Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Current events

After I began querying my crime novel, an incident somewhat similar to an incident in the book, and mentioned in the query, happened in real life - and appeared in the news. How should I handle future queries?

I'd appreciate any advice you can give me.

Violence is such a part of our lives (to my deep and abiding sorrow, and yours too I bet) that you can't NOT write about it these days.
If you're worried about appearing to exploit a tragedy, you might consider a line at the close of the query that says "Events have overtaken my book and what was fiction now looks like the news, to my very deep sorrow."

There are so many towns now that have some sort of recent violence that even if you tried to change the name or location, you have no way of making sure that events didn't catch up with you again.

My client Dana Haynes and I used to laugh very ruefully that he should work for the CIA cause he was so good at writing about things before they actually happened. 

One of the reasons we read crime novels is to help us deal with the chaos of real life violence. Novels where justice prevails and the bad guyz get their comeuppance are solace.  Think  of your novel as something that will provide respite from fear and worry, and you won't be worried about seeming exploitative.


Stacy said...

I can't remember who said it, and a cursory Google search is failing me so I'll have to paraphrase, but one of my favorite quotes about writing is: Crime writers try to fix the chaos, and poets try to live with it.

I think that's true for me.

Kathy Joyce said...

I am disheartened that what I used to love as spine-tingling fiction is now depressing journalism.

Kitty said...

My client Dana Haynes and I used to laugh very ruefully that he should work for the CIA cause he was so good at writing about things before they actually happened.

As a matter of fact, the Analytic Red Cell is an elite group of writers and artists who dream up terrorist scenarios for the Department of Homeland Security. Brad Thor talks about his experience with the Red Cell.

Peter said...

My first novel, released in 2012, featured a head transplant (complete with some serious scientific mumbo-jumbo from 2010 research while I was writing it). Now, every time that doctor sends out a press release I receive email from readers pointing it out. I like to joke that at some point they're going to have to re-categorize it as non-fiction.

With crime/violence, events happens so fast (and new events are always happening) that if authors try to keep the real world from catching up no one would ever write anything. Think about Tom Clancy (and other thriller writers) who ended up worrying about real world bad guys copying the violence in the Jack Ryan books (such as the bomb at the Super Bowl).

Also, Stacy, I've never heard that quote but I absolutely LOVE it!! Thanks for sharing :)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Janet, please allow this lengthy comment. Sadly it is spot-on relevant to today’s post. I still grapple with the fallout.

In my (edited and STILL querying memoir) I wrote about guns/second amendment rights three times. The pieces were written decades apart. The following is an excerpt regarding a column I wrote five years ago this month. It was about what I considered to be a perfect gift for my sons-in-law and one of my daughters. (Classes to get gun permits). Odd gift? Perhaps. But it was what they wanted. I used a writer’s tool which I thought clever at the time until it backfired. (Pun not intended).

As a writer, I knew when I wrote, and carefully prepared ‘The Perfect Gift’, I was treading on what could be serious ground. I tried and thought I succeeded, to manipulate the content of the column so the reader would not know until the end of the piece where I was coming from and where I was going. And, because it was such a light-hearted and happy season, I naively believed I would be forgiven my tactic by those opposed. It was simply about a gift that suited loved ones. It broke on December 7, 2012; a week later, the unthinkable.
End of excerpt.

Sandy Hook Elementary, Newtown, CT.
December 14, 2012, twenty children and six educators were murdered by a madman. One of those educators, a first grade teacher was my oldest daughter’s best friend.
Personally and professionally the fallout from the column was beyond devastating. I share this because as a writer we are people first. Please no debates on gun control here. That is not why I am sharing. We must always be aware that our words can wound. They can heal as well. Healing is better.

This is the first time I have used the word "gun" in anything I have written in the past five years.

InkStainedWench said...

I used a ripped-from-the-local-headlines theme in my novel. It was not widely known at the time I wrote it, and thus generated some nice cliffhangers. Since then, the events have become quite familiar, which undercuts the suspense. But the book is in production, and my hands are tied.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

You hear stories like this happening all the time, and sometimes it does affect the release of a story. Louis C.K.'s most recent film comes to mind. There were also a couple of similar issues around 9/11, including an album cover featuring a badly-photoshopped explosion of the twin towers.

