(AP) For Richmond paralegal turned mystery writer Tina Glasneck, books offered escape from the day-to-day realities of living in Richmond public housing during a particularly violent period in the city’s history.
The Henrico County resident tells chilling stories about life in Gilpin Court, Blackwell and Church Hill in the 1980s and ‘90s matter-of-factly, and sometimes has to laugh.
“You have to have a little bit of humor to get through life,” she said.
Her earliest memories include checking out books with her mother at the Hull Street library branch, the place she said kept her from getting pregnant, shot or in trouble when she lived in Richmond public housing and attended Open High School.
As she got older, she would spend at least an hour browsing and then check out 10 books at a time.
“I didn’t date in high school. I fell in love every weekend with a hero that made life better,” said the 35-year-old Glasneck, who still dreams of a house with a high-ceiling library to house her 500 books, similar to the one in Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.”
Neighborhood shootings and drug deals, a visit to a morgue for chemistry class, her love for research and gruesome case files she read as an intern for then-Commonwealth’s Attorney David Hicks all factored into her decision to write murder mystery books.
Her first inspiration? Thomas Harris’ “Red Dragon,” the beginning of the Hannibal Lecter series that included “Silence of the Lambs.”
Glasneck, now a paralegal, said she had to find the boundary between heart-wrenching empathy and dehumanizing numbness when she encountered tragedy. Her empathy comes from her religious background and master’s degree in theology. But the experiences she tried to escape and her daily paralegal work dulled the shock.
“Each character has a piece of my emotional baggage,” she said.
The plot for her first book, “Thou Shall Not,” started when a troubled client threatened to harm her and her co-workers. Her imagination took it from there.
She sees it as a manifestation of the escape plan she had rolling around in her head, just in case.
Her boss, attorney Brent Jackson, has worked with her for almost a decade and said her career as a writer and paralegal go hand in hand.
“A lot of people don’t realize law is over 80 percent written word,” such as filing motions and “one’s ability to write well,” he said.
Even as she interviews witnesses for upcoming cases at correctional centers or elsewhere, Jackson said her empathy calms even the most hostile.
“Even though someone has a story to tell as a witness, not all the story is relevant. You have to get the key elements,” he said. “Some people have to learn that skill. With Tina it comes naturally.”
For the sequel, which is under construction, Glasneck enrolled in Henrico’s Citizens Police Academy to learn more about law enforcement.
During a recent three-hour class, while others were content listening to the presentation on investigation analysis, Glasneck took 10 pages of notes — some on information presented, some on the storyline ideas they inspired.
“(The class) is like caffeine for a coffee addict,” she said. “Every class gives me a piece of the puzzle.”
For three years she bounced ideas off her husband, Christian, acting out fight scenes with spatulas and tongs while making dinner to test plausibility, and using their 6-foot-wide bathroom mirror as a planning board.
“Before I met Tina, I used to watch movies without putting too much thought in it,” said Christian Glasneck. Now, he watches for and notices holes in the plot.
He’s a project coordinator for a software development company, but he’s picked up on her literary pet peeves during their 11 years of marriage. He was the first editor of the book, which was fitting since she had started taking her writing seriously soon after she met him doing translation work in his native Germany.
“When you immerse yourself in a culture,” he said, “they say it broadens your horizons, and it does.”
“(My time in Germany) helped me understand who I was . what I excel at and fail at,” Tina Glasneck said.
Though she openly appreciates how her past got her to the present, she doesn’t dwell on it. She just fell in love with the story.
- By Laura Kebede, a reporter with the Richmond Times-Dispatch.