Saturday, June 1, 2013

Guest Post: Elizabeth Buhmann (Author of Lay Death at her Door)

I am a huge fan of mystery writing. When I saw an opportunity to learn more about it from published author Elizabeth Buhmann, I jumped at the chance.  I am also thrilled to share that Ms. Buhmann calls Austin, TX home so it's exciting for me to have a guest post from a fellow "Austinite."

I asked Ms. Bumann her process for writing about such sensitive topics as rape and murder?

Her reply:


Crime in Fact and Fiction

For twenty years I worked for the Texas Attorney General, and now I have written a murder mystery. People ask me about the connection—did I write about crime because of my job? And did I draw on my experience at the AG’s office in writing my book?

I’ve always loved reading murder mysteries and always intended to write one—from long before I took a job with the AG. So I didn’t write the book because of the job. But did my experience come into play when I sat down to write my own mystery novel? Yes, to a degree it did.

I got the bare idea for the opening situation of my novel from a real case—of a man who was exonerated of rape after spending almost two decades in prison.

I heard about that case while I was working at the AG, but I had no direct contact with it—I only read about it in the news. But I was more aware of it because of my job, and maybe better able to understand what was going on as I followed it.

According to the Innocence Project, more than 300 persons have been exonerated in similar cases since the 1990s. Often these people have been convicted on the basis of eyewitness testimony.

Eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable. Most of the time, the witness is simply mistaken, especially if the witness is a victim in the crime, and traumatized. Rarely is the victim blamed for the wrongful imprisonment.

My book, Lay Death at Her Door, opens with a scene in which my main character, Kate, learns that a man she accused of rape has been exonerated.  It is my purely fictional premise that she was lying when she testified against him.

Why would anyone do such a thing? I worked out a situation in which a person might lie on the stand—to protect herself. Then I invented a plot that would begin with the exoneration and end with the whole truth coming out.

Most of the exonerations I’ve described, including my fictional one, hinge on modern DNA profiling. The fact that I open my story with a forensic result might suggest that my book is a police procedural. It isn’t, at all. The exoneration is the jumping off point for a classic mystery story that turns on character, motivation—and deception.

I should add that my experience with the AG directly helped me in one area: I couldn’t have created the character of a victim advocate if I hadn’t known so many people who worked in victim services.

My victim advocate is totally fictional, but many of the issues she raises and talks about are real. The story she tells about herself is loosely based on a real story once told to me by a rape victim.

You can read about real cases of people being exonerated by DNA profiling at
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  1. Hi, Cresta. Thank you so much for taking part in the Lay Death Blog Tour. I really appreciate it. I saw that you're from Austin! Small world! I'm originally from Virginia, where my book is set, but I've been in Austin for most of my adult life. Love it!

    1. I lived in Austin growing up and then became an Army wife, but I still miss home!