Mystery Writers Academy

On January 24th, I attended the Mystery Writers Academy hosted by the Idaho Writers Guild and presented by Vickie Gooch, a detective in the Major Crimes Unit of the Idaho State Police.


I now know more about sex crimes, the production and sale of drugs, violent offenders, “suicide by cop,” probable cause affidavits, ViCAP (the FBI’s violent offender program), human trafficking, Touch DNA, cold case homicides, and serial killers than I ever dreamed of. All of it is necessary knowledge when you’re writing a suspense/thriller novel and you want the details to be accurate.

Vicki Gooch’s presentation and examples were outstanding. She’s knowledgeable, humorous, approachable, and a high-energy presenter who kept her writing audience right where she wanted us—dangling at the end of her sharp hook! She’s a great teacher who looks sweet, loving, kind, and thoughtful. But as we all know, appearances can be deceptive. This woman can kick butt and take names!

On February 28th I’m taking a tour of the Idaho State Police Crime Lab. Just imagine what I’ll learn there!

What’s your most recent learning?


74 thoughts on “Mystery Writers Academy

  1. How exciting to learn about these things first hand. It will certainly make your story more authentic. I visit the places I plan to base my novel in and try to learn as much about the culture and history as possible. I also hang around young people as part of my research.

  2. Wow, Laurie, what a great experience. I need something like this to boost my creativity; detective and crime stories were never my forte, so I’d like to learn more. Thank you for sharing.

  3. It sounds fabulous! I visited the FBI a number of years back and it was an experience. I’ve studied Criminology, although the theory is never quite the same as hearing it from somebody who’s had first-hand experience. I am planning a short trip to Russia and I’ve been trying to learn the Russian alphabet with somewhat mixed results (I want to be able to read the signs, at least!) but it’s fascinating. Thanks, Laurie.

  4. This was exciting to me, Laurie. When I titled my blog (….on pets and prisoners) it was because I was volunteering at two different prisoners after work. I learned so much about people, prisons and myself from that. What an experience. Your book (and you) will be so much better for this.

  5. Wow! That sounds like fun!!!??? I hope it won’t give you nightmares. I am a great fan of psychological thrillers and just finished reading ‘Lies’ by T M Logan, and very good it was too. Good luck with your research and crime writing.
    New learning? Only today I started a ‘Booty Barre’ class, which turned out to be a bit like Ballet exercises. What do you know? I always wanted to be a ballerina (my alter ego). 😉

  6. What a perfect learning experience as you work on your first fiction book! Vicki Gooch sounds like a real character too. I love learning about things “behind the curtain.” Very cool!!

    Years and years ago, as I was working to open the doors for young women in the skilled craft trades and apprenticeship programs (part of my memoir period), I was taken down by a crane in a metal basket into Chicago’s Deep Tunnel during its construction (now a part of the current sewer system) to see and learn about the gigantic forms Carpenters built for the building size cement tubes. I later produced an award winning trade orientation videotape (also massive new learning) on several of these behind the scenes work sites for Carpenters.

    More recently, I learned something far more mundane but practical, how to set up my own new SM-LLC online later this year. When I started my first business I paid an attorney several hundred dollars for taking care of this step. Online legal service now also charge over a hundred dollars for doing what will likely take me less than 15 minutes. Knowledge is power; dollar power in this case!

    • Audrey — Your crane experience sounds AMAZING. I can hardly wait to read your memoir. And my hat is off to YOU for learning to set up your own new SM-LLC. You’re right — knowledge is power and can save a person lots of hard-earned cash! Way to go! 🙂

  7. I’m learning that a form to “terminate custodianship” sounds dreadfully unparentlike and nasty–but one of those necessary evils I guess when transferring an account to your very grown up 35 year old daughter.

    Or, maybe you can work this into your mystery. I’ve always thought ever since my husband started using a cpap machine that records on a computer chip the minute he puts it on at night and the minute he takes it off in the morning, that someone should use that sometime in a mystery to prove someone’s innocence. ??? Have fun with your research.

  8. Wow! What training for a mystery writer. I still remember many year ago when I was in Seminary and our class was taken to visit the state prison. Scary, but a great learning experiences. Recently my learning is much more calm. I’ve been learning a lot about health and wellness as well as honing a few new skills to incorporate in my artwork.

    • Espirational — Decades ago I was part of an outreach program that sang in women’s prisons. Talk about a learning experience! If nothing else, my instant learning was that I never wanted to do anything remotely close to landing myself behind bars!

      And how cool that you’re learning about health and wellness, and honing new skills to use in your artwork. yes, Yes, YES!

