Sue Coletta Interview + Pretty Evil New England Book Giveaway!
As you know, I like to shake things up now and again. This time, it’s featuring crime fiction author Sue Coletta, writing her first true crime book.
Not just that, Coletta has provided an interview on how she managed the writing transition from crime fiction to historical true crime Pre-1950s.
Okay first, Pretty Evil New England is a fantastic book. With expressive descriptions, Coletta solidly brings you into a time and place. With a deft hand she brings characters alive, clearly demonstrating their duplicitous natures and calculating ways.
I particularly liked her approach of adding modern forensic input by referencing a study by Penn State researchers and the work of FBI behaviorists. This one in particular is my favourite:
…the best way to survive a male serial killer’s attack is to let him get to know you on a personal level. By humanizing yourself, you’ll ruin his fantasy of you as a victim. This won’t work with a female serial killer. They already know you.
Pretty Evil New England is rich in atmosphere, genuinely factual, and savvy in style. A highly recommended read.
~ June Lorraine
Interested in a copy of Pretty Evil New England? Consider following Murder in Common to be automatically entered. Otherwise: send email to MurderinCommon@outlook.com with Pretty Evil in subject line. Giveaway is limited to addresses in Canada & United States at publishers request.
Sue Coletta Speaks about her journey into True Crime writing!
June invited me to Murder in Common to discuss my transition from crime fiction to true crime. In particular, she asked three questions…
- How the switch in genre came about?
- How did you explore it?
- Did writing true crime have any affect on your crime fiction?
How Writing True Crime Became a Reality
In May of 2018, I had just completed final edits for RACKED, Book 4, Grafton County Series, when a woman tweeted to me on Twitter, asking if I could follow her back. She said she wanted to private message me with an offer.
Now, as a crime writer, my natural instinct is to err on the side of caution. Some might say I’m overly suspicious. But that’s only because social media has more than its fair share of whack jobs. Most are harmless, but it also doubles as a playground for more nefarious types, like hackers and pirates. And sometimes it feels like their sole purpose in life is to take advantage of writers. Our dreams of success make us ideal targets.
I tell you this to show my apprehension when I read the tweet. One of my first moves was to click on her profile and confirm that she wasn’t a cam girl hoping to recruit coworkers. Learned that lesson the hard way (story for another time J).
When I peeked at her Twitter profile, her title read “Acquisitions Editor.” And that’s when the first wave of panic set in. I’d ignored this woman for three full days! Did I blow the opportunity of a lifetime? Nonetheless, I tried to play it cool by apologizing for the delay, explaining that I’d just emerged from my writer’s cave after meeting an editing deadline for a book in one of my thriller series.
The next tweet asked if she could email me instead. After giving her my email, I still tried to keep my excitement in check. Though, admittedly, it wasn’t an easy thing to do. My rational side said, this could be anything. Perhaps she read one of my books and wanted to reach out as a fan. My curiosity finally got the better of me and I
engaged in a little online stalking researched where she worked. Turns out, she was an acquisitions editor for Globe Pequot, trade division of Rowman & Littlefield Group, one of the largest publishers of nonfiction and America’s leading book distributor.
Wow! Now she had my full attention.
When the email arrived she told me she’d run across my blog post Female Serial Killers—Unmasked during her initial research for a book idea, and loved it. She also checked out true crime stories on my blog, my social media presence, and my books. Editors who acquire for publishers do extensive research before they ever reach out to a writer.
The offer, she said, was to write a true crime book about female serial killers of New England. The caveat? I could only include female serial killers prior to 1950.
Historical? Uh-oh. What did I know about writing historical true crime? Not a dang thing! This mindset made me question why on earth she would approach me. At the same time, I couldn’t reject the offer before I heard her out. Maybe she saw something in me. If I didn’t at least try, I’d be unbearable to live with. The email led to a phone appointment to talk over the proposal, which also gave me a better idea of what she had in mind for the project.
During the call, she dropped the second bomb. I had two weeks to submit a nonfiction book proposal for her to bring to the board for approval. Two weeks! Did I mention I had no idea how to write a nonfiction book proposal? In order to even start the proposal, I had to find my killers and collect enough source material to outline their stories. Two weeks might as well have been two days.
To say I was in a constant state of panic would be an understatement. I freaked out! The minute the call ended I fired off emails to several writer friends. With any luck, they’d calm me down and assure me that I could pull this off when every inch of my being screamed I couldn’t.
Fast forward two weeks.
I made the deadline and the publisher offered me the contract. What I didn’t realize at the time was the real work hadn’t even begun.
