Trains, Superliners, and Roomettes… Oh My! Part One



October 3, 2014

There is a reason I haven’t posted much of anything on my blog lately. My family had a horrible year dealing with my daughter’s psychopathic boyfriend. I was finally able to relax and take a deep breath recently when he was captured and sent to prison.

Since that time I’ve been traveling and experiencing many things this year, trying to get my groove back. I’d thought I’d take this opportunity to share some of my adventures with you.



My sister, Lisa, and I decided we would take a vacation together to visit our cousin Carla and her new wife, Linda, who lived in Oceanside, California. Since my sister has a fear of flying, we opted for a train trip, something neither of us had ever done.

We planned this trip back in January and both of us were extremely excited for our adventure to begin. Our trip on the train would consist of two nights to get from Kansas to California. We splurged and booked a Roomette. Amtrak described a Roomette as:

“Our Superliner Roomette is ideal for one or two passengers, with two comfortable reclining seats on either side of a big picture window. At night, the seats convert to a comfortable bed, and an upper berth folds down from above. Roomettes are located on both upper and lower levels of our double-decker Superliner train cars.”

Sounds wonderful, right? Keep reading…

Lawrence Amatrk  train station

Lawrence Amatrk train station

Our train took off from Lawrence, Kansas, at 11:45 p.m. We were shocked when we arrived and realized the train station was closed. A sign on the door said the station opened fifteen minutes before our scheduled departure. This was what they did for every trip. When the attendant arrived, we were shocked once again when our baggage wasn’t inspected and couldn’t be checked.



Taking a train isn’t like flying.



There where no weighing in, inspection of bags, or going through a mental detector like you go through to get on a plane. No probing at all!

I made my cousins Kahlua and Lemoncello. Alcohol. I didn’t think I’d be allowed to take them on the train. I had my husband stay in case I couldn’t and so he could take them home. They didn’t inspect one bag.


Kind of scary if you think about terrorists and all the money our government spends to secure our travels. Guess they forgot about trains.



Not all train stations check baggage. Why do I bring this up?

Because both Lisa and I, not knowing what the weather would be like in California in October, packed our suitcases for any scenario we might encounter and packed close to the allotted amount (50 pounds).


imgres-5Lisa brought two big suitcases and I brought one plus our carry-on bags. Train stations that don’t check baggage mean, basically, your entire luggage is carry-on. And our roomette was upstairs. Not fun lugging the bags up those steps.

After getting our luggage situated we went to our roomette. Small is an understatement! My closet at home was bigger than our room. The attendant had already turned our beds down, which made the room even smaller. It was dark, we couldn’t locate the room light and we had less than two feet to move around.


Our roomette before the beds were down. Picture two grown women sitting across from each other. Knee’s touching and all!

I volunteered to sleep in the upper berth. It was 2’0” wide x 6’6” long. I had to hoist my leg up and over to get my body into this bed. Once I did, I realized I couldn’t sit up to read because of the train’s curved ceiling. I couldn’t even sit up to turn around in this bed. Not a lot of room for an old lady!

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I took this one off the web. It’s a family suite. Ours didn’t have a ladder and was a lot smaller than this. The door is about 2 inches from the bed when its down.

My sister has some phobias, and, during the course of this strange, dark train ride, her irrational thinking began to take over her mind. Every bump was a break-in and every jerk was the train going off the tracks. Luckily for me, sleeping in the top bunk, a harness strapped across the middle would catch me if I started to fall off. Needless to say, neither of us slept a wink all night.


Finally daylight came and we had survived our first night. And what a difference daylight makes! The views were magnificent! We spent hours drooling out our window, gazing at extraordinary views of America.


I had traveled this area many times by car. I never saw anything more breathtaking than the views we experienced by train. Please take a minute and look around at my pictures.

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The dinning car was awesome too!



They seat everyone in fours. My sister and I had to eat with other train people. We got to eat with two firefighters who traveled trains every year, two ladies who were on their way to a funeral in New Mexico, and lots of people from Kansas. We made a lot of train friends!



Once you get your train legs, Amtrak has a wide variety of train cars to visit. The observation car was fantastic! It has a panoramic view on both sides. AWESOME doesn’t explain how gorgeous the views were. If you don’t believe in God before your trip, you will once you see these views. I’m so happy to have the scenes forever etched in my mind.

More Colorado pines.

Colorado pines.

But remember to be safe. One lady’s shoes and lunch were stolen while she was in the Observation Car. She kicked her shoes off before going to the restroom, came back and they were gone.



Would I do it again? In a heartbeat! But I’d be wiser the next time.

Here are some tips for train travelers:

  1. Pack ONLY what you need.


2. If you get a room, don’t pack food because you will eat three big meals a day in the dining car. This is included in your ticket price. (Yea, I had a backpack full of food I also had to carry around. Geez!).



3. Get on the train in daylight, especially if it’s your first time.



4. Bring lip balm and hand lotion. The air on the train dries out your skin and lips!



5. If you need room to move around, book the Bedroom Suite or Family Bedroom Suite. MUCH BIGGER!



6. Bring a camera because you are going to see the most beautiful landscapes you will ever see again.  I used my iphone.




After our adventures on the superliner came to a halt, we ended up in Los Angeles Grand Central Train Station. Here we had to transfer to a smaller commuter train that would take us on to Oceanside. What a culture shock this was for us little ole Kansas ladies.


First thing I noticed was bicycles. They were everywhere inside the train station. Californians are very health smart. They eat well, are environmentally responsible, and exercise. Guess that’s the reason for all the bikes. Below is a picture I took while we were inside:


LA train Station

LA train Station

Second thing, people in LA are rude and weird! Once we got to LA, we were able to check our luggage. We had to hurry because our train took off for Oceanside in 45 minutes. Plus, my sister and I are smokers and we needed our nicotine fix.

We got to the baggage check line and waited our turn, moving our 3 big suitcases, my Nike bag (my grandson’s football bag which I had stuffed), my nifty backpack I won at the PWSA conference (full of food), my sister’s 2 small (43.75 pounds each) over-the-shoulder suitcases, our purses and my make-up train case along with us. No easy task, I promise!

And yes, I ordered a special make-up case made especially for trains. It was really cute! Here a link if you don’t believe they make these kinds of bags:

I rarely wear make up but I still packed it in case I needed to wear make-up somewhere.




When it was finally our turn to talk with the baggage employee, quite a line had formed behind us.

My sister had called before our trip and upgraded our tickets from coach to one night in a Roomette, but she had to pay for it in L.A. We barely got to the booth when a rude man in the back of the line yelled, “Hurry up, ladies, there are other people in line.”

I yelled back, “Like we have any control over that, dumb@#$!” Fifty minutes later our bags were checked, but we had missed our train and had to wait an hour before the next one came. We went outside to curb our nicotine cravings. We had to walk outside the station to smoke.



First a lady came up and asked for a cigarette. My sister gave her one.

Then a longhaired guy who looked as if he was wearing a dreadlock hair and cap wig asked for a smoke. I handed him one of mine.


With the cigarette in his hand he asked, “Is it poisoned?”

“No,” I replied.

“Do you believe in God?”

“Yes,” my sister answered.

“Do you swear on a stack of Bibles this cigarette isn’t poisoned?”

I looked at my sister. She looked at me with a “WTH” kind of look.

I said, “No, I don’t swear on a stack of Bibles for anything.”

He turned, dropped the unsmoked cigarette in the ashtray and left.



Another strange man verbally assaulted my sister. He shouted at her in the train station, said she shouldn’t be wearing “that shirt” in here. Granted, she was wearing her Kansas City Chiefs shirt and we were playing against the San Diego Chargers in about an hour, but—some people!!!!



The first commuter train we were scheduled to ride in ended up having repairs and we had to run to the next train that was about to leave. Once on board, we walked all the way down to the front. By this time our train legs had kicked in and we were able to continue until we found seats though not together.

Ocean View

Ocean View

The ride was a pleasant one. You could tell when we entered Oceanside because the Pacific Ocean appeared in the window. What a beautiful sight! We had finally reached our destination, Oceanside, California.

Happy writing and travels for all,

Until next time,

Diane Kratz

Blog edited by Sally Berneathy


Oceanside, California the adventure continues…Part two



Please help me welcome two very knowledgeable ladies to my blog today. These ladies share vast knowledge on the topic of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, more commonly known as PTSD.


Ellen Kirschman, MSW, PhD.

Ellen Kirschman, MSW, PhD.

First, welcome back Ellen Kirschman, PhD, Public Safety Writing Association buddy. Ellen has been on my blog before when we discussed Analyzing Cops. She is a PhD who has worked as a police psychologist for over thirty years.


Kathryn Jane

Kathryn Jane


And welcome Kathryn Jane, a Kiss Of Death writing buddy. Kathryn studied Human Psychology, Emergency Preparedness and Public Safety Communications in university and won a national scholarship by writing an extensive research paper on PTSD, Critical Incident Stress and Cumulative Stress Disorder as it relates to Emergency Services. As a certified Public Safety Communicator she trained in Emergency Police, Fire, Ambulance, and Airport dispatch, she has seen first-hand know how Critical Incidents affect everyone differently.


Ladies, thank you both for being on my blog today. There were a couple of reasons why I wanted to do this blog. First, I know there are lots of folks out there who have experienced PTSD at least once in their lives and some who live with PTSD on a daily basis.

PTSD is often associated with soldiers returning from war. But I want everyone to know that it can happen to anyone. Public Safety workers, victims of domestic violence, rape, victims of a natural disaster. I could go on and on with my list, but I think you get the point… It’s not just soldiers who suffer with it.

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After my son Eric’s death, I had some PTSD experiences. To this day when I hear a gun going off (and I live in the country, surrounded by avid hunters) I jump out of my skin. And anytime I hear someone has died from suicide, especially someone young, it takes me back to the day he died. I hope this blog will help others out there who are experiencing this and they will know they are NOT alone as well as where they can go for help.

Moving forward, can you ladies tell me, what is PTSD?


Post-traumatic stress disorder is a painful emotional condition that develops in some people following exposure to:

1) A single extremely disturbing event such as combat, crime, an accident, or a natural disaster.

