Writerly Lifestyle

How to Turn True Stories into Fiction with Forensic Psychologist and Author Katherine Ramsland

November 09, 2022 David Season 2 Episode 28
Writerly Lifestyle
How to Turn True Stories into Fiction with Forensic Psychologist and Author Katherine Ramsland
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5 Minute Writer
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Last week on the interview series I talked to author, Emmy Nordstrom Higdon. They shared how to write diversity into our stories.

First Interview with Jessica Payne. (Be sure to subscribe for new Jessica Payne interview in the coming weeks!)

3 BIG TAKEAWAYS 

  1. Turning real life ideas into fiction
  2. Trusting your narrative voice
  3. Studying great writing


BIO
Katherine Ramsland has played chess with serial killers, dug up the dead, worked with profilers, and camped out in haunted crime scenes. As a professor of forensic psychology and an investigative consultant (like her main character, Annie Hunter), she’s always vigilant for unique angles and intriguing characters. She spent five years working with “BTK” serial killer Dennis Rader to write his autobiography, Confession of a Serial Killer , and has been featured as an expert in over 200 true crime documentaries. The author of 69 books, she’s been a forensic consultant for CSI, Bones  and The Alienist , an executive producer on Murder House  Flip and A&E’s Confession of a Serial Killer , and a commentator on 48 Hours, 20/20, The Today Show, Dr. Oz, Nightline, Larry King Live, Nancy Grace  and other shows. She blogs regularly for Psychology Today  and once wrote extensively for CourtTV’s Crime Library. She’s become the go-to expert for the most extreme, deviant and bizarre forms of criminal behavior, which offers great background for her Nut Cracker Investigations series. I Scream Man  is the first novel in the series.

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WLIS 229 KR

Katherine Ramsland: [00:00:00] Well, it's about entertainment and so yes. Reality isn't always entertaining and there is a way to, to use it. Like you put it, it's almost like you put a skin over it, right? You want the base of it, you want, you want the body of it to. To feel real, to feel authentic, but at the same time, you know, you gotta dress it up.

David Gwyn: Have you ever read a particularly compelling newspaper article or listened to a true crime podcast or even watched a news report and thought. Dang. Now that would make a cool book. How can you turn those sparks of inspiration into full fledged ideas? 

That's what I asked my next guest. I'm David Gwyn and a writer with a finished manuscript, trying to navigate the world of traditional publishing. During this season of the podcast, I'm asking agents, book, coaches, editors, and authors, how they suggest writers go from the end on a first draft. To signing a publishing 

Last time on the podcast. I talked to Josh Stallings in a really great interview about [00:01:00] how to develop three dimensional characters in our books. 

I linked that. In the description. Today, I'm talking to Katherine Ramsland who has played chess with serial killers. Dug up the dead, worked with profilers and camped out in haunted crime scenes. As a professor of forensic psychology and an investigative consultant, like her main character, Annie hunter.

She's always vigilant for unique angles and intriguing characters. She spent five years working with the BTK serial killer Dennis Rader. To write his autobiography confessions of a serial And has been featured as an expert in over 200 true crime documentaries. The author of 69 books, she's been a forensic consultant for CSI Bones and the Alienist.

An executive producer on murder house flip and A&E's confession of a serial killer and a commentator on 48 hours, 2020 the today show, Nightline, Larry King live Nancy, grace, and other shows.

She blogs regularly for psychology today. And once wrote extensively for court TV's crime library, she's become the [00:02:00] go-to expert for the most extreme deviant and bizarre forms of criminal behavior, which offers great background for her Nutcracker investigation series. I Scream Man is the first novel in that series. 

 And because of that impressive biography, Katherine is the perfect person to show us how to take that spark of an idea. We get from the world around us and turn it into a unique story. 

Next week's five minute writer is about true crime podcasts. And what we can learn about writing from studying their structure. If you want to be in the loop, be sure to sign up for five minute writer below and join the almost 200 writers who improve their writing skills with just about five minutes each week. 

Let's go right to the interview. 

 Katherine I am so impressed by your background. I think you're at, is it 69 books at this point? How, how do you find time to do all that? 

Katherine Ramsland: Yeah, 69 books. I have a full-time job as an assistant provost at university and professor.

And I'm writing two books at once right now, , so. [00:03:00] Wow. But I just do it. I mean, I don't really, I don't think about when I have the time. I just move right in and, and keep working. So it's, it adds up and I've been ready for a lot of years. . 

