Please welcome Katherine Ramsland, author of The Ripper Letter and other works.
What’s your idea of a perfect day?
My perfect days are dark and rainy, with no demands, aside from reading and writing. I usually get a lot done. If you wanted to add frosting to that cake, it would include getting news that my latest publication has become a bestseller! I might also watch a good movie, with a glass of wine.
Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase/expression, or meal?
Denim is my signature color and wine-and-popcorn is my meal, completed with M&Ms. I also wear White Buffalo stone jewelry.
Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?
Recently, What Stands in a Storm was terrific as narrative nonfiction, but the authors who have most profoundly influenced me are the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard and the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky. I like their intensity and depth. They’ve been inspirations for decades. I also like reading prosecutors’ books about high-profile crimes, as they show the inside track of how a case gets put together.
Do you listen to music when you write?
It depends on the project. When I wrote The Forensic Science of CSI, which I had to do in 3 months, I listened to The Who, because that was the show’s theme song group. It energized me to get it done! Otherwise, I would listen to Mozart or Beethoven, although I’ve sometimes used movie soundtracks. Mostly, I don’t listen to music, though, because once the flow of writing begins, everything else recedes. I hear only character voices. I might choose a music theme for a character soon, so then I’d listen to that.
If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
M&Ms because that’s the only chocolate I eat. Dark chocolate M&Ms. But my latest book would not be chocolate at all, because there’s nothing sweet about it. It is dark, though.
What made you interested in writing this particular story?
I have two coming out around the same time, both of which were inspired by serial killers. The nonfiction one, Confession of a Serial Killer, is a book with Dennis “BTK” Rader, the Wichita serial killer who got away with his crimes for 30 years before being arrested in 2005. I was invited to write it when another writer needed to stop. Because I teach a course on serial killers and have written numerous books on the subject, it was a natural fit.
The novel, a supernatural erotic suspense, The Ripper Letter, was inspired by the discovery that that one letter mostly likely attributed to Jack the Ripper, the “From Hell” letter, went missing from police files. I know a lot about 19th century secret societies and some of the Ripper lore associated with them. I’ve also visited the Whitechapel area, so it was great fun to weave it all into a story that combines angels and vampires with uber-killers and ancient codes. The sets of connections from history were uncanny.
What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
Mostly, I use dark themes, usually predatory and disturbing. Occasionally I have written a psychology book, like Bliss: Writing to Find your True Self, and Snap! Seizing Your Aha! Moments, but mostly it’s all vampires, ghosts, serial killers, and corpses. I’m dark and I like it that way.
Tell us about your main character.
In The Ripper Letter, Dyan-Isis Brentano is a young NYPD detective who discovers that she’s a key part of a supernatural universe that is about to implode. Her latent gifts as a conduit suck her into the danger. The gifts emerge at a crime scene, and as soon as she realizes that she’s not who she thought she was, she must perform in ways for which she’s unprepared. Her lessons come in the midst of the action, offered by a range of characters that pull her in many confusing directions before she finds her footing and takes charge.
Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird, because she’s plucky and stubborn but well-intentioned; X-Files’ Dana Scully, because she keeps her critical reasoning faculties in the face of the otherworldly; and Homeland’s Carrie Mathisen, because she will plunge headlong into high-risk situations, solo, to achieve her goals.
If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Oddly enough, it would not include my favorite authors, because I think they’d stand in a corner and be very bad at parties. So, I’d choose a strange but entertaining mix: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mary Shelley, Dean Koontz (very funny guy), Arthur Conan Doyle, Virginia Woolf, and Eugène François Vidocq (the world’s first undercover detective). I don’t think they’d all get along, but it would be interesting to hear what they’d have to say to and about one another, especially those who love to play with language. I think it would be quite a witty evening.
What’s next for you?
I’m writing a sequel to The Ripper Letter, because despite the seemingly romantic ending and the resolution of one dangerous situation, they were left with the world still on the brink. Romance must wait!
I’m also writing a forensic textbook, Forensic Investigation: Methods from Experts, for which I’m interviewing about four-dozen experts in various fields. In a way, it’s like my earlier immersion journalism books, because I’m engaging in things like blood spatter workshops and entomology fieldwork. I sit around with coroners and listen to stories about odd investigations, as well as go to retreats for linguistic analysis.
Dr. Katherine Ramsland, director of the Master of Arts in Criminal Justice program at DeSales University, also teaches the forensic psychology track. She has published over 1,000 articles, stories, and reviews, and 59 books, including The Mind of a Murderer, The Forensic Science of CSI, Inside the Minds of Serial Killers, The Human Predator: A Historical Chronicle of Serial Murder and Forensic Investigation, The Ivy League Killer, and The Murder Game. Her book, Psychopath, was a #1 bestseller on the Wall Street Journal’s list. With former FBI profiler Gregg McCrary, she co-authored a book on his cases, The Unknown Darkness: Profiling the Predators among Us, with Dr. Henry C. Lee, The Real Life of a Forensic Scientist, and with Professor James E. Starrs, A Voice for the Dead. She presents workshops to law enforcement, psychologists, coroners, judges, and attorneys, and has consulted for several television series, including CSI and Bones. She also writes a regular blog for Psychology Today called “Shadow-boxing” and consults for numerous crime documentary production companies. Her most recent book (August 2016) is with serial killer, Dennis Rader, called Confessions of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer. She will also publish The Ripper Letter, a supernatural thriller based on Jack the Ripper lore, and a textbook, Forensic Investigation: Methods from Experts (2017).