My fourth book is out today. Huzzah! It’s been an amazing three years in publishing, filled with ups and downs, joys and less-than joys. I figured I would mark this occasion by sharing some hard-won wisdom I’ve gleaned from walking my own path and by watching how successful authors do it.
1. The writing doesn’t necessarily get easier. You’d think after “breaking through” and achieving publication that you’d unlock the secret code to writing a fabulous book with no struggle. Well, no dice, as the saying goes. Each book is its own joy and its own nightmare. Some are easier than others and that doesn’t have much to do with their chronological order.
2. Everything else about publishing a book does get easier! Once you understand the workflow involved in bringing a book to market, there’s less mystery involved (ahem) and you appreciate your role in the process better. You get to know the people on your team and form real relationships with them. You make friends with your local bookstores and librarians. Maybe you even develop relationships with some of your readers. Knowing who to talk to about what makes the whole process less confusing and more enjoyable.
3. If you read reviews from readers, pay most attention to what they enjoyed about your book. These are your strengths; lean into them. It can be easy for the nay-sayers to have the loudest voice in your head. If you have twenty-five readers who love your main character’s crotchety attitude, the one reader complaining that she’s unlikeable and too negative stands out. If a couple of readers complain you use too many big words, you might be tempted to tone down the language next time, despite the other 98 readers who luxuriate in your rich language. You are never going to please everyone, so don’t try. Be true to your voice and the stories you want to tell.
4. No one cares about your book as much as you do. This means you have to be the most detail-oriented person in the publishing chain. It’s okay to advocate for your book as long as you do it nicely and not every five minutes. And speaking of every five minutes…go easy on the social media promotion. It’s normal to have a flurry of events, posts, etc., in the few weeks around publication. But if you are talking about your book every day, you will turn readers (and friends and family) off pretty quick. Instead, talk about things that are writing-adjacent. Books in the same genre that you have liked. Research you are doing.
5. Be nice. I like this one as a life philosophy in general. But publishing is a small corner of the world. If you are a jerk, it will get around. As authors, we’re often tasked with networking up the chain, trying to catch the eye of a Big Name Writer who might blurb our books or Big Name Agent who might sell our books, etc. I have been to networking events where people I was trying to talk to were nakedly looking over my shoulder the entire time, searching for someone more important. This is dumb. For one thing, some of the most important people in publishing don’t look important. These are people who may not have a lot of fancy publications themselves, but they are book buyers for a library chain or they sit on committees that decide on conference panelists or they quietly judge the Edgar Awards. The little-known author today may be the bestseller tomorrow. Be nice.
6. When you hit a bump in the road, write the next book. The writing is all we control anyway, so it can feel good to take the reins again if you’ve had a setback. Book didn’t get an agent? Write another one. Your novel didn’t sell the way you’d hoped? Write a new one. Publisher went out of business? Write a fresh book to capture a new one. The solution to pretty much all publishing disasters is a new manuscript.
7. Each new book brings its own particular joys. Maybe you got to write a character you’ve always loved in your head. Maybe a reader writes to say your book got them through a tough time. Maybe you land a review at a site you’ve long coveted or are asked to give a talk at your local library. Each time, there is a new and precious reward…which should be motivation to write that next book.
When you write about people, you make sure to draw them as individuals with a particular combination of likes and dislikes, strengths and foibles. If the people in your story have pets, you should treat them the same way. There is no universal “dog” or “cat” personality, and the key to writing a memorable pet is to make sure they have their own unique flair.
If you don’t happen to own the pet in question, looking up traits of the breed will help you with a starting point. Siamese cats are typically quite vocal, for example. Giant dogs—think Mastiffs or Great Danes—tend to be lower energy and obedient because they were bred that way. My own basset Winston shares a common trait with many basset hounds in that he likes to think for himself. He is slow to follow commands because he wants everything to be his idea. Bassets were bred as hunting dogs meant to roam ahead of their people and so their independent streak is strong. How strong? Well, there is one obedience school that simply won’t take bassets. But don’t confuse a basset’s lack of a desire to do what the human says with a lack of love for the human. Bassets are strongly bonded with their people (and other pets in the house) and will follow you from room to room.
