Updated: May 30, 2019
We were fortunate to host Anne K. Howard recently to discuss her new book, His Garden: Confessions of a Serial Killer.
Q: What prompted you to start writing?
A: Oh, well, early on in childhood, I started keeping diaries and journals back when I was seven or eight. Truly, there was a lot of pain in my childhood, and I was in a place where I could not express myself or my feelings freely. But writing was a medium in which I could do that and helped me to find my inner voice.
Q: How often do you write?
A: When I was writing His Garden, I was practicing law full time, so I had to take time off to write it. Now that I have retired, I can focus on writing true crime five times a week. Two or three of those days, though, include research and analyzing archives because writing true crime is different from writing fiction. It takes more time to make serious legal documents into dramatic stories that people like to read.
Q: Where do you get most of your inspiration from?
A: I had an undergraduate degree in English Literature, so I was inspired by great literature. But most of my inspiration now has come from true crime documentaries and TV shows, such as Finding the Freedmans and The Tower. Even Dateline and Snap, are inspiring because it shows you what not to do. They inspire my narrative structure and pacing.
Q: Tell us a little bit about the book you are reading, His Garden
A: The book tells us the story of William Devon Howell, who took the lives of seven people in a killing spree in Connecticut in 2003.
Q: What was the most surprising thing you learned from your research?
A: The most shocking thing I learned was his confession. I was the only person he confessed his crime too, other than one of his cellmates. Another thing that surprised me was the twelve hour captivity he kept his victims in and how he found pleasure in seeing his victims suffer. Another eye opening thing was the high max prisons I visited in Connecticut over the past three years and the familiarity I gained with the isolating atmosphere of these prisons.
Q: What was it about you that made him feel comfortable telling you his story?
A: There was an immediate sense of friendship and trust during the first visit. I think part of that was because I did not ask him about the crimes until he was ready and there was a legal procedures. He has not talked to other media people until he talked to me, and I had to drag him to meet other people. He did not want fame.
Q: How did the conversations change from the beginning to the end?
A: Everything changed when he discussed his crimes to me. For the first year, we were talking about his childhood and adolescence, but we never talked about the crime. Into the second year when he pled guilty, I visited him and I felt that the veil had been removed and I was horrified. I was stressed because I was dealing with the victims’ families and with him. I could never see him the same way again.
Q: Did the subject matter make writing more difficult?
A: It was difficult to write at times. From part II, I cite “the horror, the horror!” from the Heart of Darkness. When I wrote it, I thought it was a good quote, but now I see it as a journey into the heart of darkness, and realizing that I never wanted to go on that journey, or get to know a serial killer, again.
Q: What is your best piece of advice to an aspiring writer?
A: Don’t let fear get the best of you. If you receive a little bit of encouragement from a high school English teacher or professor, really believe in yourself. It is a matter of trusting the process that makes us successful.