Don’t touch that

by Pari Noskin Taichert

A man, estranged from his wife, attacks her when she comes to pick up their kids from his house. The mother strives to remain calm, even after being stabbed with a box cutter, so that her four young children won’t be traumatized.

Her one son tries to stop his dad and gets shoved against a wall. Her oldest daughter — 10 years — tries to call the police and her father knocks the phone out of her hand. He drags their mother, bleeding and still trying to make sure her children are all right, into the back of her own pick up truck.

The daughter, taking charge of her siblings, runs to a neighbor’s home and calls 9-1-1. By the time law enforcement arrives, the man and woman are gone.

The next day, the man walks out of the wilderness and stops at the first house he finds. He’s dirty and covered in blood. He asks for water and a telephone.

The woman’s blackened body is found later that day in her charred skeleton of a car.

The justice system being what it is, the man who has been offered a deal refuses it. He pleads not guilty to her murder in spite of the fact that his own children witnessed the attack and the body has been found.

Moving stuff, hunh? It’d make a great story . . .

Well, it’s the true tale of Nova Bjorn Ochoa Delgado’s last hours of life. She was murdered near Farmington, New Mexico this summer.

Here’s the thing: I know I could write this as a true crime; the family would most likely give me permission. It’d probably sell well, too. I’m great at nonfiction AND Toni (see yesterday’s post here on Murderati) is right about many audiences wanting more gore.

I could make good money off of it . . .

I just don’t want to.

The whole thing is too horrid for me. I can’t get past the mother desperately trying to keep her cool so that her children wouldn’t have even worse memories. I can’t fathom what scars these kids will deal with for the rest of their lives. I cannot, for one minute, understand a man who’d do something like this. Frankly, I don’t want to spend any time near his mind.

This past weekend, our Tae Kwon Do community held a benefit for Delgado’s children. She was a student at our sister do jang in Farmington. We had to do something to show our support for those kids, for her siblings and family. We had to find a way to quell some of our own horror.

I met her oldest daughter and her parents. The reality was just a handshake away.

Watching the aftermath of this tragedy unfold, I realized I do have limits. There are things I simply will not write about.

What about you, Murderati readers and writers?
Do you have taboo subjects, ones that are just too close or too horrible to pen or read?

20 thoughts on “Don’t touch that

  1. Jim Winter

    The assistant principle at the middle school in our district recently dodged charges of child endangerment and second-degree murder for leaving her 2-year-old daughter in the car. The legal pinball machine that went into that would definitely make a great story.

    Won’t touch it. Some of her students live in my neighborhood. Others’ parents work with me. Too close.

    On the other hand, we have the case of Della Dante Sutorious, who shot her husband in the head and convincingly faked his suicide. At the time of the murder, I worked with her stepson as a pizza driver. John didn’t show up for work one night, we assumed because John liked to party. Three days later, we learned John had quit the next morning after spending the night with the police discussing his father’s death.

    Now I liked John, and it was weird feeling the breeze from a high-profile murder. Would I write a story based on this?

    After twelve years, sure. A highly fictionalized version. Not sure I’d want to do a true crime on it, but enough time has passed I could probably use it for story fodder. Memories have faded and enough of daily life has changed that it would be something completely original.

  2. billie

    I wonder if when it’s close to us (personally, geographically, etc.) it is more intense than if we made the characters up.

    The only taboo thing so far for me is the story of the little town I grew up in. There were so many things that made me stop and think when I was a child. Some violence, some sex scandal, some racial stuff, but mostly it was the knowledge that in that small town, so many people were not at all who they made themselves out to be. The town itself was one big dysfunctional family.

    It would make a riveting novel but for whatever reason I don’t really want to write it. Maybe one day enough time will have passed that I can.

  3. Jacky B.

    Many of us, myself included, are crime fiction writers. In my case, I don’t do true crime. One reason being, the grim reality of cases such as the one mentioned by Pari is just too overwhelming. It’s real. Flesh and bone has been torn and broken. Lives have been lost. Not a single written word can change that, bring those victims back.

    Most crime fiction is escapist in nature. Usually, justice, of some kind, prevails. In my novels justice may be served in an obscure, twisted, or left handed way. But, it will be served. There is comfort in that, for both reader, and writer.

    As writers of fiction we have total control over cause and effect. In the real world we have little, if any.

