I am often asked what is involved in putting together a true crime book and how long it takes. Well, if I were writing a cook book on how to cook up a book (now that’s a mouthful), I might give this answer: pour several truckloads of research into a large caldron, add a barrelful of interviews, a gallon of storytelling pizzazz, a dash of hope, and a pinch of justice. Consume many glasses of full-bodied patience, determination, and flexibility while you are cooking. Slow simmer for a year or two and serve.
But seriously, there is no simple answer to this, because every case is different, and it depends on the specific details of the crime, which state it happened in (also if it’s a small town where they are wary of or uncooperative with outsiders vs. big city where they aren’t), whether it’s a death penalty case and how much media attention it’s gotten. It also depends on my deadline, the publisher (and editor), any legal issues involved, if it takes multiple trials for the defendant(s) to be convicted, and how much cooperation I get—and when—from the key players.
Some of this may not be evident at the start, so I have to use my experience to base the schedule for publication on certain assumptions, because things often do not go as I hope or as I plan. Like they say, sometimes life gets in the way of good planning.
For starters, court dates are never real. Hearings and trials are always delayed and rescheduled as a matter of course, and even more so with death penalty cases. So for me the first key is to wait until as late in the case as possible before I commit to a deadline because to be on safe legal ground, it’s always better (and sometimes necessary) to wait for a conviction before I write the book. It also makes for a better, more authoritative and more comprehensive story.
Until a case goes to trial, many compelling details and evidence are kept out of the public domain until they are presented in court. Also, many people don’t want to talk until they don’t have to worry about screwing up the case somehow. Some are even more conservative and refuse to talk while an appeal is pending. This was the case with my latest book, THEN NO ONE CAN HAVE HER, which certainly complicated matters. But I did not get where I am by being blocked by such details.
As for the timing of this book, I didn’t even learn about the Steve DeMocker case until near the end of the second of two trials, when he was convicted for the murder of his very recently divorced ex-wife. The first one ended in mistrial, the circumstances of which were initially cloaked in the darkness of sealed court briefs and transcripts, some of which, I later learned, had been unsealed. Still, people were scared to discuss them because they didn’t know which were still sealed.
I was also in completely new territory when no one from the prosecution (other than one brief conversation), the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office (and mind you, the sheriff is an elected position) or DeMocker’s two defense teams would give me an interview. This was because the case took more than five years from arrest to sentencing amid countless court filings, all kinds of ethical allegations, a seemingly endless investigation, and additional charges that were filed against DeMocker between the first and second trials. And there was even more drama leading up to the sentencing hearing, where he was given a life term plus 21 years. Everyone was worried about jeopardizing the conviction or appeal.
Hoping to win his appeal, DeMocker wouldn’t talk to me either and neither would his family or attorneys. So who was left for me to interview, you might ask? Well, in another rare development, the victim’s friends and family ended up being my best sources. This was a marked contrast to my book, LOST GIRLS, for example, where the victims’ families launched personal attacks at me in the media when the book came out. I had tried to win their cooperation, but they did not want to talk to me, so I wrote the book with the sources I had, using their own words, which were available in the public domain.
Having to write a book based so heavily on document research was like wrestling a bear to the ground. It took me more than a year of working full time to write this story, after examining countless photos and reading through, analyzing and cross-checking facts in thousands of pages of investigative reports and witness interviews and testimony. I also spent several more months incorporating late-breaking information.
This forced me to throw out any type of typical book-writing routine I normally follow (which as you can see is not all that typical anyway). But even with fewer of my own interviews with human beings, I was still able to glean just as much or more detail from my treasure trove of documents.
The result: With THEN NO ONE CAN HAVE HER, I ended up with a more complete and psychological story about the victim—and the evolution of her relationship with the man convicted of killing her, her ex-husband and “soulmate”—than ever before, and for me that was very rewarding. Through her friends and family, I enjoyed getting to know what a loving, gentle, talented and sensitive soul Carol Kennedy was, and I felt good that I was able to pay such a nice tribute to her memory. It was a bonus that two of her closest friends were also therapists, and had known both Carol and Steve for many, many years, so they were psychological experts for my purposes as well.
I hope you agree when you read the book, it all worked out well in the end, and I was able to include my signature level of exhaustive detail.