Tuesday, March 08, 2011

A story maybe best not told

Over the past several months I’ve been thinking a lot about a situation someone that I’ve known since childhood has been suffering through. That person’s life has, not to put too fine a point on it, been torn to shreds. You see, his son participated in and was convicted of a particularly gruesome murder. I cannot tell you the profound sorrow I’ve felt for him and his family as I watched it all unfold. It’s almost too horrible to contemplate.

As a crime novelist, it’s probably hit me harder than it would have hit most people who know him since I make money writing about things just like this. The story of the tragedy would probably make a very good book. I’m sure someone is already turning it into a book. It could never be me.

The situation really did throw me into a black funk where I seriously looked at what I write about. I suddenly felt vulture-ish, picking over the bones of dead things. I’ve written about characters getting murdered, and while I may have considered and written about the despair of those to whom the murdered person was dear, I never really considered the same despair that relatives and friends of the murderer might feel.

The death of a person is such a tragic thing, and when murder is involved, it is doubly tragic. The damage is just so widely distributed and so many people are touched by it.

I didn’t consider for a moment visiting any of the facts of this case in any of my writing, but so what? Even when I’m making something up, dredged from the depths of my imagination, if it’s going to be believable, it has to be based on something that could have happened, if it didn’t actually take place. Inadvertently, I have probably written something that could be horribly painful for someone who might happen upon one of my books.

It’s something to think about.


ajcap said...

Ah. What I call the "Catcher in the Rye" syndrome. Do you think Salinger felt guilty because Chapman shot Lennon?

Please don't think I'm making light of your unhappiness. I'm not, I really would like your opinion.

There may be the odd deviant who read Agatha Christie and decided that's the way a murder should be done but I think there were a heck of a lot more people who read her mysteries and enjoyed them. Would the world have been a better place if she had never written her books? Or do you think the deviant would still have murdered?

Rick Blechta said...

Not knowing Salinger (who did?), I really can't say. Certainly there was nothing in the book you could point at and say that this was inflammatory and caused Chapman to formulate his plan.

Certainly, there are people who might read a crime novel and decide to do something similar, but as you say, they would be a deviant.

I was talking about the fact that what we write could be very painful to someone, not that I worry about what I'm writing causing someone to commit a crime. I have no control over any of this. As I said at the end, it's something to think about.

Thanks for weighing in with a very good question!

Hannah Dennison said...

What a terrible tragedy. I really appreciated your honesty and candidness about what we DO write about. I must admit it's made me feel ashamed of a competition I have with a colleague at my day job. We try to outdo each other in finding the most awful crimes in the news. We take it with a light heart without once, stopping to consider the impact. Your post has really made me stop and think.