David Gwyn: That's awesome. So I, I wanna talk about your fiction process more in depth.

But before we do, I, I'm really interested in, and I, I know a little bit of your background, but I'd love for you to share a little bit about how you got started writing. Cause you had kind of a different route to fiction writing than, than most people. 

Katherine Ramsland: The fiction writing started when I was a teenager. I wrote a thousand page novel by hand, . Wow. Wow. And I, I, my sister and my best friend were the ones who were reading it and we sworn never to reveal the contents to anybody. And then I ritually burned. . So it was, it had, you know, ghosts and [00:04:00] vampires and all kinds of stuff that teenage girls were all into.

So yeah, that started it. I loved it. But then my very first, Book was based on my dissertation and I had a, a PhD in philosophy and I turned the dissertation into a book. And I hated the process so much that I thought I would never want to write another book. So obviously something happened after that one, and it was I wrote Anne Rice's biography.

Oh my, I loved the process so much I never wanted to do. Oh, that's amazing. What a difference. Was it commercial versus academic writing made a big difference. 

David Gwyn: And then you became a professor at Rutgers, if I'm not mistaken, for philosophy. Right. And then, yeah. Then you went back to school for something a little bit different.

Why? What made you go back to school and, and what was that that you went back 

Katherine Ramsland: for? Well I always say, Why not if the opportunity's there, I now have five [00:05:00] graduate degrees. Yeah. As a result of saying why not? And , I love school. I love, I'd probably still go back for another one if I had an opportunity.

Before I went to Rutgers, I got a Master's in clinical Psychology. Then I went and got my PhD in philosophy where I was teaching at Rutgers and then quit after 15 years and went and got a master's in forensic psychology.

Just. because, because it sounded interesting and I wanted to do something else, and I was actually writing for the court TV website at that point, the crime library. And so I thought, Whoa, that would be interesting. And it changed my life. I, I had no idea what I was getting into when I got into that degree program, but it completely changed my life.

And now I'm a professor of forensic psychology. again, unlooked for, and an expert in [00:06:00] serial killers. Not that I planned on that, but it came about , so 

David Gwyn: That's amazing. So can you talk a little bit about what forensic psychology is? 

Katherine Ramsland: Forensic psychology is any area where psychological issues or concerns overlap with investigation and the legal.

So competency evaluations, mental state at the time of the offense is the typical thing. But you might also consult on investigations. I do. I'm, I do suicidology, so I consult with coroners on undetermined deaths in terms of where there are psychological components that might help resolve an undetermined death.

That's another thing can do. You could train people. To be witnesses in court, you could coach them. There's, there's a lot of different ways. Be a prison psychologist, there's a lot of different things, but I ended up doing [00:07:00] research and becoming this specialist in, in extreme offendors, serial killers and mass murderers.

And I got one book thing after another after. in those areas and it was before the huge spike and interest in, in all this stuff. So it was really back I started maybe over, certainly over 25 years ago cuz I, I had worked with, I was the research assistant for John Douglas who wrote the Mine Hunter books and.

That was kind of my entree into the field. But at the same time I was doing my own books. Like I went undercover in the Vampire subculture for two years, which Wow. Which produced a, that book. Also a book where I went around the country with ghost hunters and that produced my first two novels, . So I'm just always looking for ways.[00:08:00]

Make the most of my opportunities. So I did, you know, I did these academic more serious books, but then I also did, you know, fun, adventurous, unusual books. That's so 

David Gwyn: cool. So, so I'm curious about your thoughts on the kind of fictionalized shows about, about serial killers. I mean, there's the new one about Jeffrey Dahmer on Netflix.

What is it about us as a culture or a society that makes us so obsessed with serial killer?

Katherine Ramsland: That is really actually more of a sociological question than psychological because it is cultural. It's you know, when I first got into. True crime writing was considered a niche area like you don't wanna do that if you want , if you wanna sell books, cuz it was a very small audience and it has grown.

I think the start of it really can be pegged to the OJ Simpson [00:09:00] trial. Being on TB and that that drew so many viewers, and that was back in the 1990s, but it drew so many viewers, which really set up the success of csi. And CSI of course, spun off multiple other kinds of programs. Many, many other investigative types of shows are on.

