Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Playing God

By Mark W. Danielson

Mystery writers all play god. A non-denominational god, mind you. Throughout our stories, we decide who lives and who dies. That’s what makes writing them fun. If we don’t like a character, we can bump ’em off with no repercussions. What other job gives you that kind of fulfillment?

Over the years, I’ve gained a great deal of therapy from my writing. In fact, many of my stories have been conceived out of frustration. Give me a disturbing event and I can wrap a tale around it in no time. The more personal the story, the more emotional my characters become. But while it’s easy killing off evil characters, sometimes the good must also die. Those are the most difficult deaths to write about, but their demise replicates the real world. Suicides excepted, none of us can chose our fate. The same rules apply to our characters.

I once wrote a story about vigilante justice. Since I’ll never publish it, I’ll introduce it, but first a little background. Many years ago, the US Navy was developing a stealth bomber called the A-12. Even though it never got past the mockup stage, millions of dollars still poured into it. I decided to capitalize on this by creating a story that skimmed funds from the A-12 money pit to finance a government sponsored vigilante group that erased undesirables. I’m not talking about assassinating potential terrorists – I’m referring to ridding the corrupt politicians who rape this country. (Remember, this is fiction.) I was pretty happy with my story until a movie called Swordfish came along. Believing my plot similarities were too great, I decided not to pursue publication. In spite of my disappointment, it was rewarding to know I wasn’t alone in my feelings over the bribes and double-dealings in Washington DC. My story was called The Patriot. How ironic that Mel Gibson later chose that title for one of his movies.

What made my version of The Patriot even more interesting concerns an Air Force general that I bumped off in the story. Made to look like a suicide, his vigilante murder was successfully covered up. By coincidence, two weeks after I wrote that chapter, Admiral Jeremy Boorda, the Chief of Naval Operations, actually did commit suicide. His death was a blow to the Navy because he was the first enlisted sailor to ever reach the rank of admiral. I remember him well because I had retired from the Navy the previous year. Unlike in my story, no foul play was involved, and out of respect for him, I won’t discuss the circumstances that lead to his fateful decision. However, his death did prove that my fictitious general’s “suicide” was indeed plausible.

By trade, murder mystery writers are killers, but that doesn’t mean we’re bad people. We just identify misdealings and try to set things right. If you’re an author and have ever disliked someone or are upset with someone’s actions, don’t get mad, get even. Base your characters on them and then send them straight to Hell. Bumping off bad guys is fun, and it always makes for happier endings.


Jean Henry Mead said...

I've talked to writers who were unnerved when events they wrote about actually happened after their books were published. It is satisfying to bump off people in my books that have "done me wrong," and there must have been quite a few because I've been writing about serial killers. :)

Mark W. Danielson said...

I've had so many coincidences from my fiction becoming reality that some people think I'm psychic. Then there are those who might think I'm psycho. Either way, a current country song sums it all up with, "God is great, beer is good, and people are crazy."