rendered useless after having been immersed in ocean water. And, ironically, not long after reading the book my personal computer crashed and would no longer work. Obviously, I had a ton of material I couldn’t afford to lose so I purchased a hard drive enclosure and was able to recover all of my files. This detail in the book was real, but Jeff had smartly included it in a work of fiction without it seeming as if I’d attended a lesson on electronic devices. He’s a brilliant writer.

The Panster

A pantser is someone who powers-up the Mac, enjoys a long gulp of coffee, and then hands over the entire book to their characters, and it is they, not the writer, who do the majority of the walking and talking and thinking, all with very little help. Pansters are not much more than stenographers who works for their characters. They are the vehicles that transform characters’ ideas and actions into words on a page.

A panster’s writing journey, like that of the plotters, begins at point A. However, the panster often has not a single clue in advance how they’ll reach point B. The convoluted paths traveled will often be as much as a surprise to the author as it will be to the reader. They know where they’re going, but not how they’ll get there.

Still, no one is all-in as a panster or as a plotter. Things change as stories evolve and the writer must adapt. And both methods work well for both types of writers. I’m a panster and my wife Denene, the scientist, is a plotter.

Billy Bob Thornton is a Pantser

Billy Bob Thornton used the panster approach when writing the script for the movie Slingblade. Thornton has said that he likes to write late at night, generally between the hours of midnight and six in the morning. He says he writes in the “stream of consciousness fashion” and doesn’t rewrite. He writes his projects all at once. The actor/screenwriter/director wrote Slingblade, for example, in nine days.

Thornton had the character Carl in mind in advance, basing him on a blend of two people he knew from his past, a black man and a white man. He incorporated the look and mannerisms and walk from the black man, and the situation from the white man. The white man, according to Thornton, was fed in his backyard, like a dog. This combination of the two real-life men was the starting point for Carl’s character and story. The rest of Thornton’s tale flowed from there, without the benefit of notes, planning, or plotting.

Now, what does this have to do with murderers? Well …

Organized Killers

Organized killers, the “panthers,” have above average to average intelligence. They’re often thought to be attractive. They’re neat and tidy and are often married or living with a partner during the times they committed their crimes. They hold jobs, are typically educated, and are skilled at their profession. They look to be in control. And they often have above average knowledge of police and forensics procedures. They enjoy reading and hearing about their crimes, with a particular affection for seeing their crime scenes in the media. It is not unusual at all  for an organized killer to make contact with the media, or even the police.

Organized offenders carefully plan their crimes. They go the extra mile to prevent leaving evidence behind. Their killings are often premeditated. Killers in this group, the “plotters,” are antisocial and often psychopathic—they lack of empathy and other emotions. They’re manipulative of others. The tricky thing when dealing with organized criminals is that they often appear quite normal, and they’ll do their best to use charm to their advantage.

They’re not insane and they definitely know right from wrong, but they lack conscience and feel or show no remorse for the deeds.

Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer, is an example of an organized killer/criminal.

Dr. Katherine Ramsland is a renowned expert on serial killers and she details Rader’s crimes in her book Confession of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Denis Rader the BTK Killer. As part of her research, Dr. Ramsland spoke with Rader by telephone once a week for an entire year. Each week, Rader called her from the El Dorado Correctional Facility and the two of them talked for an hour or so. Also as part of her process of delving into Rader’s mind, Dr. Ramsland played chess, by mail, with the killer.

As many of you know, Dr. Ramsland is a regular presenter at the Writers’ Police Academy.

Disorganized Killers

Disorganized killers/criminals, “the pantsers” of the criminal world, typically do not plan their crimes in advance. They often leave evidence at the scenes of their crimes, such as fingerprints, footprints, DNA, tire tracks, or blood. They’re also known to simply leave the body as is, making no real attempt to conceal it or to prevent leaving telltale evidence such as semen or saliva. Their crimes are sometimes chaotic.

Disorganized killers tend to be younger in age. They’re unskilled workers who have no problem depersonalizing their victims. They may be mentally ill. They’re often of below average intelligence who lack communication and social skills. Many come from dysfunctional and/or abusive families. They may have been sexually abused by relatives, and they may present with sexual detestation. They’re loners who often travel on foot to commit crimes due to a lack of transportation. These are the neighbors of their victims.

Jack the Ripper, for example, was a killer who made no effort to conceal the bodies of his victims.

