Five Reasons Why Fiction Writers Shouldn’t Serve on a Jury
For the fourth time I was summoned to appear for Jury Service in hopes of finally being placed on a jury. As I sat in the waiting room, I prayed for a criminal case due to my interest in crime and mystery writing. When my name was called, I was apprehensive, but so very interested. What could the case be about? Would they place me on the jury or find my interest in crime writing a reason to dismiss me? As I sat in the courtroom my mind spun out of control and as I was eventually dismissed, I started thinking of the reasons why fiction writers, especially crime or mystery writers, shouldn’t serve on a jury.
1. We turn a civil case into a criminal case. As I listened to the judge talk about why the US uses the jury system, I stopped listening and stared at the plaintiff and the defendant sitting at the table. We hadn’t even learned what the case was about, and I was already trying to figure out if the defendant looked like a murderer or a thief. I looked around the room for detectives that may be testifying later to see if they were believable or reliable or maybe they had a grudge to bear against the defendant. Turns out it was just a civil case for damages.
2. We create back stories for the lawyers. As I watched the plaintiff’s lawyers question the jury, I found myself wondering about his red eyes. Was he a drinker? His untucked shirt and long tie, seemed to suggest he dressed in a hurry. He seemed nervous. Was this is first case? His questions jumped around and he forgot people’s names. I wondered if he was trying to throw us off or was he recently diagnosed with short term memory loss? I wondered if he had been thrown in at the last minute to help another lawyer in trouble. The defendant’s attorney sat back in his chair eying everyone with a cocky grin. I wondered if he was just that confident or if he was imaging how he was going to sleep with the women on the jury. He seemed annoyed to be listening to the other attorney and seemed overly interested in the jury’s answers to mundane questions like the names of their dogs. Did he know something no one else knew?
3. We jump to implausible conclusions. The jury was finally told that the case was about a woman who lost her house either due to negligence or fault of a company. But “lost her house” was too vague. I wondered if it had burned to the ground in a disastrous fire or was demolished by a bulldozer. Was the poor woman forced to live on the streets because a massacre had taken place inside her house? What had the man done to destroy this woman’s house and what could be his reason for intentionally doing so? Was he a serial house-destroyer or was he hired to ruin this woman’s life by an ex-boyfriend out for revenge?
4. We observe every minute detail and try to find meaning in it. As the judge was talking, I was watching every movement by the defendant and plaintiff. What were they writing down on those papers? Doodles or confessions? What we they whispering to their lawyers? I watched as the woman plaintiff played with her wedding ring, but there was no husband in the courtroom. Had he decided drinking was a better option than being with his wife in the courtroom, forcing his wife to consider divorce? I found myself watching as the court reporter and the deputy talked during breaks. Was there more to the glances and hushed conversations? Were they having an affair? Did her husband know?
5. We shout, “You can’t make this shit up!” Mark Twain once said, that the difference between Fact and Fiction was that Fiction must be believable. Every fiction writer out there has been told their story seems unbelievable or implausible at one time or another. Yet, crazier stuff happens in real life every day. In 1994, fiction writers everywhere stared at their television as a former NFL running back led police on a low-speed pursuit through Los Angeles freeways. We cursed as we knew that if any one of us had written something so outrageous we would have been laughed at. When listening to real life incidents, all we can do is shake our heads and hope we can make it more believable when we set our pen to paper.
About Melissa M. Garcia
Born in La Mirada, California, Melissa M. Garcia (@MelissaM_Garcia) has lived most of her entire life in the sometimes gritty, always entertaining, and ever-changing landscape that is Southern California. She graduated from California State University in Long Beach with a degree in English/Literature. Melissa is the author of the Luc Actar crime series including FALLING ANGELS and CHASING DEMONS (due out Fall 2012) and the Death Valley Mystery series (STRANGER: A DEATH VALLEY MYSTERY). Melissa recently released an e-book collection, Faith Departed: Short Stories of Mystery, Crime, and Despair.
For more information visit www.melissamgarcia.com.
*Not fact or fiction, these are just my musings.