Erik Larson on Writing Stories About Dead People and Events

Erik Larson on writing fiction about events:

When I’m working on a book I generally avoid reading fictional accounts that describe the same events, because I don’t want false “facts” to skew my thinking. This is not a hard and fast rule, however. I recall that while researching my book The Devil in the White City, I read Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie, and found it very helpful for getting a first-hand sense of 1890s Chicago—but then Dreiser had a unique reportorial style and laced his novel with real-life detail about the city as he personally experienced it.

I gave up writing about contemporary events a long time ago. I prefer dead people. However, if I were to lose my mind and decide to pursue such a topic, I’d try to find a way of telling in narrative fashion a saga involving climate change and the real-world impacts it’s clearly beginning to have. I do believe that climate is the big story of the first half of the 21st century, and that sometime soon there will be a climate-triggered event of global importance—a war, a disaster, a water crisis, a particularly vast hurricane, or a deadly heat spike. Cheery stuff, but something’s going to happen, possibly all of it.

I recommend a TV series on Netflix called Occupied, created by the thriller writer Jo Nesbo, which lays out a very credible scenario for climate-generated conflict between Russia and Norway. Also, I’m in love with the actress Ingeborga Dapkunaite, who plays the Russian ambassador.

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