Q: You started out writing true crime books. How has this influenced your fiction
KC: I’ve had a couple decades of what I’d call homicide school: going to sensational trials, hanging out with prosecutors, cops, defense attorneys, forensic experts, medical examiners, murderers, victims and their families. I’ve seen more than my share of crime scene photos and read countless autopsies. So when I decided to write fiction, I had all those experiences to draw on, situations to use, and friends I could ask for insight. The true crime writing has been invaluable.
Q: What’s it like to write true crime?
KC: Pretty interesting. As I mentioned, I go to the trials, interview everyone involved. A book usually takes me about a year. When I sit down to write, I have crates full of information to work with, which is important to give the books depth. I usually start on my research at the trials. That works for me because I get to hear what the jury hears, and from there I work my way out, looking for others involved in the case. Right now, I’m working on the Matt Baker case in Waco, Texas. I’m at the stage where I’m beginning to write.
Q: How did you become a crime author?
KC: It just kind of happened. I started covering criminal cases back in the mid-eighties, for Houston City Magazine. When I started writing for national magazines, including Reader’s Digest, Rolling Stone, TV Guide, Ladies’ Home Journal, More, etc, the editors knew that I had experience and the assignments rolled in. In the nineties, I turned a magazine story into my first book, The Rapist’s Wife, now called Evil Beside Her. From that point on, I began writing the books. It seemed a natural progression to go from true crime to crime fiction.
The truth is that I never intended to be a crime author. After a couple of decades as a fly on the wall in this world, it simply happened, because it’s what I know best.
Q: What are some of the challenges of writing about real cases?
KC: Finding people to interview and convincing them that they should talk is a big one. There are some bad true crime books out there, so some folks don’t understand that there are also good ones. I work hard on my books, and I’m proud of them. They serve a good purpose. Sure, they entertain, but they also enlighten folks on how these tragedies happen. They connect all the dots. And I do believe that they warn people about the types of behaviors that lead to violence. I get letters all the time from people, usually women, who write that they saw their significant other reflected in my book and realized that it was time to leave an abusive mate. We tend to make excuses for people we love, but when violence enters a relationship–when we fear we’re in danger–we need to take action and reach out for help. My books illustrate that by showing what’s possible.
Q: Have you ever been afraid or threatened because of what you write?
KC: I’ve been threatened but never really afraid. For the most part, the people I write about are in prison. Some have gotten out, but my guess is that they realize that if they come after me, they’ll be on a short-list of suspects and will undoubtedly end up quickly back in prison. I hope that they’ve learned their lessons and are ready to become valuable members of society.
There is one person I am trying to keep behind bars, however, not for my own safety but the safety of others–James Bergstrom, the psychopath in my first book. Bergstrom got four 99-year sentences because the jurors NEVER wanted him to walk free. He admitted to raping five women and attacking 35 over a two-year period. He’s obsessed, a true sexual predator. He’s been eligible for parole for the past few years. When his parole hearings come up, I protest and urge others to as well. The instructions for how to protest are on my Web site, kathryncasey.com, on the update page. If Bergstrom ever gets out, there will be more victims.
In addition to the fiction being exciting and fun to write, one of the great things about it is that the bad guys aren’t real. No one actually gets hurt. After all these years, that’s incredibly refreshing. I put my main character, Texas Ranger Sarah Armstrong, in harrowing situations, it’s true, but it’s all for fun.
Q: Any advice for upcoming and/or new writers?
KC: First, hang in there. It’s a journey. Second: You have to take that first step. Many people write but never attempt to publish. If you’re writing for personal reasons and don’t care about seeing your work in print, that’s fine. But if you want to be published, you have to pull together your courage and submit your work to an agent or an editor. To determine how to proceed, I recommend Writer’s Market, a great publication that’s updated, I believe, annually. There are books listing agents and explaining how to get one. For a good book on writing, read Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to say?
KC: I’d like to thank everyone who reads my books and recommends them to others. I can’t thank you enough. It truly means the world to me.
If you have questions for Kathryn, feel free to post them in the comment section. She may agree to answer a few.