Q & A with Katherine Ramsland, Ph.D.

By Christine A. Krahling

Katherine Ramsland and I met nearly 10 years ago at the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers’ Group. A former psychotherapist and philosophy professor, she has a master’s degree in forensic psychology from John Jay College of Criminal Justice, a Ph.D. in philosophy from Rutgers University, and a master’s degree in Clinical Psychology from Duquesne University. Currently, she is near completion of a master’s in criminal justice. She has published 38 nonfiction books, 16 short stories, two novels, and over 1,000 articles and reviews. Her work has been translated into 10 languages. She also writes a column for The Forensic Examiner, as well as digital features for Crimescape, a publishing venture on Amazon’s Kindle. Her most recent feature is “The Vampire Trap,” about a Philadelphia-based double homicide.

Last year, Katherine and I met up again when she was the guest speaker at a Celebrity Luncheons event. I am always amazed at Katherine’s ever-expanding knowledge base and experiences, as well as her grace as a speaker and with her fans. Join me for an interesting discussion as Katherine talks about her current position at DeSales University, what it’s like to live the writing life, and, of course—ghosts and vampires.

Since it is October, it is only fitting that we discuss vampires. You spent two years “underground” investigating the vampire subculture. What did you learn?

For Piercing the Darkness I learned about how elastic the vampire concept is, how it meets so many diverse needs, and how impossible it is to contain it in a single set of traits and behaviors. I entered the subculture with my Draculesque concept and quickly realized that no one owned what a vampire is. So, whenever people ask me if vampires are real, I just say ‘It depends on how you define it.’

You’ve told me that you originally did not enjoy writing yet you eventually published 40 books. How did that evolve?

When I wrote my first book, which was academic, I hated the process. It bored me. I never wanted to write another. My second book, however, was a biography of Anne Rice, which was rich with story-telling devices. It was fun to reconstruct another person’s life, to discern and shape the events in scenes that were instrumental in her writing life. Once I wrote that, I was hooked on writing. But truly the most influential event was being invited to write for Court TV’s Crime Library website in 1999, because through that I ended up with an editor who supported everything I wanted to do for seven years and I also got a number of terrific book deals by association. It taught me how to write fast and research deeply but efficiently. Along the way, I specialized in extreme offenders like serial killers. For me, writing became a form of thinking and learning, not just of expression. That’s the exciting part of the writing life.

What advice do you have for writers who are not yet published?

Getting published is not that difficult, with all the Internet and self-publishing opportunities out there. But getting published well, especially publishing a book, is getting increasingly more difficult. The first step is to respect the language. Many young people send emails asking me what they should do to become a writer, and the email is full of grammatical and spelling errors. Writing is about loving language and expression. It’s not about becoming rich and famous, or getting noticed. So, respect the language, learn to be professional in your presentation, and persist. Pursue it as a career or avocation only if you can’t not write.

What are some of the biggest misconceptions people have about a writer’s life?

That it’s glamorous and free of conflict. That it’s easy. That it’s full of leisure. That once one has gotten published, there won’t be any more rejections. In fact, the writing life is a constant reinvention. It can be asocial, sometimes antisocial, and often problematic for relationships. It can also be bruising. Unless you’re one of the handful who become superstars, nothing is guaranteed. And it certainly does not solve personal issues. That being said, it can be filled with satisfaction and enrichment.

You wrote Prism of the Night: A Biography of Anne Rice. You were lucky enough to work with Ms. Rice on this project. What was that like?

I spent seven years with her working on seven books. Since she lived in New Orleans, I got to know that city very well. I was thrilled to be able to wander around to the places she wrote about, like Scotland, Paris, and San Francisco. With her, as well as with Dean Koontz, (whose biography I also had the privilege to write,) I learned a great deal about their approach, the development of their voice and style, and what it takes to work one’s way through the gauntlet of the publishing world. It’s always valuable to learn from writers who have been through a lot of different things, from early success to writer’s block to reinvention. I’m grateful to both for allowing me that intimate psychological and literary association.

You created the forensic psychology program at DeSales and now you teach criminal justice courses there as well. Tell us why these programs are important to you and what these students go on to do after completing their degrees. What have you learned from your students?

First, what I learned from my own teachers along the way was that personal knowledge and enthusiasm for one’s subject are pretty important if you want to attract students to a certain field. Degrees in criminal justice are great for students who wish to go into law enforcement, intelligence, the court system, law, and public administration.  Forensic psychology is a good choice for students who want to work with individuals in a clinical capacity and would like to do this within a forensic arena, such as a psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane, a prison, or a consulting situation. (Since I’m a writer as well as a professor, my career path is different from where most of them will go.) Our students at DeSales have gone in a number of directions and many have gone into graduate programs. What students have taught me is to stay up-to-date in my field, be clear about expectations, and keep up with technology, because that’s how to best understand how information gets conveyed and appropriately used.

Tell us about your work assisting former FBI profilers.

I have assisted two former FBI profilers to get details together for casebooks. With John Douglas, I was a research assistant for The Cases that Haunt Us, so I got to research several of history’s most perplexing crimes. However, I was a co-author with Gregg McCrary, which was much more interesting, because I helped him to shape his book into an investigative narrative. From them both I learned a great deal about the FBI’s approach to behavioral profiling. With that came other opportunities.

Where can Lehigh Valley residents go for haunted walking tours or to get the most out of what this area has to offer in terms of “ghost-hunting?”

The Moravian Book Shop offers ghost tours during the fall, based on a book I co-authored with Dana DeVito, Bethlehem Ghosts. (Editor’s Note: Dana DeVito is the general manager of Moravian Book Shop.) We explored Bethlehem’s Main Street, as well as nearby areas. Because it was so focused on local history and lore, that was a fun book to write. The area offers some truly unique ghost stories.

What are you currently working on? Can you tell us about your next project?

I don’t talk about immediate current work, because it leaks energy from the project, but I can say that my next published book in 2012 is quite different from what I’ve done in the past. It’s called Snap! Seizing your Aha! Moments. It’s about what neuroscience tells us about the snap of creativity when we have an aha! experience that launches new inventions or new directions, and how we can develop habits that inspire them to occur more often. I found a lot of great stories and it will be fun to talk about something other than serial killers and vampires. Also, I’ve gotten involved with Crimescape, a program for Kindle Shorts in true crime. It’s like writing for the Crime Library (with my same terrific editor), only for e-books. I hope to write a lot of stories for it in the future. In the great debate over books vs. e-books, I read and like them both.

Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about you or your work?

I wrote a book with Northampton County coroner, Zach Lysek, about local murders. It’s called Murder in the Lehigh Valley, and it covers some very interesting crimes that happened here, including serial murders, mass murders, lynchings, and crimes that made forensic history. He was helpful in looking up historic records and discussing unsolved crimes – some of which have been solved since the book went to press.

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