Saturday, August 18, 2012

Conspiracy Theory

When I was little, I used to live across the street from an emtpy wooded lot. It wasn't that large a piece of land, but when you're a child, everything seems bigger. The woods, as we called them, was a vast, mysterious place, made even more intriguing by an empty house that lay at the edge of the woods on the far end, where civilization began again.

The legend of the empty house was deliciously lurid. A crazy man had lived there, the story went, and whenever anyone ventured into his home, he killed them with an ax. I have no idea where this story came from, but the older kids in the neighborhood swore it was true, so we younger kids believed it without question. One time, a couple of the older kids even took some of us into the old house and showed us the wall, where a series of marks denoted his record of kills. Ooo, that was a chilling moment.

Of course, there had been no ax murderer living in that empty house, but why mess up a chilling story with the truth?

I think part of being a storyteller is enjoying a good conspiracy theory. Nothing ever happens by chance in a storyteller's world. There's always a reason for everything, hidden machinations that imparts reason to otherwise senseless acts. And because human beings are hardwired to enjoy stories, we are often willing participants in our own deception. Because who doesn't want to make sense of a senseless world?

So instead of believing a single, unstable man shot the president from the window of a book depository in Dallas, some are utterly convinced that there were multiple gunmen, and any number of perpetrators—Castro, the mob, the CIA—were really behind the assassination. Or that a moon landing broadcast on film was clearly a Hollywood trick to convince us that something as fantastical as man walking on the moon could actually happen.

And you know what? Those conspiracy theories are usually a lot more interesting than the more banal truth.

My Cooper Security series follows a private security firm doing battle with a dangerous group of mercenaries who'll do terrible things for the highest bidder.  With my August book, Secret Assignment, we begin to find out that these merceneries may be involved in a conspiracy that could endanger not only the United States but democratic countries around the globe.  (Yeah, when I come up with a conspiracy theory, I don't play around!)

But part of what I love about a conspiracy theory story is when ordinary people without extraordinary power are able to fight back against ruthless foes with the sheer force of their determination and their honor.  The Coopers and the allies they meet along the way are nothing if not honorable people.  They may be flawed, they may be outgunned and outnumbered, but the bad guys will never be able to beat their sense of honor and duty to the country they love and to the people they vow to protect and serve.
Do you have a favorite conspiracy theory? And do you really believe them, or do you see yourself like I see myself, as a willing, even eager participant in your own deception? 'Fess up!


ellaquinnauthor said...

We also had a house that was supposed to have been haunted near us. It's interesting how rumors start. Great post.

Louisa Cornell said...

I will confess that I had a secret hobby of reading conspiracy theory books! JFK, Area 51. And it is very easy to buy into it once you start reading those books. Then again, they all start with a "what if" premise and those are two of a writer's favorite words!

Cari Hislop said...

I grew up listening to my Grandfather go on and on about endless conspiracy theories. He was in pain a lot and I suspect he was distracting himself, but he came out with some doozies. I always rolled my eyes, but as an adult you start to see patterns (even if there aren't any) and you think, well it's completely insane, but it could be true. Half the so called truths we're told by news corporations sound completely insane so it's not such a leap.

My own conspiracy story started the day we tried to find Ditchley in Oxfordshire (the village where the Restoration rakehell Lord Rochester was born - I was obsessing over Rochester that year). The village is no longer there, but there is a large house that is now supposedly some sort of international center of education...the weirdness was that there were no signs of any kind indicating the house was there let alone anything but a house. I was just trying to find the village. We didn't know any of this till we looked it up on line after we got home. For a place that purports to further education they sure are hush hush about where they go to discuss it. We drove down a narrow one lane dirt road...a goat track...and that is where international figures drive their Bentley's? Weird! (Unless there's a private unmarked drive they all arrive in helicopters).

Paula said...

ellaquinn, I think haunted houses are pretty much a given here in the south. I blame it on the heat - it's too dadblamed hot to get out of the house and look for the road to the afterlife. :)

Paula said...

Louisa, it is easy to get sucked in! I remember, though, reading some famous book about alien abductions and the writer was describing his "abduction" experience, and I'm all, hey, that happens to me, too. It's called sleep paralysis. It can be very, very scary when you're experiencing it, but it's not aliens coming down to probe and prod you or anything!

Paula said...

Cari, there has GOT to be a book in that experience!