And then true crime came back into the picture where people really wanted the real cases, not the, not the ripped from the headlines. And this is based on this. They wanted to really penetrate and in particular, serial killers because these. You know, society's monsters, how do they get this way? And that kind of has led us to this weird thing.

And I will, I will say social media is probably responsible for this. It kind of led into this whole TikTok fascination and, and people videotaping themselves, swooning over serial killers. And, and then of course, the [00:10:00] podcasting. Just took off like wild fire there. There are so many podcasts on True Crime.

It's really even hard these days. If you wanted to start a True Crime podcast to find something that isn't already being done by somebody and within, within the podcasting. You have that whole array between these jokey chatty ones to, you know, very serious ones, to genuinely investigative ones, to those really solving a cold case.

You know, there's so, so many different ways into this that true crime itself has become this, this genre that, that. Has multiple manifestations and so your interest can be anything from how sexy Ted Bundy is as some of the, female viewers think to just how awful some of these people are. I did one myself.

That was a four part one. I was executive [00:11:00] producer. The BTK killer, because I spent five years talking with him. And from that book that we did together, grew this opportunity to do a multi-part documentary on, who he was. And we interviewed him for it. And people wanted to hear his voice. I don't know why they, they didn't use more of that cause I had 20 hours of tape.

Just for that show and they used only bits and pieces, I think we could used a lot more cuz that's what view viewers really want is the voice of the guy that, that raw experience of getting close to somebody who plotted and planned sexually compelled homicides and did you know, pretty terrible things to.

David Gwyn: Yeah. I, That's so interesting to hear that you had, I mean, obviously your experience, which I know coming in is, is insane . I mean, like, it's just like, it feels like thing after thing [00:12:00] after thing. It's like, un unbelievable. So let's, let's talk a little bit about your, your novel, which is the I Scream Man, which is the first of a, of what is a planned series.

Can you just share a little bit about what this book is about and, and kind of the series as. 

Katherine Ramsland: Yeah, it, it was an odd thing. It kind of started when I was pitching a show to. I guess a network. And one of the, the people there said, Why aren't you writing what you do? , , I dunno, Why aren't I ? And what she was referring to is the multiple things I do as an investigator.

You know, first forensic psychology is the, the layout. So my character. It's, it's the Nutcracker series. And so this is the I Scream Man, which is, I Scream Man is the first in the series. And it's Annie Hunter is a forensic psychologist who manages a PI agency. So she's not doing it all herself. She has a PI, she has a cadaver dog handler.

[00:13:00] She has associates with various expertise in forensic science. As I have done, I've been on exhumation teams, I've done paranormal investigations. So she even works with Paranormalists when it's appropriate, but she's a debunker as well. She doesn't buy into a lot of the stuff that paranormal ghost hunting people are making claims about, but she's always open.

Alright, let's take on a case that has rumors of ghosts, but let's, you know, let's just clear out the cobwebs while we're at it and if that doesn't pan out, then we're gonna do a different kind of investigation. So that's stuff that I actually do. I wrote a paranormal forensics book, Haunted Crime Scenes.

So I have written books with people. I've done investigations involving paranormal stuff, but I also do suicidology as well. So my character, Annie Hunter, you know, is essentially me. Because her attitudes about all this are mine. And she's a [00:14:00] psychologist, so, which means she's also an expert on staged scenes homicides staged the suicides or some other kind of incidents.

So she's an expert on that. And she has a lot of resources because she has multiple networks and connect. as I have had. So over the years, all the different people I've worked with, now come into play. Like I had an, I had an next door neighbor who went into digital work and he's, he's in cyber security, so he's my digital guy in the novel, , you know, so, so when I can use, and I, I worked with a cadaver dog handler and that she, You know that Annie's confidant and she's a data minor I've worked with, with data minors.

So I think I just pulled in a bunch of stuff that I already had experience with in real life to make these, these fictional worlds. But I always use real cases as the bases. So I [00:15:00] guess it's kind of a rip from the headlines thing, but usually these cases are not well known, but they're really twist. Mm.

So I, I find really twisty things and then go off into a fictional direction with them. Like what would really happen in this case if my investigators were involved in it? So the fun part was I got to develop this novel in yet another master's program, an MFA program, and my MFA mentor let me take each character and do like a narrative nonfiction with a true crime case. So, they would have a case of you know, something, something happening like this, this guy murdered his niece and, and took all the skin off of her to, so nobody could identify her and dismembered her and threw into a river, and that was a real.

