Author's interview on Page One Literary Newsletter
PageOneLit.com: Where did you grow up and was reading and writing a part of your life? Who were your earliest influences and why?
Jeannie Walker: I grew up in rural Oklahoma and later Texas. Most of the reading and writing I did was in school. Growing up on a farm didn't leave a lot of time for anything else except tending to farm animals, feeding and watering the chickens, gathering the eggs, milking the cows, and feeding the pigs. Then there was harvest time when the entire family had to pull cotton, combine wheat, and bale hay. Any spare time I got, I spent outside sitting under a big oak tree enjoying nature and reading a good book. My English teacher at Lone Wolf, Oklahoma was a big influence in my life. Mrs. Schreiner encouraged all her students to excel in reading and writing. I worked hard to achieve excellence and make straight A's because of the respect I had for Mrs. Schreiner and my other teachers in school.
PageOneLit.com: Why do you write?
Jeannie Walker: I write because I love it. I write because I believe in truth and justice. I write because I want to reach human beings and tell them to keep trying and to do all they can, because in the end it is worth it, and to let them know we are not alone in our struggle.
PageOneLit.com: Tell us a little about your new novel Fighting the Devil -A True Story of Consuming Passion, Deadly Poison, and Murder.
Jeannie Walker: Jerry Sternadel was a self-made Texas millionaire. He was poisoned to death in 1990. While hospitalized, he told nurses and doctors alike that two women, his wife and bookkeeper, were poisoning him. The hospital staff did not believe his accusations and continued to let the murder suspects have access to Jerry as he lay dying in the hospital.
He died in the hospital while strapped down to his hospital bed with restraints on his hands and feet and tubes in every orifice. Upon his death, an anonymous caller tipped off the police. The authorities quickly determined Jerry Sternadel had died from arsenic poisoning. The widow was the sole beneficiary of the million-dollar estate and a $350,000 life insurance policy. It was later learned that just before Jerry's death a teenager had visited the Sternadel ranch and became deathly ill after he drank juice that was in the refrigerator. Two years after the death of Jerry Sternadel, a bottle of arsenic was found in a storage locker rented by a woman under an assumed name.
The sheriff asked me to help with the investigation because the small county could not afford and did not have the time or resources to do extensive research. I became a sleuth to help solve the murder.
Being a true story, how did you research/investigate?
Jeannie Walker: I began my research by reading everything I could about arsenic poison and its effect on a human being. I read books about people who use poison as a weapon to kill. I started contacting toxicologists, medical examiners, detectives who had solved arsenic murder cases, District Attorneys who had handed arsenic murder cases, the EPA and even the FBI in Quantico, Virginia.
What was it about this story that interested you to write a book on the events?
Jeannie Walker: The wicked and evil way my ex-husband was murdered compelled me to tell the story, and also the strange and woeful occurrences of a dark supernatural being. Even though I had fought the devil before Jerry's death, I had no idea that I would have to fight the devil every step I took in my search for justice.
PageOneLit.com: Tell us about Jerry Sternadel. Who was Thomas Bradley? Who is Becky?
Jeannie Walker: Jerry Sternadel was my ex-husband and the father of only two children of whom I was their mother. He was a self-made millionaire who had dreams and plans for the future.
Thomas Bradley was an innocent victim, a young man at the wrong place at the wrong time. He was a teenager who happened to visit Jerry Sternadel's stepdaughter and helped himself to juice in the refrigerator at the Sternadel ranch. After drinking the juice, he became seriously ill from arsenic poisoning. Although he survived and lived to tell about it, his life would change forever.
Becky Sternadel was my daughter and the only daughter of Jerry Sternadel.
PageoneLit.com: I understand, the writing of Fighting the Devil -A True Story of Consuming Passion, Deadly Poison, and Murder began on an airplane ride? Explain.
Jeannie Walker: My daughter, Becky, called and informed me that her dad had died from arsenic poison. The very next morning, I was on an airplane to fly to Texas from Long Island New York to comfort my children. I knew my ex-husband had been murdered and I was pretty sure who murdered him. I began writing down my memories and recollections about my relationship with my ex-husband and the woman he married after we divorced. I wanted to document the past events and current events for my children and grandchildren. I also wanted to give the authorities any information I could on my ex-husband, his business dealings and his widow.
PageoneLit.com: What did you learn from writing Fighting the Devil -A True Story of Consuming Passion, Deadly Poison, and Murder?
Jeannie Walker: I learned a person must never give up looking for truth and justice. I learned we all have to fight the devil every minute of every day.
PageoneLit.com: Fighting the Devil -A True Story of Consuming Passion, Deadly Poison, and Murder is the kind of story Hollywood/TV likes and would make for a very good film. If Hollywood called tomorrow and asked you to cast the film, who would you cast and why?
Jeannie Walker: I would cast
Tommy Lee Jones as Sheriff Jake Bogard because he has portrayed people with the same temperament and rugged personality.
John Travolta as Jerry Sternadel - John Travolta has the looks of someone who could portray Jerry Sternadel. He is a very good actor who can play a good bad guy as well as someone who people can empathize with.
Matt Damon as District Attorney Tim Cole - Matt has a dedication to the roles he plays just as Tim Cole had a dedication for getting Debra Baker convicted for murdering Jerry Sternadel.
Reese Witherspoon as Becky Sternadel - Reese has played fragile and sweet roles. She can do a great Texas accent and is unbelievable in extreme situations.
Donny Osmond as Sandy Sternadel - Donny and Sandy look a lot alike. People have often said how Sandy looks like Donny Osmond. Both Donny and Sandy have great singing voices.
Frances McDormand as Debra Lynn Baker - Frances is close to the same age and looks a lot like the convicted murderer, Debra Baker.
Shelley Duvall as Lou Ann Sternadel — Shelley has large eyes like Lou Ann and they are close to the same age.
Al Pacino as Texas Ranger Bill Gerth - Pacino has a tough guy image that fits in with the all-business, tough persona of Texas Ranger Bill Gerth.
Jaclyn Smith as Jeannie Walker - Jaclyn was born in Texas and is close to the same age as Jeannie.
PageOneLit.com: What do you hope to achieve with Fighting the Devil -A True Story of Consuming Passion, Deadly Poison, and Murder ?
Jeannie Walker: It is my hope that anyone who reads my book will come to the realization that they are not alone in their struggles, no matter how big or small. And that they have the ability to overcome and the right to become their loved one's advocate and if necessary to become their own, real-life Sherlock Holmes.
PageOneLit.com: What was the last book you read?
Jeannie Walker: The Living Bible
PageOneLit.com: What's next?
Jeannie Walker: I am working on my next book that is also a true story.
PageOneLit.com: Do you have any hobbies? What are they? How do they enhance your writing?
Jeannie Walker: I have a lot of hobbies. I like to golf, play tennis, take walks, and ride my bike. I also like to sing, read and write. I believe being in tune with nature helps me to understand how to be happy. My main love is God. My best friend is Jesus Christ. He leads me, talks with me and walks with me. When I get too weak to carry on, He carries me. That's why there is only one footprint in the sand.