*No, I do not actually believe writers are potential serial killers. Then again, we still don’t know the identity of Jack the Ripper. For all we know, he/she was the author of great works of fiction and his/her killings were part of a gruesome research project.

I think it’s fairly safe to say that no one writer has enjoyed a good poison more than the “Queen of Crime,” Agatha Christie. In fact, Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie knew so little about guns and ballistics that she maintained the use of toxins as a primary mode of murder throughout her career as an author.

Christie once worked as an apothecary’s assistant and, to continue in the role, she had to pass required examinations. To assist her, co-workers tutored her in chemistry and pharmacy. In addition, she received private tuition from a commercial pharmacist who later made an appearance as the pharmacist in her tale The Pale Horse.

Her knowledge of apothecary was so detailed that it once received a glowing review—“This novel has the rare merit of being correctly written”—in the Pharmaceutical Journal and Pharmacist.

Yes, she wrote what she knew, yet, if she came across a topic of which she was unsure she didn’t hesitate to seek help, such as the time she contacted a specialist to inquire about about putting thalidomide in birthday-cake icing (How much should the killer use? How long before the effects of the poison would begin to show?).

Christie was definitely good at what she did and she was a pro at weaving fact into fiction without making it seem like we were reading the factual stuff straight from a textbook like we often see today in some books.

I like to point to Jeffery Deaver as a modern day example of a true pro who knows his stuff and who knows how to cleverly interject very real facts into a tale.

With each book, Deaver enters into a grueling research period, examining every minute detail, and he conducts this research sometimes for months on end before he sets the first word to paper. But when he does, the result is a true masterpiece of believable make-believe. In fact, something, a bit of factual information I found in his book Roadside Crosses was the starting point for a section in my book on police procedure.

A character in Roadside Crosses mentioned using a write blocker when examining a computer hard drive, one that had been submerged in a body of water. Well, at the time I was planning the section on computer crimes and what I seen in Jeff’s book was the catalyst that prompted a portion of that particular section.

By the way, a write blocker is used by forensic investigators when they need to have a look inside a suspect’s computer. The device allows data to travel only from the suspect device to the computer copying the information, not the other way around. The analogy I used in my book was to equate the write blocker with a foot valve inside a well. The valve allows water to flow into a home but doesn’t permit it to run back into the well.

Back enough dilly-dallying, let’s return to Christie and her use of poisons, and she used several, such as strychnine (The Mysterious Affair at Styles), thallium (The Pale Horse), digitalis, cyanide (Sparkling Cyanide). She also used coniine (Five Little Pigs), which I find interesting because it’s an alkaloid extracted from hemlock. Spooky, huh?

However, today I’d like to delve a bit into Dame Christie’s use of arsenic since the toxin is one so many writers seem to gravitate toward. I know I see and hear and receive numerous written inquiries about it’s use. Sure, I know people often use me to get to Denene, my microbiologist/scientist wife who’s an expert on bioterrorism, but, as the Lynyrd Skynyrd song goes, “I Know a Little.”

“Say I know a little
I know a little about it
I know a little
I know a little about it
I know a little about love poison
And baby I you can guess the rest”

My knowledge of arsenic as it relates to the crime world is twofold—its use to kill, and the presumptive test to see if arsenic or other heavy metals are indeed present in someone’s system, the alert that further testing is required to determine the toxin that caused a victim’s demise. It’s the latter, the presumptive test that I’m sharing with you today, and here it is in a very brief and tiny and, hopefully, understandable nutshell.

The Reinsch Test

The Reinsch Test uses a strong acid, and copper, to identify the presence of arsenic, antimony, bismuth, and mercury. The metallic copper, when in the presence of concentrated hydrochloric acid, reduces arsenic (also antimony, bismuth and mercury) to its elemental form. If arsenic is present when the copper is introduced to the acid, it adheres to the copper as a visible but dull black film.

The Process

  1. First, obtain specimens for testing. Urine, gastric contents, or liver samples are the preferred specimens.
  2. Using a copper spiral of#20 gauge, or a foil copper strip, the technician/scientist, carefully winds the copper around a glass rod or a pencil. Next, the copper is cleaned by immersing it in concentrated nitric acid for a few seconds. The tech then immediately removes it and dunks the cleaned copper into a container of water. If the cleaning process was successful, and it should be, the copper will now appear as bright and shiny as a brand new penny.
  3. An arsenic reference solution must then be prepared by dissolving predetermined amounts of arsenic trioxide and sodium hydroxide. Then dH2O (distilled water) is added to the mix. The solution is neutralized with concentrated HCl (hydrochloric acid) and more dH2O.
  4. Place clean copper spirals (the ones coiled by wrapping around the pencil) into separate beakers or flasks.
  5. Place 20 mL urine, approximately 10-15 g minced tissue in 20 mL dH2O, or a specific amount gastric contents dissolved in 20 mL dH2O into a labeled beaker. By specific, I mean a number that evenly divides another number. Precisely speaking, this number/amount is an “aliquot” of gastric contents. An aliquot is a number that evenly divides another number, such as the number 5 is to the number 20.

