Mary Crockett On Using True Crime to Pursue Fiction

Inspiration is a funny thing. It can come to us like a lightning bolt, through the lyrics of a song, or in the fog of a dream. Ask any writer where their stories come from and you’ll get a myriad of answers, and in that vein I created the WHAT (What the Hell Are you Thinking?) interview. Always including in the WHAT is one random question to really dig down into the interviewees mind, and probably supply some illumination into my own as well.


Today's guest for the WHAT is Marcy Crockett, author of How She Died, How I Lived and the coauthor with Madelyn Rosenberg of Dream Boy. A native of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, Mary grew up as the youngest of six children in a family of misfits. She has worked as everything from a history museum director to a toilet seat hand model.

In her other life, she's an award-winning poet and teaches creative writing at Roanoke College in Virginia.

Ideas for our books can come from just about anywhere, and sometimes even we can’t pinpoint exactly how or why. Did you have a specific origin point for your book?

I was following the story of a young woman from my community who had been reported missing. When she was found dead, I felt… I think the closest word is gutted.

I know it’s a story that plays out over and over again in our headlines--a young woman raped and murdered, left for trash beside the road. But somehow I felt all the outrage, all the grief for those countless acts of violence, in this one young woman’s death.

I don’t know why it hit me so hard. I think the word “friend” might have been used to describe the killer. He was her “friend,” whatever that could possibly mean. She was kind to him, and he had used her kindness against her--to lure her into an isolated spot where he murdered her.

How She Died, How I Lived is a story sparked to life by grief and rage. It’s also a story continually seeking the solace of healing.

I had so many questions that I needed to write--about the far-reaching effects of violence in a community; about friendship; about how young women can face the world knowing with certainty that someone out there, given the chance, would kill them.

This books doesn’t really answer those questions--but to my mind, it at least puts them out there. Which is about the best I can do.

Once the original concept existed, how did you build a plot around it?

For me, it’s all about character. I did my best to get inside the head of my narrator--or maybe I let her inside my head. Then I followed where she wanted to go.

And I have to say, where we ended up surprised even me.

Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to paper?

I have never had the plot firmly in place. At all. Ever. Haha. Not kidding.

But oddly enough, though I’m an eternal pantser, the novel I’m dreaming about now has a pretty good plot arc already established, though I haven’t written a word as of yet.

So maybe I’m changing! And that’s a good thing. If I’m not growing as a writer, I’m not really writing.


Do story ideas come to you often, or is fresh material hard to come by?

I have more ideas than I have time to write them. I’m a slow writer, so the issue for me is finding the story I will want to stick with through for several years to get it into its final form. That’s a big commitment. I need to feel an important connection with the story. I need to believe it matters in some way, even if only to me.

I’m really lucky that I’ve had that connection with How She Died, How I Lived. It’s a story I truly believe in, and for me, the years it took were worth it.

How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating?

It’s not easy! I have one story, for example, that is burning a hole in my brain, but I know I’m not ready to write it yet. It’s going to take a ton of research. So the plan is that while I write my current WIP, I’ll follow through on the research for my next project. That way, it’ll be ready to go when it’s time for the next thing.

I also have an idea for a funny contemporary that I want to write with a coauthor. I think humor is much more fun to write with a partner, so I’m just waiting for someone to be open at the same time I’m open to take me up on that! Hopefully, that’s something I could juggle while pushing solo projects ahead simultaneously.

I have many cats and I usually have at least one or two snuggling with me when I write. Do you have a writing buddy, or do you find it distracting?

Cat-butt-face is an actual medical condition, and I have it. My face attracts catt-butt. The doctors cannot help.

That said, I have three excellent writing buddies--Mr. Paws, Lady Grey, and Daisy, my enormous hound who thinks she’s a lap dog.