So I had that be the way Annie Hunter met Nara, the [00:16:00] dog handler, cuz the dog handler was actually on that case. . So yeah. Wow. But then I will fictionalize it so it's not the same, the actual case, but I always wanna start with that because I think that if you stay close to the actual human motivations, even, even in really weird twisty cases, it's gonna be real.

Because it's so easy to just make up stuff. And I see this a lot in fiction where things are just made up and then I just go, I don't believe this, you know, this isn't happening. But if I'm working with a real case yeah, you know what, it is believable. 

David Gwyn: Hmm. That, that's so interesting. And, and that was one of the, the things I'm, I'm really excited to talk to you about and kind of dig in on a little bit because it.

I was reading ice cream and it felt real. And it's so interesting to hear you say that like, yeah, there, it's like, it's grounded in reality in, in a way. And so this, this season, my podcast, it's all about writers. I'm trying to help writers who are looking to get across the finish line, you know, land an [00:17:00] agent, publish a book, what, whatever, whatever it is.

And so, The one thing that I really was excited to talk to you about specifically is how you use that nonfiction background and real stories that, you've worked on to influence or drive your fiction. And so it sounds to me like you're taking kinda the core of a character and the core of a case, and at what point do those things spin off into fiction?

Do you let that happen naturally? Are you cognizant of it? Are you thinking about it as you're writing or is it just kind of happened natural? 

Katherine Ramsland: Well, I mean, I know that my main character is me, but that's not, she doesn't have the same parents I had at all. She has a, a nine year old daughter. I don't, but there's certainly things in her former relationship that are real what happened to me.

So I think I just figure out. What's the base character? What's the baseline character? What I, and I draw them. I, I have pictures of all of [00:18:00] them also on my bulletin board. They, they're all right in front of me all the time. So I can imagine her and then with character development, you have to, you have to do your, your.

You know, where do they drive? What pets do they have? What do they like? What do they hate? How do they react to this and that? So you put them in motion in many different ways to get to know them. Whenever I'm outside, I'm, well, I'm seeing through Annie's eyes essentially. And so I think that's the start, is you, you get a base of the character and then you let it go and see where the character wants to go.

That's always been, I mean, I, as I mentioned, I wrote that thousand page novel when I was 15. I mean, that's always the way it's been, is the, these characters just fill my head and you have to let them grow in the way they're going to go. But you have to start somewhere. And the reason I started with Annie being like, and this is my fifth novel.

So that's the only one that's been like that is because these are the things I actually do. And it's fun to [00:19:00] have her attitude. She's more snarky than me, I think. But , it's fun to have her attitudes you know, develop. But then certainly she has relationships. I don't have, she lives where I don't live. So I think that's part of it, is you, you have some things that are based in reality, but then you have to let it go and it's going, You gotta trust.

That inner world that's already there inside you, especially if you as a kid, you were told stories, you were a reader, that inner world's inside you. And at some point you just trust this is going somewhere. I mean, I, I talk a lot. I have one another book called Snap, Seizing Your Aha Moments, and I talk a lot.

How you set up ways to constantly be inspired to get that muse going. And for me it's walking and I walk every single day at least four miles, if not more. And within that walk, I always trust that if I'm stuck on something [00:20:00] or, or I'm trying to find out more about characters and their interactions, it's going to happen on that walk.

It will happen and it. So I think part of writing is trusting your inner world to yield to you the things you need to know to keep moving forward with the novel. Now, you do have to some extent outline. I mean, I, I, I'm not a total pantser, you know, just whatever happens, happens. I, I definitely have an idea of where it's going.

I know, like I want weather in, in it. So that has a hurricane. The next one has a tornado. I love weather. That's cool. And, and I put that into one of my characters. He's a crazy weather fanatic. And as a result, you learn these things about weather, but they're also metaphors of the plot itself. So I'm always keeping that in mind , 

David Gwyn: The people who typically interact with me and with my podcast are the people who have written, and, and much like your, your [00:21:00] first draft as, as a teenager.

Like Ceremonially burned those first few drafts, you know, and they're in like their third, fourth manuscript, and they're really invested in making this one work. They've done the craftwork, they've done the legwork, they know how story works. They, you know, they've honed their writing skills and, and I'm just trying to find ways to get them to over that, over that hump to wherever they want to be.

