Being Caitlin Rother sometimes means getting into some dark places. The San Diego author, a former investigative journalist for the U-T and other papers, writes narrative non-fiction about true crimes. Writing about the most heinous crimes, like the murder and dismemberment of young women at the hands of serial killer Wayne Adam Ford, can get grisly.
“Body Parts [which is being re-released by Pinnacle on October 1] was one of the most difficult books that I’ve had to write,” Rother says.
“It was very dark. Wayne Adam Ford is a serial killer and a serial rapist. He tortured these victims, who were troubled women with sometimes criminal backgrounds of their own. I didn’t know how dark it was going to be when I started, but the reason I began the story was because Ford turned himself in. I don’t know of another serial killer who thought to himself, ‘I know what I’m doing is wrong. I can’t stop myself. I need to turn myself in.’”
Because of that, she had used Killer With a Conscience, as a working title for the book, but that changed during the editorial process. She’d also stress that it’s not about the bloody details, but about the psychology at work in such terrible scenarios. Even though she shied away from focusing on the visceral details of the story, it was still the most grim tale she has ever had to tell.
Rother says she is “fascinated — just like most people, even though they don’t always admit it — by people who do horrible things, because I don’t understand it and I want to know why. And I think that’s the biggest question that most people want to know. I find things that never make it into the trial, because they’d be irrelevant to the prosecution or the defense, but they’re interesting to readers. Often, I bring in emotional and human elements — backstories of the killers and their families, or of the victims and their families — that never get into the courtroom.
“I do all my own research. I don’t use anybody else and I don’t use a bunch of newspaper stories. It’s all my original research. I interview the prosecution, the defense, witnesses, family members of the victims, and family members of the killer if I can reach them. I sit through the trials if I can, otherwise I read the trial transcripts. For Body Parts, I didn’t go to the actual trial, because it went on for something like six months, but I did go to the death penalty portion of the trial, which was up in San Bernardino county. That was a consolidation of different cases from up and down California that they were able to combine into one trial.”
Rother follows several cases at a time, working on books independently of each other. It can take anywhere from 18 months to five years (if cases are repeatedly delayed) to compile all the research and write a book. Promoting the books is a full-time job, too. At one point, Rother had six books (including some re-releases) come out in an 18-month period, which became exhausting from all the promotional work.
Her authorial niche is a narrow one. Rother’s books read like novels, but chronicle real events and real tragedies. The world of true crime narrative non-fiction isn’t for everyone, but the writer feels she was somehow cut out for it.
“I was a reporter for nineteen years, starting in Massachusetts, and I kind of backed into it. I’ve always been a big reader, and I was reading a lot of Michael Connelly and Patricia Cornwell crime fiction. I ended up wanting to write a crime fiction novel, which eventually did get published.”
Rother adds, not without some delight, that the novel in question was published with a blurb from Michael Connelly, who was a big inspiration for her.
“Being a reporter, I ended up melding the investigative reporting with the fiction writing that I was doing, turning it into narrative for the newspaper. Then I started writing these long, narrative non-fiction stories. After writing fifty stories about the Kristin Rossum case for the U-T, I combined my research and put together a book proposal.”
Rother newest book is I’ll Take Care of You, which comes out in January. It isn’t nearly as dark as Body Parts or some of her other work. A man is shot during the book, but it’s really a tale of greed, embezzlement, lying, cheating, and stealing. It deals with the materialism of Orange County culture. Rother describes it as “the ‘Real Housewives of the OC' gone bad.” There’s an ex-football player, an industrialist, and a manipulative femme fatale who gets her lover to kill her rich fiancée. It sounds like a movie, but it happened right here in Southern California, and that’s what makes it a story worth telling.