17 January 2017

You Don't Want to Cross Me

by Barb Goffman

If the cops ever come banging on my door, I'll know it likely has something to do with a little file I have on my computer. The title: People to Kill.

Sounds bad, doesn't it? Your average Joe might be nodding big time. But my author friends? Nah. They get it. They all probably have lists themselves, though they might not be dumb enough to label theirs People to Kill and leave it right there on their desktop where anyone can spot it.

So who are all these people with a target on their back? One's a teacher a friend had in high school. The guy made my pal's life a living hell, so I told her I'd take care of him for her. Another person on the list is a doctor who made a different friend suffer. So I said I'd off the doc. A third person on the list ... Well, you get the idea. I've got a lot of disgruntled friends.

You'll notice I didn't mention anyone on the list who had crossed me. That's because I don't need to write their names down. They are burned in my brain, and one day, they each will get what's coming.

I know you're waiting for it, so yeah, yeah. On paper. I'm going to get revenge on paper. I'll name a character who's going to suffer after someone's real-life nemesis. Not the full name, of course. The first name or the last name. Enough for me and my friends to know what happened.

I've found I enjoy bringing pain to folks who've been mean--or worse--to people I like. It's cathartic. It's especially soothing when I'm dealing with people who've hurt me. Shall we count the ways?

  • In my first published story, "Murder at Sleuthfest," I murder a thief who steals a ring at the Sleuthfest mystery convention. Harsh? Maybe. But In real life, I had a ring stolen at that very convention the year before the story was published, and, ooh, writing that story made me feel good. 
  • In my story "Compulsive Bubba," an adulterer gets his. I did that job in honor of a childhood neighbor whose husband cheated on her with her best friend. The woman deserved better.
  • In "The Wrong Girl," a teacher who humiliates a child in class ostensibly to help her discovers that she picked on the wrong girl. It just so happens that something like that happened to me in the fifth grade--the humiliation, not the revenge. I promise. But, oh, the catharsis was real.
  • In "Stepmonster," a woman seeks to avenge the death of her beloved father. Someone could have saved him but simply didn't. The basis for this story comes straight from my life. As is some of the dialogue. Word for word. Writing this story helped me deal with the situation, but it of course could never make up for my father's death, and I will never forgive or forget. Even catharsis has its limits.
Want to read "Stepmonster"? It's on my website--one of my two stories published in 2016. To read it, click here. Or if you want to read a bunch of mystery/crime stories involving bad weather (rain storms, snow storms, sand storms), you could pick up the anthology it's in, Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning.

Author friends, have you dealt with real-life foes in your stories? I'd love to hear the details in the comments below. And readers, is there someone you'd like added to my People to Kill file? Please share your story. But don't list your nemesis' name. You can send that to me privately.


  1. Fun post, Barb. And my wife and I often kid that if anyone from law enforcement came looking around here they'd find enough to convict fifty people. Books on poisons, files on murder, web searches on how hide a body. Also, like you, I like naming bad guys after people who've pissed me off. There's a great satisfaction in that!

  2. I've made vile villains of people who have crossed me in real life. My friend George Effinger called me once to say he'd killed one of his wives - again. Oh, yes. Revenge is a writer's right.

  3. No question I draw from people who have 'done me wrong' to create villains. Makes them so real, with complex motivations, and not cardboard. At the same time, there is that little satisfaction in dealing with the critters on paper in a spectacular way, and thus being able to let go. Cheap therapy, eh Barb!

  4. Oh, I do this too. It's one of the great advantages of being a writer. Loved "Stepmonster" - very well done!

  5. I don't have any files on my puter with potential victims' names. But I keep a file called "clues2use.txt" explaining stuff like how much cyanide it takes to kill a person & how long it takes. Also scraps of info like the ones I posted yesterday having to do with the prison escape & miscellaneous things I will probably never use.

  6. Enjoyed your post, Barb. And yes, I've also named victims, murderers, and other despicable or ill-fated characters after people who have been unkind to me or members of my family, always being careful to change the name just enough so that anyone who accused me of doing it would seem paranoid, and nothing would stand up in court. Once, though, years ago, I was casting about for a name for a small-time loser and picked the perfect name out of thin air--or so I thought. Not until the story came out in AHMM did I realize it was actually the exact name of the husband of a woman I found annoying. And yes, he really was a small-time loser--no wonder the name seemed so perfect to me. Luckily, I don't think either the woman or her husband ever read the story. (I don't think either of them reads much.)

  7. Thanks, everyone, for stopping by.

    Paul, yes, I have a lot of reasons the cops could come after me too. The People to Kill list is just the most obvious.

    O'Neil, isn't it nice that if someone has really pissed you off, you can kill them multiple times, in multiple ways, on paper? So satisfying.

    Melodie, very cheap therapy. (I have an unpublished story that I wrote a few weeks after my dog died that helped me work though it.)

    Eve, I'm so glad you liked me story. Thanks for letting me know.

    Elizabeth, how to kill someone with cyanide? Yep. That would be enough to make the Average Joe quake in his boots!

    Bonnie, I got a perverse laugh out of your story. Are you sure you didn't subconsciously use that name?

  8. I enjoyed Stepmonster– 2 stories in one!

    Strangely, if you reverse the first and last names of one of my back-stabbing bad guys, it's the same as a co-worker I used to have.

    The given name of one of the worst people I've ever known has made it into a couple of stories. He has the most innocent, almost flowery surname, wholly unlike the guy himself.

  9. Love the post - and the short story. Coincidentally, I'm killing someone off tonight. It really is cathartic.

  10. Strangely, Leigh? It's just a big coincidence? Uh huh. :) And thanks about "Stepmonster." Glad you enjoyed it.

    And Becky, ah, the joy of homicide. Hope you're having fun. ;)

  11. I have an (unpublished as yet) novella wherein I do in an a**h**e who gave me and my boss trouble over 16 years ago when we would make deliveries to the building he and another dipstick "managed." Felt good! And Barb, many writing careers have started with such literary vengeance!

  12. Excellent and informative. Thank you for sharing. I know a few people who definitely deserve some karma coming back to bite them.

  13. Hi, Jeff. Thanks for stopping by. Yes, literary vengeance is a wonderful way to get revenge without risking going to jail. Good luck with the book!

    And Robyn, I'm glad you enjoyed the blog. If you want anyone specific to get some karma coming their way, email me and I can add their names to the list. My email address is on my website.

  14. "The NCLB Murder" MAY have been based on an assistant principal who targeted certain female teachers and forced at least one out of the district. I may have bought her some time by convincing colleagues that fictional murder was better than their offer to "help hide the body." In the periodic meetings she set up to "improve" my teaching, at which I insisted the presence of a teachers' rep., she thought I was taking notes, but I MIGHT actually have been plotting the next page of the story -- very therapeutic.
    *** It is entirely true that I was nowhere near her at the time of her recent death, which I didn't hear about until later, and no, I did not rejoice because of that "everyone's death diminishes me" poem.


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