Tools of the Trade: What I Learned at Writer’s Police Academy Part 1 by Sarah Madison

Something I’m often asked is how much research I do for my stories.

It’s a good question. I adore research. I’ve been known to dive into the rabbit hole and not come up for air for months. I spent weeks researching The Battle Of Britain to write a simple dream sequence for The Boys of Summer, and what I learned made me determined to share some of the essence of what those young pilots experienced in defence of their country–far beyond the intended scene.

I used my own experiences as an event rider when writing Fool’s Gold, a story set in Olympic level sport horse competition. I once wrote a story about a main character who suffers a spinal cord injury, and immersed myself in both medical texts and the writings of survivors of such injuries.

When I decided to write a series of stories with FBI agents as characters, I knew I needed more than my love of shows such as Bones, NCIS, or The X-Files to give me a feel for how crimes are investigated (even if there is a paranormal element). Among other books, I read A Very Special Agent: Gay and Inside the FBI by Frank Buttino. I also read books on forensics, profiling, and true crime accounts of hunting serial killers. My wish list on Amazon has everything from bloodspatter analysis to books on training cadaver dogs.

So you can bet when I first heard fellow author Eden Winters speaking of her experiences at Writer’s Police Academy, I was all ears. Then I found out Jamie Lynn Miller had been going for years and had fantastic things to say about it. So when Shira Anthony asked if I’d like to share a room with her, I jumped at the chance.

I had a terrific time and I learned a lot. I would definitely go again, given the chance. Because the first thing you need to know about Writer’s Police Academy is that you simply can’t fit it all in on one trip. There are too many courses, there’s too much information and too little time. It was a jam-packed weekend, but that’s a good thing. Think of it like a continuing education seminar in which four different courses are offered at the same time and you have to choose which to attend. It means you have to come back!

The second takeaway lesson I got from WPA is that there’s a reason you’re drawn to certain things. Given I have more of a medical background than the average person, I decided to avoid much of the crime scene courses and concentrate instead in areas where I had little experience, such as ballistics or arson. But shortly into the first day, I realized that I had a natural affinity for some things, and that by avoiding them, I was actually turning my back on the kinds of things I was not only interested in, but most likely to include in a story. I rapidly reassessed my schedule and changed it accordingly. I also changed it when I heard a particular class was good or fun. The great thing about WPA is most courses were offered more than once, with a couple of exceptions. That meant you could pick up something the next day that conflicted with a different lecture before.

So while I took copious notes at the speed of light (just like being in school again), what I really got out of the lectures was a better sense of what I wanted to know more about (and where to find out more about these subjects) and potential contacts for questions among the speakers, many of whom were happy to give out their emails to answer any questions that might arise about procedure, etc.

WPA is held in Greenbay, WI. The venue was pretty amazing. The hotel was a stone’s throw from the airport, and the amenities pleasant. WPA works in conjunction with Northeast Wisconsin Technical College to put on the Academy every year, drawing on the lecturers from the college and volunteers to put on a great program. They also get some pretty amazing authors as keynote speakers for the big dinner at the end of the weekend. Tami Hoag and Lee Goldberg were the 2016 speakers. Ms. Hoag in particular was delightful, but I regret to say I could barely keep my eyes open by the time Saturday night rolled around. The buses rolled out at 7 am, which meant you had to have grabbed breakfast and be ready to roll. Classes were scheduled tightly, and sometimes the logistics of choosing to attend two different lectures on opposites sides of campus left you running in August heat for a bus to take you to the next class–or just running, period.

Snacks, sunscreen, sunglasses, bottled water, and a jacket for when you’re in air conditioning were all essential, as were sensible shoes. And don’t forget your camera! For those who arrived early on Thursday afternoon, there was a prison tour, as well as a special ops demonstration of equipment and police dogs in the parking lot coinciding with registration. I confess, I found the heat debilitating after my long flight, so I probably didn’t take full advantage of the demonstrations.

Our first day started out with a bang–as we rolled into the campus parking lot, we were greeted with a major accident. Two cars were involved. There was at least one obvious fatality and several serious injuries. Some people were still trapped in one of the vehicles, and the driver of the van appeared to be under the influence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we watched, police and rescue vehicles came roaring in and took over the scene.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We got to see the ‘jaws of life’ in action, as well as watch as the police put the impaired driver through sobriety tests and then arrest her when she failed. The procedures were narrated throughout so we could hear as well as see what was going on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then to our amazement, a helicopter arrived to airlift out the victims!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And that was all in the first hour! You can see why it will take me several posts to go through my experiences at WPA. I want to give as much detail as I can, as it will help solidify the information learned for me as well.

In the meantime, the newly expanded version of Unspeakable Words (Sixth Sense Series Book One) was released on March 1o, 2017! You can check out the series and see while I thought Writer’s Police Academy was such a great idea.

4 thoughts on “Tools of the Trade: What I Learned at Writer’s Police Academy Part 1 by Sarah Madison”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *