Saturday, May 11, 2013

When Fiction and Reality Collide

by Sasscer Hill
Author of the Nikki Latrelle mysteries

When I heard a recording of Amanda Berry’s desperate 911 plea for help, I wept for this girl who was abducted, torn from her family, and abused for ten years. 

I’ve watched every episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, I saw the 2005 documentary Human Trafficking, I wrote The Sea Horse Trade, a just released novel where underage girls are abducted and forced into the sex trade, so I think I’m pretty tough. 

Yeah, right. I heard Amanda’s voice pleading with the dispatcher to have the cops save her "before he comes back,” and I lost it.

Those words, “before he comes back,” are laden with terror, with evil, and with desperation. These are the kinds of words authors hope to use in exactly the right place at exactly the right time to grab their readers with the kind of emotion I felt listening to Amanda’s plea.

The idea of female abduction and slavery has always fascinated and horrified me. How could I weave the subject into a story about my jockey Nikki Latrelle? 

As a breeder, owner, and avid fan of race horses, I had occasion to visit Gulfstream Park racetrack in Hallandale Beach, on the coast between Fort Lauderdale and Miami. I spent time at the track, toured Fort Lauderdale and Miami and saw the glitz, the glamour, the sex, the horses, and the money. A man could work at a desk for forty years and not earn a fraction of what it would cost to buy the immense yachts and huge mansions I saw there. Who owns something this valuable? Where does the money come from?

One morning, I got up early and walked down to the beach. A cold wind blew off the sea. Far, far out on the horizon, I saw a huge container ship shrouded in mist. It was creepy, like seeing a ghost on the water. The white caps were roiling, and a keen awareness of the depth of the water, the distance to the yacht, and the ice cold spray made me wonder how anyone could possibly feel safe out there on the ocean. 

What if Nikki Latrelle was working the January meet at Gulfstream? What if her oldest friend’s daughter was missing, a girl Nikki has never met? What if on that first night in Hallandale Beach a girl is shot dead at Nikki’s feet? The story all came together. What a perfect safe harbor a city like Fort Lauderdale would be to spawn the trade of human trafficking. 

I had to write this story. 

I flew home to Maryland and rented the documentary, Human Trafficking. It was appalling, but it was fascinating. It was shocking, but it was engaging. It was disgusting, but it was believable. More than ever, I wanted to write my story, so I did.

I hope you will take The Sea Horse Trade for a ride! You can hear me read the first chapter on my Facebook page: You don’t have to be a member of Facebook to go to this page. Just click the link and leave me a note!

Learn more about Sasscer and her books at


Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Good for you for tackling this serious issue, Sasscer!

Sasscer Hill said...

Thank you, Liz! I did get a little more involved emotionally in this story and I'd like to think that emotion was fuel that propelled the story.

Rhonda Lane said...

Amazing how a research trip will send your mind into a new direction for a story. THE SEA HORSE TRADE is a highly emotional story, considering the major life events of characters we've come to know and care about. (Trying not to blab spoilers.) Thank you for sharing the background of what brought this story to you.

Sasscer Hill said...

Rhonda, thank you and you are, of course, entirely welcome!

Barb Goffman said...

A horrible but important issue for everyone to be aware of. I was glad the Malice SVU panel addressed it last weekend at Malice Domestic, and I'm glad you tackled it in your book. That should help raise awareness. I'm looking forward to reading the book, Sasscer.

Sasscer Hill said...

Thank you, Barb! Was thrilled to open the style section of the "Aiken Standard" this morning and see a cover picture and article about THE SEA HORSE TRADE taking up three quarters of the top section and dwarfing a Associated Press Article about John Lescroart's latest book!

Now if only the Associated Press would pick it up . . .

Sandra Parshall said...

I'm glad you've been welcomed so warmly in your new home, Sasscer. And of course you are always welcome here with us. It was great to see you at Malice, even though our schedules kept us from spending much time together. At least I got my copy of your book signed. :-)

Sasscer Hill said...

Sandy and Barb, I miss the Chessie Chapter so much. It was so great to see you guys at Malice!