Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with Robert Remington and Sherri Zickefoose

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Ten Questions with Robert Remington and Sherri Zickefoose

Open Book talks to Robert Remington and Sherri Zickefoose about their book, Runaway Devil: How Forbidden Love Drove a 12-Year-Old to Murder Her Family (McClelland & Stewart).

OBT:

Tell us about your book, Runaway Devil.

RR & SZ:

Runaway Devil is the true story of a 12-year-old, middle-class girl from the suburbs, an honour student and member of a swim club no less, who convinced her 23-year-old boyfriend to murder at her behest. Killed were her mother, father and eight-year-old brother, who were removed so the two could foster their relationship, which her parents forbade. The girl, identified as JR in the court record, became the youngest Canadian convicted of multiple homicide at her trial in the summer of 2007 in Medicine Hat, Alberta.

OBT:

Did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote your book?

RR & SZ:

We wrote this book thinking everyone wanted answers: parents, teenagers, readers interested in crime and justice issues.

OBT:

Tell us about the research you did for Runaway Devil.

RR & SZ:

As journalists for The Calgary Herald, we covered the story from the day it broke. We had many exclusives on the story, all later verified in court testimony, including her boyfriend's claim to be a 300-year-old werewolf who drank blood. We covered every court appearance by both JR and her accomplice, Jeremy Steinke, including the nine weeks it took to hold their separate trials. In addition, we had exclusive interviews with several of their friends and family. Robert Remington also had a friend who was a close friend of the three murder victims and who knew JR personally.

OBT:

The crime was three short years ago, and it received a lot of media attention. What are the challenges you faced as writers when writing about such a recent event that was so well-covered?

RR & SZ:

We knew the reader needed more than a simple re-telling of a highly publicized crime. To deepen the reader's understanding of JR's state of mind, and to add value to the book, we made a court application to gain access to an exhibit from her trial that has never been made public. Reproduced in the book, it is a 12-panel cartoon drawing that JR drew showing her setting her family on fire. When the shocking drawing was discovered by police, it changed her status from missing person to suspect. The book also contains her revealing interrogation by police and also a police interview with an emotional Jeremy Steinke. Neither interviews were admitted as evidence. We also have background on her family that has never been revealed and rare commentary from jurors on how they were affected by the case that was posted on a social networking website. Those comments have subsequently been taken down. The book also tells the full story under one cover, rather than in disjointed daily news coverage.

OBT:

Describe the process of working together as co-authors.

RR & SZ:

In our business, it is rare to find people who both good reporters and good writers. Sherri is an outstanding reporter and Bob's strength is on the writing side, so it was a good fit. We worked very well together and, believe it or not, are still talking to each other. Writing the book was similar to the process we use as reporters in the newsroom. We talked and dissected the story first, and once we agreed on a plan, we gave ourselves deadlines and got to work, sometimes separately on different chapters, sometimes together.

OBT:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

RR & SZ:

A place in the mountains with no distractions, a light rain, an occasional glass of wine and the ability to focus exclusively on the project for days on end.

OBT:

If you had to choose three books as a "Welcome to Canada" gift, what would those books be?

RR & SZ:

Sherri: For beauty and adventure, Lisa Christensen's A Hiker's Guide to Art in the Canadian Rockies. Roberta Rees' Beneath the Faceless Mountain is a rich blend of history and lyrical storytelling. Stephen Leacock's Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town. You need to laugh, it's cold here.

Bob: For a newcomer to Canada, I'd recommend The Game by Ken Dryden, The Last Spike by Pierre Berton and The Englishman's Boy by Guy Vanderhaeghe.

OBT:

What's the best advice you've ever received as a writer?

RR & SZ:

Sherri: Write what you know. Make Strunk and White's The Elements of Style your bible. You can't make chicken salad out of chicken slop -- make sure you've got the story.

Bob: Verify contentious or questionable details from at least two and preferably three different sources. Be passionate and, when necessary, compassionate. Spell names correctly and don't be afraid to bare your soul.

OBT:

What advice do you have for writers who are trying to get published?

RR & SZ:

Get an agent, even if you are an experienced writer such as a journalist. Somebody who knows the industry and who can open doors.

OBT:

What is your next project?

RR & SZ:

Bob is compelled to write about death and banjos. Think backwoods Appalachia meets CSI. Sherri is focusing on themes of murder, denial, grief and redemption.




Robert Remington is a columnist with the Calgary Herald. His journalism career has taken him to Pakistan, East Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and Central America. He was formerly a western Canadian correspondent for the National Post, an editor and columnist at the Edmonton Journal and a syndicated columnist for United Features, New York.
Sherri Zickefoose is a crime reporter for the Calgary Herald. Her tenacious reporting on the murders led her to an exclusive interview with Steinke’s mother, who revealed a different side of the man being called a monster.


Read more about Runaway Devil at the McClelland & Stewart website.


Buy Runaway Devil at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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