2) A series of such events. The psychological disturbance created by this exposure is so great that it significantly disturbs or impairs a person’s social interactions, ability to work, or to function in general.

The diagnostic criteria for PTSD must include a clearly identified trigger such as the threat of death, serious injury, or sexual violation. This is in contrast to other stress-induced conditions like cumulative stress which is the result of a buildup of what might be called micro-insults.

Further diagnostic criteria require that exposure occurred in one of the following scenarios:

a) The individual experienced the traumatic incident directly.

b) Witnessed it first hand.

c) Learned that a close family member or friend was the victim of a threatened or actual violent or accidental death.

d) Experienced first hand repeated or aversive images of the traumatic event. This last criterion about repeated exposure is especially important for first responders who will attend dozens of disturbing events in their careers.



To quote the academics:

“PTSD consists of three reactions caused by an event that terrifies, horrifies or renders a person helpless.”

1. Recurring intrusive recollections

2. Emotional numbing; constriction of life activity

3. A physiological shift in the fear threshold affecting sleep, concentration, and sense of security.



There are also four distinct clusters of behavioral symptoms that accompany PTSD:

Re-experiencing, Avoidance, Negative cognitions (tapes we play in our minds that are distorted) and moods, and Arousal.

The following composite example adapted from Counseling Cops: What Clinicians Need to Know (written with Mark Kamena and Joel Fay) shows how these four clusters can manifest in a police officer’s life.


Counseling Cops, What Clinicians Need to Know       “John responded to a call of a suicidal teenager. He talked to the young man who convinced John that the call was a prank and he was not suicidal. Minutes after John left on another call, the young man killed himself. John was devastated but couldn’t show his emotions. He was depressed and blamed himself (negative cognitions and mood). He couldn’t sleep and heard the teenager’s voice in his sleep. He believed the boy was calling to him because he had failed to save him (re-experiencing). At work he was terrified of getting deployed to another suicidal subject call and started missing work (avoidance). He was irritable with the public, his co-workers, and his family and received several complaints for being too aggressive on a mental health call (arousal).”


In less academic terms:

PTSD means that a person is experiencing specific symptoms at least 30 days after a catastrophic incident. It is a NORMAL reaction to a ABNORMAL event, a bone deep reaction that affects mental health, physical health, work, spirit, family and friends.

PTSD can be experienced by someone who has faced a single incident (usually one that made them feel completely helpless in the face of death), or by continuous exposure to psychological trauma such as that experienced by emergency workers, military personnel, public safety workers, or victims of abuse.

Are there different types of PTSD? If so, what are they called?



Critical Incident Stress is often confused with PTSD. CIS refers to the symptoms experienced in the days immediately following an incident.




PTSD refers to symptoms manifesting 30 days or more after the incident.

Critical Incident Stress can precede Post-traumatic Stress Disorder but it isn’t an expected progression.


There is also a category of trauma known as complex trauma. In simplest terms this refers to people who have histories of childhood abuse. John, in the prior example, grew up in an abusive, sometimes violent, home. As the oldest child, he believed it was his role to protect his younger siblings. The terrible burden John carried in childhood amplified the shame and failure he felt for not preventing the teenaged boy from killing himself. His feelings of helplessness were an echo of the helplessness he felt as a child.


What are the Symptoms of PTSD:

Symptoms fall into four categories: emotional, physical, behavioral and cognitive.

Emotional symptoms might include: numbness, irritability, depression and so on.

Physical symptoms can range from elevated blood pressure to a variety of medical problems with no diagnosable medical cause.

Behavioral symptoms involve sleeping problems, changes in personal habits, eating patterns, or use of drugs and alcohol.

Cognitive symptoms include difficulty concentrating, poor memory, problems with mental tasks and details, difficulty making decisions.


The range of PTSD symptoms is wide and diverse.

  1. Debilitating flashbacks or slide-show type memories
  2. Trouble with concentration and problem solving
  3. Suicidal thoughts and feelings
  4. Feeling alienated and alone
  5. Anger and irritability
  6. Guilt, shame, or self-blame
  7. Hyper-vigilance
  8. Feelings of mistrust and betrayal
  9. Avoiding activities, places, thoughts, or feelings that remind you of the trauma
  10. Inability to remember important aspects of the trauma
  11. Loss of interest in activities and life in general
  12. Feeling detached from others and emotionally numb
  13. Insomnia – Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  14. Difficulty concentrating
  15. Feeling jumpy and easily startled
  16. Nightmares
  17. Feelings of intense distress when reminded of the trauma
  18. Intense physical reactions to reminders of the event
  19. Withdrawal
  20. Irritability
  21. Sense of a limited future, don’t expect a normal life span
  22. Questioning the meaning of life
  23. Questioning of faith

What types of treatments are out there for folks who have PTSD?


There are a wide variety of treatments. Among them, Cognitive-Behavioral therapy and EMDR seem to be quite successful. The use of service dogs has become very popular for people dealing with PTSD.


Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is especially helpful in the treatment of trauma. In simplest terms, the central hypothesis of CBT is that our thoughts or cognitions cause our emotional reactions. The goal of CBT is to challenge these negative thoughts and distorted beliefs, rescript them into positive cognitions, and gradually help clients reengage in activities they have been avoiding. CBT requires active participation by the client, including systematic desensitization (approaching the feared object or situation in gradual steps), tracking triggers and negative thoughts, journaling, relaxation, and meditation.

Prolonged exposure therapy (PE) is based on the principle that anxiety diminishes in the absence of danger. This is a structured treatment, lasting 8-15 sessions of 90 minutes each during which time the client retells the story of her traumatic experience over and over. It includes homework, journaling, education and breathing exercises.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is based on the theory that traumatic memories are stored in the brain differently than non-traumatic memories. Under the direction of a therapist, the client processes the carefully targeted memory by stimulating both sides of the brain using alternating hand tappers, ear tones, or light bars or the therapist’s hand as it moves from left to right.

Virtual environment (VE) uses technology to create visual, auditory and olfactory reproductions of a traumatic event using lifelike avatars. It seems to work well with combat vets by recreating field experiences.

Post-traumatic growth (PTG) involves the client reappraising his or her experience in terms of growth and resilience. This is accomplished by employing some of the building blocks of positive psychology such as listing the positive consequences of the disturbing event and keeping a gratitude journal. Rather than focusing on the negative, PTG theorizes that many people become stronger, more compassionate, and more appreciative of life after a traumatic incident.

Two other recognized approaches to trauma do not necessarily include mental health professionals. Psychological first aid is an approach for assisting people in the immediate aftermath of disaster and terrorism. The goal is to reduce initial distress and to foster short- and long-term adaptive functioning. The Red Cross, the community and faith based organizations are often trained to provide this service.

Peer support offers victims the opportunity to talk with others who have survived similar traumas and are willing to assist the newly victimized.

Are there any medications that can help with PTSD symptoms?


There are many medications that can help. I recommend seeing a psychiatrist or a prescribing psychologist because they are the experts in medication used to treat psychological conditions. Some medications provide relief very quickly while others take several weeks to get into the system. There are also medications that help with sleep difficulties and nightmares. Be patient. Because everyone has a unique metabolism and neurological structure, it can take time to find the right medication at the right dose. Don’t be afraid to tell your prescribing doctor about side effects because they can be adjusted.

Are there any studies out there to predict what types of people may become more affected by PTSD than others?


In the last 10-15 years there have been several studies done that looked for predictors of PTSD among emergency personnel (Police, Paramedics, Firefighters, etc.), and some interesting trends and risk factors have been identified.

1. People who deal with trauma by mentally disengaging, using wishful thinking and practicing dissociative tactics may be at risk of developing PTSD.

2. A wide range of organizational and job stressors that could increase the risk among emergency workers were identified as:

a. Management inadequacies in the areas of training provided

b. Lack of recognition of a job well done and fairness in promotion

c. Personal disquiet over media reports

d. Long shift hours versus familial demands

e. Introversion

f. Emotional fatigue

g. Lack of outside interests such as hobbies

h. Social detachment outside of the job


I’ve learned a bunch from you ladies! Thank you both so much for appearing on my blog and talking about a very important topic that affects a lot of folks.


Books by Ellen Kirschman include:

Counseling Cops, What Clinicians Need to KnowscOw9ilac_cover_smilaff_cover_sm






And Ellen’s website where you can catch up on all of her appearances and new books she has in the works!

Be sure to check out Kathryn Jane’s Emergency Preparedness Class being offered through KOD. Books by Kathryn Jane include:
















Daring to Love is being offered on Brenda Novak Auction for Diabetes Research. Here’s the link: Kathryn Jane’s website is:



Below are some resources the three of us put together.

Until next time,

Happy Writing

Diane Kratz


Helpful Resources


The American Psychological Association offers a great deal of information about trauma and other topics in psychology. They also can connect you with psychologists in your area. .

The Battle Buddy Foundation is funded by veterans to serve veterans. The Battle Buddy Foundation will pair veterans with service dogs and assist veterans suffering from PTSD with the many challenges they face on a daily basis. The Battle Buddy Foundation will also promote the reintegration of Combat Veterans back into society and the work force.

Element Behavioral Health Creating Extraordinary Lives is a facility that offers treatment programs for PTSD and other mental health problems.

The First Responders Support Network (  sponsors six day retreat for first responders suffering with post traumatic stress injuries. The program is peer driven and clinically guided. They have graduated more than 700 first responders. FRSN also sponsors three retreats for the spouses and significant others of first responders. More info about both is available at

PTSD Foundation of America Providing Healing For The Unseen Wounds Of War is a website that offers programs like Warrior Groups, fellowships for combat veterans and their families to share their experiences, testimonies of healing, compassion and hope in overcoming the invisible wounds of war. Participants are required to be military combat veterans or family members of those who have served in combat and be willing to face the challenges of managing post-traumatic stress and related conditions. Camp Hope provides interim housing for our Wounded Warriors, veterans and their families suffering from combat related PTSD in a caring and positive environment, one-on-one mentoring by trained mentors, and a national outreach program for PTDS sufferers and their families.

Saddles For Soldiers Program is a program for veterans to reduce the suicide rate, provide a safe place to relax, learn new skills, assist in reintegration, provide life skills, provide referral, establish a bond with an animal, and to provide short and long term care in an holistic approach. This is a free service for veterans and their families.

The Ranch Treatment Center provides comprehensive trauma treatment for survivors of childhood and/or adult trauma of all types, including PTSD.

The Refuge Treatment Center offers a12-step based program that treats each person as a unique individual. They believe trauma is centered in the nervous system and telling the story in a nature setting helps the nervous system process the trauma.

The National Institutes of Health is a website that offers up to date information and statistics on PTSD.

Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center is a residential treatment center for women that offers therapeutic interventions for trauma.

Veterans and PTSD is a website that offers Veterans statistics from a major study done by the RAND Corporation: PTSD, depression, TBI, and suicide.

US Department of Veterans Affairs on The National Center for PTSD– revisions in the DSM5. This is helpful for researchers, providers and helpers.

The National Center for Telehealth and Technology,, offers a number of free mobile apps that assist those with PTSD or stress management.


Facebook Support Groups and Pages: Canadian and they deal with emergency service workers and Canadian military. Battle Buddy Foundation (TBBF) was founded by Veterans to Serve Veterans suffering from PTSD and other war related injuries. of America is a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting combat veterans and their families with post- traumatic stress. – PTSD support and global awareness.


Guilford Press: If you know a first responder with PTSD, you might find Ellen’s books helpful: I Love a Cop: What Police Families Need to Know and I Love a Fire Fighter: What the Family Needs to Know. Both are available in print or as e-books from your favorite vendors.

Therapists working with police officers may be interested in Counseling Cops: What Clinicians Need to Know. Guilford also publishes Life after Trauma: A workbook for Healing by Dena Rosenbloom and Mary Beth Williams, Guilford Press. (

New Harbinger ( publishes self-help books for the lay reader. They have several titles on trauma.

If any of my readers know of a PTSD resources they feel was useful, please e-mail me at: and I will add them to my list.

Blog edited by: Sally Berneathy









The Blog Hop Stops Here

Last month I was invited by Linda Williams Stirling who has a blog called, Ramblings of an Eclectic Mind,, to participate in a blog hop tour. I don’t like blog hopping but I love Linda’s blog and her eclectic mind. Since my blog is supposed to have information about writing, I sighed and said “ok.”

Linda Sterling

I had to find three people to jump on the blog hop with me. I guess everyone else must hate hopping as much as I do, because I only had two takers. The first was the incredible, ultimate Alfie Thompson and, bless her heart, she doesn’t even have a blog!!!!!

Second was the sassy, sidesplitting (from laughter), multi-talented Sunny Cole. Since the blog hop stops here, I’ve decided to have them answer the BIG FOUR QUESTIONS on my blog. You’ll read more about my MRW sisters later.


Now the hard part…my answers to the BIG FOUR about MY writing process.

1. What am I working on?

I’m working on a couple of things. First, I’m writing a self–help book on teen suicide. It’s for parents, siblings and friends who have lost someone to suicide. After my December blog, “Surviving Christmas Grief,” I realized there were lots of folks out there who have lost someone to suicide who weren’t finding any resources to help them cope with their grief. This is what the book is for.

And I’m working on my prequel to the Victims of Love series. It’s about an FBI profiler who runs across a cunning and prolific female serial killer. She has been killing since her teens and getting away with it. It’s set in 1986 before DNA when profiling was just taking hold as an investigative tool for law enforcement.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre? 

My son Eric.

My son Eric.

In my non-fiction book my focus is on teen suicide because I lost my sixteen-year-old son to suicide in 1996. I know what others have gone through after losing someone and I’ve done extensive research on this topic since I lost my son. I found books which helped but a lot more that didn’t help at all. In fact some of the literature out there feeds into the stigma associated with losing someone to suicide.

This book will pull all the right information together and have resources where the grieving can go to find help. It explains the brain chemistry, hormones and depression of the adolescent. I haven’t found one book out there that emphasizes those topics and teen suicide. My book also focuses on societal views of suicide and the facts vs. myths associated with suicides.

In my Victims of Love series, my villain is a female serial killer named Jillian. In almost all serial killer books I’ve read, the villain is a man. If you read my blog than you know statistically men serial killers do kill more often than female serial killers, but female serial killers kill over a longer period of time. What makes better killers for me are the next-door neighbor types. Like real psychopaths, they hide behind a mask. Jillian Black does it with expensive clothes, a sexy body, a butcher knife and syringe hidden in her Gucci handbag.

3) Why do I write what I do?

Obviously I’m working on my nonfiction book because my son’s death has taken root inside me. Mental illness is hard for people to understand, and death is taboo to talk about. Suicide is the worst of all of these. Just hearing the word suicide gives most people an image of someone with a dark, tormented soul. It leaves an invisible “x” of guilt planted on the minds and hearts of survivors who loved them and are left behind. I want to change this. I want people to understand the un-understandable.

For my Victims of Love series, psychopaths fascinate me as they do a good percentage of the world’s population. Shows like, Dexter, Criminal Minds and my all time favorite, Law and Order Criminal Intent (which started my writing career of writing fan fiction) are incredibly popular. I love to figure people out. It’s what I did as a therapist and it’s what I want to do as a writer.

4) How does my writing process work?

My process for writing fiction has changed over the years. When I started out I just wrote what I felt without realizing writing is a craft. Some are born to do it while others learn how to do it. I’m the latter.

I still write what I feel, but I’ve learned there must be a reason for every sentence in a book. It took me a while to accept that some sentences I really love may not add anything to my story and must be deleted. I basically had to go back from scratch and think while I wrote. A total re-write for me. Now when I read some of the early things I wrote, I can’t believe I wrote so poorly!

Every chapter has to have goal, motivation and conflict in it. Any moron can write. I’m proof of that! But if you don’t have these three things, you don’t have a story anyone wants to read.

Writing nonfiction is easier for me than fiction. You must research both types, but with fiction you also need deep POV (Point of View) within your characters to make them real to the reader. In nonfiction you are basically the narrator of the facts. And I’m very good at that.

Luckily I have great support from my local writing group, Mid-West Romance Writers, and my on-line group KOD (Kiss of Death) that allows me to be in a critique group eloquently named Lethal Ladies. These ladies (and gentlemen) know how to bloody up a chapter in red! They keep me on track and focused. I’ve learned so much from them all. Thank you everyone! You ROCK! I’ve learned the most from my next guest, Alfie Thompson. In a fictional story, she would be my mentor. In real life she is just that!

Alfie’s Bio:

With over 5 million books in print, Alfie Thompson’s 10 Harlequin and Silhouette novels have been published under the pseudonym Val Daniels in 29 languages and in 33 countries. Alfie has presented writing workshops from New York City to Hawaii for local, regional and national groups and conferences, and her non-fiction book, Lights, Camera, Fiction: A Movie Lovers Guide to Writing a Novel was published by Running Press.

Alfie T. Book Cover Lights Camera Action

WOW! Now doesn’t Alfie make a fabulous mentor?

Recently she self- published one of her most popular workshops as an e-book, Point Of View: Understanding Which POV is Best for your Story and Using It Effectively. During her five years on the Board of Directors of the Romance Writers of America, she initiated the first ever RWA “Readers for Life” Literacy Autographing which has raised over $825,000 for literacy since its inception in 1990.

Alfie T. POV Book Cover

Isn’t she AWESOME!!!!!

Alfie, now it’s your turn to answer the BIG FOUR Questions…

1)     What am I working on?

When I suffered through a severe attack (several years) of Writer’s Block, what brought me back to writing was non-fiction. After selling a book on the subject of writing (Lights! Camera! Fiction! A Movie Lover’s Guide to Writing a Novel) to Running Press, giving programs and daylong workshops to writers’ groups kind of became my “writing” thing for several years. I’ve finally come full circle and am writing fiction again for the first time in a decade. It feels so good.

I’m writing a series of traditional romances that I haven’t decided if I will submit to traditional publishers or not. I may self publish them. (And I love, love, love my wounded hero in the first one.)

And I’m trying something brand new. This one is really difficult to write because it is different than anything I’ve done before. It’s a futuristic (30 years in the future) and I’m not sure if there is a futuristic genre it might “fit” in. My characters are also unique in that they are neither traditional in today’s times or that imagined distant future. They don’t “fit.” With this one, I’m just having fun, but my critique partners tell me they love it.

I’m also working on another e-book based on another of my popular workshops, Writing For The Reader. I hope to have it available in the next month as the second in my series, Tips, Tricks and Tools of the Writer’s Trade.
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

The futuristic one differs from anything I’ve read so I don’t know if it even has a genre. Maybe I’ll start my own.

My traditional series fits snugly into the traditional romance genre. The three stories are three brothers (two they have to find) who inherit their father’s ranch. It has many of the hot elements traditional publishers consistently request. The unique (I hope) element is that none of them knew this man was their father or that they had brothers. And they all have to “learn” to be cowboys. They’ve never worked or been around a ranch before.

Barthle Brothers Ranch

Barthle Brothers Ranch

3) Why do I write what I do?

I’m one of the lucky writers. When I first started writing, what I loved to read was exactly what I wanted to write.

For most of my writing life, people (writers) have been discussing writing from the heart vs. writing for the market. Which is the right approach? I’ve always argued that we should be doing both. Successful writers figure out how to write the story in their heart in a way that fits into the current market.

The current trends in publishing make it possible to successfully reach readers with either stories from the heart or stories written directly with the market in mind. I still believe writing from the heart for the market will be the way authors find the most success. So my traditional series is aimed directly at writing what the market wants (length, format and expectations) with three stories (and characters) I dearly love.

My futuristic is definitely “from the heart.” It is a book most knowledgeable people would have considered me to be wasting my time on a decade ago. There is no clear genre where it fits. I am trying to write the characters in such a way that any person reading it can identify with and totally understand their motivation.  I am “writing it for my (potential) reader.” If I can’t find that reader through a traditional publisher, I will definitely try to find him or her by way of self-publishing.

Whatever I write–fiction, non-fiction, traditional romance, futuristic, whatever–I write with the enjoyment of the reader in mind. In all cases, that means I have to love it, whatever it is, as I’m writing it.

Man Reading Book and Sitting on Bookshelf in Library
4) How does my writing process work?

