Books Magazine

The Making of Fiction

By T.v. Locicero

Recently a reader friend, a woman I’ve never met, but with whom I’ve exchanged emails, left a review of my new novel The Car Bomb on the book’s Amazon page. Previously she had read and reviewed my two non-fiction books, Murder in the Synagogue and Squelched. That’s her preferred type of book, or genre, True Crime, and so I was a little surprised when she decided to read The Car Bomb. But, of course, I was pleased when she filed this kind review:

“I am not usually a reader of fictional mystery/thriller type book, but this one was a riot. Something new happens on every page and it keeps you reading, wanting to know what happens next. Really good story. My only quibble with this book is that we spent almost the entire story inside the head of the protagonist, who is the best-known news anchor in Detroit, so as a Detroiter myself I kept picturing Bill Bonds, and that was just weird.”

When I dropped her a note of thanks for the review, she wrote back quickly with a question: Was my main character Frank DeFauw based on famed TV anchor Bill Bonds, who had a long, at times controversial career in Detroit?

And I responded with this: “Asked like a true fan of true crime!” After which I answered her question in some detail.

Now for you non-Detroiters a little context might be helpful. First, here’s my standard 400 character summary of The Car Bomb:

“Detroit Nielson king Frank DeFauw hunts down the story of a judge who may be corrupt—and is one of his best friends. Booze, drugs, womanizing and a passion for the news are all part of what makes this brilliant, erratic TV anchor a major player in this deeply troubled city. Finally, Frank decides if digging out the truth about his pal the judge is worth risking his own career, family and life.”

Starting in the ‘60s and for nearly four decades, Bill Bonds was Detroit’s dominant news presenter and commentator, working for most of that time at WXYZ-TV, Channel 7. Now my story in The Car Bomb is set in Detroit in the early ‘90s, so it’s understandable that anyone familiar with Bonds’ history might wonder if I was channeling Bill when I came up with my character Frank DeFauw.

But, of course, the making of fiction is something akin to that famous line from von Bismark about how laws are like sausages: “…it is better not to see them being made.”

Yes, fashioning fiction can be a messy, off-putting business. A writer takes whatever is in his/her head—every kind of experience and knowledge of every stripe, honest and true perceptions and stolen snippets of dubious hearsay, indelible memories and mis-remembered crap, sweet longings and impure thoughts, hard evidence and flights of fancy—rolls it all around in his/her imagination for a while, and if he/she has any talent, something good might come out.

For several years I worked with Bonds at Channel 7. I was never employed in the newsroom there, but I produced many documentaries and TV specials with him. I truly liked and admired Bill, and we always got along great.

Frank is not Bonds. He is like Bonds only in the same way he is like any number of somewhat larger-than-life big city TV anchors who came to fame back in the now long-lost Golden Age of local TV, including George Clooney’s dad in Cincinnati.

The genesis of The Car Bomb was a simple question: What if someone like that, someone with that kind of voice, visibility and power, suspected that one of his closest friends was corrupt? What would he do? And what would happen? From there I made everything up. And as far as I can recall, I didn’t use a single detail from anything I knew about Bonds’ personal life or his behind-the-scenes professional life, because none of that fit with the story that was unfolding in my head.

Oh, wait. I just thought of something. Both Frank and Bill like to play golf, and I gave Frank a membership at the Oakland Hills Country Club where I hope Bill continues to play. Actually, while I still consider him a good friend, I haven’t seen Bill in several years, not since we had a great time together over breakfast one morning at Birmingham’s Townsend Hotel. I’d love for us to do that again, and maybe if Bill reads The Car Bomb, he’ll remind me of something else I stole from him to make my fiction.

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