Thursday, February 18, 2010

Aspiring crime writer making crime

JAN: There are a lot of scary things about Amy Bishop, the Harvard-educated neurobiologist who opened fire at the University of Alabama and killed three of her colleagues.

The first, of course, is her motive. Innocent people died because this woman didn't get her tenure.

Second, is that she "accidentally" shot her brother in her home in Braintree when she was 21-years old, and was let off after the most cursory of investigations.

But what I find personally frightening? ? She was an aspiring writer (a second cousin of John Irving it turns out), who once belonged to a writers group, and that three of her unpublished novels, all thrillers, sound sort of interesting.

As crime writers we answer a lot of questions about "where we get our ideas." We go to seminars on blood spatter and DNA testing. I've been to the shooting range so I could get the feel of a gun. Often, we often make frequent jokes all the people we "kill off."

But it wasn't so imaginary for Amy. Has anyone else thought about this: And will it cross your mind the next time you're asked how you choose your story lines or whether you'd consider allowing your protagonist to shoot a gun?

HANK: I've thought about it a lot. And it just shows you how fragile everything is. And how law enforcement can--apparently--make some huge mistakes. (No further comment here..) Will it change how I think? About people and motives and fear and, um, cover ups--maybe. Sure. About how people can conflate reality and fiction? Perhaps. Although--that's kind of classic. Whether a main character can use a gun? No.

HALLIE: True crime is just awful awful awful. Real victims. Real hatred and malice. Our books don't come close to telling it like it can be.

JAN: Actually in the Guardian, crime writer David Peace, author of the Red Riding quartet, said he thinks we should all turn to non-fiction because there is no reason to make up crime. There's so much real stuff.

I agree Hallie, our books don't come close to telling it like it is. But I think that may come as a welcome relief to our readers.

So has anyone else out there been wondering what Amy Bishop might have been like in a writers group? ( Especially after someone criticized her chapter?)


  1. And she lived in my town when she was in that writer's group. Just up the road. But they moved to Alabama just about the time I moved to Ipswich, I believe, so our paths didn't cross. Scary. She was apparently a terrible neighbor while she lived here, too.

    But no, I don't think it's going to change how I write, think, or interact in my writer's group (one member of which has guns at home...).


  2. RHYS: Obviously for some people the line between fantasy and reality is tenuous, as it was for Amy Bishop.
    I've noted that most mystery writers are really nice people because they get out their agressions on the page. They can shoot a person who has annoyed them by making him/her a character in a book.
    And when we are writing I think we sometimes tend to forget the horror of true crime--victims pleading for their lives, blood, screams of pain. Most people don't die cleanly. Especially if we write cozies, our murders are sanitized (and perhaps our readers want it that way), but I never make light of a murder in my books--even the humorous ones. I always think that it's someone's brother or child.
    But I do sometimes worry about the inherent dangers of meeting fans, declining to read or blurb unplubished novels. Sometimes I get really unstable fan letters and I wonder whether the person will show up at a book signing one day--with a gun.

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  4. Hi Edith,
    Wow. I can't imagine having someone with anger management issues in a writer's group. Especially if she was reportedly a terrible neighbor.

    I hear you on scary fans. When I used to have message board on my website, I had one guy who kept writing in tell me he was one of the characters I killed off and that I got it all wrong, he wasn't dead. He did it with a couple of different characters, and I don't think he was trying to be funny.

    I guess I 'll think about Amy the most when I'm saying the kind of thing you also say -- that every mystery writer I've known has been even-keeled and non-violent.


  5. I believe she was in my writer's group. It's why I've changed my name and have an unlisted phone number.

  6. pretty funny rose. Good thing I know you don't live in Ipswich, or I'd try to do a story on you for the Globe.