Jessica Ellis Laine: Top Ten Reasons I Love the Writers’ Police Academy

JE Laine closeup

Top Ten Reasons I Love the Writers’ Police Academy

I heard about the Writers’ Police Academy from my Sister in Crime, Jessie Chandler, and  decided to go this year. It was awesome. Here’s why:

1. Road Trip

  1. Girls’ Road Trip. On Thursday morning, I took my first road trip in years (sans dog, child, and husband) with two up-and-coming crime writers, Michelle Kubitz and Emily Gorman. Although we had spoken at several Twin Cities Sisters in Crimes meetings, it was on this trip that I got to know Shelley and Emily and their writing.
  2. Beer and Cheese. You can’t shake a stick in Wisconsin without hitting a can of beer or a block of cheese. On Thursday afternoon, we ate lunch at the Great Dane Pub in Wausau. I drank a beer in something called a crowler, which is a growler in a can. You learn something new every day.

2A. Crowler

Supposedly, authentic cheese curds will make a squeaky noise when you bite into them. Did ours do that? I’m not sure because we inhaled them in less than five minutes’ time.

2B. Cheese Curds

  1. Sisters and Misters. In Green Bay, we realized we were not alone; there were Sisters and Misters everywhere. At the Sisters in Crime table, we introduced ourselves to President Leslie Budewitz and Debra Goldstein. It was a nice way to kick off Thursday night.

3. Sisters in Crime

4. Special Ops Show and Tell. At the hands-on demonstrations, we spent some time watching the K-9 officer and his police dog. Then we spoke at length with an officer on the bomb squad team who gave us insight into the challenges his team faces on a regular basis. I came away with some great ideas for my novel-in-progress, a police procedural set in Australia. We wrapped up the event with a photo on this super-humongous bear cat.

4. Bear Cat

5. Emergency Driving. On Friday morning, I took a “crash course” on Emergency Driving with driving partners, Leslie Budewitz and Karen Heines, and our instructor, Colleen Belongea. Part of what makes the WPA great is the opportunity to take note of how cops talk, walk, and hold themselves. Our instructors (including Colleen and John Flannery) were so incredibly personable, intelligent and self-assured that I’m sure they’ll end up in many of the writers’ stories. (I know they’re going to end up in mine :).

5A. Emerg Driving all

5B. Emergency Driving w Colleen

Among other things, Colleen taught us the proper way to round corners at high speed. The experience definitely made me think about what those high-speed chases would be like for my story’s protagonists, a Latina constable and her partner.

  1. Peeps. On Friday and Saturday, we hung out with Doug Dorow and Carol Huss, fellow crime writers from Minnesota. It was fun to review the classes we’d taken and to discuss our stories. We also met crime writers from Milwaukee, Toronto, Vancouver, Virginia Beach, and Seattle. I feel fortunate to have forged connections with all of these incredible writers.

6. MN Writers

7. I had no idea that Green Bay skirts Oneida tribal land. As a writer of color, it was very powerful to see diverse police officers in action at the Writers’ Police Academy. All ages, sexes, and races were represented. Also, as you can see, the “eye candy” quotient was very high. Just sayin’.

7. Diversity Looks Good

8. Real Cops for Real Writers. Retired Madison police officer, Paul Smith, tugged at my heartstrings when he explained how he developed PTSD following two fatal shootings (he was cleared in both incidents). I can’t imagine a more stressful job than that of a police officer. While the high-stress situations police officers face make for great fiction, the actual toll stress takes on officers can be devastating.

Trying to create the mental health support needed for officers is an overwhelming task. I have been following the Victoria Police’s attempts to create a safety net for its officers in Australia following a review last year which stated the department’s “suck it up” management style was its greatest weakness.

At one point, Smith considered suicide but was able to turn his life around and now works as a PTSD counselor and law enforcement trainer. The session was very moving, and Smith’s service dog had me at hello (shhh, don’t tell my black Lab, Sinjin). Here we are together—and in love.

8. We're In Love

  1. Tami Hoag and Long Gun: Live Fire. What can I say about this unbelievable experience? Shooting a .223 patrol rifle. With Tami Hoag at my side.


*Mic drop.*  

*Video by Lee Lofland


9. Jessica & Tami Hoag

Tami was the keynote speaker at the banquet on Saturday night. She was so open and honest with us; it was a speech I won’t soon forget.

  1. Whaaat? Dancing in Green Bay, Home of the Packers? Yes, yes, and yes. On Friday night, we danced with the enemy (Packer fans) at the Stadium View Bar, but kept our identities as Vikings fans a secret.

10A. Stadium View Bar & Grille

Then we boogied down on Saturday night with our new WPA friends (including Jill and Colleen “The Rock” Belongea) at Purcell’s Lounge in the Radisson until we shut that mother down.

