Read this exclusive guest post from Ward Larsen, author of Assassin's Silence, about how everyday headlines can turn into the next thriller, and then make sure you're signed in and comment for a chance to win a copy of the book!
How did you come up with that?
It’s the most common question authors are asked: Where do you get your ideas? Others might answer differently, but for me, there is one clear answer: I get them from the real world.
It is often said that there’s nothing stranger than the truth, and as a thriller writer, I hold to a corollary of that idea—there is nothing more thrilling than the truth. We live in a world where fanatical terrorists create videos of beheadings and corruption is the norm in certain quarters of the world. Not a day goes by without a headline that lends itself to a story.
The inspiration for my most recent book, Assassin’s Silence, came as I read an article about a decades-old radiological accident. The small city in Brazil named Goiânia is virtually unknown outside that country, but any health physicist knows it well.
On September 13, 1987, a pair of men broke into a closed and partially demolished hospital whose disposition was tied up in court. Knowing security on the site had fallen lax, the men raided the building and came upon an abandoned radiotherapy machine. Thinking the heavy source assembly would be valuable as scrap, they separated it and hauled it in a wheelbarrow to one of their homes.
There, they began to disassemble a container that held 93 grams of radioactive cesium-137. Over the course of two days, they hammered away at the metal vessel until it finally surrendered what looked like glowing blue grains of rice. During that second day, one of the scrap-hounds began feeling poorly. Suffering from diarrhea and dizziness, he went to a local clinic, only to be told that he was suffering the effects of something he’d eaten.
His partner kept working. Thinking the glowing material might be a kind of gunpowder, he tried to ignite it unsuccessfully. He soon began sharing his find with family and friends, and they were every bit as intrigued. For two weeks, the cesium was ingested as a cure-all, rubbed on aching joints, and found its way into the food supply.
As cesium was being spread unwittingly across the city, a steady stream of people began arriving at clinics with curiously similar, but unexplainable symptoms. Finally, a visiting medical physicist with a scintillation counter recognized what was happening and raised the alarm.
In the days after the story broke, over 130,000 people presented themselves to overwhelmed hospitals—250 people were eventually found to have been exposed. Of those, four died. Contamination was found on 3 buses, 14 cars, and inside 42 homes. Among other things, 50,000 rolls of toilet paper had to be destroyed in a cleanup effort that took years.
When I read about Goiânia, I knew there was a story in it. Unlike the more serious accidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima, it did not involve a nuclear power plant, but far more common and often ignored source material. The individuals involved were not rogue governments or elite soldiers, but ordinary people trying to scrape out a living. So I did what writers do—I began with real life and built a tale around it.
My version of Goiânia is titled Assassin’s Silence.
Comment below for a chance to win a copy of Assassin's Silence by Ward Larsen!
To enter, make sure you're a registered member of the site and simply leave a comment below.
TIP: Since only comments from registered users will be tabulated, if your user name appears in red above your comment—STOP—go log in, then try commenting again. If your user name appears in black above your comment, You’re In!
Assassin's Silence Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A purchase does not improve your chances of winning. Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry. To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry at https://www.criminalelement.com/blogs/2016/05/headline-hunting-how-real-life-news-can-inspire-the-next-thriller-comment-sweepstakes beginning at 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) May 18, 2016. Sweepstakes ends 3:59 p.m. ET May 27, 2016. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.
To learn more or order a copy, visit: