Using Personal Experience to Kickstart Plot for Mysteries and Thrillers

Aug 17, 2022 | 2022 Articles, Mysteryrat's Maze

by Sue Hinkin

It’s my observation that for most mystery writers the main protagonist in their books is usually semi-autobiographic in some way. The characters on our pages are smarter, stronger, and braver than we are, and they may be even more deeply wounded, tragic, and flawed, but they contain pieces of the writer. We plumb our own lives to bring our characters and plots to life.

Drawing from life experience makes our writing personal, emotionally rich, and as authors, we’re more invested in the story if we have some psychic skin in the game. In attempting to make my work feel authentic, I revisited one of my own experiences to see how it shaped my latest thriller. The Rx for Murder explores the world of generic drug manufacturing and distribution gone rogue.

Several years ago, like many Americans, I was taking a standard prescription drug–no side effects and all was fine. When I started a new job, I was assigned a different healthcare provider and was no longer able to use my brand name medication. I was switched to a generic version and was reassured that the drugs were identical, the only difference being that the generic was way less expensive, which was a really good thing.

Two weeks later, I could barely walk. My joints were so inflamed I couldn’t hold my computer mouse. The only thing that had changed in my life was the new prescription. So, I stopped taking the drug to see if it was the culprit. Within a week, I was back to normal functioning.

Sue Hinkin

I called my doctor, the pharmacist, and the pharmaceutical company looking for answers. All said the same thing—the drugs were the same. I scoured the internet for clues. A smart allergist in whose office I ended up, explained the difference. The brand name and the generic were not the same. The brand name was made from dead viruses, the generic from live viruses; the pill binders would be different; dyes and flavorings could be different, and in tiny writing on the bottom of the pill container, it listed a Chinese city as the point of origin.

Oversight of medication manufacturing in China at that time was not nearly as rigorous as in the U.S. The outcomes and active ingredients of the two drugs should have produced the same results, but identical or the same, they were not. There is a terrific book by Rosemary Gibson that delves further into the topic–China Rx: Exposing the Risks of America’s Dependence on China for Medicine. The cover for my book is an homage to hers. From this personal experience sprang the inspiration for a thriller looking at generic drug manufacturing and what could be exploited by the unscrupulous.

The following is a summary of The Rx for Murder published just this past July.

Afraid for his life, David Pine, long-time reporter with the Los Angeles Daily newspaper, drops a thumb drive in the snail mail for friend and colleague, TV news correspondent Beatrice Middleton.

Three hours later Pine is found murdered.

At the same time, Bea and photographer Lucy Vega, cover the developing story of a military vet shot by police for throwing cement blocks off a freeway overpass killing a young driver and injuring others. The man was supposedly off his meds. His parents swear it wasn’t true. No one believes them.

Later that day, one of Bea and Lucy’s rookie staff members flees a story meeting mid-discussion, tearfully confessing to a problem with her antidepressants. Was she going crazy or was there something wrong with the prescription?

When Bea receives Pine’s files, she discovers information about a master plan to produce and distribute generic drugs with dangerously low levels of active ingredients imported from Asia. At the center of this sick scheme is a former L.A. County District Attorney now running for the U.S. Senate seat in California. Lucy and Bea have no doubt he’d go to any extreme to protect himself and his cabal, including putting his own psychologically vulnerable daughter in mortal danger.

Bea Middleton and Lucy Vega go undercover to stop the former D.A. and his squad of international thugs from fabricating empty medicines before more people suffer and die.


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Voted Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Writer of the Year for 2021-22, Sue Hinkin was raised in Chicago and spent many years in Los Angeles. A former college administrator, TV news photographer, and NBC-TV art department manager, she was also a Cinematography Fellow at the American Film Institute. Her thrillers featuring Los Angeles TV news journalist Bea Middleton and her BFF, photographer Lucia Vega, have garnered numerous awards. Book 5 in the Middleton and Vera series, The Rx for Murder, was just released. Hinkin now lives in Littleton, Colorado, where she is the new grandmother of twin girls who already love a good book. See more at www.suehinkin.com.

Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, which are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.

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