Writing Fiction from Real Life

In 1997, Jeff Buckley tragically disappeared... Christi Daugherty, author of the Harper McClain series, shares the aftermath of the young musician's disappearance and how it in part inspired her own writing, including her latest mystery, Revolver Road. Read on as Christi lists other famous novels that were inspired by real-life events, and leave a comment to enter for a chance to win a copy of Revolver Road.

Late on the night of May 29, 1997, a talented young musician named Jeff Buckley walked into a tributary channel of the Mississippi River near Memphis, and disappeared.

At the time, his star was in the ascendancy—his first album had received widespread acclaim. He was 30 years old, dark-haired and beautiful, with a voice that soared high enough to pierce your soul. His cover of Leonard Cohen’s song, Hallelujah, was breaking hearts on college campuses around the world. His unpredictable live performances were already legendary.

In the immediate hours after his disappearance, reporting on the incident was hazy and confused. No one had been with him except for a member of his band who insisted he’d simply walked into the river holding his guitar. And then he didn’t come back.

The police withheld judgment on whether or not a crime had occurred while a search was underway. As days passed without any sign of him, rumors spread. He was spotted in New Orleans. In Los Angeles. In Boston. He was on the run. He’d been murdered.

At the time, I was a young reporter working in New Orleans, a few hundred miles downriver from where he disappeared. Like everyone else my age, I was absorbed in the mystery. It seemed impossible that he could have just walked into the river. It didn’t make sense.

A week later, his body was found in the water a few miles away from where he’d disappeared. Police said there was no sign of foul play. It wasn’t a hoax. He was really gone.

When I sat down to write Revolver Road, the third book in my Harper McClain mysteries series, I found myself thinking about that week and the pressing, almost suffocating suspense of it. When I sketched out the plot, I wrote about a young musician named Xavier Rayne who disappears from his home outside Savannah, Georgia, as a storm rolls in off the Atlantic. Only in my version, foul play is definitely involved.

Most of my books have been inspired in some way by real life. The Echo Killing series was originally inspired by my years spent working as a crime reporter at newspapers in Savannah, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans. I like to take a bit of reality and then twist it around until it becomes something new and dangerous.

I am hardly the first crime writer to be inspired by real-life, of course. Many books have their basis in a moment that really happened, which an author then grabbed and spun out into an entirely alternate reality. One even more dramatic and absorbing than the original.


Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Christie’s famous tale of the kidnapping and murder of three-year-old Daisy Armstrong was published two years after the kidnapping and murder of aviator Charles Lindbergh’s 20-month-old child. The case dominated the headlines while she was writing.


A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

The Booker Award-winning novel was inspired by the real attempted assassination of reggae musician Bob Marley in 1976, when seven men raised Marley’s house in Jamaica, shooting him, his wife, and several members of his band.


Psycho by Robert Bloch

The movie is more famous than the book, but the book started it all. The twisted murderer Norman Bates is based on real murderer and ‘body snatcher,’ Ed Gein. Known as the Butcher of Plainfield, or the Plainfield Ghoul, Gein confessed to killing two women in Wisconsin in the 1950s. His crimes became famous after police discovered he had exhumed corpses from local graveyards and made objects and keepsakes from the bones and teeth.


Jaws by Peter Benchley

The tale of a great white shark menacing a coastal community and leaving death was inspired by the New Jersey Shore shark attacks of 1917. Over twelve days, five people were attacked by sharks—only one survived. Ship captains reported seeing extremely large sharks in the water off the coast. The attacks fascinated the nation.


The Shining by Stephen King

King’s gripping tale about the haunted Overlook Hotel is one of my favorite ghost stories. It was inspired by a single night in 1973, when King and his wife stayed at the Stanley Hotel in Colorado. The two of them were the only guests in the sprawling, mountain-top inn, then run-down and in some disrepair. During the night, King heard children playing in the empty hallways, even though no children were there. Later, he dreamed of his own son, running down a long, empty hotel corridor, looking over his shoulder, and screaming. And from that came the idea for one of the scariest books I know.

About Revolver Road by Christi Daugherty:

Even in the chill of February, no place touches Harper McClain’s heart like Savannah. She should be walking beneath the historic city’s towering oaks, surrounded by graceful mansions. Instead, she’s hiding miles away on Tybee Island after a mysterious voice on the phone warned her that someone wanted her dead. The call was too specific to ignore. The caller knew everything about her. But that was months ago, and she’s getting tired of being scared.

Her only escape is her work at the newspaper, where the hottest story in town is the disappearance of Xavier Rayne. The singer had a hit album on his hands, and was about to go on tour, but then he walked out of his beachfront home and vanished. The police believe he drowned, but Harper suspects his disappearance may be more ominous than that. Something doesn’t feel right about it.

