Can you tell us about Quiet Time?
Quiet Time is a murder mystery. On a hot summer morning, a housewife is beaten to death in her suburban garage. Her husband is arrested but the charges against him are inexplicably dropped. The protagonist is engaged to the couple’s son. She tries to keep her own marriage together by turning a blind eye to the family’s dark undercurrents. When her marriage collapses, she goes after the killer.
It was based on a true case, one that you were personally involved in?
Quiet Time is based on a true crime that occurred in 1973. I was a college student, engaged to the victim’s son. The day of the murder, his father paid us an unexpected visit. The visit became his alibi. When he was arrested, his kids rallied around him. Talking about the murder was taboo. The charges were eventually dropped. His son and I were married for nine years, but in a sense our marriage died the day his mother was killed.
Twenty years later, I began looking into the case. Court records and the lead investigator’s grand jury testimony filled in some blanks. To put the matter personally to rest, I wrote the highly fictionalized version that is Quiet Time.
What are the considerations when fictionalising a real-life murder case, and one that lives in people’s memories?
One consideration is the effect fictionalizing a true murder may have on real people. When I wrote Quiet Time, I was very forthcoming with the publisher (Bantam) about the origins of the story. Since the killer was not convicted, the publisher was understandably concerned about legal liability. I didn’t want to stir things up for that family.
Bantam’s requested changes ranged from inventing new names for real places to moving the timeline up ten years. Some of these changes wreaked havoc with the plot and caused great annoyance to local critics, but I agreed to every one of them. I’d long since gone back to my maiden name; now, to further distance the book from the crime, I adopted my new husband’s name as my pen name.
Quiet Time came out a week after 9/11. It lived a short life and died a quick death. But someone did recognize it. In 2005, the killer’s then-eighty-year-old sister saw me talk about Quiet Time on a late-night rerun of a defunct public TV show. She read the book and came forward with a confession he’d made. A cold case was opened.
Wow. So this led to the case being reopened. How did that go?
The cold case was excruciating. The police didn’t interview me in 1973, but suddenly I was a prosecution witness. I’d seen the killer the day of the murder and witnessed events that went to motive and other forces at play. And the defence itself made Quiet Time a centrepiece of its case: I’d had no contact with the killer’s family for decades, but they claimed the elderly aunt and I had somehow cooked up the killer’s confession in order to sell books.
Under the theory that Quiet Time was fact and not fiction, the defence subpoenaed the novel, my notes, and all twenty-odd drafts as discreet factual statements to be used to impeach me with at trial. In the end, my notes and drafts were protected. An excellent lawyer of my own called an English Lit professor to the stand to convince the judge that all literature is based on true life, but that doesn’t make fiction fact.
More painfully, the cold case also forced me to confront not just my own complicity around the murder, but what I’d done to fictionalize that family. To the elderly aunt and the victim’s family, I was a hero. To the killer’s family—my former in-laws—I was a liar and a traitor. As a writer, the experience had an even more lasting effect. Because the defence subpoenaed my notes and very thoughts, during the eight years the case travelled up and down state appellate and supreme courts, I was paralyzed. It’s taken me almost that long to get my voice back.
Would you now describe Quiet Time as a legal thriller?
Although Quiet Time has one court scene (the bail hearing), it’s not a legal thriller. It’s a crime story with strong elements of family drama and psychological suspense.
What do you put true crime’s growing fan base down to?
The potential for crime exists in us all. Good and evil are two sides of the same coin; our darkest impulses make us human. The fascination with that line and how it’s crossed helps us determine where the line is for each of us.
Thank you Stephanie. Good luck with the book.
About Stephanie Kane:
Stephanie is a lawyer and award-winning author of four crime novels. Born in Brooklyn, she came to Colorado as a freshman at CU. She owned and ran a karate studio in Boulder and is a second-degree black belt. After graduating from law school, she was a corporate partner at a top Denver law firm before becoming a criminal defence attorney. She has lectured on money laundering and white-collar crime in Eastern Europe, and given workshops throughout the country on writing technique. She lives in Denver with her husband and two black cats.
Extreme Indifference and Seeds of Doubt won a Colorado Book Award for Mystery and two Colorado Authors League Awards for Genre Fiction. She belongs to Mystery Writers of America, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and the Colorado Authors League.
COLD CASE STORY BLOG: writerkane.com/blog