But you can also have a 100% pure-bred animal that behaves nothing like its kin. If you don’t happen to have a dog, bird, cat, hamster, etc., you can find discussion forums where people share stories about their pets to learn the range of crazy behaviors that animals will evince. I lived with an average-sized cat for a while who could shake the whole house by “boxing” on a bedroom door that didn’t sit tight in its frame. Another cat I knew would take his human female’s dirty underwear out of the hamper and carry it around with him. He’d also come running like a dog when she returned home, so if she had company with her, they would be greeted by a Calico kitty with a bra in his mouth.
Maybe your fictional rabbit is crazy for green peas. Perhaps the cat in your novel likes to sit on top of the fridge and pass judgment on all your food choices when you open the door. My mother once had a cockatoo who liked to imitate the noise of the doorbell to make the family dog run barking to the front door. Then the bird would laugh and dance. Ha!
Winston gives me plenty of ideas for Speed Bump, his fictional counterpart. Winston will go belly-up if you try to pet him. The underside of the dog is the best part for scratching, in his opinion. He smells like a hound, which means he emits an odor reminiscent of corn chips. Speaking of chips, he will wake from a sound sleep at the scent of popcorn. And with his considerable nose, he can detect popcorn from two floors away. However, he hates bananas (but not banana muffins). He loves little kids, whom he views as fellow puppies, but is distrustful of men with beards—not to mention the fearsome plexiglass cow outside the ice cream shop. At doggie daycare, they call him “The Mayor” because he makes the rounds, talking to all other dogs on the premises.
The more individualized you can make your story’s pets, the more they will seem real. You want readers to hear the meows and feel the fur. You want the creatures galumphing, slinking, and skulking right off the page.
With the advent of All the Best Lies, I’ve been getting more reader feedback on whether Ellery and Reed should be a couple or not. Sentiment runs about 90-95% “They belong together forever” with about 5-10% of readers firmly in the “Ew, that’s gross” category. I feel like both sides have a point, which is why Ellery and Reed are so much fun to write. If they were a perfect couple, they’d be boring. But are they too taboo? Let’s review the evidence on the “Ew, gross” side:
1. They met when Ellery was a kid. She was fourteen and Reed was a grown-ass adult in the FBI. For some readers, understandably, this is a non-starter.
2. He rescued her. This fact, plus the age difference, creates the impression of a power imbalance that is sometimes uncomfortable.
3. They met because of a serial killer. He’s always going to be between them.
Meanwhile, the “Aw, they belong together” side has points to offer as well:
1. They understand each other in a way that literally no one else on Earth does.
2. They like each other. You should get to date who you like, as long as everyone is a consenting adult.
3. They are both adults now.
4. They fill in each other’s blindspots. Reed’s monied background means he doesn’t understand what it’s like to go without, and he sometimes misses motivations or part of a case that Ellery sees better. He also has a bit of a “fix-it” complex. Ellery is a constant reminder that he can’t fix everything, nor should he try. Ellery rushes headlong into danger while Reed is more circumspect. She is something of a misanthrope. Reed gives her hope for humankind.
The yin-yang of these two points of view is what makes them interesting to me as a writer. I see the “Ew, gross” side even if I do not completely share it. To me, the deal-breakers would be:
1. If Reed had any authority over Ellery, now or in the past. He’s not her boss. He has no control over her job or her future.
2. They had interacted a lot when she was a kid. As it stands, they met once. It was a dramatic meeting, to be sure, but then Reed disappeared from her life. He had no bearing on the kind of adult she turned out to be. He did not know girl-Ellery in any real capacity. He knows her only as an adult.
