Many, many years ago there was a horrendous murder that took place not too far from where I live. It was in all of the newspapers and has been a subject in a few books. The events leading to the murder began in lower Manhattan and ended in a remote smokehouse in a sleepy town in Rockland County.
A few years later I had a summer job as a health supervisor in a local camp and had to drive every day over this mountainous and winding road. While many of the houses were set back from the road the mailboxes dotted the curves, for some reason one of them seemed to stick out more than the others. Then I remembered the stories I had read and I realized I was driving past that horrendous murder site. It was actually haunting to think of the young man who had died there.
Eventually I wrote the setting into a murder scene of my own (fictional!), Final Sin opens with that murder scene although the events and victims were different. It was nearly cathartic. I say nearly because the research I did in order to bring some reality to my scenes was very frightening. It was terrifying to think that a human being could be so cruel to another, but as a writer I wanted my story to really hold my reader's attention and actually make them shudder. I guess it was kind of mean, but I actually got a thrill when I heard one reader had to put the book down, go to her kitchen and bring back a knife in order to keep reading!
So yes, I took the scene of a real murder and made it into my own wicked story and driving past the location no longer feels so threatening. In some ways I feel a little bit guilty because I certainly am not making light of the victim's horrid fate, but in some weird way I conquered my fear.
Now while I did have to do some research, I already had a base knowledge about the professions of the two main characters, I had been a (volunteer) EMT and road with my local ambulance corps for several years, so did my husband and to no surprise so did both of our kids. Between us we had so many stories of some rather unusual calls, some hysterically funny and some terribly sad. I can't speak of specifics (HIPPA laws and all that) but I did manage to insert some winners into the story. (One of them was the woman who wanted the paramedics to use the defibrillator to start her car!)
I actually felt some relief when the "case was solved" in my story and did give some honest thought to putting the story down (once it was published) — and yet, somewhere in the back of my mind I felt like the whole story wasn't yet complete. Somewhere in the story one of the supporting characters became real and I was driven to tell his story. That was how my book Hyphema came to be, we'll talk more about it next week, and that is an invitation to come back to this spot.
buy links for Final Sin