Fiction Versus the Outside World

In the mid-nineties, while I was working on the second Joanna Brady book, I was invited to take part in a writers’ conference in Portland. The book I was working on didn’t yet have a name, so I said yes to attending the conference and walked away from the writing.

When I’m doing panels, I try to read the latest books from my fellow panelists before appearing with them.  One of panelists that time was Pierce Brooks, a former LAPD patrol officer and homicide detective. The book of his that was available at the conference was “officer down: code three…” Naturally I picked up a copy and read it late into the wee hours on the night before our appearance together. It’s an accounting of the ten fatal errors that police officers make. The book may have been new to me, but it turns out that book has been used as standard textbook material in police training academies for decades.

Of the ten fatal errors, the one that struck home to me was “Tombstone Courage”—failure to wait for backup. Reading through that section, my legs were covered with goosebumps, because that’s exactly what Joanna Brady had done in the scene I had written just before Bill and I left home. While chasing after a bad guy, she had gone up a mine-tailings dump in Bisbee without calling for backup. Fortunately she didn’t die of it. (That would have made for a very short two-book series!) But it did get her attention, and that’s why, in the next book, Joanna Brady number three—Shoot/Don’t Shoot, she sends herself to Phoenix for an official stint of police academy training.

By the time Bill and I drove back home from Portland, the second Joanna Brady book had a title—Tombstone Courage. Since the Joanna Brady books set in southeastern Arizona, I’m sure a lot of people expected the book to be all about Tombstone. Boy were they wrong!

All that is to say that, when I’m writing a book, things that happen in the world outside my computer do tend to impact my story. Occasionally, however, it’s the other way around and it seems as if what I’m writing has an impact on the outside world. I wrote Dismissed with Prejudice in the late eighties. The murder weapon in the story turns out to be a Samurai sword brought to the States as a kind of trophy in the aftermath of World War II. Two weeks after the publication of that book I learned from the local newspaper that a pair of Japanese businessmen had set up shop in the lobby of what was then Bellevue’s Red Lion. They were there in hopes of buying back some of those trophy Samurai swords.

Today, I awakened to similar issue. Don’t you just love it when something you’ve known about for decades is suddenly headline news? And that’s what showed up on my Internet newsfeed this morning:

FBI releases names of 170 missing Indigenous people in New Mexico and on the Navajo Nation

Excuse me, this isn’t exactly news. As it happens those are the named individuals missing from only ONE reservation! There are lots more and lots missing people. In terms of human trafficking, I was already well aware that young Native American women are the most frequently victimized. One of the reasons those cases go unsolved is the bureaucratic tangle of law enforcement agencies involved—federal, county, municipal, and tribal—and they all too often simply pass the buck and make it someone else’s problem. I’m pretty sure I mentioned this issue several years ago in a book called Sins of the Fathers.

As it happens, I’m taking another crack at it in the book I’m writing now—Blessing of the Lost Girls. You’ll be happy to know that I’ve figured out a way to deal with that messy bureaucracy problem. I’ve taken the liberty of creating a brand new federal agency—a fictional one. It’s called MMIV—Murdered and Missing Indigenous Victims, an investigative agency operating under the aegis of the Department of the Interior. You’ll also be happy to know that field officers working for them are able to cut through all the countervailing red tape and get to the heart of the problem which is this—someone has to PAY ATTENTION! Someone needs to CARE.

I didn’t bother reading the article that came after the headline. The FBI has at least gone to the trouble of acknowledging the problem. Now let’s see what, if anything, they’re prepared to do about it.

In the meantime, my MMIV field officers will be out there working away.