Part one: During all my years as a working journalist, my favorite part of the process was sitting down at my desk with a stack of notebooks beside me and a blank computer screen in front of me. I loved it for the Rubik’s cube-like challenge of putting all the details neatly into place, even though this usually happened under the constraints of a ticking deadline clock and sometimes with an editor literally breathing down my neck, demanding, “How close are you?”
I never had writer’s block, ever. I never missed a deadline. Since I usually wrote the lead to the story in my head while driving back to the newsroom, and the lead is the hardest part, the rest of it would fall into place like a row of obedient dominoes.
And then I decided to write a book, and found to be true what a friend of mine predicted, “Writing that book is going to kick your ass.”
The volume of the material was overwhelming: The court file alone was more than 500 pages. I had dozens of filled notebooks, stacks of documents I’d copied from Brents’ case file at the public defender’s office, transcripts of police interviews and copies of police reports.
I also had hundreds of pages of letters and journal entries from Brents, and he continued to write, sending letters every week. They filled a filing cabinet, and when that overflowed, I bought another.
The idea of the book soon loomed like the proverbial elephant in the living room, only this elephant was a hulking, smelly woolly mammoth with sharp spikes for tusks. I wanted nothing to do with it.
I told myself that I was too busy to try to start writing the book, that the material was so complex that it couldn’t be tackled in between juggling a family and a full-time job.
I told myself I needed time to get over the crushing blow of having a major, albeit controversial, publisher interested in it only to be fired the very week we were supposed to meet, swiftly followed by the crushing blow of my first literary agent simply disappearing on me.
And all those things were true. But what I really needed in order to be able to write that book was to slowly come to the realization that this wasn’t going to be simply a true-crime book; that in order to tell the story properly I had to do it fully. That meant opening a vein and revealing parts of myself that were deeply personal, as well as stepping back from my beloved craft and writing about the dark side of journalism itself.
Coming up: Writing Diary of a Predator: A Memoir, part two.