When Life Beats Art to the Punch

Hey all. Gerry Boyle here. And I’m writing this post as I take a break from Port City KILLSHOT, Brandon Blake novel No. 3.

I’ve begun the actual writing of this one. That means I’ve done the research, at least most of it. I’ve done the character sketches. I’ve done sketches of the plot and subplot, several versions. Finally I felt that I could picture the events, the characters, the setting, the emotions, the mystery—all the stuff that drives the writing.

This is the time when you strap yourself in, clench the wheel, hit the gas and keep the pedal to the metal for about 300 pages.

Which I will do. But last week I hit a speed bump. I’d  written the opening two chapters, the event that turns rookie cop Brandon Blake’s career on its head. I won’t tell you any more because I’m highly superstitious about discussing books before they’re written. As in, I don’t do it. This makes me the world’s worst when it comes to pitching plots. They just sound lame reduced to three or four sentences, when all the nuance is cut away, when the words are distilled to nearly nothing.

Anyway, I won’t tell you about the plot. I will tell you that I read about it in the newspaper last week.

It was an Associated Press story. And while it wasn’t the outcome I’d written in my first chapter, it was the same scenario. “Huh,” I said, followed by a sinking feeling.

I’ve had a couple of books where life imitated art in an eery and unsettling way, but the book came first. By the time these true crimes were committed—an abducted child (PORT CITY BLACK AND WHITE), a murdered runaway (HOME BODY), my book was published and I’d moved on to the next one. This time real life got there first.

No fiction writer likes to be scooped by real life. This is true for the most realistic of us. I’m most definitely on the gritty end of the mystery/crime spectrum and I’ve spent a lot of time with cops and criminals, on the street and in courtrooms, absorbing how real life works. But still I like to feel I’ve invented my own version of reality. And I like to think that my plots, while drawn from experience, are invented. I’ve been a newspaper reporter; when I write books, I’m a writer. It’s a very different thing. Making stuff up, I like to think, comes from a different part of your brain.

I’m not letting this intrusion by the real world slow me down. The situation is compelling; the event itself, as it happens to young Brandon Blake is jolting. The police procedure followed in the newspaper story is informative. That said, one story was enough.

When I started out writing these novels, I based nearly everything in them on real life. The rural Maine landscape. The towns and backwater villages. Even the characters were loosely based on people I knew or had known. With each successive book I’ve gained confidence in my imagination, and now the stories and places I make up are the essence of the real-life experiences I’ve had or witnessed. Most just come out of thin air.

Which Port City KILLSHOT did. And reality just had to go and follow. We’ll see if the true crime can keep up.


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