Within the category of “You-Can’t-Make-This-Stuff-Up” lies a classic scholarly debate. Does art imitate life or Does life imitate art? It’s sort of the “chicken or egg” of people who like to talk about where book (and other creative) ideas come from. My recent experiences make it wonkier than ever for me to know on which side of this argument I land.
Since my debut novel, Crimes of Redemption, came out at the end of 2012, a couple of fascinating things have come to life that have prompted comments from readers and friends. First, there was the question of whether or not it was believable that a character like Albert Raeder, a popular patriarch of his small city, would or could hold Gayla Early captive in his basement for two years. I had certainly done my homework, watched a number of documentary shows on places like the Discovery Channel, and knew it had been done (and that it was suspected to be under-reported).
The original seed that started the novel, in fact, had been a man calling into a t.v. show saying he had been tortured for two weeks by a man he had killed to make his escape. Since, as most writers, I really wanted to get this right, you can imagine how confirming the national news stories since I finished that manuscript (2 ½ years ago) have been. Gone beyond that, really. The girl who was kept over 15 years in a backyard shed, having her captor’s children, even working an online business for him? And more recently, in Cleveland, the three women locked inside a man’s house for over 10 years before finally being heard by a neighbor who initiated their rescue? You can’t make this stuff up, right?
Another eerie coincidence connected with the book happened right in my own Oklahoma western plains backyard. Two cars that had been buried in Foss Lake with the remains of five different people were salvaged. One had been there since the 1950's, the other since the 1970's. I won’t go into more details for fear of creating something of a spoiler, but those of you who read Crimes of Redemption know that more than confirms the possibility that a car could lie buried underwater and unnoticed for a matter of years.
I will continue to use my life experiences and research as a basis for everything I write. But I’m also thinking that if you do your homework, then “make something up” in good faith, the universe just may eventually pop up and tell you--hey, you got that right!
Linda Lee McDonald
I live comfortably poor in Oklahoma City, have a backyard garden in constant need of a weedeater manicure, am visited by birds every day when they bathe in my mixing bowl birdbath, and am blessed with my two rescue dogs, Jake and Roxie, who save me every day of my life.