I first heard this term, aliquot, back during the time when I was in a breathalyzer certification course. It appeared again when I was observing an autopsy performed by Dr. Marcella Farinelli Fierro, Chief Medical Examiner of Virginia, who was the inspiration for Patricia Cornwell’s books and for her protagonist Dr. Kay Scarpetta. The term has been embedded in my mind for forty years, give or take.

Okay, I’m rambling again. Back to the procedure.

6.  Place 20 mL negative control urine in two separate beakers. Add 40 μL of 1 mg/mL of the premixed arsenic reference solution (from step 3 above).

7.  Slowly and gently add 4 mL concentrated HCl to each beaker.

8.  To avoid breathing or contacting the vapors, under a hood, heat the solutions to a gentle boil for approximately one hour. Then add 10% HCl as necessary to maintain the original volume. Do not allow the solution to dip below the original level.

9.  After one hour, remove the copper coils and rinse with distilled water. If the copper coils in the unknown samples become gray, black, or silvery, then the result is a presumptive positive for the presence of heavy metal.

10.  BINGO! You’ve now confirmed your suspicions. The victim was indeed poisoned. However, you’re still not sure of which heavy metal is the culprit, unless, of course, you found the victim’s wife holding a half-empty box of rat poison while standing over her deceased husband.

The next step would be to send a sample to a qualified laboratory where it would then undergo further testing to determine which heavy metal was used to kill the victim du jour.

11.  Tie up loose ends and then issue a warrant for the killer.

12.  Arrest the suspect.

13.  Go home, crank up the volume on track four of Skynard’s Street Survivor disc (I Know a Little), and settle in to read Roadside Crosses.

14. Take a break from reading to ponder the Georgians and Victorians who many believed were killed simply because they were particularly fond of the colors red and green—two colors whose components in those days were made of arsenic compounds. Therefore, many common items were thought to have become instruments of death, including clothing and kids toys.

For many years people believed a very real danger of arsenic poising was due to the common, ordinary wallpaper used in those days. Why? Again, due to the extreme popularity of red and green colorings. To stick the paper to walls and other surfaces, homebuilders back then used a paste of flour and water, and when the paste later became moist, such as in humid and/or damp climates, became an ideal breeding habitat for mold. And, in this macabre chain of perhaps fictional circumstances, some molds transformed the arsenic into a gas called trimethylarsine. This stuff then was released arsenic from the paper which was then inhaled by humans who occupied the space.

However, even though arsenic was used in the wallpaper colorings, some scientists today do not believe that arsenic was to blame for those untimely deaths. In fact, it’s been stated that the illnesses that caused many of those deaths were simply misunderstood and misdiagnosed illnesses—arsenophobia that ran wild in 19th century Europe—merely because something in the house smelled odd at the time someone died of unknown causes.

 

Tomorrow at noon (EST). Set your watches, timers, clocks, and all other reminder-type devices because registration to the 10th annual Writers’ Police Academy is scheduled to go live at that precise moment (12 noon EST).

Be ready to sign up because you will not want to miss the thrills and heart-pounding excitement.

Sign up the first day for a chance to win a FREE registration packet worth over $500! The WPA is A.M.A.Z.I.N.G.!

#2018WPA

WritersPoliceAcademy.com

Here’s a preview of what to expect at the WPA. Crank up the volume, set the video to full screen, and hang on!
 

 
Just for fun, who can tell me the name of the person who’s eyes appear in the top photo?

The Writers’ Police Academy is pleased to present our 2018 Guest of Honor, International Best Seller, Jeffery Deaver.

A former journalist, folksinger and attorney, Jeffery Deaver is an international number-one bestselling author. His novels have appeared on bestseller lists around the world, including the New York Times, The Times of London, Italy’s Corriere della Sera, the Sydney Morning Herald and the Los Angeles Times. His books are sold in 150 countries and translated into twenty-five languages.