2Ns - Thanks for sharing your story. I imagine it was very easy for people who were hurt and angry about the tragedy to use you as a convenient target. It's something that could happen to any of us, if a deep enough tragedy hit close to something we'd written.

John Davis Frain said...

That was moving and thoughtful. Thank you for sharing.

roadkills-r-us said...

Something similar can happen even in the "current events" of fiction.

I have been fascinated by Albania since I was a kid reading WW II history. Why? I have no idea. But that and the Belgian Congo were the two places outside most Americans' concerns that gripped me.

I have since been to Albania. I fell in love with both the people and the land, so it was natural for my characters to eventually spend time in Albania. But I get (unsurprisingly) questions as to why I chose the place Lord Voldemort hid. All I can say is that the dragons and my characters were there long before Moldy Voldy.

roadkills-r-us said...

2Ns, my heart goes out to you. But thank you for sharing that.

roadkills-r-us said...

Kathy Joyce, may I quote you?

Kathy Joyce said...

Roadkills, of course.

Joseph Snoe said...

Life intruded on my manuscript, too.

I HAD a few chapters involving the Colombian military and paramilitary versus FARC (the revolutionary forces) in the ongoing five or six decade civil war. After I finished the manuscript and was well into the revision stage the government and FARC signed a peace accord. Wonderful for Colombians. But a major rewrite for me.

I’ve written about this next one on this blog before: An American character in Escape from Brazil is abducted and sold to a rich Brazilian. I wanted an All American, girl-next-door name for her. After mixing and matching names I found a great name (in my opinion). I Googled the name. A 12 year-old-girl with the same name had been abducted and murdered in Florida a few years earlier. That really disturbed me. I changed the character’s name.

Craig F said...

I think that the glacial pace of publishing just makes for interesting coincidences of current events. A new writer can take five to ten years before a idea of theirs gets in print, even an already published writer has a gap of over a year to get a book into print. There is almost no way a book can be ripped from the headlines of a current headline.

I have also had second thoughts about the payload I chose for my thriller. It involves a novel way to use a biologic agent. A log line for it is in comment 24 yesterday. For my idea to be used they (the bad guys) still have to have a virulent enough agent to cause a panic. I also hope the authorities will be better prepared than how I wrote them.

2nns: I am sorry that it worked that way for you. It is very easy to second guess your words when something happens. It is not your fault. There are more people than ideas out there so, of course, someone else will get there.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Soooo glad I write escapist fiction. Less chance of being derailed on a large scale.

That said, I write about human experiences. Many are the times I had to set something aside as those same experiences got echoed in real life and became too real for myself or beta-readers. My fiction is for you to escape from reality, not reinforce the misery already present in your life.

Kae Ridwyn said...

Thank you for sharing, 2N's. How awful for you - and all those involved, of course.
Thank you Janet, for offering your Reef as a place for us to share, and learn, and grow - not only as writers but also in compassion for others and their 'stories'.

Lennon Faris said...

This sort of thing always worries me. On the thread of the comments, one of my worst fears about writing is that some YA thing I put in my book will be twisted and used to hurt someone.

2Ns - I remembered that you were close to that tragedy but didn't realize everything you said today. I think Craig said it so well. Thanks for sharing. *a thousand hugs*

Brad Jaeger said...

The same thing happened to me.

I recently started writing a thriller, and certain events which take place in Aokigahara (an infamous Japanese forest due to its reputation as an ideal suicide destination) ended up coming to the media forefront when a disrespectful Youtuber went trouncing around the forest and discovered a dead body. He then decided to upload it for his audience.

Thankfully, I’m very early on in the process, so by the time I’m ready for querying I doubt anybody will remember.

On a side note, hello everyone! Long time lurker, first time commenter. I’ve read so many of your comments over the years that it feels like I know some of you already.