The most common question I am asked is, “Where do you get your ideas?”
They come from many places. Often a news story will catch my attention and my imagination is off and running. Sometimes those burn out quickly but some turn into stories I capture quickly, doing bursts of free writing. A small number of those evolve into full-fledged tales and manuscripts.
Over time, patterns emerge. Underlying many of my tales is a longing for justice and escape for the victims.
I date this back to when my safe, secure childhood was shaken when two girls from my freshman homeroom class were killed.
I grew up in very safe, rural suburbs in Central New York, outside cities like Syracuse and Rochester. We left our cars unlocked and our doors were usually unlocked as well. And yet, as I grew older I began to see a current of violence and disquiet around the edges.
At the end of our freshman year at Wheatland Chili High School, two girls from my homeroom, Kathy Bernhard and George-Ann Formicola, didn’t show up for the last day of school. I heard whispers that they had run away.
They hadn’t run away. Their bodies were found later that summer, not far from their homes. They had been brutally murdered. Their murderer has never been identified or charged.
If I had been an adult, I might have been more aware of the efforts by the police to find the killer or killers. Since I wasn’t close to them outside of homeroom, I didn’t hear much about their families.
As it was, what I perceived was a sense of dismissal. These girls were from a less desirable neighborhood that was further from the main town of Scottsville. George-Ann had been pregnant during our freshman year. She had to leave for a while and came back, full of laughter and no sign of shame. Kathy struggled academically and socially. No one from the school talked about what had happened to them. I felt that they had been blamed for what happened to them and their deaths were not pursued as seriously as others.
This unsolved crime continued to haunt me and eventually became a touchstone for my country noir thrillers.
After a series of wonderful careers, I realized that I needed to write. And I needed to write about girls who struggle to get away.
A SHORT TIME TO DIE, will be dedicated to my classmates, Kathy and George Ann.
If you are interested in finding out more about their case, check out The Devil at Genesee Junction: the Murders of Kathy Bernhard and George-Ann Formicola, 6/66, by Michael Benson, a young neighbor of theirs at the time who went on to become a true crime writer.