Monday, April 20, 2020
Interview With Author Mitzi Szereto
1. Mitzi, what moved you to edit a book of true crime stories revolving around serial killers?
Since this book is the debut in my new true crime anthology series, it made sense to start things off with a very, shall we say, “hot” topic in the genre. Of course, this meant I had the added burden of producing a book that was completely different from all the other serial killer books out there. First off, I made it a priority to attract a very diverse group of international writers to the project. I also wanted to avoid any kind of sensationalism or glamorization of serial killers. That wasn’t the kind of book I wanted to do. Serial killers are the most sinister criminals around, so naturally they make for fascinating reading. My goal was to present well-rounded accounts that take the reader beyond the basics, the “mechanics,” if you will. I wanted The Best New True Crime Stories: Serial Killers to be a thinking-person’s book.
2. Why do you say the 1980s were a peak era for serial killers?
The statistics indicate that this is the case. In the book’s introduction, I make reference to the serial killer database, which is a collaborative project run by Radford University in Virginia and Florida Gulf Coast University. Incidentally, it’s the largest non-governmental database in the world. The USA holds the unfortunate title for being the number one country for producing serial killers, and the FBI confirms this. Because of improved forensics and other factors, serial murder appears to have slowed down. Perhaps these people are just getting caught sooner instead of racking up the body count.
3. What fuels the public’s insatiable curiosity with serial killers?
Serial killers are at the darkest end of the criminal spectrum. The majority of us can’t even conceive of what drives an individual to commit serial murder. We can understand a crime of passion or a crime of provocation, but serial murder? That’s way off the Richter scale of killing. So obviously we want to understand what makes these people tick. Were they just born bad? Or were they made bad by something that happened in their lives? With the former it’s much harder to find the root cause; but the latter explanation allows us to fit a few pieces together and figure out—at least to some degree—what makes a person become, for lack of a better word, a monster. The serial killer is our childhood bogeyman come to life—the bogeyman our parents kept telling us was only in our imagination. How can we not be curious to know more?
4. Is today’s gun-heavy mass murderer more dangerous than serial killers?
We only need to look at the headlines, particularly in the United States, to see that we have more to fear from heavily armed mass killers than any serial killer. Mass murder has become rampant in American society. However, with each mass shooting that takes place, nothing is done to try to prevent it from happening again. We see little to no movement in American gun laws—and I think we all know why. Other countries have taken swift action when a mass shooting occurs, but not the USA. So when you compare the number of mass killing events against the number of serial-killing events, it seems obvious which poses a greater danger.
5. Which serial killers interested you the most? Why?
It’s hard to pick as there are so many fascinating ones in the book. For me, most of it is the way in which the story is told rather than the actual subjects themselves. I should add that The Best New True Crime Stories: Serial Killers contains a number of first-person accounts—and reading something written by a writer who actually came face to face with a serial killer (and lived to tell about it!) is pretty harrowing stuff. One that really sticks with me is British crime novelist Danuta Kot’s story of living in Sheffield, England during the time of the Yorkshire Ripper. It’s a very poignant piece and, I suspect, very different from what you might expect to find in most true crime books. James Young’s first-person account of his experience as a journalist in Brazil interviewing serial killer Tiago Gomes da Rocha is both frightening and comedic—which probably sounds like an odd combination, but you’ll see what I mean when you read the story. Vicki Hendricks’s richly rendered historical piece about Belle Gunness is a work of creative non-fiction that invites us into the mind of a female serial killer, making us question whether her many murders were committed through evil or possibly as a means of survival. I’m especially interested in serial killers who aren’t household names, especially those from other countries and cultures—and there are several in the book. As a matter of fact, I wrote one myself about Macedonian serial killer, Vlado Taneski.
