Monday, August 20, 2012

Writing What You Know

A guest post by author Natalie R. Collins.

When I was six years old, a man pointed a gun at me and told me take off my clothes or he would kill me.

I think that at some point everybody takes a moment to look back at their life, wondering, “Now how did I get here?” How did I become a writer of dark suspense and crime thrillers? I know that one of the pivotal points for me was this event: being held at gunpoint at six years old. Some friends, my sister and I were playing on some wooded property when a man started yelling at us, threatening to kill us. He was hidden behind some bushes, and my sister pushed me down inside the crevice of a rock so I would be safe. I will always remember that. 

She was eight years old, and she stood up to this man with a gun. He told us to take our clothes off, or he would kill us. And she bravely said “No, we won’t. You’re going to have to kill us.” 

This went on for a while, and she refused while the rest of us cowered in fear. He shot the gun in the air to prove how serious he was, but she wasn’t budging. 

Finally, he gave up and told us to run, and not look back. I remember I lost my shoes, but I wasn’t stopping. He said don’t look back and I didn’t. 

We ran to our house and told my dad what had happened, and for some reason, he didn’t seem to believe us. So, rather than call the police, he put all four of us in the car and drove us up to the same place where we had just been terrorized. And as we pulled in a man in camo with a gun came walking out of wooded area. That changed everything. My dad questioned him, and he denied it all, but there he was. With a gun. In the woods where we had just been threatened. 

So the police were finally called. I remember they came to our house, and all four of us waited in the basement for our turn to be interviewed. I don’t really remember the interview. I don’t really remember much past the day I was told the local church leaders had asked for charges to be dropped because he had just married and had a baby. And charges WERE dropped. He did not go to jail. At least not at that time. My mother told me years later that he did end up in prison, which is no surprise. 

But it was that moment, that dichotomy of events—Church power vs. Municipal power—that made me question both my childhood religion and how things were handled by authorities, most of whom were also Mormon. And even deeper, why Mormon families allowed it to happen. 

My friend, a retired detective, worked for a while in Farmington, Utah, where this happened, and she assured me it was done all the time. It made her sick, and eventually she left that local force and went to Salt Lake City which was a bit more diverse and less ruled by religion.

Now, I’ve long gotten past this event, and I wrote about it in my book WIVES AND SISTERS, but what I haven’t gotten past is my interest in religion and crime—murder--and the way they interact. Religion seems to be a catalyst for a lot of bloody crimes. Is it easier to commit a crime if you are convinced you are doing it in the name of God? I’ve wondered this as we watch events like the murder of Lori Hacking, by her husband Mark. Or the BTK Killer, Dennis Rader, who as an active member of the Christ Lutheran Church. We watched planes fly into the World Trade Center as terrorists gave their lives for glory and virgins and “Allah.” 

Brian David Mitchell kidnapped Elizabeth Smart so he could have another bride. He was following the original teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Jr. 

In some hands, religion is more dangerous than a loaded gun. 

And I began exploring it when I wrote. Every time I think there won’t be another story to tell, along comes another one.
And it doesn’t mean I hate Mormons, or want to hurt them. I like Mormons. Some of my best friends are Mormon. But there is something about the violent and bloody teachings of early Mormonism that triggers a switch in some degenerate brains. Brains like those of Mark Hoffman, who was committing fraud, and killed innocent people to try to cover it up. 

I am currently writing my fourth book for St. Martin’s (tentatively titled Death Angel), and I don’t know if there will be more or not. I can’t say, because I don’t know. What I do know is there are stories that need to be told, and I am glad I got the opportunity to tell them. 

And now I will also have an opportunity to go back and spend some time writing more Jenny T. Partridge Dance Mysteries. So much fun to write. So many pyscho dance moms. The drama never ends….

Natalie R. Collins has ten published books, several others in various stages of publishing, and is currently working on her next one… or two… or three. She has dabbled in both dark suspense and cozy mysteries, and is happy to be able to work in both genres.
In addition to writing for Binary Press Publications, and Sisterhood Publications, she has written for Penguin Putnam, Thompson Gale, and still currently has a contract with St. Martin’s Press. Her third book, TIES THAT BIND, was just released.
Her critically acclaimed WIVES AND SISTERS received excellent reviews, including one from Kirkus, calling Collins “…a talent to watch.”
Natalie lives in Southern Utah with her husband Jeff, and two spoiled  dogs.


