When real life collides with make-believe

As I sit here trying to figure out what to blog about, I am listening to the morning news. A local reporter has just finished interviewing a former DEA agent about the tragic events in Dallas last week. My adopted hometown is hurting. It is crying out in anger and pain and yet it is healing, much to the despair of some in the national media and on Capital Hill. I am proud of Dallas and the surrounding area. We have pulled together to help not only the families of the fallen officers and those injured in the cowardly attack last Thursday but we have pulled together to help one another.

Now we sit here, holding our breaths and praying nothing happens today. You see, today is a private memorial service for the fallen officers, one that will be attended not only by local dignitaries and members of both Dallas Police Department and Dallas Area Rapid Transit but by the President, Vice-President, former Speaker of the House and who knows what other politicians. Governor Abbott will not be here because he is undergoing skin grafts for serious burns today but he was here Friday, despite his injuries.

Why are we holding our collective breath? Because we are still on edge after last week’s events and we remember what happened in November 1963. The last thing we need is for something to happen to a visiting politician. That is the burden we carry, thanks to Lee Harvey Oswald. Unfortunately, we have also had salt rubbed in a very open wound by certain folks on social media over the last few days as they worry that evil Texans will rise up to kill the President. After all, we all wanted to secede from the Union. Is there any proof for their allegations? No, but they just love to kick the puppy when its down and they have proven it once again by politicizing a tragedy.

So, Amanda, what does this have to do with writing and why are you talking about the assassination of the five officers on a writing blog?

The answer is both simple and complex. The simple part is that the attack last Thursday and its aftermath came close to bringing my writing to a screeching halt. Partly because my mind simply could not fathom for a bit what happened. Partly because, once I realized it wasn’t all a bad dream, my worry for the officers I know with DPD grew as I waited to make sure none of them had fallen victim to the assassin. And yes, the shooter was an assassin. Partly because what happened last week will continue to impact those of us in the DFW area will forever be impacted by what happened.

It is complex because I am now processing what happened and find myself looking at it from a writer’s point of view. I’m not quite sure how I feel about that yet but bear with me.

I have watched video of what happened and the aftermath and my writer’s brain has started taking it apart, figuring out how I can adapt it for a story that had been simmering on the back brain for some time. No, not a story about an attack on a peaceful protest and the escorting police officers. This is actually the final short story I have planned for the current arc of the Honor and Duty series.

Heck, I even have another story where I have a politician who can’t open his mouth without inserting both feet. Well, guess what? Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has moved to the head of the pack of examples for that character thanks to his comments after the shooting.

The writer’s brain also works overtime when I think of the area of Downtown Dallas where those horrific events took place. I can picture the area, the buildings around it and now I find myself imagining what it must have been like during those long eight hours as the police worked to secure the area, locate and neutralize the shooter.

I find myself doing what I have done so many times before when reality hurts so much it would be easy to pull the covers over my head and hide fro the world. I write. I write about what happened and how it has impacted not only myself but those around me. I write my stories. They are my emotional outlet.

It all comes down to coping. How do we cope with traumatic events as writers and as people?

This post is not meant to be an invitation to debate gun control or any other hot button topic. So don’t go there. What I’m interested in knowing is how you as a writer cope with traumatic events. Do you write about them and then, at some later time, use those events as inspiration in your writing? As readers, what do you think about writers who use such events as inspiration?

Finally, because this is a writers’ blog, a bit of promotion.

About two weeks ago, I published the first in a series of short stories set in the Honor and Duty universe. Taking Flight told the story of Ashlyn Shaw’s first assignment as a member of the Fuerconese Marine Corps. The second story, Battle Bound (Honor and Duty), is now live. It takes place approximately 4 years before Vengeance from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 1).

Newly promoted, Captain Ashlyn Shaw has been ordered to take Delta Company to the Bennington System. Their mission is simple: secure groundside defenses and seek out the Callusian invaders. It should be a simple assignment. The Fuerconese Navy had proven itself time and again since war had been declared to be more than a match for the Callusians. Once Taskforce Liberator, under the command of Admiral Tremayne, secured the system approaches, Ash and her Devil Dogs could get to work.

Except no battle plan ever survives the first encounter with the enemy. This time the Callusians are breaking pattern and it will take everything Tremayne and Ashlyn have to lead their people to victory.

The Devil Dogs will get the mission done, no matter what the cost.


  1. They kick the puppy. It snaps without biting. They dance, point, and scream “Vicious! Did you see that!” And then they write stories about rabid puppies with eight-foot jaws roaming the schoolyards.

  2. I use my writing to withdraw from all of the pressures of real life. During the last few years, those pressures have included a bone marrow transplant for my wife, two hip replacements for her, countless medical side-issues, the death of my mother, and the suicide of a former foster child. Withdrawing into my written fantasy world leaves my subconscious free to come to grips with real life without my conscious having to dwell on the issues at the same time.

    Put another way, I write because it’s cheaper than a therapist (not like I have the money for a therapist in the budget, anyway) and far preferable to going crazy. Well, crazier… It’s also pretty cool when a few thousand people actually read my books.

