Thursday, November 4, 2010

Writing is a Crime—by Kathryn Casey

Killing_Storm It’s pretty much just one of those things. The truth is that I never consciously decided to become a crime author. Back in the eighties, working for magazines, the editors needed someone to cover sensational cases. I was the new kid, the one who needed to please, so my hand went up at a lot at meetings. You need someone to cover that? I’m your gal. Of course, I’ll do it! No problem!

Before long, I gained a reputation for digging into cases, not being afraid to knock on doors and ask questions. So for twenty years, that’s what I did, writing articles for hometown then national magazines, much of the time on murder and mayhem. It’s perhaps only natural then that when my gaze turned to books I focused in on crime writing. We’ve all heard: Write what you know. What I knew are cops, killers, and lawyers.

At first, I wrote true crime books, six of them so far. It turned out it was quite an education. There’s nothing like sitting across a desk for a homicide detective as he explains how he tricked a bad guy into confessing, or across a counter from a killer describing in stark detail how he cornered his prey and pulled the trigger. When that happens, it leaves an impression, and over the decades, my mind filled up with memories of squad rooms, courtrooms, and crime scene photos.

So, about six years ago, when I decided to write fiction, the truth is I had a lot to draw on. My research, to some extent, was done before I sat down at the computer. Still, there were so many decisions to make. I needed a main character, a protagonist to build my mystery series around. Before long, because I wanted her to travel my home state, I decided on a Texas Ranger. I made her a profiler simply because I find psychology fascinating.

The result is Lieutenant Sarah Armstrong, my heroine and my constant companion for the past few years. I believe she lives somewhere in the back of my brain, waiting to take over if I give her the chance. She’s a pretty powerful personality, more so than I am, I’m afraid.

What I gave Sarah to play with are all those memories from my past, my encounters with real life good guys and bad guys, victims and prosecutors. When I sit down to write, they’re all at her disposal, and so far, she hasn’t run out of material.

My days are fairly regimented. I walk past the laundry and the dishes piled up in the sink, sit down at my computer, and stare at the most frightening of all sights, a blank page on a computer screen. Before long, the germ of an idea pops up, a barebones plotline or a character, and slowly I start to write. I carry with me all Sarah has done in the past: her adventures in the first book, Singularity, when she hunted a serial killer; the day she nearly died protecting a teenage pop star from a stalker in Blood Lines. Along with Sarah comes the family I gave her, a mother, Nora, who bakes when nervous, copious amounts, and a daughter, Maggie, who mourns her dead father and studies the stars.

Once I’m writing the ideas come at a steady pace. Characters pop up before I understand why they’re there at times. Somehow, as the book develops, they always seem to have a purpose. If I get stuck, I walk around the block. If I’m really stuck, I take a nap. Along the way, I’m looking for those twists and turns to propel Sarah through the pages of the book, ways to speed up the clock and build the tension. In the third Sarah Armstrong mystery, The Killing Storm, a hurricane puts on the pressure. A child has been kidnapped. He’s in the hands of a madman. And Sarah knows she has to find the boy before the storm hits, or all will be lost.

So that’s my tale, that of a girl who grew up wanting to write, one who became a crime writer mostly by accident and discovered she loves every minute of it.

2 10 014 Kathryn Casey is an award-winning journalist, the author of six highly acclaimed true crime books, and the creator of the Sarah Armstrong Mystery series, published by St. Martin’s Minotaur. The latest book in the series is The Killing Storm (November 2010). Her Web site is:

Thanks so much for coming by today, Kathryn! I read a great review for "The Killing Storm" and it's on my TBR list. :) Thanks for sharing your writing process with us.