Mitzi Szereto, author of The Best New True Crime Stories: Small Towns, was recently interviewed for the blog “Welcome Back to Gotham City”, take a look.
“Mitzi Szereto is an author and anthology editor of multi-genre fiction and non-fiction. She has her own blog Errant Ramblings: Mitzi Szereto’s Weblog and is creator/presenter of the Web channel Mitzi TV, which covers the “quirky” side of London, England. She’s been featured internationally on radio and television and in major newspapers and magazines. She gives talks and readings at book and literature festivals and teaches creative writing workshops around the world. Widely considered the pioneer of the erotic writing workshop in the UK and mainland Europe, she’s also lectured in creative writing at several British universities. Her anthology Erotic Travel Tales 2 is the first anthology of erotica to include a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Mitzi and her celebrity co-author bear Teddy Tedaloo (teddytedaloo.com) divide their time between the UK and the Pacific Northwest.”
This month I thought I’d switch things up a bit and feature an Author of the Month who’s primarily a non-fiction author. So let’s give it up for Mitzi Szereto!
15) First of all, I have to ask, what is with that stuffed animal? What’s his story?
Stuffed animal? Those are fighting words! The ursine chap to whom you refer is none other than celebrity author bear, Teddy Tedaloo. He’s been with me for more than twenty years. We’ve traveled and lived all over the world and are inseparable. In fact, a few years ago we teamed up to write cozy mystery novels, which are part of the series, The Thelonious T. Bear Chronicles. Teddy finally got fed up playing second fiddle in the literary department and decided to establish himself as an author. He’s earned himself quite a following on social media. He also devotes himself to increasing awareness of animal welfare and rescue.
14) For an author of true crime books and anthologies, you could do a lot worse than live in London, which is absolutely steeped in centuries of crime. From Jack the Ripper to the Yorkshire Ripper, which true crimes have fascinated you the most?
That’s a tough one. There are so many, and the number keeps growing. The Ripper case is an obvious one, particularly since we’ve never had a definitive answer as to who the killer (or killers?) was. The Yorkshire Ripper is more contemporary and covers a region of England in which I once lived, though I came along many years after the killings. I was able to revisit the area thanks to a memoir-style true crime piece that CWA Dagger winner Danuta Kot wrote for my book The Best New True Crime Stories: Serial Killers. Danuta is a Sheffield lass, and she encapsulates the time period brilliantly, tying it in with both a personal tragedy and a near-miss encounter with Peter Sutcliffe himself. Charles Manson and his followers are also high on the list of fascinating true crime cases. Aside from the horrific crimes themselves, Manson never even got his hands dirty, instead acting as a puppet-master and having others do his bidding. There’s the cultural aspect too, ie how the Tate/LaBianca murders brought the 1960s to a crushing and brutal end.
13) Another hotbed of crime is your other home in the Pacific Northwest, which saw the likes of Bundy and Gary Ridgway (the Green River Killer.). In fact, one study found there were 277 individual serial killers in Washington state alone since they began keeping records. Did you ever follow Bundy’s footsteps or visit any of the old crime scenes/disposal sites?
The Pacific Northwest does seem to have a high number of serial killers. Perhaps it’s the rain, I don’t know. Having said that, Bundy took his serial murder career on the road, leaving a trail of bodies in states outside the region, including Utah and Colorado, before finally ending up in Florida. I guess it’s impossible to mention the words “true crime” and not have Bundy turn up in the conversation. But to answer your question, no, I didn’t follow in his footsteps or visit the sites of his crimes—unless you count spending a few months in Tallahassee, Florida “visiting crime scenes.” If I’m writing a piece on a specific crime case and it is within my ability to conduct a site visit for research purposes or simply to get a sense of the place, then I will do so. In fact, I did this for the Washington-state spree-killer story I wrote for my new book The Best New True Crime Stories: Small Towns.
12) Every epoch in human history has always been plagued by crime and career criminals. What is it about crime that fascinates you so much that you’re largely devoting the latest phase of your writing career to it?
I’ve always been a reader of crime, especially crime novels with a psychological bent. I’m also partial to TV crime thrillers, particularly series from Britain as well as those that have come out of Scandinavia and other parts of mainland Europe, and South America too. If I think back to my reading and TV/film viewing history, it does seem as if crime has taken up a large percentage of my “entertainment” choices. Perhaps it’s simply that I, like many others, are fascinated by the dark side. Most people who know my work know that I’m very versatile. If I take on a specific genre, I’m going to put a lot of hard work and effort into creating something of value. Today it’s true crime. Tomorrow, who knows?
11) What crimes fascinate you the most? Murders, kidnappings, bank heists?
Murder. But you probably knew I’d say that. Murder is such an extreme act. Trying to get into the mind of someone who has gone so far as to deliberately take another person’s life—well, maybe we just want to figure out why. And sometimes we don’t find an answer.
10) Was there ever a true crime you’d heard of/wrote about that just broke your heart?
