Here is the question posed: How do you deal with history and the real world?
My answer: I’ve struggled with using historical truth in my fiction since Day #1.
My first book, A RANT OF RAVENS, was a cozy Birdwatcher’s Mystery. Wanting to infuse a sense of realism, I based my story in a real location and on a real life incident. In the mid-1990s, an eyass (a young peregrine falcon) was stolen out of a nest in Rocky Mountain National Park and sold to a sheik in Saudi Arabia for $100K. Falconry is an ancient sport in the Middle East, and the peregrine falcons had nearly all been “tamed.” The sheik wanted to breed “wildness” back into the population.
Long story short.
Before the book hit the stands in 2000, the peregrine falcon had been removed from the list of endangered and threatened species. The sheik did have to pay restitution by way of developing a rehab center for Peregrine Falcons in Saudi Arabia.
In Book #2, DEATH OF A SONGBIRD, I highlighted the coffee industry and its effects on migratory songbirds. In SONGBIRD, the owner of a fair-trade coffee importer in Estes Park, Colorado is murdered. My protagonist, the victim’s silent partner, must figure out how the murder connects to the recent coffee shipments from Mexico and why her partner was killed before she herself becomes a victim. I based my coffee importer on a local Colorado resident, who was greatly admired.
Long story short.
The month the book came out, The Denver Post broke the story of how my fair-trade importer had engaged in illegal trade activities in Mexico. The end result. He was banned from setting foot in Mexico for three years. My good guy model had just become a bad guy.
In Book #3, A NEST IN THE ASHES, I wrote about the effects of the US Forest Service fire management policy of prescribed burns in our national parks. My hero was a Forest Service Ranger who lit a prescribed burn that ended up raging out of control.
Long story short.
Within weeks of the book’s release, a Forest Service employee, distraught over a romantic breakup, burned a letter during a No Fire Ban and ignited the Hayman Fire. It was the largest and most devastating fire in Colorado history. It impacted four major counties, resulted in six indirect fatalities, burned more than 138,000 acres and 600 structures, and cost taxpayers upwards of $238 million.
Do you see where this is going?
You’d think I would learn, but no!
My debut thriller, DARK WATERS, is set in Israel. Fortunately—in spite of a myriad of people telling me to beware of the changing face of the Israel-Palestine conflict— the status quo held. It wasn’t until I was nearing the end of my second book in the series that things went awry. RED SKY was destined to open in Ukraine. Trust me, if you’ve read the first book you understand why. But just as DARK WATERS hit the stands, Russia invaded Crimea. My book was no longer set in an Eastern European nation with economic woes, but in a country at war. Needless to say, some things had to change.
Long story short.
It’s the nature of writing thrillers to have to work with changing realities. RED SKY takes place in European, Eastern European and Asian countries, each one effected by the geopolitics of the world. Fortunately, it’s rare that the shifting sands change the whole topography of the land. The basic nature of the stories remains. As a writer, all I can do is trust my reader to understand that I’ve done my best to bring my FICTION to life. As a famous writer once told me: It doesn’t have to be true. It just has to be believable.
Book #3 in the Raisa Jordan series seems destined to play out in Russia. So what happens? The chemical weapons attack in Syria that pits the U.S. and its allies against the Syrians and Russians. What can I say? It’s just par for the course.
My questions for you are: How important is it for what you read to be accurate and reflect the current happenings? Are you willing to suspend your belief and go with a story, or do you draw non-negotiable lines in the sand?
You have an amazing record of predictions & messing with the future, Chris. There's got to be a special category for your books. You are amazing — and scary accurate! Oh, and did I mention you write incredibly wonderful books?
Talk about prescient! Where do you keep your crystal ball? But to answer your questions, I am always willing to "suspend belief" and go with the story when it is a terrific story – and yours certain are. I loved RED SKY and can't wait to read your next thriller. Thanks for an interesting and thought-proving post!
It’s kind of looking like any day now the powers that be in the world will show up at your door to bribe you to get into another line of work, so that things like wildfires and foreign invasions stop happening…
But I agree completely. As long as what is happening is believable within the confines of the story, it’s all good.
Just wow. Maybe you could turn the forces of your fiction writing to something really good? Perhaps a line how Robin Burcell gets the winning lotto numbers and wins the big jack pot and then gifts her fellow Rogue Writers with something generous–and give prescient Rogue Writer Chris Goff a super bonus… ? Or would that be a bad idea.
Anyway, I had to laugh. This reminded me of something similar, but on a much smaller scale than world-wide importance. Back when I was writing my first mystery, EVERY MOVE SHE MAKES, which takes place in San Francisco and Berkeley, CA, I wanted to use a real restaurant, Spenger's Seafood Grotto, because they had the most amazing cioppino. No sooner had I turned the book in to the editor, Spenger's closed down. Since I already had the scene written (and I loved that scene), I made up a name and kept it. (I was worried that if I left it there, someone would be all over me, pointing out that the iconic restaurant no longer existed.) Murphy's law being at work, after I went to great lengths to change the name and make the scene work, someone bought the restaurant and re-opened it under the original name. It's still there. Sigh…
OK….so maybe predict only good things from now on?