Tuesday, November 29, 2011

True Crime Tuesday: Finding Purpose in Writing - a guest blog by Det. Ken Lang

Detective Ken Lang is a decorated, 22-year veteran of the Maryland State Police. For the past fifteen years, he's been with the Criminal Investigation Division, dealing with sex crimes, robberies and homicides, as well as assisting other divisions as a Forensic Artist. More to our purpose, he's also a fine true-crime writer. His self-published debut, Walking Among the Dead: True Stories from a Homicide Detective is the first in his planned three-book memoir about the cases he's worked in his career. Today, he's here to tell us what motivates his writing:


Finding Purpose

Her withered fingers wrestled with the tattered tissue, her hollow gaze portraying a mother's loss of hope.

"Detective Lang, my son is dead and no one seems to be able to answer any of my questions. Every time I call the investigator, he gives me the same ol’ runaround,
'We're working the case and we have a subject of interest,' but he won’t answer my questions."

My heart wrenched. The grieving mother who so desperately sought to find resolution in her son's murder had lost all hope. I could see the fatigue weighing heavy across her brow. Her small, frail body spent from many sleepless nights.

"I don't know if this helps, but have you tried..."

Her head cocked and a small grin curled in the corner of her mouth. Her eyes shifted as she mused over the suggestion. "Well, no, detective. I can't say that I thought of
that." I sat back in my chair and watched as her fears were quietly replaced with hope.

Seeing the small achievement, my mind recalled the circumstances that brought me to this meeting for the local chapter of Parents of Murdered Children. The invitation came quite unexpectedly. Having released my debut book, Walking Among the Dead: True Stories from a Homicide Detective, I was attending my first book signing when a victim’s mother eagerly approached me and asked if I would share my experiences in dealing with homicide victim’s families. Her request was genuine. It was honest. How could I resist?

One by one, family after family, I sat and listened to their desperate pleas. Each searched for suggestions hoping to bring closure to their case. They recounted their unique stories. They shared their predicaments. Some expressed their frustrations with an inexperienced detective or an ill-equipped agency tasked with a monumental investigation. And as I listened, a revelation unfolded right before my eyes. In the stagnant meeting room at the back of the VFW, I realized the purpose of my writing.



How could I have been so narrow-minded, missing the importance in the power of my words? Like a blind man seeing daylight for the first time, I realized just how profound my writing could be, how it could impact people in such a positive way, changing their lives for the better.

A lifetime of experience, encased in words captivated this audience who hoped to glean some small tangent of information that could, just by chance, bring their loved one’s killer to justice. And I was just starting to see the light.

The meeting drew to a close and a brisk September breeze chilled me as I walked to my car. My mind raced with the events that just transpired and the lesson I learned. Twisting the key, the engine fired up, the headlights chasing away the darkness. A light sprinkle began coating the windshield as I thought about my latest writing project. Dropping the gearshift into drive and accelerating off the lot, I felt the urgency to get back home to my writing.

So many families are depending on me.


Usually, we at Jungle Red invite our readers to engage our guest writers on the back blog. Today that's not going to be possible - Ken Lang is off in the wilds of Pennsylvania on a father-son hunting trip. He'll be reading and answering your questions when he returns later this week. In the meanwhile, I encourage you all to read his account of a trip earlier this fall: his first time turkey hunting with his son Sean. They didn't bring back a bird, but...well, I'll let you read the rest. You can find out more about Det. Lang at his website , fan him on Facebook, and follow him on Twitter.


48 comments:

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Welcome, Ken!Eager to hear more stories.. You know, we write about detectives, of course.. and I'd love to know where you think mystery authors get it wrong!

Deb said...

Thanks for joining us, Ken! Your book sounds like a must-read for crime writers, and I love your video.

Lisa B said...

Congrats Ken, from a fellow forensic artist! Best of luck with the book!

Lucy Burdette said...

Wonderful post--what great work you're doing to bring some small comfort to the families of these victims. Can't imagine much worse...

E. B. Davis said...

I like reading true crime stories every once in a while because I can spin plots from those stories. The problem is that they are too sad and often too sick to read often.

Ken's purpose? I'd like to know more. Will he answer that question when he returns or has he written that as a forward in his book?

BTW-While visiting my son in Cumberland, MD this weekend, we happened upon a flock of wild turkeys, about 12 in number. They were huge-awesome!

Ken Lang said...

Hank - thanks for the warm welcome, it was a pleasure being here. As far as where "mystery authors get it wrong," I can't say that I've read a ton of mystery books. But it seems to me that a number of authors strain to make their antagonist believable. All too often I'm reading about a detective character who has a mysterious side while in search for the meaning of life. I think some authors have forgotten that we detectives are everyday people just like everyone else and face the same obstacles.

The other area where I think mystery writers get it wrong is through complicated plots that take some unrealistic twists and turns in an attempt to vale the real culprit. I think a story flows better when the writer has done their homework, researched out the investigative resources detectives use, and implements it with suspense.

Ken Lang said...

Deb - What a privilege it was to share with the Jungle Red crew!

My first book, Walking Among the Dead, gives the reader a genuine feel of working in such a demanding unit. Among the stress of working swing shifts and handling the on-call, this book reveals how you typically land one case on one day and can be running on a completely different case the next. All too often we are bouncing back and forth between cases - with a little court action interjected in between.

The video was my first attempt at a book trailer. Being the forensic artist for my agency, you can imagine I'm a pretty creative guy. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Keep you eyes out for my next book, Standing In Death's Shadow, which I hope will be released in ebook format before the years end.

Ken Lang said...

Lisa B - it was good seeing you out in Milwaukee this past summer. Keep up the good work! You're an incredible artist!

Ken Lang said...

Lucy - funny you should mention how you couldn't "imagine much worse." I'm currently working on developing an online video episode to show families how there are families whose loved one was killed and the police and medical examiner missed it (such as a poisoning). The hope is to show families of victims how they can champion the cause and find true justice.

Ken Lang said...

E.B. - my purpose? Well, I wrote Walking Among the Dead (and Standing In Death's Shadow) because it bothers me that in the law enforcement community the names of victims are translated to statistics and are forgotten. I believe that their stories, and the stories of the detectives who investigated their cases, are incredible.

Because I am still employed with my police department, many of my fans are co-workers in the department who have found that my book has shed a lot of light on working in the homicide unit and the investigative strategies we used to solve cases. Consequently, these detectives are employing some new tactics in their own investigations and seeing some positive results.

I'm impacting people in a positive way I've never imagined.

Ken Lang said...

All - my apologies for not being available on True Crime Tuesday when my post was published, but I had a prior hunting commitment with my son. It turned out to be a great hunt. I bagged my first buck, an 8 point, from central PA.

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