There are many tragic cases out there, so many lives lost or damaged for nothing, that the list would be endless to recite. There’s a story in The Best New True Crime Stories: Small Towns that is particularly poignant in this regard. It took place in Trinidad and deals with the aftermath of a murder and the very young children who are left behind, so that’s the freshest in my mind at the moment. When I’m doing my true crime work, I tend to remove myself from the content enough so that I can function as a writer and function as an editor. It’s the only way to keep sane and get the work done. It’s important to me that readers “get” the impact of these crimes and realize that these are real people we’re talking about, not fictional characters in a novel.
9) I noticed on your Facebook wall that you’re writing a novel. I’m guessing it’s a crime novel but that’s all it is- a guess. Can you tell us the throughline?
I never really discuss my works-in-progress in any detail. But I will say that yes, it can come under the crime category, but perhaps in a less in-your-face way. I dislike all these labels that get put on books. I fought this constantly when I was working in “erotica”—and the quote marks are there for a very good reason. I do a lot of cross-genre stuff and blending of genres. So except for my true crime, a substantial portion of my work is not always so easily categorized.
8) Plotter or pantser?
Definitely a pantser. I’ll get an inkling of a plotline—that special something that holds the book together. Then I run with it.
7) Since you’ve written about both, have you ever been able to discover and identify the thin dividing line between sex and crime?
When I was working on The Best New True Crime Stories: Serial Killers, I saw the sexual element crop up again and again, so it’s definitely a driving force with most serial killers. In general terms, I see it being about opportunity and that all-important control aspect. There’s a story in The Best New True Crime Stories: Small Towns about a serial rapist in England, who, after getting hold of a gun, found that it gave him a sense of power he didn’t have previously. Having an opportunity to control someone, to have “power” even if that power is bolstered by a gun, can be like flipping a switch in someone’s mind. A run-of-the-mill crime can end up escalating when perpetrators discover that they can do whatever they want to whomever they want. Not sure if this answers your question, but….
6) What inspired an English girl like you to write the novella Florida Gothic? It reads like a cross between Carl Hiassen and Shirley Jackson.
I actually grew up in South Florida, so I had the background and experience to provide the reader with that all-important sense of place. Maybe some of my girlhood memories were imbedded in my brain like maggots, and they needed to crawl out onto the page. How’s that for a suitable description of the creative process that went into writing this book? I never really know what triggers an idea for a book or a story—it just happens, and it usually comes about randomly. Florida Gothic is very character-driven. As a writer, I enjoy getting into other people’s heads—and the more warped they are, the more fun it is!
5) Describe your typical writing day. Do you write exclusively in notebooks or laptops or both? Do you set daily word goals for yourself and, if so, what is it?
I can only write on a laptop. I do jot down illegible notes here and there when something pops into my head and I want to incorporate it later. But for anything beyond a few words on a scrap of paper, it’s all done on my laptop. I’m not sure I have a typical writing day. I’ve never set a daily word goal, not even when I first started out in the business. Far too much of my time is spent on the business of writing, which obviously includes promoting. There are a lot of things going on behind the scenes that writers need to do these days. We wear many hats and work harder than ever. I have to keep setting aside works-in-progress in order to deal with the business aspects of being an author. We no longer live in a world where publishers spend big money on marketing, promotion, and advertising. That seems to be reserved only for a privileged few. Therefore, the burden now falls heavily on authors to do all these things and more.
4) Have you ever come across a true crime that was simply too heinous or disgusting for you to write about?
Yes, and I always have the choice not to write about it. I’ve also rejected work for my anthologies for this reason. Having said that, it wasn’t so much the content, but rather the way in which it was presented. I realize there are many crimes that are really over-the-top horrendous. But if handled correctly, you can make it, shall we say, reasonably palatable? Of course, everyone has their own threshold of what they can tolerate, so it’s all very subjective.
3) While growing up, who were your favorite authors and which ones would you count among your strongest influences?
I’ve always read widely, so it’s hard to offer up a list of names. I don’t think I’ve been strongly influenced by any particular author. One author I remember reading consistently from my teens is Ruth Rendell. I do credit her for getting me hooked on psychological thrillers—a genre I still love to read and never get tired of. Perhaps we can say that she did have an influence on me, in that I like to incorporate that psychological thriller aspect into my work. If I ever finish this novel I’m writing, you’ll see that aspect playing itself out. I got to meet Baroness Rendell a few years ago in London. Sadly, she’s no longer with us.
2) As you’re from London and are a true crime enthusiast, surely you must have some theory as to who Jack the Ripper was. Thoughts, theories?
A Ripperologist would have some better theories—I’m by no means expert enough to even posit one! Mind you, there are so many theories I doubt we’ll ever have a definitive answer. The Ripper has become like a fictional character, there’s been so much been written and also produced for film/TV about him. Perhaps because it happened so long ago, the Ripper has taken on an almost mythological quality. As a result, everyone seems to have a theory.
1) I’ve asked about your novel in progress. But what else is next on the horizon for Mitzi Szereto?
I’m currently working on the third book in my true crime series; this one is called The Best New True Crime Stories: Well-Mannered Crooks, Rogues & Criminals. It will be out in summer 2021, but it’s already listed for pre-order. If you liked the first two books, you’ll definitely want to get this one. I’m also hammering away on that “is it crime or isn’t it” novel we discussed. My horizon is always very crowded!