    I’m not squeamish, not even close, I just wouldn’t want to expend the emotional energy it would take to bring a story (such as Pari’s) to the page.

    It’s not a moral thing, and it’s not about the money. These stories do need to be told, if only to warn the total innocents, that, monsters do walk among us. I’m just not the one to tell them.

    Jacky B

  4. pari

    Wow. Thank you Jim, Billie and Jacky, for these beautiful and cogent comments.

    Jim,Your post made me realize I have two other murders that have touched my life even more directly: my cousin — she was only a year older than me. Her live-in boyfriend reached across the table on Jan. 2 about 10 years ago and strangled her. He blamed his anti-depressants. My family doesn’t buy it.

    The other was the sister of a close friend who was found floating face down in an arroyo near a biker bar. Her family is convinced the son of a powerful NM politician did it and got away scott free. That’s one I’d consider writing just to see justice finally done.

    Billie,I wonder if time is the main factor? Perhaps it dulls the edges and allows us to look with more clinical eyes?

    The only thing that might keep me from writing the second murder I mentioned above is that my friend’s family continues to suffer so. Would I want to ask them to relive everything vividly again?

    Jacky,I think maybe you’re on to something. Some of us are made to write these real stories; some of us are not.

    Every time I start to write the truly darker stuff, I find myself not wanting to be there, to live with that everyday. That’s why I gravitate to a more humorous approach.

    I live with my characters so close, I need to make sure I can live with their stories, too.

  5. Louise Ure

    Maybe it is time that makes a difference. Or that “less than six degrees” of separation from the real life situation.

    When you think about it, what makes that Farmington mother’s last moments any worse than any murder victim? She had loves, and hopes and fears, and the recounting of her life and death — like any crime victim’s — would have made them vivid.

    I haven’t found any story yet — personal or familiar — that I’m unwilling to tell. In fact, I’ve already done so.

  6. Will Bereswill

    When writing fiction, I find it fascinating to immerse myself in the mind of a killer. To try to go through the reasoning, the logic, the lack of remorse of a calculated killer. One of my best bits of writing was a terrorist recounting his first kill. It was heartless and cruel, and made my wife wonder about the stability of my own mind.

    But to get close to a real killer and try to understand the motives in a real case would be hugely different. Something that I don’t think I’d want to do.

  7. pari

    Louise,Somehow it feels intrusive to me, disrespectful. I don’t know why; there’s no logic to it.

    I’m glad you aren’t fettered in the same way.

    Will,I’ve written some horrid killers in short stories — cruel, obsessive, perverse — but they’ve all been made up, too.

    To step into that estranged husband’s mind, or the poor drunk slob that killed my cousin, would be an exercise I can live without.

  8. toni mcgee causey

    Well said, Pari. There are some things I’ve thought of writing about which feel too dark and bleak and graphic for me to live with for a year. Maybe one day; I’d like to tackle it, just because any time I feel myself shying away from something, that’s usually what I ought to be facing and dealing with, head on.

  9. pari

    I’ll throw this one out . . . as a reader.

    I can’t read anything that has to do with hurting children right now. Probably won’t be able to until mine have grown up.

    There’s nothing intrinisically wrong with this topic, it’s just too close.

    Ya know?

  10. billie

    Pari, that made me think of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones. I started it and kept having to put it down. I would almost literally recoil in horror from the book on the bed beside me and my husband would say “why are you reading that if it’s so upsetting?”

    It was so horrifying to me but at the same time it was written so beautifully and with such care – I couldn’t stop myself.

    I did become incredibly paranoid for a month or so.

    I read the last few chapters sitting on the seat of the toilet to hide from my children – I could not stop crying, and had a towel in my hand to wipe my eyes so I could keep reading.

    In some ways this ties into what Toni wrote too – I think in some way I needed to read that book at that point, and although it was agonizing in some ways, it was necessary.

    I think this is why I write the things I do in my books. For a number of readers they will be too intense and too difficult to sit with. But there are readers who will seek the stories out b/c they need to read them, and I think I do a good job of making some difficult subjects real but doing it with a subtlety that makes them accessible.

    Anyway, thanks again for making my Monday a thoughtful one. 🙂

  11. simon

    I don’t think I have a taboo subject. There are things that are too painful or too close to home to write about, but with time, I’ve written about them or plan to. A story has to have passion and a taboo subject fuels passion.

