Thursday, February 7, 2013

Fresh Blood: Mary McCoy

There are a few things about the me who writes and finishes books that are different from the me who didn’t.

Like most people who make the leap from “I’d like to write a book” to “I wrote a book,” I’m more self-disciplined about writing than I used to be. I have confidence I can finish the manuscripts I start, and I’ve become shockingly unsentimental about making revisions.

But there’s another difference I wanted to write about for my first Sleuths, Spies, & Alibis post, and it’s this:

I ask better questions now.

Since my debut novel, Dead To Me, is a 1940s YA crime noir set in Hollywood, it probably comes as no surprise that I’m a sucker for a true crime story. If it happened at least fifty years ago in Los Angeles and involved a celebrity, BONUS.

At the height of my true crime jones, I wanted to track down the craziest, most notorious, most shocking crimes, and Los Angeles history is full of them - just open up any newspaper. We’ve got vengeful teen lovers, creepy secret attic boyfriends, mysteriously missing starlets, and a rash of celebrity misdeeds.

I ate all of it up, but the more I read, the less interested I was in who did what to whom - or even why they did it. Increasingly, I wanted answers to the kinds of questions that weren’t going to be answered by old newspaper articles or Hollywood Babylon.

I wanted to know what it was like for Lila Leeds to be famous not for her considerable talent, but for a stupid thing that happened in 1948, and why Los Angeles’s most famous murder victim, Elizabeth Short, was so alone during her lifetime. I wanted to know about the people who lingered at the edges of the stories: the kid sisters, mothers, best friends, and favorite uncles. I wanted to see these people as more than the sum of their most notorious parts.

Realizing I felt this way about true stories did wonders for my fiction. When I started asking deeper questions about the characters in my stories - questions that had nothing to do with them being a criminal or a victim - that’s when they turned into the kind of people I wanted to spend an entire book with. That’s when the stories that I wrote began to have something like a heart.


Mary McCoy
Mary is a librarian at the Los Angeles Public Library, and has been a contributor to On Bunker Hill ( and the 1947project (, where she wrote stories about Los Angeles's notorious past. Mary grew up in western Pennsylvania and holds degrees from Rhodes College and the University of Wisconsin; she currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband. Her debut novel is called DEAD TO ME, and will be published by Disney-Hyperion in 2014. It's a YA mystery set in Golden Age Hollywood about a teenage girl who uncovers some sinister business while trying to get to the bottom of her aspiring film star sister's disappearance.


  1. Really wise perspective, Mary. This post makes me all the more interested in your book! (It helps that I am an LA history buff who loves old Hollywood stories, but still!)

  2. Great post, Mary!

    If you haven't already seen this, you may be the perfect candidate for Hollywood's most morbid tours:

  3. Thank you! LA history is a totally addictive subject of study, and I see how people get obsessed... er, interested.

  4. Hollywood Mystery/Thriller? Sign me up!


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