Laura Tillman was a recent college graduate when she took a reporting job at a newspaper in Brownsville, Texas, five years after a shocking triple murder there received international media attention. In a talk during the second installation of the Writers’ Workshop Series, Tillman spoke to the Williston community and members of the public about the book, The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts, that emerged from her spending six years reporting on the tragedy.
Tillman said Brownsville is known for its poverty—it’s one of the poorest cities in the country—and for its proximity to Mexico. However its residents feel there is more to the place than these statistics would lead you to believe. As she investigated the crime, and the circumstances that led to it, she talked to numerous people in the neighborhood. She corresponded with one of the perpetrators of the crime. She also poured over court documents and crime scene photos. She would visit the building where the murders happened and let the details steep into her consciousness. The more she investigated the crime, she told the audience, the more nuanced her views became.
Students in the audience asked her a variety of questions—Did she think the murderers were a product of their environment or somehow innately evil? Did her own religious beliefs factor into her thoughts about the question of morality? And what did she learn from writing this book?
To that last question, she paused and then answered, “To trust my instincts. Sometimes you just have to follow an idea you find interesting, even if it’s not clear where it’s headed. You have to be patient and let it unfold.”