The Fiction of Fiction


I recently read about a Nazi mystery train someone claimed to have discovered buried in a tunnel in Poland. Experts from around the world will be working with Polish officials, first to figure out if it’s really there and, if it is, to dig out and expose it. The next step will be to figure out what to do with its contents. Not an easy task. Either of them. But what a great mystery.

mystery train
Image links to Washington Post story on mystery train

I’ve been asked a few times how I come up with the stories that I write. It’s a good question. And an impossible one. Because I have never stopped believing that truth really is stranger than fiction. It’s the true story of the Polish lustration laws that inspired the first book in my mystery series. A Blind Eye tells the story of a murder inspired, at least in part, by events of long ago. Events that still resonate, powerfully, today.

The connection between fiction and truth is a contentious one. Like many of you, I’m sure, sometimes I read for pure escapism. I look for books that truly take me away: to another time, to completely different people with different problems, even to another planet. But I’ve also noticed that some of my favorite books – the stories that most stay with me, make me think – are those tied to the present. My present. Stories that connect, even tangentially, to the reports I read about every day in the news. Reports about people like me, living in cities or towns like mine.

Frederick Douglass National Historic Site
Frederick Douglass National Historic Site

My other books also use real life stories as their foundation. In A Thin Veil, the second book in the Adam Kaminski mystery series, Adam must help a law enforcement officer in Washington, D.C., who finds himself stuck between the duty he owes to the dead and the respect he owes to the powerful.

Here in Philadelphia, we’re gearing up for a visit from Pope Francis. Talk about unbelievable stories! As a proud Philadelphian, I’m looking forward to my city being at the center of the country’s – perhaps even the world’s – attention. The city will shine, I am sure. Of course, as a mystery writer, I can’t help but think what a great opportunity an event like this presents for an imaginative culprit. All That Glitters tells the tale of a similar event in Philadelphia, and a murder perpetrated in the ripples of unease and upheaval that surround it.

How about you: do you like your stories to be based in fact or do you prefer your fiction to be purely fictional, a true escape from the real world?

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7 thoughts on “The Fiction of Fiction

  1. Interesting question. I suppose that I like both types of stories…total fiction or with some basis in reality. I know that my imagination has certainly been captured by a few titles that took a real person and created a fictional event in their life as a story’s main idea, such as “Shirley: A Novel”, using the author Shirley Jackson as one of the main characters. Very thought-provoking!


  2. I prefer to escape, the farther away from the world the better. I get too much reality in the newspaper and daily life so when I read, I want something light and fun (which is why the books I write are light and fun).


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