Thursday, December 31, 2009

Interview with true crime author Kathryn Casey

A couple of weeks ago I recommended one of true crime author Kathryn Casey's books, in this post. I thought it might be fun and interesting to follow this up by asking her a few questions about what she does and how she does it.

So, for a special edition of Thriller Thursday, here is a brief interview with Ms. Casey:

Where did your interest in crime come from?

To be honest, the crime angle came as a surprise. I always knew I wanted to be a writer, but I never planned to specialize in writing about murder. For about twenty years, I wrote for national magazines. In the mid-Eighties, I covered the murders of Texas folksinger John Vandiver and his girlfriend for Rolling Stone. The article is on my Web site, Anyway, from that point forward, magazine editors frequently asked me to cover different cases. It just kind of snowballed. Although, I have to admit that I must have some interest, or I would have tried to cultivate another arena, don’t you think?

Roughly how many people do you interview for a book?

Somewhere around one hundred for each true crime book, along with attending the trials and reviewing the exhibits and documents.

I'm curious about how cooperative the different sides are - e.g., prosecutors, defendants, family members. Is there one group that is usually more amenable to working with you?

The attorneys on both sides and victims’ families are usually pretty good about talking to me. Like me, I think, they want to know how and why the crime happened, really understand what led to it. Since I spend up to a year on each book, I’m able to devote enough time to answer a lot of their questions. Not always, but often, the defendants and their families do talk to me. I’m always glad when they do. There’s nothing like sitting across from people to get a feel for who they are. Plus, they’re able to tell me face to face about any other theories in the case. I do investigate any leads they give me. I mean, let’s face it: our justice system is good, but it’s not foolproof. Mistakes happen.

How long does a book take to write? Do you try and get it done before the story is forgotten?

Each true crime book takes up to a year to research and write, then nine months for the publisher to turn into a book. I’m not too worried that a case will lose interest. I chose them because they’re fascinating cases, so they stand the test of time.

Do you have to beat other true-crime authors to a story? Especially in Texas, seems like there are a few...

Sometimes, I do. But, sadly, there are usually more than enough sensational cases to go around. I sometimes fantasize that folks will stop killing each other and put me out of the true crime business. Wouldn’t that be heavenly?

What essential elements make up every good true crime story? I look for a case involving people one wouldn’t expect to be involved in a murder: professors, attorneys, teachers, ministers, millionaires and socialites. It helps if the investigations also have a lot of twists and turns.

Now you are writing mysteries - do you find writing fiction easier or harder than true crime? More fun?

I don’t know that it’s easier, but it does take less research. And it’s a lot more fun to make it all up. The biggest difference is that I’m delighted to write about imaginary bad guys, who don’t exist and can’t really hurt anyone. That is outstanding. Of course, my family does wonder what rattles around in my imagination, but maybe we’d better not go there?

Will you return to writing true crime?

I’ve just finished a new true crime book, SHATTERED, on Houston’s David Temple case. It’ll be out in June. I also have a new mystery, THE KILLING STORM, coming out next fall. In January, I’ll be on the move again. I’m heading to Waco to cover the Matt Baker trial. Matt is a Baptist minister accused of murdering his wife then staging it to look like a suicide.

Who are your favorite authors?

True crime: Ann Rule, Carlton Stowers, and Vincent Bugliosi.

Fiction: many, many authors. Kathy Reichs, C.J. Box, Michael Connelly, James Lee Burke. And the list could go on. I do love to read.

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