My life is way too chopped up to work well as a writer’s life. (I didn’t fully appreciate how wonderful I had it when I had contracts and deadlines and no one expected anything from me if they knew that deadline was approaching.) I have several part time jobs that I love (freelance editing for one), that are flexible and let me schedule most of my work as I want to. That should mean I get lots of writing done, right? What it means is that I tend to put my writing last. I’m getting better at realizing my writing does not get done if I don’t put it on my list—with deadlines–like everything else.

I’m a total SOTP (seat of the pants) writer until I get about a third of the way into a story, then I have to stop and become a plotter and planner to figure out where I am going. I use my 5 Star Plotting techniques from Lights! Camera! Fiction! (which is a structural checklist of sorts) to get successfully to the end of the story.  At some point, the story veers and I become a SOTP again—though I do refer to my checklist frequently, and seeing specific things I need to achieve on that list becomes a great idea generator.

I’m still learning to do this. Thanks, Alfie, for bailing me out today. You will always be my mentor! And thank you so much for taking the time to teach me the craft of writing.

Next, a fellow writer and someone I consider my friend, Sunny Cole. I can’t say enough good things about this lady. She is talented and sidesplittingly funny. I have the utmost respect for her and all her talents. Continue reading and you’ll find out what “dramedy” means…

Sunny’s bio:

Bobbie Cole, aka Sunny, has written approximately 60 books under various pen names, ranging from women’s fiction to fantasy, and from erotic romance to romantic suspense. Her 2013 books included a romantic suspense for Harlequin Australia as Bobbie Cole, called  and an essay for disco diva Gloria Gaynor’s nonfiction, How We Survived.

Sunny's Book Cover

1) What am I working on?

I’m writing quirky women’s fiction involving cancer, recovery, bread baking, and blizzards. The first book in the Survivor series is MJ’s story. MJ has what she calls cancer of the soul. She fortunately fails a suicide attempt at the beginning, and the rest of the book revolves around her interactions with true cancer survivors. What she learns from their recoveries eases her into repairing relationships with her mother and others. The second book, a work in progress, is Kendra’s story. She’s just had a double mastectomy and gone through her second divorce when both her parents wind up in a nursing home.

Each book reflects the lives of women who can’t escape the harsh realities of life. With the help of their support group, they learn not only to survive but also to thrive. To grab reality by the throat and choke until they are able to architect the lives they want. Life doesn’t just happen to them. They impact life–theirs and the lives of others.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Most writers seem to feel their books are their babies. Mine are my parents, each one teaching me something I haven’t learned until I meet them. I’m not as interested in telling a story as I am showing the human condition and the process of growing from despair to joy. Characters, like their real counterparts, make mistakes and (hopefully) learn from them. They have feelings, motives, fears and inadequacies. Like I do. Like readers do. My books in this series are intended to offer hope, to swing the reader from tears to laughter, then ultimately to satisfaction…and maybe acceptance if they share traits or conditions with these characters.

3) Why do I write what I do?

It’s a dog-eat-dog world, and I figured there were others like me wearing Milk Bone underwear. I don’t sugarcoat emotions. My critique partners won’t let me. It’s difficult for me to bare my soul, but I’ve found my writing rings true when I do. I’m learning along with my characters that life can be joyous when I find my authentic self and when I’m not afraid to be open to risk and let others know the real me. Life doesn’t change. It is what it is. We change, and those changes fascinate me.

4) How does my writing process work?

What I feel I do: Character development then plot. Apply meat to seat and write until blood drips from every orifice.

What is more accurate: I grapple with subjects in which there’s little humor, and I find characters who exemplify what traits, abilities, and understanding are needed to overcome tragedies. I write dramedy. Drama with comedy. Difficult situations are plentiful. Characters/people who make the best of lousy situations and go on to succeed despite obstacles are trickier to find. But that’s what keeps my interest.

Mine too! And Sunny is great at it! Her books are sad but funny at the same time. Dramedy.

You can connect with Alfie at:
Twitter   @valfie

And my girl Sunny at:

What’s your writing process?

Happy writing,

Diane Kratz

Blog Edited by: Sally Berneathy

As promised, FBI Profiler Pete Klismet is back to profile women serial killers…

Pete Klismet

Pete Klismet

Pete, a few months ago you piqued my curiosity when you mentioned female serial killers.  In the book I’m currently working on, Victims of Love, my villain, Jillian Black, is a female serial killer. Now that the holidays are over, I’m going to prevail on you yet again, because I found what you had to say very interesting and I’m curious to know if I got the female aspects of her profile down.  So where do we start?

Good question, Diane.  Maybe we start with you!

Me?  What have I done?

Diane Kratz

Diane Kratz

Well, you ARE a woman, and the last time I checked, everything about women is different than men.  And when we launch into the virtually-unknown realm of female serial killers, the first stopping off point we arrive at is just that – those differences.  Everything about men and women is different, including their thinking, their methods, and when it comes to this dark area of murder, even their motives.

Alright, now you’ve really got me wondering.  If it’s fair to say there is a sexual or power and control component involved for men, then where are we headed with women?

You’re right about men.  Pretty much.  In the past interviews we’ve done, we’ve kicked that down the road a few times.  But when it comes to women, it is very rare when we have those factors involved in any manner.

So why don’t you find a good starting point, and let’s launch ourselves into this.

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Aileen Wuornos Photo by:

Let’s do it.  I think a good start might be to talk a little bit about the only female killer we know whose motive was related to sex.  That would be Aileen Wuornos.  She was a prostitute who killed seven men in Florida in 1989 and 1990.  She claimed until her execution by lethal injection in 2002 that she killed the men because all of them tried to rape her.  Thus, her belief—and I think it was delusional—was that she was killing in self-defense.  I’ve spent a little bit of time studying her, and I think she was driven by a deep-seated anger for men.  She was physically abused as a child, and I don’t think that’s something that ever leaves us.

Aileen as a child. Photo by:

Aileen as a child. Photo by:

But, Pete, other prostitutes have been raped.  How many of them have killed seven men?

Good question, Diane.  And the answer is, none. That’s why this case has always been so interesting to me.  I think this anger developed inside her. While she was working as a prostitute, I think she had a lot of bad encounters on the roads.  That’s the nature of her business.  And I think this anger just spilled out from inside her and finally exploded into incredible violence. It was her way of surviving. I think Aileen really believed that she had killed in self-defense. I think someone who’s deeply psychotic can’t really tell the difference between something that is life-threatening and something that is a minor disagreement.  She would get into a screaming black rage about it. And I think that’s what caused these things to happen.

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Aileen Wuornos Photo by:

But she’s one in a million, right?

Or more than that, really.  Unless there’s another one out there I don’t know about, she’s it, and there are about three billion women in the world now.  Plus an equal or far greater number that have lived over history.  Speaking of which, there is some history of a European countess or someone of similar rank (!) – I never could figure out what a duchess or a countess was.  Anyway, this woman lived in a huge castle on a hill above a town.  She had a delusional belief that if she would bathe in the blood of virgins, she could maintain her youth.  From what I’ve read, she may have killed over 600 women, drained their blood and bathed in it.

Elizabeth Bathory
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Ok, time out.  Where is the sexual motive in that?

Good catch by you.  A lot of people would hear those facts and immediately conclude sex.  But the way I see it, they were probably dealing with someone who was driven by her delusions.  And if we take that to the next step, we’re looking at someone who was probably psychotic…schizophrenic.  There are probably some other similar things in past history, but I can’t think of one right now.

But it’s fair to assume none of them involved 600 victims.

Probably not.  In fact, if we think about what this woman did, she could well be the worst serial killer in history.

And there you have it.  The world’s most prolific serial killer was a woman.

Yup.  Unless someone knows something different.  I suppose one could argue for Stalin or Hitler, Pol Pot, or some of those politically-driven power fiends, but in terms of what you and I are talking about right now, she’s a clear-cut winner, so to speak.  Probably not a good way to put that.

Pete, you are a rascal because you’re good at getting me off topic.

Thanks, Diane. I do that with my wife all the time too.  Drives her crazy.  But you’re right, we’ve gone a little far afield, and I know what you want to focus on.  In a manner of speaking, we’ve actually done some of that.  Let me get us back on track with a couple of quotes I’ve found over the years in doing some research on this.  And l want to make a parenthetical note here – while I have done some research on this topic, it has not been as much of a focus to me as male serial killers. 

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Dr. Eric Hickey
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Dr. Eric Hickey taught criminology at Fresno State for quite a few years.  Eric did a lot of research on this topic, and I found an interesting quote in a paper he wrote.  He says, “They’re every bit as lethal as their male counterparts, but we’re rarely aware of one because of their low visibility.”  I know Eric, and I respect the work he’s done over the years.

Interesting.  It sounds like “low visibility” is the key here, right?

Absolutely.  When men are doing it, you see headlines in the paper every day.  Another author, whom I don’t know, Michael Kelleher, did a book titled “Murder most Rare:  The Female Serial Killer.”  Kelleher searched back for many years and researched over 100 different cases involving women.  What he says “…..they are more successful, careful, precise, methodical and quiet in committing their crimes.”

Okay, so now we’re going right back to what you were saying when we started this conversation – women are very different from men.  And here again a word is key –methodical.”  Am I right?

Exactly.  And here’s one way to best exemplify that.  On average, male serial killers’ “careers” last four years.  Women, on the other hand, average eight years.  Let me play professor here.  What does that tell you?

I’m not sure, but perhaps the word I’d use would be “patience”?

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Perfect.  I wish I had you in my college classes.  You pay attention rather than texting!  If you look at the nature of men and women, the latter are far more patient as a whole.  I know my wife is much more than me.  If she wants to take a trip, she slowly tosses something out over a period of time.  Then some more, and finally she has the hook set and I’m trapped with no way out.

LOL! And this is related, how?

You really do ask good questions, and once again you’re right on point.  Guess what – studies show that the most common means of killing by women is poison in slow doses over a period of time.  This is what I’ve found in research, so I’m not making it up all by my own bad self.  Men?  Do you think we’d have the patience to persist with this over a period of many months?  Forget it.  We just go down and buy a gun and, bang, it’s over in a hurry.