  12. JT Ellison

    My only taboo subject is me. My past, present and future are of no interest to anyone other than the immediate players, so I don’t bother with autobiographical stuff.Otherwise, I’m game for anything.

  13. Rae

    As a reader, it’s not the subject itself that causes me problems; it’s the way the subject is handled.

    There’s a certain type of voyeurism or salaciousness that creeps into some writing, that can render the simplest description of violence, or sex, completely unreadable for me. And if the subject or plot point is gratuitous, well, ewwww.

    But I can handle just about anything that’s well written.

  14. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Rae’s on the money – while I’ll write about the devastating aftermath of rape or child molestation, there’s just too many people who get off on that kind of scene and I’ll do just about anything to make sure those people are not going to be getting any jollies out of anything I write.

    I flat out won’t write torture scenes.

  15. Jacky B.

    I may be mistaken, but: I think we may be straying a bit here.

    I read Pari’s post to be not about taboo subjects, but about writing about actual events of a gruesom nature: Murder, rape, torture. Events that actually took place, as opposed to events that we conjure up. True crime vs. fiction.

    When you read about Hannibal Lecter, you can take solace (however minor) from knowing that he is the brainchild of Thomas Harris. But, when you read about the Green River Killer, where is the solace? Shit, the motherfucker was REAL.

    As a writer of crime FICTION I don’t shirk from any subject. Because it is just that, fiction. When I push away my keyboard, it’s over. I may remain upset for awhile at what transpired in that dark dreamscape, but in truth there is really no trail of corpses, and there are no grieving families left behind.

    A writer who objectively chronicles actual atrocities, gets no such respite. Not if he/she is doing their job. In the case of the GRK that would mean researching over fifty rape murders. Getting interviews, including,hopefuly,( to do it right) an interview with the killer.

    This ain’t a one time shot, about Billy Ray stabbing Hiram, over who gets to bang Lulu in the back seat of her Camero. This is ongoing. Fifty women. Twenty five years. We’re talking a book, not half a column on the front page of The Shitkicker Gazette. Project like that? It’s gotta be painful.

    Some people do it, and do it well. More power to them. Me, I go with what Toni said, I just couldn’t see spending a year (or more) of my life in that dark place.

    Jacky B

  16. pari

    Fascinating discussion, all.

    I remember writing a torture rape scene in one of my books that never sold. I’m glad it didn’t. For days, I couldn’t look at any man — including my husband — without cringing. Yeah, it was a figment of my perverse imagination — simply fiction. But I wouldn’t want to write it if it were true.

    We’ve got writers here who’ll tackle anything — real or imagined — but who have certain personal rules for how they’ll handle those things.

    Then we’ve got some — and I’m in this camp, I think — who have more self-imposed limits, for whatever reasons.

    There’s no right or wrong here.

    But I’ve been enjoying the exchange quite a bit.

    Anyone else out there with an opinion on this subject?

  17. Fran

    Pari, I think another thing you’ve touched on is immediacey. I agree with Jacky, I can read lots that I know is ficiton, but I find myself shying away from true crime. Kill off all the fictional characters you want, but the GRK was just down the road from me. That’s too immediate.

    A friend of mine has been sharing her pain as she’s dealing with the fact that she just discovered her five-year-old daughter has been being sexually abused by a neighborhood kid, who, due to the vagaries of the law and a good defense lawyer, is never going to be held accountable. So right now, I can’t even begin to read anything fictional along those lines. Again, it’s too immediate.

    But in general, I agree with Rae, if it’s well written, deftly handled and not gratuitous, I can read it.

  18. Rae

    A final thought (my, I’m chatty today 😉

    Following on from Alex’s point about describing the aftermath of something dreadful, rather than the specifics: I’m often more horrified by my own imagination than I am by an explicit description of something yucky. I really appreciate it when writers set the stage – create the atmosphere, the context, the characterization – and then let me participate, to a certain extent, in the creative process. And the same holds true for the fun stuff like, um, romance…..

  19. pari

    Rae,It’s been great chatting with you today. Thanks so much for all of your valuable comments.

    AND, thanks to everyone else who visited and let me know what was on your mind.

  20. Dana King

    Absolutely. I won’t write about pedophiles or child pornography, except to acknowledge their presence if necessary for the story. I’ll never describe them.

    You can call me superstitious, but I won’t let anything bad happen to a character I based on someone I know.


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