Good Mysteries

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The Best Advice I Ever Got As A Writer

Posted by goodmysteries on February 21, 2012 at 8:45 AM

I’ve written one non fiction book in my career. It’s called A Picture Perfect Kid. The only reason I wrote it is because I knew the people involved. I suppose there aren’t all that many people who know the story behind my writing this book, so I’ll briefly tell it now.

In 1998 I went to work at Columbus Community Hospital in Columbus, Ohio as the office manager for their home health department. My boss was a woman by the name of Carol Jean Lindley. I won’t say she and I became best friends, but we did develop a friendship of sorts and a close working relationship. We confided in one another and found we had a lot in common. She and I both were helping to raise a grandchild. We were the same age. We’d both been in the health care field for years. I liked Carol a lot and considered her to be a good person, who loved her job and her family.

Carol’s sixteen-year-old grandson, Joshua, lived with her and her husband Bill. He had since he was eight years old. He was a troubled boy who’d been abused in the past. His mother also came to live with Carol, Bill and Joshua eventually.

In 2000 Carol moved to Cape Girardeau, Missouri to take what she described as her “dream job.” Bill was to follow later, when he retired in about a year and a half. She took her grandson, Joshua, with her. A few days after they arrived at their new home in Cape Girardeau, Joshua shot Carol to death one Saturday afternoon as she sat in their family room. He hid the body over the weekend and on Monday tried to burn down the house to hide the crime. He was soon arrested and eventually convicted. He’s now serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

The shock and horror I felt upon learning about Carol’s murder cannot be described so won’t try. I thought long and hard about whether to write a book about the case. I finally decided that Carol’s story deserved to be told but I wouldn’t even start the project unless I had the cooperation of the family, including Joshua. I made them all one promise: I would not slant the story either way. It would be simply a true and accurate account of events as they happened, nothing more. I have to say I was a little surprised to receive complete cooperation, especially from Joshua who I began corresponding with in prison.

Writing A Picture Perfect Kid was rough, I’ll admit that. When I was about halfway finished with it, I began putting out feelers to various publishers, especially those who published true crime books. I got one nibble and they wanted to see all I’d written so far. I sent it. The reply wasn’t exactly what I’d expected. The editor told me it was too cut and dried. His exact words were: “Even though it is non fiction, people still want to be entertained.” He suggested I rewrite the book more like a novel.

I rejected the idea out of hand. After all, I was halfway finished with the book, how could I rewrite it completely now? Disgusted, I put the project away for a week; didn’t even look at it. But I couldn’t get that advice out of my head. It nagged at me like an itch I couldn’t scratch. I guess that was my inner self telling me he was right. So what did I do? You got it. I started over. I approached the book as though it were a novel. The end result is now available from Zumaya Publications. It is also a 2004 EPPIE Award finalist. Even though the editor who gave me the advice did not end up accepting the book for publication, I did write him a thank you note for steering me down the right path.

As an author, I hope I never stop learning, never stop growing. And I hope I never stop taking good advice!

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