Confessions of a Crime Writer by Carla Norton
They don’t mean to be offensive. They’re merely curious, but there’s always a prickly moment when someone peers into my eyes and asks, “How can you write that stuff?”
Do they imagine that crime writers are serial killer wannabes? Do they expect me to have a torture chamber in my basement, or bodies buried in my back yard?
Perhaps I should take it as a compliment that readers are curious about how I get into the heads of such twisted criminals. The truth is I’ve been researching psychopaths and killers for decades. I seek out forensic psychiatrists. My bookshelves are crowded with a collection of true crime and books by criminologists and former FBI profilers.
True, I’ve put lots of effort into writing about terrible events, trying to inhabit the criminal’s point of view. I’ve also spent lots of time considering the other side of that equation, trying to imagine being kidnapped and chained in the dark for days, weeks and months that stretch into years. It’s an occupational hazard. You want your novel to have veracity. Any story hinges upon the suspension of disbelief.
But listen, just because I’ve written both fiction and nonfiction about these dark subjects, that doesn’t make me perverted or depraved. Just because I’ve spent many hours trying to depict crimes with verisimilitude, that doesn’t outweigh the passages I’ve written on sunnier subjects, does it?
True confession, I keep a copy of Perfect Victim in my car. When I spot the occasional female hitchhiker, I offer a ride on the condition that she’ll read the book, and then I lecture sternly about the perils of hitchhiking. Because I’m not a cop or a doctor. I can’t rescue victims or punish their captors. It’s only through my books that I can hope to have any kind of impact.
Still, I understand that there are preconceived notions about crime writers, and perhaps I’m guilty of this, too.
For instance, when I met Stephen King at an awards banquet years ago, I was surprised that this heavy-browed, strong-jawed man—such a towering figure in truth and in letters—looked positively dashing in his tux. He’s not as sinister in person as he is on the page.
I was glad to later hear Katie Couric remark on exactly this during an interview. She expressed surprise at how kind and normal Mr. King seemed. He then smiled down at her and responded, “It’s true, I have the heart of a small boy. It’s in a jar on my desk.”
Carla Norton is a novelist and bestselling true crime author. Her debut fiction, The Edge of Normal, won the Royal Palm Literary Award and is earning starred reviews. Minotaur Books published The Edge of Normal in September 2013, and it is slated for simultaneous release in the UK, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Japan. The sequel is coming in 2014.
Carla’s other books include two true accounts of notorious California crimes, Perfect Victim and Disturbed Ground. Perfect Victim became a New York Times best seller. This extraordinary story of kidnapping and prolonged captivity, which Carla wrote in collaboration with the prosecutor, inspired her suspenseful new novel.
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