For my “Adventures of a True Crime Neophyte” program in New Hampshire, I added a slide entitled Personal Hard Lessons Learned. There are four lesson listed but this blog is about the third item in the list. It concerns what a writer may expect when he or she undertakes a true crime genre project such as my effort on a book about the Stacey Burns murder. Here it is:
Expect your motives to be questioned and your integrity to be challenged.
The first part of this expectation is self-explanatory. People naturally will ask “why?” What are your reasons for doing this? During the program, I list nine reasons to explain how I came to be involved in this project. At the top of the list is Jim Vittum’s name. Without his connection in the case, there would be no Murder in a Small Town: The Tragic Death of Stacey Burns. I’ve known the Vittum family since we moved to Tuftonboro, New Hampshire in 1970 so naturally my interest in the story was piqued by having the name of a former student, neighbor, friend, and fellow church member mentioned in the case. I knew others who are devastated by this tragedy and I (quite naively) thought that perhaps telling the story might help them. I had writing credentials, had written non-fiction, and had lived in the immediate area for forty years. Facts are facts so how hard could it be? Nowhere in the list of motives for writing this book is financial reward mentioned because from the outset, I made it known that should the book ever be published, any net proceeds would go to the foundation for the Burns children. (Not Ed Burns)
All of this brings us to the second part of the expectation. The question goes something like this: How can you write a truthful story when you are so close to some of the people in the case? My answer to that is simple. This book will have my name on it and it will be a fair, unbiased account of the case. Anyone whom I have interviewed, including Jim Vittum, has been told that I intend to tell the truth, regardless of any personal feelings I might have. That is the way the book has been written thus far and it will continue to be written that way.