Okay.  Well and good.  Now what I want to know is what the primary motive is for women.

You know, Diane, I think I’m going to un-retire from teaching and make you be in all my classes, because that’s probably the best question you’ve asked me yet.  Let me do what I did in my classes. I’ll throw that question right back at you.  What do YOU think the primary motive would be?

Oh my.  I wasn’t ready for that.  Let’s see.  I guess I’d have to go with revenge?

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Picture from:

I’m glad you said that like a question, because that’s far and away the most common answer I’ve gotten.  But here’s the truth, and I don’t want you to hit me in the head with a hatchet.  In over seventy five percent of the cases, women’s motivation was money.


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Yup.  Revenge is in the other twenty five percent along with control and anger, but it comes right down to the dollar bill in most instances.

You mentioned anger.  How about the women who have been abuse victims and finally have had enough?  There have been quite a few cases of that happening.

You’re right, and several pretty famous ones, like the one which the movie “Burning Bed” with Farah Fawcett was based on.  But if you think about it, those are one-time things.  It’s easy to figure them out and I can’t think about an occasion where a woman has gotten away with it more than once.  More common are the types of cases where women find what looks like an accidental way to kill their spouses. 

We had one when I was stationed in Grand Junction, Colorado.  This woman was on her third husband in about ten years, I believe.  They took a trip to the Grand Canyon and she pushed him off a cliff to his death.  She’d done something similar with the first two husbands, but they couldn’t prove it.  So she collected their life insurance and went on her merry way.

So we’re back to money again?

Back to money.  But there are some other odd things, and most of us have heard about some of them.  We have what we call the “Angels of Mercy,” sometimes called “The Angels of Death.”

I’ve heard of them, but can you give me an example?

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Jane Toppan
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Sure.  One I remember is a woman named Jane Toppan.  She was a nurse at Mass General Hospital some years back.  I believe it was in the forties.  Her own statement was, “It would be safe to say that I killed over 100 persons.”  When the police asked her why she did it, her answer was, “I thought it was fun.”


Yeah, fun.  I’d rather go to a movie or watch a Broncos game (just a little dig there at you and your Chiefs).  But I do think her statement is instructive in a way.  I personally believe she was one who was driven by control.  In other words, it was her decision when these persons would die.  Sort of a god-like feeling, I suppose.  There are a lot of men who have exactly the same motive.  Ted Bundy would be a good example.

Ted Bundy-Picture taken from:

Ted Bundy
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Interesting parallel right there.  But Pete, you’re the profiler, so I want to pin you down and ask you if there is a profile for women serial killers.

A great question right there.  As you know, with men we can usually put them in the category of “Organized” or “Disorganized” killers.  But with women, it’s here we part ways, big-time.

And why would that be?

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Because all women are organized.  Well most, anyhow.  When Eric Hickey looked at this phenomenon, he said what you have to do is look at “typologies” rather than “profiles” when it comes to women.

Which means?

Very simple.  You categorize them in one of two ways – they acted alone or they acted in partnership.

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And that would be with a man?

Yup.  Just that easy.

But can’t you say the same thing about men?

In some rare cases, yes.  But don’t forget, with the men we have deeper psychological motives.  With women, it comes down to much simpler motives.

And that would most often be money.

That’s right.  It sounds like that would make it easy, but it’s anything but.

How about someone like Andrea Yates who, I believe, killed all five of her kids by drowning?  I think that was in Houston.


Andrea Yates and her family
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You’re right, it was.  In her case, it was what I believe they characterized as a temporary mental illness.  I don’t know if I understand that.  It seems like pregnancy, you either are mentally ill or you’re not.  Evidently they seemed to think they’d cured her, and from what I remember, she’s back in society once again.  But we can’t call her a serial killer because she drowned all of her kids at the same time.  So she’d be what we’d classify as a mass killer.  There is a difference.

And hopefully someone who would have no more children, or at least recognized the symptoms of postpartum despression, could get some help and had family who made sure she was taking medication.

Hopefully.  There was another woman down in Texas by the name of Otty Sanchez.  She killed her infant child and started to eat it before she was caught.  I know this is gross, but she was eating the child’s brain about the time she was arrested.

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EWWW! Sounds like Hannibal Lecter.

Pretty much.  But she was deemed to be psychotic, and in her case it wasn’t a temporary condition.  I think she wound up with a full-ride scholarship to the Rubber Ramada and is still there.

Alright, can you give me an example of a female serial killer who went on for years without being caught?

Sure can.  A woman by the name of Belle Gunness comes immediately to mind.   She started out by burning down her house and then a business she owned.  There was some money.  Then she killed two husbands and two of her children.  Did they have insurance?  Of course.  However, an interesting part of this is all four of them died of colitis which has symptoms similar to poisoning.

Belle Gunness picture from:

Belle Gunness picture from:

But it was back in the thirties, right? I know because I researched female serial killers with gusto, trying to get Jillian Black’s profile right.   I used  Belle’s name along with hordes of others in my book. Belle was something!

Yup, and medical science hadn’t reached the point where it’s at now.  For the next part of her act, she started putting personal ads in papers that would lure men of means down to her farm in southern Indiana, as I recall.  She’d marry them, bump them off and collect yet more insurance.

So what’s the estimate for the number of people she killed?

They now think it’s up around twenty.  That would make her pretty prolific.  But I’ll make this, as they like to say on TV, “Breaking News.”  Belle isn’t someone you’d want as a girlfriend or a friend at all.  She was definitely the most prolific female serial killer I know of.

Other than the countess.

Yeah, or the duchess or goddess.  Whatever she was.

Pete, let me ask you this.  Do you think in modern society there are more women like Aileen Wournos that will crop up?

I doubt it.  I read some research a few months ago that may help explain why.  Women are brought up much differently than men.  They’re taught to control their feelings and to work things out by talking.  I know that’s not a hundred percent true, but it’s much different with men.  By and large, we’re taught to be tough and even to work our feelings out with our fists.  So there’s a huge gap there.

Well, Pete, I don’t know if your last statement is right, although I hope it is. I tend to think we are just finding out more about these creatures and we will see more of them in our future. But you’re the profiler, and I know you know your stuff!

I can’t thank you enough for enlightening us on this topic!

So, folks, if you’re writing about a woman killer in your book, remember, it’s all about the money, honey!

Until next time,

Happy Writing,

Diane Kratz

To find out more about Pete Klismet and his experiences as one of the eariler FBI profilers, check out his book: FBI Diary: Profiles of Evil available at

FBI Diary Profiles of Evil

FBI Diary Profiles of Evil

To find out more about Pete Klismet and his experiences as one of the eariler FBI profilers, check out his book: FBI Diary: Profiles of Evil available at

Or visit him on his Facebook Fan Page: .

Blog edited by: Sally Berneathy

Surviving Christmas Grief

English: A Christmas Tree at Home

English: A Christmas Tree at Home (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today I am sharing something not too many of my writer family knows about me. I lost my sixteen year old son, Eric, in 1996 to suicide.  I’d love to report that I’m over his death, but the truth is, his death is something I know I will never get over. But I have learned to deal with my loss of him.

Eric and Chrustmas

My daughter Courtney, me, and my son Eric on Christmas Eve.

December is hard for me, and I know it is for countless others who are dealing with the loss of their loved ones. Eric’s birthday was December 7. Last year my daughter gave me my first granddaughter born on his birthday.

Charlotte Joann born December 7, 2012.

Charlotte Joann born December 7, 2012.

Ms. Charlotte Joann is named after my mother who died two years after my son. In the span of two years, I lost two people I loved.

Mom and Christmas 2

My mom with all her grandkids. Eric is the curly headed boy with glasses and Courtney is the dark- headed beauty in red.

For years after my mom died, I’d break out her tree even though it was so old the limbs wouldn’t stay in their holes and my husband had to put yarn around it to attach it to my wall so it would stand up straight and not fall over. It was my way of keeping her with me during the holidays she loved so much. Two years ago, I finally bought a new tree and was able to let Mom’s go. But it took time.

And then there are Eric’s homemade ornaments, my treasures he made me in school. As I hang them on my tree I’m brought back to a time when he was alive, and I begin to grieve for him all over again.

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Eric made me this star in second grade.

Seeing holiday family movies or Christmas commercials can trigger grief. The family dynamic has changed. The holidays have become a painful reminder of what we’ve lost.

I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge those of us who grieve and to offer some expert advice to those going through this process.


Today I have Dr. Debra Holland as my guest. Debra is a corporate crisis/grief counselor who consults with companies that have experienced robberies, accidents, sudden deaths, and other critical incidents. She received a master’s degree in Marriage, Family, and Child Therapy and a PhD in Counseling Psychology from the University of Southern California (USC) and is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.

Dr. Holland worked for American Airlines after 9-11, counseling flight crews and staff. She counseled the victims and families of the Metrolink train wreck in 2002. In 2005 she volunteered as a mental health relief worker in Louisiana for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. She also volunteered as a mental health relief worker during and after the 2008 fires in California. In 2011 she counseled the Superstorm Sandy victims in New Jersey.


Debra, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, has written The Essential Guide to Grief and Grieving, published by Alpha Books. She is currently writing Aftershock: How Managers Can Help Employees Cope With the Death of an Employee.

She is here to help us understand the various kinds and levels of grief, how people are trained to experience grief, and ways to get through the pain and achieve some level of comfort.

Thank you, Debra, for sharing your vast experience today on my blog.

Can you explain how society deals with grieving people?

Debra: In our society, we don’t really know how to deal with grief, and thus we tend to avoid discussions about bereavement and loss. When it comes to a death, there is nothing we can say or do to fix the “problem” like we can in most other circumstances, and that leaves people feeling helpless. Most people either say time-worn and unhelpful platitudes, avoid those who are grieving, or both.


The death of a child or a suicide (or in your case the death of a child by suicide) is even more difficult to talk about because the situation is so complex and tragic. The death of a child is a parent’s worst nightmare. Other parents don’t even want to think about such a tragedy, much less talk to a grieving parent.

People who are grieving often feel isolated, which makes them feel worse. What others need to know about the bereaved is that you don’t need to use words to offer comfort. Silent support and listening can be very helpful.



