Can you give me a rough timeline of how Murder in Italy came together?
In February 2008, I pitched Murder in Italy at the Whidbey Island Writers' Conference. By then I had many sources in Italy and the U.S. and was working on the Amanda Knox case 24/7. At Whidbey I met thriller writer William Dietrich, a Pulitzer-prize winning investigative reporter, and he gave me tips on how to research a crime tale. He referred me to his agent, Andrew Stuart, who sold Murder In Italy to Penguin/Berkley Books.
Also at Whidbey I met Erik Larson, the author of The Devil in the White City and he advised me to write Murder in Italy in chronological order, focusing on Meredith Kercher and Amanda Knox. That's what I did.
Instead of just reproducing the courtroom drama, I used the testimony to weave a mystery story, a la Ann Rule of Seattle, my favorite crime writer. The book unfolds like a movie, starting with a happy Italian Halloween. I divided it into three acts, ending with Amanda and Raffaele's conviction.
Were you ever concerned that you wouldn't be able to get your hands on enough of the source material to research and write a book?
Never. Perugia is like a true crime store. Italians leak everything from autopsy photos to letters, diaries, videos, and wiretaps. All of those I used in the book, along with the courtroom testimony. I went to Perugia often, at great personal expense, and interviewed the key players, including prosecutor Giuliano Mignini. In addition, the suspects all kept Facebooks, MySpace pages. I interviewed Amanda's family and friends, in Seattle and Perugia. I was in court when Meredith's friends testified; I used their actual words in the book, never needing to invent or exaggerate anything. As one tabloid reporter said in regards to the amount of information out there, "It was a feast."
In fact, my only problem was trimming the book down. My fabulous editor, Shannon Jamieson Vasquez, said I had enough for eight books. She's Italian-American, had studied in Perugia, is fluent in Italian, and had edited many mystery books. She helped me decide what to leave in, what to take out.
What has the overall reaction been to your book?
I love it when people tell me that Murder in Italy reads like a novel. That means I've told a good tale, as well as done the hard reporting. I also like it when people come to my readings, have opposite ideas about Amanda's guilt, and yet can have civil conversations. That never happens on the Internet, where everything is polarized and vicious. I've had husbands and wives disagree completely about the case and yet tell me that they enjoyed talking to each other about my book. I also love to hear from readers and find out what they think.