3. If she were a new adult. If Ellery was twenty-two or twenty-four, still getting her bearings on the adult world, it would be a different story. Reed would feel like a creepy influence. But she’s thirty and stands firmly on her own two feet.
4. If she had nothing to teach him. If their relationship was all about Reed breaking down Ellery’s walls, if he had no emotional learning to do himself, then the relationship would be hopelessly unbalanced.
So, in sum: those crazy lovebirds. Will they make it or not? I have no idea! Stay tuned.
I get questions about my books all the time, but there is a frequent one that always stumps me: “Is your book scary?” I’m never sure how to reply. To me, they are not scary, but I go to bed each night with Forensic Files reruns on the TV. The first book involves a serial killer, which is a frightening premise and a non-starter for many readers. Yet others who like dark, disturbing stories find it tepid, like a Lifetime movie. There is no slashing of body parts on the page. There is no long internal narrative from the killer about stalking or dismembering the victims.
It’s funny to me that the same book can be described as “a nice, light read” and “relentlessly sinister,” but it all depends on your point of view. I’m a firm believer in letting readers take what they want from a story. My intent shouldn’t matter. That said, I don’t set out with an intent to scare anyone. But the books aren’t meant to be entirely comfortable either.
As I’ve mentioned, Ellery and Reed are very loosely inspired by real people around the edges of the Ted Bundy case. I was reading a book on Bundy years ago and was struck by how he was a wrecking ball through so many lives. There were the murdered victims, of course, and their loved ones left behind. But also: the cops, prematurely aged by what they’d seen; Bundy’s fiancée and her daughter; Bundy’s own daughter, conceived on death row; Carol DaRonch, Bundy’s most famous living victim who ends up in every Bundy movie, even forty years after the fact; the young women in the sorority house in Florida who weren’t attacked the night he went through the place with a log, bashing heads in; the young women who were attacked and lived, including a dancer who could no longer dance.
I even met a man who happened to be named Ted who ended up on the wrong end of a cop’s gun, just because he shared a name with the infamous serial killer.
So, the books aren’t so much about the serial killer himself, at least not to date. They’re about everyone else who has to live with the crater he left behind. You can lock him up or even execute him but it doesn’t undo all the damage. Justice is imperfect.
I guess if I had to declare any kind of authorial intent, I would say I want the books to feel real. Crime is scary, and that fright can linger even after you survive it, even if the fear is mostly in your head. But surviving means you get to experience the other joyous parts of life, too, like sharing a meal with a friend or rubbing a warm dog belly. I make sure to put those parts into the story as well. Does that make it “light”? Or “grim”?
If you, like me, spend any amount of time watching true crime shows, then you will notice a pattern among the victims. They are all perfect. They lit up every room they entered. They had the winning-est smiles but no shirts on their backs because they’d already given them to the nearest person in need. Even if, as the story progresses, we find out that the deceased experienced some trouble in their lives (an affair, a drug or alcohol addiction, a termination from work), we are told that they were just in the process of getting their life back on track when they were cruelly cut down by murder. Cynical viewers comment that the producers must think we won’t care about justice for a flawed dead person.
Having been a TV producer for a time, I know why we get these glowing testimonials from the victim’s loved ones: they are to humanize the deceased, to try to bring them to life and give them a voice in a program that is otherwise focused on their role as a dead body. I get it. I do. There’s a sameness to the reports, though, that serves to undermine their purpose. The victim loved life. Loved her family. No one would ever want to hurt him.
Except, of course, someone did.
One of my current favorite programs is See No Evil, which uses CC footage to piece together events after a murder or other heinous crime. There is minimal lionizing of the victim, perhaps because we get to see them for ourselves on the grainy footage. They visit ATMs, feed the parking meter, pay for gas.
