Friday, July 25, 2008

Real Life Crime

By Lonnie Cruse

During the recent Superman Celebration a reader stopped by my signing table to chat. Since my books are set in the real Metropolis, IL, readers often want to know if they feature true crime and real people rather than fictional. The characters are fictional, but I confess, I often get my ideas from news reports. I do change things around. No use inviting lawsuits, is there? But trust me, people, authors can NOT create anything as wild as what happens in real life. Nobody would believe us if we did.

As the reader and I chatted, he asked me about real crime in Metropolis, IL, and I had to stop and think. This is a small town where pretty much everyone knows everyone else. Sneeze at one end of town and in seconds someone will bless you from the other end. Have an affair? Not unless you want it known to all and sundry within minutes. But sure we have crime here. Not like a big city, but we have our share. The Planet newspaper lists arrests, trials, etc, and as a writer, I read the paper for information and inspiration. Sometimes the arrest notes are humorous, (as in how could anyone be that dumb?) and sometimes they make me want to cry, if the crime is against a child, a woman unable to defend herself against a stronger man, or a defenseless animal.

While we don't have all the perks of a larger city, like malls, theaters, freeways for faster speeds, we also don't have as high a crime rate. Like I said, everyone knows everyone else, so the possibility of being "ratted out" is extremely high here. And we live very near the Bible belt. Say what you will about organized religion, the truth of the matter is, those who are taught to obey the Golden Rule generally tend to live it. Not everyone, of course. I'm not that much of an ostrich. But a satifying number of people do live it. So there's something to be said for living in an area where everyone knows everyone else's business and folks treat others the way they'd like to be treated.

But before you write us off as boring, just let me share with you the story of one local crime. A female resident was reported to the police department for target practicing with her pistol, in her back yard, dressed in, um, well, actually she wasn't dressed in anything at all. By the time former Planet newspaper editor and photographer, Clyde Wills, arrived on the scene, the woman had wrapped a tablecloth around herself. Clyde snapped what has to be my all-time favorite newspaper photo: the woman holding the tablecloth closed around her body with one hand, the other raised in the air, signaling submission. A few feet away, two extremely serious police officers aimed their firearms at her while they assessed the situation (as in, hey, does she have that pistol hidden underneath that tablecloth? If so, is it still loaded? How willing is she to fire it again? At us?)

Truly, Clyde Wills deserved a Pulitzer for that picture. The officers deserved a medal for restraint, given the situation. And the woman? I never found out whether she was charged or arrested or what the outcome of the case was, but she obviously deserved something. Jail time? Chocolate? New clothes? Beats me. But just don't assume that because we're small, we're boring. Not when it comes to true crime.

And be careful out there. This woman could have moved into your neighborhood.


Darlene Ryan said...

Lonnie, I think the tablecloth lady has a brother in my neck of the woods. There were no tablecloths involved, however, just a police officer's jacket and a squad car door.

I'm waiting to see a version of tablecloth lady in your next book.

caryn said...

But what I want to know is, where's the photo on your blog? It's really no fair to tease us like this!
Following up on the previous comment posted, when will the next 57 Heaven book come out?
Seriously though, I grew up in small towns and appreciate what you're saying-much more interesting news reports than the standard drive by in our paper each day. Sigh somehow, when you can laugh at the " and "crime" and "criminals" life seems safer.

Lonnie Cruse said...

I can't display Clyde's marvelous photo since it's copyrighted, but trust me, it WAS classic. Put the woman in a book? Hmmm.