  1. Thanks so much for the thought-provoking post, Natalie. I'm sorry I won't be able to drop in through out the day, but I can only be online for a few minutes as internet time here is VERY expensive.

  2. What a story! Thanks for sharing this riveting, personal, and outrageous event. I'm relieved to hear that the cavalier way the crime against you was treated made you question both the church and the authorities.

    Religion and crime is a hot-button issue for me as well, especially in how religion often devalues women—as you experienced. And I've explored the subject in both The Sex Club and The Baby Thief, and I'm curious now to read your stories.

    Congratulations on your success. Thanks for blogging with us.

  3. Wow! What a sobering story. So glad you girls survived. And disgusting that the church would ask for the charges to be dropped. Somehow many religions have or have had the screwed-up idea that the man in question must be blameless or in the right (or at least quickly forgiven), because he's a man...?!! I could cite many examples ranging from mildly unfair to really horrible treatment of women, all in the name of religion, including Islam and Catholicism. There's no excuse for wearing blinders like that. In fact, I think the narrow-minded people with those kinds of attitudes just use their religion as an excuse or justification of their mysogynistic ideas and behavior. I haven't read the Koran, but I doubt it advises men to stone women to death for wanting to leave a cruel husband, for example.

    Sorry about the rant! Your writing is so powerful that it brought it out of me, Natalie! You can bet I'll be looking for your books.

  4. P.S. I would add links here to where we can buy your books, Natalie.

  5. Geepers, Natalie, I'm just so glad you kids weren't physically harmed, but the handling of it by your dad and ultimately the authorities must have been hard to swallow. Yes, little kids have big imaginations. They still need to be believed.

    I think religious beliefs go a long way toward justifying horrific acts, but I also think there's something about us as humans to think someone can't be as bad as they (obviously) are.

    I remember during the Clarence Thomas hearings, when Anita Hill was testifying, my mother said, "She can't be telling the truth. He looks like such a decent man." I was in my 30s at the time and told her, "Mom, I've known some perfectly decent men who've said indecent things to me."

    We want to believe in black and white, that decent people are always decent and that monstrous people are instantly recognizable.

    Congrats on all your books!

  6. Natalie, what a great look at the darker side of human nature and how the "system" doesn't always work the way it should.

  7. We've come a long way from the days where children were never listened to, all things religious were right and all an evil person had to do to be respected was look normal.

    And yet… all of that still happens. Every day.

    Continued success to you and kudos to your older sister!

  8. Yes, I meant to say that your sister showed a lot of courage, Natalie. Wow!

  9. Hi Marlyn,

    Thanks for the opportunity to visit, and I understand about the cost of Internet. You relax. Read. I suggest a story called TIES THAT BIND by Natalie R. Collins.... Heh.

  10. I would just like to say that I can write my own name. Sometimes.... LOL. The first comment I posted was missing some letters. Where's the caffeine?

  11. I noticed that right away but was restraining myself, Natalie! LOL ;-)

  12. Thanks for the welcome, LJ. I realized I was a feminist when I saw things like this happening all around me, and no one else seemed to be outraged. I made a promise to myself to always believe my children, and to investigate any story thoroughly before discounting it. As anyone can see, this IS still happening. I leave in Southern Utah, and we run into the polygamist women and men from Colorado City in the stores, at the hospital, everywhere. The women and children are chattel. They do not go to school. Instead, they sit and listen to Warren Jeffs droning on about the "beast" and going to hell, and all kinds of other wonderful things. Most of them don't know he's in jail. Those that do think he's a martyr.

    If I've said it once, I will probably say it a million times.

    Religion can be a very dangerous drug. Especially a religion built upon secrecy, violence, and faith without logic.

    See, LJ? Now I went on a rant. LOL.

