August 31 – September 6: “Does nonfiction writing invigorate your fiction?

thriller-roundtable-logo5Opinion essays, feature articles, reviews…does other nonfiction writing invigorate your fiction? This week ITW Members Bourne Morris, Jean Heller and J. H. Bográn will explore the correlation between writing fiction and nonfiction.




hellerMost of Jean Heller’s career was as an investigative and projects reporter and editor in New York City, Washington, D.C. and St. Petersburg Florida. Her career as a novelist began in the 1990s with the publication of the thrillers, Maximum Impact and Handyman by St. Martin’s Press. Then life intervened and postponed her new book, The Someday File, to publication in late 2014. Jean has won the Worth Bingham Prize, the Polk Award, and is an eight-time Pulitzer Prize nominee.


red queenBourne Morris, writes mysteries about campus violence. Her first, The Red Queen’s Run was published by Henery Press last year. The second is due out this December. After a successful NewYork advertising career, Bourne joined the University of Nevada in Reno as a full professor. She spent 26 years at the Reynolds School of Journalism teaching strategic communications and media ethics and served as Chair of the Faculty Senate. She retired in 2009 to write fiction.


TreasureHunt_Ebook_2J. H. Bográn, born and raised in Honduras, is the son of a journalist. He ironically prefers to write fiction rather than fact. José’s genre of choice is thrillers, but he likes to throw in a twist of romance into the mix. His works include novels and short stories in both English and Spanish. He’s a member of the Short Fiction Writers Guild, Crime Writer’s Association and the International Thriller Writers. He lives in Honduras with his family and a “lucky” dog.



  1. Posted on behalf of author Jean Heller

    Let me quote Deuce Mora, my protagonist in THE SOMEDAY FILE. Deuce is talking to friends about the terrifying adventure they experienced together. When one friend says it’s hard to believe it really happened, Deuce paraphrases Mark Twain: “Truth is stranger than fiction … because fiction is obligated to stick to possibilities.”

    So yes, non-fiction informs me all the time, largely because I spent a lot of my adult life as a newspaper reporter in New York City, Washington, D.C. and elsewhere. I saw enough real and amazing things to inform dozens of novels. One line spoken by a U.S. congressman during the Watergate Committee hearings was the jumping-off point for my first book, MAXIMUM IMPACT. A real-life hunt for a serial killer in Florida informed my second, HANDYMAN. An interview I did years ago became the starting point for my current mystery, THE SOMEDAY FILE. And an all-too-real horror is the foundation to the sequel, which I am now writing.

    I don’t recall ever being inspired in terms of a story by someone else’s work. But a number of writers have contributed to the “voice” that eventually became mine alone. In these writers I found elements of style I admired and tried to emulate. In some cases it seemed natural to me, and it worked; in some cases it didn’t. I would dare say that any writer of fiction you asked could name several others whose prose inspired them.

    None of us lives in a vacuum.

    Jean Heller

  2. Although I love thrillers, I am also an avid reader and occasional writer of non-fiction and both inform all the stories that swirl in my head.

    After 25 years in advertising, I thought I knew all about the bitter tensions that can occur in groups. I expected my next career in a university would be peaceful and scholarly.

    Wrong. As a professor, I soon learned that the rivalries on a college campus could be every bit as vicious as those in the corporate world and equally fascinating. I discovered stories on my own campus and I read more in “The Chronicle of Higher Education.”

    My first academic mystery, “The Red Queen’s Run,” drew heavily on actual reports of faculty disputes and and bullying. Non-fiction sources provided real life accounts of everything from murder in the classroom to fistfights in the labs. My second book, “The Rise of the Red Queen,” employed facts about sexual assault and kidnapping.

    I am now on my third book delving into current fights about freedom of speech on campus. It’s also about the sex trafficking of children near a university. I just finished “Walking Prey” by Holly Austin Smith, a remarkable true story of a child lured into the sex trade.

    Non-fiction can give depth and credibility to creative writing. Nothing so enriches a fictional story as knowing that the scene you just invented could easily have happened to a real person in a real place.

    Bourne Morris

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful piece on how life and non-fiction inform fiction. Who said, “It’s never the job that gets you; it’s the interactions with people on the job.”
      Although our tones are different, my upcoming book is also an academic mystery, complete with campus rivalries, jealousies and murder. Time spent on campus instructs in many ways.

  3. Interesting note, Bourne. I recently joined academia on a teaching position and see what you mean with the heated, sometimes veiled, rivalries. So much material to draw from, right?

    One of the first books I ever read for pleasure was an account about the hunt for the Nazi warship The Bismark. It was an impressive tale, and the display of force spread out to sink one ship was enthralling. So I was hooked on early.

    It is funny how being labeled a writer sometimes gets you unexpected tasks. Sometime ago I was part of board and upon learning I wrote novels they decided no one was better than me to write the by-laws and all the minutes and memos!

    I write a weekly opinion column for a domestic newspaper. That gives me a deadline, and writing against a deadline does help my other writing as it makes me more organized. And God knows I need help there. 🙂

    So invigorating may be a tad higher than what it does for me, but it sure helps

  4. Borne
    after 25 years in radio I too pull from a rich back ground of inner office politics and breaking news. I sometimes think when I’m writing fiction that I’ve never left the news room. I’m only left with the question, does life imitate art it is the other way around. Congrats on your next book.

  5. Report from Engine Company 82 (1972) by Dennis Smith showed me that reading about real people doing real work could be as exciting as reading a novel. I try to light up my non-fiction books with compelling stories about the people I’ve counseled and then I get to use these real stories, deeply disguised, in my mysteries.

    Thanks to all for an interesting Roundtable.

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