Throughout the publication of eight true crime books, I’ve heard from a lot of readers. Once in a while, I get what I consider is a slanted criticism. Some folks bash one of my books in an attempt to come to the defense of the perpetrator, telling me I am biased because I wrote that a convicted murderer is actually guilty. Other people simply do not want a book written about a particular case under any circumstances.
I collided with that reaction last week as I worked on a book about the Caylee Anthony case. I checked my inbox and found this email from Marty: “There is a rumor you have been given a contract to write a book on the Caylee Anthony story and her egg donor. Is this true?
I responded: “My objective in writing is to memorialize the victim so that all of my readers understand the great loss we as a society suffer when an innocent is killed through an act of violence. And to educate and empower my readers to limit the incidents of homicide.”
That is one of the most persistent myths of true crime writing and it’s not true. When a story is news, a true crime writer, just like a newspaper or television journalist or a blogger can write about it—no permission needed.
Marty, though, did not believe me when I told her that I did not have a financial agreement with the Anthonys. Because of that, she was still angry and wrote: “Just disgusting. I intend on boycotting this particular book of yours, and any "sponsors" affiliated. I will also contact your publisher to convey my sentiments and I am gong to ask bloggers on "many" Internet sites to do the same. Get ready to be "bombarded". The public does not need you to tell us "Caylee's story".
Well, I was bombarded but not exactly as Marty imagined.
Only one other person sent a negative email. That woman wanted me to reconsider writing a book about Caylee. That’s another point where the reality of true crime writing calls the shots. I’d already signed a contract with my publisher. Once any writer signs, there is a legal obligation to produce a book. Changing your mind is not an option.
The rest of the flood of messages I received were positive—supportive not just of me but of the many other ethical people who write about crime in any medium. Stephanie’s email expressed that attitude but also praised this whole group: "I am a fan of Women in Crime Ink blog... I wanted you to know that I support your writing this book. Here's what I just recently posted:
‘This writer is a member of a fantastic group of women DEDICATED & DEVOTED to victims of crime.‘…I find it to be part of my personal integrity to financially support the work of highly devoted and ethical writers such as Diane Fanning. In other words, buying her book (or one like it that meets my standards) is my "vote" for responsible writing (and journalism) that is sensitive to the victim's sad story and attempts to explain in order to help others understand and be forewarned. I know that you would want some other family to gain insight that would prevent another precious little girl being murdered like Caylee, right? Well, only the GOOD books about this story will do so, not the shallow and sensationalized ones. And I believe D. Fanning is extremely ethical, responsible, and respectable. IMO.
‘Every time you read a news story about Caylee, someone is making money. Oh, well, news is different... No, it's not. It's just that news articles can only go so far. If you're like me, you hunt around for different sites, different articles, different authors of the articles to read about aspects of this case such as the psychology involved, about how the justice system in Florida works and is different from what I am used to, about the financial impact this case has had on the OCSO and the citizens of Orange County, about groups like TX Equusearch, about the shadiness of Kid Finders, etc., etc. Well, a book can put this all together for us and perhaps draw some well-founded conclusions and thoughts and I am looking forward to reading such a book, by such a person as is a member of Women In Crime Ink.'”
Thank you, Stephanie! I’ve always been proud to be part of this incredible group of woman, but never more than now.
Writing true crime is challenging and, at times, heartbreaking work. We are often haunted by crime scene photographs, sickened by autopsy reports, threatened with law suits and revolted by some of the people we interview.
One of the things that keeps me going are readers like Stephanie who understand that knowledge is empowering and possesses the potential for saving lives. I write true crime books because I want to understand why these crimes happen and how I can protect myself and loved ones from becoming victims--and to share that information with my readers.
In short, I write true crime because I want to make a difference.
I can't do anything for Caylee but honor her memory with my words. But I hope that what I am writing about this little girl will one day be used by someone to protect the life of another innocent child.