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Witness Interview: Steven Atwater, Victim's Friend and Founder of the Oxford Writers Circle

Wednesday, November 1, 2000 - 6:30 p.m.

The witness, a forty-one year old maintenance man, was interviewed by the Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department at the café in Square Books.

TA = Detective T. Armstrong
SA = Steven Atwater

TA: Would you state your name and address, please?

SA: Steven Atwater, 415 Washington, Oxford, Mississippi.

TA: And your employment?

SA: I work for Kory Properties.

TA: You're the maintenance man, right?

SA: Yeah, I work on air conditioners, dishwashers, that kind of stuff. I also do basic construction and carpentry work.

TA: Busy?

SA: Hell yeah. Those crazy kids tear the places up about as quickly as I can fix them.

TA: And you're in charge of this Oxford Writers Circle as well, right?

SA: That's right. I started the group a few years ago. I generally run most of the meetings, organize things. Make out the lesson plans.

TA: So you're kind of an administrator as well as a teacher in that role?

SA: You could say that. I've been writing for a while, so I try to share my experience.

TA: Had anything published?

SA: Sure. A few things here and there. I've got a collection of short stories that I'm trying to sell right now.

TA: I hope this doesn't offend you, but I was expecting the head of this group to be some college professor or something.

SA: Most people do feel that way. I mean, I'm not exactly a bestseller. But, I've been doing this for several years. And I personally believe that experience is the main thing. Life. That's what's it's all about. Some of these people spend too much time in classrooms and not enough time living. I guess that's what gives me the authority in the Writers Circle. Just experience.

TA: Okay. Can you tell me how you met Zoe Chase?

SA: She started coming around. We had an opening at the Writers Circle so we let her join. She had this really exciting, really vibrant personality and in many ways, she just took over.

TA: How would you describe your personal feelings toward her?

SA: Initially, I was captivated by her. She was just so energetic. Of course, as time went on, I started to see some of her negative qualities. I mean, everyone has negatives.

TA: And what were hers?

SA: She could be dominating. She often took over the meetings and could be bossy. Some of the other people often complained about her, but I thought her energy helped the group. Sometimes, you can get too comfortable. Or people get too scared to be honest. They're so afraid of hurting someone's feelings that they don't tell the truth. Zoe had no problem with that. If something wasn't any good, she let the writer know that. And occasionally, someone's feelings would get a little ruffled.

TA: Did your feelings ever get ruffled in regards to her?

SA: Of course. We had our differences of opinion. Writing is a hard business and we disagreed from time to time.

TA: Is that all? Just differences of opinion over a story here and there?

SA: Sure.

TA: Well, some information seems to indicate that there was something more to it than that. That maybe there was a more specific problem between you two.

SA: Oh, yeah. I guess you're talking about her broken promise. That's no real secret. The whole group knew about it.

TA: Well, can you give me more details?

SA: She lied. Plain and simple. When she came close to signing her book deal, she told me that she would help me out a bit. Pass my book onto her agent and publisher. There's so much competition out there, any small amount of help can make a world of difference.

TA: And she didn't actually do that?

SA: Hell no. Once she signed that deal, we all weren't good enough for her. She kept making excuses, saying that she had forgotten or that her agent was out of town or something. Finally, she just came right out and said my book wasn't good enough. The nerve of her. Our group made her and then she's going around telling people they're not good enough.

TA: Just how mad were you?

SA: I can't even describe it. I worked on that damn book for three years. And all I needed a bit of help. The publishers don't seem to want it, but I just need a break. And all she had to do was hand it over. I wasn't asking for much. But the little bitch was too good for that.

TA: From what I told, y'all got into quite a fight about it on the night that she was murdered.

SA: We did fight. But I'll go ahead and tell you that I had nothing to do with her death. Don't even try to twist things around into that.

TA: Why don't you just tell me what happened?

SA: I asked her about it once again. We were out on the balcony here at the bookstore. That's when she told me it wasn't good enough. I kind of lost it and we began yelling. I mean, what does she know? She isn't that great of a writer, she just got lucky. So we blew up at each other for a few minutes and then she went inside and that was it.

TA: Did you threaten her?

SA: Of course not.

TA: Did you try to intimidate her?

SA: No. I told you, I was certainly mad at her, but I didn't want to harm her.

TA: Mr. Atwater, I have a witness who says that you yelled at her something along the lines of "payback is a bitch." Did you say that?

SA: Uh, no. I don't think so. Maybe I did. We were arguing. I don't remember everything we said. You remember every word of your last argument?

TA: No I don't. But then again, the last person I argued with didn't end up dead.

SA: I'll tell you one more time, I didn't have anything to do with that.

TA: Okay. We'll see. Our office will contact you if we need anything else. Thanks for your time.

End interview 6:51 p.m.

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