In Cold Blood-Innocence Betrayed by Sherry Hartzler

Copy of Promo PhotoThis post by Sherry

Whenever someone asks how I come up with story ideas, I smile, because I know an explanation would take more than a thirty-second answer. You see, writing is all about counting out a journey of thoughts and memories lived, and then brutally pulling them apart in an effort to define the “who” of “you.” Several books I read as a teenager made me question everything I believed to be  real and truthful.

ImageI was only seventeen when I first read Truman Capote’s bestseller, In Cold Blood. My curiosity: How did the author of Breakfast at Tiffany’s possibly write such a bone-chilling book about the 1959 murder of an ordinary farm family in the state of Kansas?  Did you know that Truman wanted Marilyn Monroe to play role of Holly Golightly? Hard to imagine.

In Cold Blood terrified me, but I could not put the book down. I read it from front cover to back cover with all the skin-crawling, edge-of-the-seat intensity of a horror film on the big screen. It seemed by the late sixties, we had become a lost generation of false securities, lost hope.

ImageIn 1963, an entire nation agonized over Zapruder’s 8 mm color Kodachrome film footage of the assassination of President Kennedy. Then, two days later, before a grieving television audience, an obscure Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald, leaving behind a trail of unanswered questions and conspiracy theories that, fifty years later, still capture our imaginations around November 22nd.  The atrocities during the civil rights movement and murder of Martin Luther King shattered a dream. In 1969 the murder of Robert F. Kennedy seemed to be that one final kick in the gut that left us stunned and morally spent. We were a generation raised on Sunday nights of Walt Disney, mixed in with the escalation of the war in Vietnam, the draft, peace marches, and that social and political upheaval played out on our television screens.  We were the first media generation.

ImageTeenagers in the sixties tuned into shows like Leave It To Beaver, Father Knows Best, Gunsmoke, Perry Mason and Saturday morning cartoons, while commercials sold us on the idea that smoking was cool and General Electric appliances would change our lives. On a darker plane, we lived through Civil rights, political scandals, and equal rights for women, bringing us to the sad truth that men in power are adept at ignoring the truth when truth becomes an issue so inconveniently muddled.

At the age of seventeen, In Cold Blood rocked my secure world because I identified with the Clutter family in that I’d grown up on a farm where we seldom locked our doors at night. I could not grasp the possibility that strangers might invade our house and snuff out the lives of my family. After all, something as horrible as this only happened on television or in the movies, and television violence was censored and movie stars had moral clauses in studio contracts. Nightly news programs on television brought into our homes the chaos and hatred going on in the world. But even then, Walter Cronkite calmed our fears with his fatherly demeanor in a world that seemed to be rocking off its axis. The younger generation in the sixties began to see American history as a series of scabs to be picked at and pulled off one by one to expose the true ugliness of our past and uncertain future.

As for Truman Capote, I remember him as being that arrogant little guy with the funny voice who appeared on seventies talk shows like Merv Griffin. I was not impressed with him. He seemed full of himself, a narcissist, attention-starved, and gossip monger who used his sharp tongue and quick wit to insult even his own friends. Somehow, he got away with it. Perhaps behind that well-guarded façade, Truman was nothing more than a scared boy, who, as a man, abused drugs and drank like a fish. Truman was, like the turbulent sixties, an American tragedy.

So, going back to the original question: How do I come up with ideas for stories? The short answer is I love writing about love, hope, friendship and forgiveness. Sentimental? Definitely YES.  I yearn to go back and retrieve that slim thread of innocence I felt as a child. Most of all, I want to believe that people are basically good in their hearts and want to do the right thing when the chips are down.

Note: If interested, see the movie, Capote, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman (RIP). Capote [Blu-ray]

Sherry Hartzler is the author of Three Moons Over Sedona, Island Passage and Chasing Joe, all available on

Chasing Joe 



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15 thoughts on “In Cold Blood-Innocence Betrayed by Sherry Hartzler

  1. I also read In Cold Blood at about the same age you did and it haunted me. Like you our family lived in a rural farm area where no one locked their doors – a slice of Americana that was innocent and happy. The book evoked such a terrible senseless event that I never forgot it. The other events you mentioned changed our world and our outlook on life forever. It was indeed the Age of Innocence Lost. What a shame. Great post Sherry!


  2. I am still bad about leaving my doors unlocked. I know better. There are evil people. I’m like you, I like the happy endings. But, I have started a suspense novel, which does not have a happy ending for a lot of people. Nice thought provoking blog. Thanks. Cher’ley


    1. I got it done for you. You can just copy and paste the photos you want. I used the one that”s on our Meet Our Authors Page. Copy and pasted it and then shrunk it down to the size I wanted. When you get a chance do a practice blog and let me know and I’ll walk you through it step by step. Yeah,, I don’t want you to stress over it. Cher’ley


  3. Somehow i always come out on the other side of stories like “In Cold Blood” with the sense that these are isolated incidents, that make ones scared, but not everyone deals with the same horror. I can say this even after working with juvenile & adult criminals for twenty years. Like you, I hold out for the joy and hope in the world, which there is, and want to pass on the love and determination of people, both past and present.

    A well written and thought provoking piece. Brava. Doris


  4. Very interesting post, Sherry. I read In Cold Blood when I was sixteen. It still haunts me. I never thought of anything like that happening where I lived, however–a very small town surrounded by farm land–even though we didn’t lock our doors either. I don’t think I realized how upsetting the events of the ’60s were until I looked back from adulthood. Those of us who were teens during that decade see the world from a unique perspective, I think.


  5. Sherry – enjoyed reading your post. I didn’t read IN COLD BLOOD. I stick to simpler novels and stories. I’m a huge fan of Truman Capote’s work, his short stories that speak of a more simpler time. I read a biography about his life which explained the demons he fought from an early age. Yes, very thought provoking. Thanks!


  6. Hi, Sherry! Very interesting post. I confess that I haven’t read In Cold Blood, though it should probably be on my “to read” list. It is interesting to think about all the events you mention in that time as a loss of innocence and to wonder where we are now.


  7. Sherry- though I’ve heard of Truman Capote, I’ve never read any of his work. I did read other novels at that vulnerable teenage time which moved me immensely too. I’m not sure a re read now would create the same feeligs but it can be a powerful ecperience you don’t forget. Great post.


  8. Great post, Sherry! Your analogies, feelings, and descriptions are so SPOT-ON! I was a child during the 60’s and some things I remember, some I don’t, but you placed me in all the settings and I could picture (and feel!) it all. Bringing light and love into the world through writing is a WONDERFUL aspiration, and I try to do the same. Various genres speak to different people, and that’s just fine because we’re all unique. Thanks for bringing the past to life and for giving hope for the future! Good to have you back at Writing Wranglers — hope you’re feeling much, much better!


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