Giving Thanks for Dark Blessings







By Debbie Burke

Without villains, there are no heroes. Without conflict, there is no story. Without lies, greed, theft, lust, jealousy, betrayal, rape, and murder, there is no crime fiction.

Those of us who write mystery, suspense, and thrillers embrace evil as a dark blessing to our chosen profession.

Sue Grafton famously admits the inspiration for her alphabet series sprang from an ugly divorce during which she fantasized about killing her ex. She grabbed adversity by the throat and transformed it into a blockbuster series.

TKZ’s Elaine Viets turned her own medical catastrophe into a unique mystery series starring Angela Richman, Death Investigator. Way to go, Elaine!

Dark Blessing #1: In the 1980s, my husband and I were parties in a grueling lawsuit. Our opponents retained a greedy, unethical attorney. During weeks of depositions in his office, I noticed this framed image titled “The Lawsuit” on his wall. In person, the lawyer’s smug mug bore a startling resemblance to the illustration.

He was quite proud of himself as he milked hundreds of thousands in fees from his clients, which naturally raised our own legal costs as we had to fight back.

For five long years, this attorney dragged out the suit, convincing a judge to rule against us for reasons that had flimsy legal basis. We suspected the attorney was paying off the judge, but couldn’t prove it.

Then again, maybe the terrible strain of the lawsuit had made us paranoid. Maybe.

We ultimately won the case, but it nearly killed our bank account…and my spirit.

Some years later, the judge was convicted of bribery and sentenced to prison. Too late to help our case, but our suspicions had been vindicated. We weren’t paranoid after all.

The attorney retired comfortably and later died of cancer. Nope, we didn’t send flowers to his funeral.

In a twisted, unintentional way, the attorney did me a favor.

Because of that ordeal, we moved to Montana. There, I’ve followed my dream of fulltime writing ever since. Plots and villains continue to pour from the cornucopia of that lawsuit. And I’ve repeatedly inflicted fictional revenge on the attorney.

Dark Blessing #2: My adopted mother was a sweet, kind, loving lady. This photo was taken at her birthday several years ago.

She was also ferociously independent and determined to remain in her San Diego home where she’d lived for over forty years. Despite health problems, she refused to move in with her daughter in L.A., nor me in Montana—too cold. She could take care of herself just fine, thank you very much.

My sister and I respected her wishes, but wangled one concession: a visiting caregiver checked on her several times a week. That solution appeared to work until…

Mama had a stroke a month shy of her ninety-first birthday. While she was in the hospital, my sister and I discovered the caregiver had run up more than $15,000 in fraudulent charges on Mama’s credit cards. We confronted the woman who admitted wrongdoing. We also reported the theft to the police and the elder fraud unit. They promised to investigate further.

Dear Mama maintained her independence to the end. Two weeks after the stroke, she died with dignity, on her own terms.

After her death, my sister and I learned to our horror that, despite abundant evidence and the caregiver’s admission, she couldn’t be prosecuted without Mama’s testimony. What???

Eventually, the credit card companies reversed the bogus charges, but the caregiver skipped away free, no doubt looking for her next victim.

Guess who’s receiving her comeuppance in my current WIP about elder fraud.

Justice that eludes us in real life can sometimes be found in fiction.

This Thanksgiving Day, I count many happy blessings. My incredible husband makes sacrifices so I can live the dream. I’m surrounded by a large community of supportive writer friends. TKZ gives me daily valuable lessons in craft, as well as the opportunity to write guest blogs.

And…there have been enough dark blessings in my life to provide endless inspiration for more novels.

Happy Thanksgiving to all at The Kill Zone!

Your turn, TKZers.

If you’re a writer, how have real-life tribulations inspired your stories?

If you’re a reader, what books helped you through difficult trials?

Debbie Burke considers her smartphone a dark blessing that inspired her thriller Instrument of the Devil, available here.

11 thoughts on “Giving Thanks for Dark Blessings

  1. Debbie, when I was a kid I was followed around by a creepy guy at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. I was looking at the footprints when I noticed him. Sunglasses, a smile on his face, he was clearly trying to get into my head. And he succeeded. I outfoced him by ducking into the souvenir shop, and then scampering out the front door and running down Hollywood Boulevard as fast as I could and then jumping on a bus that took me back to my grandparents’ house.

    That sense of paranoia is still vivid in my mind, and I think contributes a lot to my suspense scenes. I try to feel it and put that feeling in my characters.

    • Scary story, Jim. Thank goodness you outsmarted him and escaped. Probably gave you a few nightmares at the time, but you’ve made great use of the experience in your books.

      Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!

  2. On this day of Thanksgiving, for which I have much to be thankful for in so many areas, I’d like to express my thanks to you the writers and bloggers (current and past) on this site. Your willingness to share your insights, critiques, ideas, and struggles are a true reflection of this community and your personal interest to make a difference in the writing community.

    We, the readers of TKZ, are all blessed by your contributions. Keep it up.

    Happy Thanksgiving to All.

  3. I concur Debbie, as the fitness folks say, “No pain, no gain.”

    Sometimes I have regrets for some of the things I’ve done over the years, or bits of residual angst over things done to me. But looking back on it now, those are the experiences that make the stories real, good or bad. All the pain, the sorrow, the loss, the violence, can be combined with the joy of having survived those things and come back out to the good side of life.

    The bad stuff just adds texture to life, and to our stories.

    Happy Thanksgiving everyone! May God fill your life with blessing, and strengthen you with adversity.

  4. I also want to thank all the bloggers for sharing their expertise and experiences. I am so thankful to you!

    And like you Debbie, I went through a long lawsuit. I lived on a trust and the trustee helped himself to a good bit of the trust money. The last short story I wrote for Woman’s World where the ‘biter got bit’ was a way to work out my frustrations.

  5. Much of my past has found its way into my books. Domestic abuse, being stalked, widowed twice, inheriting a business after a death, my daughter almost dying, twice, premonitions, and finding love again, to name only a few.

    I agree with others, reading stories, and interesting blogs like TKZ, encourage, instruct, and inspire. It is interesting how the right words appear at the exact moment they’re needed.

    • Cecilia, how true that the right words appear when they’re needed! Along the same lines as when the student is ready, the teacher appears. May you continue to make lemonade out of lemons.

Comments are closed.