He has served two terms as the president of the Mystery Writers of America.

The author of forty novels, three collections of short stories and a nonfiction law book, and a lyricist of a country-western album, he’s received or been shortlisted for dozens of awards.

His The Bodies Left Behind was named Novel of the Year by the International Thriller Writers association, and his Lincoln Rhyme thriller The Broken Window and a stand-alone, Edge, were also nominated for that prize, as was a short story published recently. He has been awarded the Steel Dagger and the Short Story Dagger from the British Crime Writers’ Association and the Nero Award, and he is a three-time recipient of the Ellery Queen Readers Award for Best Short Story of the Year and a winner of the British Thumping Good Read Award. Solitude Creek and The Cold Moon were both given the number one ranking by Kono Misurteri Ga Sugoi in Japan. The Cold Moon was also named the Book of the Year by the Mystery Writers Association of Japan. In addition, the Japanese Adventure Fiction Association awarded The Cold Moon and Carte Blanche their annual Grand Prix award. His book The Kill Room was awarded the Political Thriller of the Year by Killer Nashville. And his collection of short stories, Trouble in Mind, was nominated for best anthology by that organization, as well.

Deaver has been honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention and by the Raymond Chandler Lifetime Achievement Award in Italy. The Strand Magazine also has presented him with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Deaver has been nominated for seven Edgar Awards from the Mystery Writers of America, an Anthony, a Shamus and a Gumshoe. He was shortlisted for the ITV3 Crime Thriller Award for Best International Author. Roadside Crosses was on the shortlist for the Prix Polar International 2013. He’s also been shortlisted for a Shamus.

His The Starling Project, staring Alfred Molina and produced by Audible.com, won the Audie award for best original audiobook of the year in 2015. A serial novel he created and contributed to, The Chopin Manuscript, also won this honor.

He contributed to the anthology In the Company of Sherlock and Books to Die For, which won the Anthony. Books to Die For recently won the Agatha, as well.

His most recent novels are The Steel Kiss, a Lincoln Rhyme novel, Solitude Creek, a Kathryn Dance thriller and The October List, a thriller told in reverse. For the Dance novel XO Deaver wrote an album of country-western songs, available on iTunes and as a CD; and before that, he wrote Carte Blanche, a James Bond continuation novel, a number-one international bestseller.

His book A Maiden’s Grave was made into an HBO movie starring James Garner and Marlee Matlin, and his novel The Bone Collector was a feature release from Universal Pictures, starring Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie. Lifetime aired an adaptation of his The Devil’s Teardrop. And, yes, the rumors are true; he did appear as a corrupt reporter on his favorite soap opera, As the World Turns. He was born outside Chicago and has a bachelor of journalism degree from the University of Missouri and a law degree from Fordham University.

Readers can visit his website at www.jefferydeaver.com.


It’s an honor to welcome renowned forensic artist Carrie Stuart Parks as our 2018 Special Guest Speaker/Expert.

Carrie Stuart Parks is an award-winning, internationally known forensic
artist. She travels across the US and Canada teaching courses in forensic
art to law enforcement professionals including the FBI, Secret Service, and RCMP, and is the most widely known instructor of forensic art in the world.

Carrie’s novels in the mystery/suspense/thriller genre have garnered numerous
awards including the Christy, Carol, and Inspys. As a professional fine artist, she has written and illustrated numerous best-selling art books for North Light Publishers.

You can visit her website at carriestuartparks.com


 

This is our 10th anniversary so expect the largest and most thrilling event we’ve produced to date. The lineup is unbelievable!

When:

August 9-12, 2018

Where:

Northeast Wisconsin Technical College
International Public Safety Training Academy
Green Bay, Wisconsin

As always, there’s far too much to see and do in a single weekend, so get plenty of rest, wear comfortable shoes, and prepare to be blown away by THE event of a lifetime!

Hotel:

HYATT REGENCY GREEN BAY

333 Main Street

Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA, 54301

Tel: +1 920 432 1234

Shuttle service is provided to and from the hotel and airport.

Reservation code coming this week. Reserve your rooms asap. Space is limited!

Airport:

Austin Straubel International Airport
Airport Code – GRB
Shuttles are provided between the airport and event hotel.

Since the 2018 WPA is our 10th anniversary, we’ve pushed our own limits to take the 2018 WPA to a level of unbelievable excitement and heart-pounding action. You will not believe your eyes.