Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Mystery Fiction in a Post-Factual World with S. W. Hubbard


“The difference between fiction and reality is that fiction has to make sense.”
--Tom Clancy

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.

37 comments:

  1. I’m not quite certain that mystery novels . . . or anything else . . . can restore the sanity of a world gone mad, but it is heartening to know that mystery writers are trying. I remember following the Dannemora escape on the nightly news and I’m looking forward to reading “False Cast.”

    My favorite truth is stranger than fiction?
    The cat burglar attempting to break into a home through a skylight loses his footing and slides down the roof. Now he’s stuck, so he calls nine-one-one for help . . . .
    The thief who, having already snatched a laptop, a cell phone, and more, goes into the storeroom to see what else he can take. But the door’s broken lock keeps it from opening from the inside, effectively trapping the thief inside the storeroom. So he calls the police to rescue him . . . .

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  2. S.W., it's so good to see you here on Jungle Reds. I've got Take the Bait on my Kindle and hope to get to it soon. Julia has made the Adirondacks a favorite setting for me.

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    1. Thanks, Kathy. I hope you enjoy meeting Frank Bennett!

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  3. Oops, wasn't finished. False Cast sounds fascinating. Like Joan, I remember following that story of the two escaped convicts.

    I think that mystery novels are quite satisfying these days in particular. When there is a solution to chaos and bad guys, or bad girls, get caught, it's a comfort in a time of bad behavior going unchecked.

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  4. Sue, I'm SO happy Frank Bennett is coming back to life! Loved that series and will order the new book as soon as I finish typing this.

    I was on a four-mile lunchtime run a decade ago on a nice spring day when I heard a phone ringing. Okay, I thought, house windows open, phone ringing. It got louder and louder. I looked down into the curbside leaves from last fall to see a...phone! Ringing. Of course I answered it. A crew had been working on the road earlier and a guy dropped it. I arranged to get it back to him, and then pondered for the rest of my run how to put the ringing phone on the ground into a story!

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  5. Good morning,Reds and readers! It's always a happy day for me when I'm guesting here on the blog. Joan, I love dumb criminal stories! But we are all so conditioned to dial 911 when we're in trouble that I guess even crooks do it. Edith, I'm sure you can use that ringing phone as the inciting incident in a crime novel (just not in your Midwife series :) )

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  6. Susan, I'm fascinated by the title, False Cast... feels like multiple meanings lurking in there. Was that yor intention?

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  7. All the titles in the series have fishing related titles because the books are set in Trout Run, NY (Take the Bait, The Lure, Blood Knot, Dead Drift, and now, False Cast). Of course, I know NOTHING about fishing, so I have to Google fishing terms every time I'm titling a book. Remarkably, there are a lot of fishing terms with ominous double meanings. I thought False Cast was particularly good for this book because poor Frank Bennett is desperately casting about for a solution to the crime that doesn't incriminate anyone he cares about.

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  8. This sounds so great! And yes, a 2 foot hole in the cell! Amazing.
    My husband had a client whose codefendant was charged with robbing a federal facility. The alleged robber cut himself during the break-in and left some DNA at the scene of the crime. When they did the blood test there was a match. It was a guy who had been convicted of an earlier crime, and who was out on probation. Wearing a GPS bracelet!
    He was not hard to find…

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  9. Reality is the wellspring for fiction.I like the way Frank Bennett returns and hasn't skipped a beat. Seems more mellow now but that's just me.We'll stock "False Cast" at bookshop and guage readers' reactions.Good luck with new release.

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    1. Thanks, Jerry--I appreciate your support. And yes, Frank is mellower :)

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  10. Welcome Susan! I'm so glad Frank is back too--I have him in my pile. Love the title too...

    I find myself reading more and more these days because the news and newspapers make me so crazy. So a big hurray for all the writers who know how to distribute justice and wrap up all the pesky loose ends:)

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  11. Committing a crime while you're wearing an ankle bracelet! Hank, that's exactly what I'm talking about--imagine putting that in one of your novels. Your editor would flip!

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  12. Susan, congratulations on the new release! I'm looking forward to reading it. I was very drawn in by the story that inspired "False Cast." Maybe because I spent three decades as a divorce lawyer, I kept seeing the escape as a very strange and sorry love story from the perspective of the woman who helped and later the reports of her husband who stood by her and reaffirmed his love for her. No, you cannot make this stuff up.

