This is part I of a three-part series on why I wrote my debut mystery, Blessed are the Dead.
I’m one of those cliché writers who have wanted to write a book since I was 10. Sometimes you are just lucky enough to find your passion at a young age. However, I was distracted from that passion, for, oh, about 30 years. That’s because I had to get a “real job.” I found one that combined my love of writing with a steady paycheck – journalism.
For about 15 years of my life, my passion was journalism, specifically crime reporting for newspapers. When I wasn’t writing about crime for the newspaper, I was at home reading the people who have done it best: Tom Wolfe (The New Journalism), Truman Capote, and Edna Buchanan, (Pulitzer-prize winning former Miami Herald police reporter).
Then I had kids. A reporter friend of mine told me that I was the kind of person who put so much passion into what I did, she could see I had to give up reporting when I became a mother.
She was right.
But it was also the juxtaposition of covering the seedy side of life and then coming home to pure innocence in the form of a baby. It wasn’t working. Not to mention that if a murder took place at 5:59 p.m. when I was scheduled to be off work at 6 p.m., I still had to cover it.
So, for several years I focused on being the mother of two youngsters under age two. It took everything out of me. I had no idea how intense parenting would be. A good friend of mine wrote a nonfiction crime book while her little ones were young and I am still in awe of her. Her book was based on one of the most horrific crimes our newspaper had ever covered. Although I had lived through the gruesome, gritty details of the case when it ran in our newspaper, after her book was published I had to read it in spurts. That’s because the story it told was so terribly disturbing. (And yet so well written!)
Meanwhile, when I left the newspaper, I had carted along a giant cardboard box with file folders and notes about a story I wanted to write one day. It was about my dealings with a serial killer — a true life monster — who claimed to me that he had kidnapped and killed little girls. I figured some day I would have the energy to write a nonfiction book about it.
Then one day, my youngest started kindergarten. I signed up for a writing class on the novel at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. My youngest was only gone from the house for two and a half hours, but I devoted that time to writing. To my surprise, what I began writing was fiction, not nonfiction. I found what I really wanted to do was write a novel — fiction not fact— inspired by this haunting serial killer.
A few months later, I had completed my first draft of a novel about an Italian-American police reporter and her dealings with a serial killer. Now, the real work would begin.