Notes from Thrillerfest 2014: The FBI Seminar for Writers

I just returned from the pre-conference, full-day seminar for writers at the FBI. There was a long waiting list for this popular workshop, so I was thrilled to attend! We met top FBI officials for the New York Field Office, including George Venizelos, Assistant Director-in-Charge. The session was jam-packed with presentations by the Special Agents in Charge of the New York Field Divisions, including Criminal, Special Operations/Cyber, Intelligence, and Counterterrorism.

Working with the FBI as a writer

We received a useful handout called WORKING WITH THE FBI: A Brief Guide for Writers. It describes how to request assistance from the FBI for a literary project. The Investigative Publicity and Public Affairs Unit (IPPAU) of the FBI reviews written requests for assistance on a case-by-case basis.

In case you missed it

If you’d like to learn more about the FBI, various Field Offices offer a 10-week Citizens Academy. Follow the link for more information.

Your favorite FBI story?
What’s your favorite portrayal of the FBI in books or film? I like following the fictional characters of the Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU)  in CRIMINAL MINDS.

21 thoughts on “Notes from Thrillerfest 2014: The FBI Seminar for Writers

  1. Love me some Criminal Minds. I have FBI in my book, but it is more a rogue off-the-res operation. One thing I found as well is that on Google Earth, you can find just about any field office and go curbside with photos. I found myself “standing” in the parking lot of the San Antonio office, scoping out the guard shacks, gates, etc. It really helped with the writing. *waves to NSA*


  2. Congrats on getting into the seminar, and thank you so much for the two links πŸ™‚

    As one of the sites says, “our Office of Public Affairs is a small staff that spends a portion of its time working with domestic and international screenwriters, producers, authors, and other industry personnel…” –

    What great info (wish there was an office here in Austin)!

  3. I don’t mean to insult those who hold the FBI in high esteem, but I have always wondered why FBI special agents are held up so often as examplars of righteousness and virtue and sex appeal in mystery, suspense and thriller novels — especially when their reality is often more bureaucratic and ineffectual.

    There must be hundreds of novels that have the same basic trope: “Serial Killer X is on the loose, and FBI Special Agent Derek Handsome, the agency’s top profiler, comes to town and teams with beautiful but vulnerable Caitlin Ingenue, a local newspaper reporter/cop/surviving victim, before another victim is claimed.” In these books, the FBI special agent is always thrust-jawed and trembling with sophisticated virility, an alpha male who brusquely shuts down the local yokels while melting the hearts and thighs of every female in the ZIP code.

    I understand that these novels exist because there is a market, and, contrary to the advice give by many writing gurus, it is smart to write to the market. But where did the trope come from in the first place? How did FBI special agents earned this exalted status in crime fiction?

    Somebody write a mystery in which that mystery is solved. I’ll buy the first copy.

    • Ha! That is hilarious on so many levels. And I have seen more than one agent who said, “NO FBI!”

      Sometimes it is the jurisdiction of the crime that requires the fibs. Locals get stuck at the city limit, sheriffs at the county line, and troopers (which hardly ever get used except as red shirts) have to cash it in at the state border, while a fed can go anywhere. And most of the good crimes are federal and they have better toys, so there is good stuff to work with.

      After that it is TV and the development of the trope all the way back to Efram Zimbalist Jr. and the G-man.

    • Lol, I have no idea, Jim! I have to admit that a couple of the agents had pretty nice jawlines, can’t comment as to the trembling virility, though! πŸ˜‰

    • Jim–you’ve expressed my own opinion too well for me to add anything. But of course I always do. The Best FBI novel I know of is The Silence of the Lambs. No square-jawed “special agent” there. I don’t even have to give details, because anyone reading TKZ will know them already. The key is Thomas Harris. I understand he has a good friend in the behavioral-science section of the Bureau, a huge advantage. But the writer must know what to do with the insider info, and Harris does know. Just as Elmore Leonard knew what to do with all the material provided to him by his full-time research assistant.

    • Yes, I have an FBI agent, but he is on an off-label mission. Of course he is hot, this is a novel after all, but his woman-picker-switch is broken and he gets hit with a paternity suit every time he turns around and generally defies authority every chance he gets, even when it damages him. So, there is that.

    • Pardon my typos, BTW. I should know better than to type long missives on a smartphone. Especially when driving.

      Kidding about that last part.

  4. Sounds like a lot of fun Kathryn. I had intended to be down there this year for ThrillerFest, planned and even put a few bucks aside, but alas stuff happens and it didn’t happen.

    Oh well, there’s next year.

    • I’m checking in now at 5 p.m., having wrapped up at MasterCraft. What an awesome addition to the ThrillerFest lineup! My class was hosted by the fabulous Doug Lyle. So much insight received in such a short period of time!

    • I met Doug last year. He is awesome. He is a member of the Killer Nashville FB group and posts there all the time. Come to think of it, you would enjoy KN a lot (hint hint)

  5. Thanks for these great links, Kathryn. I’ve looked into my local FBI citizen’s academy. I believe there is a referral process that is a bit of a hindrance, but maybe thatse changed.

    At the RWA conference years ago in DC, the Kiss of Death mystery chapter hosted toura of the FBI, CIA, State Dept, and national Postal Service. An amazing event. Came away with tons of notes. We even fired all sorts of weapons at the FBI gun range and heard a lecture from the agent who was the sole interrogator of Saddam Hussein. Great day.

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