Archive for the ‘Guest columns’ Category
You’ve probably heard the old saying “it’s all fun and games until…” fill in the black. Usually the statement is followed by until someone gets hurt, or until someone gets killed.
In my world, nothing could be a more true testament to “it’s all fun and games until someone gets killed,” than writing in the True Crime genre. I’ve written fiction and I’ve written non-fiction and without a doubt, the non-fiction is the one that took its tole.
My first published book (Unholy Covenant, Addicus Book, 2000) was in the true crime genre. It was the story of two brothers who conspired to kill the older brother’s devoted wife. I was fortunate that the murder happened in my own community so there was no travel or years long research involved. I knew both families, the victims and the suspects.
Technical research was minimal because at that time, I owned and published a community newspaper who covered the story from the crime through the trial. During the first brother’s trial I sat in the courtroom every day, every hour, through every minute of testimony. I knew shortly into the trial, the story would make a good book.
It had all the elements: murder, money, greed, young beautiful bride, and deep religious overtones. The late Reverend Jerry Falwell even testified, creating a local media feeding frenzy. It was all so sensational! Just what the public craved.
It’s one thing to do research for your fiction, you know—how to murder someone 101—but it’s an entirely different thing when you’re sitting across the kitchen table from the victim’s mother asking her to share her thoughts on her daughter’s cold-blooded, premeditated murder. Some writers can do it and not blink twice. I discovered, after the fact, I wasn’t one of those writers.
The case, and book, garnered national attention. I did radio shows, television and newspaper interviews and even negotiated with a producer who wanted to buy the movie rights. I walked away from the bargaining table when he told me what he had planned—he wanted to make the victim a school teacher and the veteran detective a rookie. These are real people, I kept telling myself. They’re not made up characters.
I did agree to do a couple detective-type shows because they were based on the facts of the case, not characters created by a producer. One was for the Lifetime network and featured interviews and recreations. By this time, the book had been out a few years and the victim’s death had occurred several years prior. Yet, for the victim’s mother and brother—the pain was still there. No matter how many years had passed, each time another network called, the wounds were opened yet again. How could they ever move past the trauma of losing their daughter and sister when we kept pulling them back in?
With all the local and national exposure the case and book received, I had several people contact me with their “story”. Would I look into their brother’s death? Would I look into their son’s suicide? Here’s a story for you—I was told many times. Do you know how hard it is to tell someone who has lost a loved one to crime that sorry, your son/husband/brother/sister’s murder wasn’t sensational enough? Did it involve sex? Money? Greed? Was the victim a good person? Sorry, your loved ones death wasn’t the stuff books and movies are made of.
Although I don’t have plans to ever write another true crime book, I’m using what I learned from that experience in my fiction. Primarily, the varied emotions of the victims of crime or like in Wink of an Eye, the survivors.
In Wink of an Eye, a young boy hires a private investigator to investigate his father’s alleged suicide. The kid doesn’t believe his father would have ever taken his own life and wants to prove he was, in fact, murdered. I drew on those past interviews with the mother of the victim in Unholy Covenant to tap into the raw emotions of losing someone to murder. The longing to see them again, the need to know why, the confusion of not understanding how an investigation works…I used this knowledge to create the drive and tenacity of a twelve year-old boy out to prove his father didn’t kill himself.
I have no regrets about writing Unholy Covenant. It’s a tragic story and because it’s down on paper, Patricia’s story is immortalized. The book is in its third printing which means, fifteen years later, people are still reading Patricia’s story. For that, I’m truly thankful.
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Lynn Chandler Willis is the first woman in ten years to win the St. Martin’s Press/Private Eye Writers of America Best 1st PI Novel competition with her novel, Wink of an Eye (Minotaur 2014). Her other works, The Rising (Pelican Book Group, 2013) is an INSPY Award finalist and Grace Award winner for Excellence in Faith-based Fiction, and Unholy Covenant (Addicus Books, 2000) is now in it’s third printing.
I was a street kid from Chicago Illinois and had a great deal of respect for our neighborhood cop, Joe Sheldon. Little did I know that being an actor from Chicago would lead me into a life of police work. Here’s how it all started.
I had just finished college and went to California to begin my career as an actor. I played a GI on a segment of TWILIGHT ZONE. It was the time of Brando, Clift and Dean and the studio method. I must have been a damned good GI as I got drafted a week later. After 8 weeks of basic training, we were all being assigned what our new school would be. Here come’s the part about Chicago. What else would you make an actor/ entertainer? An MP…Yep Military Police. When I asked “WHY” I was told “Because you are from Chicago and you are either a good guy or a bad guy and either way we want you on our side” So after 8 weeks of police training I was assigned to Fort Benjamin Harrison Indiana and made up my mind to be the best MP the army had ever seen. While there I was the Post Soldier of the month and entered the All Army Talent try outs…Long story shortened…I was ,and I believe am still, The only MP to ever be a part of the ALL ARMY WORLD TOURING SHOW.
After getting Married and doing a lot of theatre in Chicago. Hollywood sent for me and I have been here ever since….Here is a list of the shows I have done where my Police training paid off…
8 Seasons as Sheriff Mort Metzger on Murder, She Wrote, The Law and Harry McGraw. The Stoneman, Cops n Roberts, Jessica Novack, Laserblast, Into the Glitter Palace, Barney Miller, McMillian and Wife, Good Times, Heat of Anger, Second Hundred Years, Bewitched, 10 different episodes of Police Story and I even played a singing dancing cop in a Nestles Crunch commercial with Kareem Abdul Jabbar. We shot that in downtown Los Angeles with 2 real cops on the set but the citizens would come up to me and ask directions.
Murder, She Wrote though is the role I will be identified with forever I guess for a day doesn’t go by when someone doesn’t yell out “Hey Sheriff, How’s Jessica?” and you know what? I love it.
I couldn’t wait to go to work with that great lady. Angela is the Rolls Royce of our business, and the last 2 seasons I got to write 2 story ideas that were bought. I was proud of that for I always felt we had the very best writers in the business and the most loyal following…including a couple of administrations in the White House, Now for those who care…Here is how I got the role. I had worked for Peter Fischer before, but the first time I went on location with him was when I played a detective on The Law and Harry McGraw.
We were in Massachusetts at a closed resort. A small staff was trying to feed breakfast to a film crew so I pitched in serving coffee, telling jokes and having a ball. A couple of months after we returned, Creator Peter Fisher called me and this is what he said on the phone ” Ron? Peter Fischer…Tom Bosley is leaving the show to do a new series and I am creating a new sheriff. The role is yours if you want it but I have to know in the next 24 hours as I am leaving for Europe, so I have to know your answer before I leave.” I responded “OK” He said “Then you will call and let me know?”…….I responded “I JUST DID”…..And as the late Paul Harvey used to say, “And now you know the rest of the story.”