A recent episode featured Edward Lowry, a man found savagely beaten and stabbed to death on a street in South Dakota. Ed’s friends and family offered up the usual backstory of what an amazing guy he was—how helpful, friendly and outgoing. Then the cameras traced Ed’s actions leading up to his death. He’d received a promotion at work, we’re told, and he went out to celebrate. He visits a couple of bars, drinks a beer or two. In between, we follow his distinctive, robot-like walk through town as he’s caught on security footage from banks, pawn shops and the like. By the end, you feel like you would know his figure anywhere.
The cops talk to the bartender at one of the places Ed may have visited. She says he wasn’t in. The cameras show he was there, bellied right up to her bar for a good long time. She served him but didn’t remember him. At the time she’d talked to Ed, he was no one special.
Ed sets out again past midnight, loping toward home. We know he doesn’t get there. A group of young men happen across Ed and decide to jump him and rob him. We see them fall in behind him, stalking him, and we want to yell out for Ed to run. Change course before it’s too late.
The three thugs took Ed’s life for just $200. Afterward, they’re shown celebrating with treats at a gas station convenience store. The cops close in for their own kind of score.
I’m left with other questions at the end. Why, if Ed was so surrounded by loved ones, was he out celebrating alone? Maybe they were all just busy that night. After all, they couldn’t know. They didn’t know it was the last time Ed Lowry would stride through town with his leather jacket and bandana and unusual walk.
All of us are walking that same path that Ed Lowry did. Something is out there, waiting to jump us, we know not when or where. See No Evil shows us a glimpse of those last minutes, lets us see the person going about their mundane lives at the Kwik-Mart and the bank, and that’s when we know the truth: murder victims aren’t perfect. They’re just regular.
We just happen to be watching when they walk off camera one last time.
No artist enjoys negative reviews, but they are an inevitable part of putting your art out into the world. In the immortal words of author Chuck Wendig, someone is going to hate your book so much that they would film themselves feeding it to a weeping zoo animal. (“I hate hippos and I hate this book! Eat the book, Mr. Tub-Tub! EAT IT!) There’s no question that the negative reviews can sting, but did you also know they are incredibly helpful to you, the author? No, I’m not high, and I’m not kidding. Here are three proven benefits to those one-star reviews:
They legitimize your positive reviews. If you have a book that has 25+ reviews on it and they are all glowing, readers will assume you are gaming the system. Maybe you aren’t! Maybe every one of those reviews is genuine, but readers are suspicious when they see only praise for a book. They presume the author’s friends and family rallied in support. But if you have a few negative reviews in the mix, then readers know your book is “out there in the world” and they are more inclined to trust the good reviews.
It means your book has reach. Not every story is meant for every reader, and this is actually a good thing. It means that the people who love aliens but hate sci-fi can find books to suit them, and those who crave a mushy romance can find those stories without stumbling over a bunch of dead bodies. But if you are going to reach the maximum size of your desired audience, it means your book will sometimes bump up against the borders of that readership—that is, it will fall into the hands of a reader for whom it is not intended. “I hate ghosts and this book was full of them!” If you aren’t seeing at least a few of these reviews, it probably means your book hasn’t expanded far enough within its target audience.
It helps your target readers and your book find each other. People read one-star reviews to find out what might turn them off about the book, and one person’s squick is another person’s kink. “This book has vampires in it? BRING IT ON!” or “People complained about the sex and violence in this story, but I totally dig both of those, sometimes both together! I am buying this book right now!” Similarly, it helps keep your book out of the hands of too many readers who wouldn’t like it. They know to avoid your book and buy something else, thus saving you even more one-star reviews down the line.
So there you have it. One-star reviews are actually helpful when it comes to marketing your book. What they are NOT helpful for is aiding in your growth as a writer. Unless you have a lot of negative reviews complaining about the same thing (rotten grammar, weak endings, etc.), then reader advice is not likely to help much. Reader reviews are meant for other readers, not you, the author. If you skim negative reviews for any published work, you will usually see that the reader complaints are all over the map, often contradictory, and thus it would not be possible for the author to address them all. So take them with a grain of salt and maybe a large glass of wine (because they still sting, after all!), and be grateful that your book attracts reader passion.