Whether that means, you know, publish. Whether it means finding an agent, whatever it is. And, and so I, I really love that idea of taking reality and just starting there and then just letting it kind of, yeah. When it, when it deviates from reality, let it go. And I love what you said about trusting, kind of trusting that fictional world in your head.

I, I think is so interesting. Yeah. And really great for people to. 

Katherine Ramsland: Well, and it's something I, I mean, I wrote Anne Rice's biography. I wrote Dean Koon's biography. So I have, I have two great writers kind of mentoring me in this process before I'm even getting started. And so learning about their fictional [00:22:00] worlds and what goes on in their head and how they trusted their process and how it all unfolded for them and, and the kinds of writing that they were doing helped me a lot because It kind of confirmed for me what I already knew from the early writing I did as a kid.

It, it, it confirmed a lot, but it also taught me how to move forward. And even, even like Koons, after he had written like 80 novels, he's still doubting himself still, Oh, no one's gonna like this one, or he's writing 30 drafts per page. He taught me about the hard work of craft. and whereas Anne Rice she showed me the virtues of learning poetry as a way to understand phrasing, word choice, pacing depth.

And, and Koons too. I mean, he had a master's degree in English. He was an English teacher before he, he took off in writing. So [00:23:00] they taught me a lot about the handling of language, which I think if you're just gonna be a, a type of storyteller, that's, And then, and then, and then, you know, you, you won't dive very deep and you won't really hear the sounds.

Of the, the way writing can really grab you. I, I remember once I was reading one of Koontz's books Twilight Eyes. Which I did not want to read because it's set in carnivals and blah, you know, things that I don't like at all. And I couldn't put this book down at all, , and I, I loved it. And I said, What? What did you do?

And he had written it, the whole thing in iambic pentameter rhythm. Wow. . That's an accomplishment. And it got to me as a reader, a reader who did not want to read about these Kearney. People. Not only did it get to me, I went to that town in Florida, , I mean [00:24:00] visited, but how in Florida where they all lived.

And during the winter, because I was so entranced, and boy did that teach me about phrasing and sound that things that readers aren't thinking about, but it's reaching into them nevertheless. And I learned a lot from both of 'em about that. 

David Gwyn: Yeah. That's so cool. 

Let's pause here. I love the idea of trusting ourselves with our narratives. It's a you'll know when, you know, kind of advice. But. 

I think that's true in this case, you'll know when it's right to deviate from reality, because it's your narrative that will decide.

This conversation really reminds me of the way Jessica Payne came up with the idea for her second book. She heard a true crime podcast at some point, and it sparked an idea and that book, the lucky ones is out now. If you want to hear more about how that book came to be, Jessica will be on the podcast again in the coming weeks. So be sure to subscribe. So you don't miss what she says about how she took the seed of an idea from a podcast episode. 

And turned it into a book [00:25:00] and how that book led to a two book deal 

and if you just can't wait, you can listen to our first chat from a few months ago. Linked to the description where Jessica teases, the idea of how she came up with the lucky ones. 

If you're new here, I hope you're enjoying this interview.

If you've listened to a few episodes, I'm glad 

If you could, I'm going to ask you to do one of three things you can choose first. If you're enjoying this episode, consider sharing on social media. If you do share, be sure to tag me. I love connecting with people and continuing the conversation started on the podcast. Option to rate and or review the podcast. It takes less than a minute and it will really make my day. 

Or option three, share with a writer friend, you have maybe a critique partner or just someone, you know, who's a writer. I hope this content will help people in their writing careers. And I need your help to spread the word. Do whichever of those three things you'd like to, but it means the world to me, if you would do just one. Thanks. 

 Let's head back to the interview where Catherine's going to talk about her experiences consulting for television shows like the Alienist CSI [00:26:00] and bones. She also talks about how she met her agent, her top advice for writers and more let's get back to 

 I have to ask, you worked as a forensic consultant for CSI Bones and the Alienist.

What was that like? 

Katherine Ramsland: Oh, frustrating. Sometimes , . 

David Gwyn: I mean, it's kind of that same thing, right? Where you're taking what you know is true and trying to fit it into fiction. Is that kind of the process? 

Katherine Ramsland: I'll tell you. I'll tell you the. Best of it first. . Okay. . I was, I guess I was into Hollywood for something cuz I was pitching things and so I got to go in the writer's room at csi and at this point I already was answering the phone and telling them things, but now I'm in the writer's room with them and they're, and they're talking about, Oh, you know, here's.

