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Friday, August 16, 2013

Author April Moore ~ Mug Shot Research

April Moore lives and writes in Colorado and helped found a writers critique group in 2003, in which she is still actively involved. During that time, her first fiction manuscript became a finalist in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s Colorado Gold Contest, and her short story, “Apartment 3B” is included in the literary anthology, Cacophony. As an artist, April owned and operated a greeting card company for ten years, and provided illustrations for the Northern Colorado Writer’s association’s 2012 and 2013 writing planners. She has taught writing workshops at the NCW and helps organize the association’s annual writer’s conference where she is also the contest coordinator for the Top of the Mountain Book Award. In 2008, when April was compiling her late father’s own writings, she discovered an original, 40-page text chronicling the early history of Folsom Prison. For somewhat unexplained reasons, the text, as well as the mug shots of Folsom’s executed men, had made their way into the hands of her great-great uncle, and has remained in her family for nearly seventy years. When she received the photographs from her grandmother, the research into the lives and crimes of Folsom’s executed men began. With a passion for history April compiled nearly 750,000 words of notes and thousands of pages of documents while researching Folsom’s 93. April is usually enjoying the Colorado sunshine by working in her vegetable garden, kayaking, or hiking, and spends the cold, wintry months curled up with a good book and a mug of tea. Her favorite activities, however, is spending time with her husband, fourteen-year-old son, and ninety-five-pound lap dog.

You are a food writer. How did you end up writing a non-fiction look at Folsom Prison's history? 

The food blog is really just for fun; something I don't have to expend too much writing energy on. When my family and I decided to adopt a plant-based diet a few years ago, I thought it would be fun to blog about our journey, plus, it was a way to keep track of recipes! I had already begun research into Folsom's 93 about a year before. Perhaps it served as a break from the constant writing about murder, prisons, and executions. 

How much additional research did you have to do after you found the stories? How hard was it to authenticate that the stories were true? 

All I had to go on were the mug shots that had the inmate's name, date received at the prison, and their execution date, so there was quite a bit of research to do. I did spend a good deal of time deciphering between fact and fiction, especially when it came to newspaper accounts, but I was able to confirm much of the information at the state archives in Sacramento. In the end, I had acquired over 700,000 words of notes. (Actually, it never ends. I could keep going with the research!)

Suppose someone finds great grandma's diary in an attic. Some of the entries within are toe curling. What advice do you have for that person before they seek publishing?  

I'd say, the more toe curling, the better! Obviously, the first thing to consider would be whether or not the family wants great grandma's torrid past revealed for all to read. If they're given the all-clear, then it's important for the writer to determine what story it is they want to tell and how it will engage readers. If she baked cookies by day and ran a speakeasy by night, there's the story. Or perhaps it's the writer's reaction to learning about granny's secrets that the writer needs to tell. Whatever it may be, the story needs to serve a purpose whether it's to entertain the reader or somehow make them relate to it. The next step I suggest, is writing a solid book proposal to query agents and/or publishers with.

What resource did you find to be your greatest asset in Writing Folsom 93 and why? (ex internet, library, old retired law enforcement etc.) 

Got to love the internet. Online newspaper articles and digital case reporters via Google Books, allowed me to establish the date of the crime and details therein, so when it came time to go to the state archives, I knew what to look for and what I needed to confirm. Also, through, I was able to connect with descendants of these men, as well as their victims. The internet certainly proved to be the best place to start (plus I didn't have to change out of my pajamas if I didn't want to.)

What did you learn during this process that you wished you'd known before hand?  

Using a handheld scanner for documents would have saved me a lot of time and a lot of money in copies!

Do you have plans to work on another book soon? If so, give us a hint.

I wrote a novel several years ago that I set aside, so I may revisit that, but I've also recently started another novel--an urban fantasy that I'm having a lot of fun with. I'm sure, however, the history geek in me will start itching for a new non-fiction project, so I'm always open to that. 

Do you have advice for someone who wants to add food writing to their writing repertoire? 

Decide what your purpose for writing about food is. To publish a cookbook? To be a food critic? Sometimes you won't know that until after you dive into it, but I think it's a good idea to establish where you see your food writing career down the road and if it's something you want to be taken seriously for. I recommend checking out other food blogs, especially ones in the same "food genre" you'll be writing in. Make a list of what you like about their sites, what you don't, and how you'd make yours stand out from the others. Discover your niche (create one if you need to) and then run with it--on Wordpress.

What do you think are the biggest research mistakes a writer can make? 

Relying on one source for information. In this day and age, it ought to be pretty simple to cross reference material, but sometimes, there just isn't any other information available and as a writer, you must use your best judgment. If you're not sure, it's OK to still present it, but make it clear that you're not stating it as fact, but rather, speculation. Readers can then make a decision on their own. 


  1. Excellent interview. I've read Folsom's 93 and highly recommend it to anyone with an interst in history, true crime, and crime fiction.


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