KATHERINE RAMSLAND – Serial Murderers–Upclose

Dr. Katherine Ramsland teaches forensic psychology and behavioral criminology in the criminal justice graduate program at DeSales University in Pennsylvania. She has appeared as an expert in criminal psychology on more than two hundred crime documentaries, was an executive producer of Murder House Flip, and consulted for CSI, Bones, and The Alienist. The author of more than 1,800 articles and blogs and seventy-two books, including The Forensic Science of CSI, The Forensic Psychology of Criminal Minds, How to Catch a Killer, and Confession of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Dennis Rader, The BTK Killer, she was co-executive producer for the Wolf Entertainment/A&E four-part documentary based on her talks with Rader.

Over the past two years, Katherine has worked with Elmer Wayne Henley Jr. to tell his story of being an accomplice to the “Candy Man,” Dean Corll, who tortured and murdered at least twenty-seven boys during the 1970s. Ramsland’s new book, written with journalist Tracy Ullman, is The Serial Killer’s Apprentice: The True Story of How Houston’s Deadliest Murderer Turned a Kid into a Killing Machine, Crime Ink, April 2024.

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Elevator Pitch for The Serial Killer’s Apprentice: Elmer Wayne Henley Jr. is the only accomplice to a serial killer who killed the predator to end the spree. As a cautionary tale for kids today, Henley describes how he was lured at the age of fifteen and then leveraged to kill.

What is this book about? In 1973, 17-year-old Wayne Henley shot and killed Dean Corll, an adult predator who’d used him and another accomplice to help procure local boys for torture and murder. Henley called the police to report it and showed them where twenty-seven victims were buried. The true crime books published quickly thereafter offered just part of the story (with errors). Fifty years later, our book not only provides more details, including interviews with Henley but also tracks down what both accomplices stated: there was an active sex trafficking organization in Dallas that Corll had used to leverage them. We use this case to discuss teen vulnerability to adult predators, which is as relevant today as it was back then. Within this frame, we show how predators like Corll identify and groom recruitable kids to get them involved in criminal acts.

What is it like to interview serial killers? I’ve spent a lot of time over nearly thirty years researching the criminal mind, so talking to these offenders isn’t as daunting as you might think. I’m not a collector. I don’t have letters from hundreds of murderers. I’m more interested in the deep dive, which means I spend a lot of time on a few. I have a clinical goal, which gives me a sense of purpose, and I select those who want to help us understand how they developed. Dennis Rader, for example, was eager to get his story on record within the frame of psychological analysis. The process took five years. Wayne Henley proved to be a reflective individual who contributed considerable insight to my studies. Yet I’ve spoken to others who simply wanted to express their anger or gain some advantage, and I cut them off before I’d wasted much time. But each of these interview experiences, whether productive or not, had its moments. It’s difficult to listen nonjudgmentally to someone coldly describing torture or murder. Still, it’s important to do so because we’re trying to identify the signals of disorder in young people before they turn violent.

What inspired your current work? I’ve been researching the psychology of extreme offenders for over 25 years. Some time ago, I came across a documentary called The Collectors, which is about people who collect murderabilia. One of the subjects being interviewed was Elmer Wayne Henley Jr., who’d created some impressive artwork. As he talked about himself, it changed the impression I’d gained of him from the true crime books on the “Candy Man” case. Over a decade later, when I was given the chance to choose someone as a documentary subject, I named him. I didn’t know if he’d even talk with me, but he did. Once he trusted me, our discussions grew into a unique kind of book. No one had yet told his story from his personal experience. I soon realized that the kind of vulnerability he had in Houston in 1972 when Dean Corll recruited him is the same for many kids today. And we now have many more predators looking for partners. The book is more than a new telling of an older crime with more information than earlier authors knew; it’s a guide to help parents, teachers, and counselors protect their children.

You’ve written 72 books, and you often write more than one at once. How do you keep them straight? I was writing the second and third novels in my “Nut Cracker Investigations” series while I was also working with Henley (and working a full-time teaching job). But I’ve always undertaken multiple projects at once. Our brains thrive on cross-fertilization. I keep the projects separate by placing relevant documents in separate piles on my office floor. Some days, I can barely find a path through them, but I always know where to find things I need. When I tire of one project or finish one, I’m glad to have something else to keep the juices flowing. It’s been this way for me for at least thirty years.

