Tuesday, November 9, 2010

True Crime, Jungle Red Style

ROBERTA: The most realistic crime story in any of my eight books appeared in the first of my Rebecca Butterman series. While in my last year of graduate school, the woman who lived next door to me shot herself. Her body remained in that apartment for three days before anyone missed her. As you can imagine, the horror of that incident lingered with me for many years. It finally surfaced in DEADLY ADVICE. Of course, Dr. Butterman is quickly led to wonder whether the her neighbor's death really was a suicide and she sets off to solve the mystery. (Something I would never have done, no matter how badly I felt...)

How true to life is the crime in your books? Do you rip stories right from the headlines, or make everything up, or something in between?

HANK: I make them up. Totally make them up. Well, kind of. Stories I've covered as a reporter sneak into the books, in a way, but not specifically and not completely. And lawsuits my husband has handled sometimes work their way in, too.

Not word for word, you know. But just little tidbits. Snippets. Details.

I know there are big wig authors who just take the whole deal, plot, characters, outcome, all of it, and transpose it into fiction. That kind of feels like cheating to me. At this stage, at least!

JAN: I often get a germ from a real news story. Like the grandmother in Lowell who got killed in a staged accident, but then I turn it over in my head for years and it morphs into more the inspiration for the story, rather than the entire story (Yesterday's Fatal).

There's probably a bit of true crime in every novel I've written. But aren't we all awed and inspired by bad behavior?

HALLIE: Probably. Like Jan, for me real crimes are good jumping-off points. There was a case where a woman who'd been shot in the head testified against the man she said shot her. The defense questioned whether, given the extent of her brain injury, she could remember what happened. Twice there was a hung jury. What fascinated me about it was the idea that a person could "remember" something that didn't happen... and "forget" something that did. "Eyewitness testimony" is notoriously suspect. That was the the theme of my first mystery novel, "Amnesia."

RHYS: Several story lines in my Molly Murphy books have their origin in a real crime of the times. The Triangle Factory fire, for example, when the factory owners locked all the doors, thus burning the girls alive. And of course Death of Riley exactly follows the assassination of President McKinley. The Lady Georgie books have crimes that are too far fetched or silly to be real, but my short stories sometimes have their basis in something I've read in a newspaper.


  1. I have a few good real crimes in my file, but their sparks haven't made it into a book yet. Considering that I've only written 1.5 books, I guess I still have time. Characteristics of real (nasty) people? Absolutely!


  2. Sonny Boy Williamson I and Little Walter Jacobs were two legendary blues harmonica players murdered in Chicago--1948 & 1968. They provided a jumping off point for my crime novel, RIVER BOTTOM BLUES, involving the serial killing of blues harmonica musicians.

  3. Ricky, what a terrific idea. SO you put those stories together and..hmm. Brilliant.

    Edith, just wait. Hallie calls a file like that a "compost" pile..I have one, too. And it's so interesting--soon, all those stories will come together to create something very new!

  4. Given my background, I can't help but draw on experience when I use crimes in my books. Sometimes I draw on the personality of a criminal involved in a real life crime, sometimes the events, and always the investigative techniques. I've been "up close and personal" on a few head-line making crimes but I tend to shy away from those for some weird reason.

    I do believe that anyone who writes "reality" draws from real life to provide realism. Heh! Did that make sense? Crime mysteries and thrillers should be grounded in fact of some sort to be believable. Getting forensics or investigative techniques wrong is worse than waving a red flag. Those HAVE to be right. Using real situations also gives the author (and thus the reader) a certain amount of credibility because their fictional situation *feels* real.

    Okay...I'm stopping now. LOL. I hate the time change and I obviously haven't had enough coffee. Back to work on my crime. My heroine is trapped in a burning house at the moment. *bwahaha*

  5. Well, I did include in Speaking of Murder an incident that really happened to me that seemed too strange even for fiction, but it wasn't a crime. But that's another blog topic (already covered here, I think).


  6. Silver,
    I agree, but that much of what we write necessarily comes from eality, but the only problem with reality is that sometimes you have to tone it down for it to be believeable in fiction.

    Strange, but true.

    okay, my security word is Oveness -- doesn't that sound like it should be a cooking critique word -- as in the bread had a lovely oveness about it.

  7. My first Sid Chance mystery, The Surest Poison, was based on a real case a PI friend of mine investigated around Jackson, TN a few years ago. I took the basics of the case, moved it close to Nashville, and added a few murders my friend didn't have to contend with. Made a good toxic pollution story and a good mystery for Sid to solve.