'True Crime Tale & Tea' to Feature Authors Lynn Olanoff and Colin McEvoy

Josh Berk interviews Lynn Olanoff, co-author of "Love Me or Else: The True Story of a Devoted Pastor, a Fatal Jealousy, and the Murder that Rocked a Small Town."

Lynn Olanoff is a reporter for The Express-Times, where her husband Colin McEvoy also works. Together they covered the 2008 murder of Rhonda Smith in Bucks County. They did extensive research and it was during a jailhouse interview that Mary Jane Fonder first acknowledged responsibility for her crime.

They have written a book about the case: "Love Me or Else: The True Story of a Devoted Pastor, a Fatal Jealousy, and the Murder that Rocked a Small Town." It was published by St. Martin’s Press earlier this year.

Lynn and Colin will visit the on Sept. 24 for a "True Crime Tale & Tea." The event begins at 11 a.m. Please register with the library if you wish to attend by calling (610) 759-4932. Tea and other refreshments will be served, books will be for sale, and the authors will be available to answer questions. 

But first, Lynn had to answer my questions! Here's what she had to say about writing the book, collaborating with her husband, and what's next in her career:

JB: When in the process of covering the Mary Jane Fonder case did the idea to write a book on the topic come to you?

LO: While I was covering Fonder’s trial (Colin had done some reporting following her arrest), my editor made an off-handed remark that the case would make a good book, but it didn’t register at all. Turns out it was probably odd timing. On a Friday right before we went on vacation, there was a State Police awards ceremony I was covering where one of the case’s investigators was named Regional Trooper of the Year and the boy who found Fonder’s lost gun also was being honored.

We had taken the next day’s paper with the article on the awards ceremony in the car with us for our seven-hour trip to Vermont and Colin read it and we started talking about how strange the case was and how it would make a good book. So we say it took being stuck in the car together for seven hours for us to decide to write a book.

JB:  You must have done a ton of research. What was the most surprising thing you learned while researching the book?

LO: I don’t know if there was one really surprising thing. Having covered the nine-day trial, I had learned a lot about the case. We were really surprised, impressed and honored at how open everyone we interviewed was. They also spent multiple hours with us, openly sharing their private inner thoughts. We are very grateful for that.

Oh, I’d guess I say the most surprising thing was when Mary Jane Fonder essentially confessed to us. We interviewed her a year after her sentencing and everyone had always said they never expected Mary Jane to take any responsibility for the crime. We were about half way into our hour-and-a-half interview with her when she says that she thinks she may have killed Rhonda! She doesn’t fully come out and say it, but she says things like, "I'm thinking, all this evidence... it sounds like it to me," and, "It had to be me; it was my gun."

The funniest thing is that Colin had gone to the bathroom when she started saying these things, so when he came back, he just proceeded on our planned list of questions and I sort of had to hit him in the arm and be like, “No, we have to talk about what Mary Jane just said to me!” Then she said those things to both of us.

JB:  What was the process like of landing such a great publisher to publish with?

LO: We are very grateful for connections. I knew our then co-worker, Tom Quigley, had a cousin who had written a non-fiction book on Timothy McVeigh because I used to work in an office with Tom and had answered some calls from his cousin. So I asked Tom if we could talk to his cousin, Lou Michel, who works at The Buffalo News. Lou told us what he knew about the business but even more valuably, he connected us with one of his co-workers who had just published a true crime book. We started an email conversation with that reporter, Michael Beebe, and Mike connected us with his agent, Jake Elwell at Harold Ober and Associates, who agreed to sign us. Jake is great and actually got us a deal within a week of pitching our book. So we are extremely grateful to two men from Buffalo we’ve never met. 

JB: Co-writing a book seems like a challenge, perhaps especially with your spouse! Was it hard to write together? Is it true that you played 'rock-paper-scissors' to decide whose name went first on the cover?

LO: Yeah, everyone made remarks that they don’t think they could write a book with their spouse and that they hope we didn’t get divorced! And actually, writing together has been about the only thing we’ve ever argued about. We started writing together at first but learned whichever one was sitting at the computer got more of his or her phrasing in and the other one just got frustrated. So at about one-fourth of the way into the book, we started writing separately, after doing a detailed outline first. It works much better that way. And we trust each other as writers and reporters, so that helps. People say they can’t tell the difference in chapters.

As for whose name is first, I guess I actually won our first coin flip, which was to decide whose name went first on the article we co-wrote after visiting Mary Jane in jail and having her take responsibility for the murder for the first time. But the loser of that coin flip got to have his or her name first on the book, so I guess Colin was really the winner there. He let me rematch in a number of coin flips and games of rock, scissors, paper since but I haven’t won any of those. We joke this is my punishment for not taking his last name.

JB: Are there more books in your future (together or separately)? 

LO: Yes, we just submitted a second true crime book to our publisher, St. Martin’s Press. Our second book is about an Allentown man who killed someone when he was 18, was sent to prison for about 16 years, and shortly after he was paroled, killed four people up in Northampton Borough (his girlfriend, her father, grandfather and a neighbor who came over to help.) We interviewed the killer, Michael Ballard, for over nine hours this winter. The book will likely come out in fall 2013.

And we are looking into more books – Colin has caught the book bug, as I say. 

Thanks, Lynn! We look forward to seeing you at the library!

Readers looking for more information on the book can find some here: LOVE ME OR ELSE 

To register for the event (9/24/2012, 11 a.m) call the library: (610) 759-4932.

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