W.A. Winter is the pen name of William Swanson, a Minneapolis journalist and author, who has written extensively over the past several decades about crime, law enforcement, and the courts. He’s the author of three true-crime books, one of which was the basis of a recent Investigation Discovery Network docudrama and is currently optioned for film. Under the pen name W.A. Winter, he has recently published three suspense novels as e-books: See You/See Me, Handyman, and Wolfie's Game Now, under his pen name, he continues to bring high suspense to thriller fans with his April 20, 2021 release The Secret Lives of Dentists (Seventh Street Books). The thriller novel is inspired by the 1955 case of A. Arnold Axilrod, a Minneapolis dentist accused, and tried for, the murder of one of his young female patients.
In this post, Winter discusses why he decided on fiction over true crime for his latest novel, The Secret Lives of Dentists, how writing this book brought him joy, and more!
Name: W.A. Winter
Book title: The Secret Lives of Dentists
Publisher: Seventh Street Books
Release date: April 20, 2021
Genre: Mystery/suspense, “Midwestern noir”
Elevator pitch for the book: The murder of a pretty small-town girl and the arrest and trial of her dentist—with allegations of adultery, blackmail, and anti-Semitism—roil mid-1950s Minneapolis and lead to a shocking conclusion.
Previous titles by the author: True crime by William Swanson (author’s real name): Dial M: The Murder of Carol Thompson, Black White Blue: The Assassination of Patrolman Sackett, and Stolen from the Garden: The Kidnapping of Virginia Piper. Suspense fiction by W.A. Winter and published by Kindle Books and Smashwords: Handyman, See You / See Me, and Wolfie’s Game.
What prompted you to write this book?
Secret Lives was inspired by an actual high-profile Minneapolis homicide during the 1950s. I considered writing a true-crime book about the case but decided I could develop an even more interesting narrative that incorporated invented (or modified) characters, settings, and collateral events.
How long did it take to go from idea to publication?
Almost four years will have elapsed between the time I committed to the novel and the novel’s publication. During this time, I continued to write journalism, work on other novels, and volunteer for the local literacy council. The core idea of Secret Lives didn’t change, but many of the details did. I rewrote the ending several times.
Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?
I have spent most of my life working for publications of various sorts and have written several nonfiction books and novels, so, no, I can’t say there were significant surprises or learning moments in the process of publishing this book. The process remains fraught and protracted, even this far into the digital age, and was no doubt affected in ways I’m not even aware of by the ongoing pandemic.
Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?
As always, there were pleasant surprises: e.g., a name that seemed to appear from the ether and helped me define a character, a twitch in the narrative that I didn’t know was there until I hit it, a remark or observation that comes out of a character’s mouth without the slightest recollection of my having planted it. Such surprises—happy accidents—are a big reason I love writing fiction.
What do you hope readers will get out of your book?
I hope readers will be intrigued and entertained by Secret Lives and believe it was worth at least what they paid for it. I hope readers will understand and maybe empathize with some of my characters. I hope they get a kick out of the funny bits with which I’ve tried to brighten the rather dark narrative.
If you could share one piece of advice with other authors, what would it be?
Trust your story. The temptation to abandon that manuscript mid-draft can be powerful, so belief in what you found compelling about your tale in the first place must keep you going. Unfortunately, you likely won’t know how good—or, conversely, how bad—your book is until you’ve finished, so keep at it and see how it turns out.