25 February 2013

Ripped From The Headlines

Jan Grape People always ask writers: "Where do you get ideas?" Gosh, I dunno, maybe the news of the day, just ripped from the headlines. Two items that caught my attention this week:

Body in hotel tank: Cause may take weeks

An autopsy on a woman whose body was found in a hotel water tank in Los Angeles is complete, but the cause of death is deferred pending further examination, the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office said Thursday.
That may take six to eight weeks, according to Ed Winter, the assistant chief of the coroner's office.
The decomposing body of Elisa Lam, 21, of Canada, was found floating inside a water tank on the roof of the Cecil Hotel on Tuesday. The body was in the tank for as long as 19 days while guests brushed their teeth, bathed and drank with water from it, officials say.

One lady is reported to have thought the water tasted "funny" but finally chalked it up to the LA area having strange tasting water. (Taken from a CNN News Report)

Don't think about this too much, but maybe for the next few weeks or months people will carry bottled water with them. That won't help with bathing; at least what you drink will likely be pure.

My first thought when reading this was I wonder how many thriller/mystery books will come out next year with this idea as the premise? Someone on Facebook stated that one of the CSI-type shows had this as a story line a few years ago.

Maybe this next item should be in the "Stupid Crooks" column except this guy wasn't a crook. At least nothing was said about his rap sheet.

Woman 'shot' by exploding bullets in oven

A Florida woman is lucky to be alive after being 'shot' when a loaded handgun magazine exploded in an oven.
Aalaya Walker, 18, was visiting a friend when she turned on the oven to heat up some waffles, not realising he had hidden the magazine there earlier, the Tampa Bay Times reports.
When she went to investigate the resulting explosion, she was struck in the chest and leg by bullet fragments.

Ms Walker was able to remove the shrapnel before taking herself to hospital to be assessed. Her friend, Javarski Sandy, told police he had placed the magazine from his licenced Glock weapon in the oven with four rounds still in it.

"He stated that he does not have a temperature gauge on the oven so he estimates the temperature based on how far the knob is turned," the police report read. "I observed that the inside of the oven was damaged."

If being an idiot were an arrestable offense, Mr. Sandy would be in handcuffs by now but no charges have yet been laid. (Taken from a CNN News Report & Tampa Bay Times)

As most writers know truth is often stranger than fiction. I know writers who have written true stories in their manuscripts and an editor rejected them by saying "No one would believe that."

I've often said and think maybe have even mentioned in a column before that ideas are everywhere. I even have a strange feeling they're in the air and when you need one, you just reach for one. There have been times I've had an idea come to me and a short time later I would read or hear something about that same idea. Or would come across a book written by someone else using that same idea.

But I've also heard stories of authors already working on a book when the major premise of their book actually happened in the real world. Both times the author had to stop and give up on the idea because it was too close to the real events. The first was a writer friend who told of how he was writing a book about a famous athlete (not a football player) killing his wife and he was about three-fourths of the way to the ending of his book, when O.J. Simpson was accused of killing his wife. In my friend's book the athlete is caught burying the wife. The author gave up his book because by the time it came out everyone would think he had just "ripped" his story from the headlines.

The second, was current best-selling author Michael Connelly and he reports in his newsletter that he had a book almost complete that he had to give up because it dealt with school children being killed in an elementary school. But it's got to hurt an author to spend so much time developing the story and characters and then have to dump it. Michael had to do that, Newtown CT was too emotional.

I do know that many television shows of today are based on true stories or events of the day. One television show has used that idea to their successful advantage for many years.

So the next time someone asks you where you get your ideas, you know what to say: "Ripped From The Headlines."


  1. Jan, you're right. I remember CSI NY, I think, used a body in a rooftop tank as a premise.

    And like Texas, getting shot in Florida comes with the territory.

  2. Seems to me someone used the idea of putting dead bodies in a water tank after a mass murder in a jazz club. Within the last few years, I believe. Think it was in one of our major Mystery Mags. This just thinking off the top of my head. Maybe I should have delved deeper into my mind. Such as it is. Oh, by the way, being curious, does the show you're referencing contain the letters L-A-L?

  3. My bad. I meant Law and Order. Have no idea why LA Law keeps popping up in my thinking. I'm sure Leigh has it right. If I had seen his comment before I started, I never would have. Yours truly, Toe.

  4. Good column. If I remember correctly Mark Twain said that fiction was hard because it had to be plausible.

  5. Jan, your examples prove that old saying, "Truth is stranger than fiction."

  6. When I was a kid, I listened with my Dad to one of those radio mystery dramas where someone appears murdered by someone unknown. The solution hinged on someone who'd tossed bullets into a campfire.

    Dad pointed out that firing an uncontained handgun bullet would result in the casing ripping apart and– depending upon the relative mass of the slug to the shell– the lead would travel very little in comparison to the brass.

    In this recent article where the cartridges were contained inside a magazine inside a gun inside an oven changes a lot, particularly if a bullet was chambered. This has to be one of those "Folks, don't try this at home" situations.

  7. Yes, Toe, it was Law & Order. Their big voice-over at the begining always said, "ripped From Today's Headlines."

    Leigh, I don't remember that episode of CSI with te body in the water tank, but more than 3 people have mentioned it to me, so I'm sureit's true. And I wonder if the new fall season will use it once again.
    Also, Leigh, I read somewhere that keeping bullets warm (like in the unlit oven, is supposed to make them fly truer, faster or some such. And you are entirely correct in TX & FL it's not unusual to get shot. Unfortunately, more states are joining the group.

  8. Leigh wrote: Dad pointed out that firing an uncontained handgun bullet would result in the casing ripping apart and– depending upon the relative mass of the slug to the shell– the lead would travel very little in comparison to the brass.

    Leigh, I’d say the excerpt “Ms Walker was able to remove the shrapnel before taking herself to hospital to be assessed.”,taken from the quoted news story, pretty clearly shows how right your dad was. Makes me wonder if what struck her was actually shredded shell casing, or perhaps even torn-off oven parts. Whatever struck her must not have penetrated too deeply, if she could remove it before taking herself to hospital.

    Chalk one up for Dad’s!



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