I write mystery novels, but when it comes to figuring out who your readers are, “mystery novel” alone won’t cut it as a designation. Is it a classic mystery in the style of Agatha Christie or a suspense tale ala Mary Higgins Clark? Or maybe it’s more of a noir? It might surprise you to learn that there are more than a dozen subgenres within the broader category of “mystery,” and they each have their own conventions and diehard fans.
One of the conversations I had with my editor about The Vanishing Season concerned the level of gore in the story. It involves a serial killer who likes to cut off people’s hands, so there are some definite icky moments. However, most of the violence occurs “off screen” and there’s no detailed discussion of bloodshed or viscera. The question facing me and my editor was whether to leave in references to the killer’s dastardly deeds or remove them in case they turned readers’ stomachs. The decision would slant my book in one direction or the other: keep the serial killer creepy stuff, and the book sits with dark stories, leaning toward thrillers; or remove any references to a hacksaw and plant the book closer to a traditional mystery. Hmmm…what to do?
If you are aiming for the largest audience, make your book a cozy or a traditional mystery. These are both classic types of mystery that can feature official investigators (ala Columbo) or amateur detectives (ala Jessica Fletcher from Murder She Wrote). The fun of these books is in their characters, their settings, and the puzzle at hand. There is often a murder but it won’t feel too dark because the victim often deserved what was coming to him and the crime itself is not detailed. There are no long passages lamenting man’s inhumanity to man or musing on the darkness of the human heart. Rather, there is more often humor and enjoyment in watching a likable sleuth figure out the twisty solution.
Suspense and thriller books tend to be darker in tone, with an omnipresent sense of foreboding. The main character is in danger from a known or unknown threat. These books often have elements of mystery to them, but in some ways, suspense is the opposite of mystery. Tension in mysteries relies on the reader not knowing the identity of the perpetrator. By contrast, suspense books may even reveal who the Big Baddie is fairly early on, and the tension comes from what next horrible thing will happen to the hero and how he/she will defeat the villain, e.g. Behind Closed Doors. Descriptions of agonizing deaths or other macabre developments are not unusual in suspense/thriller stories.
As you can see, the reader experience varies dramatically between these categories of “mystery,” and if you want one kind and get the other, you may be disappointed. Books have to delivery on reader expectations. Thus, the question for me and my editor boiled down to: what kind of book are readers expecting from The Vanishing Season? Given that the central premise involves serial murder—a killer who hunts for sport—it did not seem like the story would ever fit neatly into the cozy or traditional mystery bin. On the other hand, readers who are drawn to tales of serial killers actually want to hear some of the gruesome details. Watering down the creepy factor too much risks alienating this group.
So…in the end, the minor descriptions of severed body parts stayed in the book. It’s a mystery/thriller at heart, and I hope it delivers as such!
Ah, fall, when the air is redolent with the scent of woodsmoke and new pencil erasers. The kids are back to school today, and we somehow have a third grader. I swear she just started kindergarten yesterday. But no, amazingly she is eight and I can hardly believe it because eight is a significant year in my memory. It’s when I decided I wanted to be a writer. (Spoiler alert: it’s going to take more than three decades to accomplish this goal.) More than that, though, age eight feels contiguous with who I am now. That eight-year-old and me, man, we’re the same. I look at my daughter now and wonder if she will experience eight the same way.
She sometimes wants to be a writer. Sometimes a chef. Also sometimes a rock star. These days she spends a lot of time making up plays for the neighborhood. The latest one is called “Me and My American Ninja Warrior.” (It is hilariously misspelled “My American Ninja Worrier” on some of the fliers.) The story involves a girl named Amelia who leaves her country home to become the first female to fight in the army in a great war for truth, justice and freedom (the opponent here is somewhat murky, but it’s men who are telling her no and she is standing up to them). When Amelia’s mother begs her not to go, Amelia demurs, saying, “My home is the battlefield now.”
