Thursday, February 2, 2012

Katherine Ramsland on Research, Writing, and What Interests You

by Mitzi Flyte

After publishing more than 900 articles and 40 books, Katherine Ramsland can be called prolific. She can also be called "doctor" with a Ph.D. in philosophy along with her master's degrees in forensic psychology, clinical psychology and criminal justice. When she's not writing, consulting with law enforcement agencies on appearing on television documentaries, Dr. Ramsland teaches her subjects at De Sales University in the Lehigh Valley.
Because research is a focal point of her writing and her subjects are so unusual, Mitzi Flyte asked Dr. Ramsland  questions about both.
Mitzi Flyte: You have 40 books published. How much time do you spend researching a topic?
Katherine Ramsland: It depends on the topic and the length of the project, but I enjoy the experience of research more than the act of writing. I'm sure I do a lot more research than I need to at times, just because I love discovering new information. But for my latest book, "Snap!", it was such a different type of subject matter for me that I had to do quite a lot of research. That took a year. I learned about more sources and types of information offerings than I'd ever heard of before. That's the nice thing about being stretched on a project. It changes your awareness.
M: Considering the topics of your books, was there any  subject (person or situation) that really bothered you to the point where you didn't think you could write about it?
K: I've never experienced the feeling of being bothered, but I did think I'd never finish "Bliss: Writing to Find Your True Self," only because I knew in advance so much of what I wanted to say that I wasn't learning new stuff. That experience showed me that in order for me to be drawn into an enduring project, I need to feel that I'm learning along the way. That's one reason I do enjoy all the dark subjects I write about, because I'm venturing into areas in which I'm not sure what I'll discover. Some things are disturbing, but never to the point of being unable to write about them.
M: What was the most unusual thing you had to do in researching a book?
K: "Most" unusual is difficult to say. I've been to vampire parties, ghost hunts, exhumations, autopsies, S&M rituals, the House of the Dead, and active crime scenes. I've interviewed serial killers, necrophiles, dominatrixes, role players of every stripe, and even ghosts (on tape). One of the great advantages of being a writer is being in an occupation that attracts invitations to do things for which I have no credentials. I get to meet real characters and have unique experiences. I get to be up close and personal with the raw experiences that yield some good stories. And I get to add to my mental database.
M: What spurred your interest in criminal activity/criminal justice?
K: It began with a serial killer in my home town when I was a kid. I was fascinated with the news reports as each body was discovered, and with the increasing community tension. Much later, I read a book about it and got interested in the investigative and legal process. Along the way, different writing opportunities pulled me closer and closer into the world of criminal justice, and eventually I was teaching classes in the areas in which I had some expertise. Truly, my journey as a writer has been full of serendipity and synchronicity. Whenever people ask how they can do what I do, I say, "Be open and be curious." Many people wondered why I'd go for yet a fourth graduate degree. My answer was, and is, "Because, why not?"
M: What was the inspiration for your new book: "Snap! Seizing Your Aha Moments"?
K: I was looking for a psychological experience that I could document that would intrigue readers. I had seen various accounts of Oprah-type "aha! moment" as shifts of consciousness -- "Ah, I see"  -- but I was more interested in those stunning moments of eureka insight that propel you straight into action or dissolve some stubborn impasse. I call them "snaps." Just the way Malcolm Gladwell invented "blink" for an experience we all have of gut instinct, I articulated the "snap." And I discovered some really amazing snaps in all different kinds of endeavors, from little kids creating their own companies to military commanders, to writers and scientists. I also found brain research to support it, so from all of that, I devised a way to help people make these sudden (and awesome) insights occur in their lives on a regular basis. I had done something similar many years ago for "bliss," but I think this material is more exciting.
M: Your bio mentions "dead" dinners. And what would they be?
K: Actually, it's a "dumb supper." It's a gathering of serious-minded people who agree to not speak while being served a specific type of meal as they commune with spirits. I haven't attended yet, so I can't say more than that. But it's my next venture into the dark.
Thank you, Dr. Ramsland, for being so open with your answers. I look forward to your workshop on research at The Write Stuff Conference. 

1 comment :

  1. Katherine has quite a mental database, haha!! I've heard her speak at least a dozen times, as has Mitzi, and each time learned something new. Thrilled she'll be visiting the conference once again. The new book sounds fascinating--SNAP!