An Interview with True Crime Author RJ Parker
As an author of both mystery and thrillers I do quite a bit of research into the criminal mind. It’s not exactly pleasant, but it is fascinating. I have been intrigued for years as to what causes someone to become a killer. Are they born evil? Does their environment dictate who and what they become? Is it a bit of both? I’d love to know your thoughts on this topic.
I decided to go straight to an excellent source to get his opinion. R.J. Parker has written seven books on the topic of serial killers. I am currently reading his book WOMEN WHO KILL http://tiny.cc/l75ac, and it is truly intriguing. This is a copy of an interview he did with William Cook. I hope you find it as interesting as I do. RJ also gives some great insight into self-publishing. To check out all of RJ Parker’s books, visit his blog at http://authorrjparker.blogspot.com/2012/01/unsolved-serial-killings.html.
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· How did you get into writing about True Crime?
I have been an avid reader for over 30 years and really enjoyed fictional stories that included serial murders. I also read all of John Douglas books, who is my FBI hero, and he coined much of the terminology used today when talking about serial killers. I don’t have much of an imagination so I never attempted fiction, and I wanted to write after reading thousands of books, so I decided to write on what I know best, serial killers.
· What draws you to a certain subject? That is, what are the essential things that you look for in determining what will make a good/valid True Crime story or book?
There have been many serial killers in our history, it’s not hard to pick certain individuals, there’s an endless list. In my first book, Unsolved Serial Killings, I focused on the ones that got away which really intrigued me. SK’s then could literally get away with murder because law enforcement lacked technical skills, not like today with DNA and Behavioral Science, Profiling etc. I also picked the topic of women because they are the least likely to become a serial killer, however, there have been many. People want to read about serial killers who killed many. They are not interested in the ones who only have 3 kills..they like 30 better. It makes for a better read, which is sad, but true. People are fascinated with true crime in numbers.
· As a True Crime author you deal with a lot of disturbing subject matter in your work, has this impacted on your own life in any way? If so, how do you distance yourself from the more negative aspects of life as a True Crime author?
When I was writing No Killing in the Hallways, I was an emotional wreck. Being a parent of two teenage girls in school, and to research and write about what happened at V. Tech and Columbine, was draining. My daughters haven’t read the book and I don’t want them to. My most memorable time was writing about Dahmer. The following is an excerpt from Case Closed: Serial Killers Captured and it broke my heart to write it:
“In the wee hours of May 27th, 1991, Konerak Sinthasomphone, fourteen, was discovered wandering naked on the street, heavily drugged and bleeding from his rectum. Two young women from the neighborhood found the confused young boy and called 911. Dahmer chased after the boy to take him back to his apartment, but the women stopped him. When the police arrived, Dahmer told them that Sinthasomphone was his nineteen-year-old boyfriend, and they’d had an argument while drinking. The two women were not pleased and protested, but the two police officers turned the boy over to Dahmer. The police later reported a strange smell inside Dahmer’s apartment, but did not investigate it. The smell was the body of Tony Hughes, Dahmer’s previous victim, decomposing in the bedroom. The two policemen did not try to verify the boy’s age and also failed to run the background check that would have revealed Dahmer as a convicted child molester, registered sex offender, and still on probation. Later that night, Dahmer killed and dismembered the young lad, keeping his skull as a souvenir. Author Note: Officers Joseph P. Gabrish and John A. Balcerzak were fired after this incident but appealed and were re-instated.”
· How do you choose your subject/s when it seems as though there are so many accounts of the same crimes available, especially the more notorious cases involving Serial Killers and high profile crimes? That is, how do you make your books stand out from the rest?
Many books are written about ‘a’ serial killer, but mine are compilations of serial killers or spree killers. If someone wants to read all about Bundy, they will buy a Bundy book. If they want to read about 15 or 20 summary files of various serial killers, I have good choices for them; Women, Unsolved, Children, Doctors etc., then if a person finds one or two that they would like to read more about, there’s books out there on individual cases.
· Do you plan to, or have you ever, interviewed any of the more infamous/bizarre criminals in your books? In terms of reliable source material, is it best as a True Crime author to stick to validated accounts like court transcripts and previously published materials?
I would love to interview a serial killer some day but I haven’t yet. The dregs of society I wrote about so far I think are all dead: either killed in prison, death sentence or old age. As for spree killers, they most always kill themselves. It is better to stick with Court documents, FBI archives etc., that are released under the Freedom of Information Act, unless, one gets the rare opportunity to interview a killer such as John Douglas has. He really wrote the book on SK’s and have interviewed and gotten into the minds of dozens of them.