We, we, we were working on this episode on forensic hypnosis and we have a story out of Europe where this, this guy was able to go into, you know, two or three banks and hypnotize the bank tellers to hand over money. And so that's what our plot's gonna be about. I start, I [00:27:00] started laughing and said, If you, if it worked that way, don't you think a lot more people would 

David Gwyn: be doing that

Katherine Ramsland: And they said, But these stories, I said the tellers were in on it, , and they changed their plot right away to that because they had been taken by surprise. Completely when I said that. And and so I was, and I was gratified actually because they were putting my words in the mouths of the, of the characters.

Yeah. That's cool. That's that's 

David Gwyn: really cool. That's best of times . 

Katherine Ramsland: Worst of times there's several. But where they just didn't listen. They just did not, they already had their plot in place. They wanted certain things to. . And at one point and I had sold this pilot to cbs, which didn't end up getting picked up, but nevertheless, they bought it in the room and I got the whole experience and, and I got to write it.

But one of the things that they, the production people wanted was, so we had [00:28:00] this plot where there was a train wreck and New Mexico and, and we, we were gonna bring. Bomb sniffing bees, which really are real . They, they were, they, they are trained to sniff bombs. So we were gonna use them. And then they said to me, Well, here's what we want you to do.

We want you to show with DNA how when the bees are released in the desert and they're out there for a few days, that their DNA changes to show that they were out in the sun. And I just said, I can't. That is . That's not how DNA works

So, yeah, it's weird. And I've had others where, not necessarily these shows, I mean, I consult other shows where they just, they want something so badly and I, I not just, I don't just say, know that that isn't right or the body doesn't decay like that, or, But here's an idea. You could [00:29:00] use and maybe just ignore that because, oh, okay.

You're no good , you're not a good person for us to talk to because we want you to just to tell us to confirm for us what we already think and that's, that's just, you know, that's not how I am. And I don't want to just say, Oh, okay, that sounds fine. So, yeah, it's fun. That's crazy. It's fun and it's not fun because I know that, I know they're gonna, really not pay that much attention.

But here and there, it has really been fun, and I, and I've enjoyed it. I, I like doing it. I, in fact, I just did consulting on two other shows recently. And they listen at least for a little while, what they do with it. I don't know, but, but it's, 

David Gwyn: Yeah. That's cool. That's really cool. I, I feel like it's, like I said, kind of right in that same arc of, of figuring out how to blend reality and fiction and make it real enough, but also fictionalize [00:30:00] that I think that's really interesting.

Katherine Ramsland: So, Well, it's about entertainment and so yes. Reality isn't always entertaining and there is a way to, to use it. Like you put it, it's almost like you put a skin over it, right? You want the base of it, you want, you want the body of it to. To feel real, to feel authentic, but at the same time, you know, you gotta dress it up.

If you wanted to hook people. 

David Gwyn: Yeah, no, that makes total sense. So I wanna, I wanna shift gears slightly and, and talk about kind of where you are now with your writing. And, and a little bit about your, your agents. So like I mentioned, there's, there's, the people who listen to me are typically people who are looking for agents.

And so they love to hear kind of those like agent shout shoutouts about how you found your agent and, and what it's like, you know, what you like working about that specific person and that agency. So, You're repped by John Silver Sack of the Bent Agency, correct? Yes, I am. And, and what is it that you like so much about working with him and, and kind of the bent agency as a whole?

Like what was it that that made you [00:31:00] choose to work with them? 

Katherine Ramsland: John was my editor. For the Anne Rice biography and the Dean Koontz biography. And so I was originally with a different agent and she's now a publisher and has published a couple of my books, so Oh wow. It's my journey world there. But with John he, I just believed in me, I guess.

And we always were able to talk really well in terms of, it wasn't just a. Relationship. We'd have lunch, We'd, if we went to a conference, we'd, you know, hang out. So very easy kind of relationship. And it started with him being my editor. He, and that's, and it was weird because when I went to him to pitch the Anne Rice biography, which was my second book, he, it was at a New American library, nao.

And so I was across the table from him. And these were the days when you did it. and he listened and then he walked outta the room and I thought, Oh, okay, [00:32:00] that mean, And then an offer came, he wanted it, but you know, he didn't. And he didn't act like he did. And I thought, Okay, I guess I'm not selling to this publisher.