What is most interesting about this play is that she and her friend next door have conceived a second role that shadows Amelia and plays her inner self. Eleanor performs Amelia’s outer actions, while the friend gives her inner thoughts. There is a prescient tune (yes, it’s a musical…) in the first act where Amelia is musing on how society asks her to behave one way but what she really wants is to be valiant in battle. It includes a line about how “my insides sing a different song.”
I find it amazing and inspiring that these eight-year-olds are already wise enough to listen to their inner voices. I hope they sing loudly and proudly, this year and every year.
I’ve spent a lot of time this year learning about how authors connect themselves to their work. You are supposed to figure out the parts of your personal story that intersects with your fiction and this overlap becomes part and parcel of your “brand.” So if you are a late-in-life divorcée and so is your heroine, you would emphasize this relationship to underscore your authenticity. To prove that the story is rightfully yours.
In mysteries, authors often draw on personal experience as some form of investigator. Archer Mayor, who writes the popular Joe Gunther series, has worked as a death investigator for the Vermont State Medical Examiner’s office. Lisa Scottoline, who’s penned many award-winning legal thrillers, spent years working as a lawyer before turning her talents to fiction. Hank Phillippi Ryan, who writes terrific page-turners about female investigative reporters, is an Emmy award-winning investigative reporter herself. These writers clearly know their stuff!
So when the publishing director asked me in a hopeful voice about my background in criminal law, I had to admit the truth: I’ve watched a lot of Law & Order. Oh, I’ve also done a lot of other homework and research, but I’ve never worked as a cop or lawyer. My experience at police stations is purely recreational.
No, the part of The Vanishing Season that belongs to me is the ugly side. Like Ellery in the story, I was sexually assaulted at a young age (in my case five years old) by an adult neighbor who said he would kill my family if I ever told. So I said nothing for a long time. Eventually, I turned to books to help me process what had happened to me. I started checking out books on rape from the library at age eight, both fiction and non, looking for a roadmap forward from those who had been through it before me. These stories were tremendously helpful, a real lifeline. You’re not alone, they told me. It will be okay.
It is okay and I have a lovely life, with a husband and daughter who is now eight years old herself. She knows only vaguely the kind of predators that lurk in the world, and I hope she can retain that innocence as long as possible. I’ve learned from experience, however, that there are many others out there who have lived through the same kind of agony I endured. I know because they’ve written to tell me so. For years now I’ve told fictional stories that touch on sexual assault in one way or another, and in return, I’ve received real, heart-rending tales from women who say yes, me too. One woman was awoken one night by a man who climbed through her bedroom window with a knife. Another had an uncle protected by her extended family even as he spirited her away into the basement for regular “private time.”
Like me, these women are relieved to find stories that verify their own experiences. We’re not crazy. We’re not broken. It wasn’t our fault. But this brand is just that—burning and permanent, a mark put there by someone else that fades with time but never quite goes away.
I’m working a story about a murder that takes place on a university campus. The leafy grounds of higher education might not seem like they would be a popular spot for murderers to hang out, but I’ve got personal experience that says otherwise. My academic pursuits have brushed up against three infamous murder cases—each lurid enough tales to be fictionalized on programs like Law and Order and Cold Case. In the first one, I lived in the same dorm with Gina Grant, a young woman convicted at age fourteen of murdering her mother.
