Definition of serendipity: the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for.
It’s not the first time I’ve noticed this phenomenon. Remember the photo of the six wedding guests in the same dress? Lucky those ladies had a sense of humor. Same with names. Have you welcomed a lot of Emmas and Liams to the world lately? And if you’re the new mom or dad, how many Beebos have you received? Serendipity—there’s a thread of thought running through the world. The writing world is like that, too. Makes it hard to stand out – eh, writers?
By day, I’m a certified paralegal. My certification is from the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), and I’m registered with the Florida Bar (FRP). Both of those items mean I have legal education requirements to fulfill in order to keep my certification and my registration current. My real life begins at night, that’s when I sit at the keyboard and draft murderous mysteries. You can understand how sometimes my two lives intersect. This month, thanks to Warren Bull’s blog on Ferguson, they climbed into the Hadron Collider.
My writing has been taking on an edgier tone this year. I’ve moved from cozy bordering on traditional to traditional bordering on thriller. My sleuths are amateurs, but the edges are harder. Let’s just say no one in these books is baking cookies, but they will be happy to discuss the differences between the Glock 9mm and the 40 cal. To that end, my research reading has changed too. I picked up C.J. Lyons Last Light, the first in her Beacon Hill series.
Last Light features Lucy Guardino, a former FBI agent who has accepted a job with the Beacon Group. Lucy is hoping that the Beacon Group’s mission, solving cold cases, will be enough to keep her engaged now that she’s left law enforcement. Her first cold case? An investigation to support the release of a confessed killer serving time for the triple murder of a mother, father, and their infant daughter. Her mission: she and her team are to gather the evidence and report their findings to the books version of the Innocence Project.
Lyons is known for her well plotted books. This one blew me away. The story is tight, the action fast, and the characters believable. I’m looking forward to catching up with the rest of the series.
The day after I finished the book my Outlook calendar reminded me that I had a continuing legal education webinar scheduled. The title, How Bias Plays a Role in Wrongful Convictions. The sponsor was NALA, and the instructor was with the California Innocence Project. My ears perked up and I listened to case law and investigations that were heartbreaking and exhilarating. The subject matter whetted my appetite to find out what was going on in my home state?
A few clicks later, I found The Innocence Project of Florida. Like most of its counterparts in the innocence network, the Innocence Project of Florida had its genesis in the time when the statute of limitations was about to run out on DNA testing. DNA had been collected for years. Much of it left untested, or if tested, in a cruder fashion than was currently available. One of the successes of the Florida Innocence Project has been to remove the deadline for DNA convictions in our state, but in looking at the site, DNA seems to play a small role in the project’s released clients.
In looking at the rotating faces and details of the released prisoners on the home page, the phrase that keeps appearing is eyewitness misidentification. Bias, or honest mistake? Probably a little of both. The Florida project has had mixed success in combating this. Despite working closely with the legislature, it failed to reform how law enforcement perform eyewitness identification procedures. Its advocacy and support in the legal arena in 2012 did result in new standard jury instructions applying to eyewitness evidence in criminal cases being adopted by the Florida Supreme Court.
Then, on October 20, 2017, Warren Bull wrote his blog on Ferguson which presented a new slant on bias. It also seemed to institutionalize a form of municipal economic indenture supported by law enforcement.
All of this is available to writers to use in their novels or stories. The bias, the false witness (intentional or otherwise) the abusive enforcement based on color or class. The sheer imposition of economic hardship on those who can least afford it. All of it gives veracity to a story. It gives motive for setting and character, explains why your characters behave as they do, and why your protagonist gets involved.
Writers, do you include social issues in your books?
Readers, do you seek out or avoid books that take place against a backdrop of social issues?