My (Virtual) Criminal History
by Karen MacInerney
by Karen MacInerney
When I was in college, taking creative writing courses from professors with a penchant for spare, moody stories in which not a whole lot happened, I often heard the old adage “Write what you know.”
To my mind – and maybe it’s just me – that seems a tad limiting.
I happen to be writer of crime fiction, which means if I write what I know, I’m going to be limited to stories such as “The Mysterious Thermostat Adjuster” and “The Case of the Missing Cadbury Mini Eggs.” (The second title evokes deep loss and conflict, I know, but is perhaps not enough to carry a whole novel.)
Fortunately, when starting my crime-writing career, I decided that not all advice was good advice, and I think my plots have benefited from my willingness to stretch beyond my personal experience. (Again… “The Case of the Empty Soda Cans Under the Couch,” while evincing a rather strong emotional response from me, might not have the same effect on the casual reader.)
Because of what I write, I need to be fairly conversant with a number of ethically questionable topics. Things like how to embezzle funds from an estate. And the ins and outs of committing mortgage fraud. And whether or not it is possible to kill a person by sticking her with a bratwurst skewer. And despite being asked by a fan of my werewolf trilogy whether I “write everything from personal experience,” I do not actually commit every crime I write about. Which means I have to do a lot of research. Which almost invariably involves Google.
And I hesitate every time I have to type something unsavory into that search box.
I tell myself that, since most of the topics I look up eventually appear in a story, it must be obvious that I’m not pursuing this information for direct personal use. That still doesn’t keep me from fretting about the digital footprint I’m leaving behind. A brief perusal of my search history suggest I might be a cross-dressing, skewer-wielding murderer who makes a little extra cash by committing real estate fraud and fencing illegal drugs. (And who also obsessively Googles chicken recipes, has a snail problem in her garden, and buys an inordinate number of youth-sized camouflage cargo shorts from Old Navy.)
Still, we must suffer for our art, I suppose. And if we’re going to write fun, imaginative fiction, I think we have to push beyond the boundaries of day-to-day life. Unlike Natalie Barnes of the Gray Whale Inn, I’ve never run a bed-and breakfast; I can’t even keep my own house clean, for goodness’ sake. Unlike my character Sophie Garou, I’ve never sprouted fur and claws during a marketing meeting. And I have never, ever, participated in a drag queen contest. But it sure was fun writing about it!
I think it’s a great idea to push past what we know and write about what we’d like to know – or what we’d like to find out about – even if it does lead to some questionable Google searches.
And if the FBI shows up at my doorstep one day asking my some questions, I know I can count on you to be character witnesses.
With her own wedding fast approaching and her mother-in-law dating an unexpected beau, the last thing Natalie Barnes needs is to find a young man shot dead in a dinghy. A note she finds with the body suggests the dearly departed had a secret rendezvous planned with somebody on the island. But when suspicion is cast on a fisherman Natalie believes to be innocent, she begins to wonder if the murder was the result of a lover’s quarrel . . . or a lobsterman’s disagreement gone horribly wrong.
About This Author
Critically acclaimed author Karen MacInerney also teaches writers’ workshops and drives a mean carpool. Her book Murder on the Rocks was selected as an Agatha nominee for Best First Novel. When she’s not writing or chauffeuring children, she loves to read, drink coffee, attempt unusual recipes, and hit the local hike-and-bike trail. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and two children, and escapes to Maine as often as possible.
Giveaway: Leave a comment by noon eastern on Friday, May 23rd for the chance to win a print copy of Death Runs Adrift. (US entries only, please.)