6. As Criminal Minds wraps up as the best TV series focused on serial killers, will your book fill a void?
I imagine so, yes. Clearly, people can’t seem to get enough of this subject matter, be it in fictional works or non-fiction/true crime. In the case of my book, not only are we dealing with real-life serial killers, but serial killers from all corners of the globe, not just the United States. So not only is The Best New True Crime Stories: Serial Killers more far-reaching, it pays homage to the old adage, “Truth is stranger than fiction.” If some of the accounts in my anthology were written as a piece of fiction, they’d be so over the top that most of us would scoff at them, saying they’re too far-fetched to be taken seriously. Dr. Harold Shipman, for instance. His serial murder “career” is unbelievable, and yet it actually happened.
7. What advice do you have for struggling authors?
Be realistic about your chances and be realistic about your talents. Although it may seem as if there are more opportunities out there, particularly with the advent of DIY publishing, this isn’t necessarily the case. We now have more writers and would-be writers than ever all “publishing” their work. It’s like being in a room full of screaming people—you can’t hear what anyone’s saying. The main thing is to keep refining your work and looking for someone who is willing to give you a chance. There are no shortcuts or easy ways through the publishing door, and anyone who tells you otherwise is probably trying to sell you something. You need to have a lot of self-belief, because there are more people out there willing to tear you down than build you up. Be prepared to make sacrifices—and lots of them. That means in your personal life as well, if need be. Regardless of all those acknowledgement pages you come across in books, not everyone’s partner or family will be supportive. Often, it’s the exact opposite. I’d love to see some acknowledgement pages in books saying, “In spite of my non-supportive partner/family, I actually got this book written and published!” The fact is, a lot of people who aren’t in the creative arts simply don’t “get it.” They either look upon your creative pursuits as a silly hobby or keep asking when you’re going to get a “real” job. For the sake of your own sanity, and for your own creative and professional growth, either tune these people out or drop them from your life.
Writing is one of the most difficult professions out there, and also one of the most difficult to survive financially on, so be prepared to live a life that has no safety net. Also be aware that rejections are the norm in this business. There are only so many books a publisher can publish a year, and there are only so many stories an editor can fit into a book. A rejection doesn’t necessarily mean your work is bad. If you’re realistic about your talent and ability, you’ll eventually figure out if you are or are not cut out to be a writer. So yes, it can happen if you’re prepared to be in it for the long haul and are willing to do what it takes to reach your goal. Keep at it. It won’t be easy, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. If I’d listened to all the naysayers and let all the rejection letters drag me down, I wouldn’t be here today doing this interview!
8. What defines the new era of true crime writing?
It’s a departure from the more sensationalist forms of writing we used to see so much of and, to some extent, still do. The focus is on substance, not prurience. There’s more effort to present the victims not just as one-dimensional objects of crime, but as three-dimensional, fully formed human beings. To better understand the impact of a crime, it’s important to understand what has been lost too. Of course, the same goes for our “monsters”—they’re not just one-dimensional beings either, and presenting them as such is shortchanging the reader. The new era of true crime writing paints a fuller picture, including the impact these crimes have on communities and society, and on our culture in general. It offers insight. It makes people think. I believe I’ve ticked these boxes with my serial killers anthology, and I have continued to do so in my next book, The Best New True Crime Stories: Small Towns. I hope my readers will agree!
About The Author: Mitzi Szereto (mitziszereto.com) is an author and anthology editor whose books encompass multiple genres ranging from true crime and crime fiction, gothic fiction, and horror, to cozy mystery, satire, sci-fi/fantasy, erotic fiction, and general fiction and non-fiction. Her novels, anthologies, and short stories have been translated into multiple languages. Some of her many popular titles include The Best New True Crime Stories: Serial Killers, Florida Gothic, and Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts. She has the distinction of editing the first anthology of erotica to include a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Mitzi has appeared internationally on radio and television and at major literature festivals, and has taught creative writing around the world, including several universities in the United Kingdom. She created and presented the London-based web TV channel Mitzi TV, and also plays herself in the pseudo-documentary British film Lint: The Movie. Her blog of personal essays can be found at Errant Ramblings: Mitzi Szereto’s Weblog. Her new book, The Best New True Crime Stories: Small Towns, will be published in July 2020.
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