Posted On September 20, 2013 by Print This Post

Hands-on Research at the Writers’ Police Academy

Author Adrienne Giordano talks about her latest research trip. 

As writers, we get to do some pretty cool things. Well, we get to do cool things in between all the self-doubt and banging our heads against the wall because our plot isn’t working.  Those things aside, we spend hours doing research, learning about fun things and not feeling guilty because it’s all part of the job of being a writer.

A couple of weeks ago, I was able to spend a weekend having just such fun and I can promise there wasn’t a moment of guilt. I, along with my pal Kelsey Browning, attended the Writers’ Police Academy in North Carolina. If you’ve never been to this conference, I strongly recommend it. Even if you aren’t a suspense/thriller writer, it’s an exceptional experience.

For instance, the attendees were able to watch a bomb squad (robot and all!) handle a suspicious backpack. And yes, that backpack did go boom. I also attended workshops on investigating cold cases, analyzing fingerprints, how EMT’s handle emergency calls, the differences between sheriffs and police chiefs, how undercover officers operate and, my personal favorite, breaching a building.

WPA_with_KelseyIn the building breach session, we were taken in groups of twenty to an empty apartment complex, given plastic handguns and rifles and shown how to enter the building and search it. Before attending this session, I hadn’t realized a building breach is similar to a choreographed dance. Each member of the breaching team has a job. The breacher is the person who opens the door (by any means necessary) so the team can enter the premises. From there, each team member enters, shouting commands and working as a unit while they move through the location.

After the officers demonstrated how each step of the breach is handled, our group of twenty writers was broken up into four teams. Four writers were chosen to be “bad guys” and told to hide in different apartments. Each team had to find the bad guy hiding in their assigned apartment. Kelsey was chosen to be a bad guy and I happily informed our instructor she would be a total nightmare. He laughed, but I wasn’t kidding. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to be part of the team hunting Kelsey. My team was after Lisa Gardner. Yes, THE Lisa Gardner.

And we killed her. She actually died six times that weekend. Amazing staying power that Lisa Gardner!

As much fun as the building breach was, one particular thing stood out. I hadn’t anticipated it, but I was exhausted after we completed our assignments. Here I was, a writer trying to educate myself by role-playing with fake guns, and the adrenaline surges during each breach wore me out. Each time I stepped into one of the apartments I got a rush of fear I couldn’t control. Intellectually, I knew it was all a game, but emotionally, I was a wreck.

As a writer, I tried to take stock of every visceral reaction, to really go there and let myself feel it. Later, I laughed about it when I mentioned it to one of the officers. I knew this was an exercise, but I was still terrified. He told me he felt fear every time he performed a building breach. After my conversation with him, I realized fear had to be a normal part of the job. Personally, I couldn’t do it. The adrenaline rushes, the anxiety, it was too much for me.

But I learned a lot about my hero (a sergeant with New York’s version of S.W.A.T.) during those exercises. I knew my guy was an adrenaline junkie, but I didn’t know how those emotional onslaughts sucked away energy and how he would constantly have to regroup even if he’d rather go home and take a nap. Or that he’d have to force himself to set aside that fear and focus on his job or he might die. For me, these are the “aha” moments that come with research. Those little moments that let me submerge myself into characterization and why my heroes and heroines behave the way they do.

I also learned that getting out from behind my desk and telephone for research is an excellent way to tap into the visceral reactions my characters might experience. For me, many questions were answered while playing with a plastic gun.


RU Crew, what research methods do you use to tap into your characters?  


Amy Alessio returns with another Reader Roundup on Saturday, September 21st. On Monday, September 23rd, RU welcomes K.M. Weiland. 


The ChaseHere’s a peek at Adrienne’s latest, THE CHASE.

Hard-driving attorney Jo Pomeroy is as determined as she is sexy—in other words, a major pain in NYPD Sergeant Gabe Townsend’s butt. Working together on a high-profile task force charged with busting sales of counterfeit goods has been rocky from the start. And Jo’s penchant for trouble is as difficult to ignore as her spectacular legs.

The world of knock-offs isn’t as frivolous as it appears. The purses are fake, but the danger is all too real—and Jo seems hell-bent on putting herself in the middle of it. Her investigations have uncovered valuable leads for Gabe’s team, but they’ve also drawn the wrong kind of attention.

Now, she’s on the radar of a mysterious smuggler not afraid to use violence to evade the law. At the risk of their lives—and their hearts—Gabe and Jo must find him before he finds them.

