Detective by day, author by night, making his second appearance on Ink Drop Interviews, please help me to welcome Ken Lang, author of WALKING AMONG THE DEAD and STANDING IN DEATH’S SHADOW.
IDI – Ken, when did you have your Eureka moment? When did you know that you were born to be a writer?
KL – It all started after helping a friend at his first storytelling conference. One of the guest speakers was ghostwriter, John Riddle. John has been working in the industry for years, teaching along side of some well-known authors including Tom Clancy, Stephen King, and James Patterson.
I had approached John after learning from one of the attendees of the conference that John had spoken about how you can make money writing online content for any area of expertise. My friend thought of me and my 20 plus years in law enforcement as a police officer and detective, and shared the information with me. Looking for a little extra income, my enquiring mind wanted to know more and I approached John.
Our conversation was brief, but informative. John asked about my experience in the police department. When he heard that I had 14 years experience as a detective, investigating rapes, robberies and murders, he pointed me towards writing true crime books based on those experiences.
Because I was writing from my memory of actual cases I handled I found the process easy. The problem I discovered was how to approach the project. After batting some emails back and forth with John, we decided to think “out of the box” with my true crime book and to write it as a non-fiction drama.
I wrote my debut book, Walking Among the Dead, and sought traditional means to publish the book. When after being rejected by twenty some publishers and forty some odd literary agents I elected to try the self-publishing route, breaking in through the Kindle, Nook, and CreateSpace outlets. I had such a great response with Walking Among the Dead, I promptly started my second manuscript—Standing In Death’s Shadow.
Unbeknownst to me, John had floated my manuscript by an unnamed bestselling author. When I learned from John that he had done this and that the unnamed author was “impressed,” John further conveyed to me that I was born to write and encouraged me to continue writing such books.
IDI – What kind of response did you get with WALKING WITH THE DEAD? What benefits did you see?
KL – After releasing Walking Among the Dead, I started promoting the book and myself through the various social media outlets which opened a couple of doors of opportunity. One of those opportunities included being invited as a guest on The Author’s Show, the foremost radio show for authors. They have an annual award each year and I was later nominated and named a winner in the 2011 “50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading.”
IDI – Congratulations! That’s quite impressive. What are you working on now? Can we get a look-see?
KL – I’m currently editing the rough draft of my third manuscript, Death Comes Uninvited, the final book of my homicide series. As I finish weaving in the smaller details that will seem all three of my books together in this series, its amazing how one can see themselves grow as an author. Here’s an excerpt from the opening chapter:
Small waves lapped softly against the splintered bulkhead as the late evening’s full moon glistened against the edges of each ripple as it worked its way towards the shore. A cool breeze stirred from the southern portion of the peninsula and wound its way up along the beach line and swirled into the night club’s windows. The River Shack was the new party hot spot for those who had just acquired the required legal drinking age but had not yet found the maturity to handle the responsibility needed to keep them from plunging into utter stupidity. The dance floor and bar areas were filled beyond capacity, something the owner had not experienced in a good while. The owner surveyed the crowd as he finished wiping down a glass; he searched for the source of his sudden financial success. After all, it was the third Friday night in a row his taps were ran nearly dry and his young clientele begged for more.
The gray planked walls, adorned with aged life rings, rowing oars and other long forgotten maritime relics gave the ambience of an old classic fishing trawler just in from a wharf off of the coast of Maine. In the far corner just beneath a flickering iron gas lantern, a group of young men sat and glared at one another in disgust. They cupped their hands around their mugs and spoke to each other only with darting eyes. Raul lifted his mug and chugged the last of his lukewarm ale, slammed the glass back onto the rustic table while he gave a quick sideways nod with his head. It was time to make their move.
Each of the six Hispanic men tried to finish as much of his remaining beer in the few seconds allotted them as they slid out from the corner booth and squeezed in tightly together and worked their way across the crowded dance floor. Bodies pressed against them from every direction as the carefree partiers swiveled and swayed to the rhythmic beats that blared across the cramped room.
