In crime on May 29, 2012 at 5:37 am

My latest book, Secret Witness (University of Michigan Press 2012) is my first venture into writing true crime.  I have written non-fiction books before, everything from bestselling business management books (Cubicle Warfare) to military history.  I learned that writing true crime was a different game entirely and thought I’d share a few of my experiences. 


In Secret Witness I was writing about the 1967 bombing murder of Nola Puyear in Marshall, Michigan’s main street.  The day of the murder I was four years old and attending a birthday party in a park just outside of downtown Marshall.  I never heard the blast but my memories of the day are etched in my brain.  It was the first time I saw adults, parents, afraid.  You don’t forget something like that. 


Writing this book was different for me in that I have always written books that everyone wanted to have published.  With true crime books, that is not the case.  I found some people I interviewed who refused to have their names printed, despite the fact that the murderer has been dead for decades.  The books deals with the culture of small towns in America.  I discovered, via the investigation, a lot of sex and dirty little secrets from my hometown.  Small towns can be very protective of their pristine images. I was confronted by more than one person that told me I shouldn’t write the book.  “Nice people don’t talk about such things.” Some secrets are apparently best swept under the rug. 


As a professional writer I sent letters to the family of the killer.  There were two reasons for this.  One is to let them know that a book is coming out.  Two, I wanted to see if they would be willing to answer some questions.  I couldn’t track down all of the various family members…I stuck with those immediately involved and mentioned in the police files. 


Not surprising, they were less-than-enthusiastic about the book coming out.  The wife of the victim, once she got past her indignation, actually tried to get paid by me to answer questions!  I expected the indignation.  I actually respect that.  The extortion…that didn’t settle well with me.   


Some of their children reached out to me to tell me that they couldn’t stop me from writing the book, but I should not publicize it since they live in that same small town. That’s not reasonable for a writer.  Promotion of a book is necessary.  I also have a lot of love and respect of Marshall, Michigan.  I don’t think that the community is so shallow that they hold the children or grandchildren guilty for the crimes of generations past.  I have more faith in the people of my hometown. 


The other aspect of writing true crime is that some of the people involved are still alive.  My other non-fiction books were from World War One.  The parties involved have been dead, for decades.  True crime deals with people, relatives, witnesses, jurors, etc., that may yet be alive.   Many don’t want to have the publicity focused on them or their relatives.  At the same time as a true crime writer, you can’t let that guide whether you write a book or not.  The decision to write a book rests with me as an author.  I don’t open that up for public voting.  If I did, I wouldn’t be writing any true crime books – no one would.  There’s always someone out there that doesn’t want the story told. 


Has it been worth the risk?  The feedback I’ve received so far has been outstanding.  Publisher’s Weekly gave it a great review using phrases like “compelling” and comparing it to Alfred Hitchcock and Grace Metalious (Peyton Place’s author).   Obviously I encourage you to read it for yourself ( ) 

In the end, I have no regrets…yet…  I’d be curious as to what you think.  Feel free to reach out to me at or via my blog 

LaeLand is looking for guest posts. If you have one in you, please get in touch. The only requirement is that the post is about crime, the length and POV of it is totally up to you.

In return you get a two-day promotion, with a spotlight on the Monday and your post on the Tuesday.


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