Is Fear the Legacy of Crime Reporters?

Someone asked me the other day why I wrote crime fiction. Why did I choose to write about such dark things?

It all boils down to fear.

By writing about horrible things, I am purging my mind of images and thoughts that frighten me.

And boy is there a lot of them. I blame it on PTSD from being a newspaper crime reporter for so many years.

On the surface, I’d probably be considered brave. I’ve watched autopsies without flinching. I lived in a Mara Salvatrucha gang neighborhood in Los Angeles. (If you haven’t heard of the MS gang, take my word for it — they are the baddest fothermuckers you’ll ever meet.) I’ve flown in an FA/18 fighter jet. I’ve slept in a parked car in Jersey City for four nights because I couldn’t afford a hotel room in New York City. (Right now all the New Yorkers are saying this by far is the scariest thing I’ve done, right?)

And yet, my fears are there, invading my thoughts during the most peaceful times.

Last summer my family and I slept in a camping cabin at Yellowstone. One night I had to use the bathroom, but was too afraid to go outside by myself even though it was only about thirty feet away. In the morning, I confessed this to my husband.

He tried to reassure me: “There’s no way a bear is going to come this close.”

Me: “Do you remember that story I wrote about the guy who was eaten by a cougar and all they found were his shirt buttons in the cougar scat?”

My husband didn’t answer. He knew there was nothing he could say.

“But I’m actually more worried about a person,” I said.

Now, he looked confused.

“Cary Stayner,” I said. “The serial killer? You know the one who killed those tourists at Yosemite? Chopped them up? He must have been messed up because his brother had been kidnapped and held prisoner for so many years.”

This time my husband just shook his head. He doesn’t understand, just accepts it. The only people who truly get it are other crime reporters. They know that these thoughts and fears are the legacy of my crime reporting days — I have a story illustrating every worse case scenario:

* It’s a beautiful day so I decide to go for a walk. There are many directions I can head from my house. I avoid the path through the woods even though it is the prettiest route. Too isolated for me.

Flashback: The Concord woman joined dozens of other office workers who took to the wooded walking paths during lunch breaks. She was talking on the phone to her husband when the line went dead. A drifter had grabbed her, dragged her into the bushes, raped her, and killed her before the next walker came along the path.

* When I work at home, I keep all the doors locked, even though I live in a very safe neighborhood.

Flashback: The men who got off the BART train that day wandered into the first open garage door they saw in the upscale suburban neighborhood. They took all the woman’s jewelry and strangled her with a phone cord.

* I swerve madly to avoid a piece of metal in the roadway. And not because I’m worried about getting a flat tire.

Flashback: The driver in front of her ran over the barbell disk in such a manner that it launched the weight into the air, spinning it with such force that it smashed through the windshield and decapitated the woman.

Well, anyway, I could go on and on.

Throughout my day, these worse case scenarios pop up in everything I do. The way I view the world is not a burden. Instead, it’s a backwards gift left over from a career covering the crime beat. Because each time fear shoots through me, it sets off sparks of ideas that can be turned into books.

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Author: kristibelcamino

Kristi Belcamino is a crime writer, photographer, and artist who also bakes a tasty biscotti. Her debut mystery, BLESSED ARE THE DEAD, will be published in June 2014. www.kristibelcamino.com

10 thoughts on “Is Fear the Legacy of Crime Reporters?”

  1. This cracks me up because as a former reporter, I feel the same way. I was never a crime reporter, but I feel like I’ve been so in touch with the news my whole life that the crimes I write about just hop out of my brain because something in real life must have inspired them.

  2. Oh my gosh, Kristi, I love this blog, and it explains so much! But the positive of your nightmares is you’re one helluva writer. Thanks for sharing your fabulous background. ~ Donnell

  3. I would totally love to fly in an FA/18. Just saying.

    But although I was never a journalist (well, I was a sports writer in college, but I don’t think that counts), I can totally understand. There’s a story lurking in every front page article, and you can always think of “the thing you wrote that is totally believable,” and, therefore, you won’t walk 30 feet in the dark by yourself to go to the bathroom.

    Great post!

  4. Haha. Thanks Donnell and Mary. I just read something this morning that said all mystery writers are “twisted” so in a way we are all in the same boat. Just some more twisted than others! : )

  5. Holy cow, Kristi. I remember waking up in Yellowstone in a tent to the sound of someone screaming. I thought, “Well, I guess there are bears after all.”

  6. Scary, scary, scary! I’ve heard that creative people have more detailed and intense fears because their minds don’t just ask “What If”…their minds go on to imagine the whole scenario. Then also having real experience in such terrifying situations from your job must crank that up to a whole new level for you, wow.

  7. Theresa, really?Did you ever find out why? I heard a few months back about two bears attacking two campers in separate areas of the park within thirty minutes of one another!
    Cynthia, I’ll buy that. It probably just amplifies what is already there. : )

  8. Oy, can I relate! Although I’ve never been a reporter of any kind, I’m a therapist and specialize in trauma reprocessing. Most of my practice has been with abused kids, although the past few years I’ve expanded to adults/couples. I personally haven’t noticed my experiences changing how I behave re: my own safety–or maybe they have but it’s been so gradual I haven’t noticed–but I do have high-alert freak out tendencies where my kids are involved. This includes never having let them sit on a mall Santa Clause’s lap, having a panic attack (a real one) when my son wasn’t in the main room with all the rest of the kids when I went to pick him up from Cub Scouts, and telling my kids “don’t let anyone steal you,” each and every time they go into a public restroom by themselves. They started telling me the same thing when I do. 🙂
    I think when we are exposed to the ugliest side of life it’s only natural that it seeps into our nightmares and day terrors. Writing is definitely a way of funneling that negative energy into something controllable and relatively benign. That’s how it works for me, anyway.
    Great post, Kristi! It really made me ponder how my two jobs intersect.

  9. Thanks so much Donna. I SOOO get it. In this post, I deliberately avoided talking about mothering with this worse case scenario tendency. That is a book in itself for me. Maybe for another day … ; )

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