This week I’m talking with powerhouse true crime writer, Cathy Scott. You can find her at cathyscott.com and at her blog Crime, She Writes or at her email email@example.com.
Scott made her debut writing about hip-hop legend, Tupac Shakur, killed in a mysterious 1996 Las Vegas shootout. Shakur, a “conscious rapper” wrote prolific, often crude lyrics reflecting the brutality and realism of poverty, chaos, addiction, racism, and oppression in the mean streets of America. He died at age 25. That was 17 years ago.
As I read Scott’s book, I wondered who Tupac Shakur would have become had he lived and matured? Would he have continued to write, and to act; would he become a mentor? A husband and father? Would he have found peace from the despair he so deeply felt? Would he have been able to channel his rage into deeper works of music and artistry that so many fans loved?
I never knew much about hip hop until I heard the fantastic and original folks on Brave New Voices on HBO, then my heart opened up and I was able to appreciate and listen.
Back to the interview and just the facts. Cathy shares the basic tenet of her career and that is, journalism is all about the writer’s responsibility to report the facts and to get the story right.
Here is our conversation:
SR: Seems like you have been a writer forever. How did you get started? What inspired you?
CS: I always wanted to be a writer, since childhood when I used to journal and write poetry. But I didn’t do it for a living until after I went back to college to finish my degree when my son entered college. I was a secretary for 13 years (my mother, also a writer, taught typing, and I learned to type at a young age — a skill that has served me well in both journalism and book writing). I took a buyout from my secretarial job and broke into journalism by writing for small community newspapers and regional magazines, gathering clips. I won an award and, almost immediately, a daily newspaper hired me for the crime beat. I was hooked on crime. I’ve covered it ever since.
SR: You are probably most recognized as the best-selling author true crime such as the Killing of Tupac Shakur and then The Murder of Biggie Smalls. Why did you write about these cases? IE Isn’t it kind of intense to be dealing with topics such as botched crime scenes, corruption, misconduct, high profile stars, and money- wrapped violence?
CS: I was on the police beat at the Las Vegas Sun when Tupac was shot and I was assigned the story. It was entertainment writers back East who contacted me, mostly interviewing me for their articles, who encouraged me to turn my daily reporting into a book. And so I wrote The Killing of Tupac Shakur. Huntington Press, a regional publishing house located in Las Vegas, published it, and it made the Los Angeles Times bestseller list. I was just notified by the publisher that they want a third edition, so I’m working on the revised edition, which should be out by winter. One book leads to another, I learned when Biggie Smalls was murdered six months after Tupac in a similar car-to-car shooting. St. Martin’s Press published The Murder of Biggie Smalls. I’ve been with large traditional publishing houses ever since.
I blog about evidence and forensics for Psychology Today and about crime in general for Women in Crime Ink. It makes me feel like I still have my hand in journalism, and I enjoy it.
Yes, it can be sad writing about how victims’ lives sometimes end in acts of violence. For those people, we, as crime writers, flesh out who they were as people without just writing about the circumstances of their deaths. We give them a voice.
SR: What’s your latest project? What would you like to say to aspiring writers?
CS: A modern novella I’ve written has been serialized in the The Social Media Monthly (the fictional crime is solved using Facebook), and I’ll probably get it published as a book. But my latest true crime book includes two related historical crimes from the late 1960s. I’m writing two sample chapters for the book proposal for my agent. Once it gets picked up by a publisher, I’ll release who it’s about. I can say that the cases are related to a high-profile horrific crime spree.
I’m also writing a book — Murder in Lomita — about the Dawn Viens murder out of southern California. Her husband, a chef, killed her — accidentally, he said — and then, to get rid of the body, slow cooked her remains in a 55-gallon cooker at the couple’s restaurant (he did not serve her up to customers!). That’s the only grisly part of the story. He has quite a background — a mid-level drug dealer in Florida who, after a short stint in a penitentiary, started anew in California with his wife.
My advice to aspiring writers is to keep at it. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. Follow your passion. But also remember that no one is born a great writer. Lots of people have talent, but writing is a craft, and the more you do it, the better you get. I constantly read national magazine articles and other authors’ books to analyze and see how they turn a phrase and how they lay out the facts of a story in their voice and weave a wonderful narrative. I love researching facts and gleaning documents for information, but my favorite part of writing is polishing the story before it goes to print. That’s the beauty of writing. We can rewrite and rework our words into something we’re proud of.
BIO: Cathy Scott is an investigative journalist, blogger, and author, and has written eight books. Her work has appeared in New York Times Magazine, New York Post, George magazine, Christian Science Monitor, Los Angeles Times, and Reuters news service, among others. She taught journalism for five years at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas until she left to report on the largest animal rescue in U.S. history in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, culminating in the book Pawprints of Katrina. Her latest crime book is The Millionaire’s Wife, and her most recent TV appearances include Investigation Discovery, VH1 and A&E. She’s currently writing a mystery crime novel set in Las Vegas as well as a historical crime book.
I’ve been a true crime reader since my teens. Good crime writers are such a treat. Thank you Cathy, for your immediate willingness to discuss the issues, your books, and for your moxie. I can’t wait to read Pawprints and the Millionaire’s Wife.
Readers, I hope you will enjoy all her books.
Journal prompt: Write about a famous crime or how crime may have touched your life. What happened? Do you feel writing is a good way to process tragedy? Feel free to come back and talk about it here.
Shakur sketch (acrylic)and car photo credits: the author Susan E. Rowland
- Legal Team Discusses Suit Brought by Author Ann Rule (psychologytoday.com)