With my 11th novel now released (I have no idea how it got to this point either), I thought it might be interesting for people who don’t know me well to hear why I started writing crime fiction in the first place. Btw, this blogpost originally ran in my Backstories column for Women’s Voices Magazine.
One of the questions authors get all the time is why they started writing. For years I could tell you how and when I began: it was February, 1996, just after my father passed away. We went to DC (that’s where I grew up) for the funeral, and after we came back, I went down into my basement.
I emerged four months later with arguably the worst mystery that’s ever been written. No really…. it was baaaad—so bad that when I tried to rewrite it years later, I gave up. It will never see the light of day. But I had caught the writing virus. Three novels later my writing improved to the point where I was published for the first time.
Back then if you asked me then why I started, I would tell you that I was—and am—a voracious reader, and that my mother was—and is—a voracious mystery reader. But I knew those reasons weren’t the complete answer. In fact, back then, I wasn’t sure why I started. Maybe I was working out my grief over my father’s death. No, I realized. That wasn’t it. He had been ill for a long time, and in a way, we mourned before he died. Then I thought it was because he was a down-to-earth practical businessman, and anything without a guaranteed return in dollars and sense was anathema to him. So perhaps his death was in some way liberating. Closer, but not quite right.
Then, about six or seven years ago, I was watching the news. A story came on, and I experienced one of those smack-yourself-on-the-forehead, how-could-I-have-been-so-stupid moments. You probably remember the story—it was about O.J. Simpson and how he’d been arrested in Vegas for trying to steal his own memorabilia.
Back in 1995 I was free-lancing, and I had a flexible schedule. So I was able to watch a lot of the trial. I remember being glued to Court TV, and what I remember most was the theater: a hideous crime, a compelling story, eccentric characters, drama, and conflict— in other words, everything you could want in a crime novel.
First there were the characters. Central Casting couldn’t have come up with a better collection: the earnest female prosecutor, the urbane, witty defense lawyers, the dullard judge who yielded control to everyone. The racist cop.
There was even a California surfer dude, the requisite expert witnesses, and the avuncular king of defense lawyers.Then there were the forensics. I knew nothing about police procedure — and less about forensics. Things like DNA tests, blood spatter, the bloody glove, the footprints. I was fascinated crimes could actually be investigated in a systematic way with all sorts of hi-tech gadgets.
In fact, I was mesmerized by the concept even though the prosecution’s arguments (with the judge’s help) didn’t come across as effectively as they could have. And when the defense suggested that some of the evidence had been mishandled—maybe even manipulated—it played to my latent conspiracy theories.
Finally, of course, there was the denouement in October, 1995, when OJ was acquitted. How absolutely noir an ending! The victims are denied justice. The bad guy goes free. Raymond Chandler or Ross McDonald couldn’t have done it better.
Four months after the trial, my father died. It doesn’t take much to connect the dots, does it? But it wasn’t until years after that, in 2007, when O.J. was arrested in Vegas, that the light bulb flashed. THAT’s why I’m writing crime fiction.
Because he got away with it! The injustice—the unfairness of it all has percolated up from my subconscious and made me put fingers to the keyboard and churn out eleven novels.
In a way, I’ve been hesitant to own up to this, because it wasn’t a dream as much as a nightmare—the nightmare of justice denied—that made me start pursuing my dream. And who wants to give the devil his due? Still, if I’m honest, I have to admit that this devil changed my life.