Katherine Ramsland has made a career of writing about the spooky, scary, macabre, and downright dangerous and disgusting. As a forensic psychologist, she is often asked how she can leave her work "at the office." Katherine just seems to know how to decompress--through exercise and reading, among other things.
When I was a journalism student, my advisor told me to always be on the lookout for a story--it might be in the notice glued to a billboard or the leaflet being handed out on the street that nobody wants to take. I immediately took a shine to Katherine when I learned that the inspiration for her book Cemetery Stories was inspired by meeting a freelance embalmer! Talk about chance encounters leading to something worth writing about . . .
Despite maintaining a maddening schedule of teaching, writing, and traveling, she always makes time for "the little guys," like speaking at libraries for free and getting nothing but a grateful thanks for answering three of my questions:
1. Between your teaching career, writing career, speaking engagements, and so on, I have often wondered when you sleep. How often do you read for pleasure and what book(s) is/are on your nightstand right now?
KR: I generally reserve the summers for pleasure reading, or use long plane trips. I keep a pile of books near my chair, and currently I have: I am of Irelaunde, by my friend Juilene Osborne-McKnight, Shutter Island, by Dennis Lehane, The Italian Boy (about body snatchers), by Sarah Wise, and She Walks These Hills, by Sharyn McCrumb. I also have lots of nonfiction, deailing either with the writing craft, forensics, or background for future ideas.
2. You've written a lot about the history of violent crimes. Who among the many criminals you've researched and/or studied was most fascinating to you?
KR: Jack Unterweger, an Austrian serial killer who was also a playwright and journalist covering his own murders and taunting the police for not solving the cases. He perfectly portrays the type of person who could easily pass as a celebrity and as a brutal murderer.
3. I know you don't like to talk about works in progress, but I read somewhere that you're working on a book about "local" murders. Are there any common psychological traits that murderers of all stripes tend to have?
KR: I'm nearly finished with Lehigh Valley Murders, and I expect it to be available this fall. We have three serial killers associated with the Valley, as well as several psychopathic multiple killers. In addition, we have three cases that made forensic history. There are no common traits for killers, since murder takes many different forms for many different reasons, but the type of person who most often repeats this crime is difficult to spot, anyway, because he or she is chameleonic. They know how to "pass," they're predators, and they're always at least one step ahead of the rest of us, who tend to trust people. Charming, superficial, impulsive, without remorse, parasitic, intelligent, manipulative, deceptive, exploitive, irresponsible--these are the traits that define a psychopath, but if you're their targetted prey, you won't necessarily see it except in retrospect, after you've been used and depleted. However, the more run-of-the-mill criminal with antisocial tendencies, who often gets into trouble and seems to just be a loser, is easy for most people to spot and predict. That person, however, is not the most dangerous.
Katherine's latest book is called Into the Devil's Den. Read more about it at her blog.