For Writers

KN, p. 310 “The Writers’ Police Academy 2023” by ML Barnes

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In 2013, I’d published my second novel, Crossing River Jordan, which had a mild thriller component, and I really wanted to write something with more grit–a serious crime-based mystery. I attended the Writers’ Police Academy, created to help writers “write it right.” The WPA provided a terrific opportunity to learn from law enforcement professionals.

Organized by Lee Lofland, whose law enforcement career spanned 20 years, the Writers’ Police Academy was jam-packed with hands-on workshops, exciting demonstrations, and fascinating lectures, all designed to help writers create believable crimes, characters, and investigations.

Ten years later, and I still haven’t written that book. The 2023 WPA was scheduled to be the last, so I was overjoyed when Patti Phillips shared a free registration so I could attend.

I knew I was in the right place when I arrived at the Hilton Appleton Hotel Paper Valley. The wall behind the reception desk was papered with books and there was a Starbucks in the lobby! I had misjudged the time it would take to navigate highway construction as I drove to Appleton, Wisconsin so I missed the “Touch a Truck and Ask the Experts” event which offered access to public safety vehicles, fire apparatus, CSI Unit, police boats, drones, SWAT vehicles and other equipment on that first afternoon.

I immediately bonded with a group of writers in a spirited search for the WPA registration area. And suddenly, that gritty crime novel was shoved into a mental closet. A group of writers in search of a registration room? No, five writers on a life-or-death scavenger hunt in a haunted hotel. For the rest of my time at WPA, I saw great characters and compelling story ideas everywhere.

That evening, after an orientation, there was a presentation from Mike De Sisti, a photojournalist and creator of The Story in Photos of the Darrell Brooks Trial and Waukesha Parade Attack. A story about a photojournalist and what he does to heal from a traumatic assignment? That would definitely write!

Breakfast at 6 am and then onto buses that transported us to and from Northeast Wisconsin Technical College where our classes for day one were held. First, we had an exciting and entertaining (because of a belligerent suspect) SWAT team demonstration. Afterward, we were allowed to ask questions of the officers and to examine the SWAT vehicle (it was massive!) and equipment.

The best part of that demonstration was the access to real, boots-on-the-ground humans who do the complicated jobs of law enforcement. The officers were surprisingly candid about the difficulties, frustrations, and rewards of everyday policing. I learned that good cops are frustrated by having bad cops on the force and that officers in small cities and towns may have to wear several hats—street cop by day, SWAT officer when needed, meanwhile being trained for crime scene investigation, just in case a crime scene tech is absent one day. Story idea 3 was generated by quotes from the officers: “I get scared too,” and “Good work is rewarded by more work.”

Later I attended Crime Scene Investigation taught by Dan Feucht and his protege-turned-partner Holly Maas. It was an in-depth lecture and hands-on workshop. I got to do a palm-print transfer! Holly Maas is a civilian crime scene technician, married to a cop and mother of three boys. Awesome character, right?

I’d originally wanted a different class than the one I attended last and now, I don’t even remember what that class was. K9 Emergency Aid presented by Dr. Lisa Converse was riveting! The OPK9 program is designed to provide prehospital care education to first responders assisting Operational K9s. Dr. Converse’s training has been responsible for saving the lives of K9s injured in the line of duty. I don’t write animal stories, but I saw so many possibilities for tales of courageous K9s and their handlers.

Death by Powders and Pills was my first session the next day, taught by Drug Recognition Expert Nick Place an officer with more than 21 years in law enforcement. We learned about the current scourge—fentanyl—and how fake drugs are being used to get people addicted to opioids. We learned how easy it is to make pills and how much of the equipment and ingredients are available online from our favorite retail distributors. We even made a pill using baking soda. I came away from this class with a story idea about rival gangs and their problems with marketing.


Cold Cases, taught by Det. Sgt. Bruce Robert Coffin began with our learning the first Rule of Cold Case investigation: “You don’t know anything.” I loved this session because Coffin was himself a character, dry witted, cynical and wise. He gave us information from the perspective of a cop AND a writer. I bought two of his novels at the WPA bookstore later that day.


A final awesome benefit of the Writers’ Police Academy is access to other authors on every rung of the literary ladder. Insight advice, commiseration and delight filled every spare minute as we chatted during meals and breaks, on the buses and in the moments before evening activities. In addition to meeting keynote speaker, Hank Phillippi Ryan, I also got to know several amazing women for whom writing is more than a hobby. That kind of inspiration is priceless.


Lucky for writers, the WPA is retooling for next year, rather than closing its doors, as was the original plan. I hope to see everyone there!


Many thanks to Mari Barnes for writing about her terrific experiences at the 2023 Writers Police Academy! The classes she attended were led by experts from all over the country and are the source of invaluable research for future works.

Click on the titles to take you to more information about her novels:
Parting River Jordan
Crossing River Jordan

Find Ms. Barnes’ “Grow Your Story Tree: A Writer’s Workbookhere.


Her publishing company, Flying Turtle Publishing, can be found here.


*Photos provided by ML Barnes.
Bruce Coffin’s headshot is courtesy of his website.



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KN, p. 306 “Secrets of a Crime Writer”


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My little sister, Bridget, and I chat every few days. We trade stories and joke as we catch up on the stuff of life. She calls to pester me about coming to visit her in North Texas. I call her to make sure she’s staying out of trouble with the Sheriff and avoiding speeding tickets on 287 South.

