My guests on Moving Target are usually fiction writers, but today I’m pleased to introduce Nate Hendley, a Toronto true-crime author who has shown readers that real-life stories can be as riveting as fiction. Nate has written about a wide array of colourful characters from the infamous Bonnie and Clyde, to Al Capone and Canada’s Edwin Boyd. His latest book, The Mafia: A Guide to an American Subculture, was released earlier this year. Steven Truscott: Decades of Injustice, published in 2012, is the story of the 14-year-old Canadian boy who was sentenced to death in 1959 for the rape and murder of his classmate, and the fight to clear his name.
I asked Nate why he turns his pen to true crime.
I always wanted to write a book. About 10 years ago, I saw a bulletin from the Professional Writers Association of Canada, a group to which I belong. The bulletin announced that an Alberta-based publishing house, Altitude Publishing, was looking to expand east. Altitude specialized in short, punchy Canadian non-fiction, primarily of a historical nature, and it was looking for Ontario stories and Ontario authors.
It so happened that a well-known Toronto bank robber named Edwin Alonzo Boyd had just died. In the early 1950s, Boyd led a gang of Toronto bank robbers that the press dubbed “the Boyd Gang.” Toronto was a pretty boring place in those days, so the Boyd Gang made sensational headlines. It helped that Boyd had movie-star good looks and liked to leap flamboyantly on top of bank counters, a gun in each hand.
I cobbled together a book query based on Boyd’s life and emailed it off to Altitude. They liked the query and asked me to write a chapter outline. I did this, and the next thing I knew I had a contract to write a book. The end result was Edwin Alonzo Boyd: The Life and Crimes of Canada’s Master Bank Robber.
I’ll always remember the wonderful day when a box arrived via courier containing advance copies of my book—proof positive that I was now a published author.
My Boyd book made decent sales and Altitude asked if I’d like to write another. They sent me a long list of topics they were considering and asked if any captured my interest. One of the suggested topics was the Black Donnellys—an ill-fated family of brawling Irish-Canadian farmers who lived near London, Ont., in the 19th century. The Donnellys became the subject of my second book, The Black Donnellys: The Outrageous Tale of Canada’s Deadliest Feud.
For those who haven’t heard of them, the Donnellys were involved in endless feuds with their neighbours. Barns were burned down, cattle slaughtered, people beaten. The neighbours eventually got fed up and formed a vigilante group. One cold evening in February 1880, these vigilantes paid a visit to the Donnelly homestead. Bad things resulted, the details of which you’ll need to find out for yourself, perhaps by reading my book.
I became Altitude’s go-to guy for crime books. They kept asking me to do new crime titles and I kept obliging. Within a couple of years, I had biographies on Jewish gangster Dutch Schultz and Chicago crime czar Al Capone to my name.
Sadly, Altitude Publishing went out of business in 2007. But, by that point, I had already moved on.
An American company named Greenwood that specialized in text books for high schools and junior colleges, saw my book on Dutch Schultz and got in touch with me. Greenwood asked if I would write a book about the murderous bandits, Bonnie and Clyde. I obliged. Greenwood got swallowed up by another U.S. publisher called ABC-CLIO, and Greenwood/ABC-CLIO has published three of my books: the aforementioned Bonnie and Clyde, and tomes on American Gangsters and the American Mafia.
I like writing about crime because it lends itself to colourful description and fast-paced writing. Like sex, love and war, crime will never disappear so there will always be a fresh stock of stories to write about. True crime is a wide-reaching genre that allows writers to insert social and political commentary when appropriate. My book on Bonnie and Clyde, for example, discusses the impact of the Great Depression on the United States, and the role fast cars and machine guns played in the criminal demimonde of the day.
I am currently working on a title about American scams, cons, frauds and hoaxes, and I always have an eye out for new crime stories that might warrant another book.
Thank you, Nate!
Born in New Haven, Conn., and raised in Waterloo, Ont., Nate Hendley is a dual citizen of Canada and the United States who now lives in Toronto. Nate’s articles have appeared in The National Post, NOW magazine, Eye Weekly and other publications. His non-fiction books range from true-crime biography to artistic motivation, and can purchased on Amazon and Chapters.Indigo.
Visit Nate’s website at www.natehendley.com.