When I was writing the chapter on the death of a child for my book, The Essential Guide to Grief and Grieving, every single parent I interviewed cried when he or she talked about the child no matter how long ago the death had happened. In one of my first interviews, I apologized to the mother for bringing up the painful subject that caused her tears. She said that any time she had a chance to talk about her daughter Megan was a “good day” even if she cried.

One man told me that after his 25-year-old son died in a car accident, the most comfort he received was a visit from an acquaintance. The visitor didn’t try to talk. He just listened. The bereaved father talked about his son for an hour and showed his visitor the family photo albums. That time of sharing meant so much to him.


Diane: In my family, when my son died, my husband dealt with his death differently than I did. My mother cried constantly and I couldn’t be around her because I knew how badly he had hurt her. I couldn’t deal with her pain because mine was so raw. My daughter was three years younger (12 years old; her birthday is March 24, he died on March 13) than my son, who was sixteen when he took his life. I tried to talk to her about the feelings she was going through, and she refused to talk to me about him or her feelings. Now, seventeen years later, she told me she didn’t want to hurt me, and I now know her feelings. It only took seventeen years!

What are the differences between men and women, younger and older, on how they cope with loss?

Debra: First of all, everyone copes with loss differently based on their gender, personality, the type of loss, past history with loss, and other life circumstances. In general, men tend to not talk about their feelings, so sharing their grief can be very difficult for them. Also they might feel they have to be “strong” for their families. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that he’s not deeply feeling the loss because he doesn’t talk about it.


A husband and wife might mourn differently, so they don’t feel on the same page with their grief. He might feel anger, and she might cry every day. Understanding this about your spouse or other family members is what’s important.

Children can feel protective of their parents, especially if mentioning the death makes their parent cry, something they might never have seen until the death happened. They also become “lost” in the grief of the rest of the family.

For that reason, it’s important to discuss the idea of crying not being bad–that even if mommy cries, talking about the loved one is comforting. Also provide nonverbal ways for children to express their feelings such as drawing pictures or writing in journals. A grief support counselor or group can be helpful because it provides a safe place outside the family for the child to process and express his or her feelings.

Diane: Is there a difference in the way a person grieves because of the circumstances of what caused the death? Two years after my son’s death I lost my mother who had been ill for a long time. I experienced her death quite differently than my son’s death, which was unexpected. Though I grieved for Mom, in a way I was happy to see her go because she wasn’t suffering anymore.

Debra: Absolutely. As you mentioned, the relief from suffering is a huge comfort. Your mother was no longer in pain, nor were her loved ones suffering in watching her go through the dying process. Also, I’m sure you had time to prepare yourself for her death, to have necessary and important conversations about the past, and to say good-bye.

With a sudden death, which there is no preparation, no chance to say good-bye. The shock can take a long time to wear off. And in the case of suicide, there are so many other feelings and questions which complicate the grief.

Diane: I can say now, seventeen years later, I’m on a different level in my grief than I was 10 or even 5 years ago. I no longer cry every time I think about him. I can finally think about what his life was about and not linger so much on the “why” or “how” he died.

Debra: As a loving parent, you will think about him and miss him and sometimes cry for the rest of your life.


Diane: Thank you! ((HUGS))

Your book, The Essential Guide to Grief and Grieving, talks about the different levels of grief. Can you explain what those are?

Debra: The term “Stages of Grief” frequently is spoken and written about when actually no such process exists. Grief doesn’t flow in an ordered process from one stage to the next. Instead, it’s very messy and complex. Your emotions and reactions can shift from moment to moment and day to day. It’s like riding a rollercoaster that has plenty of loops and even goes backward. What’s important is to be kind to yourself on the journey and not to have expectations for how you (or others) SHOULD feel.


Diane: For me, the holidays are a triple whammy.  I drag out my homemade Christmas ornaments my son made for me in school, my son’s birthday is December 7, and my mother WAS Christmas. She absolutely loved it. She decorated, cooked, and had more holiday spirit than everyone I’ve ever known. I still try to keep our family together, but it’s been hard. I am not my mom or my dad (we lost him in 2004). We went from a family where we had to do three Christmases in one day to trying get family members together for one.  At times it feels like we are losing each other.

Debra: In addition to your grief over the deaths of your loved ones, you are mourning the loss of the holidays you had—grieving a time and place—as well as people. Your fears about the family and future holidays can also make the present ones more difficult.

I suggest you discuss your concerns with your family and invite them to be honest with you and each other—regardless of how it might make you feel. They can’t share concerns and feelings if they think you’ll cry. Reassure them that your tears are not a reason to hold back on communication.

Perhaps on some level many of them feel there is too much pain associated with Christmas. Maybe other issues need to be addressed. Maybe you can do something else as a family that happens at another time of year, which will affirm your bonds, so you don’t feel like you are losing each other.

Dr. Debra’s Tips for Weathering the Holidays


Share how you’re feeling with trusted loved ones, especially the way your grief has changed or deepened due to the holiday.

Reduce your stress. This isn’t the year to worry about a perfect celebration. Only do what you feel is necessary.

Ask for help. Others will be happy to step forward to lend a hand. Let others know specifically what you need. Don’t say, “Can you bring something for dinner?” Do say, “Can you bring dessert for 10 people?”

My mom bought this for him after he died. I now hang it on my tree in memory of them both.

My mom bought this for him after he died. I now hang it on my tree in memory of them both.

Find a way to memorialize your loved one. Set out a special candle. Hang their stocking with the others and have everyone write a letter to the deceased. You can read them together on Christmas morning. Make an ornament with their picture on it or buy one that represents them in some way. Include the deceased in a family prayer.

Don’t let others direct how you should spend the holidays. Just because someone thinks it would be best for you to go away for the week doesn’t mean it’s right for you.

Be of service to others. Helping others is a way to give new meaning to the holiday and help you feel better. Prepare and serve food at a homeless shelter or organize a gift drive for some needy families and deliver the presents yourself.

Realize that you might feel overwhelmed and exhausted, both from your reactions to the loss and from the stress and hectic pace of the holiday. As much as possible, get to bed early and take naps.

You don’t have to pretend to be happy. If you think your sadness might be a problem for others, have a little talk with them beforehand about how you and they will handle your feelings.

Spend time with people who are supportive and caring. By now, you know who among your friends and family is supportive and who’s not. Gravitate to the understanding ones and avoid the others.

During the holidays, you can’t help but think about and miss your loved one. However, try as much as possible not to dwell on your pain. Imagine your loved one being present in spirit. Instead of his or her absence, focus on the presence of the other family members. Your loss helps remind you of how precious time is with your family. Appreciate and love each one of them.

Diane: If you haven’t read Dr. Holland’s book, The Essential Guide to Grief and Grieving, you really should. It gives concrete advice to help the healing process of grief. It is also very helpful for those who counsel the grieving as well as those who’ve experienced loss.

Buy link: .grief

Thank you so much, Debra, for sharing my blog today. You certainly helped me and I think this topic will help  many people.

Debra: Your welcome!

You can also connect with Debra at:




Facebook Fan Page:

My thoughts are with all of you who have lost someone. Please know you are not alone. Be good to yourself.

Peace be with you and your family,

Diane Kratz

Below are book and web resources taken from Debra’s book as well as a few I have used. These can help you or someone you love cope with grief, not just during the holidays, but every day.


101 Ways You Can Help: How to Offer Comfort and Support to Those Who Are Grieving by Liz Aleskire.

Parentless Parents: How the Loss of Our Mothers and Fathers Impact the Way We Raise Our Children by Allison Gilbert.

The Grief Recovery Handbook: Action Programs for Moving beyond Death by John W. James and Russell Friedman.

When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold S. Kushner.

The Grieving Garden: Living With the Lost of a Child by Suzanne Redfern and Susan K. Gilbert.

The Worst Loss: How Families Heal from the Death of a Child by Barbara D. Rosof.

One Foot in Heaven by Heidi Telpnet.

Healing Grief: Reclaiming Life after Any Loss by James Van Praagh.

Websites: (American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy) A national website for professionals and couples looking for marriage and family advice. (American Association of Retired Persons) Grief and loss articles, support for seniors. (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention) A national group website that provides support, education and advocacy for the prevention of suicide. It also has a page where you can honor your loved one who lost his or her life to suicide. (Cancer resources, including help for planning end of life care. A website for pet loss. A nonprofit, self-help support organization for families who have lost a child. (This group helped me tremendously!) A website for helping people move beyond loss.  (The National Catholic Ministry to the Bereaved) A faith-based bereavement ministry. A website for creating an online memorial. (American Association of Suicidology) Help with all issues suicide, including those grieving the loss of a loved one due to suicide. (National Organization for Victim Assistance) Assistance for victims of crisis and crime. You can also call 1-800-TRY-NOVA.

Blog edited by Sally Berneathy!

Analyzing Cops

Ever wonder where law enforcement officers and their families go for help for mental health issues?

Meet Ellen Kirschman, MSW, PhD., who I am thrilled to have on my blog today! Ellen has worked as a police psychologist for over thirty years.

Ellen Kirschman, MSW, PhD.

Ellen Kirschman, MSW, PhD.

Can you tell us something about your background?

I’ve been a police psychologist for over 30 years. I started out as a clinical social worker and eventually got my PhD. My dissertation was titled “Wounded Heroes.”

It was what we call an intensive case analysis of three officers all of whom began their careers in good mental health and wound up retiring on stress related disability retirements – kind of a cross between Sigmund Freud and Mickey Spillane.

Dareen Mcgavin as Mickey Spillane

Dareen Mcgavin as Mickey Spillane

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud

People ask me all the time if I’m married to a cop or a fire fighter. I’m not. I like to keep clear boundaries between my work and my personal life.

My husband is a retired contractor and a talented photographer. He took that great author photo of me. We love to travel, cook and hang out with friends. In addition to writing and holding workshops, I train peer supporters and volunteer at a wonderful organization, the First Responder’s Support Network.

We hold retreats for psychologically injured officers and their families. If your readers are interested, they can go to to learn more. My husband also volunteers at FRSN, cooking for the Spouses and Significant Others (SOS) retreats.

Are there any differences you’ve found in counseling police officers vs. Joe Citizen?