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  13. exactly, Susan! Anyone would say… Oh, no one would ever do that…! And since they can trace where he was while he is wearing it, they traced him to the scene of the crime!

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  14. I agree, Michelle. The female prison worker threw away her whole life and nearly got herself and her husband killed--all for a little romantic thrill. Seems like an awfully extreme way to jolt your marriage out of its rut!

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  15. More new books to read! And even better, a free book! Thanks so much, Susan--I too find myself turning to fiction because my blood pressure starts to go up when I'm exposed to much of the news these days. The titles are great and so is the setting--I can't wait to meet Frank.

    In the dumb criminals category--locally a man called the police for help when he locked himself out of his car at a convenience store. Inside the car? Lots of drug parapharnalia, exceedingly strong smell of weed, baggies of said product ready for sale.... To make matters worse, I mean, he had a cell phone--all he had to do was wait for an extra set of keys. But hey, a good man doesn't keep his customers waiting!

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  16. Too strange for fiction. Some years ago, two friends of mine arranged to borrow a car from another friend so they could head up to the cottage for the weekend. The car was left parked in front of the house, door unlocked, key under the mat. All went as planned, except they accidentally borrowed a neighbour's car instead, also left unlocked on the street with the key under the mat.

    The ensuing adventure, involving another neighbour witnessing the theft, running errands in a stolen car with a child in her car seat in the back, and finally, the police, made for wonderful telling. (As the police told them when it was all finally straightened out, "You'd be amazed how often this kind of thing happen."

    So I gleefully grabbed the events to use in a short crime story (I added a body in the trunk). A lot of work went into it before I finally had to admit defeat. The coincidence of the neighbour's similar car being left ready for the taking was just too too impossible for fiction.

    Still wish I could use it somehow.

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  17. Ann in Rochester, persistantFebruary 21, 2017 at 9:58 AM

    Welcome Susan, and thanks for writing another book to be added to my virtual pile (on my Kindle.)

    This prison break was a bit of an edge-of-the-chair experience for me although Dannemora is three hundred miles from Rochester, though not all that far when you think about it. And wasn't there a gunman loose in Pennsylvania at about the same time? Our home grown terrorists are way more scary than any refugee from the war-torn Middle East.

    I'll look forward to see what you've done with this stranger than fiction tale.

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  18. Welcome to JRW, Susan!

    We were talking about titles for books the other day on JRW. False Cast is the perfect title from your description of your new book.

    To answer your first question, I was reminded of a line from Carolyn Hart's Death on Demand books. It was something like "it is not always fair, which is why there are mystery novels where justice is served." There are some mystery novels that restores a little sanity to the world, IMHO.

    To answer your second question, I cannot think of "truth is stranger than fiction" story. However, I was reminded of a novel by Agatha Christie called Murder on the Orient Express. I thought about the Lindbergh baby case and the killer got his comeuppance in Agatha Christie's book.

    There has been many "dumb criminal" stories. The story about the two prison escapees reminded me of a similar story in California. There were two escapees from a CA prison. Both were caught by the police eventually but one of them was killed because this person would not surrender without a gunfight.

    Adding your book to my TBR list.

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  19. Susan D--that's a great story about the switched borrowed cars. I think you could make the coincidence work if you established that people in this community often left cars unlocked (it wouldn't work in NYC or Boston!). I always say, you can use a coincidence to set up a story, but not to resolve it. There's sort of a running gag in my Frank Bennett books that Adirondackers leave their houses unlocked or hide the key in the most obvious place, and this is totally true to life. We built a vacation house in Jay, NY (High Peaks region), and eventually we sold it and now rent it back from the man we sold it to. Whenever we rent the house, he leaves the key for us in the mailbox!

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  20. There are so many stories of stupid criminals. The guys who robbed a bank then posted a picture to Instagram of themselves holding the cash and the caption was pretty much a confession. The man who shot two people (neither of whom was the intended victim) in a local mall, and one of the ways the police tracked him down was he later posted a picture of himself on Twitter wearing the same clothes and holding a gun...mind boggling. And yes, all of it would be rejected by an editor.

    Congratulations on the new book!

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  21. Susan, False Cast sounds great! I think the whole country was following the events at Dannemora.

    Responding to the several posts about how no editor would accept someone committing a crime while wearing an ankle bracelet: we just had a major crime like that in the news here in Columbus, Ohio. An OSU student went missing and her body was found a few days later in a park on the other side of town. DNA evidence incriminated a recently released felon who was -- you guessed it -- wearing an ankle bracelet, the data from which showed him at the place and time where she disappeared and then going directly to the park where her body was found. A tragic outcome, but once again "Thank God for stupid criminals!"