What is your writing process? First, I form habits. I believe in the power of body memories. I get up, get coffee, and get on the computer. My days vary, but my body is used to starting the day with writing (and often ending the day this way). I’ve written a book, Snap: Seizing your Aha! Moments, which describes one of the best things to do for the creative process. I’ve discovered that you can set yourself up for flashes of insight and get them regularly. In the book, I propose a program that I’ve found useful for generating sparks. First, you create your “mental salad.” You toss in all kinds of info and experiences. Then you relax in whatever way works for you. (For me, it’s walking or riding a horse.) During this time, you let the brain’s association network mix and match the various pieces of info you’ve added to yield what you need: an unexpected plot twist, a new character, the resolution of a scene, a new direction to take, etc. I’ve been counting on this process for years for both fiction and nonfiction. Order and chaos working together.

Do real people ever influence your fictional characters? My discussions with Wayne Henley had an impact on two of my novels. In I Scream Man, the first novel in my fictional series based on a female forensic psychologist, I have a scene in which the Candy Man is mentioned as a predator with two accomplices. It becomes a parallel story for what happens in the novel. While writing that scene, I remembered I’d long wished to speak with Henley. Three years later, a set of serendipitous circumstances made it possible to contact Henley and work with him. To some extent, his story influenced the “Danny” character in I Scream Man, but I also used what I’d learned directly from him for a character in the next book, In the Damage Path. In fact, all the novels in that series are based on actual cases and, therefore, on things that actual people did.

What obstacles do you face when writing about people no longer alive? The figure of Dean Corll, central to The Serial Killer’s Apprentice, remained mysterious. In some ways, I had to write around the holes in his story. Since Henley had killed him, he couldn’t give interviews—if he even would. Some journalists collected comments from his relatives and coworkers, but it wasn’t enough to flesh him out, especially psychologically. The two who knew him best were his accomplices, David Brooks, and Wayne Henley. But both said he was secretive and wouldn’t talk about himself. We know a lot about what he did to his victims, how he leveraged his accomplices, and how he constantly moved from one place to another in Houston, but we don’t truly know how many victims he had. Brooks claimed Corll had killed someone in California, but I could learn nothing about his time there other than a potential connection with another serial killer. We do know he killed alone at times and had burial sites other than the three his accomplices were aware of. I tried to piece this together, but it was difficult. I was able to use the frame of what we know about sadists and predators to figure out some likely traits for Corll, but I’m frustrated that we may never know crucial details about his development.

What is your experience of writing with a co-author? I met Tracy Ullman while working on the A&E production of the BTK documentary. When a producer asked me who I’d want to interview for a similar venture, I named Henley. She told me Tracy had already talked with him about another project and had police reports and news articles. Henley trusted her, so when she made the introduction, he was open to what I had in mind. Over the next two years, Tracy and I balanced responsibilities. She worked on the inroads she’d made with Wayne’s mother and childhood friends while I organized the material to write the book. Tracy had also spent over a decade compiling research on the sex trafficking organization that seemingly linked Dean Corll to serial killer John Wayne Gacy, so she wrote the chapter segments where that material was relevant. We talked frequently to reinforce our focus and discuss issues that arose. She always responded quickly to deadlines and the tasks of seeing a manuscript through the production process. We developed a relationship of mutual trust and respect because we shared a vision for the book and honored each other’s expertise. In the midst of all this, of course, were the discussions with Henley. In a way, he’s a co-author, too. He had to trust us both despite being burned a lot by the media.

How do our readers contact you?

Readers can find me mainly on Facebook. I have three pages there. Also, my website, which I set up for my latest novel series, has an email address.

2 Comments

  1. Michael A. Black

    You have a tremendous work ethic and energy that is tremendously impressive. Having heard you speak on numerous occasions, I look forward to your next book and to seeing you once again at the Writer’s Police Academy. Stay safe.

    Reply
    • Katherine

      Thank you. I will be there.

      Reply

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M.M. CHOUINARD – Her Psychological Thrillers Will Grab You

M.M. Chouinard is the USA Today, Publishers Weekly, and Amazon Charts bestselling author behind The Vacation, a standalone psychological thriller, and the Detective Jo Fournier series, featuring The Dancing Girls, Taken to the Grave, Her Daughter’s Cry, The Other Mothers, and Her Silent Prayer (releasing April 7th, 2022). She loves animals, coffee, amateur genealogy, and anything to do with Halloween, Serial Killers, or the zombie apocalypse.

