Cover to bestselling true crime book Convicted murderer Richie Wilder Author C. J. Wynn
She was 10 when true crime author C.J. Wynn and her mom watched “The Burning Bed,” the Lifetime fictionalized account of housewife Francine Hughes’s murder of her abusive husband. Her interest in true crime blossomed from there. Wynn, like her mother, became fascinated with the subject. The married mother of two published her first true crime book, WILDER INTENTIONS: LOVE, LIES AND MURDER IN NORTH DAKOTA, in 2020. We recently Zoomed about her career and why she thinks readers and authors are intrigued by the subject.
SK: I just finished reading your debut book and I loved it! The narrative is full of suspense and you are very talented at setting the scene and conveying the personalities of the people involved—the victim, the perpetrator, the lawyers, and the investigators.
What drew you to this particular case?
CJW: I first found out about the Angila Wilder murder case on Dateline. It happened in the small town of Minot, North Dakota, where I grew up so I was familiar with the area.
By the time I decided to write the book, I had developed a relationship with a great true crime writer—Shanna Hogan—who was very supportive of the project. Shanna died tragically late last year in a freak accident at her pool. She was a wonderful mentor to me, and I miss her friendship and advice more than I can say.
SK: You were a psychology major in college. Has that background influenced your writing?
CJW: I think it has. My interest in crime is based on a fascination about why people do the things they do, specifically related to the murder of someone they once supposedly loved. Certainly we have all had experiences in ‘love gone wrong’, but very few people choose murder as a means of resolving animosity and broken hearts. I think both authors and readers are interested in the difference between these starkly different behaviors.
SK: Besides understanding the killer’s motivation, what else do you want to accomplish with your writing?
CJW: I have a passion to tell the whole story in the most effective possible way. So often in true crime the emphasis is on the murder itself and how the crime was solved. Readers only know the victims for that small amount of time that surrounded their deaths. Their lives were so much bigger than that. I want to give the victims a voice.
My friend Shanna Hogan said it best in her Foreword to my book:
“Every murder is worthy of documentation. When someone’s life ends suddenly and violently through homicide, the victim is robbed of their opportunity to write the end of their own life story. These crimes, while heinous and horrific, need to be told, and every victim deserves to be remembered.”
SK: In these recent months with a lot of public criticism of policing, do you find that investigators are more reluctant to talk to you?
CJW: Not at all. In fact, they are eager for me to tell their stories. The people who investigate these cases are entirely dedicated to getting justice for the victims. They are present at terrible crime scenes and they carry those pictures in their souls forever. They move on and continue to do their jobs, but when they slow down, close their eyes at night, those images come back.
SK: Are you generally able to get background information about the victim from the family?
CJW: That’s tricky. Many family members think we are trying to “get rich” from their family’s tragedy. I try to explain that most of us are not Stephen King or James Patterson: we won’t get rich from publishing these books. Our motive is to tell the story as fully and accurately as possible, so I try to reach family members or friends who are willing to share their memories with me. For example, I could not have written well about Angila Wilder without her sister’s Crystal Morton’s help.
SK: You have interviewed convicted murderers Richie Wilder and his wife Cynthia, haven’t you?
CJW: Yes. I’ve exchanged emails with Richie and visited Cynthia in prison.
SK: Were those useful in your research?
CJW: Not so much by providing details I couldn’t find other ways, but they gave me insight into their characters. I learned that as an author, as much as possible I had to set aside my personal feelings to try to understand the perpetrators’ motivation. I just let them tell their stories.
Neither of them showed any remorse whatsoever. In my opinion Richie Wilder is a narcissistic monster. Cynthia continues to maintain that Angila’s children are better off without her. If either of them had shown any remorse or any indication of regret for what they chose to do, I would have gladly written about that in the book.
With technology being what it is today, I’m amazed that people believe that they can get away with murder without any consequences. For the most part they cannot.
SK: With two young children at home, how do you make time to write?
CJW: Well writing is my fulltime job now. My husband David is home on Mondays, and I find that nights are my most creative time. During the day I spend time with my family and do errands and work around the house. At night I write. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with an idea, and I record it on my phone so I’ll remember it in the morning.
SK: I heard that you researched and wrote the book in 18 months. Is that so, and did that include the time it took you to get a publisher?
CJW: Yes. It included the time I spent editing and also preparing a 70-page book proposal which I sent to several publishers who were not interested in the book. For months after that I did nothing but feel discouraged. I queried Black Lyon Publishing in late 2019. They said they were interested , but not to send anything until I finished the manuscript. In February, I sent it off, and just a few days later, they offered me a contract. They have been extremely supportive and encouraging, and I am very grateful to them for taking a chance on me.
SK: What’s next?
CJW: I am currently working on two different projects, and just a few days ago, came upon a third I might consider. While I had originally intended to stay within the realm of North Dakota crimes, there is one outside of that that I have been tracking down and making great progress with. I’ve also begun communicating with an inmate convicted in two grisly North Dakota murders in a case that is way bigger than I originally thought. I am excited to be focusing on new stories and researching once again!
SK: C.J., thank you so much for spending this time with me. The best of luck on your next books. After publication, I hope we can talk about them too!