Lee Lofland--he makes you laugh and he knows two hundred ways to kill you. And he's much smarter than Columbo. Don't even think about trying to fool him. Of course you know Lee is the author of Police Procedure and Investigation, A Guide For Writers (Writers Digest Books). And yes, he's a nationally acclaimed expert on police procedure and crime-scene investigation. He is also a consultant for many bestselling authors and television and film writers. His current works-in-progress are a mystery novel and a children’s book about police and CSI that’s scheduled for release in 2008. And his wife (who could be another blog interview!) is lovely. And very patient. But Lee put down his doughnut and coffee...really, it was a raspberry croissant and skim latte...to chat with me about himself. (Okay, joke. It was coffee.)
It took me such a long time to get into police work because I wanted to work for one particular department, for a specific sheriff, and that office had almost no turnover. I actually begin the journey by going to work in the state prison system as a corrections officer. I'd hoped that experience and training would help get my foot in the door of the sheriff's office. It worked.
Hank: Wait--your relative was a pal of Poe's? Do you have any inside scoop?
Lee: Dr. John Lofland was the first official poet for the State of Delaware and authored the poems in the book The Poetical and Prose Writings of Dr. John Lofland, the Milford Bard. Of course, he wrote other poems and books, and, yes, he and Poe were great friends. Buddies.
In fact, in 1830 Dr. John Lofland accepted a challenge from Edgar Allan Poe at the Stars and Stripes Tavern on Water St. in Baltimore Md. The challenge was to see which of the two could write the greater number of verses. Poe lost to Lofland in the marathon contest and was obligated to pay for dinner and drinks for his good friend. I like to think this as proof a Lofland received the first ever Edgar Award, dinner and drinks from Poe himself!
Hank: Very cool. (And maybe you’ll get the next one?) But back to your own history. What surprised you as a corrections officer?
Of course, there were many other surprises, such as the working conditions. No, not because of the inmate activity; because of the stress and pressures applied by the prison administration and the grueling work schedule that imposed on the security staff.
Another surprise was to learn about the extreme waste of time and space. There's no wonder the recidivism rate is so high. Warehousing men and women doesn't seem to work. Sure, it's fine for career criminals - put them away and lose the key - , but not for those who truly need to, and want to, make a go of it after they've paid their debt to society. They don't stand a chance of becoming productive citizens after they're released from the moment they first step into their cells. Prison-life can actually train people to become better criminals and that's not the way it's supposed to work.
Hank: Did you meet people who will inhabit your books?
My daughter went to work for the prison system many, many years after I'd left (I tried to discourage it, but she did it anyway. Thankfully, she saw the light and is no longer there). Last year, during Christmas, she began to tell me a sad story of meeting an old man, an inmate, who'd killed his son-in-law because he was raping the man's daughter. Yep, it was the same man, same sad story. Sometimes, I wonder how many people have shared that man's nightmare over the years.
On the other hand, there are those inmates who killed for sport. I have no sympathy for those monsters.
Hank: Did you keep a diary or journal?
Lee: I don't have a day-to-day journal of my entire life, but I do have notes and memos detailing important events. I also have my notes from my years as a patrol officer and detective. I even have a few old copies of case file. I recently discovered an old log book from my days as a sheriff's deputy. If anyone's curious, I can tell you how many gallons of gas it took to fill the tank on my patrol car in the early 80s. I also have tons of photos for inspiration. My memories of this time of my life replay themselves over and over again in my mind. There's definitely never going to be a shortage of book fodder. And this was just the beginning of my career.
Hank: Your Police Procedure book is amazing--a wealth of information, as useful as an encyclopedia, and as readable as a novel. Forgive the predictable question--but was it a tough book to write and put together?
Lee: My first effort at a police procedure guide was intended to be a manual to compliment the workshops I conduct for writer's conferences. I put it all together and then someone said, "Gee, you should make this into a book." So I did. My agent called me one afternoon and said, "They love your book. Absolutely love it, but there's one section they'd like you to change in order for them to publish it." I thought, well how fantastic is that, and asked what they'd like changed. In a soft, sweet voice she replied, "Pretty much everything between the first and last page." So I started over. I guess that was better than a rejection.
When I first had the idea to write the book you see now, I thought it would be a piece of cake. After all, I'd lived the life and thought I knew it all. I quickly found out how wrong I was. The result came from two-and-a-half years of intense research. I also had to dig up plenty of old memories and not all of those recollections were pleasant. I did, however, make a lot of new friends. I’m glad to have finally moved on to fiction. The funny thing is that I find myself referring to my own book as a source of research for the novel I'm writing. Go figure.
Hank: Yeah, your novel! Tell all.
Lee: For now, I'm calling it The March of the Spiders. It's a convoluted story of a detective who's struggling to function in a normal world. His turmoil began when he shot and killed a young man during a gun battle. He hasn't been able to cope with ending the robber's life, and he's been in therapy since the event occurred. In fact, he hasn't been able to carry a loaded gun since that day, fearing he'd be placed in the position of hurting someone else.
The detective lost his beloved wife to cancer and, since her death, he's been raising their teenage daughter. He still loves his wife dearly and misses her greatly. He's lonely, and his grief is apparent during the conversations he has with the photograph of his smiling wife that's taped to the dashboard of his police car.
The return of a murderer, a killer with an agenda that includes the protagonist, has further complicated the detective's problems. Murder, abduction, addiction, and nail-biting nightmares are all obstacles in the hero's path. Through twisted thoughts, nightmares, self-pity, and the voices of the dead echoing inside his head, the detective is determined to succeed in his quest to become the father his daughter so desperately needs.
The book ends with an unexpected twist.
Thanks Lee! Now, before everyone heads over to The Graveyard Shift, a guide to all things cops and robbers http://www.leelofland.com/wordpress/ to get all their own questions answered--
3) I once appeared in the audience on The Jerry Springer Show