Writing True Crime

Writing True Crime
By John Foxjohn

As an ex-homicide detective, the things I needed to investigate to write Killer Nurse were not a problem. Interviewing people was also like second nature to me. Also, the trial and the legal aspects were a breeze. However, the writing part of Killer Nurse left me in a conundrum. The problem: I had never written a true crime before, and to be honest, really didn’t know where to begin.

My agent gave me some good news and some not so good. First, she told me to write the book like a mystery novel. To me, this was the good news because I had written and published quite a few of those. The bad part: she didn’t tell me how to go about that. The only thing she told me was that I had to start with a murder. That was a problem in itself, but not for here.

Before I began writing Killer Nurse I had read a couple of true crimes, and was actually able to finish one. The others delved way too much into the boring things that didn’t hold my attention—entire chapters on the setting, and I didn’t want this.

I wanted to take my agent’s advice and write Killer Nurse like a mystery the reader has a hard time putting down. However, I also know the importance of including the senses in every scene and letting the readers experience the atmosphere of the scene. In order to do that, the reader has to know what the setting looks like.

In providing a setting, Angelina County in deep East Texas, didn’t help much.

There are two district courtrooms in the Angelina County courthouse—the 217th which is a new, modern one, located at the back of the second floor. This is the one where the trial was scheduled to take place.

The other one was the 159th that sat in the front by the stair landing. This one was the opposite of the new one. The 159th was old, dank, musky, and most of the time it stank. It had dim lighting, bad seats, and enough ambiance to put a writer into an orgasmic trance. Hollywood couldn’t have created a better place for the trial.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the courtroom that the trial would take place in. I had to contend with the one that had nothing.

As voir dire began, I knew that I would have little time after the trial to write the book, so, being the smart person I like to tell people I am, I began writing what I could—the setting of the trial. I spent a solid week writing and describing that courtroom: the smells, sounds, sights, and yes even the feeling of the room.

I revised, edited, and by the end of a week, I had it perfect.

Then the judge came in before voir dire was over and said without fanfare, “Because there is limited room in this courtroom, I am thinking of moving the trial to the larger one. Does anyone object?”

Now, obviously he was talking to the defense and prosecuting attorneys, but I felt like raising my hand and objecting. Hey, couldn’t he have made this decision a week before? He’d deprived me of a solid week’s work.

At the end of the trial, as lightning flashed outside and the attorneys prepared for closing arguments, shards of sunlight poked through the old Venetian blinds. The light played eerily off the huge marble slab behind the judges bench, and as I typed, I silently thanked the judge.

John Foxjohn has published mysteries, romantic suspense, historical fiction, legal thrillers, and a true crime titled Killer Nurse (In stores on August 6th). He is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Romance Writers of America, Elements of Romance, Kiss of Death, Lethal Ladies, Sisters-in-Crime, East Texas Writers Guild, League of Texas Writers, and more online writing groups than he can count. He is a full time writer and speaker and lives in Lufkin, Texas, but travels extensively across the U.S.

When he’s not writing, teaching writing classes, or speaking to different writing groups and conferences, Foxjohn loves to spend time square dancing, working in his rose garden, or in his garage doing woodwork. However, his passion outside of family and writing is without a doubt, anything to do with the Dallas Cowboys. You can learn more about him at http://www.johnfoxjohnhome.com/