Tuesday, January 13, 2009

To Write or Not to Write

by Diane Fanning

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?

If so, shame on you. Just another vulture profiting from this heinous crime. This poor child has not even been laid to rest and the vultures are circling. I will not purchase your books or anyone who tries to profit on the blood of sweet Caylee.”

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’s when I learned why Marty was so distressed. She thought that the Anthony family would profit from my book and she suspected the family aided and abetted Casey. She was certain that I could not write about the story without the permission of the family.

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.


Sandy said...

You can please some of the people some of the time,some of the people all the time, but never all of the people all the time.
Someone is going to write about it. I would rather it be someone who cares about people instead of just the money aspect of it, and I think Diane qualifies. I have seen and heard enough of her ideas and thoughts, not just in her books, but in day to day conversations, to be able to perceive this about her.
I read True Crime books one right after the other. The thing that is really astonishing to me is that there is never a lack of crime to read about. When I read about Caylee all I see is this precious, innocent little angel whose life was cut short at the hands of another person. What I want to understand is just what brought this person to a point where they could do such a thing. Once this person too was someone’s innocent child. It is so totally beyond my understanding how one person can come to a point where they could go that far. I seek to understand this, because I want to know if there are signs in others that we could see and perhaps intervene in some way to stop it.
So far it seems to me that these traits usually surface in someone during their adolescent years. What I don’t know is.... Is it a quirk in the brain they are born with or does it have to do with the environment they are raised in. Is it because our children are too spoiled, or because they are around too much violence as they are raised. Is it because of being shunned in school. Or is it just that they carry around an evil spirit that no one can do anything about. I also feel that the abundant use of drugs in our society has something to do with it. Within my own family I can see people that have so much anger, rage, and hate. And they are people that have addictive personalities. But what can we do? If you see a doctor they tell you that you can do nothing, it’s up to the individual person, who usually sees nothing wrong with themselves or likes what they are doing so much, they surely don’t want to change it.
Caylee deserves to be memorialized. People need to know and remember that she existed. That’s the best we can do for her now. And Diane is a good choice to do that.

piper said...

Ms. Fanning, as a reader that seeks understanding, I greatly appreciate all that you do to educate the general public. Empathy is needed to understand the great loss of these victims and all those directly affected.

With sincerity, I thank you for your devotion, talent and willingness to seek and write about these heartbreaking cases. Your knowledge and hard work enables so many others to be more aware.

Unknown said...

Thank you, Piper and Paralegal Sandy. To your question about the origins of narcissism and psychopathology, Sandy: in large part, it is a mystery. Scientists suspect that heredity, environment and physical illness or injury can all play a role. Nonetheless, there still seems to be an intangible something that pushes a person beyond understandable human behaviour.
We won't be able to do anything to stop a child from developing into a psychopath until we understand all of the factors that create one.

Anonymous said...

But how can somebody write a book about a murder when only the murderer knows what happened, and she's not talking? Well, she's talking, but not telling the truth.

Anonymous said...

That is a good question. Can you write before the trial when all the evidence is made public? I've wondered this myself. I know as the parent/grandparent of murder victims how very little of what the homicide detectives have found out is made known before it comes out in court.

Levi said...

Diane, you are not a shady tabloid journalist or author. You are a highly respected author. I remember you talking about how you attended the murder trial of Mary Winkler.

You follow these cases in depth, and do research on them.

Having read some work of yours, you also write about more than just the blood and gore, but some of the issues behind the crime, like the Mary Winkler case and how her gender played a role in the case, and the psychological aspect behind it all.

Good luck, I will be reading your book.

Anonymous said...

There will always be those that don't understand why you choose to write true crime. They just can't see beyond the monetary measure and that is too bad. All of you ladies do a great job.

Unknown said...

Levi and Leah,
Thanks so much for your votes of confidence.
Anonymous and Jan,
If true crime writers depended on killers talking, there would rarely be an honest book about any homicide. If homicide detectives depended on killers talking, there would often not be a trial.
In every case, there is information available from individuals and documents. In this case, in particular, there have been more documents released pre-trial than I have ever seen in any other case.
I prefer to wait to finish a book after trial, but that is not my choice. It is in my publisher's hands. But I do think, a well researched manuscript can produce a book before trial that is honest and complete but for the verdict.

Anonymous said...

Please write this book. People need to read about this little girl and what happened. Maybe it will help someone out there not do this. Or reconize a parent who might do this. People do not want to believe there is evil. Esp. their child.
Cindy controled every one or tried to. Casey figured no Caylee no more control. She wantted to hurt her mother and that was worse than anything else she could do.
I've read true murder since I was 7. I came from a very abusive mother,I was sexually abused at 10 by a stepfather. My mother didn't believe it. There was so much more I could tell you but what saved me was reading,studying about drug abuse,child abuse,step parenting and much much more.
My hope is you can actually get the whole story. People around this family could see Cindy and Casey's relationship. I myself have no doubt Casey actually wantted rid of Cindy and George before she decided on Caylee.
Finally I wantted to say no one knew it was Caylee's last day on Fathersday but thankfully she spent it with her loving great grandparents and Cindy. Her video shows a beautiful delightful child. I have sung the same song to all 8 grandchildren while swinging on the porch. They are 3 to 18 and they remember it very well. In one part of the song I sang"please don't take Nan's sunshine away" Do you know what Caylee called Cindy because it sounds like she's singing the same thing? God bless you! I know you will do a wonderful book.

Liz Parsons

Helen Ginger said...

I've known Diane for years and have many of her books. There is no one I would trust more to write a fair, honest, intelligent and complete book on a murder or crime. She goes to great lengths and depth to get all the facts and information on a case. She spends hours interviewing and sitting in on trials and fighting to get records.

I'm glad you wrote about this, Diane. I know you sometimes get disturbing mail from murderers you've interviewed. But I had not considered you might get hate mail from someone - before you even wrote the book!


shyloh's poetry said...

To me it is kind of sad that you choose this time to write the book considering there have been many many other children that have been brutally murdered way before Caylee Anthony. This case is nationally known. So this is probably why you chose this time to make a profit. Good going. How can one write a book on a case that is so messed up no one, NO ONE knows the truth in this case and may never know it. It hasn't even gone to trial yet.