Fact or Fiction

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When it comes to mysteries, author tackles both genres

    When Diane Fanning was 9 years old, a man attempted to abduct her.


    She was walking with a friend down a rural area of road to a local convenience store when a car pulled up to them and asked for help with directions. Fanning went up to the car and the man attempted to drag her in; he only stopped when another vehicle drove by.
    Fanning had the forethought to get the man’s license tag number, she told her mother and they called the police. Authorities caught up with the man who ended up being responsible for the sexual assault and murder of an 8 year old girl a month before.
    “That  kind  of  stayed  with me,” Fanning states now, adding that it made her interested in what takes place in a murderer’s mind.
    Fanning, a Bedford resident, has used that interest to fuel a successful writing career of both actual and fictional crimes.

Her books
    Fanning published her first book, Through the Window, in 2003. That book was based on a true story that mirrored what had happened to her when she was a child. This fall she has two more books scheduled for release: one a true crime story—Under Cover of the Night—looking at the murder of Jocelyn Earnest in Forest; another, a fictional murder mystery entitled Scandal in the Secret City. In all, she has published 13 true crime books, nine fictional mysteries and one anthology.
    Under Cover of the Night is scheduled for release in October and Scandal in the Secret City will  be released in the United States in November.
    “I’ve always been drawn to stories where successful women become victims,” Fanning said of choosing to write about Jocelyn Earnest, who was murdered by her estranged husband—Wesley Earnest— in December 2007. Wesley Earnest was convicted of the murder in November 2010.
    “She was a well-loved, successful woman,” Fanning said of Jocelyn Earnest. “You can’t find anyone to say anything bad about her, Yet she was murdered in her own home.”
    Fanning hopes her book will help reveal red flags about the crime that Jocelyn or others might have seen, prior to the murder. That, she said, could possibly help someone else spot similar red flags and help save a life.
    In writing about Jocelyn Earnest, Fanning conducted interviews with many of her family members and friends. She wanted to learn as much about Jocelyn as she could. “The people are always more important for me than the crime itself,” she said of her research and writing.
    “She was a positive influence on everyone around her,” Fanning said of Jocelyn Earnest.
Scandal in the Secret City
    Scandal in the Secret City is a mystery based in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, in 1942. The novel traces the life of Libby Clark, a gutsy Bryn Mawr graduate, who is determined to find her place as a scientist at a time when women were thought better suited for housework and marriage. Clark, who ends up finding the dead body of her roommate’s sister, investigates the murder to “a shocking and unexpected conclusion.”
    This book was her first that delved into historical fiction. She often uses female protagonists, especially those like Scandal’s Libby Clark, who is a trail blazer. Fanning said her research about life on the homefront—and the sacrifices that were made as part of the war effort—during World War II was fascinating.

Move to Bedford
    Fanning and her husband Wayne moved to Bedford just over a year ago, after spending 21 years in Texas. They had lived in Lynchburg prior to that and moved back to be closer to family.
    “I had always loved Bedford and always wanted to be able to live here,” she said. “It’s just a thrill to be here.”
    She loves being able to look out the window of her Bedford home and see the Peaks. “And it was nice to see the seasons again,” Fanning added.
    She worked in radio and television while living in Lynchburg and wrote for numerous national publications, prior to taking up her writing career. While in Texas she worked for non-profits. She read about a crime, similar to what she had experienced as a child, which led her to write Through the Window. The true crime story looked at cross-country killer Tommy Lynn Sells who was convicted after 10-year-old Krystal Surles watched her best friend be murdered by Sells, who also slashed Surles own throat and left her for dead. Miraculously, she survived and provided information to authorities that helped lead to the arrest of the 35-year-old Sells.
    Fanning would interview Sells more than 20 times—“a rather harrowing experience”—and he would confess to more than 50 murders across the country. Another woman had been convicted of one of those murders and Fanning’s book would eventually lead to that woman receiving another trial, for which she was acquitted. The woman eventually was able to obtain a certificate of innocence from the state of Illinois.
    “That was the highlight of my career, knowing that one of my books opened the door to get a new trial for a wrongfully convicted woman,” she said. “When you can accomplish something like that, it’s almost like that is what you were put on earth to do.”

True crime vs. fiction
    After concentrating early in her writing career on true crimes, she was drawn to developing her own stories as well.
    “I just needed a breather,” she said of the true crime writing.
    With fiction, “I could tell what I wanted and change the endings if I didn’t like them,” she said.
    Researching true crime stories is a lot more in-depth than researching for fiction novels. But her most successful book to date, Mommy’s Little Girl, was a true crime book about the murder of 3-year-old Caylee Anthony in Florida. That book, which sold some 160,000 copies, opened as the number two non-fiction paperback in the country. It came out 18 months before the trial of Caylee’s mother, Casey Anthony.
    In addition to her writing, Fanning does quite a few interviews for television. She often appears on the show Deadly Women on Investigation Discovery, which looks at women murderers.
About writing
    Fanning began writing books at the age of 51. Along the way she collected two years worth of rejection notices, all which she kept and destroyed together when she received her first contract for a book. After writing her first chapter of Through the Window she got an agent which led to that book being published.
    “An agent is very valuable,” she said. “They are looking out for you.”
    It was important for her to keep going and not give up, even while receiving the rejection letters. “You don’t give in,” she said. “There are books we will never get to read; books that would have been great books, but (the writers) gave up.”
    Fanning said it’s exciting to have a book published.
    “You write so people will read it,” she said.
    Scandal in the Secret City is slated for release in the United States on November 1. It is being published by Severn House, a British publishing company.
    Under Cover of the Night will be released next month. It is being published by Berkley Books.