When the body of single mother Melissa Rollins is found trapped inside a bedroom closet in her immaculate suburban home, Detective Jo Fournier is horrified to find that Melissa’s heating was turned up to the max while she died of thirst. As she delves deeper into the case, Jo uncovers a link between Melissa and a recent cold case: another single mother who was tied up and brutally murdered. Then, as the team works around the clock to stop a twisted killer, someone from Jo’s past catches up with her. They’re watching her family’s every move, and they will stop at nothing to get revenge. Can Jo save the people she loves and catch the killer before it’s too late?

Do you write in more than one genre? So far, my published books have all been in crime fiction, although I have written a women’s fiction manuscript and several literary shorts. I cover several sub-genres within Crime fiction, including my published police procedural series and a published standalone psychological thriller. I’ve also written an action thriller, a private-eye novel, and a traditional mystery I hope will be published someday.

Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I try to write in as many different locations as I can. I’ve been lucky enough to write full-time, and that means I have to work within deadlines, both those I put in place myself and those for my publisher. Writing on a schedule is an important part of that, and I can’t allow myself to lose time because I’m in an inhospitable environment for some reason. So I routinely write in cafes, at home, outside at parks, even at the doctor’s office. I write in quiet and noisy places, so I’m used to focusing in less-than-ideal settings when circumstances for me to do that.

Has an association membership helped you with your writing? I waited to join MWA and SinC until I had my first book contract, thinking it wasn’t a useful thing to do until I was a published writer. That was a HUGE mistake, and I’d advise every writer out there to immediately join whatever association brings together people in your genre. Between the events that have educated me on the publishing industry and craft, the write-ins that help keep me focused, and the ability to talk to people who’ve gone through things I’m going through, it’s all been invaluable.

How do you raise the stakes for your protagonist—for the antagonist? For me, there are two aspects to this. Raising the stakes for my protagonist in a within-book way is one thing, and it usually involves the antagonist taking action that impacts her in a personal way. Sometimes that means literally—my murderer may threaten her life or the life of someone she loves. But it always means psychologically. Even if the murderer isn’t threatening her directly, the murders they’ve committed always tap into some psychological struggle she has. So the race to get justice for a murdered child may tap into my protagonist’s own struggles with her mother, or a dysfunctional husband/wife relationship may challenge my protagonist to examine some dysfunctional attitudes she brings into her own romantic relationships.

In addition, I try to raise the stakes between books for the protagonist in my police-procedural series. She’s learning and growing, but life keeps handing her new challenges that build on the other things she’s learned.

What authors did you dislike at first but grew to enjoy? Hemingway. He was part of my curriculum fairly early in my school years (I believe when I was twelve or thirteen). At that age, I didn’t relate to the content or the pointedly masculine point of view. But what I did respond to even then was his writing style, and that kept me coming back. As I lived more life, his themes began to resonate with me, and I found myself fascinated with the points of view his work reflected.

 Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? I’ve done both, and I think there are plusses and minuses for each. One big concern for me is that I’m not in law enforcement. I have never been, and that means no matter how much research I do and how many people I consult with, I’m always in danger of getting something wrong or writing a character that inadvertently reflects badly on a given law enforcement agency (or newspaper, or other agency I write about). It’s one thing for a mistake I make to reflect badly on me, but I never want it to reflect badly on anybody else. So for my police-procedural series, I set the stories in a fictional Western Massachusetts county and do my best to reflect how law enforcement functions in the actual region without pulling anybody real into it.

Where can our readers find you and your books?

Website: www.mmchouinard.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mmchouinardauthor

Link to Her Silent Prayer on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B09Q3QQL98/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0

 

15 Comments

  1. Heather Haven

    I’ve read all of Cindy Sample’s books and so loved the first book in her new Spindrift Cove Mystery series, BIRTHDAYS ARE MURDER, that once finished, I started reading it again. I just love her work and her mind! And she absolutely writes the best and funniest murder chases in the business. A rock-solid mystery writer with some laughs thrown in for extra measure!

