WOW, so  many replies to my very first post, about cruelty to animals in crime fiction. But I think that discussion has about run its course.   I do  appreciate all the responses,   whether I fully agree  with all of them or not--everyone's got good points to make. Writers see things a bit differently, obviously, than readers. But I like a lively discussion.  I tried to reply to everyone, but sometimes you miss a response, especially when the thread gets long.

But here's another question I have,  since so many of you ARE writers  Whenever I read an interesting mystery, I wonder:  What sort of research went into this? Do the murders in your books mirror real life incidents, or do you more or less completely invent them?

There have been a number high-profile murder cases in my hometown/area.   (The Michael Peterson case was probably the most notorious; before that there was the Eric Miller arsenic poisoning,--the couple worked at UNC Hospitals, in a research lab) ; then the abduction and  shooting of Eve Carson in Chapel Hill by two youths from Durham).  All tragic---but only two, perhaps, with enough material for a writer to harvest. Eve Carson's  murder may have been a killing only of opportunity---the motive for her abduction being robbery, her death possibly unpremeditated.

 Most of the murders committed around here, as elsewhere it seems, are killings of wives or girlfriends by husbands or boyfriends.  Or, as in the case of Eric Miller, the husband was methodically murdered by the wife (initially with the compliance of a  married man she took --and manipulated--as her lover: he  committed suicide before the case could ever come to trial.  )  Michael Peterson was convicted, although the Defense did its best , at great expense and with many "expert" witnesses, to prove his innocence.  There was that other death in Germany years before, when Peterson adopted the two young daughters of the first woman who died in an apparent fall down the stairs of her home, and the judge admitted  it into evidence.  So it appeared there was precedence for his wife Kathleen's murder.

But most FICTIONAL  murders are not of this type, it seems--at least not the ones I've read---even though they are so common.  And these are the REAL murder mysteries. The motives  usually appear to be  jealousy, money---rage over money that is , a desire to escape from a situation that can't be resolved.  The men are sometimes having affairs. (Women too--Ann Miller was). She had an elaborate facade, and was not at all what she seemed.  But instead of divorce, they choose murder. Why?  What's at stake that's so important they'd kill to maintain it when they could just LEAVE?  Money? Status? A spectacular  house (like the ones the Petersons lived in.)

Even after we know WHO, we don't always know WHY. There's plenty of speculation, but someone has to piece together the parts of the puzzle to get any kind of answer.

SO:  would any of you writers  use this kind of material, or is it too ho-hum for a good mystery NOVEL?   For fiction?  Not quite convoluted enough?   Do you search newspapers, archives, etc., for ideas?  Where do you glean your ideas and characters?  Observe a given situation and say...WHAT IF  ?  ;)

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Beware of church-goers particularly! :)
It's that old panacea. A couple years ago, a neighbor whose husband developed Alzheimers' ended up having to move out of the house they'd live in for many years---it was foreclosed. She was a Baptist , dressed up and went to church every Sunday and in between I think, and what's more (I was told) an inveterate shopper---but she didn't pay her house bills. Her husband had always done that, so she just let it slide once he could no longer cope with it. A relative of hers told me that her solution to any difficulty was to pray. She really believed that would make it all right. Perhaps she thought it did. She and her ailing husband moved in with family. Then one day there was a Silver Alert---the husband had wandered off and disappeared. Some time later his decomposed body was found in a wooded area not far from their new home. Sad. I'm probably a bit off topic here---but there you have another story of human nature. They were nice people, too.
I think when you get too close to real-life events, you run the risk that someone is going to assume you were writing about them and sue you. Even if you weren't doing so, if the judge and jury thinks there's enough evidence that you did, you could end up in serious trouble. Especially if you're writing something contemporary, it's a huge risk to base your fiction that closely on real events and real people.

That said, sometimes real events and real people may give you ideas that spin off into entirely different scenarios, ones that make great stories and won't get you sued in the process. Odd things will spark new stories. You just never know sometimes where your next idea will come from.
Especially if you're writing something contemporary, it's a huge risk to base your fiction that closely on real events and real people.

But of course there are all sorts of past events--- crime stories that have been forgotten about, part of the "annals," become anonymous with time. I was sort of thinking along those lines. Naturally, you can't write about anything TOO high profile---unless you make it a documentary. And I expect most crime fiction writers read books on the psychology of killers. THAT"S interesting.
I have read than ONE IN FOUR people is a sociopath. Not necessarily someone who kills, but someone who lacks a moral compass---for whatever reason. Some are integrated into society very well--upbringing & religion may play a role in this. Others surface because they do commit some kind of crime---or just break the law. Ann Miller, who poisoned her husband, was very likely a sociopath. Everything she seemed to be, she was not. "Deadly Dose" is a real page-turner--and all of it true! Profile of a psychopath. No one else was real to her. Of course you could use her TYPE in a fictional mystery, even if you couldn't use the actual scenario.
Well this has been an interesting discussion, even if it did at times move towards a debate on the death penalty. It is interesting, but not surprising, that at least two of the crime fiction writers have been proponents of the death penalty whereas the reader is against it. Steep yourself in crime and lose any belief in the idea of redemption?

On to the actual questions of whether real-life events should inform crime fiction I will use the words of David Peace "To me there's just so much that happens in real life that we don't understand and we can't even fathom. I don't really see the point of making up crimes".

I think the real question is should you focus on specific recent crimes or perhaps on those where the protagonists are long gone so as not to dig up the recent past. But then why should a writer censor their work like that. Peace has written books around the 'Yorkshire Ripper' mass murderer, the UK miners strike, and recently post-1945 murders in Japan and as a result has come up with some of the most interesting British crime fiction of the last decade.

James Ellroy is perhaps the true master of taking real life criminal events and using that as the canvas on which to develop his stories. As a huge fan of his work, and a pretty big critic of generic crime fiction, I think that my vote would go down on the side of Ellroy and Peace.


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