Saturday, January 12, 2008

Stealing from the Headlines

Noreen Wald (Guest blogger)

Law and Order writers aren’t the only ones who can brag that they rip their stories straight from the headlines. I’ve been stealing plot twists from newspaper articles for years.

Truth, indeed, is stranger than fiction and with a few tweaks,
truth, once properly twisted, can be even more intriguing in a murder mystery.

In my latest Kate Kennedy Senior Sleuth mystery, Death Rides the Surf, I used two real life newspaper stories to move the plot and muddy the clues.

One story, the disappearance of a pretty blonde co-ed in Aruba, was a sensational, extensively covered case, both in bold newspaper headlines and on MSNBC, Fox News, and the major TV networks for months – and ironically, once again, is back in the news.

The other was a quirky little tale about an entrepreneur and I might have missed it if I didn’t have a nose for odd human interest stories. The odder, the better.

Here’s how I twisted truth into fiction in Death Rides the Surf.
I’ll start with the elderly entrepreneur and her traveling psychic talking skull show. You can’t make this stuff up. That’s the beauty of stealing from the newspapers.

The woman’s photograph showed a well groomed, attractive grandmother from the southwest, which was exactly what she was. She’d become acquainted with a talking skull in the far reaches of Peru, paid $400 to the tribe’s medicine man, because she’d developed a relationship with the crystallized skull and had become dependent on his telepathic – and occasional verbal -- advice dispensed when the skull was rubbed. Then she’d taken the show on the road. Appointments for a private consultation could be arranged for $50 per half hour while the skull and his owner were appearing in the DC area. By the time I read the article, they’d moved on. I clipped and saved the story, sure that one day, I’d work that old lady and her talking skull into one of my books.

In Death Rides the Surf, set in the fictional town of Palmetto Beach, Kate Kennedy’s granddaughter, Katharine, becomes involved with a surfer who is part of unsavory group known as the Four Boardsmen of the Apocalypse. When the surfer is killed by a shark and later that death is deemed a homicide, Katharine becomes the prime suspect.

Kate questions the dead surfer’s grandmother, who runs the only Talking Skull and Tanning Salon operation in South Florida. Location is everything and, being in South Florida, it’s a very successful business. The attractive, shrewd old gal and her skull provide both real evidence and enough misinformation to keep the plot twists moving.

In the missing co-ed plot line, I set the surfers’ back story in Acapulco where Kate’s granddaughter, Katharine, on summer vacation, had met three of the surfers and a beautiful young blonde in a noisy, crowded Mexican bar. When the blonde had left with the surfers and then disappeared, they became prime suspects. With no real evidence to hold them, the Boardsmen had returned to Palmetto Beach. And Katharine had followed in their wake.

The missing girl’s mother turns up at Kate’s condo and, after providing more real clues and several red herrings, is murdered in her hotel room. Kate realizes the missing girl and the surfers were connected. And one or more of them might be responsible for her disappearance and maybe her death. But is covering up that secret the motive for the surfer’s murder?

Even when ripped from the headlines, in Death Rides the Surf, things are seldom as they seem.

Visit the author's web site at


A Paperback Writer said...

Four Boardsmen of the Apocolypse? *groan* Oh, that's terrible!! I am laughing. :D
As for borrowing ideas out of the newspaper, that's been done for years. Did you know that Charles Brockdon Brown took his idea for Wieland: The Transformation (pre-Poe American mystery/horror, vintage late 1700s) took his idea for the murder from a newspaper story? Yup, more than 200 years ago, an Andrea Yates-style of "God told me to murder my children" massacre took place in New England, and Brown made it even better in his plot.
So, take all the talking skulls you want: you're part of a long history of making fiction better than the truth.

Sofie Kelly said...

A talking skull? Okay I'm hooked.

Unknown said...

I want my own talking skull. Spenser currently performs muse duties, but when I rub his head, he falls asleep next to the keyboard.

Sounds like a fun book!