In our latest installment of our Meet the Author series, we talked to Madison Salters, author of our newest crime book Scams and Cons: A True Crime Collection. This book includes the most salacious cases as well as lesser-known ones, with each chapter delving deep into the facts of the case and chronicling first-hand accounts from journalists and police
We spoke to Madison about the book, her writing process, and some books that have caused impact in her life and career!
Hey! My name is Madison Salters. I’m a writer, editor, translator, and journalist living in a big city (NYC) with two very small dogs (mini doxies!).
Describe your book in one sentence.
Investigative true crime with enough twists to knock your socks off– the grittiest scams and the most unbelievable cons in eight refreshed cases that will keep you reading, from the 9/11 scammer to a murderer in our midst.
Why did you want to write this book? What is the most important message you hope people take from your book?
I wanted to write this book because too often we see true crime that glorifies villainy, without attempting to understand what makes a “villain”. I wanted this book to center the voices and stories of victims, detectives, and bystanders. Rather than shaking hands with the con artists in this book, the book delves into psychology and investigative journalism to ask: what made someone do this, what made the people around them believe in their lies, and what makes people like this so enticing to read about, watch, and listen to?
What was your biggest challenge with writing the book?
The biggest challenge was not pulling at too many threads!! The more I investigated, the more incredible side stories I found– a possible killer lurking on a misty mountain, an everyday hero with a heart of gold whose story had a thick layer of dust atop it, a cannibal whose past transgressions were lost in translation. The more I dug, the more there was. Centering so many personal tales, so many unique people, and each of their diverging and intersecting timelines into eight cohesive tales truly did feel like more of a challenge than writing fiction. It was like trying to take a roller coaster and turn it into a boardwalk!
What is your writing process like? What is the most difficult part of the writing process? What part is your favorite?
My writing process is very frenetic: do all of your research, get everything down, every little bit and piece no matter how small. Look everything over, all the interviews, all the facts, and see what’s missing: where are the gaps, what was left unsaid, what contradicts? Research again, using broader resources. Write down more. Then break what you know into sections and go at it with 8 pastel-colored highlighters until you have what you can now see is the story’s timeline, as it should be presented to a reader. Then write it all on MS Word. Just– word vomit it all out. Then edit back. Get it neat, tidy. Structural edits. Then copy edits. Let my poor editor have a go on it. Trim the fat more. Then go back in– and add that fat back on!! Bulk it back up with elements that got lost, or fell wayside on the scrap room floor. Insert that humanism back into it. Get tone back into it. Rinse. Repeat. Proofread. Gosh, a book takes forever. It’s your baby. It’s so much work.
What advice would you give to a writer working on their first book?
It’s okay to drink 8 cups of coffee or tea a day. Just not every day. Do try to sleep. Not sitting up in your writing chair!
Have you ever experienced writer’s block? If so, how did you overcome it?
Only when writing fiction, because you’re so responsible for a cohesive, interesting story that flows. With non-fiction, it’s almost the opposite. It’s a writing deluge! You’re presented with a ton of mysteries, and you have to pick at them and unravel them and work on them, until the plot reveals itself to you. When it finally cracks, you’re so excited, it just pours out– you have to share what you’ve learned, it’s unbelievable but real!!
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
When I’m not writing I love to cook big, elaborate dinners, go on walks in the surrounding parks near my home (yes, in NYC!! little-known gems!), and photograph everything. I loved photos since the time of disposables and polaroids, and even develop my own film and fix old cameras myself!
Who is your favorite author?
My favourite author is Charles Dickens. He’s long-winded, yes, but he had this marvelous way of telling you something was funny without making a joke of it. Instead of saying ‘the man was clearly ridiculous’, he’d say something like ‘the man was full of importance, and thus, couldn’t be bothered with mortal things like saying please and thank you or picking up after himself.’ I love that. It really gives you the feel and you can totally see the people he wrote about in today’s society too, for good and ill!
What is a book that has had a profound impact on you?
Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner
. It was the first time I’d read a book where someone with a cleft scar was not only a good guy (how many films show us the opposite?) but a *profoundly* good human. It made me cry buckets, and I learned so much from it.
What’s something you’d like your audience to know about you?
I absolutely loved learning Japanese growing up, but French was a misery to learn. I’m happy I did both, though– they both came in handy for translating news articles and case matters for this book! Phew!!
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Thanks for answering our questions, Madison! For more true crime books similar to Scams and Cons, see below.