    Reply
  2. Jan M Flynn

    I have heard both Ana Manwaring and now George Cramer sing the praises of Michelle Chouinard, and now I see that I’ve been missing some wonderful reads — a situation that I intend to correct immediately. I learned a lot from your thoughtful answers to the interview questions, and, Michelle, you set a sterling example, in terms of work ethic and self-discipline, to other writers, myself most definitely included. What a pleasure to make your acquaintance here!

    Reply
    • Michelle Chouinard

      Jan, you’re too kind! The thought of missing a deadline is terrifying to me, lol, so I guess that’s my secret. 😉 It’s lovely to meet you! <3

      Reply
  3. Katy

    I love the way this incredible woman’s mind works, and I have enjoyed reading her work. I very much look forward to celebrating her brain babies for a very long time.

    Loved getting to read more of the process!!

    Reply
    • Michelle Chouinard

      Aw, thank you, Katy! BTW, ‘brain babies’ is now my new favorite phrase…<3

      Reply
  4. Ana Manwwaring

    I’m a total MM Chouinard fangirl and I’m itching to get my hands on the new book. I agree with Michelle about joining writers associations . I joined SINC and MWA long before I had books, and every step of my journey has been informed by the knowledge and talent within these groups. Michelle is one of my guiding lights. George too, for his informative interviews. Thanks both of you.

    Reply
    • Michelle Chouinard

      SinC and MWA are THE BEST. So much expertise and so many awesome people, like you! <3

      Reply
  5. Vinnie Hansen

    I enjoyed learning more about our multi-talented Michelle!

    Great advice about joining organizations. For short story writers, I also recommend the Short Mystery Fiction Society.

    I liked The Vacation and look forward to reading another of Michelle’s works.

    For what it’s worth, Hemingway was one of the three authors on whom I focused for my master’s degree oral exam. I’ve read every published thing he’s written, every major critical analysis of his work, and more than one biography. I’ve visited his homes in Key West, Paris, and Cuba and even have a file-cabinet novel titled Hemingway’s Lover!

    Reply
    • Michelle Chouinard

      How cool is that?! I’ve purposefully gone to some cafes he frequented in Paris, and read A Moveable Feast the last time I was there–I’d love to see his homes and meet the six-digited cats! I’m definitely glad I kept going back to Hemingway. 🙂

      Reply
  6. Peg (Margaret) Roche

    Thanks again, George, for introducing another very interesting author. I look forward to reading M. M. Chouinard in the near future.

    Reply
  7. Michael A. Black

    You certainly sound like you’ve got it all together when it comes to your writing. I envy you being able to write anywhere. I’m always too leery about writing in a public place because I’m always looking around and can’t drop my guard enough to get in the zone. If it works for you, more power to you, but remember to be aware of your surroundings. As far as researching cops, you should consider joining the PSWA. It’s an organization that both George and I belong to and it’s a great place to get advice on police procedures. Best of luck to you.

    Reply
    • Michelle Chouinard

      Hello! Well, if it sounds like I have it all together in terms of my writing, that means I’ve successfully pulled the wool over your eyes! 😉 Thanks for the tip–I just joined PSWA. 🙂

      Reply
  8. Donnell Ann Bell

    Hi, George, Hi, M.M Chouinard, I’ll have the pleasure of meeting you next week! Great interview, and I especially agree with your admiration of Hemingway and that the murderer isn’t threatening your protagonist direction. She’s still invested and that’s what counts. Enjoying reading book one of your series.

    Reply
    • Michelle Chouinard

      Hey Donnell! So excited to be a part of your panel next week! Can’t wait to meet you in person, and thanks so much for coming and checking out this interview! 🙂

      Reply

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LYNN-STEVEN JOHANSON – Award-Winning Playwright / Mystery Writer

Lynn-Steven Johanson is an award-winning playwright and novelist living in Illinois. His mystery novels, Rose’s Thorn and Havana Brown, are published by Level Best Books. His next mystery, Corrupted Souls, will be published in 2022. He holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and is retired from Western Illinois University.

 

Havana Brown, a prequel to my first novel, Rose’s Thorn, was the 2021 winner of a Royal Dragonfly Book Award for mysteries.

