So Where Shall We Begin?

So Where Shall We Begin?

Martha Ann and Susan Otto, circa 1952

In books the story is often linear—a beginning, a middle, and an end. In real life, stories begin and end in unexpected ways. The middle moves all over the place. My sister, Martha (left above), was about two and a half when the photo was taken. She grew to be an attractive, athletic woman who didn’t smoke cigarettes for most of her life. She was my only sister and she knew all my secrets and loved me unconditionally; she was an outstanding daughter and mother and teacher and coach; and she loved every child she ever met, especially her two daughters, Jamie and Lizzy. She should have lived forever. Instead she was diagnosed with lung cancer just after she turned 58 and died of lung and bone and brain cancer in that same year.

My own life has had many twists and turns, including sharing the lives of my three terrific sons and having the opportunity to do some fascinating work. On the right, above, I was about four years old and you can tell by the expression on my face that I had an old soul!

As we work on the nonfiction true crime book my colleague and I are writing, our research has opened a mountain of facts about the victims, their families, the investigative team, and ourselves, the two authors. Not all of what has been learned is pertinent to the story. Some of it is unflattering. Deciding what belongs in the story and what ought to be left out isn’t easy.

Choosing to include or exclude facts that might disparage or hurt the people being written about is more than a literary decision, it’s a moral one. As writers, it’s important to select the scenes that move the story forward. It’s important than we honor the commitments we have made to people we’ve interviewed. That may mean that we leave out some sensational, juicy tidbits. But in the end, everything that happened isn’t necessarily “the truth” we’re trying to convey in our story. …So where shall we begin?

About Susan Keefe

I am Susan Keefe, a freelance writer whose particular topics of interest include true crime and the experience of deafness. I am currently co-writing a book about the triple homicide of a wife and her 4- and 7-year-old daughters with Charlie Wells, the now-retired 23-year veteran sheriff of Manatee County, Florida. I have three adult sons, two daughters-in-law, and four grandchildren. My husband Bob Volpe and I divide our time between a lake cottage in Battersea, Ontario, Canada and our condominium in Sarasota, Florida.