By Blood Written
Copyright ©2005 Steven Womack
Severn House Publishers
Harper Suspense Edition 2007
By Blood Written had, by far, the strangest origin of any book I’ve ever written. Not many books are inspired by the author being accused of a brutal double murder…
Chain Of Fools, published in 1996,was the fourth installment of my series set in Nashville featuring former investigative reporter-turned private eye Harry James Denton. The book had been out a few months and garnered some attention, especially locally.
That same year, a particularly gruesome crime took place in Nashville. The case, which came to be known as “The Tanning Bed Murders,” occurred in February, 1996 when two young women who were putting themselves through college by working in a massage parlor on Church Street called “Exotic Tan” were murdered late one night in what was described as one of the most horrific crimes scenes in the city’s history.
The case went cold and no one was charged with murder until 2013, when a guy already in prison in California after a series of violent home invasions was finally nailed. At the time–seventeen years earlier–he’d been dating one of the two victims.
Local NBC-affiliate reporter Dennis Ferrier filed a story on the case and you can check it out here.
A few months after these two murders, I was home working one day when my phone rang. It was Lieutenant Tommy Jacobs, who at the time was head of the Murder Squad in Nashville. He and I had known each other casually for a few years–he’d helped me out on Dead Folks’ Blues–but I hadn’t heard from him in awhile.
We made small talk, just catching up, and then Tommy said something along the lines of: “You remember those two girls who were murdered down on Church Street?”
“Yeah,” I answered. “That was awful. You gonna catch the guy that did it?”
“No,” Tommy answered. “I don’t think so. We don’t have much to go on.”
Then he shared a few details of the case that demonstrated to me that this was, indeed, one of the most gruesome murder scenes in local history.
“That’s kind of why I’m calling,” he said. “We got an anonymous tip on the Crimestoppers line that the scene down on Church Street was a little too close to the end of Chain of Fools…”
He hesitated for a moment, then: “And that you did it.”
I remember standing there, literally, with my jaw open. Finally, after a few moments, I said the only thing I knew to say:
“Tommy, I didn’t kill those girls.”
“I know that,” he said. “It’s ridiculous. But a tip’s a tip. I told the detective in charge of the case that I knew you and I’d follow up. I’ll make a note and that’ll be the end of it.”
“Do I need to get a lawyer?” I asked.
“No. That’ll just draw attention to you. Don’t worry. This’ll go away.”
And he was right. It did.
But for a brief moment there, my blood ran cold. I walked around the house in a daze, and then that whole crime writer gear kicked in and a thought ran through my head:
What if I had done it?
After all, I’d done some pretty weird stuff researching crime novels. I had an arson expert explain to me how to make a fulminate in my kitchen. At the old Nashville morgue, down on the river, I’d been told how tight the security was and how no one could ever get near the building. I decided to do a little location scouting to test that theory, and managed to get right up next to the building without getting caught…
So why not? What if a frustrated mystery writer decides to take research a little too far? What if a writer, in trying to capture authentic reality in a book, decides to murder someone just to see what it feels like?
And what if he discovered was that murder feels really good?
So he writes his novel and it becomes his breakout book. Next thing he knows, he’s got a half-dozen more novels behind him, is rich and famous, on the cover of every pop culture magazine in the country, and life’s going great. There’s only one problem:
He can’t stop killing…
So there’s the plot to By Blood Written. A rich, famous New York Times Best-Selling author bases the plots of his blockbuster novels on murders he commits himself.
I thought this was the most commercial, breakout novel I’d ever written. I really thought this one was going to vault me onto the A-List.
Only problem was, I couldn’t give the damn thing away.
My agent said serial killer novels were dead. By then, I’d left Ballantine. No luck anywhere…
Finally, I pitched it to Otto Penzler, the founder of Mysterious Press, whom I’d run into on the circuit off-and-on for years. Otto was scouting for a British publisher, Severn House. They bought the book, printed about 1200 copies in hardcover, and then let it die an agonizing death.
A couple of years later, my agent sold the paperback rights to Harper Suspense. After the failure to launch of the Severn House edition, I was hopeful this might still do something. They did a great cover for the paperback edition. I was both hopeful and excited. Then the editor who acquired the book left to take another job and the book was orphaned…
It’s still out there, though. It’s a hell of a yarn, if I do say so myself, and maybe someday it’ll go somewhere.
Until it does, you can still find the book on Amazon.com:
Or go back to the Home Page!