While at my first few book signings in The Before Times, I was surprised how often I was asked if my book was nonfiction or based on a true story.
In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised. In the Texas Panhandle, the name Rick Treon was strongly associated with my background as a reporter and editor of the Amarillo Globe-News. So I had to explain how I’d ventured into the world of fiction and that, while my characters and settings were realistic, the events were from my own imagination.
As often as not, I was then asked: Why?
Why, after ten years of reporting the facts and finding stories based in truth, would I not use those skills when writing a book? Wouldn’t writing true crime be easier?
They were legitimate questions, and I didn’t have a great answer. Since then, I’ve figured it out.
Writing fiction is more fun.
Every day I can, I get to look at real life and ask, “Wouldn’t it be crazy if …”
Wouldn’t it be crazy if this was the reason a crime was committed? Wouldn’t it be crazy if that was the identity of the criminal?
Right now, I’m taking that critical eye to the Anna Delvey case, which was just dramatized in a captivating Shondaland TV show on Netflix, Inventing Anna. Since just before I signed my first book deal in 2019, I’ve toyed with the idea of writing a novel from the POV of a con artist.
Because of Inventing Anna and the other works in various stages of production, were I to use any of the Delvay debacle, it would have to be strictly as inspiration. Perhaps her general methodology and sociopathy would make their way into the character.
And that’s what crime writers often do.
I chose the genre of crime fiction because it was the best way to make sure the characters and settings were realistic. I soon realized there was another benefit, too. I knew how to research crimes and find sources to help me.
I get to be half journalist, half Hemingway, and I love it.
Now, I didn’t come up with this strategy on my own. I am one of approximately a bajillion authors to have made the jump from working at a daily newspaper to writing crime fiction.
One of the most popular right now is Michael Connelly, author of the Harry Bosch and Lincoln Lawyer books. Other bestselling examples include John Sanford and Stieg Larsson. (Hemingway was a war correspondent but didn’t write crime fiction as we have come to know it.)
Perhaps these questions are one reason the main character in my second novel, 2021 Silver Falchion nominee Let the Guilty Pay, is a true crime writer.
All this is to say I haven’t ruled out writing narrative nonfiction, and there are a lot of stories in my own backyard that could be great, marketable subjects for such a work.
But right now I’m having too much fun making things up.