1. MacBookProse
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    MacBookProse New Member

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    Rules of True Crime?

    Discussion in 'Research' started by MacBookProse, Mar 29, 2011.

    I have some questions that Google hasn't been able to answer for me.

    I'm interested in researching and writing a book about a local unsolved murder. It's a tragic piece of my town's history that I grew up hearing second-hand (unconfirmed) facts about. I got the gist of the case but the specifics were never grouped together in one, easy to find place.

    A few years ago I decided to look it up and found a lot of information spread across the internet. It was a very high profile case but no one has published any definitive collection of the facts of the case in one place (save for some news articles and interviews).

    I'm wondering though, what is the etiquette of writing a heavily researched true crime narrative nonfiction account of the events that happened in my town? Do I need to have special permission to write about the subject if intend to try to get it published (it's early but, that is my longterm goal)? Or can I independently research it, map out the book and shop around a manuscript? Could I self-publish it in ebook form or does the true crime genre change that?

    I assume I can research and write out as much as I want, but I just keep feeling like I need to get some kind of special permission at the outset of the project in order to tackle it. Obviously the research would include digging up old newspapers and talking to some people who were involved with the case.

    It would be an entirely fact-based book but I don't know if there are any legal hurdles I need to jump before I get started.
     
  2. bekajoi
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    bekajoi Senior Member

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    Technically speaking, you can put anything you want in ebook form, as long as it is your work and not somebody else's. ;)

    As far as stepping lightly since the case you want to cover happened in your town, I think I would avoid pointing fingers too heavily or naming names if you think you know who did what. It is not something that people are required to get permission to discuss (go freedom of speech!), but if you wanted to refrain from stepping on toes of family members, maybe ask to interview them and explain the project, get blessing or interview with them to include somehow.

    I'd lean toward combining facts and doing research on your own, for something like this. Don't let other people's biases get into your head on it. You want non-fiction, go with facts rather than opinion. You can toss a bit of opinion in, early on or at the closing, or both, but you don't want to come across as the one person who has solved the crime and nobody is listening to you...

    For seeking permission, I would go to the family and see how they feel. The question is, if they prefer you not pursue it, would you stop?
     
  3. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ...no... you don't need permission from anyone to just write about it... anything that has been made public in news reports or public-accessible official reports is fair game... as would be interviews with people, as long as you have their permission to use what they say...

    ...that's what true crime authors do...

    ...how it's published has nothing to do with whether it's fiction or not, other than the fact that it's harder to sell self-published fiction...

    ...go to ann rule's website... you'll find lots of useful info there on how she's become the 'queen of true crime'...
     
  4. MacBookProse
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    MacBookProse New Member

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    Thanks for the great advice. It's an old case but a very tender subject. My goal is definitely to present the events in a clear and entirely factual manner while maintaining the respect and tact that the subject demands.

    That's a good question. I'm not sure. The project is turning into something a little bigger than the one case. But the case is definitely more than 50% of the book. Hmm.
     
  5. MacBookProse
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    MacBookProse New Member

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    Thank you! That helps a lot. I figured that was the case but I wasn't sure. I'll be sure to check out Ann Rule's site.
     
  6. auntiebetty
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    auntiebetty Active Member

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    I am on the other side of the true crime novel. I am "endeavoring" to write a "fiction" novel based on a true crime. So, I've had to do a lot of research on the crime. Here's some advice that may be helpful to you. By whatever methods you have available to you at the Universities nearest to where the crime has been committed, ask for a library search of the subject. Many times graduate students select these crimes for the thesis. Also, check the local library and local museum if you have one sometimes, local historians document such a high profile crime and donate their work. Also, many local museums now have web sites with access to their archived city newspaper.

    From what I can gather, living relatives are loathe to talk to a writer these days, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try. That's what real reporters do.
     
  7. marktx
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    marktx Contributing Member

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    Keep careful notes on your research. When you derive information from secondary sources, credit the sources thoroughly. Be extremely careful to avoid plagiarism of secondary sources.

    You don't need the family's permission, but your book is going to be better the closer you can get to live sources for interviewing purposes.

    Do not draw conclusions about guilt or innocence, especially if your primary suspects are still alive. If they are dead, they can't sue you for libel, but presenting compelling facts is far more effective than presenting opinions on the case if you happen to draw any conclusions.
     
  8. abby75
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    abby75 Member

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    Have you read 'Where there is Evil' by Sandra Brown? The author wrote it despite the police, her local politician and the crown court all opposing her. I don't know what the actual legalities of it would be but if there is a story to be told then I think you should tell it. Read the book, it is very well written and extremely compelling. Good luck with your project.
     

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