The winner of the signed copy of Nancy Cole Silverman's BEYOND A DOUBT is Susanne! Susanne, please contact Nancy (at) NancyColeSilverman dot com for your book!
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: 2 INMATES REMAIN AT LARGE AFTER ESCAPE AT UPSTATE FACILITY reads the New York Times headline. I'm sure folks in the northern Adirondack area are worried, and for good reason. But when I saw the story, I was thrilled. Why? Because the Clinton Correctional Facility, colloquially known as 'Dannemora' for the town in which it sits, is the closest upstate maximum security prison to my fictional town of Millers Kill. I've had bad guys come out of Dannemora in my books. So naturally, when I read about the astonishing prison break - the inmates cut through steel and concrete with power tools and tunneled over 600 feet to escape through a manhole cover! - I thought about a similar daring getaway for one of my novels.
I admit, I love to read news accounts of crimes. Some real events are far too fantastic for fiction. Would readers believe a bad guy holding a family captive before killing them ordered take out pizza? And that his DNA left on a half-eaten crust would lead to his capture? I don't think so. Other crimes are too simple for a mystery: half the homicides in Maine are committed by one family member on another, and the perp is often standing around with the gun, crying, when the cops arrive. But there are other newspaper accounts that stay with me. (Literally, as I clip or copy-and-paste interesting stories for my inspiration file.) The sensational account of two military academy students from Texas who killed a girl to 'purify' their relationship was the kernel for the murder in my first book, IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER.
It wasn't crime related, but an article in Vermont Life Magazine about Central American workers in north country dairy farms gave me the setting for I SHALL NOT WANT. And the haunting unsolved murder of Ashley Ouellette in Scarborough, ME, gave me the central image for the killings in my work-in-progress, HID FROM OUR EYES. 15-year old Ashley was found lying in the middle of a country road by an early morning driver. She had left a friend's house at 2am to walk home and was never seen alive after that. Despite some suspicious evidence linking her to one of the boys living in the house, no one was ever arrested, and her 1999 death remains a mystery.
How about you, Reds? Have you used real-life news accounts as inspiration in your books? Do you keep a clipping file? What are some of the memorable crime stories that have stuck with you?
SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: The mystery of MR. CHURCHILL'S SECRETARY was inspired by a clipping I saw about Nazi code hidden in a London newspaper advertisement for women's fashions. Seriously! Nazis hid morse code in the dots and dashes of the women's dresses.... I love it when people say, "oh, that's too fantastic to have happened in your plot"— because it really did happen! Truth is truly stranger than fiction....
HALLIE EPHRON: The murder of Lana Turner's boyfriend Johnny Stompanato inspired NIGHT NIGHT, SLEEP TIGHT. Turner's 14-year-old daughter confessed to that crime that's fascinated me ever since I was 10 and we lived around the corner from the house where the murder took place.
You're right, Julia, sometimes true crime is just too bizarre to make believable fiction. My favorite recent case is a Boston defense attorney who specializes in representing drunk drivers. He was arrested for driving his boat drunk -- there were 13 passengers including five 19-year-old girls on the boat, and he'd been driving erratically. One of the girls jumped into the water to retrieve a seat cushion and lost her arm when the boat's propeller ripped into her. He refused to take a breathalyzer test. His boat is called the Naut Guilty. Can't make this stuff up.
RHYS BOWEN: I have used so many news stories. The Triangle fire in New York, for example. The latest starts the EDGE OF DREAMS. When I begin a new Molly book I read the New York Times for that month, and find that on 9/11/1905 an elevated train took a curve too fast and plunged from its tracks to the street below. The problem was that it was diverted to the wrong track, and they never found out who was responsible. Perfect stuff for my story!
And yes, Susan, truth is always stranger than fiction!
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, absolutely! And in fact, my books are often ripped from my own headlines! Stranger than fiction, too! THE WRONG GIRL (what if an adoption agency was reunited birth parents with the wrong children?) came from a news story we covered. What caused this in real life was such a coincidence you could never put it in a book-but that didn't stop me from creating my own solution.
TRUTH BE TOLD comes from my extensive investigations into foreclosure and mortgage fraud--once, interviewing a housing inspector, I realized there were lot of empty homes--where bank employees had the keys! Hmm. I thought.
And like you, Julia, I was thrilled to see an article in the Washington Post last week where some con artist was caught doing (minus the murder) exactly the same scheme I had cooked up in the book. Hmm.
WHAT YOU SEE (coming in October) hinges on a murder case my husband handled! As well as a story we did on Boston's surveillance cameras, and all those in-house videos shot in hotels. I bet I was the only person in the universe to (very secretly) be "happy" when the Ray Rice video came out. Proves my story could happen!
LUCY BURDETTE: Me too, I'm a terrible magpie. I'll grab any shiny bits of character and plot I see lying around and work them into my books.
For FATAL RESERVATIONS, I borrowed from an actual crime that was plaguing Key West for a good year. The Key West cemetery sits in the middle of the island, with some lovely old conch homes all around it. A quiet, safe neighborhood...until the cemetery burglar began to strike. He (she?) would enter homes at night, while the residents slept, and steal money and electronics--often from the room they were sleeping in. No one could identify the person with camera or fingerprints or any of the usual tools. As you can imagine, the citizens were perturbed and so were the police.
Oh yeah baby, I'm using that...
JULIA: How about you, dear readers? What are the news stories that stick in your memory? And have any of them inspired you to (fictional) crime?