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  22. Can mystery novels restore a little sanity to the world? Nope, the world's always been nuts, IMO. :) But good mystery novels can make the craziness a lot more fun. Susan, I'll have to check out your series. It sounds great!

    My favorite "truth is stranger than fiction" story is about the tomato that dialed 911 when it went bad. Really. :)

    It happened in the early 1990s, when cordless phones started to become common. (All I remember is that it was somewhere in the USA.) Police broke into a house from which a 911 call had been made, but no one was there. The police couldn't find any sign of a break-in (other than theirs, of course) or any other kind of disturbance. Finally one of them noticed that a cordless phone and its charging base were directly under a wire basket that hung from the ceiling. In the basket was a rotten tomato.

    Eventually, they learned that the family had been away on vacation for several weeks. When the tomato went bad, its juice dripped onto the cordless phone and its base, shorting out the battery. A problem with some early cordless phones was that, if the battery shorted out, the phone sometimes started dialing random numbers. And, in this case, eventually 9-1-1 was dialed. I've always wondered if, in an alternate world, the tomato could be charged with making a false 911 call? Or maybe the courts would decide that the rotten tomato really did need help, and was therefore justified in dialing 911.

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    1. That's the first time I'd heard of a 911-calling tomato. What I hate are mysteries where the hero goes to call 911 and her cell phone conveniently dies.

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  23. Dumb crook stories abound. How many have been caught because they posted a picture on Facebook or tweeted about their crime? Years ago in Cleveland Ohio a radio show had Knuckleheads in the News once a week. Here in Houston we have Dumbass of the Week. It seems like someone is always getting stuck in an air vent while breaking into a business.

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  24. Welcome to JRW, Susan! "False Cast" sounds intriguing, and I really like the cover. It's very atmospheric!

    I'm always amazed by the people who call 911 when McDonald's gets their order wrong. You know, when they want Chicken Nuggets, but the fryolater is on the fritz? It's nuts!

    I think many people read mysteries and thrillers because justice is often served, and the bad guys get what's coming to them. Humans crave order (at least this one does) and sometimes the only place to find it is in the pages of a book!

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  25. Hi, Susan, I love the premise of your mystery. A prison break and the mayhem in the communities surrounding it would be very compelling. I've always felt mysteries give us the satisfaction of good triumphing over evil - most of the time - which is certainly not always the case in real life.

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  26. So happy to see another Frank Bennet mystery! It's a series I recommend frequently.

    Susan, I'm jealous you got the jump on writing the book about the real-life Clinton escape! I suspect you'll see a lot of writers who set their fiction in Upstate raise the issue over the next few years...

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  27. Thanks for the warm welcome from al the Reds! It's great to be here with you, and in particular, with Julia, my partner is Adirondack crime. The two of us are responsible for raising the per capita murder rate in the Adirondacks to South Side Chicago proportions :) Yes, Julia, I think there's lots of mileage left in that prison break story. Of course, I subscribe to the old theory that there are only three plots: a stranger comes to town, a man goes on a journey, and something's lost and can't be found. False Cast is a hybrid of 2 & 3.

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  28. Welcome to Jungle Reds, Susan. The Adirondacks are so beautiful, I am glad their is another series with this setting for me to enjoy.

    I think mystery, or tragedy does help restore balance. We can experience catharsis by identifying with the experiences of pain and then redemption. And is this not what a mystery does?

    Truth stranger than fiction? Several years a go in Tampa a high speed car chase ended when the carjacker turned right and skidded down a street that dead ended at the County Jail.

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  29. And of course plot #1 and plot #2 are exactly the same--if you change the point of view!

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  30. This is one of the most interesting blogs I've ever read! I do believe mystery novels-esp cozies-can offer an escape and bring order and satisfying conclusions into the "real" world, if only briefly.

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  31. This is one of the most interesting blogs I've ever read! I do believe mystery novels-esp cozies-can offer an escape and bring order and satisfying conclusions into the "real" world, if only briefly.

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  32. Welcome, Susan. Looking forward to your new book My roots are in the North Country and I know the beautiful Adirondacks pretty well ( I have a good, true "dumb crook" story, but the computer has eaten it 2x. Not meant to be!)

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