His bandmates and actress girlfriend say he’s run away before. They expect him to come home. Until a body washes up with two bullet holes in it. Now everyone in Rayne’s life is a suspect. As Harper digs deeper into the case, though, the threats against her own life return. The phone call she received was very real. A killer from her past is coming for her.

Now she must solve two murders, or end up dying on Revolver Road…

Comment below for a chance to win a copy of Revolver Road by Christi Daugherty!

To enter, make sure you’re a registered member of the site and simply leave a comment below.

Revolver Road 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/writing-fiction-from-real-life/ beginning at 12:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) February 21, 2020. Sweepstakes ends at 11:59 a.m. ET March 6, 2020. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 120 Broadway, New York, NY 10271.

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  1. Anne

    Intriguing and captivating. Thanks.

  2. Daniel Weber

    Can’t wait to read.

  3. paul klumbach

    not enough close calls

  4. C

    That is so interesting! I never knew some of those books were based on actual crimes.

  5. LuAnn Morgan

    I really enjoyed this post. Lots of good information.

  6. Sara M Lontcoski

    Just enough of a tease to keep you wanting to read more.

  7. Debi K

    You had me at Jeff Buckley. Hallelujah is still on my listening rotation. Tragic.

  8. Helen Martin

    Sounds fascinating!

  9. Pearl

    A winner. Great!

  10. kentl1903@

    It was fascinating hearing about your reaction to Jeff Buckley’s death. I was living in Nashville at the time and the entire music industry was shocked. His version of “Hallelujah” is still amazing. Thank you for sharing.

  11. Karen Mikusak

    Sounds great! Would love to win.

  12. Deb Philippon

    This is an interesting and engrossing article. Wish me luck in winning!

  13. Nancy Pate

    I remember the Buckley case and its sad ending. Looking forward to reading Revolver Road. As a former newspaper reporter, I really enjoy the series and newsroom atmosphere.

  14. Misty Williams

    Thank you so much for the chance to win this amazing sounding book!! You are a new Author to me!

  15. Michael Carter

    Please enter me in his sweepstakes.
    Thanks —

  16. John Smith

    That Agatha Christie is one of my favorites!

  17. Joanne Mielczarski

    I did not know how Jeff Buckley died – thank you for that information. I am hoping to win your book; it sounds like an interesting crime read.

  18. carloshmarlo

    The story of Jeff Buckley is a real tragedy, so much talent and promise. Thanks for the chance to win a copy of this book.

  19. Lori P

    The real life inspirations for these novels make them all the more interesting!

  20. LeMinou

    Sounds like a fascinating read. Thanks for the chance.

  21. martin bodnar

    Thanks for the chance to win!

  22. Tiffany

    This looks great

  23. Rebecca Joy Mensinga

    I wanna read this so bad!

  24. Susan T.

    Stories based on real events are always pack more of a punch for me. I remember when Jeff Buckley was missing. It was such a strange story that it’s hard to believe it’s true!

  25. Shelly

    This sounds very interesting

  26. Jana

    This is a great list. I’ve read some, but not others.

  27. Beth T.

    Reading your opening paragraph, I once again felt the lift of hope I felt at the time of Jeff Buckley’s walk into that river–maybe, just maybe…and then the crushing reality. What a loss. Now I want to read your novel.

  28. sue

    Sounds like a great addition to that list. Thanks.

  29. Belinda Turner

    Your book sounds so intriguing! I’ll put it on my list!❤️🌺🌸❤️

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  31. Janet Gould

    I love all of those books.

  32. Phyllis McGuire

    Looks like a great read!!!

  33. Michelle

    Jeff Buckley 😥😥 gone too soon

  34. Diana Hardt

    The book sounds really intriguing.

  35. Diane Keeney

    I have been waiting for your new book. I can’t wait to read it.

  36. TCasteel

    I believe this would be a good read. A little different than ones I usually gravitate to.

  37. Stacy Ribando

    I can’t wait to read it. I am putting it in my list of must read books

  38. amy

    sounds good

  39. Darcia

    I’m already hooked on the story premise! I love Harper, and I’m looking forward to spending time with her once again.

  40. Darrell Grizzle

    I’m looking forward to reading this novel set in Tybee Island and Savannah, my favorite vacation spots!

  41. Desmond Warzel

    Count me in, please!

  42. Christal M

    Looks like a great read!

  43. Teresa Warner

    Sounds very suspenseful, count me in!

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  47. Carolyn

    Sounds like it will be a great read!

  48. Suzanne McMannis

    Just discovered your books and read them both in 2 days- perfect timing for #3. Thanks!

  49. Anthony Onyeahialam

    Definitely going to be a thrilling read. The word “revolver” just gets to me.

  50. Barbara Fish

    I really want to win this book!

  51. Sarah Cary

    This book sounds like the perfect escape from current events.
    Taking a break is so important in times like these!

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