On February 12, 2000, I curled up on my green leather couch with my morning Joe. Strong Starbucks House Blend, milk and sugar. I turned on the TV and my black lab Lexie, greeted me with a wet nose nuzzle, her silent request for petting. A sensational road rage case in California was the lead story on the Today Show. Sara McBurnett had rear-ended another motorist, Andrew Burnett, on the highway near the San Jose International Airport and he confronted her in a violent rage. He grabbed her 10-year-old bichon fries, Leo, out of her lap through the open window of her car and threw the dog into oncoming traffic, killing him. Burnett then fled the scene. It took police over a year to track him down and charge him with animal cruelty. I wondered what would cause someone to commit such a horrible act of violence against a harmless animal? How would the police catch the killer? A story about a rookie female CSI who would investigate a road-rage crime took shape in my mind. I imagined a killer with a secret obsession driving his rage.
I sat down at my computer and wrote the first scene of “Cadaverine.” I shared the chapter with a writer friend who politely told me that the violence should take place off the page and that I needed to start the scene with some action. I already felt lost in the writing process and I had only written six pages! I love forensic science and I knew my female protagonist was a crime scientist, so I began to research some of the forensic science techniques that would appear in my story: DNA analysis, latent prints, blood-pattern analysis. I wrote a few of the forensic science scenes, but I was busy raising two boys and writing was just a hobby and creative outlet for me. Years passed without writing another page, but the book kept calling to me. I wanted to write this story because I love reading mysteries and thrillers. I also like strong female characters and stories with a touch of humor and romance.
Three years ago, I committed more seriously to writing and my book began to take shape. My experiences working as a scientist in the pharmaceutical industry became another source of inspiration. What if my killer worked for a drug company and had access to a powerful anesthesia? My imagination bloomed and by the end of 2015, a lean first draft emerged and I shared it with beta readers. I used their feedback to improve my book, but I still needed more help. I decided to attend the Writer’s Digest annual conference in August of 2016 and participate in the pitch fest. I returned with so many great ideas on how to improve my writing, my head was spinning. Even pitching a book that wasn’t quite ready for publication was worthwhile. How do you summarize your story in one sentence? How long should an agent pitch be? How do you tell a total stranger about your book without sounding desperate or crazy? This topic is covered in my next nonfiction book, “Writing and Publishing Your First Book Without Losing Your Mind or Sense of Humor.” How do you write an effective query letter? Since attending writing the conference, I have written almost 7,000 more words, deleted entire scenes (painful) and continued to improve my book and query agents. I have read books about the writing craft, attended a local writing class on editing and joined a writing group. I set up a website and started a blog.
At the end of 2016, I learned that the publication of a book is a different long and winding road. Querying feels like a never-ending job search where you send out countless resumes and wait. And wait. And wait and hope and pray for someone to fall in love with your story. The process is arduous, but as a published scientific writer, it makes sense to me. Peer review and editing of your work are lengthy and painful, but the end result is always better.
The man who threw Leo to his death in the California road rage story was charged with felony animal cruelty and sentenced to three years in prison. You will have to read “Cadaverine” to find out the ending of my story. I hope I will be able to share it with you soon.