How I Explored Writing True Crime
Not only did I need to read historical true crime to learn reader expectations but I needed to create my own nonfiction style. I’ve always loved Ann Rule. So, if I was to veer into a new-to-me genre, then I might as well learn from the queen of true crime. Who better? Along with historical true crime books, I also devoured Ann Rule’s work to study how she made nonfiction read like fiction.
My background in crime fiction helped a lot. Especially since I write serial killer thrillers. If I’d been, say, a HEA romance writer, I would’ve been totally screwed.
Thankfully I’m a research-a-holic at heart anyway, so I enjoyed digging through mountains of court transcripts, old newspapers, diaries, and other historical records. Loved every second of it. Still do!
Once I compiled enough primary source material (firsthand accounts) and secondary source material (e.g. interviews of someone with firsthand knowledge), I tweaked my original outline from the book proposal. As long as you’re telling the story the publisher paid for in your advance, they expect the outline to change as you gather more and more research.
I broke the book into four parts—four separate novella-length stories tied together by one consistent concept. In Part I-III I focused on one female serial killer each. In Part IV, I alternated chapters between two female serial killers who murdered by the same method, had identical bizarre “visions of murder,” and were apprehended within miles of one another, within months of each other. The only difference was one woman was poor and the other was a lady of great influence. Both murdered several people. Do you think the jury judged each defendant the same? I’ll never tell. Read the book. J
A funny thing happened while writing. I fell in love with these “characters.” Now that the book is complete, I miss them. For nonwriters, this may sound strange. I’ll try to explain. When you write from a real killer’s perspective, their stories become part of you. Yes, these ladies slaughtered a combine total of 100+ innocent victims. And yes, murder is wrong (in theory 😉). But when you spend as many hours as I did digging through their childhoods, you can’t help but be affected. The victims also tugged on my heartstrings. In fact, I dedicated the book to them and their ancestors.
Quite a few things stunned me about these cases. The first being forensics of the 1800s and early 1900s. Many of the toxicology tests are still used today. Next, the dogged investigators. Detectives didn’t have any of the crime-fighting tools they use today. Instead, they relied on wearing out the shoe leather to find bad guys (and gals). These impressive men went to extreme lengths to gather reliable evidence. They blew my mind more than once. Last but not least, the PhD’s, chemists, and attorneys also gained my lifelong respect. Each and every one of them had impeccable skills—lightyears beyond their time.
Did True Crime Have Any Affect on My Crime Fiction?
Can you repeat the question, Your Honor? *kidding*
I’ve always believed that everything we read, write, research, and experience in life affects writers in some way. For that reason, I’d say yes. How the genre impacted my fiction writing is a bit harder to define. My first reaction is to say, true crime has given me greater insight into why people kill. It also expanded my view of how to rear a budding serial killer and the psychological scars behind why *some* children grow into killing machines.
Writing true crime is immensely rewarding. Once I finished the final draft, all the long hours spent at my keyboard and on the road (research trips) seemed like a small price to pay. There’s something inherently satisfying about breathing new life into the dead. I felt privileged to walk in the footsteps of the men and women who lived long before my birth, and to share their stories in a way that (I hope!) readers will enjoy. If they learn something new along the way, even better. Though we, as a society, might not like to look and think about the uglier side of humanity, it’s important that we do. If for no other reason than to paint an accurate mental portrait of a time and place in history. An argument could be made that true crime books hold historical value.
Crime fiction will always have a place in my heart. Nothing gets my blood pumping faster than reading a fast-paced thriller with a deliciously evil killer. As a writer, I can’t imagine a career without fiction. My plan is to juggle both genres. No one can predict what the future holds. And I, for one, can’t wait to see what happens next. J
To my fellow writers, dreams really do come true. Never ever give up!
About Sue Coletta and Book Links:
Sue Coletta is an award-winning crime writer. For three years running, Feedspot named her Murder Blog as one of the “Best 100 Crime Blogs on the Net” (Murder Blog sits at #5). Sue also blogs at the Kill Zone, a multi-award-winning writing blog. In addition to blogging, she’s the communications manager for the Serial Killer Project and Forensic Science, both groups founded by New York homicide detective and cold case expert Joe Giacolone. She’s an active member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers.
Sue lives in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire and writes two serial killer thriller series (Tirgearr Publishing) and true crime (Globe Pequot, trade division of Rowman & Littlefield Group, Inc). When she’s not writing, reading, or researching, you can find her in the yard chatting with her beloved “pet” crows who live free but come when called.
MurderInCommon.com is also a Feedspot Top 100 Crime Novel Blog