An Interview with Katherine Ramsland

Katherine Ramsland
has published 55 books and over 1,000 articles. She consults on forensics for Hollywood and frequently appears on true crime documentaries for Investigation Discovery and other networks. She directs the master's program in criminal justice at DeSales University and teaches forensic psychology. Currently, she is working on books for Gregg Olsen's Notorious USA series and with a serial killer, Dennis "BTK" Rader.
Interview by BWG member Ralph Hieb

Bethlehem Writers Group: Your PhD is in Philosophy. Along with that and your degrees in clinical psychology, forensic psychology, and criminal justice, you've fashioned an eclectic career. Every unemployed philosophy major is dying to know how you became a college psychology professor, an expert on serial and mass killers and crime scene investigation, an active blogger for Psychology Today, a regular contributor to The Forensic Examiner, and the author of fiction books about crime and the paranormal.   

Katherine Ramsland: I don't see a question here, but the answer is that I became all of these things circuitously. Opportunities crossed my path and I let curiosity be my guide. Often, this involved developing skills. The more things I did that coordinated with other subjects, the more expertise I gained in several things at once. I was persistent and ambitious and enamored of knowledge, and thus, I just kept going.

BWG: When did you become interested in the paranormal?  

KR: I’ve been interested in ghosts since childhood. My mother told me ghost stories and let me take such books out of the library. I read Dracula at age 11 or 12. I watched horrors movies throughout my childhood.

BWG: What do you think is the most interesting case you have studied?

KR: I need a context. I’ve worked on hundreds of cases from different angles. They all interested me in some manner.

BWG: Do you find it harder to write fiction or is it harder to write nonfiction?

KR: It all depends on the book. Fiction is probably harder at this point, only because you have to keep so much in mind as you’re working on it, to maintain consistency and coherence. These are built in to a nonfiction book or article. With nonfiction, it’s harder to structure, because you need to develop a hook and an arch that often isn’t naturally present.

BWG: There seems to be a rising number of crimes based on aberrant behavior (our locally notorious State Trooper killer Eric Frein who has hid in the Pocono woods for several weeks without being caught being as a recent example). Is this increase statistically supported, or is the media simply more thorough in reporting?

KR: It’s not even possible to answer this question.

BWG: How do you balance the legitimate academic interest in understanding a serial killer with the serial killer's compulsion for notoriety and infamy?

KR: Their compulsion (which is not true of all serial killers) is part of the academic analysis. There’s no real issue here. We want to know about that, too.

BWG: Have you ever worried of your own safety while doing field work or investigative research?

KR: Sometimes, such as when I go off into a large city alone at night or meet someone I don’t really know, but that’s part of my chosen approach. I appear to have less fear than most others I know. Maybe this will get me into real trouble one day, but for now, it’s a great writing tool.


BWG: You have written about "clinical vampirism." Are you saying vampires are real? How does clinical vampirism differ from the vampires we know from Bram Stoker, Charlaine Harris, and Stephenie Meyer?

KR: I’ve written about clinical vampirism, yes. It’s a psychological condition, a delusional disorder about the supposed need for blood. So, yes, these people are real, but , no, Dracula is not real.

BWG: Of your published books, is there one in which you take particular pride? If so, what makes it stand out to you?

KR: The books in which I break new ground in my research are the ones I like best: The Mind of a Murderer, Snap! Seizing your Aha! Moments, Piercing the Darkness, and the one I’m working on with the “BTK” killer, Dennis Rader.

BWG: How do you balance fiction/non-fiction work in your routine (do you go back and forth between them or do them simultaneously, with one feeding the other)?

KR: Deadline projects come first. Then I work on things I want to work on. That’s the only balance sheet I keep.

BWG: Some say the path to traditional publication is more difficult than ever, while others suggest that it was always a struggle and that tenacity and quality have always been and remain the measure. What is your perspective?

KR: Tenacity is the measure these days more than quality. Publishing is struggling, so the criteria has changed rapidly and continues to do so.  

BWG: Lately we’ve noticed books using well-branded author names, but written by someone else (collaboratively or on contract). What’s your view of the practice?

KR: This has been going on for decades. It’s about the market, not about cherishing authenticity of authorship. I have no view.

BWG: If you were a new author today, how would you prioritize the various marketing/promotion endeavors?

KR: It all depends on how the book is being published and whether there is support from a publisher, and whether it’s mediagenic. The question is too generic for a proper answer. Each work requires a specific approach, and they won’t all be identical.

BWG: Where’s the best place to meet a vampire for a bite of lunch?

KR: I think you mean for after-dinner drinks.  That work has been behind me for over a decade. I no longer know.