How important is research to you when writing a book? Writing in the true crime genre requires much research. It is likely that more than 50 percent of the work involved in writing a true crime book is research, i.e., a study of police files, court documents, news articles, interviews with the principles, and so forth. If you do not enjoy ferreting out the facts in the form of research, then the true crime genre is probably not for you.
What works best for you: Typewriters, fountain pen, dictate, computer or longhand? A computer works best for me, primarily because of the corrections required of writing in such an exacting genre as true crime. Before computers I typed everything, edited the work, and then retyped it all, making a final carbon copy of the finished work. It’s a lot more work to not use a computer.
When did it dawn upon you that you wanted to be a writer? I first thought about being a writer when I was about age 12. By that time I had already read many of the James Bond thrillers by Ian Fleming, as well as a number of other “adult” authors such as Agatha Christie, and soon was interested in writers such as Ray Bradbury, Edgar Allan Poe, Philip Roth, and many others. It was mainly the mysteries and thrillers, however, that interested me in writing.
Do you have a set schedule for writing, or are you one of those who write only when they feel inspired? No, in writing true crime I tend to write only when a particular case interests me. I only work on a set schedule when I have a project to research and write about, and tend to take breaks between books. A good case with excellent human interest, great police work, and empathy for victims is what inspires me to take on a new project.
How hard was it to sit down and actually start writing something? It wasn’t too difficult once I had settled on a case to research and write. As it was, it turned out to be a double homicide case in Southern Oregon involving two young girls who were raped, tortured, and murdered by a sadistic sociopath. When the research was complete, the writing came about with much less difficulty.
Do you aim to complete a set number of pages or words each day?When actually beginning the writing process after the research is complete, I try to write around 1,500-2,000 words per day, which is somewhere between 6 and 8 typed, double-spaced pages. Some days I write more, other days less. I place an emphasis on quality and not quantity, and tend to leave the “filler” to other true crime writers who like to embellish the facts.
Writers are often associated with loner tendencies; is there any truth to that? Yes, to some extent, and also no. When I’m working on a project, I typically stay to myself as much as possible and try not to talk about the work I’m doing. Talking about it seems to detract from my own excitement, and I sometimes fear it will reflect in the finished work. Having said that, I also realize the importance of public appearances and schmoozing with my readers, which I love to do. I enjoy socializing almost as much as the next person, just not when I’m working on a project.
Do you think writers have a normal life like others? I try to maintain a normal life like other people, but it is often difficult, especially so when I’m working on a project. I try to avoid getting sidetracked, and sometimes a normal life does that to me. But when I’m not working on something, I try to maintain a normal life. At least as normal as possible!
Over the years, what would you say has improved significantly in your writing? They say that practice makes perfect. I think that there is some truth to that belief. When I first began writing within the true crime genre, it was for the detective crime magazines being published in the U.S., Canada, and England at that time, and the editorial tendencies were to require writers to “sensationalize” the stories as much as possible. While I am certainly guilty of giving the editors what they wanted, having written over 500 articles before delving into books, I also tried to avoid the sensationalism whenever possible and I like to think I’ve helped evolve the genre into one that’s less titillating and more of “just the fact, ma’am.” Having said that, I’ve watched my writing improve as a result with fewer grammatical errors and become more of a nonfiction “thriller” of sorts.
Do you proofread and edit your work on your own or pay someone to do it for you? I tend to do my own proofreading and editing. When I was being published by some of the so-called “Big 6” publishers like St. Martin’s Press and Penguin USA, prior to going independent after 30 years in the business, I had all that work done for me, or at least much of it, by the editors and copyeditors. Having gone through the experience so many times, I picked up on what they were looking for and gained enough confidence to now do all the work on my own. I’m certain that I make mistakes, but then, so did the editors and copyeditors. Absolute perfection in the process is probably not an option–for anyone.
How would you feel if no one showed up at your book signing? Despite the fact that my books have sold hundreds of thousands of copies in various formats from paperbacks to eBooks to audiobooks, this has actually happened to me, at busy malls no less, and it’s disheartening and disappointing, to say the least. I’ve had other book signings in which hundreds of people showed up. So one never knows, really. However, because I’ve held a few in which no one, or very few people, showed up, I decided not to do future book signings because the disappointment can be too great and takes too long to get over, and the benefit does not seem to be all that great. If one can sell the books anyway, why do the book signings?