  13. Hi Jodie,

    Thanks so much for the welcome. And things have changed a lot here in Utah, but just not enough. People still go to their church leaders (lay people who are not trained) when they should be going straight to the police. It doesn't happen as much, but it does happen. And quite honestly, when the town police chief is your bishop, what's the difference between popping in to his office or going to church? Heh. When I write books that make people feel strongly, then I feel I have made a change. It isn't always positive. Many Mormons are offended by my depiction of the religion, but the truth is the truth. There are good Mormons and there are bad Mormons. And some really awesome things happen in Mormon communities, and some really horrible things happen. Wearing special underwear, and making secret (sacred) vows doesn't save anyone from anything. Last year my friend buried her 9-year-old son. He died of a horrible brain tumor. They are active Mormons, and I remember thinking, "I don't get this. You prayed for God to help you find your keys, and voila, there they are, but a child does and he does nothing? I do not understand this reasoning." I do understand why people cling to faith. It makes the unknown bearable. For me, I'm okay not knowing all the answers.

  14. Oh, and Jodie, thanks for asking about my links.

    My Website is
    I can be found on Facebook at:
    I can also be found on Twitter:

    My latest book, TIES THAT BIND, is available from all bookstores, and online from Amazon,, and all the other usual outlets.

  15. Hi Gayle,

    I have to agree with you. It would be nice if people wore a tag that said "Creeper." But that would backfire, too, because someone would spread rumors and lies, and the next thing you knew a perfectly nice man was branded a creeper... Ah the flaws of human nature.

  16. Thanks, Terry. And you are right, the system doesn't always work the way it should. I'm encouraged, though, when it does. I am encouraged by those who advocate for children and victims. And I know that what happened to me was in a different time and a different place. My dad grew up in this small town. He knew every inch of it. So to him, it only made sense to go to the scene and determine if it was real or not. Once the man was found, the police were called. The other outcome? Well, that happened more than we would ever want to think.

  17. Thanks, Peg. I will always remember that about my sister. She's 51 now, and I'm about to hit my 50s myself, and her bravery is one thing I always think about whenever I see her. She pushed everyone behind her and protected us. At eight years old. That's something. Something special.

  18. You know how you see the typo just as the post is disappearing from your entry box? Yeah, that's how my name became Ntalie. LOL.

  19. Oh, and because this very hot ticket topic will get some angry Mormons commenting, let me just say this:
    1. Yes this really happened
    2. No I don't have an axe to grind
    3. Yes, I know lots of Mormons are normal and nice
    4. I disagree with you about the tenets being perfect and the people being flawed
    5. Actually, I agree the people are flawed, but there are some tenet issues as well.
    6. If you are going to send me hate email, make it good so I can post it on my blog and have a good laugh over it.

  20. Hi Natalie,
    What a story! Your sister must be one helluva woman, to have stood up for you as such a young girl.

    I, too, was the victim of a crime as a young girl. Unfortunately, no one believed me until many years later. The guy got away with it for a different reason than yours, but it's still a darned shame that he continued his criminal activity until years later, when he finally wound up in prison.
    I agree with others that is less common than it used to be, but sadly, as a teacher, I see the holes in the system way too often. Children are victims of horrific events that they have no control over, and often those in law enforcement don't have enough to go on, or are so overburdened that they can only intervene so much.
    I'm so glad to hear that you were able to turn this event into a catalyst for your writing. Sending the message, even through fiction, may prompt others to think more carefully about the links between crime and religion and question. We can never stop questioning!

  21. Hi Claudia,

    I am so sad to hear a similar thing happened to you, and what makes it worse, to me, is that I know, and you know, and EVERYONE knows that pedophiles do not reform. There are studies that prove this. Our neighbors just went through the midnight abduction and molestation and murder of their 6-year-old granddaughter. They caught the man who did it and are looking at him for a similar crime, but we MUST be proactive. So often people say it is in God's hands. I won't take your God away from you, but I certainly intend to do everything I CAN to stop it from happening any more.

  22. Natalie, you clearly fanned the flames with this powerful post.
    You have lots of inspirational material available in our daily news headlines. I look forward to your next book, if it includes lessons about religious organizations protecting some members from the justice of their crimes. (I've worked with prisoners and have seen many of them manipulate good-hearted people with claims of "finding god." )
    I once heard Hunter S. Thompson say, "You can't make the world safe for hypocrisy." We must not smile while the leaders of our society hide behind their gilded icons.
    Go for it, Natalie. Write more truth in your fiction.
    I'll stop this rant and go back to writing a post about the reality of 112 new child sexual abuse stories that have made the news in just the last five days. (Nothing unusual here.) Because, as you know, most CSA stories are buried, these 112 examples are only a sprinkle from the edge of the storms our children walk through.
    What you write matters.


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