10B. Dancing at Purcell's

Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 10.45.39 AM

Overall, I had an amazing time at the Writers’ Police Academy. Many thanks to everyone who made this such an incredible experience for attendees. I will be practicing my dance moves in preparation for next year’s conference. See you in 2017!



Jessica Ellis Laine lives with a houseful of men. Her short story, “Safe Harbor,” is featured in the mystery anthology, Cooked to Death. Jessica’s novel-in-progress won the 2016 Mystery Writers of America-Midwest Hugh Holton award. She can be found online at


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2016 Golden Donut Short Story Winners and Runners-Up


Each year the Writers’ Police Academy sponsors a fun and challenging writing contest called The Golden Donut Short Story Contest. The rules are simple—write a story about a photograph we supply using exactly 200 words, including the title.

The 2016 photo-prompt is pictured above.

Below are the first, second, and third place contest winners selected by international bestselling author Tami Hoag.

Congratulations to each of you, and to everyone who entered the contest. Each and every story was absolutely wonderful.


2016 Golden Donut Award Winner!



Click. Clack.

by A. R. Kennedy

Click clack.

That is all I have heard for days.

Click clack.

My fingers producing the only noises in the still ship.

Click clack.

We ran aground twenty-one days ago.

The penetrating waves. The driving rains. The pounding winds.

I sat at this typewriter as we rocked, as we swayed and, finally, crashed.

Click clack.

Only us four had survived the first night.

The others drowned in the high seas.

Plenty of other beds were available now.

All the other cabins were available now.

But we had stayed together.

Out of loneliness? Out of friendship? Out of fear?

I could not answer for them.

For me, I could not leave my Underwood. My only true friend.

It always told me what I wanted to hear.

Click clack.

Just us four until day fourteen.

The yelling. I could not take the bickering anymore.

The hunger. I could not take the starving anymore.

Click clack.

My bunkmates stopped talking to me seven days ago.

But their voices…their voices lingered in my head.

Their screams as I covered their mouths…They bounced around in my head.

But now, even that was gone.

And so was the hunger.

Click. Clack.



Second Place

Final Words

by Jan Utz

I slip into the room and quickly lock the door.

The sixties called, they want their dorm room back.

This is where I am going to die. I am okay with that.

I was there when history was made.

The worst mass murder on a college campus.

Everything moved in slow motion as I watched rounds of automatic rifle fire slice through young bodies. The two slugs I took to the gut were things of beauty.

I need to record something, anything, to mark this occasion.

The drawers hold nothing but receipts. The ribbon on the ancient typewriter is dry.

Ah! But an ink source oozes between my fingers as I clutch my wounds.

Sitting on the edge of the old chair, I dab blood on the ribbon.

Faint letters appear as I type my last words and remove the narrow receipt.

I hear cops searching door to door.

My frozen in time room will be next, but it will be too late for me.

As the cops break in, my rifle slides down, snagging the pink lace on my skirt.

I take my last breath as the blood soaked message drifts to the floor.

Sorry. Not sorry.



Third Place

Writer’s Getaway: Inspiration Guaranteed

by Chelle Martin 

The brochure had promised a quaint retreat, with tranquil gardens and the opportunity to relax and interact with other writers. So far, I was a party of one in an aged Victorian house that would probably collapse from a strong wind. I would have checked my weather app and prayed for a gale, but cell service disappeared fifty miles ago.

To say my quarters were cramped was the proverbial understatement. My writing desk was sandwiched between two “handcrafted” bunk beds with warped drawers. If I accomplished a draft, it would be a miracle. To top it off, my agent had recommended this place. “I have only heard good things about it,” she had said.

Anger engulfed me as I rolled a sheet of paper into the carriage of the antique Royal typewriter and pounded away on the keys like the Phantom of the Opera playing a menacing symphony on his pipe organ. Clack, clack, clack. Ding!

The story flowed with a fierce pace, opening with a badly treated author murdering her agent and then escaping to a place no one would ever look for her–a little Victorian house that disguised itself as a writer’s retreat.


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Stacy Green: Writers Need the WPA Because Readers Are Smart

Sweet Adelines International 2014

I used to be terrified of flying. For 37 years, I refused. But three years ago, on a whim, I contacted Lee Lofland and lucked into a cancellation spot at Writers’ Police Academy, held in North Carolina that year. I sucked it up and conquered my fear of flying, found an inner strength I didn’t know I had, and I started to gain the confidence to begin writing what I truly loved, crime fiction.

A huge part of that genre depends on research and details. Readers are smart and will hone in on anything you wrote incorrectly. And there’s only so much a person can learn from Google and nonfiction. Writers need to hear it, taste, feel it, and smell.

Writers’ Police Academy delivers on every level. My first year, in North Carolina, I was lucky enough to win a ride along with a county sheriff’s deputy.