Raul glanced back to Julio. The countenance scribbled across his face told Julio precisely who had brought him to his agitation. Everyday respect was something to be commanded, not earned. With a second distinct jerk of his head, Raul motioned to Julio who turned back and gave a quick series of hand signals to his compadres. The associates quickly encircled the group of guys who stood near the wooden support post as they drank their replenished beer.
“Yo, bitch,” Raul yelled.
James heard someone scream something just over the music and looked to his left, beer in hand, and saw the Hispanic subject who had been eyeballing him all night.
“What?” James yelled back and smirked at the scouring man.
“I got something for you bitch,” Raul yelled as he raised the Glock 27 semi-auto handgun over his head and began pouring rounds down into the group of men. As he jerked the trigger in rapid succession, Raul counted his shots; he knew he needed to save one last round before he fled.
Panic and hysteria erupted in the River Shack and poured through the doors and windows into the parking lot. Intoxicated patrons fled for their lives as they scrambled for the safety of their cars.
“That’s for disrespecting me,” Raul said and walked towards his wounded prey as he raised the Glock one last time. With careful aim, he aligned the sights straight at James’ head and squeezed the trigger, “…and that’s to make sure you don’t pull that shit again!”
James’ body fell limp as bright red blood poured from his wound and spilled onto the scuffed wooden flooring. Others, wounded by the stampede, had avoided being scathed by any of the stray rounds. As these terrified patrons crawled towards safety, Raul and his five amigos ran out the door, jumped into their decrepit Cadillac and sped away from the scene.
IDI – Thank you for the excerpt, sounds great! Who’s your target audience? What aspect of your writing do you feel targets that particular audience?
KL – Currently, my target audience includes true crime and crime novel fans alike. With the unique approach of my writing, I am able to transport the reader right into the scene and let them experience the homicide and its investigation almost as if they were walking along side of me. Probably one of the biggest aspect that grabs my audiences is their ability to see how forensics, mixed with good old-fashioned detective work, coheres together, making a strong case against the suspect. There’s no quantum leap from ‘no suspect’ to ‘suspect’ through some vague evidentiary innuendo. These cases work methodically through each case, unveiling evidence, allowing the reader to see how we as detectives muddle our way through such trying investigations.
However, after I release my third book, Death Comes Uninvited, my writing efforts will take a slight shift as I begin writing my first crime novel. It’s already outlined, and I’m chomping at the bit to get ready to take my readers on a criminal adventure where I can draw on my expertise and leave my fans with a sense of reality in a fictional storyline.
IDI – I’ve heard arguments for each side, but when writing, do you outline or sketch your entire novel before you feel comfortable enough to begin your first draft or do you prefer to fly by the seat of your jockey’s?
KL – With my true crime homicide series, I used a very basic outline just to denote which death investigations to use and the order to place them in. As far as the rubber meeting the road, I flew by the seat of my pants when writing with just my laptop and creative wit driving me from scene to scene.
I found that I really enjoyed writing in that style as I felt an immense freedom with my creativity. For me, outlining to a great length, or even using these storyline software programs seemed overbearing. I almost felt overwhelmed when trying to create a detailed outline form my crime novel. I’ve even tried some of the demo programs for the storyline software and thought that the learning curve was too great to deal with.
What scares me the most about detailed outlining is that once it’s down on paper I have this sense that I need to stay committed to what’s on paper. Losing my freedom in creativity absolutely unnerves me.
IDI – What advice would you give to new/unpublished writers?
KL – New and unpublished authors need to remember the old adage “you only get one chance to make a first impression.” Whether you’re self-published or seeking more traditional means, make the extra effort, take the extra time to have your work polished to its fullest potential. What I mean by this is that you need to hire a good editor who is able to not only edit the grammatical errors and hone your sentences into a readable piece, but you need an editor who can point out your strengths and weaknesses and help guide you to become what the industry calls “a damn good writer.” Sure, I understand that each of us have different levels of ability, that some are more creative than others, and that for a few, writing comes naturally. Regardless of your writing level and ability, you need to keep pressing on, taking a realistic view of your writing and pushing towards short-term and long-term goals that help you to achieve your dream.