  3. As a reader, it depends. I’ve spoken on quitting Star Wars over the perception that the Episode Three novel was a thinly veiled attempt to draw a parallel between Bush and Palpatine. Such claims about Bush’s character and intentions were popular in that day. On the other hand, until I read it in a Zelazny collection, I had no idea that he used automobile themes, much less because he narrowly survived a crash.

    Are the facts being used, stripped of the serial numbers, in service of the plot? Or are real world fictions being used obviously in service of a real world political agenda? Perhaps the latter does not count as therapy.

    As someone who does worldbuilding without successfully completing projects, yes.

    1. If I ever publish the kid’s series, there are going to be accusations that they mirror all sorts of events. when the only thing in my mind was “Okay: I want this sort of situation, so how do I get there?”

      Some might claim what I’m writing now is an economic commentary and political commentary, even though it concerns a merchant in a former enemy nation. And the reasons he is there is that it was the closest one to get to when he feared someone was going to part his head from his body.

      1. Yeah, I may have been full of shit when I came to that conclusion about the Episode III novel.

  4. It’s difficult to write convincingly about something never experienced, something that has never roused your emotions. And then something happens, and you _know_ the gut clenching, the chills, the weakening knees . . . and you can write well, what you’d only danced around before, trying through research to find the spark that would convey what you’ve just learned the hard way.

  5. I write it all down, so I won’t forget. I may or may not go back there, but raw emotion is something I can’t afford (my body doesn’t process the adrenaline properly, and it takes days to get rid of the metabolites). So I have to damp down the feelings as quickly as possible. But they are MY feelings, and just washing them away says they aren’t important. They are.

    Writing is my way to honor them.

    And I can use them from my memory or by going back to read when I have need of the emotion for a character. If I don’t write them down, I will forget the detail. I don’t want to forget – I just don’t want to be felled for days.

  6. One of the things that I find very annoying about progressives is the “you can’t understand X if you aren’t Y” attitude. It completely unravels the Enlightenment. On the other hand, there is some truth to it.

    I think a lot of school-assigned reading falls into a related category: Students simply can’t understand/relate to it because they don’t have the life experience, yet.

    I haven’t (yet) copy/pasted an event from my life into print, but what I’ve experienced certainly informs and colors what I write.

    1. Hmm. I truly hated “The Jungle” when I read it – and part of that might have been that I could imagine the smells (veterinarian’s son, and he did do large animal practice when I was younger).

      On the subject – can’t contribute. I do know that 9/11 did very bad things to my productivity, but I was writing code then, which doesn’t exactly lend itself to emotional release… Right now, Dallas is a horror, no doubt about the matter – but I have quite a distance from it. Other than running through the Texas-sized airport, I’ve only been there once and when I was very young. Hasn’t really affected my production or writing very much at all (other than taking the time to hammer a few idiots over on Baen’s Bar).

  7. Honestly? Other than the constant feeling of despair, it’s like the scene in the miniseries Lonesome Dove where Gus says to the raped Lorena, “They shouldn’t have done it – but they did.”

    The shooter in Dallas shouldn’t have done it – but he did. No one can change that. The best we can do is pick ourselves up and go forward. That doesn’t mean we don’t hurt; that the families of the victims don’t hurt; that Dallas doesn’t hurt, But life for us goes on, even during times when we’re numb. The world goes on even at times we don’t see how it possibly can.

    How do we continue to write? That depends on the impact of the event and the person. It’s not callous to keep writing, nor should someone feel guilty for when the words don’t come. Everyone and situation is different.

    I don’t use current events for inspiration simply because they don’t inspire me to write fiction. On the other hand, when a book is published a short time after a tragedy incorporates something similar, unless it’s very, very good I immediately think it’s a cheesy attempt to capitalize on a current event. I have a lower opinion of it than knock-off books that try to ride on the popularity of successful books with a similar plot.

    I do write about significant current events in my journal, my message in a bottle cast into the sea of time, because it might give a different perspective than the reader have of that event, and might write something about it on my nearly abandoned blog, or in online forums. Other than that, it doesn’t come up at all.

    1. On this, there’s a note in David Webber’s Flag in Exile. He wrote the book and turned it in to Baen. Then between it getting to Baen and it hitting the shelves the OKC bombing happened. The book had a very similar incident in it (though on a somewhat smaller scale) and the two were completely unrelated.

  8. Not sure if I know how to do this, but take a look at Victoria Scott @AuthorVScott Twitter tweet…


    Where Natasha Howell recounts a very brief encounter in a convenience store.

    My own processing: Just thinking that one of the few good things coming out of the Dallas snipings in the context of so many recent deaths seems to be a recognition that it really isn’t a question of “us against them” but “us against death.” And the only way to win is together.

    1. “Us against death.” I think you nailed it. We write to process, or buffer, events of the day, but also to fight back against the darkness. Not always deliberately, but we discover later that we gave the Darkness a good poke and chased it back for a few moments, or even hours and days.

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