Just as he finished telling me his patrol area was pretty quiet, a call came in for a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Several high-speed minutes later, we were at the location and I watched the deputy breach the door. Sadly, the man inside had committed suicide, and so the deputy and his colleagues began to secure the scene. I sat in the cruiser for several hours, watching how it all unfolded. My gracious deputy apologized profusely for being stuck there, but I assured him the little details I picked up were invaluable. I saw how the various officers walked and talked, how they compartmentalized the gruesomeness of the scene and worked with the grieving family. One deputy spent long minutes bringing out cats in carriers and made it a point to have them all face in a circle in an effort to calm them. It was a raw, human side of law enforcement I will never forget.

Last year, I went on the shooting range for pistol training. We were put through the same exercises as new recruits, and learned all aspects of using the pistol, the correct stance for a police officer, and practiced deadly force. I also got my picture in the Appleton paper, right below the article featuring Karin Slaughter (who is my crime fiction hero) as the conference’s keynote speaker.


This year, I was part of group on an extensive tour of Wisconsin’s oldest maximum security prison, and I learned how to walk a crime scene and figure out blood spatter.

In three years of attending, I’ve found dozens of new classes to take: crime scene investigation, SWAT, interview tactics, constitutional law, criminal psychology, EMS, undercover work, private investigation, medical examiner and coroner presentations—the list goes on and would take up the rest of the article. Every class at WPA is taught by an experience professional, most of them full-time instructors at the police academy after retiring from law enforcement.

But the incredible classes aren’t even the best part. That’s a tie between the opportunity to pick the experts’ brains (and get their contact info for future questions) and the incredible real-life situations WPA likes to throw at us.

This year, the staff at NWTC stage two awesome demonstrations. First up, an MVA involving a drunk driver and a family.


One actor played dead on the hood of a crumpled car for 45 minutes while another sobbed with grief, all while police, paramedics, and finally life-flight—a real helicopter that landed within yards of us—worked the scene just as they would in real life.


Next day, inside a crowded lecture hall, WPA instructors and volunteers staged a terrorist act. Several people were “knifed” and we watched the public safety officials handle the situation, including triaging the injured. For a visual person like me, stuff like this is gold.


I can’t underscore how much this conference has changed my writing life. It gave me the courage to go from suspense with romance to what I truly love—the dark, gritty stuff. I forged various public safety contacts and realized I could network with other authors, that I wasn’t as much of an introvert as I believed. I learned about the psychology of cops and the day-to-day stuff they go through and gained a new respect. I’ve been able to have conversations with my three favorite authors,—Lisa Gardner, Tami Hoag, and Karin Slaughter.

Last year, during Karin Slaughter’s signing, I told her I’d been struggling on my first gritty crime fiction, in part because I was afraid I couldn’t write the homicide investigation so that it was believable. She told me to face my fear and go after what I wanted.  So I got on the phone and found a cop in D.C. willing to work with me. I sold that book this spring.

This year, I got to tell Tami Hoag that her book, The 9th Girl, helped me get back into the right frame of mind to finish that same crime fiction thriller, and that just hours before she signed my copy, I found out my publisher is releasing the book in hardback in January. She was so excited she wrote “congratulations” with her signature.

How cool is that for the mom from Iowa who didn’t think she’d ever be able to branch out far enough to write what she really wanted?

It’s all because of the opportunities from Writers’ Police Academy, and it’s the one conference I won’t miss, because there’s always something new and exciting.

Thanks so much to Lee and Denene Lofland for all they do for us. I’m already marking my calendar for next year!


Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 9.46.39 PM

Stacy Green is the author of the Lucy Kendall thriller series and the Delta Crossroads mystery trilogy. ALL GOOD DEEDS (Lucy Kendall #1) won a bronze medal for mystery and thriller at the 2015 IPPY Awards. Stacy has a love of thrillers and crime fiction, and she is always looking for the next dark and twisted novel to enjoy. She started her career in journalism before becoming a stay at home mother and rediscovering her love of writing. She lives in Iowa with her husband and daughter and their three spoiled fur babies. Her current work includes the true crime series KILLER SHORTS: Murderers Among US, and her crime fiction novel, KILLING JANE, will be available in January 2016.

Stacy is represented by Italia Gandolfo of Gandolfo, Helin and Fountain Literary Management for literary and dramatic rights.

Stacy loves to hear from readers!



Twitter: @StacyGreen26

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Terry Odell: Why Writers’ Police Academy?

long gun target

The 2016 Writers’ Police Academy was the fifth one I’ve attended. I’m not sure I’ve been to any other conference that many times, but WPA always offers something new and different. And just when you think you’ve seen enough to get you through the next five books, Lee goes and changes the venue so there are new things to explore.