  9. How exciting! I can imagine your creative mind running wild with ideas while at the Academy – I hope you had your trusty notebook with you to jot down ideas. 🙂

    My most recent learning is my current learning, studying for a BA, majoring in English, and I’m also studying for a Bachelor of Philosophy. The BA is great for learning new writing skills, while the BPhil is opening my mind to considering alternative points of view that I’d never dreamed of before. 🙂

  10. Just listened to a 1952 interview with Bertrand Russel – very interesting.
    Followed that with an interview with Carl Jung.
    Currently have Alan Watts talking in my left ear.

    Failed to display any mastery on the golf course today.

    All seem to me to point to the necessity for diversity and redundancy in all aspects of our systems, and for respect for all the diversity that humans embody.

  11. Vicki sounds like a fantastic speaker, and just what a mystery writer needs to make stories more authentic! I lead a sheltered life when it comes to the world of crime (thank God!) My most recent learning was from listening to a podcast (Freakonomics) about college athletes and sports program. Enlightening and made me think about them in a different way – always a good thing. That’s why I like this podcast – it exposes the ‘hidden side of everything.’

    • Molly — It sounds like that Freakonomics podcast was interesting. I can well imagine that there are many aspects about college athletes and sports programs that aren’t made readily visible.

  12. Laurie, Your learning experience was certainly more exciting than the one I am going through. Mine is more mundane as most necessary actions are, plowing through insurance, Social Security and tax forms have made me more aware of how documented the average American life is. It;s truly a paper trail, with search and recovery as the major focus. As you once wrote about, the time spent between B and D constitutes a life, hopefully well-lived. Oh, and also the fact that no matter where you hang the bird feeder, you can’t outwit the squirrels.

    • Sandi — “Ye Old Necessary Paper Trail.” Yuck! But an avenue most of us leave in our wake (intentionally, or not). It’s hard when we have to retrace our steps. Harder still when we have to retrace someone elses.

  13. Since I’ve embarked on a non-fiction topic after four novels (opposite direction from yours:-), I’ve had a lot to learn. But the most fun and moving part of preparing for writing the history of Armenians through the first and second generations of the Armenians who immigrated to America to escape the massacres at the hands of the Ottoman Turks (1895-1922). The stories, through interviews and videos and writings, describe unspeakable horrors, but also of amazing strength and resilience. Many of the men went on to fight for the U.S. in World War I and World War II, while starting families, erecting churches, and building businesses. And I’ve only just begun.

  14. Dear Laurie, Brava for your due diligence and research for your new book. That what make you an authentic and splendid author!

  15. Fun post! I worked an internship with the Sheriff’s Department, 911,and Police Dispatch. Several of my kid’s college friends were getting degrees in Forensics and the award winning Washington State Crime Lab is near Idaho in the Spokane area. Have been there several times and it is very interesting. I love reading mysteries and police detective stories – especially where there is computer sleuthing involved!
    I am doing some sleuthing of my own…for some reason this post did not come into my inbox this week, nor did Wonders In The Dark. Need to figure out this mystery…

    • Patricia — I bet you’ve absorbed enough knowledge to write your own mystery/suspense/thriller novel!

      Oh gosh! I, too, hope you solve the mystery of why you weren’t notified of Sam’s posts, or mine!

  16. I attended a very nice and informative art seminar, Laurie, and loved it, but I honestly think I would really have enjoyed your experience. I love a good mystery! I have friends who have toured the Los Angeles Coroners Division and been introduced to some crime unit facilities that might make me a little squeamish, but I have to admit my curiosity! I’m so glad you found this a profitable time. 🙂

    • Debra — That is so interesting that your friends got to visit the LA Coroners Division! I don’t know if they offer that here, but now that you’ve brought it up, I plan to find out! Thank you 🙂

  17. Funny, but the best thing I’ve learned lately is through a TED talk on breathing. Recently, in the impression-taking stage of two dental implants, I found myself becoming stressed over the time it was taking…I remembered the talk and reminded myself to breathe correctly…I immediately felt calm.

    • TimelessLady — I love doing breathwork. The best one I ever learned was from Dr. Andrew Weil. It’s called 4-7-8 breathing. You inhale to the mental count of 4. Hold it for the mental count of 7. Exhale to the mental count of 8 (the exhale being twice as long as the inhale). It’s amazing. Give it a go! You’ll love having it to your breathwork repertoire 🙂

  18. I am very familiar with these workshops and this subject and have attended several as a teacher. Just last week we had one of school bullying which I did find revealing and worthwhile.

  19. This reminds me of the monthly speakers we get for our Twiin Cities Sisters in Crime chapter meetings. We’ve had K-9 officers, a medical examiner, an a number of FBI agents, one of whom was a profiler who interviewed Ted Bundy. Talk about interesting!

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