Why do you write mysteries instead of another type of fiction?
Many Sisters in Crime tell me Nancy Drew was their inspiration — was she also yours? I did love that series and I’ve always enjoyed the intellectual stimulation that comes with attempting to solve the puzzle of a fictional mystery.
But the reason I write mysteries has more to do with the the brutal murder of a beautiful blonde newlywed almost four decades ago than a fictional girl detective.
I was a new police beat reporter at a newspaper in Lubbock, Texas, when Deborah Sue Williamson was brutally stabbed 17 times and left to die in the carport of her new home on Aug. 24, 1975. Her husband said he found her body when he returned from working at the pizza restaurant he managed. Her wedding dress lay on the guestroom bed and her purse was missing, along with their wedding album.
She was only 18 years old.
Her slaying, which remains unsolved today, shocked the West Texas city of 225,000. My editor proclaimed that the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal would carry a front-page story every day until her killer was found. By the time he gave up almost four months later, I knew more about Deborah Sue Williamson than anyone had a right to beyond her immediate family.
For more than 35 years, her murder has haunted me. When a crazy drifter named Henry Lee Lucas confessed in the 1980s to her slaying and over 500 more – crimes he later recanted – I knew it wasn’t him. Her parents did, too, and even sold their home to finance an investigation to prove it so police would continue looking for the real killer.
And it is a grave injustice and an unspeakable tragedy that her murderer still walks free today.
I think about this whenever I write a mystery story or work on my novel. I’ve used pieces of Deborah Sue’s story in my fiction. I imagine the terror she felt and remember how desperate her parents were to see the crime solved, sharing everything possible with the police and this reporter in the hope it would lead to her killer.
Unfortunately, I have been a far too frequent witness, professionally and personally, to the devastating aftermath of crime, including the murders of Deborah Sue and other people dying in horrible ways. These tragedies never leave me. Incorporating them into my writing sometimes makes it easier to try to understand and deal with them.
Fiction also offers an opportunity to right great wrongs. There, we can make sure the killer is caught and there is justice for the victim — which is not something we can guarantee in real life.
So why do YOU write mysteries?