Murder in Winnebago County centers on a woman bent on revenge. She blames the criminal justice system and holds its officials responsible, following her son’s death while he was incarcerated. She begins a killing spree, staging the deaths to look like suicides so the victims’ families will suffer as she has. Sergeant Corinne “Corky” Aleckson takes the initial call on the first death and works closely with her mentor, Detective “Smoke” Dawes to solve the strange cases.
About halfway through writing the book, I knew I couldn’t retire the Winnebago County characters. They had become too much a part of my life. Dramatic incidents from my days with the sheriff’s department came to mind and I knew what the next two books would be based on. Buried in Wolf Lake follows a psychopath who is obsessed with power, and commits the ultimate crimes on two victims (that we know of). An Altar by the River addresses a cult subculture, ritual abuse, and a long-standing sheriff’s department cover-up.
The Winnebago County Mystery Thrillers are slightly more action-driven than character-driven, but the characters are the heart and soul of the stories. They are serious and–at times–chilling stories I felt needed to be told. But I interject humor, everyday events, and romance into the books for a little levity, and, well, romance.
How long does it take you to write your books?
It takes me about six months to write a book, but for Murder in Winnebago County, there was five years between writing the first half of the book and the second.
Did you do any research for your books?
For Murder in Winnebago County, I needed some detailed information on a classic GTO car and went to the library for a book on old cars. With new information available on the Internet every day, I am accessing that more and more. And I double check the accuracy
For Buried in Wolf Lake, I did fairly extensive research on the difference between a psychopath and a sociopath, and on dismemberment cases, for about a month before I started writing.
I studied a wide variety of materials on cults and Dissociatve Identity Disorder for three months before I started An Altar by the River. I also interviewed a professional who worked with victims of satanic ritual abuse. I continue to research while I’m writing because questions arise and I want to be certain what I write is as error-free as possible. In An Altar by the River, I wrote that a doctor had graduated Summa Cum Laude. My sister, a medical doctor, told me it was Alpha Omega Alpha. Oops.
Learning as much as I can about the topics in my books makes the stories and characters come alive for me.
How much of yourself is hidden in the characters in the book?
Many people think I am the main character, Sergeant Corinne Aleckson, probably because she tells the bulk of the story. Perhaps they hear my voice. Corky shares my core values, and also likes to go on runs to relieve stress and process her thoughts, as well as stay in shape. I’m more like Corky’s mother, Kristen. She is something of a worrywart, protective of her children, and over-extended. The rest of the characters aren’t much like me, but my sense of humor and sick jokes come out of their mouths from time to time.
Do you have specific techniques you use to develop the plot and stay on track?
I formulate some main plot points and build on them, but I don’t feel bound to follow a pre-set course. I’ve tried, and failed, to do outlines. Another technique I’ve tried with some success is to do a storyboard. You make twelve boxes (more or less) on a sheet of paper. In the first box you write the question your story asks. In the last box you write the answer to that question. The other ten boxes are the main events, or plot points, in your book. It’s a nice visual aid for me.
What’s been the most surprising part of being a writer?
How my characters take over the story I’m supposed to be writing.
How has your background influenced your writing?
I learned to appreciate law and justice from my father and creativity from my mother. I have a very broad range of interests, but when I served, first as a corrections officer, then a deputy, I realized criminal justice was in my blood, right along with the red and white cells. Writing mystery thrillers set in my home county is a natural fit.
What are you working on right now?
I’m writing The Noding Field Mystery, the fourth book in the Winnebago County Series. It differentiates from the first two books because the perpetrator(s) of the crime is not identified until near the end. It begins with the discovery of a man’s body in a soybean field. His hands and feet bound to stakes. The cause of death is not evident, nor is the manner.
Have you ever had difficulty “killing off” a character in your story because she or he was so intriguing and full of possibility for you, his or her creator?
Yes. My second intended victim in Murder in Winnebago County is still alive and well, mainly because I liked her too much to kill her. More accurately, I liked her best friend too much, and didn’t want to put Corky through the tragedy of losing her.
Do you have mental list or a computer file or a spiral notebook with the ideas for or outlines of stories that you have not written but intend to one day?
I have a small suitcase full of ideas and storylines and uncompleted manuscripts. I’m pretty sure that’s what’s keeping me alive–I need to finish them before I die.