Tuesday, March 14, 2006

AG: From Reality to Fiction--Attacked by an Idea

Back in November I came across an article that caught my attention. Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, congressman from San Diego, pleaded guilty to receiving more than $2.4 million in bribes. The 63 year old congressman served eight terms in the House of Representatives and is a noted Vietnam War ace. At this point, something happened—something that happens to many novelist: I stopped seeing a news article and began seeing a story idea.

Writers are often asked, “Where do you get your ideas.” I don't like to think about it too much. I'm afraid that if I come to understand the process it will cease to work. Writers are paranoid that way. Duke Cunningham's situation is a case in point. I know what the facts are, and I know that he confessed, but my first thought was, “What if he's innocent?”

Why would a man who has spent a decade and a half in Congress confess to something that forces his resignation, subjects him to open legal trial and dangles a jail term in his face if he was innocent of the charges? In the real world he wouldn't, but in the world of novels, such a man might.

If you're a romance writer, then maybe he did it for the love of a woman. If mystery/suspense is your bag, then maybe he confesses because he's being blackmailed or it was the only way to stop a terrorist attack. Think of the possibilities. Once he confesses, there are very few opportunities to receive help in solving the real problem, therefore, he must do it himself. Out on bail, our sacrificing hero—let's call him, Duke Alcott—must free himself from whatever cords bind him to this action, regain his could name, keep his family from falling apart, endure the snide remarks of faithless friends and neighbors, and deal with all the legal battles he faces. Poor Duke.

That is the joy of imagination at work. It takes us from real life to novel life—the life of “what if.” The courts and media may make the real bribe-taking congressman's life miserable, it falls to the novelist to make miserable the life of the fictional counterpart. The possibilities are endless and that is what makes reading and writing novels so much fun. And so much work.

Hmm. So why did our fictional congressman confess? Any ideas?

Alton Gansky lives and imagines in California. Visit him at www.altongansky.com.


At 6:51 AM, Blogger Angela said...

With apologies to the real Congressman and his family--

He resigned because aliens from under the earth are holding his wife hostage.

At 7:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Congressman suffers from black outs and since the evidence is so compelling, he has no choice but to confess. Even he wonders, am I capable of such theivery?

At 10:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jack Cavanaugh says...

My imagined scenario:

He did it. Not for greed, for glory. He is the tragic product of the American dream gone unrealized. All his life he has been a man driven by his ego to be a success and make history. And while he excelled, he was never the greatest; history will record him as a minor character at best. Now, sick and dying, he reasons, “If I can’t be famous, I’ll be infamous…”

Thanks Al. What a pal! That’s actually a modified description of a character in my current work in progress. ADVISORY: SHAMELESS PLUG FOLLOWS—Watch for the release of Kingdom Wars in 2007.

At 1:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow Jack, you are shameless... But of course, now I'll be looking for Kingdom Wars, thanks to your shameless self-promotion. Great work.

At 7:27 PM, Blogger Southern-fried Fiction said...

I'll play.

He confesses to go undercover into prison at the request of the CIA. An American-born Iranian spy, serving a term for burglary, is about to be released. Our hero has the perfect alibi for bearing a grudge against the government. He alone can pry a confession from the spy.

At 11:18 PM, Blogger Bonnie S. Calhoun said...

Because the money is actually a laundering scheme by someone who is bribing him with documented facts that the congressman was part of a fragging that killed one of his superior Officers during the VietNam war. The Officer was actually responsible for making his men wipe out a whole village that turned out to only have children and old people. This same officer was going to make his men repeat this reprehensible crime once again, when the men got the idea to frag him.

Conviction of accepting money is a white collar crime, murder of an Officer isn't!


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