18 August 2009

Bouchercon Guest Blogger #3 -- Julie Kramer

This pre-Bouchercon mystery author bloggers thing has gotten such a great response, Word Nerd is moving this feature from one day a week to two days a week! Twice the pre-convention fun! Twice the inside look at writing from a slew of authors! So, Thursday will be another author, but kicking off the Tuesday schedule is Julie Kramer, who you can also catch this Thursday at the Mystery Company in Carmel.

Not only am I going to Bouchercon in Indianapolis this fall, but I'm coming to the Mystery Company in Carmel on August 20 at 7 pm to speak, sign and rub elbows with owner Jim Huang. Though I'm a Minnesota author, I'm going to get to know Indiana pretty well over the next four years because this Friday I'm dropping my son off at Notre Dame.
But instead of maternal gushing, let me tell you about myself and my books.
I'm a career television news producer recently turned novelist. Often, when I was writing news, I found myself thinking life would be easier I wasn't bound by facts. But when I tried to write fiction, I found myself wishing I had some facts. Because making things up felt like cheating. But once I worked through that quandary, I found news to be an excellent background for writing novels.

For example, I've interviewed hundreds of people, many on the best or worst day of their lives. And I think that helped give me an ear for dialogue.

And of course, every day of our working lives, journalists have rubbed in our faces the fact that truth is stranger than fiction. And I think that gives us the chutzpah to press farther in character and plot development than might initially feel believable. For those of you who insist fiction is stranger...well, let's take a woman out to kill a rival for her lover's affection. Say she has to drive across the country for the deed, so to save time let's put diapers on her. And why not make her an astronaut while we're at it? See what I mean?

My debut, STALKING SUSAN (just re-released in paperback and an Anthony nominee for Best First Novel) was inspired by a couple of cold cases I covered a decade ago. Two women, both named Susan were strangled on the same day, two years apart. In my novel, I invented a TV reporter who discovers a serial killer targeting women named Susan. Last summer, as I did book promotion, I always mentioned the victims and reminded folks that the cases remain unsolved 25 years later. You see, journalists like closure in our stories, so I hoped to shake loose a few long buried tips. But instead of calling the police with leads, people called to say, "When are you going to catch that Susan killer?" So the homicides were assigned to the St. Paul Cold Case Unit, which recently announced that new forensics tests on the old evidence have found DNA. That DNA shows that both women had different killers. So instead of a serial killer, two people have gotten away with murder for a quarter of a century. And now the cops are closer to solving the cases then they've ever been.

For my latest book, MISSING MARK, I didn't want to write back to back serial killers (although now I'm told they sell very well.) Because I've covered numerous missing people, I wanted to share with readers how newsrooms decide which cases get publicity and which don't. It can be a provocative discussion. So my TV reporter answers a want ad reading "Wedding Dress For Sale: Never Worn" and finds a jilted bride who doesn't know whether her groom got cold feet or is a cold case himself.

New authors are always insecure, so when People Magazine recently gave MISSING MARK a rave - "Smart dialogue and a fleet pace make this second outing in Kramer's fledgling series a crowd-pleaser" - that gave me a big boost in author confidence. Now I'm looking forward to Bouchercon with a big smile on my face, unless you think crime writers are better off sporting a scowl.

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