KILLER NURSE, John Foxjohn’s first non-fiction work, is set to be as successful as his widely read fiction.
In 2012 a Texas court sentenced Nurse Kimberly Clark Saenz for the willful murder of five patients in her care. John Foxjohn–a former Army Airborne Ranger, policeman, homicide detective and a successful fiction writer–felt compelled to write about the case. He spent three years researching the facts behind KILLER NURSE, including “every second in the courtroom” during the voir dire process by which attorneys select / reject jurors before they are confirmed, “and every second in the courtroom for the four-week trial.”Hardly surprising. A nurse who kills her patients cannot be explained away by brushstrokes of penmanship alone, and John Foxjohn went the extra mile for his readers.
Kevin Flynn, coauthor of NOTES ON A KILLING, says KILLER NURSE is “A testament to show-leather journalism…The definitive tome on the case. A must read for true crime fanatics.”Joni Fisher calls it “Positively blood-chilling”
On April 28, 2008, two very frightened patients reported to a supervisor at the DaVita Lufkin Dialysis Center in Lufkin, East Texas, that they had witnessed 34-year old Nurse Kimberly Clark Saenz, a mother of two, inject bleach into two of her patients’ IV ports.
Although the supervisors were at first reluctant to believe the inconceivable, the shock wore off, and they called in the police. At least they now knew why patients had been dying. The weight of the unique case would rest on one of Lufkin detective’s shoulders, as the shocking story of Saenz’s murderous practices began to unravel.
Apart from KILLER NURSE, John Fitzjohn has written eight acclaimed novels that include mysteries, romantic suspense, historical fiction, and legal thrillers. The famous David Mason stories, “ is a force to be reckoned with,” according to Shelley Glodowski, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review. Cheri Jetton, author of BLUE PLATE SPECIAL, TEXAS DAWN, and JESSIE & THE RANGER, says: “John Foxjohn brings to his writing the accuracy of personal experience”.
In the following interview he shares with ITW readers the why, what, and how of his writing, and some of his personal life.
Let’s start with an introduction.
My name’s John Foxjohn and if you’ve looked at my bio, you’ll see that I have done a lot of things in my life, and I have been successful at many of them. I was promoted to sergeant in the U.S. Army Rangers at the tender age of 18 years and 3 days—a record that will never be broken. The reason: people have to be 18 now to go in. Like a lot of things in my life, this happened in part because I was in the right place at exactly the right time. Besides that, I learned a long time ago that I would never outsmart anyone, so if I was going to succeed I would need to outwork everyone.
So, after writing eight highly appreciated novels, what made you turn to non-fiction?
Basically the opportunity—I had toyed with the idea of writing a true crime a couple of years before KILLER NURSE. In fact, I sat through an entire cold case murder trial. That one started out simply as research for one of my romantic suspenses which involved a lengthy courtroom scene. When the trial began, I toyed with the idea of writing a book about it. After a couple of months of looking at it, I felt the case just didn’t have the pizzazz needed.
Did you choose to write about KILLER NURSE Kimberly Clark Saenz case due to the characters involved in the story, the situation, or the moral order?
Without a doubt the situation drew me to the case. As soon as the media got a hold of it, the case became huge. I tell people it is the most unique case in history—I tell them that because it is true. Never before has anyone been accused, charged, and convicted of murder with bleach as the weapon. I knew the situation would be enough to draw people to it. Unlike the cold case I watched, this one had the zing.
In what way is writing fiction helpful in writing non-fiction?
When I began the process, I had no clue how to go about it. Not only had I never written a true crime—I didn’t really read them. At the time I began, the only true crime I had read was John Grisham’s THE INNOCENT MAN. I had attempted to read a couple before THE INNOCENT MAN but I couldn’t get through them. I asked my agent how I should write it and she told me to write it like a mystery. This was something that appealed to me because I write mysteries and I also read them. The one thing I didn’t want people saying is they tried to get through it but couldn’t.
The agent also told me I had to start with a murder, and this presented a big challenge. First of all, I had five murders over a span of time plus five aggravated assaults. I listened to my agent about writing it like a mystery, and I’m glad I did. However, I didn’t listen to her about staring it with a murder, and I think that was one of my best decisions in the entire process.
How long did it take you to research KILLER NURSE?
I researched KILLER NURSE for three years, and it was all necessary. I spent most of that time learning how to write a true crime—this includes all the legal aspects that go into obtaining information. I had to learn how to write requests for release of information and open records. This isn’t as easy as it might sound. When dealing with attorneys and judges, you have to dot your I’s and cross your T’s. If it isn’t right, you aren’t going to get the information.
I also knew that I was going to have to supply pictures for the book. There are many legal issues involved with pictures—legal issues and hoops authors have to jump through that journalists don’t.
