The best fiction is what we know to be true

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by Rick Mofina, author of In Desperation (Mira, April 2011)

A thread woven into my stories about crime reporter Jack Gannon is the heartbreak he bears for his sister Cora.

When Cora was seventeen she ran away from their blue-collar home in Buffalo, New York, devastating Jack.

At the time, Jack was twelve and as close to Cora as any brother can be to his sister. She’d helped nurture his dream to become a reporter, taking him to the library, convincing their parents to buy him a second-hand computer.

Cora was Jack’s guiding light before she was consumed by dark forces which drove her away, ultimately becoming a ghost that would haunt him throughout his adult life. But as years passed he never gave up wondering if he would ever see Cora again.

Jack’s question and everything it entails surfaces in my new thriller, In Desperation.

I used this theme of tragic estrangement as a foundation for Jack Gannon’s character because it is grounded in truth.

In my early days as a writer, the mantra of “write what you know” wasn’t working for me. I was living in a small town. I hadn’t seen much of the world. What did I know?

A combination of luck and circumstance allowed a visit with an author nearing the twilight of his career. After hearing my greenhorn’s complaint, he gave it some thought then asked me a few questions.

“Have you ever had your heart broken?”

“Of course,” I said.

“I’ll bet you’ll never forget what that feels like?”

“Sure.”

“Have you ever felt cheated? Betrayed? Maybe afraid you were going to lose something important to you? Or, in fact, did lose something that was important to you?”

“Yes, but I’m sure everyone has felt these things in one way or another.”

His eyes twinkled. I had been enlightened.

He’d taught me to “write what I know,” by looking at universal human experiences. Drawing on what I knew to be true gave me the best shot at making my fiction ring true for readers.

I applied his advice when I created Jack Gannon’s world. To make him real, I drew on what I knew. Not just from my time as a reporter, but what I knew as a human being.

Many years ago, an older relative of mine who’d played a role in my life was, at a young age, overwhelmed by a tragedy. She drifted away from her family and faced further tragedies. There were efforts to help, most were in vain. Word of them would travel along the family grapevine but, regrettably, I never saw her again.

Over the years I would often pause to think of her.

Like Jack Gannon, I wondered how things would have gone if we were to see each other again. I guess I won’t ever know. But in Jack’s case, the answers to that question play out with an intensity that can only be imagined on the pages of my thriller: In Desperation.

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