Ah, The Wonderful Vices Crime Writers Indulge In…
When you become a crime writer, even an aspiring one, there are a bunch of behaviors that are suddenly excused by your vocation that non-crime lovers might find… odd. Gone are the days that an entire weekend might be considered “wasted” lying on the couch letting one episode of “Forensic Files” roll into the next while you collect chip crumbs on your pajamas. Time spent like that is “valuable research” and you’re justified switching your phone off to do it. As have many crime writers, I’ve gone to the ragged edges of weird, depraved, voyeuristic behavior to see what vices you can get away with, and here it is in list form for your enjoyment.
- “That part” of the web is your wonderland. Yes, that’s right! Crime writers are free to wander without judgment into the labyrinths of awful (legal) stuff in the dark corners of the Internet where gory crime scene photo galleries and real-life 9-1-1 calls can be found. What does a severed leg actually look like? How does a dead body react to desert heat compared to light snowfall? How do you make ricin poison? Sure, your Google history might get you on some kind of watchlist somewhere, but I’ll likely be there, too, so you’re in good company.
For example, you can find some great information on body decomposition at the Australian Museum’s website: https://australianmuseum.net.au/stages-of-decomposition
- You can visit crime scenes. It’s good for you because the best fictional crimes happen in environments the reader can relate to. There’s a place in the genre for pretty women being strangled on satin beds in sprawling mansions, and there’s also one for suburban family massacres and woodland body dumps. I visited the dump sites used by Hae Min Lee’s killer and the Gilgo Beach ripper on my honeymoon, and both were incredibly informative not only for atmosphere, but for clues (Mr. S was totally lying). Go to these historic places, sit and reimagine the crime as it happened. Trust me, it will make your writing more vivid.
Next time you’re in Baltimore, visit the key sites for the Serial podcast and see for yourself: https://tinyurl.com/y9jyf524
- Talk about murder! You know you want to. And you’ve likely got that person in your life already who doesn’t give you the side-eye when you start prattling on about Jeffrey Dahmer. But some of the best people to talk to about murder are novices because they’re your potential readers. They’ll ask you the questions that make them curious, and tell you the aspects of the case that disturb them, and you can take that disturbance and turn it into a theme in your writing. The truth is, normal people want to talk about crime—it dominates news headlines and book sales. You just have to be the one to create that safe space. I broke out talking about serial killer Ted Bundy’s engagement to his girlfriend at a wedding once and soon was surrounded by curious people. At least, I think they were curious.
Learn about Ted and his bizarre in-court proposal to his girlfriend here: https://tedbundyserialkill.weebly.com/criminal-life.html
- Contact criminals (under the right circumstances.) Recently I started writing to inmates in the American corrections system, and I’ve found it surprisingly easy to start up a conversation with some very infamous types. There’s a lot to be gained from talking to the incarcerated, particularly about rehabilitation, anger, remorse, and the experience of leaving the free world for the Big House. Writing to criminals isn’t weird for crime writers, but it’s not for the novice. Do your research and follow the rules, or you could find yourself being exploited for commissary money or getting into a relationship that’s more intense than you anticipated.
There’s a good set of guidelines for writing to inmates in the US system here: http://www.dc.state.fl.us/oth/inmates/writing.html
- Talk to cops (under the right circumstances, also). Nobody likes a looky-loo, and unfortunately yelling “But I’m a crime writer!” while you’re milling around the edge of the crime scene tape isn’t going to make the officers on the scene any less cranky. But I have found, over the years I’ve been writing, that cops on the street are often more than happy to pass the time chatting about their work to crime writers when they’re not under the gun. Street cops are at the front line, dealing with the worst of the worst in their natural habitat, and they make a great source of unique material. You can chat to cops at fundraisers and community events, but courtesy dictates not leaping into questions about the gory stuff within the first thirty seconds. Some police stations even do ride-alongs, and it’s not weird for you to request one!
There are some tips about getting a police ride-along here: http://policelink.monster.com/training/articles/137149-10-tips-for-ride-alongs
Joining the world of crime writers has afforded me some great experiences in the wide and wonderful world of murder and mayhem, judgment-free. I encourage you, my mystery-writing brethren, to get out there, get your hands dirty, and get involved in some downright disturbing stuff. You’ve got the perfect excuse, so use it!
Hades, Candice Fox’s first novel, won the Ned Kelly Award for best debut in 2014 from the Australian Crime Writers Association. The sequel, Eden, won the Ned Kelly Award for best crime novel in 2015, making Candice only the second author to win these accolades back to back. Her third novel, Fall, was shortlisted for the 2016 Ned Kelly and Davitt awards. She is also the author of the bestselling Crimson Lake, which introduces a new series character, Ted Conkaffey.
In 2015 Candice began collaborating with James Patterson. Their first novel together, Never Never, set in the vast Australian outback, was a huge bestseller in Australia and went straight to number 1 on the New York Times bestseller list in the US and also to the top of the charts in the UK. Its sequel, Fifty Fifty, was released in August 2017 and she is currently working on their third collaboration. They have also co-written a prequel novella, Black & Blue, as part of the James Patterson BookShots series.
Bankstown born and bred, Candice lives in Sydney.