You have to earn a cop’s trust. That’s hard work. Cops are protectors and may try hide some of their most pressing issues because they don’t want to injure their therapists. They are skeptical about the value of psychotherapy and the worry more than the average client about confidentiality. In particular, they are concerned their departments will find out they are in treatment and this will jeopardize their jobs as well as their standing with co-workers.

Tell me about your new book, Counseling Cops, What Clinicians Need to Know.

Counseling Cops, What Clinicians Need to Know

I co-wrote this book with two colleagues, Mark Kamena and Joel Fay, both of whom are psychologists and retired police officers. Our collaboration made the book so much richer than it would have been had I written it alone. As lead author, I was responsible for blending our voices into one readable narrative using  plain English, not psycho-babble, to describe various dimensions of the police culture, de-mythologize cops as super-human or super-aggressive, and challenge clinicians to examine their own biases. We talk about the prevalent mental health issues cops and their families experience and offer evidence based strategies we know will work for these problems and this culture.


Our aim is to help clinicians become culturally competent to treat this unique population. Police officers are very reluctant to seek counseling, fearing it means they are weak or crazy. When their suffering is so great that they finally reach out for help, they deserve to be treated by clinicians who understand them and the culture in which they work.

For example, one of our clients needed treatment after two terrible shooting events. The first question his new therapist asked him was, “Are you ready to stop being a trained killer?”


This was a very inappropriate statement and upsetting to the officer who felt himself to be the victim of these two events. Needless to say, he didn’t return to that therapist and would have given up on therapy completely had a peer supporter friend not helped him connect to a therapist who understood cops.

As a therapist, I can see the value in reading this book. The book is grounded in clinical research, extensive experience, and you have a deep familiarity with police culture, this book offers highly practical guidance for psychotherapists and counselors.

You vividly depict the pressures and challenges of police work and explain the impact that line-of-duty issues can have on officers and their loved ones.

You offer numerous concrete examples and tips showing how to build rapport with cops, use a range of effective intervention strategies, and avoid common missteps and misconceptions. And you have practical approaches to working with frequently encountered clinical problems such as substance abuse, depression, trauma, and marital conflict, which the book discusses in detail.

When making an assessment, clinicians are trained to consider the whole of their client’s assessments. This would include the police culture. Can you explain what a  police culture is?


Hard to do in just a paragraph or two. Let me approach the question by listing the attributes of people who want to be cops. They are action oriented, rule abiding folks who value emotional control and structure. Like social workers, they want to make a difference in their communities. They have great senses of humor, a bit coarse for some, but it’s what gets them past the ugly stuff, and they see plenty of ugly stuff.

They are comfortable working in a para-military setting, taking and giving orders. They are decisive, sometimes a bit too black and white.  They love variety, take great pride in their work, and are fiercely dedicated to each other. They are protection oriented and may have assumed the role of protector or rescuer in their families as they were growing up. They are extroverted, perfectionistic and have high standards for themselves and others.

They are great in a crisis and rate high on mental toughness, at least when they are first hired. although for some, this can change over time. They are willing to use physical means to achieve a desired end and they are courageous enough to do what the rest of us couldn’t or wouldn’t.


Policing is also a story culture. Stories are how cops transmit norms, values, tactical wisdom, and model behavior. I have hundreds of stories circulating in my head. They are wonderful teaching devices and fodder for my new career as a mystery writer.

Can you explain what an FFD is, when they are used and why they are needed?

The acronym stands for Fitness For Duty.

Police employers have a legal duty to ensure that cops under their command are mentally and emotionally fit to perform their duties. Failure to do so can result in serious breaches of public confidence, danger to the officer in question and his or her co-workers, citizens in the community and the department’s reputation.

Circumstances that trigger a request for a FFD vary greatly. Some relate to on-duty actions (excessive force, emotional outbursts, repeated problems with judgment, reckless behavior and so on).


Others may pertain to egregious off-duty conduct such as intoxication, driving under the influence, drug abuse, domestic abuse, stealing, and other behaviors that raise questions about the officer’s fitness to serve. Suicide attempts, psychiatric hospitalization or a disability claim for mental health injuries will also trigger an FFD.

An FFD is a complex and lengthy procedure often entailing numerous legal complications. It is painful for the officer and should never be used as punishment or in lieu of discipline. The requesting agency should be able to articulate the problematic behaviors in question. The FFD examiner can be a psychiatrist or a psychologist.

Unlike therapy, the client is the requesting agency, not the officer.  Under these circumstances, the officer has no confidentiality.

What types of mental conditions do you see often of with police officers? 


Post traumatic stress injuries. We call them injuries because disorder sounds so permanent and we know that, with the proper care, cops can and do recover from trauma. Cops experience a whole range of common psychological problems, just like the rest of us:  substance abuse and addiction, relationship problems, panic attacks, sleep disturbance, depression, and anxiety.

What are the suicide, domestic violence, and PTSD statistics within this group of clients?  

Some of these statistics are hard to find. For example, statistics around suicide are controversial and there is disagreement among professionals.


The most important statistic, in my opinion, is that cops are two to three times more likely to kill themselves than to be killed in the line of duty.


That’s alarming. The prevalence of PTSD is also debatable, but certainly less than we see in returning combat veterans.

On the other hand, combat is time limited, cops work for 30 years, so they have plenty of exposure to trauma. Soldiers don’t get sued for going to war, but cops get sued a lot.

Trying to find out about domestic abuse is also difficult. What I do know is that psychologists are doing a better job of screening out applicants with the potential to commit abuse.

What would you like to see changed or improved? 

Good question. I would like to see every agency, big and small, have a confidential peer support program, family orientations at first hire and again every five years, a chaplaincy program,

supervisors who are knowledgeable about spotting mental health issues and compassionate when talking to their officers, and easy access for officers and their families to culturally competent, confidential, low cost counseling.

As a writer, I can also see where this book would help me in understanding my fictional LEO character’s flaws, inner thoughts and would help me construct the conflict.  Can you tell us how your book can help writers create more believable LEO characters?

I can’t tell you how many writers tell me they have dog-eared copies of my first book, I Love a Cop: What Police Families Need to Know, on their desks.


Written for families, this book describes what police families experience and what they can and can’t do to help themselves. It’s true to the popular bumper sticker that says, “If you think it’s tough being a cop, try being married to one.” Their are literally hundreds of stories in I Love A Cop, all of which provide grist for the writers mill.

Counseling Cops, What Clinicians Need to KnowCounseling Cops: What Clinicians Need to Know will give writers a deeper understanding of the emotional and psychological challenges facing officers and their families. The book is also filled with with stories as well as  a suggested dialogue. Readers can  learn what good and bad therapists say during a counseling session. I’ve tried hard in  both these books to  describe officers as three dimensional human beings who are both the same and different from the rest of us, not like the one dimensional characters you see on TV.

scOw9In Burying Ben readers will see police psychologist Dot Meyerhoff struggling to find her footing in the Kenilworth police department as a civilian, a woman, and a politically liberal character whose allegiance to the cops is shaken by memories of her father, a student activist, who was beaten and injured for life by police. Her world and her sense of self is shattered when Ben, a rookie cop she is counseling, unexpectedly commits suicide and leaves a note blaming her. Readers tell me they rarely read a book told from the clinician’s perspective.

Thank you so much Ellen for joining me here today! I’ve had so much fun and learned so much from you. I’ve read Burying Ben and I’ve almost finished Counseling Cops: What Clinicians Need to Know.  Although I’ve never counseled a cop, I will keep this book on my professional bookcase alongside my DSM-5 and treatment planners, as a resource.

Any Questions? Ellen will be checking in all day, so ask away!

Until Next time,

Happy Writing,

Diane Kratz

You can order Ellen’s books from Guilford Press, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and more of your favorite vendors, in print or as an e-book.

You can connect with Ellen at:

Counseling Cops, What Clinicians Need to KnowscOw9ilac_cover_smilaff_cover_sm


Facebook Fan Page:

Goodreads: .

Blog Edited by: Sally Berneathy

Former FBI agent answers the question, “Are Serial Killers Crazy?”


Pete M. Klismet, Jr.

Pete M. Klismet, Jr.

Pete Klismet, Jr., a former FBI profiler, says, no, they are not.  “In talking about serial killers, I’ve heard comments from my college students and police officers in the schools where I continue to teach. “What do you mean they’re not crazy?”  Usually followed closely by, “Don’t they have to be crazy to kill all those people?”  And then, “But if they’re not crazy, why do they do it?”

If there is anything we can agree on, it would be that the acts of a serial murderer are, to say the least, a great departure from what we think of as normal.  To put it mildly.  Clearly, most normal people don’t wake up one morning, have some coffee, read the paper, check e-mails, and then decide, “Hmmm…..what am I going to do today?  Awww, what the heck, I think I’m going to start killing people.”  And off they go to their new adventures.

Picture from :

We are all driven to seek answers and explanations for odd behavior.  We want to understand why a seemingly mild-mannered, quiet man like Gary Ridgway (“The Green River Killer”) could kill at least forty-eight women in Seattle.  What creates a monster like law student Ted Bundy who roamed from Washington State to Utah, Idaho, Colorado and finally Florida, brutally killing and maiming women along the way, eventually killing thirty-three women that we know of.  And how do you explain Jeffrey Dahmer?  What could have caused him to strangle seventeen young men and boys in Milwaukee, eat body parts so they’d be “a part of me,” keep their corpses in his apartment for days, and then dissolve their bodies in acid inside his apartment?  And they all performed sex acts on some of their victims after killing them.  If for no other reason, that would seem to be a huge clue that they simply have to be crazy…but are they?

There are a lot of questions posed at this juncture, so let’s pause briefly and take a look at some facts, beginning with the commonly-accepted (except in Canada and England) definition of the term “Serial Killer.”

FBI Pins

A serial killer was defined by the Behavioral Science Unit (now the Investigative Support Unit) in Quantico, Virginia, and combines three basic factors:

          1.    A person who kills three or more victims (most often one victim at a time).

          2.    The killings occurred over a period of time, usually days, weeks, months or years.

          3.    There is a cooling off period between the killings.

The latter point (cooling off) is what separates a serial killer from a mass killer (Columbine, for example, where all killings occurred in a single event), and a spree killer (where there might be a continuing and sometimes connecting series of killings in different locations over a day or several days, but no cooling off period).  With these killings, there is often a long period of seething anger which eventually boils to a point the killer decides to take some form of violent action.

