A serious matter caught my attention the other day on Mystery Writers of America’s FB page. A mother was reaching out for help to find her child’s killer. I think you will agree that when something so tragic happens to one of our own, a fellow author, we must band together. So please, share this post as widely as you can.
Now I’ll step aside and let Lois Duncan, Grand Master of MWA, tell you her story.
ONE TO THE WOLVES: ON THE TRAIL OF A KILLER
Although I’ve written 50 books in the course of a long career, the last thing I ever wanted was to become a true crime writer. Most of my books were YA suspense novels like I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER and KILLING MR. GRIFFIN. They were carefully plotted with a catchy beginning, well developed characters, and a satisfying climax in which everything neatly fell into place.
You can do that with fiction. It’s a little bit like playing God. You design the world that you want, people it with characters of your own making, and move them about as you choose in order to reach a preconceived ending.
I learned the hard way, that’s not the case with true crime.
As I said, I’d never wanted to write in that genre. Yet I was forced to do so when our own teenage daughter, Kaitlyn Arquette, was chased down in her car and shot to death in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The police dubbed the murder a “random drive-by shooting” and soon dropped off the unsolved case. In order to keep it alive, (and to keep myself sane), I made myself write about it, and that was the hardest task I’ve ever undertaken.
This was not a world of my own making. And there was no preconceived ending. And I couldn’t make the characters do what I wanted, except in my dreams:
“I could see my daughter in that car, gripping the steering wheel, frozen with horror as a bullet crashed into the door frame next to her head, and there was no place to run, no place to hide, and Mother and Daddy just a few miles away in that big safe house, and no way to reach them. If only I had been with her! In my mind I rewrote the story so I was seated beside her and could grab that shiny gold head and yank it down below window level. In that vision I threw myself across her and leaned on the horn. People came rushing to windows, came pouring out of buildings, came racing to save this terrified girl, who by now I had somehow managed to shove down to the floor boards. When the other shots came, I would be the one to receive them. And, oh, I would receive them gladly! I would smile as I slid into darkness, knowing that Kait would survive to go to college, to fulfill her plan to become a doctor, to meet and marry Prince Charming, to have children just as ornery and strong-willed and naughty and wonderful as she was, and to live and live and live.”
In my true crime book I was restrained by the facts as we knew them, and we didn’t know all of them. I wrote what I knew and left the story open-ended. Yet that book, WHO KILLED MY DAUGHTER? (Delacorte), achieved a partial purpose, as it brought tipsters out of the woodwork and caused outside investigators to contact us with offers of pro bono help in their fields of expertise. New information piled up, but police didn’t want it, since it didn’t mesh with their “random shooting” scenario. But I couldn’t allow that new information to become buried, so I wrote a second book that included it all, even the things the police did not want known.
ONE TO THE WOLVES: ON THE TRAIL OF A KILLER was recently published by Planet Ann Rule and contains a foreword by best-selling true crime writer, Ann herself.
And now, all of a sudden, something incredible has happened. The Cold Case Investigative Research Institute read ONE TO THE WOLVES and has launched their personal outside investigation of Kait’s case.
The CCIRI is a collaboration between over 20 colleges and universities across the country with approximately 2000 criminology students and over 600 experts in an assortment of areas including forensic specialists, attorneys, crime scene analysts, specialists in drive-by shootings, etc. A group of those experts is headed for Albuquerque next month to meet with our private investigator, tour the crime scene, and start interviewing witnesses and suspects the police didn’t talk to.
No, I never wanted to write true crime. But I’m eternally grateful for all the years I spent writing fictional mysteries so that when the most shattering event of my life occurred I was able to transfer the skills I’d developed writing fiction into this different but related genre’.
The Power of the Pen is a force to be taken seriously. Perhaps there will be an ending to Kait’s story after all.
Lois Duncan, the author of over 300 magazine articles and 50 bks, is bestknown for her YA suspense novels, which have received Young Readers Awards in 16 states and three foreign countries. In 1992, Lois was awarded the Margaret A. Edwards Award, presented by the ALA Library Services Association for “a distinguished body of adolescent literature.” In 2015 she received the Grand Master Award, bestowed by the Mystery Writers of America for “lifetime achievement and consistent quality of mystery writing.”
Six of her novels — SUMMER OF FEAR, KILLING MR. GRIFFIN, GALLOWS HILL, RANSOM, DON’T LOOK BEHIND YOU and STRANGER WITH MY FACE — were made-for-TV movies, and DOWN A DARK HALL is currently under production for the big screen. I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER and HOTEL FOR DOGS were box office hits.
Although young people are most familiar with Lois’s fictional suspense novels, adults may know her best as the author of WHO KILLED MY DAUGHTER?, the true story of the murder of Kaitlyn Arquette, the youngest of Lois’s five children. Kait’s heartbreaking story has been featured on such TV shows as Unsolved Mysteries, Good Morning America, Larry King Live, Sally Jessy Raphael and Inside Edition. A full account of the family’s on-going personal investigation of this still unsolved crime is chronicled in her newly published book, ONE TO THE WOLVES: ON THE TRAIL OF A KILLER, with a foreword by best-selling true crime writer, Ann Rule.