Thursday, February 28, 2008


"Let me just ask you one more thing...."
Lt. Columbo
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 chat with me about himself. (Okay, joke. It was coffee.)
And don't miss the trick question at the end!
Hank: Did you always want to be in law enforcement?

Lee: I was an avid reader from the moment I could put two words together to form a sentence. I discovered the Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine at an early age and those wonderful stories sparked my interest in solving crime. So, yes, even as a child my goal was to be a police detective.

The desire to work in law enforcement was paired with the longing to be a writer. I was also a huge fan of Poe, Dickens, and my relative, Dr. John Lofland, the first Poet Laureate of Delaware, who was a great friend of Edgar Allan Poe.

Hank: When did you make that decision? And why?
Lee: I made the decision to become a police officer when I was in junior high school, The turning point was when my best friend's brother was hired by our local police department. He came home on weekends and shared such exciting stories about his academy training. Oh, the way he talked about chasing bad guys and working crime scenes. It was fascinating. I was hooked from that moment forward.

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?
Lee: I suppose the thing that surprised me the most was that a prison is a separate world from the one beyond the walls and razor wire. It's a culture all its own, complete with an inmate legal system that's policed by the prisoners themselves. The incarcerated residents have even devised and maintain their own currency.

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?
Lee: There's a never-ending supply of characters living in the far corners of my mind. I've seen the worst-of-the-worst, and I seen those who simply caught an unlucky break. I remember one inmate in particular who, while on the outside, lived across the street from his daughter and son-in-law. One night he heard his daughter screaming for help and ran to help her. When he opened the front door to his daughter's house, he was horrified to see her husband viciously beating and raping the man's only child. When he couldn't pull his son-in-law away from the girl, he went back across the street and retrieved his shotgun. Then he returned and killed his son-in-law, an act that may have saved the young woman's life. The father received a life sentence for pre-meditated murder.

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 to get all their own questions answered--

Time for the Jungle Red Quiz! (Our own unexpected twist.) Tell us four things about you. But make only three of them true. See if we can guess which one is a trick!
1) I play several musical instruments
2) I have a collection of mug shots of every person I arrested who was convicted.
3) I once appeared in the audience on The Jerry Springer Show
4) I have a tattoo of Mickey Mouse

So--what do you all think? I think if 1 is true, we have our next Sisters In Crime Meeting agenda all set.


  1. Great interview with Lee. He really should get an award for patiently and generously answering all the questions we writers throw at him. Okay, I'm going with the Mickey Mouse tatoo as not being true--MF Makichen

  2. I enjoyed the interview with Lee. He is interesting and willing to share his knowledge, not always common among experts.

    I think the tatoo is the "not true" item. I vaguely remember reading something about the other three in other places. Ooops, pun not intended.


  3. Wonderful interview. Thank you Lee.

    I think the tatoo is not true and the Jerry Springer answer is definitely true.

  4. Hey all--so glad to see you here!

    We'll find out soon which one is false! And if he really does have a MM tattoo, we ought to see if he'll send us a photo. Right?

    And watch for more Anything-can-happen Fridays--as well as special guest Wednesdays!
    (In addition to the Jungle Red Writers regular blog every Monday.)

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  6. Just to be different, I'll guess the mug shot question is not true. And, Lee, if you ever have a question on gerunds, participles or parallel structure, I'll be glad to give you the benefit of my expertise. My small way of saying thanks for the great book and your willingness to answer questions from us other writers.

  7. Ah, I see the mystery detectives are snooping around. It's a tough choice between Jerry Springer and Mickey Mouse, huh?

    At least I see I have someone fooled into thinking I'm an expert. I always say a good detective absolutely must be a great liar.

    By the way, sorry I haven't been around, but I've been without internet for most of the day.

  8. One more thing. MF Makichen, the picture of me was taken in your neck of the woods. That's the Puget Sound in the background.

  9. Lee, I don't think that could possibly be the Puget Sound. . .the sun is shinning. Okay well maybe we do get a couple of days of sun a year! MF Makichen

  10. Well, it's certainly not Boston. There's no snow. Grrr...

  11. Lee,

    Great interview. I'm going to guess the Mickey Mouse tatoo is false. Now if you'd said you had a Barney Fife tatoo...

  12. Okay, I guess I should reveal my secrets. I'll start with the first fact and work my way down.

    I learned to play the trumpet when I was in high school and eventually sat first chair/soloist in the concert band. I also played in a jazz band and with a jazz ensemble at East Carolina University. I've played guitar, bass guitar, and drums in several bands over the years. I still pay guitar every day, but it's just for my enjoyment. It's great for motivation and relieving stress.

    I've actually played with some pretty famous musicians in my day, so it's been a lot of fun. I've also played piano, tuba, clarinet, trombone, and flute.

    My wife and I were in Chicago a few years ago and we stayed at the Sheraton Twin Towers, near Navy Pier. Well, the hotel is directly across from the TV studios where the Jerry Springer Show and Judge Joe Brown is taped. My wife had a meeting during the day and I got bored. So, I went over and asked to be an audience member for the show. Within a few minutes I was standing in the hallway taking to Jerry Springer. what can I say other than Jer-ry, Jer-ry, Jer-ry !

    Years ago, I was an avid, die-hard weightlifter - bench pressing 400lbs (I still bench over 300lbs) Anyway, a bunch of the guys wanted to get tattoos and I went along with the gang. They all got inked with manly stuff - barbed wire, sharks, and snarling bulldogs. I opted for Mickey Mouse lifting weights.

    I do not have any mugshot photos. I saw enough of those goons back in the day. Instead, my office bulletin board is filled with pictures of people like Hank Phillippi Ryan, Hallie Ephron, Jan Burke, Jeff Deaver, Tess Gerritsen, Judy Jance, and SJ Rozan - real mugs.

  13. Judy Jance, J.A. Jance?

    I'm such a big fan of hers. I'll be at the OWFI writing conference the first of May in Midwest City, OK, where she's the keynote speaker.

    I don't think I could ever be famous enough not to be a fan of some writers.


  14. By the way, thanks so much for having as a guest today. You guys are some of my favorite people in the world, even though you picked Jack Reacher over me. I know, I know, Rosemary Harris, he's hot...

    Hey, congratulations on the nomination, Hank!

  15. Vivian - Yes, J.A. Jance. Judy was kind enough to recommend me to her agent who signed me that same day. Judy has been a big help to me along the way. When you see her, tell her I said hi. I'm sure her agent, Alice, will be there as well. Pass along a howdy to her, too.

  16. Thanks, Lee! (Prime Time was nominated for an Agatha, is what Lee has so sweetly alluded to..) So hey, who's going to Malice? I hope to finally meet some of you who (so far) I've only chatted with on JR.

    Okay, Lee. Next SINC meeting--concert. And tattoo show. (And your photo is on my bulletin board, too.)

    And one more thing--I'm guest blogging on the Stiletto Gang!

    and they made a slide show to go with the blog. It's pretty hilarious. (My Mom liked it, at least. You'll see why..)

  17. Sheesh, Lee, you're really all over the place this week. I've been swamped with edits, so I'm just catching up. Your book is great -- I should know; I bought it twice.

    Too bad you weren't at SleuthFest, but it would have been too confusing with two "Lees", I think.