When I moved to Miami a year ago from Chicago, I was a little disheartened, because Chicago had been my muse and my inspiration for so much of my fiction, much of it centered on crime. Chicago can be a wonderful place, but it can also be fickle, mean, cold, and moody, much like the Great Lake that lies along its eastern border. With a history of serial killers like John Wayne Gacy, Larry Eyler, and nearby Milwaukee’s Jeffrey Dahmer, Chicago must have had something to nurture and cause such twisted minds to bloom. I think some of that dark energy went into my writing.
Moving to Miami in October 2006 (a necessity because of my partner’s work) made me wonder if I had lost my muse, that “windy city” of “big shoulders” that seemed so perfect for settings of crime-driven plots. Sure, Miami had inspired crime fiction writers like the wonderful Jeff Lindsay (Darkly Dreaming Dexter and others), but would it inspire me? I knew Aileen Wuornos had plied her deadly trade up and down Florida highways fifteen or so years ago, but could Miami hold its own next to Chicago as a city that inspired an admittedly twisted writer of mystery/thriller/horror/crime fiction?
That’s why I was jubilant when I saw a recent article in the Miami weekly New Times newspaper dubbed “The Suitcase Murders.” Its sub-head explained: “He hasn’t struck lately, but South Florida’s fourth serial prostitute killer is likely still on the loose.” Only readers like you will understand the somewhat sick word “jubilant” being applied to the discovery of such gruesome crimes.
But in a very odd and perverse way, I was glad to see the story and its description of a mysterious killer who had taken the lives of several prostitutes in South Florida. You can read the story here. It showed me, in a bizarre way that Miami, with its lush foliage, tropical heat, salty ocean breezes, and Latin culture could be the key to inspiring a killer…and a writer. I don’t like to ponder too deeply the thin line lying between creativity and madness and what turns of fate might make one human being act out in a malicious way and another to just benignly put that malice to paper.
But I do think that difference lies in the amount of heart the killer and the creator have for victims. A killer may see a victim as a pawn to be used in a twisted game the rules of which only his mind can comprehend. Me, I see a victim as a human being, and a scary story often emerges when I put myself into that victim’s shoes, trying to experience the dread and terror he or she feels. I, at the opposite end of what a serial killer feels, sympathize with those victims. And thus, a literary creation, rather than a crime, is born.
Take, for example, 21-year old Sia Demas, who one night climbed into a pickup truck with dark-tinted windows on Miami’s Biscayne Blvd. in an area notorious for its streetwalkers, never to be seen alive again. She may or may not have been a victim of a serial killer still on the loose, but her story gets my imagination flowing…and my sympathy. Demas left behind a four-year-old son and a loving mother, who never gave up on her daughter despite a history marred by drug- and prostitution-related arrests. In fact, when you look at Demas’ background, you’ll see that drugs took her long before her killer, who left her battered body on a beach.
I don’t think the killer would have known, or thought about, the grief that spiraled out from this one victim. But an artist would and I realized that inspiration, even of the darkest sort, can even be found in the sunniest, most seemingly happy places on earth.