But that, you know, and that was, that was my introduction to him. But then when he decided to leave publishing as an editor, and I think he went to Harper Collins, but then he decided to leave and open and be part of an agency, and now he's on his second one. I wanted to go with him because I thought he was really, savvy about not just New York, but he had been out to LA a lot, so he knew a lot about media rights and all of that.

And so then I did go with him and I stayed with him for all these years. 

David Gwyn: Yeah, that's that's great. I, I feel like for, for, you know, writers on, on the other side, the un agented side you hear a lot. Like, I'll take anybody, anybody who wants to sign me as an agent, I'll take anybody. And [00:33:00] I feel like the more, Yeah, the more I talk to to authors, the more they're like, it's a too, it's too important of a relationship for you to just sign on the dotted line because someone's offering you a representation.

Katherine Ramsland: Because it's very hard to break up if you're disappointed in that person. And I've had that experience too, where you've had to leave because they're just not doing anything for you. You have to, it is really a relationship you're entering into. It's not just a business deal. It's a, it's a relationship of, of mutual respect and you want to be sure that person is going to be able to do what they claim they can do.

Because a lot, especially now, lots of people can say, Oh, I'm an agent, and, but have no track record and no real connections. Now people do ask me how you get an agent, and I should probably say a few bits of wisdom about that. I think that you really need to look for conferences where the agents are going to go. I used to be [00:34:00] part of the Maui writers. And I'm gonna tell you, agents went there , and you got these great pitch session opportunities where you signed up and there were multiple agents and editors there, and you signed up, you got your pitch sheet ready, you know, and got yourself in front of someone.

You have to have that. So when you're thinking about going to a writer's conference, for example, find one where there are these sessions with agents or editor. Somebody who can who's looking, who can talk with you and say, Oh, yeah, you know, send me that. Never ever bring your entire manuscript.

Nobody is gonna walk away with a pile of manuscripts. But you better be ready with your one pager where you have your description, your picture, your, you know something, even if you don't have a cover, you have so, some idea your marketing. You better have a social media platform at this point. If you say things like, Oh, I don't wanna do [00:35:00] Twitter or Facebook, you know, you're out because they need you to do marketing.

It's no longer the days where you as the writer can just sit back and let a marketing. Do the work on your behalf used to be like that no more. So they need to know that you will be connected, that you will take every opportunity to pitch your book, to put it in front of people without being obnoxious about it.

Cause I'm sure we all know people on social media platforms who the only thing they ever say is, Here's my new book, or Here's this your, you know, and, and, and they don't engage social. In any other way they have to build a community so that when the book comes out, They can go, Oh, it's, it's out now.

You know? You know what I mean? , 

David Gwyn: it's it's so true. And it's the, it's funny to to hear you say that because it's, it's the kind of echo that I hear from, from successful authors. It's not a one time sign on the [00:36:00] dotted line and you're set for life. Like, you know, I think that there's, that, that myth sometimes for writers that are like, Oh few, I'm gonna get a huge advance and I'm.

Sit in my house and write all by myself, and then when I'm done with the next manuscript, I'll send it. It's like that's just not, And like you said, that's not how it is. 

Katherine Ramsland: That's long ago, long ago that those kinds of things happened. It just hasn't been like that in probably 30 years. So you have to be prepared.

And I know I worked in nonfiction, a lot of nonfiction, and you always, you can go in with a proposal. You don't have to write the whole book, but you better have a very good, solid, well developed proposal and that can run 60 to 70 pages itself. It's not, it's not a three pager. You have to show them, not only is this a good product, I'm the person to do it and I have a marketing.

And I have ways to get out there. I remember when I did the undercover in the vampire subculture in the late nineties, and they had a marketing plan and that marketing [00:37:00] person didn't know anything. I had to know how to get myself in various places. To promote this book when it came out, because she didn't know what to do with it.

It was just nothing like she'd ever seen before, and I had to be the one to do it. So you always have to be savvy about that, and I don't mean to scare people off. But, but the more you know, at least something about marketing. The, the, the better you're gonna look to, if you don't have a book already of any kind, you have to look good to the people.

Because here's what happens, the acquisitions editor, So let's, let's say you either get an agent or you get an acquisition's editor. So for a small press, for example, well, they have to persuade whole committees that this is worth the investment. N n hardly ever are you gonna get these massive, you know, pay forward things.

