I first met author Jane Turzillo at an informal meeting for writers. Jane writes non-fiction that requires her to complete extensive research. Recently, she shared her research techniques and online resources at a presentation at the Hudson Library & Historical Society. After attending the presentation, I invited Jane to interview for The Artist’s Corner to share some interesting history about herself as well as the many links she uses when tracking down facts for her books.
Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, I’m sure you’ll find the links Jane provided beneficial to your search for information.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I guess I’ve done a little bit of everything. I started out at college (Miami University in Oxford, Ohio) on a vocal scholarship as a music major, but it just wasn’t my calling, so I quit. I’ve worked for construction companies, a cosmetic store, and a few clothing stores. I even taught piano for a while. Then I went back to school at The University of Akron to get a degree in criminal justice because I had dated a cop and became fascinated with police work. I realized I loved investigation, plus I knew I wanted to write crime and mystery. I also love going to school, so I went on to get a degree in mass-media communication.
I’ve worked in the development office of a private school and taught at a business college. I even worked at a travel agency for a few minutes. One of my favorite jobs was at the Akron Art Museum, where I was the public information assistant. Before I retired, I went back to the museum to work in the store part time. I also worked for two weekly newspapers. One of them, the West Side Leader, I co-owned. I was the police and fire reporter. That was also a lot of fun. I enjoyed riding with the police on weekend nights. One of those nights, I saw Jeffrey Dahmer sitting in the back of a cruiser, having been arrested for the first time. This was before we knew what a monster he was. Another case that I covered, and will always stick in my mind, was the murder of Dean Milo. The case stretched on for a year, but in the end eleven people were arrested, tried, and convicted of his murder.
I now work fulltime as an author and presenter. It is the best job in the world!
To which professional writing organizations do you belong?
National Federation of Press Women, Mystery Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime
How did your work experience contribute to your desire to write books?
Everything contributes to my desire to write books because I get ideas from my surroundings, whether it’s a person or situation I dealt with during my work experience, or a newspaper article that piqued my interest. Once I get an idea, I think “what if.” It just goes from there.
Why did you decide to write non-fiction?
I fell into nonfiction when I first started to write seriously. A friend and I had been to a writer’s conference given by Western Reserve Magazine. The editor told the group of wannabes how to break into the magazine. I was excited after that and needed a subject. It came in the form of an old-time counterfeiter whose story was in a book I picked up at the Summit County Historical Society. My first publication (that I knew of) was in Western Reserve Magazine. It was not on the counterfeiter but on a pioneer woman from our area. When I say “that I knew of,” years later, I got two contributor copies of a small magazine that published a short story I had written and forgotten about.
What are you favorite non-fiction topics to write about?
Crimes and trains in history. I’m in love with the research. I guess it’s the thrill of the chase.
Which historical figure did you most enjoy writing about?
Whichever one I’m writing about at the moment. This is something I’ve been asked lots of times, so I’ve had a chance to think about it. I always come up with the same answer. I like the madams: Ardele Quinn in Wicked Women of Northeast Ohio and the four, Lizzie Lape, Rose Pasco, Clara Palmer, and Ginger Pasco, from my next book Wicked Women of Ohio. I’m also fond of “Akron Mary,” a bootlegger’s girlfriend, and Sarah Robinson and Annie George who shot boyfriends who treated them poorly all from Wicked Women of Northeast Ohio. Sheriff Maude Collins of Wicked Women of Ohio joined the list this year.
What non-fiction title and/or topics do you enjoy reading?
This year’s favorites are: Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann about the murders of Osage Native Americans who discovered oil on their land in Oklahoma during the 1920s; Pirate Hunters by Robert Kurson about two deep sea treasure hunters searching for the pirate ship the Golden Fleece that sunk during the seventeenth century; and Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, a first person account of an ex-marine/Yale-educated attorney growing up in the Rust Belt.
Which authors do you enjoy reading?
My reading habits go in spurts. I’ll find an author that I really like and read everything that he or she has written. I like mysteries the most. Right now, I’m into western mysteries, and I like Craig Johnson. I’ve always liked Tony Hillerman. Michael Connelly, James Lee Burke, and John Grisham never disappoint me.
How have these authors shaped your writing life and/or style?
I pick something up from every book I read—whether it’s writing that I think works well, or something in the plot.
Tell me about the books you’ve published.
Wicked Women of Northeast Ohio—ten women who didn’t play by the rules, eight murderesses, a madam, and a bootlegger’s girlfriend.
Murder & Mayhem on Ohio’s Rails—ten train robberies and murders right here in Ohio.
Ohio Train Disasters—twelve of the worst train collisions in Ohio, including the 1876 Ashtabula bridge disaster, which still ranks as one of the worst in the country.
Unsolved Murders & Disappearances in Northeast Ohio—eight unsolved murders, plus the disappearance of two children.
Wicked Women of Ohio—twelve more lawbreaking women from the state. Due out in June.
Where can an interested reader find your books?
They are available at almost any independent bookstore in Ohio or on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million. Even Giant Eagle carries them.
Describe your research process.
That’s a tough one because every subject takes me in a different direction. I’ve been out on lonesome dirt roads, in cemeteries, libraries, churches, police stations, court houses. I read old newspapers, track down relatives, talk to other historians and townspeople. I go wherever the road leads me, and I love every minute of it.
Will you share your favorite research sites with us?
Ancestry When accessed through your public library, you can search more for free.
New York Times Article Archive Requires a subscription
Cuyahoga County Department of Public Works Archive
The Charley Project Missing persons
Cuyahoga County Public Library
Akron-Summit County Public Library
Where can one find you on the Internet?
My blog is Dark Hearted Women
Great interview and story! Thanks for sharing the interview. Those links are interesting also.
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Thank you, Mark. Jane is a wonderfully interesting lady!