Murdercon, 2019–The Perfect Ménage à Trois!

By K.P. Gresham

I’m talking about the recent crime writer’s convention recently held in Raleigh, NC. What did you think I was referring to?

To create this perfect threesome, you combine Lee Lofland and his crew at The Writers Police Academy with Sirchie—the leading manufacturer of criminal investigation, forensic and law enforcement products, and add a few crazy crime writers who want to learn new and innovative ways to kill people. Then you title it, Murdercon, 2019, and put all those three elements together in Raleigh, NC for four fantastic days of murder and mayhem. More importantly, the goal of the conference is to teach the mystery writers what REALLY happens in the world of criminal investigation. What we see on TV or the big screen is often a far cry from what really happens at a crime scene and beyond.

For example, I love watching NCIS and NCIS New Orleans (shout out to Captain Archer, A.K.A. Scott Bacula), but let’s be real.  DNA identifications don’t happen in less than a day, nor do face ID’s, fingerprint analyses, or hook-ups to every street camera in the known universe.

The experts at Murdercon absolutely know what they are talking about. In fact, this year’s conference was held at the actual Sirchie headquarters in Raleigh. Okay, so who or what is Sirchie?

Sirchie, founded in 1927 by Francis Sirchie, supplies law enforcement agencies with fingerprinting supplies, advanced equipment, customized vehicles, and kitting services. He got his big break in World War II with his state of the art fingerprinting technology. The U.S. Government awarded Sirchie’s company the contract to fingerprint every World War II soldier, munitions worker, medical personnel—the list goes on. That contract rocketed Sirchie into the forensic investigation giant that it is today.

They “manufacture high-quality criminal investigation, tactical, surveillance, and other police-related solutions including customized special purpose vehicles as well as delivering industry-leading training for public safety, medical, and education communities featuring hands-on learning techniques.” That came straight from their website,  https://www.sirchie.com/. Check out what this incredible company does to keep our country and our world safe.

So, back to Murdercon. The conference was nonstop from dawn to way after sunset. I attended sessions on latent fingerprint development, fire arms and ballistics, an impromptu talk given by David Alford, one of the FBI’s lead Crime Scene Investigators of the Unibomber’s cabin, and a session on “Weapons of Mass Destruction”. (Scared the pants off of me, and yes, I’m going to use the info in a book!) We got to touch, use, experience some of the equipment Sirchie develops, and we even got a tour of their factory.

But the one-on-one interactions between the experts and writers was the best part for me.  Thanks to the patience of James Reynolds, a Sirchie guru who helped lead the conference, I was able to get my crime scene for an upcoming book “just right”. For two hours he helped me line up who had to be where, what evidence would be left, how the investigators would find it—the entire experience was off the charts. By the time we finished mocking up the crime scene in the hotel lounge, I think we’d scared some folks away—were we really planning a crime?

Hats off to those who put together this incredible conference. A perfect ménage à trois ? More like a match made in heaven!

I Love Research and Nolan Ryan!

by K.P. Gresham

Writing for me is both a compulsion and an exploration.  I know, I know, they say “write what you know”, but I’d add another clause on that. Write what you know and/or what you’d like to research.

The best book prompt that I know of is “What if?” For example, what if my heroine wants to become a professional baseball player?   (By the way, that is a cheap plug for my first novel, Three Days at Wrigley Field.) Even though I am an avid baseball fan, there’s no way I had enough baseball knowledge in my head to complete a novel on the subject.  More important than knowing that Nolan Ryan pitched seven no-hitters in his career (a record known by thousands of fans), I needed to know how he pitched those no-hitters. To that end, I purchased Nolan Ryan’s video on how he pitched. That information is integral to making the book work. (Side note: I’m nuts about Nolan Ryan. When I lived in Houston, I’d drive an hour to his hometown of Alvin just to get my hair cut. I kept hoping on the off-chance I would see this super-human walking down the street.)

Research for me is one of the most fun parts of creating a fictional piece.  For example, in my Pastor Matt Hayden Mystery Series, I do indeed write what I know. I grew up a PK–preacher’s kid (I prefer the term TO for ‘theological offspring’, but alas, that never caught on). I know a whole lot about what a preacher does, about how congregations work (or don’t work), about the ever present pitfalls for even the most devoted. But I didn’t know anything about the Federal Witness Protection Program or how to own and run a sports bar. (I hope that’s a tease–what is my series all about??)

In the coming blogs, I’m going to talk about how and/or where I do my research.  A writer may write in a bubble, but IMO they certainly can’t research in a bubble. She has to join groups, go to conferences, hit the bars J, and talk to experts in the field. (Hence why I had to hit the bar.) She has to get the facts right, or she risks losing the trust of the reader. Why is this important? A “This is bogus!” reaction from the reader means they’re slamming the book shut never to pick it up again, and, worst of all, telling others not to read it.

Research is necessary, but fun! I hope you’ll enjoy my escapades into research that I’ll share with you in coming blogs.