Why WPA? As authors, we want to (or at least should want to) provide as much accurate information as possible, and having a conference at a training facility for first responders with access to their instructors—well, it doesn’t get much more real than that.

Will you have a fire scenario in your book. You need WPA. Cops? WPA is a given. EMS? Ditto. Private Investigators? Courtrooms? They have those, too. Want to breach a building? Fire a patrol rifle? Try ‘shoot-don’t/shoot’? Watch a K-9 in action? Yep. WPA has it all.

This year began with a parking lot display of all the nifty cop vehicles. Attendees were climbing in and out like kids at a hands-on museum exhibit. And, as always, there were plenty of personnel around (including one of the furry four-legged variety) to answer questions.

Drug car


After that was the annual “orientation” where Lee provides valuable information about how everything will work. There’s always a critical tidbit that rises to the forefront. In 2015, the most-repeated question was “What time does the pool close?” This year, it was “How long are the bus rides?”

WPA always begins the first full day with a group welcome. This year (after a bus ride of appropriate length), we were welcomed onto the campus with a fully staged traffic accident. We observed a field sobriety test, Jaws of Life extracting victims from the crashed vehicles, and they even brought in a fricking helicopter.

Crash with helicopter

But the real value, in addition to watching how these scenarios are handled, comes from the willingness of staff to go through every detail afterward, explaining not only what they did, but why they did it. And, even more valuable is the willingness of the instructors to share their contact information so you can hound them ask them followup questions when you get home and find yourself dealing with a scene you want to get right.

After the opening demonstration, the rest of the day is filled with small classroom and hands-on workshops. There’s no way you can hit all of them (did I mention this was my 5th WPA?). Smartest move is to find a friend (and everyone will become your friend) who’s going to something you can’t get to and then share notes.

Rather than go into the entire curriculum in this post, you can look at the WPA website and find the schedule of all the different classes they offered.

My choices included firehouse life, poisoning people, the psychological consequence of being a cop, defensive arrest tactics, how cops talk, and traffic stops with a K-9 (I did that one twice—once with a drug/patrol dog, and once with a bomb/patrol dog). Oh, yes, I took a class on live-firing an AR15 patrol rifle. My takeaways from that one—I’m a granny with little or no upper body strength, and yoga classes, no matter how many downward facing dogs or sun salutations you do, you’re not using the same muscles. But there’s no substitute for learning by doing. The sounds, the smells (and it’s gunpowder, NOT cordite!) And, thanks to the instructors, we learned the safe way to do everything.

Saturday begins with a trek to a large lecture hall. Repeat attendees suspect this will be more than a talk about terrorist attacks. Many first-timers have their suspicions as well, I imagine. Sure enough a few minutes in the presentation, shouts of “Help! I’ve been stabbed!” resound from behind the door at the base of the classroom. The instructor pauses, but continues with his lecture until the call comes again. He opens the door, admitting a “wounded” victim. First aid procedures begin immediately, and soon the instructor has volunteers from the audience.


Then more attack victims arrive, and we’re now in a full-blown lockdown scenario, with police working to secure the campus and the paramedics arriving to aid the victims, and the room swarms with police (well-played by rookies at the college).


Everyone in the audience is told to place their hands on their heads, fingers entwined, and they’re not kidding. So much for taking notes.

They begin questioning members of the audience, moving them down the stairs after they’ve been cleared. Luckily, no one challenged the officer with the booming voice when he said, “For the last time, put your hands on your head!” to someone who didn’t take the scenario seriously enough. Later, during the debriefing, when someone asked what would have happened to that individual, we were told he would have been handcuffed and placed where the officers could make sure he was behaving.

One of the best takeaways from WPA is the jargon. You’ll hear “package them up,” “put the white stuff on the red stuff,” “dirty walls and clean walls,” “gunners and grabbers”—all things begging to be added to dialogue in your next book.

Add to all this talks by Lee Goldberg and Tami Hoag, and you have a weekend with enough writing fodder—the right writing fodder—to ensure you don’t have people experienced in these fields throwing your books across the room.

That’s WPA in a nutshell—a very small nutshell. Hope to see you there next year!


Click here to read more about Terry Odell.

TLO and K9_2

Terry Odell always wanted to “fix” stories she read so the characters did what she wanted. Once she began writing, she found this wasn’t always possible, as the mystery she intended to write became a romance—a real surprise, since she’d never read a romance. Terry writes mystery and romantic suspense, but calls them all “Mysteries With Relationships.” Her 20 pulbished works include the Blackthorne, Inc. covert ops series, the Pine Hills Police series, the Triple-D Ranch series, and the Mapleton Mystery series. Her awards include the Silver Falchion and HOLT Medallion, among others.

Click the cover below to read more about Terry’s latest book.

Deadly Production 200x300

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