Friday, March 22, 2013

The "Romeo Killer" Murder(s) by Moonlight...


I don't always make stuff up.
Sometimes, I borrow from what's happened, or happening all around me. When I sat down to write Murder by Moonlight a year and a half ago, I already knew that I wanted to base the newest in the Dick Moonlight detective series on a tragic axe murder, and attempted murder, that had occurred fairly recently in a sleepy little white-bread suburb outside of Albany, New York called...get this...Bethlehem.

The axe murderer in question, an attractive, well educated young man by the name of Chris Porco, had already been tried and imprisoned. Despite repeated appeals he remains incarcerated, and it's more than likely that a max security prison will be his home long after his good looks abandon him and his prison Bic pen tattoos have faded to faint blue.

Basing a fictional story on a real event is just that. You borrow from what's already been reported (in this case, some great work  by local Albany journalists Steve Ferrance of YNN News Network and Brendon Lyons of The Times Union), and then you add your imagination to it. The real stuff...the stuff that is already out there readily available in the public domain...provides the base or seed of the story. You, as a novelist, provide the soil, the sun, and the water. You grow it into something that it already is, but also into something much more than it is--a fictional work that is greater than the sum of its true parts.

You following me here?

This weekend the Lifetime Channel (I know, gag!) will present a Docu-Drama (I use capital letters because the word looks so much more...well...dramatic), called, "Romeo Killer: The Chris Porco Story." Like I did with Murder by Moonlight, the writers of this television motion picture borrowed from documented reportage and then added a little artistic license to the equation. A lot of artistic license from what I'm told.

But the problem now is that Mr. Porco has gotten wind of the film and is trying to have it canned, claiming it "is an unlawful use of his name for trade purposes because he said it's a largely fictional and unauthorized account of his story. (You can read the whole Times Union story here)."

Hey Chris, aren't you like, an axe murderer? Aren't your God given rights not exactly what they used to be?

This isn't the first time I've been made aware of the convicted killer's, let's call them, media complaints.  Just yesterday, Murder by Moonlight, came up in an NPR roundtable program in which the topic of discussion went something like this: Does a convicted murderer and all around psychopath like Porco bear the constitutional right to stop a movie or book based upon his crimes in a court of law?

Well, that court has spoken and so far its Porco 0 - Writers/Media 1.
 And that's a good thing.

I can't think of many fiction writers who don't borrow from reality one way or another, My novels The Innocent (As Catch Can), The Concrete Pearl, and even The Remains all borrow from some actual events that have occurred at one time or another. Michael Connelly (a former newspaper reporter), often hangs out with the cops in order to steal a story or two from the real world. Hemingway used to risk his life in battle in order to harpoon a good and clean and true story. Dan Brown messed with Jesus for God's sakes. Martha Gellhorn reported and, on occasion, turned the reportage into short stories and novels that would never sell. Even Albany's William Kennedy has derived a nice livelihood and achieved the pinnacle of literary greatness writing about scumbags like Legs Diamond. Somehow, I doubt that old Legs' extended family has, ummmm, a leg to stand on should they consider suing Mr. Kennedy. 
I think I'll watch "Romeo Killer" this weekend. It looks like a sappy adaptation of a true life event, and no doubt the writers will tug at the heartstrings of its predominately female audience while scaring their panties off (imagine being attacked with an axe while sleeping in your bed at night?). If nothing else, it will be interesting to see what it is real and what is fabricated. 

Tugging at viewers heartstrings while scaring their panties off...Come to think of it, that's precisely what I've tried to do in Murder by Moonlight.
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