The, the [00:38:00] royalties, you're just not gonna get that unless you have some something that is going to make this a, a big selling book. They're just not gonna invest. And so the savvier you look in terms of knowing how to put, put your product out there the more they're going to wanna take a chance with.

David Gwyn: Now it's so, it's so valuable for people to hear. Like I said, it's just in that kind of theme that I keep hearing is, you know, Take your time. Do it right. You know, you only get one in a lot of ways. You only get one shot or at least one every, like two years. Like, you might as well make it a good one.

So that's, that's really great for for people to hear. As we, as we kind of wrap up, I have three questions for you. My first one is, what are you working on now? What, what are you. Huh. 

Katherine Ramsland: I was investigating a sex trafficking ring, rumors of a sex trafficking ring down in Savannah. And I was taken to this, this creepy old house out in the country. And at that house, a woman walked up to me and. And started [00:39:00] talking to me about a ghost wanting me to do something right?

Like, okay, I'm listening, but I'm not so sure, you know, why can't I hear this, this person? But anyway, to, to, to try to condense that story. From that, I got the plot for I Scream man. So I have the novel and the second novel is the one I'm working. Although I have that written , so the second novels, the first draft is written, but it's due around the same time.

And then I have to get the third novel cuz it's a three book deal. 

David Gwyn: Yeah. Wow. That, that's so exciting. And I, I can't even imagine how you keep everything straight and organized and, and, and, and everything. That's unbelievable. That's so cool. So, What if there was one thing that you hope people take away from this conversation today from listening to us, what, what do you think that one thing should be or that one thing that you'd, that you'd want them to take away from this conversation?

Katherine Ramsland: Well, I think if you want to write it, sh it should really [00:40:00] be because you can't not write, it's a hard life. It's, it's bru. often, even if you, even once you're established, it still continues to be bruising, but if it that hunger is in you and you just can't not do it and do it, do it with all the passion you've got, just move forward and jump on every opportunity and follow the sayings of the great philosopher Nike.

Just do it because that is what I have always said. In fact, my motto. better to be told no than to lose an opportunity you might get if you ask. And I have gotten multiple opportunities just by risking somebody saying no to me. And they didn't say no, or they initially said, No, , that I found a way around it

So use all your passion, go for it if this is what you want to do, but if you're not really sure, [00:41:00] let me just warn you. It's, it's a tough life. Yeah. 

David Gwyn: Yeah. That's so cool. It's such a great thing for people to hear kind of on the the tail end of this conversation. So my last question is, where can people find you?

Where can people look? 

Katherine Ramsland: I am on Facebook every day. I do a lot. I have three pages on Facebook. There's a fan page and there's where I just post newsy stuff. But also I'm on, You can just find me, ask to friend me. I, you know, it's not private. I do a lot there. I post all kinds of things on Facebook.

I have a blog on Psychology Today. That I do like once a week and I post that blog, I put up pretty pictures, I put up ghost stories, all kinds of of things. So that's where to find me I think is best. I I do a little with Twitter and Instagram, but I'd say Facebook is my primary place.. 

David Gwyn: If you're listening, I'll link to all that stuff so you can go and, and find Katherine and, and read her stuff. It's, it's so good. It's so interesting and so well done. Thank you [00:42:00] so much for taking the time to chat today. I really, really appreciate 

Katherine Ramsland: it. Well, thanks for hosting me. I appreciate You having me and great questions and a lot of fun. 

David Gwyn: So there you have it. Katherine's message for writers is so powerful and really makes you remember just how hard the work of writing is. Don't take that lightly. It's hard work to do this, do your best to enjoy it along the way too. 

 If you liked this episode, be sure to subscribe to the five minute writers series for more lessons on storytelling without the fluff. Link in the description. Next time in the podcast. We're talking to author Brian Young, his work as a writer and producer has been called filmmaking gold by the New York times. 

He's also published comic books is a regular contributor for the Huffington post star wars.com star wars, insider magazine SyFy and was the founder and editor in chief of the geek news and reviews site. Big Shiny Robot. He teaches you just writing for writer's digest, Script magazine and the university. 

Of Utah. We talk about how to become a career author. You won't want to miss this [00:43:00] interview. So be sure to subscribe. And I'll see you the next