Many people, particularly the media, want to say they simply “snapped.’”’  It makes it so much easier to understand then.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  The anger has typically welled up in them for months or even years, much like a pressure cooker on low heat.  Eventually the pressure builds up to the point where they are seemingly unable to control themselves, to refrain from doing what they do.  It’s nothing like suddenly and impulsively deciding to go to their workplace or school and kill people who they believe have treated them unfairly.


Next we can pose the question, “Are mass killers crazy?”  And the answer to that is also no.  A more likely explanation is that they finally reached the boiling-over point with anger and frustration and could see no other way out of their dire situation.  What they eventually did was something akin to an irresistible impulse they couldn’t control.  But they certainly aren’t crazy.

If that’s the case, then we should review what the term insanity means.  In medical and psychiatric terms, the word insanity is avoided in favor of specific diagnoses of particular mental disorders.  The presence of delusions or hallucinations is more broadly defined as psychosis.  Most courts in the United States accept a potential insanity defense when experts can identify
a major mental illness (psychosis), but will not accept the numerous and less-than-psychotic personality disorders.


Personality Disorders are a separate classification of mental health disorders which include such issues as Borderline Personality Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Dependent Personality Disorder, and Histrionic Personality Disorder (this is only a part of a much more exhaustive list).

Commonly-diagnosed mental health disorders such as Bipolar Disorder, Generalized (not chronic) Anxiety Disorder, PTSD, Schizophrenia, and Depression are among the classification of mental health disorders termed “Axis I” disorders.  None of them meet the criteria for psychosis.

While the diagnostic criteria and the multiplicity of possible disorders and psychoses can become a bit confusing to non-trained professionals, the key issue from a legal standpoint becomes relatively simple – did the person charged with the crime have the ability to distinguish between right and wrong, and did he know the behavior he engaged in was against the law?


This is the difference between someone being legally sane vs. insane.  However, evidence and testimony from mental health professionals as to those issues must be clearly presented to the court or jury who must then make that decision.  And therein lies the crux of the matter when we’re considering serial murderers.  Conjecture, speculation and comments such as “Well, he just acted crazy all the time,” or “He was odd,” won’t work.  The word “crazy” doesn’t exist in the legal or psychiatric arenas, but the word “sanity” does.

A few specific cases can serve as a reference point. Several years ago a woman in San Antonio, Texas, killed and ate the body parts of her baby, including the brain. Most of us would call that crazy.

Story can be found here:

After lengthy psychological evaluation, this woman was diagnosed with a psychotic disorder. The woman believed the devil made her mutilate and dismember her newborn son.  She was subsequently found not guilty of the crime by reason of insanity and was committed to a mental institution until deemed to no longer be a danger to herself or others.

In a similar case in 2001 Andrea Yates of Houston, Texas, was shown to have been suffering from postpartum psychosis and, in this psychotic state, drowned each of her five children.  She later explained that Satan was inside her, and she was trying to save her children from going to hell. A jury found her not guilty by reason of insanity, and she was committed to a mental institution.


In 1982 John Hinkley, Jr., was found to be not guilty by reason of insanity after attempting to assassinate President Ronald Reagan. Hinkley had a long history of psychiatric care when he was younger, and his statements made it clear he did not have his psychological act completely together. Hinkley has been confined to a mental institution in the Washington, D.C., area for nearly 30 years.  While he’s gained some privileges, it is doubtful he’ll ever be completely free and on his own.  Hinkley will probably never become a person who can function in society on his own.


So, you might ask, how are the two women noted above different from Jeffrey Dahmer?  It certainly seems they did similar things.  Dahmer killed seventeen people, strangling most, drilled holes in their heads to inject acid in the process of making sex zombies (by his own admission).  He dismembered and disemboweled his victims, ate body parts, saved others, collected skulls and dissolved their bodies in a huge vat of acid.  And he’s the one who is NOT psychotic!  Not crazy?  How on earth can that be true?


Here’s the difference, why Dahmer was found to be sane despite the manifestly “crazy” things he did.  Dahmer showed planning and premeditation in every one of his killings, and the prosecutors skillfully pointed this out.  A psychotic person does not have the cognitive (or mental) organization to create the detailed plots and plans that Dahmer created.


He hunted for his victims in gay bars only and sought victims who were light-skinned black males, young and slender. Very specific criteria and not random victims. Thus he wasn’t a killer who would simply murder anyone who got in his way, although some serial killers do.  Ted Bundy was similar to Dahmer in his selectivity, as most of his female victims had long dark hair, parted in the middle, and, we later learned, looked a lot like a girlfriend who had dumped him several years before.  Bundy also brought with him items he’d need to gain control of the victims and would commonly use an arm sling or crutches to make his victims feel immediately safe.  All of these things require some thinking and planning which a psychotic person could not typically accomplish in his delusional state.


Dahmer constantly fantasized about and was obsessed with killing over and over. His obsession developed into a compulsion and then a need, and he eventually became addicted to killing.  Yet he could compartmentalize that secret part of his life and create the image that he was perfectly normal.  He fit well into society. He was attractive, dressed well (some suggested “dressed to kill”) and used this to his advantage in luring potential victims.  He hunted only on Friday nights because if he was successful, he would have the victim for a couple of days and then would have time to do what he wanted to do with the body.  He never used a car because he knew he could be identified by the type of car he drove.  He installed extra locks and a security camera on his apartment to thwart anyone from entering.  But he also presented a normal side when talking to his parents, the police on a couple of occasions, and people he worked with.  He was able to hide in plain sight, appear perfectly normal, and no one would have imagined it was him committing the horrible crimes he did.  An insane person couldn’t begin to accomplish all of those things.

On the other side of the coin are several serial killers who were probably insane yet were adjudged to be sane in court.  Richard Trenton Chase, for example, killed several people in Sacramento, California, eviscerated at least one victim, and sat beside the victim, drinking her blood from a cup.  Chase had a long psychiatric history and told investigators he was drinking blood because space ships from other planets were sending radiation down to earth which was turning his blood into powder.

Like Dahmer, he had body parts in his refrigerator and had used a blender to chop up other human organs, mixing them with blood.  While all of that doesn’t sound like the acts of a sane person, one never knows what will happen when a case goes to court.  Chase was adjudged to be sane despite considerable evidence to the contrary.  I’ve researched this case and still am clueless how he was found sane.


The idyllic beach town of Santa Cruz, California, in the early 1970s seemed to be one of the most unlikely places to become the murder capital of the U.S.A.  Edmund Kemper was a prime contributor to the high murder rate, picking up hitchhikers in the area, killing them and dismembering their bodies.  But Kemper’s issue was not insanity. It was anger, due in large part to his dominant and verbally abusive mother.  Since he couldn’t violently strike back at his mother, he could against other women, which is exactly what he did.  But investigators and prosecutors were able to show the planning and premeditation Kemper went through to both gain control of his victims and dispose of their bodies.

While Kemper was terrorizing Santa Cruz and keeping investigators busy, another killer, Herbert Mullin, was on an even worse killing spree.

Herbert Mullin

Mullin had a lengthy psychiatric history as far back as his early teen years.  His father sought counseling and had him committed, but after each period of evaluation he was then released on the belief that he was no longer a danger to himself or others.  Let’s say that diagnosis wasn’t entirely accurate.  As Mullin’s psychosis deepened, he developed an obsession with earthquakes, and of course California is prone to have them occasionally.


Mullin then added a delusion to the obsession, namely that he could prevent earthquakes from occurring if he killed people.  He randomly selected victims who, in his delusional state, he believed were telepathically telling him to kill them and the problem of earthquakes would stop.  His victims were simply unfortunate people who appeared on his radar screen on any given day, male and female and even some children. There was no pattern or logic to what he did or the victims he chose.

This is the antithesis of Dahmer’s and Bundy’s process of victim selection by certain well-established and defined criteria.  Mullin was found not guilty by reason of insanity and was committed to the state mental hospital after his trial.  Kemper, on the other hand, offered an insanity defense but was adjudged sane and received a life sentence which he is currently serving.

Son of Sam David

Virtually all serial killers are found to have been sane at the time they committed their crimes.  David Berkowitz, the infamous “Son of Sam” killer who paralyzed New York City for over a year, tried an insanity defense, as many have.

Despite claiming a satanic demon inhabited the body of a dog next door and that the dog spoke to him with instructions on what to do and how to kill people, Berkowitz was found to be sane.


Kenneth Bianchi, one of the “Hillside Stranglers” in Los Angeles, claimed to be a multiple personality and that the “Bad Ken” was the one who did the killings.  Confronted by a psychiatrist who told Bianchi that people with Multiple Personality Disorder usually had at least three distinct personalities, Bianchi promptly came up with a third one.  That didn’t work, and Bianchi is currently on a full-ride scholarship in a Washington state prison, having also been convicted of killing two women in Bellingham, Washington, after his nefarious murders in Los Angeles.

In conclusion, very few serial killers even come close to meeting the exceedingly strict criteria for insanity. The challenge to investigators is in discovering those things in their lives they did which displayed their true sanity.  They are not crazy as we’d like to think.  A very small percentage of those we’ve identified over the years qualified as being legally insane.  Every year we identify more of them, and the certainty they face is the death penalty or a life in prison.”

Wow! Thank you, Pete, for stopping by my blog this month. Pete has agreed to talk about what a FBI agent really does next month, and he’s going to give us the breakdown of the acronyms they use.

And don’t forget to pick up a copy of Pete’s new award winning book, FBI Diary: Profiles Of Evil.


Remember, when writing a villain who is a serial killer, keep in mind what Pete has taught us. Most are nice looking, very personable and blend in to be the guy next door, someone you would never think could be killing people. These villains, to me, are far more scary because you don’t see them coming. Until next time.

Happy writing,

Diane Kratz

You can connect with Pete at:


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Book trailer for: FBI Diary: Profiles of Evil:

Blog edited by Sally Berneathy