by Linda J. White, @rytn4hm
Fifteen years ago this month, a series of shootings plunged the Greater Washington D.C. area into a season of fear. The attacks began in the Aspen Hill, Md. area where I grew up and where my parents still lived. Five people, all going about their normal daily activities, were shot dead in two days. Then, the terror traveled to my part of Virginia, some sixty miles away, when a single rifle shot in the middle of the afternoon felled a woman loading purchases in the back of her van.
The random nature of the D.C. Sniper attacks triggered waves of fear throughout the whole Washington area. The victims were young, old, male, female, black, white, and Hispanic. Some were shot while pumping gas, others while waiting for a bus, one while walking into a grocery store. They could have been any of us. They were, in a sense, all of us.
I was working on the editorial pages of our local newspaper. Coming up with an opinion on the shootings wasn’t hard.
For area residents, each day became an exercise in survival. People zigzagged through parking lots going into stores, crouched behind their cars while pumping gas, and glanced over their shoulders while walking on the street. Schools made students push their desks away from windows and cancelled outdoor activities, including athletic practices. Meanwhile, a task force of local and federal law-enforcement officers began trying to identify—and stop—the shooter. For three weeks in October, chaos seemed to reign.
As writers, we know about layering in a story. We add dimensions to our characters’ personalities, we add nuance to their dialogue, we salt descriptions of locations with metaphors, and we add twists and turns that take our plots deeper and deeper.
As Christians, we also have the enormous privilege of also layering in elements of the Greater Story, what C.S. Lewis called “the true myth,” (the gospel) into our novels. For God is always at work, doing ten thousand things at once, some apparent, some hidden, even when life appears chaotic. We know that he has a plan, “for the fullness of time, to unite all things in [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth.” (Ephesians 1:10 ESV)
In real life, the “characters” in the D.C. Sniper case were part of God’s greater story. Some of the law enforcement officers were believers. How did they interact with their peers? See their roles as ministers of justice? Apply the gospel to the events they were investigating? How did beleaguered residents talk with their neighbors? Did they use the opportunity to witness, to serve, to comfort, to testify to God’s sovereignty and love? Paraphrasing Allen Arnold (“The Story of WITH”) in a recent ACFW seminar, how do Christians, faced with chaos, enter into it and bring the strength of their faith to it?
These are the questions I decided to explore in my thriller, “Sniper!” In moving the setting to the Norfolk, Va. area, I signaled that this was not a “true crime” novel. In doing extensive research, interviewing law enforcement officers, and soliciting residents’ memories, I showed my intention to add veracity. In maintaining my first priority, a close walk with God, I believe I was able to gently layer in elements of the “true myth” through my characters.
I write suspense, but layering in the “true myth” is possible in any genre and is our greatest privilege. But as Arnold said, “Your characters cannot know more about God than you, do.” Staying close to God is our prime directive. When our stories flow from that deep relationship, we become embed truth in the world of fiction.
Shocked by the murder of a friend, FBI Special Agent Kit McGovern vows to bring the killer to justice. Then the shooter kills again, and again … and again.
Saddled with an unpredictable partner, forced to put her personal life on hold, Kit doggedly pursues the sniper. Quantico sends a geographic profiler to help identify him, but the killing of a young woman outside the probability zone casts doubt on that technique. As panic grips the Hampton Roads area, pressure mounts, and Kit soon finds herself in the crosshairs of failure—and death.
Linda J. White writes FBI thrillers with a twist of faith. Her award-winning books are designed to keep readers up all night. She lives in Virginia, near the FBI Academy where her husband worked for three decades. Most often, she writes on her back deck with her faithful sheltie at her feet. She’d love to connect with you through her website, lindajwhite.net