The Aftermath of Writing a Crime Fiction Novel

Write what you know is the first lesson a
writer learns in writing classes. While I was growing up, my father liked
action movies (he called them “shoot ’em ups”). My mother didn’t care for them,
so my father took me to all of the shoot ’em up movies.   I spent my formative years watching Clint
Eastwood, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and Gene Hackman movies.  I loved the car chases and the fights.  I later developed an interest in crime
fiction novels.

inspiration for No Brakes: On the Wing
came from a client who consulted with me on a nearly-impossible dilemma. The dilemma
changed my thinking about a particular recurring issue in my adoption practice.
I decided to take the dilemma to an extreme and write it in the genre of crime
fiction.  I knew the basics of criminal
law, but needed to learn more. It was important to me that my novel
be as accurate and authentic as possible, while leaving a bit of room for

A fundamental
element of any novel is conflict. Good stories require conflict. Who wants to read a book where there are no problems to solve, no arguments to
settle, and everyone is happy? Even children’s stores have conflict. Will
Goldilocks get into trouble for trespass, theft and destruction inside home of
the Three Bears? Will one of the Three Little Pigs figure out how to thwart
the Big Bad Wolf?

To enhance the
conflict element of my book, my protagonist needed some personal
challenges to overcome. Lucy Prestipino is a high school dropout, recovering
from alcohol and drug addictions. She’s a bicycle messenger who races against
the clock. She gets involved with a gang member and challenges a prosecutor.

One of my first
research topics was teenage addictions. I attended a seminar and immersed myself in internet research. Within a day, I
was bombarded with e-mails advertising rehabilitation services. Faster than I
could hit “unsubscribe,” I got more e-mails from different rehab centers.  Within a week, my residential mailbox was stuffed with hard-copy
advertisements. It still hasn’t stopped.

My internet research took
me into the dark world of crime. I found gangs that had their own websites. I researched crime scene
investigation, forensics, bullets, handguns, interrogations, trafficking, and domestic
violence—just to name a few topics. All are saved on my internet server’s
“favorite places.” Here’s a photograph of some of my favorite places. 


I read the frightening
and heartbreaking book, Finding Chandra:
A True Washington Murder Mystery
by Washington
reporters Sari Horwitz and Scott Higham. When Chandra disappeared, one
of the first actions taken by police was a forensic search of the young woman’s
computer. It made me wonder: if I suddenly disappeared, what would police find
on my computer? I shuddered at the thought. I told my husband, “If anyone
needs to look at my computer, make sure to tell them I’m a crime fiction
writer.” I didn’t want anyone thinking I’m an armed gang member who traffics in drugs. 

Soon afterward,
there was the reported case of Patrick Wayne McLaw, a middle school teacher in
Dorchester County, Maryland. Initial news reports stated he was also a writer
of science fiction. School officials became alarmed when he wrote a novel, set 900
years into the future, about a mass school shooting. He was put on leave
with pay and taken for a medical evaluation. The internet went berserk. Was he
being persecuted for his imagination? He hadn’t actually done anything.  The Baltimore Sun later reported that the
actions taken by the school system were based on a series of writings, including
a possible suicide letter, and a gigantic
model of a school he’d built in his backyard.

I don’t know what
happened to Mr. McLaw. I look at my “favorite places” and wonder if, one day,
I’ll be whisked off for an evaluation. 

It’s time for me to get my mail. I’m sure I’ll
find plenty of addiction rehab letters.