I originally planned to fictionalize the tragic story of Olga Duncan in a mystery novel. But I never got very far with that book because the plot was so bizarre that after writing a few chapters I realized that an editor would probably consider the story too unbelievable to be accepted as a novel. I’d been obsessed with Olga’s murder since childhood, when the 1958 crime took place in my home town. This story needed to be told, so I gave up on fictionalizing Olga’s story and instead wrote a true account of this stranger than fiction tale. It took me nine years to research and write my true crime/ memoir, A LOVELY GIRL: THE TRAGEDY OF OLGA DUNCAN AND THE TRIAL OF ONE OF CALIFORNIA’S MOST NOTORIOUS KILLERS. 

Author Deborah Holt Larkin

Author Deborah Holt Larkin

I fear driving on freeways. My phobia probably stems from my father’s persistent preoccupation with traffic fatalities when I was a child. He constantly ruminated out loud about the dangers of tire blowouts, head-on collisions and truck’s losing their brakes on downhill grades. Multiple pile-ups were the worst! I’ve worked hard to overcome my driving fears, but freeways still terrify me. I could white knuckle it through the high-speed lane changes by distracted drivers, and cars cutting across multiple lanes of traffic to get to an exit at the last minute. I hardly even notice the tailgaters anymore. But it’s the “merging” into traffic coming from other freeways at breath-taking speeds that defeats me. I can’t do it. I tried cognitive therapy, but the therapist eventually threw in the towel and pulled out the local Thomas Brothers map book to help me find alternate routes on fast-moving surface streets. We decided that everybody would be happier with me off the freeway.

Freeways may scare me, but I love to swim in the ocean. Growing up in the coastal town of Ventura, California, I spent many summer days lounging on the beach, swimming, bodysurfing and hanging out on the pier. I was a competitive AAU swimmer when I was young and continued with some US Masters Swimming events as an adult. I first swam in the mile-long La Jolla Rough Swim when I was twelve. I continued to compete in this open water event as an adult and medaled in my age group a number of times. There was no better place to swim and snorkel in California than La Jolla Cove. Clear water, gentle waves, colorful sea life—just don’t think about the sharks! 

During college, I had a summer job as a student intern at Camarillo State Hospital. My mother worked at the hospital as a psychiatric social worker, and discussions about mental illness were common place in our household while I was growing up. During my first summer as a teaching assistant at the hospital school, I realized the crippling effects of mental illness. Parents had few options for their children in those days because they couldn’t enroll them in public schools. I began my career in education soon after a new federal law was passed requiring public schools to provide equal access to children with physical and mental disabilities. 

I spent eighteen years teaching and administering classes for special needs children in a public-school setting, before becoming an elementary school principal.

After I retired, I volunteered as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) with Voices for Children in San Diego. A CASA advocates for children in foster care to ensure that their interests are met and that they have every opportunity to achieve stability in their lives. Once these kids enter the dependency system, their world suddenly includes court hearings, ever-changing social workers, revolving homes and new schools. I represented four foster youth over my ten years as a CASA. I stuck with each one until they aged out of the system and beyond. I’m still in regular contact with three of these lovely young women. 

I always wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t seriously get started until I enrolled in a creative writing program at the University of California San Diego soon after my youngest son left for college. I made the eighty-mile round trip once a week to classes with a plan to write cozy mysteries. I eventually joined a read and critique group at San Diego Writers Ink, and somehow, my cozy mystery turned into true crime. As my book progressed, I attended many writing conferences and heard stories about “older” first time authors being unable to get agents or publishing contracts with traditional publishers. I soldiered on. Just write the best book you possibly can, I told myself. Twenty years after my first writing class, I signed with a wonderful agent who believed in my book. I am definitely a woman of “a certain age,” and my first book, A LOVELY GIRL, will be released by Pegasus Crime on October 4th.

Deborah Holt Larkin holds a bachelor’s degree in American History and Literature from the University of California at Davis, and she studied creative writing at the University of California at San Diego. She has a master’s degree in the Education of Exceptional Children from San Francisco State University.  A LOVELY GIRL comes out in October from Simon & Schuster/Pegasus.


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