“Homicide detective Joe Erickson returns, this time obsessive as ever when he is pitted against a serial killer as methodical as Dexter and as cold as a winter breeze in Chicago. Fans of thrillers will feel Joe’s every frustration and relish his small triumphs, but they won’t deny author Lynn-Steven Johanson’s talent. Havana Brown has twists and turns, crisp dialog, and introduces readers to a sinister, terrifying, and unforgettable killer.” —Gabriel Valjan, Agatha and Anthony-nominated author of The Naming Game.

My third book in the Joe Erickson Mystery Series, Corrupted Souls, is due to be published this spring.

How long did it take you to write your first book? Because Rose’s Thorn was based on a screenplay I had written about ten years previously, the adaptation only took about six months. Most of the dialogue was already there. But I had to teach myself to write narration. Fortunately, my wife helped me with that. Being a former English teacher and an avid novel reader, she was able to assist me with my narrative writing. She still acts as my editor. Once I complete a chapter, she reads it and suggests fixes, and points out things that I missed. She’s nice about it and doesn’t use red ink!

How long to get it published? That took a while because once Rose’s Thorn had gone through numerous drafts and I was satisfied it was in good shape; I started to send out queries to agents. For over a year, after reaching out to forty agents, getting ignored by half, and receiving thanks-but-no-thanks messages from the other half, I began to approach publishers who were accepting solicitations from authors. Level Best Books requested the entire manuscript, and they eventually offered me a three-book contract. The entire process from the first email to an agent to the contract offer was two years. It goes to prove it pays to be tenacious.

 How do you come up with character names? My main character, Chicago Detective Joe Erickson, is named for my maternal grandfather, who died eight years before I was born. It’s a good, strong Midwestern name. His romantic partner, Destiny Alexander, a criminal profiler, has a name that is symbolic as she is Joe’s destiny. This one woman will always be with him. I see my characters in my mind and hear them talk, so my other character names are based a lot on how the characters look. Sometimes I search for “popular names for men or women” on the internet in order to see lists. Starting with Havana Brown, my second novel, the stories take place in Chicago, so I have a lot of ethnic characters. For instance, Joe’s partner is Detective Sam Renaldo. I found his names by doing internet searches for common Hispanic first and last names. I chose his names based on what seemed to fit him. And on a rare occasion, I will use a friend’s first or last name for a character. I did that to pay homage to a late friend in Corrupted Souls.

Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? Only once. When I decided to write a prequel for my second novel, I knew I would be employing subplots. Havana Brown has a main plot which is Joe Erickson on the trail of a serial killer. But there are two subplots. The first is his developing romantic relationship with Destiny. The second is Joe dealing with his aging father’s health issues. I wrote it in a tight chronological order. I devoted certain chapters to Joe and Destiny and some to Joe and his father. But even in those chapters, something happened with the serial killer case, so the main plot was still intertwined with the subplot chapters. The subplots did make for a longer book.

Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I’m a playwright as well as a novelist, and I approach playwriting as a pantser. But having written two screenplays, I learned to write them via Syd Field’s method, which is highly structured. And I applied that method to writing novels. Syd Field calls his structure a paradigm that essentially lays out the story in terms of three acts: the setup, the confrontation, and the resolution. Each is separated by a plot point which is a major event in the story. Since Act II is twice as long as either Act I and Act III, it has a mid-point, which is another type of plot point that turns the confrontation in a direction toward the resolution. Once these points are decided, you begin filling in the story elements. I like to think of these elements as potential chapters. When you actually begin writing, the elements of the paradigm remain fluid. They can change as you write, but the plot points remain constant because they are the major events you write toward.

What kind of research do you do? I like to be as accurate as possible, so I do a lot of research on various aspects of a story. My first novel took place in the Iowa county where I grew up, so I knew the area quite well. But I had to research local law enforcement when I was writing the screenplay. I interviewed the county sheriff, and he answered all of my questions. Covid has made it difficult for me to do on-the-ground research on my subsequent novels. I live in downstate Illinois, but my locations are in Chicago, and I have been unable to travel up there. Using Google searches has been a godsend. My fictional detective works out of Detective Area 3, which covers the north side of the city on the Lake Michigan side. I am somewhat familiar with that area and can look up nearly everything on the internet I need about neighborhoods and police districts covered by Area 3. I also called Area 3 and spoke to a detective a couple of times about a few technical things. When I began working on my third novel, Corrupted Souls, I discovered a former homicide detective on LinkedIn who still works out of Area 3. He agreed to be an adviser for me, and he has been a great resource.

Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? I use real locations in so far as street names, neighborhoods, hotels, and well-known landmarks in Chicago like the Art Institute, Burnham Harbor, Navy Pier, and places like that. What I don’t use are the names of actual businesses like restaurants, bars, theatres, independent stores, and so on. If I’m looking for a bar in a particular neighborhood, I’ll do an internet search, choose a particular establishment, and instead of giving the name, I will write something like, “an Irish pub on East Ohio Street.” I go to their website, look at photographs, and may use a few details in my description. Some savvy readers from Chicago may be able to guess the pub I’m referencing on East Ohio Street. If it is important, I will use a fictitious name for an establishment, but that is an exception to the rule.

How do our readers contact you?

They can contact me through my website at www.LSJohanson.com. I would be happy to respond to them. My books are available on Amazon, and there are links on my website.

1 Comment

  1. Michael A. Black

    It’s good to “meet” a fellow writer from Illinois. I picked up on a few ironies. I’m a retired cop and writer and I live in the Chicago area, but I wrote a story set downstate in Southern Illinois once. I also worked with a guy on the PD named Erickson. Best of luck to you with your writing.

    Reply

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JOHN SCHEMBRA – Award Winning Author – Vietnam Veteran – Police Officer

 John Schembra spent a year with the 557th MP Company in Vietnam in 1970. His time as a combat M.P. provided the basis of his first book M.P., A Novel of Vietnam.

After returning from Vietnam, he became a police officer with the Pleasant Hill Police Department, retiring as a Sergeant after nearly 30 years of service.

John has six other published novels in the mystery/thriller genre. One mystery, Sin Eater, has supernatural undertones. His latest book, The List, won the 1st place award in the Public Safety Writers Association 2021 writing competition. John has earned nine writing competition awards. You can find out more about him and his books and read their first chapters, plus a couple of short stories at his website; www.jschembra.com. John can be reached at his email; toto@pacbell.net.

John is currently writing his eighth book, Southern Justness, number six in the Vince Torelli series.

What brought you to writing? I’ve been an avid reader ever since I was a little boy (thanks to my mother) and have admired authors who could weave a story that made me feel I was there, inside their words. While with the police department, I wrote several trade articles on police procedures but didn’t get into fiction until I was 50. I‘d spent a year as an MP in Vietnam. Another police sergeant and Vietnam infantryman and I would swap stories at the police department. Other officers would stop and listen, and one of them told me I should write a book based on my experiences. So, one day, I grabbed a yellow paper pad and a pencil and started writing. 2 years later, my first book, M.P., a Novel of Vietnam, was published. In case you are curious, yes, I did do most of the writing on a computer.

I enjoyed writing the book, and many people liked it. I decided to write a second book, then a third, etc., etc., and here I am, working on my 8th novel!

Tell us about your writing process: I am strictly a pantser. I never was very good at outlining and dislike it immensely, so when I start a book, I write the first chapter, then write an ending. From there, I go back to the beginning and start filling the story in, letting it flow as an active document—a way to say the story flows freely as I write.

Who is your favorite author? Edgar Rice Burroughs. I was introduced to the Tarzan books by my uncle when I was eight or nine. Burrough’s ability to create new worlds, beings, creatures, and plants is amazing. He is the best I’ve read at writing to show, not tell. Burroughs has written eighty novels, and I have read every one of them, most more than once.

I do have to admit the best book I have ever read is Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. What a terrific story. It was books like Burrough’s and Hemingway’s that inspired me to become a writer.

Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? The five Vince Torelli mystery/thrillers all take place in the San Francisco Bay Area. Vince is a homicide inspector with SFPD, but his cases take him to various locations around the Bay Area. Since I grew up across the Bay from San Francisco, I try to use real places—streets, buildings, businesses, and surrounding cities are real places. I know when I read a book, if it takes place somewhere I am familiar with, it makes the story more enjoyable for me. Using real places makes the need for research a must. I use Google and Google Maps quite a bit when finding settings for various scenes. Also, I have a couple of close friends who are SFPD officers, so I rely on them to ensure I have Vince doing things according to SFPD procedures. Research is one of the tasks I most enjoy doing in my writing. I actually got the idea for my sixth book, The List, while researching information about the 19th century tunnels under San Francisco. I reconstructed the tunnels, which have mostly been filled in, and used them in several crucial scenes.

