“The difference between fiction and reality is that fiction has to make sense.”
HALLIE EPHRON: Today we welcome Susan W. Hubbard who writes mysteries with a twist. Her new series novel FALSE CAST was inspired by one of the more bizarre news stories ever. I remember reading about the brazen escape of two convicted killers from a prison in Dannemora, New York in 2015, and thinking this is just too bizarre.
I'll let her tell it -- how real life inspires us and sometimes leaves it to crime fiction writer to make it credible.
S. W. HUBBARD: Fiction writers have always been inspired by real life. Our job used to be to take the framework of real life and strip away all the dull laundry-folding /grass-mowing/car pool-driving part and leave readers with only the witty remarks, smoldering kisses, and tragic deaths. We’d shake up the pieces, but make sure they all clicked together by the last page. Enhanced reality: more intriguing, more vibrant, more fun, but still plausible.
Then came 2017, the dawn of post-factual civilization. Suddenly, it’s not so easy to be a novelist. Every day, the news headlines serve up plot lines wilder than anything a writer could fabricate. Russians hacking our election, country club members snapping pictures of the nuclear code bearer and posting them on Facebook, fake terrorist massacres. Every day people murmur, “you can’t make this stuff up.” And it’s true. If any author invented this and put it in a novel, her editor would come after her with a red pen flowing. Too wild. Too implausible. Too over the top.
Because fiction has to make sense. Real life, on the other hand, doesn’t have an editor.
More’s the pity.
So, can over-the-top reality ever benefit a fiction writer? My new release, False Cast, Book 5 in the Frank Bennett Adirondack Mountain Mystery Series, was inspired by the brazen real-life escape of two murderers from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York in 2015. The case of Richard Matt and David Sweat captivated the nation as the two killers slipped through the heating tunnels of a maximum security prison, and then for three weeks eluded hundreds of law enforcement officers searching for them all over upstate New York.
If their escape plan had turned up in the pages of a novel, it would have been rejected by every publisher in America. Richard Matt, an amateur artist, bribed a guard by giving him original paintings, so the guard helped smuggle tools through the metal detectors. A female prison employee with a crush on the killers hid hacksaws in packages of ground beef. And a two-foot square hole in the prisoners’ cell went unnoticed for months. And all that came before their nightly explorations of the steam pipes behind the walls of their cells.
Susan, can you top this? Not even going to try!
I was less interested in writing about the actual mechanics of a prison break and more interested in how the escape transformed everyday life in the small Adirondack towns where the prisoners were hiding. Who was helping them? What was their endgame? Who was in danger?
And the Keystone Kops-like antics of the escape provided me with plenty of plotting cover. My prisoner in False Cast escapes while being transported from the Essex County Jail to his felony hearing. And while I’m sure police officers everywhere will howl in protest at the sloppy procedures that enable his escape (We would never do that!), all I have to do is point to that undetected two foot hole in the Dannemora cell to justify my plotting. And if anyone objects to the motivations of my fictional accomplices, I can point to that painting as evidence that people are driven by strange desires.
After all the drama of their escape, Sweat and Matt came to a pathetic end: one killed, the other wounded and recaptured by the police. This is where the mystery novelist steps up to the plate. Allow me to fix this saga with a dramatic climax, some well-deserved justice, and a touching epiphany. What power I have to improve the real world!
Whether I’m reading or writing, I want my mystery novels to make sense of the craziness and impose order on a world in disarray. Do you think mystery novels can restore a little sanity to a world gone mad? What’s your favorite “truth is stranger than fiction” story?
False Cast is available on Kindle and in paperback on Amazon. For those who haven’t yet tried the Frank Bennett Adirondack Mountain Mystery Series, The Lure will be FREE on Kindle February 24-28, so be sure to download a copy.
S.W. Hubbard is the author of the Palmyrton Estate Sale Mysteries, Another Man’s Treasure, Treasure of Darkness, and This Bitter Treasure. She is also is the author of four Police Chief Frank Bennett mystery novels set in the Adirondack Mountains: Take the Bait, The Lure (originally published as Swallow the Hook),Blood Knot, and False Cast, as well as a short story collection featuring Frank Bennett, Dead Drift. Take the Bait was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Mystery Novel. Her short stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and the anthologies Crimes by Moonlight, The Mystery Box, and Adirondack Mysteries. She lives in Morristown, NJ, where she teaches creative writing to enthusiastic teens and adults, and expository writing to reluctant college freshmen. To contact her, join her mailing list, or read the first chapter of any of her books, visit: http://www.swhubbard.net.
Follow her on Twitter @swhubbardauthor or like her Facebook author page. Connect with S.W. Hubbard on Pinterest and Goodreads too.