Monday, June 16, 2008

Pure Murder Virtual Book Tour - Corey Mitchell Talks to Friends and Fans

Sometimes times people think I must be a serial killer or misogynistic pig because of the stories I write. Luckily, there are intelligent people out there that understand that I am able to compartmentalize my work and my real life.

One such group of people are my new friends whom I call the S.A. Zoo Crew. It is comprised of some wonderful mothers, Loryll, Michelle, and Jennifer, whom I first met at the library at storytime for our kids. We have since expanded our get-togethers to include trips to the local zoo.

At first, the moms had no idea I wrote about serial killers, mass murderers, and executions. Once they found out, they did not run away screaming. Instead, they inquired about my books and began to read them on their own -- and they still talk to me!

The following conversation took place after we had "Craft Time" with our kids:

Jennifer (pictured right ): What sparked your interest in true crime?

I wanted to understand why certain people who may seem completely "normal" on the outside stray down a different path than I did. Why do people turn right when I turned left?

I am much more fascinated with killers who came from fairly typical good backgrounds that go wrong later in life. That is probably why my first true crime book, Helter Skelter, had such an impact on me. Though I was only nine years old when I read the book, I could relate to the killers, especially Charles "Tex" Watson and Leslie Van Houten. They were the perfect kids who did good in school, excelled in sports, were popular in high school. Tex played football while Leslie was Homecoming Queen at her school. They lived a life similar to the one I felt I would live (and eventually did). I was intrigued by the thought of them choosing the darker path in life instead of the successful route they had been traveling.

As I got older and re-read Helter Skelter several times, and after I had chosen the more acceptable path in life, their choices baffled me even more. Ever since then I have wanted to discover what forces are at play when making the choice to end another human being's life. A choice I could never make, with the exception of defending my family, friends, or self.

Michelle (pictured center): How do you pick your topics?

I usually have three criteria. How much do I care for the victims? How interesting is the killer or killers? Can I live with this story for the next 18 months while I work on it and then for the rest of my life as people always want to know more about each one of my books.

Though I have not always written about them, I prefer victims who are good people, but maybe have a few flaws. Elizabeth Pena from my newest book, Pure Murder, is a perfect example of that. She is a good girl who went through a few rough patches in her life only to get her act together just before she was murdered. Her relatability is evident and makes her death that much more tragic.

Loryll (pictured left): How do you get access to so much information to write your books?

Each book I write about has a trial where I am able to gather all of the court documents entered into the record. From there I am able to gather the names of all the key players involved, as well as every detailed record such as psychiatric evaluations or early medical documents about the killer. Trial transcripts are also included.

All of these documents, usually thousands and thousands of pages worth, provide me with a blueprint to tell the story. Of course, I have to breathe life into this dry information and make it interesting for the reader. That is where interviews with the key participants comes in, as well as providing additional context whether it be historical, political, emotional, and more.

Michelle: How about the photographs?

The crime scene photographs are also available at the courthouse. There will also be candid photos of the victims and sometimes the killer.

In addition, I like to go to as many pertinent locations involved in the story as I can so I can get a better feel for the vibe of the area and to best describe the surroundings. I will go to the murder sites and sit where the bodies were found, I will visit the homes of the killers to understand how their environment might have impacted their decision-making, or go to the schools were the victims attended to understand what their average daily routine may have been like. I try to hit everything from homes, to schools, to crime scenes, to hospitals, places of employment, funeral homes, cemeteries, and more. Every location tells a different story and those stories have to be included.

Of course, while I am visiting these locations I also take as many pictures from as many different angles as possible for later reference while writing. A few of those may even make it into the book. I shoot well over 1,000 photographs for each book. Thank God for digital cameras!

Loryll: How do the families of the victims respond to you?

Usually very positive. You can read how one parent, Harriett Semander, from my book Evil Eyes, felt about the interviewing process at my True Crime Book Updates blog here.

Most often, family members want their loved ones' stories to be told. They want a legacy for their child, brother, sister, mother, father to be documented. I let them know that I will do my best to write a fair and honest portrait of their family member, warts and all. I want to get at the real person who they loved, not just the angelicized version. Their loved ones are complex, multi-faceted, and unique individuals who have suffered the worst fate imaginable. I hope to include all of those perspectives to tell the most-compelling story possible.

Inevitably, there are some family members who do not want to talk to me about their loved ones and I cannot fault them one bit. I never push a family member who does not want to discuss their departed loved one's life or death. I just hope they realize that I am there to tell the truth and I hope they would want their input included.

Jennifer (an avid horror fan and true crime reader): What is your favorite horror film?

Ah, there are so many great ones to choose from. Near the top of the list would have to be Evil Dead 2, Dog Soldiers, The Exorcist, Halloween (the original), Dawn of the Dead (the original), Day of the Dead, Audition, The Oblong Box, Apocalypse Now, Carrie, and many more.

My favorite, however, is probably Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. It is grim, gruesome, brutal, unflinching, honest, and just plain evil. It is probably the best look into the mind of a serial killer and shows that these people are seemingly very normal human beings with both good and bad traits. The fact that Henry comes across as the more sane person over his friend Otis is very disturbing, but infinitely more realistic than some Hannibal Lecter nonsense.

Henry is a movie that twists your understanding of good and evil and makes you question yourself as well as those around you.

It is a very heavy movie that makes me want to take a shower immediately after I watch it.

Jennifer: With all the knowledge you've gathered over the years, do you think you could commit the ultimate crime?

No. First of all, I am too much of a square to commit any crime. Second, I feel like most of the killers I have written about made far too many mistakes to ever get away with their crimes. It's funny because my next book, which is about a young man who believed he could commit the ultimate crime of killing his entire family and get away with it, is almost a comedy of errors. He believed he was so smart, but in the end, the law caught up to him.

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Thanks to these wonderful, lovely ladies. It is always a pleausre to spend time with each of you and your wonderful kids.

Next play time is at my house!

The "Word of the Day" is: KIND

Be sure to catch Corey Mitchell's Pure Murder Virtual Book Tour tomorrow, June 17, at my friend and fellow In Cold Blogger, author and 48 Hours Mysteries producer, Paul LaRosa's The Murder Book 2008. I will discuss the usage of crime scene photos in my books.

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