The coincidences of “Making of a Murderer” and my fiction

SPOILER FOR NETFLIX SHOW, IF YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED IT YET. SORRY

So, since my new job requires me to stay at home and I don’t have cable, I get exposure to a lot of local news programs. Among those is the local variety-type show, “The Jason Show”. He’s pithy and funny enough and a bit of a nerd, which I can relate to, so I’ll usually watch him before switching to whatever I can tolerate streaming on Amazon Prime. It’s while watching this show that I discovered the mania surrounding a Netflix documentary entitled “The Making of a Murderer”. As Jason tried to explain his obsession with the show without spoiling it for his audience, I deduced this Steven Avery business was the same thing I had run across, not just once, but twice. The first instance involved the research I was doing for my writing.

As my readers know, I always start a new book in my Dairyland Murders series immediately after I finish its predecessor. Such was the case when I completed Book 3, Cop Incognito. I wrote the excerpt for Book 4, Torso in the Torrent, in which a couple is engaged in dismembering a body and putting the identifiable parts into a burning barrel. Naturally, as a matter of research, I googled “burning a body in a barrel” or something similar (yes, it is disturbing, as most of my computer browsing history tends to be when I’m thick in my writing). Buried well into the fifth or sixth pages of the search, the murder of Teresa Halbach came up. I didn’t really think much of it. It simply confirmed my theory that there was a history of trying to dispatch with a body via burning barrel, so I moved on and continued writing.

It wasn’t until quite some time later that my husband and I were on some long road trip and we were listening to a public radio show. It was an interesting but sad story about this woman who had been brutally raped and left for dead, how her life had been torn apart by this horrible event, and how the man she had thought was the monster she had helped to put behind bars turned out to be innocent. The documentary continued with the man’s highly publicized exoneration, he and this woman’s tearful and forgiving reunion, the lawsuit against the authorities who wrongfully prosecuted him, and the shocking arrest for the horrible murder of the young female photographer shortly thereafter.

“Hey, I remember reading about that murder…”

What I find so shocking is the world-wide public reaction to this documentary that is turning it into a cultural phenomena. After all, the underlying themes of the crimes and allegedly bias investigations are actually pretty universal to small town Wisconsin, or any rural area in general. That’s why these themes turn up in my Dairyland Murders series.

Dairyland Murders has crimes that involve families with notorious members who have criminal records and questionable scruples. There are also apathetic law enforcement, over-reaching federal departments that turn manhunts into a bureaucratic nightmares, and good old government cover-ups for the sake of maintaining high end positions and reputations. All these forces cause grief, tragedy, and major life upheavals to those caught up in it. How they recover is a testament to their resolve and character.

Much like Fifty Shades of Grey mainstreamed the literary genre of erotica, “The Making of a Murderer” documents just one of the many examples of unspeakable crimes, questionable investigations, and open ended questions that are left to victims, criminals, and the rest of us to try to answer.

It’s just an outline…

All artists have a process. Some processes are more fluid than others. I’ve read about writers whose processes are so disciplined and sacred, they admit to being downright neurotic about them. I’m admittedly neurotic about a multitude of things, but my writing process is not one of them.

I do an outline, but it’s never at the beginning. The beginning is the title and the excerpt that I put at the end of the previous novel when it is finished. Those first two things force me to begin the outline. I have a title. I have a tone set with an excerpt. They are both already published with the previous novel. Now I’m bound to do the work.

Outlines are work. They have structure, a time line, the introduction or re-introduction of characters, the mood and pace of the plot and its purpose in the overall story line of the series. However, my outlines are not bibles. In my opinion the rigid adherence to an outline is the first step toward making a novel formulaic, the death knell of a fiction writer’s career.

An outline is simply a guide, a rough idea as to the direction the book is going. An outline doesn’t take into account detours that the characters may run into along the way. It can’t predict where a particular scene may veer an entire chunk of plot off course, move events around on the time line, or change the nature of character relationships to add misdirection for the readers.

It’s those unintentional and spontaneous twists and occurrences that make the writing fun and make the story stay vital and exciting. Enjoy.

I had a thought….No, there it went…

Sometimes there are events in life that simply render a perfectly capable and conscious person bereft of any sort of cognitive contribution. I’m just starting to find my way out of such an event.

Not that it was a total shock. I knew it was coming. There was preparation in play. It’s just the event chose to move its date up by a month and a half and throw all my well laid plans to dust (ha, another win for never bothering to make plans).

As such, contingencies and compromises took over, resulting in priorities shifting very quickly. As you can tell my my recent and severe lack of communication, my writing suffered greatly from the shift.

I hope to find my way back very soon. I acknowledge the personal importance of writing as well as its importance to those around me. The writing helps to keep things in check in my head, like the important component in my emotional ecosystem. Without it, shit goes wacky in a bad, bad way. That’s not good for anybody.

Consider this my first attempt at restoration. Let’s hope for all our sake, it’s repeated constructively and often.