Originally Posted by LucyLu
- his most popular works investigated the life histories of violent career criminals
- I: The creation of a serial killer
- The man with candy
- Doc: The rape of the town of Lovell
About a decade before he died, I was able to befriend Jack Olsen and talk to him about his methods. It all started when I wrote him a note saying I'd just read Son: A Psychopath and His Victims
and wanted to know how he was able to capture not only the voice of the psychopath but even those of minor witnesses. Delighted, Jack shot back that voices were incredibly important to him -- that he interviewed everyone involved at least three times, getting them to tell the same stories again and again, until he could hear their voices in his head and write in them even when he wasn't quoting them directly.
After that, we spoke on the phone numerous times and talked about his career.
The year before, I'd studied with a writer named Dennis Cooper, who often mentioned The Man with the Candy
, which I'd also read and liked. I asked Olsen whether he was aware that his book had shaped the culture permanently. Many writers had quoted it, but more surprisingly, it had become de rigeur reading for '70s punks. Quotes from Jack's book had appeared on an entire line of T-shirts by Vivienne Westwood in the heyday of Le Sex Shoppe
, and one of them was worn frequently by Johnny Lydon during documented performances with the Sex Pistols. In the '90s, Venetian Snares quoted the book again on the album Doll Doll Doll
, and my former teacher published Jerk
, which sourced Jack's book almost exclusively.
Jack hadn't been aware of any of that, nor did he know that anyone had ever liked the book. All he knew was that his publisher had complained there wasn't enough sex and violence in it, and Jack assumed critics had ignored it for that same reason. "You deserve compensation!" I told him.
"I really do," he said.
One day, he called me up, upset that someone had been slandering him on the internet (keep in mind this was 1998). He was all set to launch a series of counter-attacks, one of which involved law enforcement, when I advised him to ignore the attacks and let other people defend him. I found it endearing that a man who was able to communicate with psychopaths for decades without making any dangerous missteps had nearly left himself open to the echo chamber of flames.
I'd add Charmer
to your list -- not only for Jack's rendering of people's voices, but for the evocation of how that decade and place (Mercer Island, which I found as banal in real life as in the book) felt to the various people involved.
Besides which, Charmer
is about the sort of SK who tends only to exist in movies: Obsessed with aesthetics, so that he posed his victims and the objects around them as if the crime scene were an art installation. After seeing the idea executed badly in films for many years, it was a pleasure to read someone who got it right at last. I'm surprised there hasn't been an adaptation.