True Crime, Pure Fiction or Both?

While about half way through the tedious task of rewriting a book manuscript to submit to my publisher, and with Hemingway’s quote “Great books aren’t written.  They are rewritten.” scribbled on a post-it note that’s stuck to my monitor for inspiration,  an interesting thing happened. PSWA Member graphic[1]A fellow member of the Public Safety Writers Association asked a question on the  list-serve regarding  a subject that I’d been wondering about.  So,  I jumped right on that bandwagon and we spent an entire day and part of a second, exchanging the most informative and interesting thread about writing true crime as opposed to pure fiction.

As a quirky coincidence, my detective husband once  had a high profile case that required him to work sitting beside the D.A. during the long and tedious prosecution. The defense attorney just happened to be the same lawyer who had defended the killers of the Clutter family in western Kansas back in 1959.  Those murders inspired Truman Capote to write what is considered to be his best work – “In Cold Blood” in 1965.   It took him six years, so I don’t feel bad about my present manuscript taking me three. Since “In Cold Blood” exemplifies writing true crime that is interspersed with fiction, it seems the perfect example.

We spoke about the close Alabama childhood friendship between Truman Capote and Harper Lee, who wrote “To Kill A Mockingbird,” and that her character of Dill was based upon Capote.  We also covered the fact that Capote is often alleged to have actually written most of “To Kill A Mockingbird” and that he simply let Harper Lee have the credit for it.  But that is controversial to this day, even though she never wrote another book and seemed to socially withdraw from the fame that  her classic created.  Many feel that the  writing styles of the two books are just far too different to have been written by the same person, however.  Either way, she won The Pulitzer Prize for it.

When Capote traveled to western Kansas to research the Clutter murders in the quiet little town of Holcomb,  Harper Lee traveled with him. Perhaps she accompanied him to buffer the exuberant personality and behavior of Mr. Capote.  He was certainly an interesting figure.  Someone on the list-serve used the perfect word of flamboyant to describe him.

Holcomb happens to be very close to the little town where my husband’s grandfather Zortman homesteaded the family farm on July 1,  1884.  My husband was both born inside that farm house  and grew to adulthood on that land.  So, having personally been in this area many, many times, I’m quite sure that Truman Capote would have garnered much attention and could have  been a tremendous culture shock to the quiet and unassuming townspeople of that little remote and rural  community situated smack in the heart of the Bible Belt.

We never did actually come up with a cut and dried perfect answer regarding the writing of  true crime or fiction, though a lot of good leads were provided.  However, a panel is presently forming to discuss that very subject at our PSWA conference in Las Vegas in July.

angel feather 084Okay, now back to that task of rewriting my manuscript.  It was nice to take a little break and to learn a few things while getting better acquainted with some of my colleagues.  They are truly a great group and I am proud to be a long-time dues paying member.

Thanks for stopping by and I hope you’ll leave a comment to let me know that you were here.


About jtzortman

Author of "WE ARE DIFFERENT NOW" - A Grandparent's Journey Through Grief, first place award winning novel "FOOTPRINTS IN THE FROST" and award-winning novel "SNOW ANGEL". Contributing author to anthologies "Felons, Flames & Ambulance Rides", "American Blue", "Recipes by the Book: Oak Tree Authors Cook" and "The Centennial Book of The National Society of Daughters of the Union 1861-1865". Numerous articles, poems and short stories published since 1990. Charter Member of the Public Safety Writers Association and member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. Winner of ten writing awards. I live in a quaint Colorado mountain tourist town with my husband and Siamese cat. When deeps snows blanket the terrain and spectacular views from my windows, it becomes the perfect spot in which to write.
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7 Responses to True Crime, Pure Fiction or Both?

  1. Olivia Milton-Piatek says:

    Jackie, As always I do enjoy reading your blogs. It’s rather eerie to read of Truman Capote because every time I read something about him I think of the Clutters. The movie was disturbing when I saw it back in the 70’s and when I was working in Holcomb I saw the house as well as their graves at the cemetery. Kind of makes it more personal, along with having John talk about that moment in time.


    • jtzortman says:

      I’d love to see the movie again because it was so long ago. After our PSWA discussion, it provided new food for thought. That’s neat that you saw the house and the graves. I never knew that you once worked in Holcomb. What did you do there? Bet you kept your door locked, if you stayed anywhere near that town.


  2. Peggy Z says:

    I remember that is when we started locking our doors at night. I was in third grade. Even though we lived 70 miles away, it changed our little area. I read “In Cold Blood” as a senior and had nightmares for months. Mr. Capote’s vivid, intense book is still one of the scariest books I have ever read. I emailed you an article from 2009 about Mr. Capote, his book and his stay in Garden City. It is very interesting.


    • jtzortman says:

      I got the article, Peg. Thanks for sharing it with me. I read IN COLD BLOOD years and years ago, but just got it on my Kindle to read it again. Even though he said it was “immaculately factual”, there was much in it that is pure fiction. Had to smile at the reaction of the locals around Holcomb to Truman Capote. Pretty much what I would have expected.


  3. mmgornell says:

    Jackie, what an interesting post. The connecting threads are like a well plotted novel. Yes, I agree, rewriting is where the magic happens! Sounds like a great PSWA panel.



    • jtzortman says:

      Hi Madeline – Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment. Yes, it’s sort of amazing how that all played out, isn’t it? As I told you, I just finished your “Reticence of Ravens” and loved it. I know you aren’t planning on doing a series with these characters, but I wish you’d write, at least, one more. The setting is fascinating to me and I am not a desert person. As you know, I’m a mountain gal. But we do share that love of the Ravens. Will you be in Las Vegas in July? We are planning on it, but a couple of things are presently standing between then and now that could prevent it. I should know by sometime in March. But I’d love to hear that particular panel discussion.


      • mmgornell says:

        Uncertain on PSWA, probably for at least a day or two. We’ll check in with each other before the summer! Thank you sooooooo much for your kind words on Reticence, really warms my heart! Talk soon.



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