Do you write in more than one genre? Yes. I have two books, one at the publisher undergoing editing and getting the cover art done. The other one available through Amazon, Sin Eater, is about a serial killer in a fictitious college town in the central valley of California. There is a supernatural twist to the story that adds a dose of creepiness to the book. The other book, An Echo of Lies, is the story of a police officer who gets gravely wounded during a traffic stop. Not expected to recover fully, he makes a complete and astonishing recovery due to being possessed by a demon.

Do you have any advice for new writers? The best advice I can give is don’t let any doubts you have about writing stop you. If you worry about the mechanics too much, you will never get the book done. Attend a writer’s conference or two. Join a writer’s group— there are tons of them out there, easily found with a google search. Groups such as Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, California Writers Club can be very helpful in getting you started and on the right track. There will likely be a group near you, wherever you call home.

If you write with a public safety theme, check out the Public Safety Writers Association, which I am the president of. It is a nationwide group of very talented authors willing to help other members with anything to do with writing. We also have a wonderful three-day conference in Las Vegas every year, with terrific keynote speakers and many informative panels, plus it is loads of fun! It is well worth attending. Check us out at www.policewriter.com.

Thank you for taking the time to visit with me. Many thanks to George Cramer, himself an award-winning author, for having me as a guest on his wonderful blog. Keep writing!

 

6 Comments

  1. Marilyn Meredith

    I’ve read all of John’s books and have been a friend of his and his wife for many years–and it all began at a PSWA conference when he wanted to know about e-books. He’s a great president of PSWA and I’m proud to call him a friend.

    Reply
  2. Deven Greene

    Hi John,

    Thanks for letting us learn how you got interested in writing. You may be the first person to combine Tarzan and Hemingway in one thread. Your productivity is impressive. You seem to be turning out books faster than we can read them. Keep it up! You may want to consider releasing Cliff notes for those of us who get too far behind.

    Reply
  3. Joseph Bryce HAGGERTY Sr

    I’ve only read one of John’s books so far, RETRIBUTION, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. As President of the Public Safety Writers Association, John epitomizes what it is to be a leader. He is gracious, knowledgeable and always helpful. I was having a problem with the company I was using to print my business cards and John graciously offered information on the company he uses. We are very lucky to have the board members we have, they are not only interested in creating the best environment to helping writers, but they recognize people as individuals with feelings and apprehensions. Thank you John for your leadership and your writing.

    Reply
  4. Madeline Gornell

    Hello, John! Great reading more about you. And the Tarzan connection is wonderful! I will never forget how kind and gracious you and your wife were to me at my first (and all) PSWA conferences One day, I’ll get there again. You are a great president, thank you! Love connecting on George’s blog.

    Just realized I haven’t read The LIst! How could that be…off to Amazon now…

    PS hubby was an AP in Vietnam.

    Reply
  5. Michael A. Black

    John Schembra is a quality individual and outstanding writer. I’m a big fan of his Vince Torrelli series and read his highly recommend them. His MP novel is a fascinating read, too. He’s a great president of the PSWA and is one of those guys I’d want standing next to me if my back was against the wall. Keep writing, John. Stay strong.

    Reply
  6. Jim Hasse

    I enjoy John’s Vince Torelli’s mysteries, but being a Vietnam Veteran I especially enjoyed “M.P., A Novel of Vietnam.” His experience as an MP was so different from mine as a member of a recon team. The few times I went to Saigon I spent some energy avoiding those of his ilk–the MPs.
    John’s productivity is amazing. As he is in the process of completing his 8th novel he obviously has a great work ethic. Besides that, John’s leadership of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA), has produced great results for the organization.
    George, thanks for featuring John today!

    Reply

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Deven Green – Researcher, Biochemist, Traveler – Author

My debut novel, Unnatural, Erica Rosen MD Trilogy Book 1, is a medical thriller

Unnatural features a San Francisco pediatrician who happens upon a Chinese girl with blue eyes. Puzzled by this seeming impossibility (Chinese people have brown or occasionally green eyes – but not blue), Erica eventually learns that the girl is the product of embryonic stem cell gene editing performed at a secret government facility in China. Erica and her roommate, Daisy (a Chinese American), head off to China to expose the secret operation and rescue the girl’s younger brother, who is being held at the secret facility.

Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I’m in between. I have a definite plot and resolution in mind, as well as many of the stops along the way. However, I do not make a detailed outline. As I write, I’ve found that I come up with ideas that are better than many I think of ahead of time, so I go along with those changes.

Do you write in more than one genre? I’ve been sticking to the suspense/thriller genre, mostly medical suspense/thriller. I enjoy using my background in biochemistry and medicine when developing my plots. Keeping the details accurate is challenging and fun.

What is your writing process? I come up with a general concept, either something I’ve read about or something that pops into my head. After that, I need time to develop a plot around the concept. For Unnatural, I decided to write about embryonic stem cell gene editing. Then I figured out the where and the who. My writing is more plot-driven than character-driven, although I do put a lot of thought into developing the characters.

What kind of research do you do?  I do a lot of research. For instance, for Unnatural, I learned about gene editing with CRISPR/Cas9. The technology that forms the backbone of my story, by reading A Crack in Creation by Jennifer Doudna and Samuel Sternberg. Dr. Doudna recently won the Nobel Prize for her work in that area. Another book I read was Young China by Zach Dychtwald, where I learned a lot about the current culture.  I also read relevant references online. I find the internet indispensable not only for researching the scientific aspects of my writing but also for maps, pictures, videos, and information on hotels, airline flights, and general fact-checking. I’ve found that such research often leads to pesky emails and website ads for things, such as hotels and restaurants in Beijing. A small price to pay for all the information I can gather from the comfort of my home.

Where do you write? I like to write in my home office, at my PC. I bought myself a large, curved screen a year ago, which makes my writing much easier. I can have my word document open while I search the internet for information. Sometimes I’ll reference an eBook I display on my screen. When I have finished the whole novel, I can scroll through many pages at a time to look for underlines Word has made. I find the large screen to be very efficient. I prefer to work in a quiet environment, but since I don’t live alone, that’s often impossible.  When I’m traveling (something I barely remember doing, but which I hope to do in the future), I bring my laptop but mostly use that only for typing short stories and editing, not for novel writing. For that, I like my home setup.

How much of your plots or characters are drawn from real life? All of my characters are fictional, although I give many of them attributes I have gleaned from people I have encountered. For instance, in the first novel I wrote (unpublished at this time), one of the characters was a graduate student in biochemistry who was also a nun. That’s an unusual combination.  However, years ago, when I was a biochemistry graduate student myself, there was another graduate student who was also a nun. Strangely, she also had a prosthetic leg. I let my fictional graduate student keep both her legs because one has to be careful not to make fiction as bizarre as real life often is—readers won’t go for it.

As I am very familiar with laboratory and hospital settings, it is easy for me to come up with accurate descriptions.  I had to google some specialized laboratories and equipment, however, to accurately describe some things. I found YouTube videos extremely helpful.

What are you currently working on? I am working on books two and three of the trilogy. Book two is titled Unwitting; I haven’t decided on a name for the third book. While the main story in Unnatural reaches a resolution, the next two books include developments in the lives of Erica and other characters introduced in book one, as well as new problems Erica finds herself thrust into.

How do readers contact you?

I can be contacted through my website https://www.devengreene.com

My blog is https://www.devengreene.com/blog

My Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/devengreeneauthor

My Instagram name is: devengreeneauthor

 

 

 

6 Comments

  1. Jim Hasse

    I enjoyed reading parts of Unnatural as it was being developed, and my wife is reading the book right now. Researching what the Chinese are doing, it all seems very plausible. I look forward to Unwitting.

    Reply
  2. Deven Greene

    Thanks for reading the interview, Michael. When I wrote the novel, I had no idea the Chinese were already involved in the type of human gene editing forbidden by international agreement. Scary stuff!

    Reply
    • John Schembra

      Good interview, Doc. I’m really enjoying the book. The characters are realistic, the plot believable, and your writing style is great! I am looking forward to the next two! Keep,writing!

      Reply
  3. Michael A. Black

    Good interview. The topic sounds interesting,especially in view of the reports that the Chinese are involved in all sorts of gene splicing research activities with their military. Goo luck with your writing.

    Reply

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