A strange thing began happening to me recently. Every time I am watching the news and there is a story about a murder of any kind: multiple, serial, or convenience store robbery gone bad- locally or nationally- and my youngest son, Jack, is in the room, he will ask me: “Do you think that man read your book?” Of course, I always say, “Of course not!” The book he is referring to is my novel, Extended Family, which came out in June, 2012. It is a dark thriller that very graphically depicts serial murderers going about doing their notorious business. In fact, every crime in the book is actually based on a true murder, but more on that later.
Of course, this type of question, coming from the mouth of babes, does cause me to stop and ask myself the question that I think every mystery or thriller writer thinks about at some time in his or her career: “Is what I am writing influencing or helping to inspire some nut bag to do some of these things I am writing about and should I stop doing it?”
It’s a fair question and it is not without historical references. John Hinckley, Jr. shot President Ronald Reagan after watching Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” some fifteen times, developing a curious affection for Jodi Foster and finding a common soul in the character of Travis Bickle, a man who, fed up with the ills of society, decides to go on an aggressive shooting spree. In a surreal, cosmic example of Art Imitating Life and Life Imitating Art, the character of Travis Bickle was inspired by Arthur Bremmer, the man who shot George Wallace.
There are other “influences:” Ted Kaczynski, The Unabomber, was influenced by Joseph Conrad’s “The Secret Agent,” though it was generations later. Likewise, this same book came under intense scrutiny by the media and investigators after September 11, due to its terrorist and anarchistic themes. Anders Behring Brievik hailed videos games, such as “World of Warcraft” and “Call of Duty” as his inspiration for killing 77 people in Norway last year. The list goes on.
So, what are we to do about it? Should we censor ourselves? Should we leave out the details of how to, where to who should kill people? Instead of writing that Hannibal Lector “ate his liver with some fava beans and a fine chianti,” shall we just dispassionately write, “Lector had his nemesis over and dispatched him during dinner?”
Of course, we can’t.
The reality is that some people are negatively inspired by literature that has nothing to do with murder. Almost every serial killer or mass murderer has a bible tucked under his arm from which they can quote scripture. Mark David Chapman, the man who shot John Lennon, was somehow influenced by The Catcher In The Rye, and I can’t for the life of me see how that classic book could inspire anyone to kill. Taken to the farthest point, I suppose someone could say Mary Poppins inspired them to kill someone. The sad reality is that people will kill other people for no reason at all other than the diseased mind that made them do it. It can’t be blamed on literature.
As I said previously, is Extended Family inspired by true crimes, as well as my own relationship with a serial killer, Gerard Schaefer, and his disturbing diaries. If someone murders someone in a fashion that one of my killers does, then he is, in fact, doing what someone else did to inspire me to write about that horror. The fact is, there really is nothing that any of us could write that some other sick mind has not already done in real life. Indeed, my writing about these murders served as a catharsis for me to personally deal with some of the brutality that I knew of from Schaefer’s crimes as well as some of the gruesome things I saw in my career in the fire service.
If we had to live in a censored society that did not allow our creative expression, no matter how graphic and horror filled it might be, then wouldn’t that be the greater evil? Would we ever have read Frankenstein or Dracula? Would we ever have known the names of Arthur Conan Doyle, Alfred Hitchcock, Stephen King, or Thomas Harrison? The bottom line is this: we’ve seen what happens when governments begin to censor writers- hello China, Russia, and the pitiful McCarthy era blacklisted writers of just a generation ago. We already know that censorship is the biggest fear any of us can live through because it reflects the most horrifying thing that any of us can imagine: the loss of our freedom.
Patrick Kendrick worked in the fire service for almost thirty years before retiring to write full time. While in the service he also worked as a freelance writer, publishing articles and short stories in numerous newspapers and magazines. He has earned meritorious awards in the fire service as a fire fighter, paramedic, and special operations technician. He is a graduate of the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer program and is an internationally accredited Chief Fire Officer. Kendrick was knighted by the Fraternal Order of Police for his articles on crime. He’s won honorable mentions from the Mystery Writers of America and the Beverly Hills Film Festival, the Opus Magnum Award from the Hollywood Film Festival and the Florida Book Award for his first novel, Papa’s Problem. He holds degrees in Fine Art, Fire Science, and Executive Leadership. He lives in South Florida and when he is not writing, spends as much time as possible in, on, or under the ocean. In his own words: “I like to work with incongruities. That is, I like to put someone, or something in situations where they would not normally be and see how they react to it. Sometimes it is one of my characters, sometimes my readers, and sometimes myself.”
(The Killer Nashville Guest Blog series is coordinated by KN Executive Director Beth Terrell (http://www.elizabethterrell.com/). To be a part of this series, contact Beth at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
For a chance to win an autographed copy of “Extended Family,” re-blog this post. For an additional entry, go to our Facebook group page and share the link to this post with your friends. The drawing will be held Tuesday, October 9, 2012 and announced on our Facebook group page.