In this week’s blog I talk about Kitty O’Rourke, the editor for my book. Early on in the process of putting Rampage along Route 66 together, when my queries to several publishers went unanswered, I decided I would give self-publishing a whirl. A good friend gave me some sound advice. He told me that if I was going to take the self-publishing route, I should use a professional editor and cover designer. He said nothing was worse than a self-published book that looked amateurish - rife with typos, grammatical errors, and a lousy cover design. I took that advice, and used both editor and designer, and was very happy with the result.
Finding the “just right” editor was a process in itself. I had several great recommendations from a writer’s group I belong to, but when I did some background checks on some of the editors that had been recommended to me, their interests just didn’t seem the right fit. I was looking for someone who would be comfortable editing a true crime story and was hoping for someone who had some background in criminology and police procedure who would be comfortable with gory details and complex forensic reports. I found that someone in Kitty and her company, CopyKat Editing.
In addition to her professional copyediting certificate from the University of California San Diego, Kitty holds bachelor’s degrees in both criminology and psychology from the University of Denver. She points out that she has a passion for editing true crime manuscripts. She took a great interest in my story and did a fantastic job editing. I was amazed at how her detailed line editing was able to improve my syntax, delete repetition, fix my run-on or incomplete sentences, correct grammatical and typographical errors, eliminate clichés, and help with precise word choice. She helped me rearrange a couple of the chapters so that the story flowed smoothly in a logical sequence. Even when she reviewed the captions for the photographs, she suggested I take out hints in the captions of things that came later in the book before the information appeared in the story. She didn’t change my story, but I think she made my story much better. I once told her that her work reminded me of some commercials from a German Chemical Company named BASF who put out several television commercials in the 1990s. They famously promoted that they didn’t make many of the products we buy, but they made those products better. Here is a link to one of those ads on YouTube. BASF Commercial (1991) - YouTube
As Kitty edited my work, she researched and found little details that helped enhance the accuracy of the story. Important things like where I made reference to the McKinley County Sheriff’s Department which was officially known as the McKinley County Sheriff’s Office. She pointed out that the restaurant at Houck, that I always knew simply as Van de Kamp’s, was actually owned by Van de Kamp’s Holland Dutch Bakery Company out of Los Angeles. In one chapter, I referred to the Golden Gate Freeway near Hollywood which the antagonist in my story used to escape the area of the murder in Griffith Park. Kitty found a Golden Gate Freeway near San Francisco (I-480) but it was nowhere near Griffith Park. With a little checking, I realized I should have called it the “Golden State” freeway (another name for I-5).
When my book was first published, a witness came forward to correct me on the location of the farmhouse where Dianne Brown ran for help. I felt pretty confident that Dianne went to a little settlement called Gamerco, because my research showed the Tom Serna family in a city directory living in Gamerco shortly after these murders. The surprise witness was an 11-year-old boy at the time and the Serna’s neighbor. He pinpointed the Serna residence near the wastewater treatment plant in west Gallup, NM and nearly due south of the murder scene. He told me that the family moved to Gamerco not long after the murders. He also added a lot of detailed information about what happened at the Serna house that night after Dianne showed up and he provided even more information from the following day when he and his mother and brother went to the crime scene by the abandonned coal mine. There, they met two deputies who found the murdered highway patrolman’s service revolver. He was able to help me pinpoint the exact location where James Brown had been shot.
After talking to this witness, I was struggling with the question, “Should I update my book with a revision?” When I talked to Kitty, she said, “Well, after all it is a true crime story (emphasis on the true).” That convinced me to release a “First Edition Revised” in February 2022 containing the new accurate details surrounding the murder in Gallup.
Recently, a friend told me that he was amazed that I was such a good writer. I told him that I considered myself a good storyteller and diligent researcher, but that it was my editor, Kitty O’Rourke who made a good writer out of me. So, this blog story is my way to tip my hat to her.
After I posted this - Kitty responded to me on Instagram:
"This was the sweetest thing anyone has ever written about me!! So happy to be part of your journey. BTW - you don't give yourself enough writing credit."