Thursday, April 19, 2007

When Research and Real Life Collide.

Like Law & Order, whose stories are "ripped from the headlines," I often use news events as a springboards for my fiction. Many authors do. We read a news report or see a television documentary that inspires us to start playing "what if" games in our minds. Suddenly, we have the makings of a whole new fictional world. It's a common way stories are born.

But it's the times when that process works (coincidentally) in reverse that can be a little creepy.

Currently I’m researching mass murderers for story I’m working on. In addition, I’m trading emails with a police officer who is graciously answering my questions about police procedure for dealing with an active shooter in a school setting.

I have to admit I was a little freaked out when the real life tragedy at Virginia Tech started unfolding.

It’s happened to me before. In late August of 2001, I was writing a series with two fabulous authors, Cassie Miles and Adrianne Lee. Our series focused on terrorism, and in the first book, terrorists hijacked a jet and planned to fly it into the White House. The editor we were working with had some misgivings. She thought the scenario was too unrealistic.

Two weeks later, it no longer seemed that way.

After 9/11, I and the other authors found we didn’t want to write the story anymore. All three of us really had a hard time working our way back into believing what we were penning was fiction. So what did we do? We took a week or two off. We changed the storyline somewhat. We made ourselves move on. I was the lucky one, since my story focused more on home-grown environmental terrorists than radical Islamists and airplanes. But with our editor's help, the three of us eventually reworked the series and convinced ourselves we were writing fiction again.

And what will I do this time?

I’m going to focus on the reason I love to write and read crime stories in the first place. I want to make things right. I want justice. I want the innocent to be saved and the guilty punished. It doesn’t always work out that way in real life. But it does in my books.

And that’s the power of fiction.

Ann Voss Peterson

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