Do you recall the first ever book/novel you read? Absolutely! I was in the fourth grade. The book was Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. Tom Sawyer got me started, and there was no stopping me until I was a freshman in high school when my English teacher got upset and sent me home, and called my parents, because I was reading Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth! That really didn’t stop me, though, and my parents supported whatever I chose to read despite my teacher’s complaints.
Which book inspired you to begin writing? I don’t believe that there was any one book that inspired me to begin writing. However, I held a strong fascination with Edgar Allan Poe from a young age and I do believe it was my love of Poe’s writing that caused me to want to write. The Walking Stick, by English novelist Winston Graham (also author of Marnie and many other novels) was a major influence on me as I was only 14 when I read it and some of his other books, as was Murder for Art’s Sake by Richard Lockridge. Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie was also an inspiration. I’m sure there are other books and authors that inspired me to begin writing, such as Ian Fleming’s novels.
Who are your books mostly dedicated to? Mostly to my wife and children, but also to the victims of violent crime and their surviving families.
When you were young, did you ever see writing as a career or full-time profession? Yes, I saw it as a full-time profession for me, but I had serious doubts about ever attaining a full-time career writing. I always saw the potential, but I allowed things like self-doubt, laziness, and fear of the unknown to keep from trying it. Instead I usually stayed in a full-time J-O-B until I was let go from a job I had held for more than a decade because the company was having financial difficulties. When that happened, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back, so-to-speak, and caused me to rely on writing for a living. I think I was 55 by that time!
People believe that being a published author is glamorous, is that true? Only if you have a HUGE ego, like many of the other true crime writers I know. If one has a huge ego and you believe that you are better than everyone else because of education or publication status, or both, then one may be inclined to find it glamorous. I do not find it particularly glamorous, despite the television shows I have appeared on. I like staying in the background as much as possible, but realize the importance of getting the word out about my books. But to describe a career in writing as glamorous? NEVER!
Have any of your books been adapted into a feature film? No, not yet, though several have been optioned as films. I do believe many of my books would make great films, but apparently filmmakers do not share my opinion! I have one book currently optioned, The Texas 7, that I am hopeful will be made into a film one day soon. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
What is your view on co-authoring books; have you done any? Don’t do it! I have co-authored a couple of books, and their sales fell absolutely flat and received the worst reviews. I know they say never to say never, but for me, “never again!” Or should I say, “Nevermore!”
Did the thought to give up writing ever occur to you? Yes, a few times. It’s disheartening to always be waiting on a paycheck. I once had an editor tell me to keep my day job until editors were “clamoring” for my work. I don’t think editors ever “clamored” for my work, but I found it even more disheartening to work at a J-O-B that I hated than waiting for a paycheck. When I was let go from my $60k+ job when the company went under, I decided enough was enough and decided that I would write full-time. That was only about 9 years ago. I should have made up my mind to go solo 30 years ago! In the end, however, even though I’d thought about giving up writing a few times, I never did. In fact, it is the only vocation in life that I’ve managed to maintain.
Are you friends with other writers? No, not really. I know a lot of published authors, and have known some who were bestselling authors with whom I was friends but are now sadly deceased. However, I’ve not befriended many, and do not care to now. The ones I actually liked and was friends with, like Jack Olsen and Vincent Bugliosi, are now gone, and many of today’s writers are just arrogant and boring and I don’t care to make friends with them.
Have you ever considered writing an autobiography? Yes, I’ve considered it. I think because I am a true crime author, and how I became one, might be an interesting story, especially for many new writers who want to learn about another writer’s life.
What does the word ‘retirement’ mean to you? Do writers ever retire? I consider myself semi-retired now, but the reality of it is I seriously doubt I’ll ever completely retire as long as I have my brain health and my overall health. I don’t know what else I would do with my spare time. I typically tell people that I will most likely drop dead at my desk someday!