Julie Kramer, author of Stalking Susan is here as my guest to to tell us the story behind the Susans:
Because the plot in my debut thriller involves a serial killer targeting women named Susan, people want to know if I have a special enemy by that name. I don’t. STALKING SUSAN is not a personal tale of revenge.
But some stories stay with journalists long after the newscast wraps. A decade ago, as a television news producer, I covered two cold case homicides that inspired me to write STALKING SUSAN. The cases involved two women, both named Susan, murdered exactly two years apart in St. Paul, MN.
My debut story is not their story. That’s why I use the word ‘inspired,’ rather than ‘based on.’ Their cases remain unsolved. But in the world of fiction I was free to ask myself, what if?
Being a career journalist it’s no surprise I’m a rip-it-from-the-headlines writer. But transitioning from writing news to writing fiction did come naturally. It felt like cheating. And it was work to overcome that feeling. Apparently though, I do have an imagination – a vivid one – and it kicks in for the conclusion, if not the set up.
When I wrote STALKING SUSAN, I changed the victims’ appearances, occupations, and the times and locations of their deaths. I also added more victims. I changed their last names and almost changed their first name. But I decided to keep Susan because I never forgot them and I wanted others to remember them, too.
I don’t recommend other authors give their characters the same name — I ended up with five Susans — it complicates storytelling and character development. But if I’d changed their names to Mary, I’d have ended up with a completely different plot. Because the twists in STALKING SUSAN come from using name origination and famous Susans in history as clues. Because of this, readers named Susan tell me they love the story because it makes them feel special.
When it comes to the world of news, It’s the stories without resolution that tend to stick in reporters’ minds. Besides the parallels of name and date of death – which could end up being completely coincidental – what attracted me to these cases was that they were unimportant murders, buried deep inside the daily newspapers with no real follow-up. Fifteen years later a reporter colleague and I made a run for tips and answers and came up empty. That’s how it usually ends in newsrooms, no matter what you see about reporters in the movies or read in books.
In real life, journalists don’t often catch the killer, so writing this book was a little like living a news fantasy.
But it really was just a fantasy, because bottom line, someone, maybe more than one someone, got away with murder. So any opportunity to keep the names of the true victims out there, is a good thing. So here goes:
Susan Ginger Petersen, age 28, was strangled May 17, 1983.
Susan Jean Rheineck, age 16, was asphyxiated May 17, 1985.
Their murders have never officially been connected. Not by DNA, witnesses or any other evidence. But some similarities in the crime scenes are suggestive.
Now the St. Paul Police Cold Case Unit is taking a fresh look at these murders, and privately investigators are saying wouldn’t it be funny if fiction brought attention to bring tips to solve the crimes after all this time.
To learn more about the author visit http://www.juliekramerbooks.com