How did you get started writing True Crime books?
Having read all the James Bond novels, much Agatha Christie, and other mystery/suspense/spy novels by the age of 15, I knew that I wanted to be a writer. But I really wouldn’t begin until 10 years later when a friend, knowing that I aspired to be a writer, gave me a sample issue of True Detective magazine, along with their writers guidelines. Himself wanting to be a writer, my friend had ordered these for himself but gave up after barely even trying. I decided, “What the hell,” and picked out a case that was going on at the time in Oregon, where I then resided, researched it, wrote it up, and sent it in. Took me about 6 to 8 weeks from start to finish. The story was about two little Ashland, Oregon girls who went missing but were later found murdered in a stadium press box. Manuel Cortez was apprehended and convicted of the crimes. I think this was in 1978. Anyway, I sent the story in and two weeks later I received a check in the mail for $300 along with a letter from the editor telling me how much they liked the story and how they wanted more from me. They sent along a batch of their standard query forms—I did not even know that a query was required before writing a story. They called the story, “Tortured by the Sadist in the Press Box!” The rest is history. I became hooked on true crime, and 300 stories later I decided to take a stab (pun intended) at writing true crime books. As with the stories, my first book, BLOOD LUST: Portrait of a Serial Sex Killer, was picked up and published by NAL/Onyx, and went through 14 printings before going out of print. I recently revived it as an eBook.
How does your work with Investigation Discovery, TLC, Crime Library, etc figure into your own non-fiction work. Are they extensions of the same love of true crime?
In many ways, yes. ID needed a blogger for their Bizarre Crimes of the Week feature on their website, and hired me to write the blog after hearing of my books. I obtained other work with Discovery’s TLC and How Stuff Works, but I’m not doing much of that anymore. They cancelled Bizarre Crimes of the Week after about two and a half years. As for Crime Library, I was looking for an article-type venue for which I could write stories in between books after True Detective and its sister publications folded in 1995. I still write for Crime Library, and I love it. It’s one of the best, if not the best, true crime story venues on the Internet, and is owned by Turner Broadcasting. So yes, those could be described as an extension of my love of true crime.
How do you research your books?
Research almost always begins with a phone call from a cop or a newspaper article about a crime that has grabbed my interest, often serving as the spark that ignites the flame. Once I have decided on a case, I typically will interview several of the principals who will talk to me, i.e., detectives, prosecutors, witnesses, victims’ families, sometimes even the perpetrator. I’ll also typically read through the cops’ case files when they are willing to make them available to me, as well as study court records and/or attend trials. I go wherever my research takes me, and research is not necessarily limited to the above.
At the time Dayton Leroy Rogers was grabbing prostitutes off of Portland’s streets and torturing and murdering them in the Molalla Forest, I was still writing for True Detective. I had interviewed the lead detective on that case, John Turner, about another case he had worked for a TD story. While sitting in his office, he brought up the Rogers case, who he had recently arrested for the murders, and he asked me if I had ever thought about doing a book. Having an excellent rapport with Turner and his department, he told me the case was fascinating and would make an excellent book. After conferring with his boss, Sheriff Bill Brooks, he loaned me a copy of his case files, which consisted of four or five storage boxes, and over the next couple of months I wrote up a lengthy book proposal which I sent off to my agent. He sent it out to a dozen publishers, and the seventh one, NAL (now Penguin USA) grabbed it and I wrote the book over the following six months. It was released in December 1992, with December being one of the worst months in which to publish a book. Nonetheless, it became an immediate bestseller, and is now a bestseller as an eBook twenty years later. BLOOD LUST became the first of many books. I believe I am currently writing my 17th book, about the Brianna Denison case in Reno, Nevada, which will be called DEAD OF NIGHT.
What do you think people can learn from reading about true crimes vs. fictional ones?
I believe that people can get a good feel from reading my true crime books about what makes a killer tick, so-to-speak, and having learned about how such anomalies of nature work people can take better precautions on how to protect themselves and their loved ones. A number of popular true crime writers today (and yesterday) like to fluff up their narratives with figments from their imaginations, and often sugarcoat the details about a crime for what they think will bring them a wider reading audience. But I don’t do that. It’s not fair to the memories of the victims, their families, or the cops who worked the cases and brought the killers to justice. I tell it like it is, and I’ve been told time and time again by victims’ families that this is the way they want their loved ones’ stories to be told—truthfully, even though it is painful. Seeing things made up, they tell me, is more painful to them because often times the criminals become glamorized in a sense. You won’t find glamorized killers in my books.
Gary C. King is a freelance author and lecturer who has published more than 500 articles in crime magazines internationally. He is also the author of several true crime books including: Blood Lust, Driven to Kill, Web of Deceit, Blind Rage, Savage Vengeance (with Don Lasseter), An Early Grave, The Texas 7, Murder in Hollywood, Angels of Death, Stolen in the Night, Love, Lies, and Murder, An Almost Perfect Murder , Butcher, Rage, The Murder of Meredith Kercher, and Dead of Night. He also writes online content for Crime Library and for Investigation Discovery, The Learning Channel, Discovery Channel, and How Stuff Works web sites, among others.
King’s television appearances include Entertainment Tonight, Larry King Live, Inside Edition, Court TV, MSNBC’s Headliners and Legends, E!, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Extra TV, Biography, Dominick Dunne’s Power, Privilege,and Justice, among others, including an upcoming interview on Investigation Discovery’s Deadly Sins crime series. He also frequently provides radio interviews.
King is an active member of the Authors Guild, Mystery Writers of America, The Crime Writers’ Association, American Crime Writers League, National Press Club, American Society of Journalists and Authors, Society of Professional Journalists, and the International Association of Crime Writers.
Gary C. King is represented by agent Peter Miller, President, PMA Literary and Film Management, 45 West 21st Street, Suite 4SW, New York, NY 10010. Phone: 212-929-1222; Fax: 212-206-0238.
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Additional images from the case featured in Blood Lust: