Saturday, October 28, 2017

A Book, A Requirement, Real Life by Kait Carson

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?


  1. Welcome to the darker side of the mystery/suspense/thriller spectrum, Kait.

    It's not that my stories avoid social issues, but I tend to focus more on financial crimes (an under-reported problem in the U.S.) and familial relationships. Social issues are present, but more in the background.

    ~ Jim

  2. Jim, I think your books, focusing on financial crime, are very much about social issues that confront us--misuse of political power, financial abuse of senior citizens, etc.

    While some books deal with social issues more directly than others, I think it's hard to write a book which doesn't reflect social issues in one way or another.

    All books are not Uncle Tom's Cabin, but fiction has a way of presenting issues and influencing the readers.

  3. I don't specifically look for books with social issues but many writers weave them seamlessly into their work. KM does this with her books, as Jesse Damon seeks to reintegrate into society from prison and finds roadblocks thrown up because of his past involvement in murder.

  4. I loved Ant Farm. Your books are on my Kindle for future reads.

    I'm not so sure, though, that financial crimes are not social issues. Money drives the world. What people and institutions will do to achieve or maintain status within that world is often a result of finances. It's why pyramid schemes (by any name) were so attractive and why the world was so fascinated with AIG, the Madoff debacle, and events on Wall Street. Who didn't cringe at the crash, but who wasn't involved, at least a little bit, with penny trading?

  5. So true, Shari. As mystery writers, all of our books are about societal issues in one sense. We are setting right an imbalance. Crime, murder, embezzlement, all are imbalances in the natural order, and thus conflict.

  6. I try to address social issues but I also try not to preach.

  7. I like both Jim's and KM's book because they both contain social issues even if in Jim's case it deals with money. I'm looking forward to the next in their series.

    Yes, as I blogged several weeks ago I include social issues, but I think most mysteries do in some way or other. Kait, as for you going towards a little more violence, I write cozies that people want to read without seeing the actual murder happening. However, in the book I just started I put in a prologue, something I've not done before, with a teenage boy (also something I've never done before) who is murdered. I don't actually write about how it's done just that he's running in a woods trying to escape someone at night, and he trips and falls. It's in the first chapter that his body is found. In this book my social issue is that I'm going to write about the opioid problem that has come to the small town in my books as it has to other small towns in N.E. Ohio and all over the country.

  8. Terrific blog, Kait. I am frequently surprised by the number of cozy mysteries that address social issues. I believe they help to focus on these issues.

  9. Warren, of so agree! Which Grisham book took on the death penalty and a wrongful conviction. Was it the Pelican Brief? So bad with titles. In that book, the conviction was the plot, but the story wasn't a soapbox and lots of twists and turns. A novel is not supposed to be a treatise.

  10. Can't wait to read the book, Gloria. The opioid problem is all-encompassing these days. How did it get so out of control so quickly? We've had these drugs around for quite some time, what changed to make them so overwhelmingly attractive to so many people. I agree with you that mysteries do include social issues to one degree or another, while romances and literary fiction tend more to find their tension in emotions and relationships between individuals.