On Writing, with Steve Lillebuen
Steve Lillebuen is the author of The Devil's Cinema: The Untold Story Behind Mark Twitchell's Kill Room (McClelland & Stewart). The book investigates one of Canada's most bizarre murder cases, where a seemingly mild-mannered man and aspiring filmmaker decided to act out his murderous movie script, citing telvision shows like Dexter as his inspiration.
Steve talks to Open Book about violence in the internet age, his research process and his experience as a journalist.
Tell us about your book, The Devil's Cinema.
The book details the strange case of Mark Twitchell, a young Edmonton filmmaker and father who turned his Dexter-inspired film script into a real-life homicide. The narrative is built off my extensive, year-long contact with the killer, revealing the psychology behind how and why it all happened. The lives of the detectives who chased him, and his victims, are also explored.
How did you first come across the case of Mark Twitchell? What drew you to the subject matter?
I was a police reporter at the Edmonton Journal when Twitchell was arrested for first-degree murder, prompting worldwide press coverage. I was curious to learn more about the man behind these headlines, his motive, his background. I felt there were so many unanswered questions and I liked how the case had a lot to say about Internet culture and the digital age of my generation. It has everything from Star Wars fans to life in suburbia and big dreams of Hollywood fame.
Do you think this case exposes a dark side to pop culture obsessions? Or do you believe Twitchell would have acted without his supposed inspirations?
Mark Twitchell was a non-threatening, non-violent person for most of his life until he descended down a very dark path lit by the likes of Dexter and many other pop culture inspirations. I certainly place no blame on these books, TV shows or movies, or on their creators. But there’s no doubting the impact his various pop culture interests had on him until he had finally constructed his own toxic brew.
Were there any books you read prior to or during the writing of The Devil's Cinema that you found inspiring?
I read a lot of narrative non-fiction to get a better handle on how to transform my writing from straight-up news reporting into narrative storytelling. Erik Larson’s books were helpful, as were David Simon’s. But I also read and watched a lot of crime-related fiction, from American Psycho to The Wire.
What is the best advice about writing you have ever received?
I’m not sure where it comes from, but I was once told that “Noah is a better story than flood control.” It’s a great line that I find helps me remember how the right perspective can turn a good story into a great one.
What are you working on now?
I’m currently on tour for The Devil’s Cinema across the USA and Canada.