Another reason I needed the three years is that I had to learn about the dialysis process. All the victims were in a dialysis facility while undergoing treatment, and I didn’t know a single thing about it. I figured I would need to know this for two reasons: one, if I didn’t, I might get lost to what was going on during trial or interviewing people involved in the trial.
Also, since dialysis played such a huge part in the entire case, if I didn’t understand it, I didn’t think I would be able to explain it in a way that didn’t insult the readers’ intelligence, but didn’t get them bogged down in all of the sciences.
Of course the three years also included spending every second in the courtroom for the three-week voir dire, and every second in the courtroom for the four-week trial.
I’d conducted some interviews before the trial began, but most of the 237 interviews came after the trial.
How long did it take you to write KILLER NURSE?
The actual writing process took about five weeks, but there were things that I did even before the trial began. People who have read the book ask me all the time how I kept all the information organized. The answer: the first thing I did was make a timeline and I kept it organized along that time line.
Also, during trial, I kept all my notes in a large binder. Every day had its own section.
There were also things that I could write beforehand. I had to describe the major participants and their bios, and the trial wouldn’t change these types of things.
During voir dire I sat in the courtroom and I knew I was going to have to describe it. Voir dire for the Saenz case took place in the new, modern courtroom in Angelina County in Texas. I sat there for a week and described every single aspect of that room: the smells, sounds, feel, everything.
Then about the second week of voir dire, the judge came in and told the attorneys that he was thinking of moving the trial to the old courtroom. It had a lot more room. He asked the attorneys if they objected to that and they didn’t. I was hoping he’d ask me because I’d just spent a week describing that room.
Of course he didn’t, and that was the last time I wrote something like that ahead of time.
How did your variegated professional experience finally lead you to writing novels? Was it a hobby that blossomed?
When I was twelve, I read a book about Crazy Horse, and said then I would write about him. It took me over forty years, but the first book I wrote was a historical fiction about Crazy Horse.
As a native of East Texas and a fan of Louis L’Amour, why were you not tempted to continue the genre of westerns?
In a way I have. My first book was a western historical fiction about Crazy Horse. I used the model Ester Forbes used when she wrote JOHNNY TREMAIN (one of my all time favorite books).
Johnny Tremain was a fictional character that saw and told the history of all the people, the customs, and sentiments of the Boston colonists just prior to the Revolutionary War.
In my historical fiction, my character was an eight-year-old white boy who was the only survivor of a wagon train massacre. He was captured and raised by the Sioux and became Crazy Horse’s adopted brother. The story is told through his eyes.
Right now I am in the process of writing the sequel to that book. This one is a romantic suspense that chronicles the young white boy having to become assimilated back into the white world and his love interest—a love interest that will produce a family.
I plan to create a saga with his family from that time all the way to present day.
When I finished the historical fiction, I had trouble getting it published. I’m sure no one but me has ever had the problem of getting their first book published, but I sure did. In the meantime, writers told me to write what I know. I first thought about writing one about Viet Nam, but everybody who was over there and could write—and some who weren’t over there—had already written books about it.
I was also a homicide detective who investigated over three hundred murders, so that is what I concentrated my efforts on.
Where does your creative inspiration come from?
I’m different from most people—sometimes that’s good and sometimes it’s bad, but that difference makes me write differently than most. I love creating characters. Many writers over the years have influenced me: John Sanford, Vince Flynn, Allison Brennan, Michael Connelly, Mary Higgins Clark and Mark Twain. I’ve learned a lot from all of them, but I have to admit, Louis L’Amour is a main influence, and although I really loved his books, he didn’t create a lot of different characters. Most of them were exactly the same in just about every aspect—he just gave them different names and put them in different places.
I create characters and when I have them fully developed, I go looking for a plot to put them in. That might be one of the reasons that KILLER NURSE is the sixth different genre I have published in.
In what kind of surroundings do you write best?
Noise—I have to have noise to write. When I’m home alone and writing, I will have the TV as well as the radio going.
When I go outside the house to write, and I do it often, I go to places like IHOP. I can relax, drink coffee, and there is always noise.
What are you currently writing and when may your readers expect to get their hands on it?
On December 2nd my romantic suspense, LAW OF SILENCE, comes out. I did something not many writers would attempt: I made a male defense attorney into the hero. It’s a good book, and is the third one published this year. PARADOX came out in June, KILLER NURSE, and now LAW OF SILENCE.
I started out going a hundred miles an hour, and then a couple of bouts of cancer interrupted the process. Now I am off running again.
What’s/are your favorite pastime/s?
I love to do woodwork, work on my rose garden, but my two favorites are watching the Dallas Cowboys and square dancing. I go square dancing usually once a week, and sometimes more.
John Foxjohn epitomizes the phrase “been there–done that.” Born and raised in the rural East Texas town of Nacogdoches, he quit high school and joined the Army at seventeen: Viet Nam veteran, Army Airborne Ranger, policeman and homicide detective, retired teacher and coach, now he is a multi-published author.
To learn more about John, please visit his website.