Tuesday, March 23, 2010

True Crimes and Inspirations

Peg: I don't know about you, Marilyn, but since I started writing mysteries, I've been collecting newspaper clippings of "interesting" crimes. I shudder to think what conclusions someone would jump to should they go through my files! I remember one case, and I believe it happened near you, where a couple went to sell their house and the realtor found a drum in their crawl space. They opened it and found a body! Do you remember that case? I thought it was unbelievably intriguing!

Marilyn: I sure do remember it, since the house in question was a few blocks from where we used to live. The body had been there for years. Can you believe that three or four families had lived there without knowing what was in a crawl space? Ugh! The incident stayed in my mind. I used a variation of it in a novel, though the body in my story is discovered when land is dug up for new construction.
Do you find you use real incidents in your stories?

Peg: I've thought back over my drawerful of manuscripts and none of the plots relate directly to anything I've read. I think news stories give me inspiration, but then my mind takes off and things end up going in a completely different direction. In one manuscript I have my victim run down by a car while he is out jogging. I'd read a story in the newspaper about a company that made its living picking bodies of dead animals (mostly deer) off NJ highways--they had a contract with the state. That sparked the opening of my novel--someone calls the company to say there is a dead deer at such and such a place. When the fellow arrives with his truck, he discovers it's not a deer, but a human body. How about you? Have you been inspired by any true stories?

Marilyn: I'm more like you, Peg -- I tend to be inspired by true crimes and use them differently in my stories. The very first crime-related novel I ever wrote came to me in a dream. My heroine is being chased by men who are after her gambling husband. After all these years the dream remains vivid, though I've no idea what inspired it. So much of what we draw on is a composite of situations. And who knows how all the movies and TV programs we watch, the books we read, factor in when we create our plots.


  1. I keep a file, too! It's for when I run out of ideas. I think the clippings just feed the primordial soup in my brain and things swirl around in there until they mature and get thrown out.

  2. My WIP, set in Rome, includes murders in churches. My original idea did not include those, but there was a case in Italy a couple of years ago where the body of a young woman was found in a church. That idea kept intruding on my work until I re-worked my plot to include it. The motives, etc., haven't changed, but the settings did.