Writing From Experience
Like first time parents, new writers worry about things they never realized existed before. For me, this became a reality when we started our writing group and the others chimed in about how I should write stories based on my twenty-eight years as a State Trooper, ten of which were as a homicide detective. For the five years since retirement, my persistent objection to my Thursday Night cohorts has been that it would be improper or unseemly for me to write about some of my experiences. It is a high honor and huge responsibility to be entrusted to investigate a murder and I felt somehow that to write about what I had witnessed would take unfair advantage of my position. I have discussed this with my old detective partner and he pointed out that if people did not write about these things, then how would anyone find out about them? Maybe I’ll soften and reevaluate my stand as I progress as a writer. No guarantees, but I’ll work on it.
Joseph Wambaugh wrote “…what a sorrowful thing it is to be murdered” in his novel The Glitter Dome. I read that long before I became a cop, but it stayed in my subconscious and reemerged when I saw my first dead body. It is sorrowful. It’s not dramatic and certainly not glamorous. It’s not at all like Hollywood’s CSI with mood music and fuzzy, psychic flash-back visions of the crime. It is coldly sobering to stand or kneel over the most personal physical legacy of a human, their body, a human being who only hours earlier would never in their wildest dreams imagine that before the day was over, they would be cold, gray objects of observation to be described in notebooks, photographed and measured for diagrams. I doubt that many people stop to consider when they lace up their shoes or button their shirts in the morning that they won’t be the ones to undo them at the end of the day.
Sometimes bodies lay in some degree of repose like on TV, but often they are in the grotesque sprawl of their last attempt to retain life or in the ineffective comfort of a fetal position. Injury levels range from a few bruises or a little hole that is hard to find to extensive, mangled trauma with copious spilled blood. There is a stillness to death greater than sleep or unconsciousness. Oh, there actually is real, every-day music sometimes; if a body is discovered with a radio playing in the room, that’s documented as part of the scene and left on until everything is processed and turned off with the lights only when the search warrant return is left on the premises and the doors closed and locked. You can only guess at the weird and lousy associations I have with some popular songs from years past. The whole thing was and is sorrowful.
Any writing inspired by actual cases will have to be done with a high regard for ethics and respect for those involved. No person’s death should be grist for the mill of popular culture where everything is presented merely for entertainment and titillation. Before writing about such things, I’m going to grapple with the concept of “socially redeeming value”. I’m no Pollyanna, in fact I’m quite cynical, but I do believe in karma.