Tuesday, January 11, 2011


When Fiction Collides With Reality

When we devise our mystery novel plots, when we create our characters, when we decide what crime we’re going to write about and who will be victimized and, of course, who kills, we usually “create” these things from personal experiences, perhaps we’ve “ripped” something from “headlines.” But our product is a novel with the usual disclaimer that characters and events are not based on actual circumstances.

I’m working on my eighth novel, with a plot based on what appears to be a vicious slaughter of several people in what seems to be a home invasion gone terribly wrong. This novel, like all my others, is set in Tucson, Arizona. But today I’m totally at sea, wondering how - or if - I can revise my storyline to reflect the mass shooting three days ago at a Tucson supermarket, with six people dead and another fourteen wounded. No, let’s be honest. I’m really wondering why I’m writing about violence and murder.

No, let’s really be honest. I wonder if I should just abandon this book and try something else.

The shootings took place just three minutes away from my casita in Tucson. When in town, I regularly shop at the Safeway where the shootings happened; I’ve walked all over the actual murder scene at least 100 times. I didn't know any of the victims, but I voted for congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and have always admired her tenacity and love of people. If I'd been in Tucson saturday, I'd have gladly gone just to meet Gabby. An easy drive, just three minutes. I'd have been there. Horrific.

My horror at the killings is so intense I don’t answer phone calls from friends who know I live out there at times and want to get my “feelings” and “opinions.”

Eerily, my storyline has many similarities to Saturday’s tragedy. I just can’t work out whether what I’m doing is creative or exploitive, fiction or fact masquerading as fiction.

What would you do?

David Cole is overcoming five years of procrastinations and is finally attacking his eighth novel, Ransom My Soul - a somewhat bleak novel of home invasions, drug cartels and human smuggling in southern Arizona, tempered (hopefully) with a fine romance and love story. David's short story, JaneJohnDoe.com, is featured in Indian Country Noir (Akashic Press); he's also working on several non-fiction books about law enforcement, including The Blue Ceiling, a compilation of personal stories about women in law enforcement.


  1. I remember thinking the same thing after 9/11. How could I write about murder, despair and anguish when thousands were living it. We were all shocked and reeling, and it felt shallow to be inventing tragedy. I also agree it touches too close to home and may feel exploitive of people's suffering.

  2. That is a tough one, David. And it's a tough week, with such a tragic event.
    I had a similar thing happen, on a lesser scale: the set-up was a young woman murdered on an isolated stretch of the bikepath east of Ottawa, with her body and bike thrown into the river, to be discovered several days later. When a lovely PhD student was murdered under those exact circumstances, I did abandon the ninety pages I had written. I couldn't turn this into entertainment. I'd say you need time to think about how close your story is.

  3. David, on a more cheerful note, I hear that Happy Birthday is in order!

    Hugs and best wishes!