After all, when I started, I was a cop who knew nothing about writing or the business. Little by little I educated myself by reading great, established authors. I studied marketing strategies, and I wore out my Google screen. It can be done.
Remember, your writing is a reflection of you and your work ethic.
IDI – Well said, Ken. I couldn’t agree with you more. I know I have ideas for stories that cross over the lines of my usual genre. Do you have any such ideas and if so, what is your outlook on genre-crossing?
KL – Many, actually. As you know, when I first started writing I started in the “out of the box” approach with true crime. After John Riddle helped me with my first book he mentioned another piece of great advise—don’t get stuck in one genre.
Having done my research, I remembered reading somewhere that if a new author wants to add a new genre to their palette the should do it only after writing the third book in the first genre. With that piece of advise in mind I wrote my homicide series in the non-fiction drama (novel-like) format to give me practice to write a crime novel series. I’ve already developed my cast of characters for this first crime novel series. But what is really cool is the idea to take one of those cast of characters from the first crime novel series and spin them off into a completely separate series and then intertwining the two characters from time to time between the two (or even three) series.
Being a fan of history, I recently visited an old historical site here in the state of Maryland that immediately inspired a novel. Based during the time of World War II, this project runs completely off the beaten crime path and straight up the road of a historical-romance.
The problem is, I can only write one book at a time.
IDI – In y our opinion, what are the biggest misconceptions new authors have about the publishing industry?
KL – Right out of the gate I had an industry professional and a bestselling author convey words that absolutely inspired me. In fact, I was so confident, I was absolutely sure that any publisher or literary agent with half a brain would see the writing and marketing potential in a true crime writer with actual detective experience and sign me up. After all, Ann Rule only worked for a Sheriff’s Office for a year before she went big, right?
But there has been this huge shift in the industries paradigm since Ann Rule signed on and the internet has leveled the playing field for bestselling and unknown authors alike. Yet, there seems to be this lingering perception by authors that ‘if I could just get signed on by a publisher, then I’ll have made it.’
The dark reality of this business is two-fold. First, in order to be discovered, you’ll need to have a “damn good book.” And having such a book draws in publishers who see the potential for making money off of your work. Secondly, even if you have a publisher, you, and only you, are the best person to promote your book. There is no one else with a greater passion about your work than you. And even when your signed with a publisher, it is you who will have the brunt of promoting your book.
So for all you new authors just setting your sails, don’t look at self-publishing in a negative light. After all, you just might be the next bestseller in the Kindle Store.
IDI – Everyone has a vision of where they see themselves in the future, be it one of five years. Where do you see yourself in five years? Where did you see yourself five years ago? Did you make it there?
KL – Five years ago I wanted to have attained my bachelor’s degree and retire from the police department upon reaching my 20 year tenure. I’ve obtained that degree and am working towards my master’s. I also attained 21 years on the job, but due to the economy, am unable to retire.
Five years ago I didn’t even know I was going to be an award-winning author. Having reached this juncture in my life, I have refined my goals somewhat to accommodate for the potential writing career.
I see myself having finished my master’s program around in Spring of 2013. That would enable me to apply for online professor jobs that will allow me to work from home and spend more time with the family. I also see more true crime, crime novels, and other books being released. How far along I’ll be in my writing I just don’t know for certain. But I’m going to give it my best.
IDI – When reading another author, do you find yourself taking in what you read or are you more likely to critique as you go?
KL – Occasionally I’ll have unknown authors request that I review their book. Then there are the books that I enjoy reading for pleasure. While the two are very different I find that I am somewhat split between reading for pleasure (70%) and critiquing (30%). I often chuckle when I find a mistake in another book, but it usually doesn’t take me to far away from my enjoying the read.
Some of the most common mistakes that I see, even in books published by a well named publisher, are simple typo’s—a misspelled word, or the wrong word (i.e. there v. their).
IDI – Who is the most supportive of your dream to be a writer?
