The Resurrection of Elmer McCurdy

Elmer McCurdy was a two-bit outlaw, a wannabe desperado who overshot the Wild West and landed in the 20th century. Nobody knew his name, and nobody in the Oklahoma Territory cared much. In 1911, Elmer was 31 years old, usually drunk, and flat broke when he decided to hold up a train. His booty: $46…Read More…

Peace, love … and murder

How long did you think it would take me to find a good true-crime story in my new digs, the tiny village of Placitas in northern New Mexico? Yeah, well, I never bogart a good yarn. This’ll blow your mind. In the 1960s and ’70s, Placitas was a far-out satellite in the hippie universe, man.…Read More…

How to recognize a toxic narcissist—and survive

According to the Mayo Clinic, narcissistic personality disorder — related to sociopathy under the umbrella term Antisocial Personality Disorders — is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of…Read More…

Better Angels: No veteran should die alone

It was after 2am and the graveyard-shift nurses drifted like ghosts in the hallway, tending to the dead and dying. It wasn’t that Michael* couldn’t sleep, even with meds he refused to take. He fought sleep with every fiber of his fragile body. He had fought in a war he barely remembered. A crucifix hung…Read More…

The entangled histories of 'In Cold Blood' and narrative journalism

Lecture: 9:30am to 11am on Feb. 20Book-signing immediately afterwardCasper College (WY) Humanities FestivalMusic Building’s Wheeler HallAdmission is free Ron Franscell, who has been called one of the exciting voices in narrative nonfiction by some heavyweight authors like Ann Rule and Vincent Bugliosi, will deliver a lecture about how his particular style of crime journalism has…Read More…

The best true-crime books of all time? Maybe not

Last weekend, USA Today published a Goodreads list of the “Best True Crime Books of All Time.” There are some truly great books on the list, compiled from various Goodreads features like reviews, lists, and ratings from 90 million members. Ninety million readers can’t be wrong, can they? In this case, sort of. The meaty…Read More…

Pick me, Ted: Bundy expert explores a perverse love

I recently visited a Facebook group where true-crime fans gather to chit-chat about the latest foul play. The group’s members are mostly women because, well, women are overwhelmingly the most voracious readers of true crime (some surveys have found as much as 75% of the TC market is female). There’s no question about their earnest…Read More…

10 Photos of Dead Criminals (with a Charlie Manson bonus)

Back in the 19th century, when photography was young, post-mortem images of dead loved ones was fashionable as a way to remember the deceased. But it also became a way to calm the citizenry’s fears about outlaws, highwaymen, and brigands of all kinds when news of their deaths came. They wanted proof. The truest kind…Read More…

Berkley-Penguin will publish ‘ShadowMan’

There are a few moments in a book’s life that are special for authors. One is when a box of finished books arrives on the front porch. Another is when you see somebody reading your book on a plane or in a park. And then there’s the moment when you know your next book is…Read More…

Unfinished.

Once upon a time—which is how all worthwhile stories begin—I knew a man named Herman who had reached a moment when there was more of his life to look back upon than lay ahead. This would be a perfect time, Herman told me, to “sum up,” or to sort through memories and other junk to…Read More…

40% of serial killers getting away with murder

The Golden Age of serial killers—the 1970s and ‘80s—is over. According to National Institute of Justice, the number of serial killers is down 85% in the past 30 years. Reasons abound, including the introduction of DNA and criminal profiling since the 1960s, Add in longer prison sentences (and less parole), a proliferation of security cameras,…Read More…

10 Los Angeles Crime Facts You Didn’t Know

The darker side of a city built on dreams and illusions is sometimes obscured, sometimes elevated to mythic proportions. In a place where the words Manson, Night Stalker, and Black Dahlia are well known, the supporting cast of a thousand other foul-play tales can be found in the shadows of the neon-pastel Los Angeles landscape.…Read More…

What if Huck Finn had helicopter parents?

Summer is over and you know what that means, right? No, not the start of school! It’s time for helicopter parents to lift off. Thanks to technology, these moms and dads can track their kids everywhere via numerous apps on their smartphones. They’re already hovering over the school bus, on the monkey bars, the college…Read More…

5 Book Terms That Can Make You Sound Brilliant (or Stupid)

I’ve been astonished at the number of people who have expressed some trepidation about communicating with an author out of fear they’ll misuse a word (or never send fan letters as a way to avoid misspellings). Really, folks, we don’t judge you by your spelling and grammar—unless you’re pointing out a typo in our latest…Read More…

Is true crime dead … or just choking on its own blood?

For many years, acquisition editors in New York have justified their rejections of true-crime manuscripts by saying, “Sorry, but true crime is on life support”—mostly as a way of letting authors down easy. It’s true that the true-crime genre has been in a coma several times since Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood” inspired the modern…Read More…

What crime writers do I read? Here’s one

It’s one of the most common questions I get from a roomful of readers: Who’s your favorite author? Fact is, I don’t have just one. And they’re all over the lot, from crime fiction to magical realism to true crime and some classic literary giants whose main attraction for me is simply the way they’ve…Read More…

All writers and readers share one profound thing

Our most profound ideas are often very simple. This one was delivered unto me by a humble, small-town Texas bookseller and scribbler as we sat among his stacks and stacks of books. He loved his old books and he sold a few, but mostly he just collected them. It wasn’t a good business model, but…Read More…

Place matters

For writers who grew up in the West the landscape is unconsciously woven into our storytelling. It’s natural because that’s what we know. And it’s the thing that makes our western regional literature distinctive. This past weekend, I was honored to deliver a keynote speech as the featured guest at the annual Authors Lunch, hosted…Read More…

10 Creepy Places … Right Next Door to You

Maybe you’d like to take a casserole over to the new neighbors in the murder house? Maybe that kid in the serial killer’s old home could mow the grass this summer? Do you really know the disturbing history of your own place? These 10 places—mostly homes just like yours—will creep you out. 10. THE CANDY…Read More…

Lend me your ears! Audiobook of ‘Alice & Gerald’ is out

One of America’s most notable audiobook producers—Dreamscape Media—has just released the Audible audio edition of my newest true crime, “Alice & Gerald: A Homicidal Love Story“ (2019, Prometheus Books). The CD version is expected to land by July 23. The audio edition is narrated by actor Chris Lutkin, an actor, director, writer, and teacher in…Read More…

10 Mugshot Tips for Your Next Arrest

Police have taken mugshots of accused criminals almost since the beginning of photography. Why? So they’ll recognize you when you commit future crimes … and for their never-ending amusement. But there’s a real art to posing for a great mugshot. So, we present this rogue’s gallery for your education. And may the rest of you…Read More…

Who’ll write the first true crime about murder in outer space?

It’s Hollywood sci-fi stuff. A simmering personal feud between two astronauts plays out across the frozen Martian crust … or maybe there’s a rape in the claustrophobic quarters of the International Space Station … or ooh-ooh, a celestial serial killer is loose on Uranus. And inevitably, a drunken, cynical galactic detective and his mismatched sidekick…Read More…