This time she had me choking with laughter. She has been keeping a list of handy bits of information she swears that she picks up from Kerrian’s Notebook. This is what she shared tonight. Bridget’s guidelines are based on a few articles on the site, and I’ve included some links in bold so you can see what she read.

  • Hand guns are not a good choice for self-defense in the middle of the night if the gun is on a closet shelf in a locked box. I keep an axe next to the bed, so I will use my champion axe throwing skills to take out the bad guy.
  • Bodies in the basement tend to stink up the place. Good thing I don’t have a cellar. Not even a crawl space – in case some nefarious person is looking for a place to hide a body.
  • My phone is not safe from cloning or hacking in these days of cyber attacks, so I shouldn’t use it to pay for anything. That’s okay, since cash is accepted in most places, and I save a bunch on credit card fees.
  • I need to practice at the firing range so that I don’t shoot my foot.
  • Always remember to check the inside of a second-hand refrigerator I might buy, in case the seller stuffs a body inside it while I’m getting the truck ready.
  • Don’t look inside dumpsters at the mall. Ewwww.
  • Don’t travel by air during pollen season. The plane might not make it.
  • Don’t spend the night in jail. There are small spaces and other drawbacks.
  • Avoid having cups of tea in the houses of little old ladies.
  • Attend a writers’ conference. All that talk about murder and mayhem might be fun.

There ya have it. Handy tips from Bridget. Gotta love that sister of mine. Sheila and I just might be taking that road trip soon.



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KN, p. 301 “Domestic Terrorism in North Carolina”

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Duke Energy personnel. Photo from: REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

Note: Actual current events (updated February 4, 2023)

Domestic terrorism: The FBI defines it as “violent, criminal acts committed by individuals and/or groups to further ideological goals stemming from domestic influences, such as those of a political, religious, social, racial, or environmental in nature.


The call came into the police station at 7pm on December 3, 2022, a Saturday night. I imagine that the day shift had left, the tally of parking tickets, breakdowns, and crowd control duties fairly light for a golf resort town on the weekend in the South. A local resident had become concerned when the power went out for his entire block. And then the lights flickered at the station. The officer taking the call looked up, puzzled. Coincidence? The generator kicked in and the lights came back on, the phone call still active.


I assume that the cop reassured the guy at the other end that he would look into it, mentioning that it was probably a neighborhood transformer out, in which case lights would be on pretty quickly. He might have checked the power company website but not see any reports of widespread outages. A call directly to the power company would reveal something quite different. Their internal power map would show a widespread outage getting bigger. We know that a company official told him that first they were checking into it. Backups aside, sometimes stuff just failed. We know that the power company had received a few phone calls from the public similar to the one that came into the police station and were checking those with technicians already in the field.


What was discovered not long afterward was that shots had been fired at two of the substations in the Southern Pines, Moore County, NC area, knocking out the machinery. Located about halfway between Raleigh and Fayetteville, this is normally a destination community for year round golf and shopping. Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields spoke publicly about curfews for the duration of the power outage and announced that it was a criminal investigation, with perpetrators who knew exactly what they were doing, with targeted shots.

Jon Wellinghoff, former head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and now CEO and Founder of Grid Policy, was quoted as saying, “Somebody with a high-powered rifle puts a bullet through the case of a transformer and once it goes into the case of the transformer it hits the coils of the transformer, shorts it out, and it’s gone; That device is no longer operable. It can’t be fixed, it needs to be replaced. It cannot be repaired.”

He spoke about the repairs needed: “A lot of these transformers also are sort of one-offs. It’s not like you can cookie-cutter replace them with another one from some other utility in the next county or the next state. They have to be made sort of custom for the particular substation that they’re in. So if they don’t have spares for that particular substation, it could take a considerable amount of time.”

Governor Roy Cooper visited and shopped in Southern Pines the day after power was restored.. When asked whether it had been a terrible prank or domestic terrorism, he said, “I think investigators are leaving no stone unturned as to what this is.”

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The county was under curfew between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m., with schools closed and streetlights off while power was out. The temperatures dropped below 40 degrees on some nights with thousands without heat. It took until Thursday, December 8th to bring the county power back on line.

What kind of penalty do the perpetrators face if they are found and convicted?

Under federal law, damaging energy facilities that causes “a significant interruption or impairment of a function” is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

 North Carolina, along with other states, enacted their own terrorism laws a decade ago. Under this law, “felonies are elevated one class if crimes were motivated by a desire to intimidate the whole population, a specific group or the government.”

As of January 4, 2023, no arrests have been made. Governor Cooper has announced a $75,000. reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrators. The FBI has joined local and State authorities in the investigation of the “willful damage” and have been exploring all possibilities, both for suspects and the reason behind the damage. It won’t be known for sure what the motivation was until the culprits are caught and spoken to.

Warrants have been requested for cell phone records to indicate activity in the area on the days in question. If the public has any information about the attack on the substations, please call the Sheriff’s tip line: 910-947-4444 or contact the FBI at 1-800-CALL FBI or

On January 17th, there was a gunfire attack at an electrical substation in Randolph County. The two attacks do not appear to be related. On February 3, the FBI offered a reward of up to $25,000 for information on the attack.

That’s in addition to the $25,000 reward for information on the Moore County grids attack in early December.

In Randolph County, please call the Randolph County Sheriff’s Office at 336-318-6685, if you have information, or contact the FBI at 1-800- CALL FBI or




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