Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Stirring up bad memories

Tom’s excellent post from yesterday is certainly one that should make us all stop and really think. He comes from the same place I do: murder is not something to be taken lightly. I am profoundly uncomfortable with the taking of human life and I want my readers to feel the same thing. Can you imagine how you would actually feel to stumble onto the scene of a murder? I don’t know how accurate my portrayal of murder actually is. My writing may be wildly off the mark. I have a good imagination, but it may not be good enough. I want to know that it's accurate, but at the same time, I never want to find out for sure.

Regardless of how we portray the taking of a life in our books, we are all fascinated with it. So are our readers. Is it an example of the ghoulish interest of those who slow way down to view a car accident? Or is it something else?

I still hold a very vivid memory of being on the outskirts of Ottawa in 1974. Devotion, the band I formed after university, was on its way to a gig, all six of us crammed into a car on a Sunday afternoon. We ran into a bit of a traffic slow down. As we crept closer to its cause, we noticed a number of people out of their cars. A car had hit a tree right next to a cemetery of all things. It must have just happened because no emergency vehicles had as yet arrived (this being long before instantaneous contact via cell phones). As we slowly drove alongside the vehicle, we could see the driver clearly impaled on the steering column, obviously dead. Pretty shocking, no? It was traumatic for me because this is exactly the way my dad died ten years earlier. But that’s not what burned this experience into my psyche. Stopped alongside because of the traffic, I watched as a father lifted up his small child so he could get a closeup view of the end of someone’s life. I nearly vomited. You can imagine how well I played later that evening.

My thoughts occasionally turn back in the direction of that small child. What possessed his father to do that? But more importantly, what was the effect on the child? Did the experience have a profoundly change who this person became in later years? Barbara is the psychologist in our group. Perhaps she has some thoughts. I can’t make a conjecture. Perhaps it did nothing. Perhaps it did everything.

Then another part of me kicks in, the writer part. It’s not hard to imagine taking this wee person and turning them into a character in a novel. The thought repels me, because I was there. I saw it happen. But there is also that little tickle in the back of my mind that I might someday use my memory.

And that’s one of the things that makes us crime writers.


Charlotte Hinger said...

Rick, I can't imagine a parent holding up a child for a closer view. For that matter, I can't understand parents exposing young children to violent TV.

Rick Blechta said...

Unfortunately, you don't have to have much of a brain to become a parent. I can't imagine going over myself for a closer view!

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