· Where do you gather your source material from and what is the process you use when researching your subject before drafting your work?
I’ve contacted the FBI and have been given quite a bit of information, as well from their archives. Some things get blacked out however. The FBI policy on extracting information is that you have to rephrase or edit every paragraph, or, every 40 words. If the perp is captured and sentenced, than court documents is a great source and very explicit. If someone is interested in writing, those are two avenues plus, contacting the local police station that investigated the crime and if the case is closed, they will give you a summary of the crime but not crime scene pictures unfortunately.
· What are some of the issues involved with writing True Crime accounts? For example, are there copyright requirements involved in quoting news/source materials and using images etc?
If you obtain information from the FOIA FBI archives, you don’t have to source it. If you obtain bits and pieces from a newspaper article for instance, you have to source it. As for images, I only use images that are public domain. When you click on an image, it will state whether it’s copyright protected. If not, it’s public domain and free for the using.
· Do you ever worry that the people/criminals you write about revel in their notoriety and the infamy generated by media interest?
At this point, no, because anyone I’ve written about so far is already dead. Unless it’s an unsolved serial killer which I would have no idea how they feel about their notoriety. Most serial killers do like their moment in the media and enjoyed being coined a name, such as the Green River Killer or the BTK.
· I notice in most of your books, you always acknowledge the victims of the crimes you analyse. Most, if not all, of the crimes dealt with in your various case studies are crimes against others, ie. they all leave a trail of victims behind. How do you deal with the victimology of these cases? It must be hard to represent the victims in these cases while being impartial when outlining the crimes themselves, how do you find the ‘middle ground,’ so to speak?
Good question. I grew up in a Christian home, and I feel for each and every one of those victims. Yes I write about the killers and the killings because it’s a fact, I wish it wasn’t, but it did happen. However, they will not get the glory from me. At the end of each case file, I list the victim, their age, and sometimes a little info about them with a prayer for their souls.
· Have you ever had any mentoring or formal training as a True Crime author? There seems to be a certain type of instinct, or investigative style, needed to be effective as a writer in this genre – can anyone be a True Crime author?
Sure I guess anyone can be a writer, but it takes a different person to write about true crime. Not a harder person without feelings, because that’s not the case with us TC writers. But to be able to separate emotionally from the criminals and the victims. It’s tough. There isn’t any training for a TC writer really. If you have good organizational skills and can put your own spin on things, you can do it. I have two professional designations in management so I’m very organized. I guess those skills helped me in writing these books.
· Who do you look up to or admire as a True Crime author? Can you recommend any other authors/specialists in your field, and any other books, that stand out to you as exemplars of the genre?
First and foremost, John Douglas is my favorite. Since I was a young boy, I always wanted to be an FBI Agent from watching the show at the time, The FBI starring Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. (who is 93 years young). I found out in my early teens that I couldn’t be with the FBI because I was Canadian…what a disappointment, I still remember it. Getting back to John Douglas, I really enjoyed his books: Mind Hunters, Inside the Mind of BTK, Obsession, and The Cases that Haunt Us. He has other books, but those were my favorite and inspiration to write. Other great authors are: Gary King, Brian King, Ann Rule and Jack Olsen, just to name a few.
· What are you working on currently and do you have any upcoming projects you can tell us about?
I am working on a couple new books. One is about cops who turned serial killer and the other is Children who killed their parents. I am also going to write volume 2 of Unsolved Serial Killings but more international stories.
· Finally, what advice would you give for anyone thinking of writing True Crime and publishing in today’s market place? Is self-publishing the way to go, what would you recommend?
I wrote my books over many years and had no intentions of self-publishing. I was holding out for a publisher and the book was going to be about 500 pages, called, Playpen to Prison. However, a friend and famous NY best selling author of over 80+ books convinced me to self publish in November. I tell you, it’s been a learning curve because I no sooner had the books up on other markets, when I retracted them all after Amazon announced the Select Program. It’s been interesting and I have mixed views on this program. Self-publishing is definitely the way to go. Why spread the royalties around with agents and publishers? Like newspapers being replaced with the internet, paperbacks and hardcopies are being replaced by digital format and it only just begun, so I say, if you have a book to publish, get it edited and hop on the E-Book train. I also suggest not to put all your eggs in one basket. There are many venues out there and if you want more exposure, spread the book around. Currently, only people who own a kindle can buy my books which as I said earlier, is a learning experience.