Truth Versus Fiction
December 16, 2020
I hope this newsletter finds all of you and your families well and safe at the end of this very strange year. We're okay at our house, although our dog, Nelson, wonders why we're home so often.
On the writing front, all is well. I just finished the third book in my new Clara Jefferies mystery series. It's called THE BLESSED BONES, and it's up for preorder now on Amazon, Apple, KOBO and all the other major outlets. I'm thoroughly enjoying writing about Alber, Utah, but I've decided I don't want to live there. Too many strange occurrences in that town for my taste, if you know what I mean. There's always a sensational case unfolding that Police Chief Jefferies has to chase down!
For those of you who've contacted me about continuing the Sarah Armstrong series, that is in the works and I hope to have BONE COLD, the fifth in the series, out by spring 2021. I'll send a newsletter to let everyone know when it's available.
I wrote the blog below and decided it would be a fun end-of-the-year newsletter. It's on the need for fiction to have at least some semblance of reality, while the real world can sometimes spin entirely out of control. (It seemed fitting this year with all we're all going through.)
So happy holidays and merry Christmas! Wishing you all a wonderful New Year!
TRUTH V. FICTION
There's an old passage written by Mark Twain – I guess that's rather redundant since he died in 1910 and any quote from him has to be old – but the one I'm referring to is: "Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't."
I've thought about that particular proclamation often over the years because I write both true crime books and mysteries: non-fiction and fiction. What Twain was saying is that in fiction, no matter how bizarre a plot or character, readers need some sense of plausibility. Meanwhile, in real life, we can be confronted with a whole lot of strange and believe it, because we know it exists.
Over my thirty-year career as a crime writer, I've written about a good number of folks who fall into that reality-challenged category. Perhaps none more than Celeste Beard in my book She Wanted It All.
In 1999, Celeste was married to Austin, Texas, multimillionaire Steven Beard, and she had a couple of lovers on the side: one of her three ex-husbands; and a bright funny woman Celeste had met in a psychiatric hospital, a bookstore manager named Tracey Tarlton.
The thing about Celeste was that she was the epitome of bigger-than-life. An attractive woman, she had a way of luring people in. She played sweet and vulnerable, acted as if she needed love and protection, but she had an eccentric personality, enjoyed outlandish displays, and she could be cunning and manipulative. Celeste was smart. She had a way of seeing inside of folks, figuring out how to convince them to do her bidding. Celeste did that with Tarlton, gradually ensnaring her in a tangled web of lies and persuading her to help murder Steve.
Celeste had been trying to knock Steve off on her own for years, pretty much since the day of their wedding.
She'd started by serving him mashed potatoes laced with crushed sleeping pills and drinks with everclear she called "The Graveyard." The bizarre thing about Celeste, one of many, was that she could never actually go through with much of anything. Her mind flipflopped so that she'd drug Steve, wanting him to die, and then when he passed out, she'd call an ambulance and plead with the paramedics to save him.
This went on for years, and then Celeste met Tracey. The women began a romantic relationship, and before long Celeste whispered that she was being abused by Steven. It wasn't true. But Celeste cried and claimed that she would commit suicide if Steve didn't die. Eventually, Celeste swayed Tracey and enlisted her aid in the murder.
The summer of 1999 unfolded like a Coen brothers' movie. The women went from one eccentric scheme to another in their quest to kill Steve. At one point, Tracey helped Celeste brew botulism in her lake house garage. Yet, again, it fell short. After Celeste fed it to Steve in chili dogs, she called Tracey and complained that all Steve had was indigestion.
As one after another of her plots failed, Celeste became increasingly desperate. And then came the October night when Celeste left the door unlocked and the alarm off. In the darkness, Tracey tracked around the pool and walked inside the Beard mansion carrying a rifle.
Steve woke up holding his exploded abdomen together and called 911. He initially survived but succumbed to complications three months later.
In true Celeste fashion, the after-the-murder saga was as jaw-dropping. Celeste hired Steve, the victim, a lawyer to protect him from police. (Really, the lawyer's job was to protect her.) At the same time she was buying Tracey a wedding band, Celeste was giving her beauty parlor receptionist money to hire a hitman to kill Tracey.
Could I have written Celeste as a fictional character? Sure. But I probably would have toned her down a bit. I wouldn't want to risk having readers say: "Well, the book's interesting, but that character? I'm just glad there aren't real folks like that Celeste Beard in the world!"
Kathryn Casey is a bestselling true crime and mystery author. Her most recent book is Her Final Prayer, the second in the Clara Jefferies mystery series. Ann Rule has called Casey "one of the best in the true crime genre." Gregg Olsen has said: "Casey is a true crime great."