KL – Without a doubt, my lovely wife, Michele. She is an avid reader so I often float chapters from my manuscript by her to make sure that I’m not losing the reader in too much police jargon or moving to abruptly through investigative steps in the storyline. She’s also quick to pick up on parts that read well and parts where it bogs down.
She’s often by my side at book signings, especially those where I need to conduct the transaction. This really frees me up to interact with my fans and sign autographs.
What I enjoy most about having her with me is that it’s like being on a date and we have a great time together. We enjoy seeing new places and meeting new people everywhere we go.
IDI – Tell us, what is an ordinary day in the life of Ken Lang?
KL – I must admit, there’s nothing ordinary about being a detective/author. Because I am still employed with my agency (yes, I’ve intentionally lefty out their name for legal reasons), I am still a fulltime detective. With that being said, I typically rise early and meander into work by 7:00 a.m. (after an hour commute) and work through an eight-hour shift. Unless, of course, my services are required beyond my eight-hour tour. I return home and spend most of my evenings writing, editing, studying, or marketing. My studies are geared towards my Masters of Science in Criminal Justice Administration.
I do try to schedule much of my work so that I can balance out my family life. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday evenings are divided up with the writing, editing, studying, or marketing. To-do lists are extremely beneficial for me in accomplishing these tasks. And it helps break up the evening. As you can imagine, I don’t watch any television, but do spend some time reading for enjoyment just before going to bed. I mostly enjoy reading history books that surround the American Revolution, the US Civil War, or World War II.
IDI – In what unexpected ways has your writing become prolific?
KL – As soon as I published my first book, WALKING AMONG THE DEAD, and scheduled my first book signing, I captured the eye of the local chapter of Parents of Murdered Children, a national organization structured to help families of murder victims cope with their loss. I was invited to speak at the local chapter and shared with the members why and how homicide detectives interact with the family the way they do (mostly because of investigative and legal obstacles).
During this meeting I met a lady who told me about her son’s death, how authorities didn’t thoroughly investigate it, and how she conducted her own investigation, unveiling a number of forgery crimes on behalf of her daughter-in-law that has led to a slew of criminal indictments. In fact, three accomplices were also indicted. This mother’s story is so fascinating that I’ve endeavored upon a new journey where I am completing a documentary video that will be uploaded to YouTube, showing other family members how this mother completed her investigation and finally grabbed the attention of officials in an effort to find justice in her son’s death.
This video will prove to be beneficial in many ways. It will show families the “how to’s” in an investigation as well as shedding light through the social media outlets to draw in more information in her son’s case. Hopefully this will reach thousands of people and help to have a positive impact on so many lives—all because I wrote a few books and scheduled a book signing.
IDI – How cool is that! You must be very proud… and humbled. With your writing expanding your boundaries as an activist for homicide victims, what projects are you working on now in that role?
KL – I’m currently finishing the manuscript for my third book in my homicide series. Something that has caught me quite unexpectedly is how universities are using my books as recommended reading for criminal justice students who want to learn more about the realities of working as a detective in the homicide unit. The Law School for Athens, Greece recently featured me in their school newspaper and local colleges are learning more about my writing.
I am also learning that families of murdered victims whose cases remain unsolved are purchasing my books and studying the investigative techniques used in my investigations in search of ways that they may solve their loved-one’s case. I’ve had several family members describe how they have read my books through, several times, jotting down notes in the margins or on post-it notes, searching for a way to solve their case.
Knowing this, I have developed as sense of purpose for my writing and strive to share whatever I can in hopes that some how, some way, my writing will help someone reach their end goal in finding justice.
IDI – Ken, it sounds like your writing is not only garnering attention from readers, but from organizations who have taken note of your talent and expertise in your field. I truly wish you the very best with your writing and with the ability your writing gives to others to help them reach their goals. Thank you for once again sharing your time with me and my readers. I have a feeling one day I’ll be saying, ‘I knew him when….’
KL - Thank you for having me, Kathy. It’s been a pleasure.
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Ink Drop Interviews are conducted by Kathy Reinhart, author of MISSOURI IN A SUITCASE and the award-winning LILY WHITE LIES
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