Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Ripped From the Headlines

Today I'm pleased to welcome author Rosemary Harris to Terry's Place. One of the most frequent questions authors get asked is, "Where do you get your ideas?" Here's what Rosemary has to say about that.

Ripped from the headlines is such a cliché these days. Can we go back to the much classier sounding roman a clef? Why is the RFTH label so compelling to editors, publishers, reviewers and, one would assume, readers? Isn’t everything, sort of, RFTH? Haven’t writers from Lady Murasaki to Shakespeare to Dominick Dunne ripped from the headlines?

I have been on so many RFTH panels that I recently said No Mas to one at a mystery conference. Believe me, I thought long and hard before pushing that Send button. There are few things a new writer enjoys more than yakking about her path to publication, her protagonist’s dysfunctional family or damaged relationship with her partner and her struggle to get attention for her masterpiece at a publishing house where a book is old news before it even hits the shelves. All of which you can do no matter what question you are asked if you are skillful and polished enough. (“I’m glad you asked that question, Sarah, let me tell you about…”) I was thrilled to be invited, but wasn’t sure I could contribute to the discussion without sounding like I was phoning it in. And I did push Send. Mercifully the conference organizers put me on another panel.

Years back I can remember reading Dunne’s An Inconvenient Woman (a juicy beach read and a pretty good miniseries starring Rebecca DeMornay who could still make the trains run on time eight years after Risky Business.) It was about a billionaire and his much younger waitress/mistress who’s the only one who really understands him. Heard this one before? No idea this was RFTH until someone from Crown Publishers told me a few years later. Would it have enhanced my enjoyment of the story if I’d known that somehow Bloomingdale’s and Nancy Reagan were involved? I doubt it. In fact I rarely associate Nancy Reagan with juicy anything. Did I care more about The Devil Wears Prada because the author had once worked for Vogue? Nope. It was a good read, period. (Okay, maybe I wondered if Anna Wintour was really that mean…)

Alas, like my betters before me, I too have succumbed to the charms of RFTH. All three of my books had their origins in newspaper articles, although none as obvious as the headline above. A mummified body, ersatz native Americans trying to open a casino and a fugitive mom were the inspirations for the titles in my Dirty Business mystery series. All I can say is thank goodness people keep doing stupid things and journalists are there to report on them. At this rate I will never run out of stories to RFTH.


Rosemary Harris

An Agatha and Anthony Award nominee for Pushing Up Daisies, Crimespree Magazine has called Rosemary Harris “wild and funny” and “ a rising star.” Her latest release is Dead Head which received a four star review from RT magazine and is a Mystery Guild selection. She can be reached at www.rosemaryharris.com

Rosemary is traveling today, but she's going to check in and respond to your comments when she can.


Mason Canyon said...

I am constantly amazed at some of the true stories that are found in the news. The circumstances are so unusual you say to yourself, "No one could make up stuff like this." I also enjoy it when the incident or murder is turned into a mystery book because then the killer finally gets his 'just rewards' where they might not in real life.

Thoughts in Progress

Katie Reus said...

Unless it's really obvious I rarely notice if a book is RFTH. All I want is a good story :)

Terry Odell said...

Mason--Tim Dorsey said he has to tone back his books because nobody would believe what happens in south Florida could actually happen. (Except for those of us who've lived there.)

Katie--I confess that I prefer to avoid a lot of news. Not good for a writer, and I should expand my horizons.

Debra St. John said...

Hi Rosemary,

Real life provides such fodder for fiction. It's silly not to take advantage!

Rosemary Harris said...

I really prefer to rip from the back pages or the archives. The headline stories are usually covered ad nauseum, including the endless speculation by so-called experts on television. And in some cases - generally the stories in which young people have had something terrible happen to them I think it's too heartless to co-opt someone's tragedy. I will not be writing about a lacrosse player who gets murdered. OTOH the woman who ran over her cheating husband is a candidate...I guess we all have our lines that wwe'll either cross or not.

Terry Stonecrop said...

Real life really is stranger than fiction.

I do like the sound of roman a clef though. Good post.

Annabelle Ambrosio said...

Enjoyed reading the article and do believe some good stories could be made up from the headlines. Haven't done that yet, but it's always a thought.

Jemi Fraser said...

There are so many bizarre stories out there - I think many of them are too strange for fiction :)