I don’t know what to say to this.
As a writer of thrillers I have to make stuff up. An imaginary hero, an imaginary villain, something evil for the villain to do, crazy conspiracy theories that are just plausible enough to happen and a near impossible way for the hero to save the day.
I get a lot of my ideas from watching the news. I simply take a story I see and stretch it to the limits of my imagination. If I can combine several stories into one that’s even better. If there’s a shred of real-life in the plot it usually resonates with the reader and makes the time spent reading it that much better.
For instance; last night my brain entertained ideas surrounding the hijacking and disappearance of a large jetliner. I’m looking for ways that my characters might get involved in a similar situation. If you watch Law & Order you know what I’m talking about. “Ripped from the Headlines” they call it.
But I never thought it would happen in reverse. That is until I saw this story today in the Huffington Post;
In all honesty I got sick to my stomach.
If you’ve read Scarcity you already know why, if you haven’t I’ll go ahead and tell you that this is one of the major plot points of the whole book.
I’m not the first to write about the subject. I believe Tess Garritsen did so in one of her first books. Others may have as well, I don’t really know, I didn’t do an extensive check before writing the book. I do remember that the initial idea came about from reading about a new organ transport machine in one of the many medical journals I still get. (In a former life I was a flight medic and hauled a lot of organs and transplant teams around the country) So, the idea was not original, I just put a modern slant on it.
Still, it bothers me. Are drug cartels and Mexican gangs reading medical thrillers? I doubt it. But then why do I assume that? Did the 911 hijackers read Tom Clancy and decide to use his idea of crashing planes into buildings? Nobody can say for sure. I remember an Army friend of mine who beta-read my first book Closure for me. Closure was a vigilante sniper story that I wrote not long after the Maryland Sniper shootings, this was a few years before Dexter, but long after The Punisher or Mack Bolan. Nothing unique as far as the basic plotline, but he sent it back to me full of red ink along with a letter warning me that I was writing a how-to manual.
To my horror I saw that he was right. I was taking the skills and knowledge I had gained in the military and laying it all out there for others to emulate. He was telling me to go back and edit several areas, omitting key information so the book didn’t invite people to try stupid things.
Can they find the missing information somewhere else? Probably. I can’t stop them from doing that. Hell, you can buy most Army manuals from Amazon, complete with 2-day shipping. If they want it bad enough they’ll find it.
But this raises a question;
Do authors have a responsibility to keep their books safe?
If a writer can pen his story without making the world a more dangerous place, should he/she feel obligated to do so? Granted we can’t control what’s in a person’s head, but we can at least, in theory, deny them the ability to be more lethal when they do make the decision to be violent.
I’m not saying we should make all our stories PG rated, that would be boring. But if a writer can tell their story and still do so without taking anything away from it, just by leaving key things out, should they? Do they have any responsibility in this matter at all? And if so, where does it stop? Books? Video games? (GTA anyone?) Television? Movies? In The Basketball Diaries Leonardo Decaprio’s character walked into his high school wearing a black trench coat and proceeded to kill a number of his fellow students with a shotgun. A short time later we had Columbine. That’s a three step process; obtain gun, walk into school, start shooting. The trench coats just served to tie it all together. I don’t see how we can blame the writer for this.
But what about something much more complicated? The 911 hijackers may have gotten the idea of hijacking and crashing planes from Tom Clancy, but he didn’t tell them how to do it, they had to go to flight school for several months in order to learn that. (Ironically right here where I live now) That requires a certain amount of dedication, funding and time.
But it’s not all that hard to make a silencer in your garage, and I almost gave away the complete recipe, just because I could and thought it added some nice detail to the story.
In the end I chose not to. I didn’t want them to find a copy of my book inside the dark basement apartment of the next John Hinckley. I still don’t.
I’d like to know your thoughts.