In Gina’s telling, her mother was an abusive alcoholic. In the prosecution’s version, Gina resented her mother’s interference in her relationship with her boyfriend. The boyfriend was also convicted in the murder of Gina’s mother, although he didn’t arrive on the scene until the woman was already dead. Gina had originally been bound for Harvard, but they rescinded their invitation when they discovered her crime. No murderers are welcome at Harvard, it would seem. Gina ended up instead in my biology class at Tufts University, where she behaved like any other student. We’d had meetings prior to her arrival where university staff explained that we should treat her no differently and that we should not talk to the press about her. Notably, however, they did not assign her a roommate…
Meanwhile, despite Harvard’s best efforts to keep its campus free from homicide, they did have a murder that year, when Sinedu Tadesse stabbed her roommate, Trang Phuong Ho, to death and then committed suicide. Tadesse was lonely at Harvard and apparently clung to her relationship with Ho. When Ho decided to stop living with Tadesse and instead wanted room with a different group of girls, Tadesse fell into rage and despair.Before the murder/suicide, Tadesse mailed a photograph of herself with an anonymous note to the Harvard paper with a note saying, “Keep this picture. There will soon be a very juicy story involving this woman.” Then she stabbed Ho forty-five times and hanged herself in the bathroom. In an odd postscript, Trang Ho’s sister Tram ended up in Gina Grant’s class at Tufts.
Then I moved to Yale, where we had an unusual student in our neuroscience classes named Tonica Jenkins. Unlike most graduate students who were eager to make friends and study hard, Tonica presented as standoffish, almost paranoid, and didn’t seem prepared for class. She didn’t seem to take the classes seriously and she bailed on exams. When a fellow student’s car got scraped up by a key, there were whispers that Tonica had done it.
The university investigated and discovered Tonica’s perfect 4.0 grades on her transcripts were a lie. Jenkins had not only forged the transcripts and letters, but she didn’t even have a bachelor’s degree. Yale sued Jenkins for the $15,000 in stipend money they had paid her. During the hearings, Tonica sent pictures of herself to Yale in which she appeared bound and gagged in the trunk of a car. She said the dean had done it to her. We couldn’t believe we’d sat in class next to someone this crazy! No one believed her story about the kidnapping, and she was ordered to repay the money she had defrauded from the school. Amazingly, though, this proved only the beginning of Tonica’s life of crime.
Tonica was later arrested for attempting to purchase cocaine. To avoid these charges, she hatched a plan to fake her death by murdering another young woman. With the help of a male cousin, Tonica grabbed a woman who resembled her off the street. For two days, they drugged the woman, Melissa Latham, with crack and marijuana. They also took her to the dentist under Tonica Jenkins’ name to establish a dental record so that Melissa’s body would be identified as Tonica. Tonica’s plan was to murder Latham, burn her body, and dump it in an abandoned building. She would then assume Latham’s identity.
The plan went awry at the point Tonica and her cousin tried to kill Latham. They beat her with a brick until she pretended to be dead, at which point she escaped and ran next door to a KFC restaurant. Tonica was eventually convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to twenty years in prison.
Finally, I have no idea if I’ve crossed paths with murderer #3 or not because the culprit has never been caught. While I was living at Yale, an undergraduate named Suzanne Jovin was stabbed to death one night a couple of blocks from my apartment. Just prior to this, witnesses had seen Suzanne in downtown New Haven, and it’s not clear how she made it across town in fifteen minutes. Her boyfriend was out of town at the time, and police could find no one with motive to kill Suzanne. They zeroed in on her thesis advisor, who lived in the area, but intense investigation revealed no apparent link between the two outside of class. The suspicion alone cost James Van de Velde his job.
Someone must have picked up Suzanne and brought her across town, probably someone she knew. Then they murdered her out in the open on a city street, not that late at night, in an area crammed with students. The odds that someone would witness the crime were high, and yet no eyewitness has ever come forward. The case remains open and unsolved.
A few weeks ago, a Northwestern Professor was arrested for murder after the body of a young man was found stabbed to death in his apartment. I didn’t know this guy, but my colleague did. “He seemed like such a nice man,” she said with amazement, and that’s the thing about university murderers: they have to pass as normal at least long enough to assimilate. They could be your teacher, or the kid living down the hall in your dorm, and they look perfectly ordinary…the same as you or me.