Thanks to Marilyn for hosting me today. The title of this post comes from something my mother-in-law once said. She didn’t really think my books were awful, she was just surprised that my strong woman character, Thea Kozak, lived a tough gal, unconventional life and didn’t back down from challenges. (Chosen for Death +6)
Not backing down from challenges is something we writers all face. Writing characters who are not like us. Learning about whole new worlds to make them feel authentic for our readers. Trying out different styles and voices. In my case, my curiosity about the world of crime and crime writing has led me on a rather strange journey, starting from the corner of the genre I’d call “strong female amateur PI” to writing, editing, and publishing crime short stories, then to police procedurals, true crime, and, most recently, to memoir. I rarely know quite what I’m doing, but I also find myself not backing down.
This journey gives my agent a headache. Her advice, in this world of branding, is quite straight forward: pick one genre and stick to it. It’s good advice but it doesn’t square with how my writing life has evolved, and I wouldn’t want to have missed the adventures this journey brings. Citizens’ Police Academy. R.A.D. self-defense classes. Asking the cop I’m riding with to tell me what he’s seeing and getting the story of the streets. Those amazing moments during ride-alongs late at night when the talk gets serious.
If I hadn’t been curious and gone where story takes me, I would never have gotten in touch with a police lieutenant in Portland, Maine, gotten to know Joe Loughlin, or ended up helping him write the story of a true crime. I wouldn’t have taken a walk into dark November woods to visit Amy St.Laurent’s burial site or sat with an intimidating Maine state police detective and listened to him describe the sights and smells and feelings of the December night they dug up her body in a lonely woodland clearing. (Finding Amy)
I would never have gone to the shooting range when the Miramichi, New Brunswick police officers were requalifying. Never have driven a four-wheeler deep into the Canadian woods to recreate a killer’s journey and see where a body was hidden. I wouldn’t have gone on a stake-out and found the bad guy. (Death Dealer)
I wouldn’t have gone on a Maine warden service K9 training and come home with photos, stories, and about 35 ticks hidden in the folds of my clothes. (A Good Man with a Dog)
If I hadn’t had a chance to experience the world of true crime, I wouldn’t have the resources to ask for help when I wanted to send my fictional detective, Joe Burgess, into a convenience store where someone was holding a gun on the clerk. (And Grant You Peace) But my work in the world of nonfiction gives me resources so I can reach out and ask about training. I can ask how an officer would handle a civilian traumatized by having been held at gunpoint. And I know far more than I ever dreamed about the after-effects of a situation involving cops and guns.
So no. The books aren’t awful. But I do try hard to illuminate the world of real crime, and real crime isn’t pretty and it’s never over in an hour. And when it comes to fiction? Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by how little I know, but I’m always ready to face the next challenge. If I listen to my agent, I won’t meet wonderful people, hear powerful stories, have adventures, and help people tell their stories. Instead, I’ll go where story takes me.