Bio: USA Today bestselling author Adrienne Giordano writes romantic suspense and mystery.  She is a Jersey girl at heart, but now lives in the Midwest with her workaholic husband, sports obsessed son and Buddy the Wheaten Terrorist (Terrier). She is a co-founder of Romance University blog and Lady Jane’s Salon-Naperville, a reading series dedicated to romantic fiction. For more information on Adrienne’s books, please visit Adrienne can also be found on Facebook at and Twitter at For information on Adrienne’s street team, Dangerous Darlings, go to

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16 Responses to “Hands-on Research at the Writers’ Police Academy”

  1. Adrienne –

    WPA was such a fun experience – different from any other writing conference I’ve been to. And the instructors was all so patient with the crazy questions.

    I often ask my sister (who’s an NP) if such and such would kill a person or if she can give me a disease that’s will debilitate but not kill. LOL Once, she and I tried to estimate how many dead bodies we could fit into the back of this 1950s Cadillac by mom had sitting in her pasture for a while.

    It’s great to have non-writer-folks who just smile and give you the answers you need, even if they think you’re just the slightest bit crazy (and bloodthirsty!)

    Can’t wait to go to WPA again next year!

    Posted by Kelsey Browning | September 20, 2013, 6:26 am
  2. Hi, Kels. Did you determine how many bodies would fit in that car? Those old cars had huge trunks!

    In one of the WPA workshops, one of the instructors was telling us about a cold case and we all started speculating on what could have happened. The instructor said “You guys are nuts.” Ah, the mind of a writer. 🙂

    Thanks for popping in.

    Posted by AdrienneGiordano | September 20, 2013, 7:20 am
  3. Hi Adrienne,

    Research is my least favorite aspect of writing. To me it feels like homework. It will be graded by the reader. The neon rifles are perfect! They have to make their way into one of your books!

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | September 20, 2013, 8:29 am
  4. Hi, Mary Jo. I know what you mean about the research. I just spent three days on bomb research. I get obsessed with little details.

    The rifles were fun. It was a little tough to navigate through enclosed spaces with them though. Another tidbit I learned!

    Posted by AdrienneGiordano | September 20, 2013, 8:39 am
  5. Hey Adrienne!

    Don’t forget about the wonderful fire department and marshalls who burned a room down and taught us how to inspect it for the origin of the fire. Also, they had a classroom aspect that really drilled into the different types of fires and what causes them.

    Personally, I think I made the Fire Marshall nervous when I uttered, “Oh I like that! That’s awesome!” after he just got done explaining how someone had sabotaged a room to blow up. (I won’t go into details here, but trust me it was so simply ingenious!)


    Posted by P.A. DePaul | September 20, 2013, 8:41 am
    • Oh, that would have been fun. I missed the fire department demonstrations. That’s the problem with this conference. There are too many great workshops and you can’t get to them all.

      I may be emailing you about blowing up a room. 🙂

      Posted by AdrienneGiordano | September 20, 2013, 9:22 am
  6. Morning Adrienne!!!

    Your adventure sounds like a blast! So many fabulous ideas have to come out of a conference like that…too cool.

    There’s a book I’ve always wanted to get from Amazon…Forensics and Fiction: Clever, Intriguing, and Downright Odd Questions from Crime Writers….Even though I don’t write mystery or suspense, still the questions alone have to be fascinating…..=)


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | September 20, 2013, 8:48 am
  7. I would LOVE to do this sometime! It sounds emotionally exhausting but fun. Now that’s what I call research!

    Thanks for a great blog, Adrienne! And thanks for sharing your pictures, too!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | September 20, 2013, 1:52 pm
  8. Hi Adrienne,

    Wow, what fun! I would love to do this. How many people attended your session and was it a one-day or weekend thingy?

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | September 20, 2013, 3:50 pm
    • Hi, Jen. It started Thursday night and went all day Friday and Saturday. I’d say there were about 200 writers there. Each workshop had around 20-30 people in it. They had some workshops that you needed to sign up for ahead of time because there was limited space.

      You’d probably really enjoy it. 🙂

      Posted by AdrienneGiordano | September 20, 2013, 4:06 pm
  9. Great recap! I’m pleased that you two had a good time. It makes all the planning and hard work worthwhile.

    We really try hard to give everyone a sense of what goes on behind the scenes. The WPA is not a watered down citizens police academy. Not even close.

    And, we offer workshops and sessions that you’d never see anywhere else. You know, like suiting up and diving underwater for evidence with a police dive team, building searches, the nighttime high-risk traffic stops, and, well, you won’t see other writers conferences detonating an actual explosive device.

    Now I just have to figure a way to top this year.

    Posted by Lee Lofland | September 20, 2013, 6:57 pm
  10. Adrienne, thanks for the fun recap! I’m so jealous of you and Kels, but am glad you guys had a great time!

    I’m happy to hear Lisa Gardner still has 3 lives left. I wouldn’t have been please with you, otherwise!

    Keeping my fingers crossed that I can make it next year. 🙂

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | September 20, 2013, 7:37 pm

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