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'Crime Junkie' host Ashley Flowers talks debut novel

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

If you are a fan of the true crime genre, then you surely know the name Ashley Flowers. She's the co-host and producer of the hit podcast "Crime Junkie," which gets millions of downloads each week, and that's not all. She also created "Supernatural With Ashley Flowers," "International Infamy" and "Very Presidential." And on top of all of that, she has a new novel out. It's called "All Good People Here." And she is here with us now to tell us more about it. Ashley Flowers, welcome. Thank you for joining us.

ASHLEY FLOWERS: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: So how did you fall in love with the true crime genre? And I'm wondering why you think it's so popular. Like, I mean, it's become so embedded in the culture. For example, there have been several "Saturday Night Live" skits about it. There was one I remember, that had these glamorous stars playing mommies out on the town. And all they really wanted to do was go home...

FLOWERS: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...And listen to true crime podcasts. So how did you fall in love with it, and why do you think it's taken off as it has?

FLOWERS: Well, I fell in love with it or got interested in it because I always say my mom and her mother before her, they were my OG crime junkies. And I grew up reading mystery novels - "Nancy Drew," Agatha Christie. And at some point in my life, I realized that these mysteries weren't all fiction and that these things were really happening. And there was just something in me that was drawn to the unsolved cases specifically, something about a puzzle that needed to be solved and not having resolution. And I think that's what so many people are drawn to.

And I don't know that it's gotten more popular. What I really believe is that we all are collectively figuring out it's not just us - because I think, you know, when I look back at myself in high school or even college, I had always been obsessed with it. I knew my close group of friends had been deeply invested in it, and we just thought we were kind of the outliers and the weirdos. And I think now we're all just realizing we're interested in the same thing. And now let's talk about it and bring light to these cases.

MARTIN: So the book we're going to talk about is fiction.

FLOWERS: Yes.

MARTIN: What made you want to do a novel, you know, on top of everything else you have going on?

FLOWERS: Well, I had had this story like, kind of percolating in the back of my head for years. And it obviously wasn't true crime, so it didn't really fit into what I was doing with "Crime Junkie" or "The Deck" or some of my weekly shows. I didn't really want to write a fictional podcast about a crime because I didn't want to take away from the real crimes I was talking about. So as I just tried to figure out what this was or how I could bring this to life, it kind of naturally became a book.

MARTIN: So the plot - it's crazy. Like, how can we - how to - OK, I'm trying to - I need you to help me to describe it without giving it all away...

MARTIN: Sure.

MARTIN: ...Because part of the deliciousness of it is the crazy twists and turns that it takes. So do you want to help me? Help me out.

FLOWERS: Sure. So it is about a journalist named Margot. And I - yeah, set the whole thing here in Indiana, where I live, and she returns to her small hometown to help take care of her ailing uncle. And while she is in town, a young girl goes missing. And it's kind of reminiscent of an unsolved case from back when she was young, when her neighbor was abducted and eventually murdered. And she kind of takes it upon herself there while she's there in town to try and really figure out once and for all what happened to her neighbor, her friend - because everyone has a theory in a case that's gone unsolved for 25 years. Everyone thinks they know what happened. But the truth of the matter is, nobody really knows what's happening behind closed doors in a home, within a family and within an investigation.

MARTIN: I think the thing that the book talks about is that, you know, crime isn't just one thing that happens one time or perhaps several times, but it's also what leads up to the act and what follows from it and how it affects all the people that it touches. It's not just something that happens to one person or perhaps even one family, but the - sort of the concentric rings around it. And I thought that captured that really sensitively.

FLOWERS: Thank you. I mean, that was a big driving force for me when I was creating this because that is something that I have seen in working with families in real cases who have lost someone. And I was just talking to about this with a family member who lost someone yesterday - the ripple effect that happens with violent crime and that it takes away not just the person but the family around it. And it will change the way sisters and brothers go on to be parents themselves. The way that a parent will parent will be different.

And really, what I wanted to get across to you in the book is so much judgment is placed on the family of a violent crime. They should have done this. They're not acting the right way - that in a time when someone is already traumatized and grieving, we tend to inflict more trauma by making judgments from the outside when, again, we don't know what's happening behind closed doors.

MARTIN: Well, I mean, I was - as I was saying, look, I come from a family of cops, and I am a journalist. And I did do local news, and I did do local crime reporting. So it does feel very real to me, like, apart from the fact - I didn't grow up in Wakarusa. But, you know - but the fact that I am so connected to people who - you know, because I'm so connected to police officers, just because of my family and because that's kind of the family business, I wonder if it ever gets to you. I mean, does it ever change the way you view people? And I ask because, coming from a family of - a lot of people in my family have been in law enforcement over the years. I just wonder if spending so much time thinking about the worst that people can do to each other - do you think that it changes you or changes how you see the world?

FLOWERS: It gets really heavy some days. And what I'll say is I couldn't live in this if I wasn't trying to do something to change it - 'cause everyone always asks me what my outlet is. How do I decompress from all of this? And I truly believe there's some people who - like your family, there's some people who are meant to do this kind of work and to live in these kind of stories, who can handle it in a different way than potentially other people.

But I have always based my career around giving back. I've always said that the true crime community is like any other relationship. I can't just take and take these stories and not give back. And so from the beginning, our mission with our true crime content has been to support families, to support causes, nonprofits and help solve cases.

And so even the days where it feels really heavy and I feel like we're living in a world full of evil people, I think the thing that gets me to the better days is knowing that if I wasn't doing it, if I wasn't talking about these cases, diving into these cases, that I think the world would be a worse place. Because of all of the time and energy, money we've been able to donate. I started a nonprofit called Season of Justice that funds testing for cold cases, and we've gone on to solve three homicides. So that is what keeps me in it. And even when the days are hard, that's what makes it feel not as hard.

MARTIN: Did you ever foresee this? I mean, did you - I mean, when you - I mean, could you - I mean, did you foresee this? You're kind of the - I don't know how to say it. You're like, at the head of an empire.

FLOWERS: I dreamed big, but I didn't know how to dream this big. I always knew that I wanted a network. It was never just going to be one podcast for me. But I think I underestimated how people would respond and receive the content and how much they wanted to get involved the same way I did. And I think that's what's really helped the company kind of explode in the way it has and become its own little empire.

MARTIN: Ashley Flowers is co-host of the insanely popular "Crime Junkie" podcast, among others. Her novel, "All Good People Here," is out now. Ashley Flowers, thank you so much for joining us.

FLOWERS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.