10Qs for Ken Lang. Ken is a 24-year Maryland law enforcement veteran and now an accomplished author. He served the last 15 years as a detective in the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) Section where Sex Crimes, Robbery, and Homicide investigations have become his forte.
No matter how busy he is, Ken always finds time for my readers. His chat on Twitter about facial reconstructions is an example of that. Ken also travels to public and private libraries throughout the Mid-Atlantic region sharing with true crime readers personal stories from his experiences as a homicide detective and a forensic artist. You can find a lot more about Ken here.
1: Are your books a continuous story such as Harry Potter or, are they stand alone books featuring the same characters? Do any story elements continue in another book?
My trilogy (Walking Among the Dead, Standing In Death’s Shadow, and Death Comes Uninvited) encompasses my entire tenure as a detective assigned to the homicide unit. While the stories are true and the names have been changed I wrote the books in a novel format so that the true crime reader, as well as crime fans, can experience the crime scenes first hand as if they were walking along side of me—hence the title Walking Among the Dead.
As you can imagine, there are detectives coming and going from any unit within a police department, including the homicide unit. So the characters within my books portray that reality of police life as new detectives and supervisors come and go.
While each book has about ten different death investigations, the storyline also places the reader into the squad room where a number of inner office conflicts occur between detectives and supervisors. This element of the storyline is carried throughout all three books and reaches a boiling point at the end of Death Comes Uninvited.
2: Lately a lot of prequels have popped up on both the book and movie market. Have you ever considered writing one?
I can’t say that I’ve ever considered writing a prequel to any of my true crime books, but I am writing my first crime novel. Rather than writing a prequel I have considered writing short back-stories about the various characters in the novel series and offering it to my fans as free download.
3: Have you ever considered writing a teen book?
Not in the slightest. Though, a modern day Hardy Boys series might not be a bad idea.
4: When you start your research for a book, do you use pen & paper to jot down thoughts or do you use a computer?
When I wrote my homicide trilogy there really wasn’t much research required as they were true crime investigations that I had experienced. I only needed to recall the facts of the investigations and write them in such a way that places the reader right into the action. I started, with pen and paper, and listed all the cases I could remember. Then I briefly outlined them (on a computer) and arranged the order for the first book, Walking Among the Dead.
After self-publishing Walking Among the Dead and sustaining strong sales I decided to write the next two books. In the same fashion I outlined the cases, placed the cases in order, and wrote straight from memory.
My outlines were vague, merely enumerating a few bullet points for each of the cases—usually containing just the unique facts about the case. I found that as I wrote the first draft many of the intricate details came rushing back to me. For the facts that were elusive, I was able to call a former partner who would refresh my memory.
However, I am writing my first novel and have found a great difference between writing non-fiction and fiction. As I indicated, my first three books were simple reliving facts that I already experienced. But as a novelist, I am finding that the world of make believe can be quite challenging at times.
To help organize my thoughts I have looked at software designed for writers to organize such all the information. But for me the learning curve is too steep and some programs are so intricate that it pulls me away from my creative process.
In designing my characters I use and Excel spreadsheet that organizes their name, a picture (often of a famous actor/actress), and the demographics (sex, race, height, weight, job, etc.).
I use the outline feature in Word to generate a basic outline of my novel. In my current novel the first outline was less than ten bullet points. Just a basic overview of the plot. In some instances I use the outline to build the direction of the plot and sometimes I just write the scene and let it unfold on the blank, white screen.
5: Do you have any specific writing rituals?
One of the biggest rituals I have for writing regards how I start my day. If I am planning to write, I review the last scene I left off at an hour or two before I go to bed. When I wake the next morning I typically get up early hit the shower, cook a quick breakfast, and set up my computer on my deck which overlooks a horse farm. With plenty of coffee at the ready and nothing to disturb me I simply scan over the last scene one last time and pickup writing from there.
If I get stuck with a fact I will bracket the generic word (i.e. [rifle]), highlight it and continue writing the story. I don’t let trivial information get in my way.
I usually write in this fashion up until lunch where I take a break. If I’m tired of the creative writing I’ll go back, research the information needed for the highlighted areas, and fill in the blanks. Then I move on to working on my marketing, social media, or blog. But, if I still feel the creative juices flowing after lunch, I ramp back up and keep pressing on.
6: Movies based on a book can be great to visualize the story but they can also be a disappointment. What movie based on a book disappointed you?
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.
When I was in middle school I struggled with reading, unless it was something that really interested me. My teacher suggested The Hobbit followed by the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. I ordered the books from the Scholastic magazine and started reading. Having seen the cartoon rendition of The Hobbit as a kid during the 1970s I knew it would enthrall me. I read through the trilogy several times throughout my school years.
When the recent Lord of the Rings movies (produced by Peter Jackson) were released, I had to see them in the theatre on the big screen. For me it was a must. I couldn’t wait to see these books come to life. But as I watched I caught moments when things didn’t feel quite right. So I went back and re-read the trilogy, finding the areas where Jackson had deviated.
Some would consider the variations that Peter Jackson employed minor. But for me they were certainly disappointing because they strayed from the story I remembered.
7: Have you ever used characteristics from someone you know in one of your books?
In my homicide trilogy my characters are based on the types of people who become employed by a police department. Even though applicants are tested through a variety of means, including an intensive psychiatric examination, you meet all kinds of people—a few of which are strange.
Here is one example. Typically every police squad or unit has someone assigned to them that is just absolutely lazy. Through this reality I created a character named Brad Metzger who somehow just seems to fall into solving a case, no experience necessary. Typically homicide detectives would have to work hard to identify a killer, but Metzger was the type of detective who would get an anonymous phone call naming the suspect and pointing out where the evidence needed for the conviction can be found.
8: What inspires you most to write? Breaking news? Nature? People? History?
I was first inspired to write Walking Among the Dead to chronicle my time as a homicide detective so that my family, especially my children, would one day understand why daddy was gone at work for so many hours. But when I learned about how various types of people were reading my book, and the reasons why they were reading my book, my inspiration changed.
I was stunned to learn that not only were true crime and crime novel fans alike reading just for sheer pleasure and their passion for that genre, others were reading to learn more about investigative tactics and strategies.
First I learned that a couple of professors from local colleges were recommending my books in their syllabi to their criminal justice students who may be interested in working as a detective at some point in their career.
Then, perhaps the most moving moment for me that inspires me to write, is when I learned about an organization called Parents of Murdered Children. A national organization, the local chapter near my hometown invited me one night to speak at their meeting. Following my presentation I practically sold out of my book. Within the week I learned that these parents, whose children’s murders remained unsolved, were reading my book and writing notes in the margins. They would soon contact the case detective for their child’s case and ask if certain investigative steps had been done in an effort to solve their children’s murder.
It’s learning about such moments as these that inspires me to continue writing.
9: What was your favourite subject in school?
Without a doubt…American history!
Often I am asked, ‘What are your favorite books to read?’ Many people are surprised to learn about my passion in reading books that surround the American Revolution, Civil War, or World War II eras.
Stephen Ambrose, author of Band of Brothers, is one of my favorite historians. He had such a knack for placing you right into the desperate moment of the soldier’s life.
10: A billionaire gives you a million dollars on the condition that you may spend it but not gain any assets (like in the Richard Pryor movie “Brewster’s Millions.” How will you spend your million?
I would simply pay off my debt, bank the rest, retire from the police department, and continue writing more crime books from my scenic deck.