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.