In researching for the book, Get Down (this is what I’m calling the book so I don’t just call it “the book”), I figured it would be a good idea to speak with the “players,” such as the prosecution team, defense counsel, judges, defendant, and possibly the police officers involved. Since this case occurred between 1985 and 1986, I’m quickly running into the age-old problem of researching long past events – death and dementia. At least with dementia, generally speaking, the oldest memories are the last to go.
One of the defense attorneys has been kind enough to help me identify everyone involved in the case. Norm Kinne (pronounced like Kenny), the lead prosecutor, has been dead for over ten years. The other prosecutor is alive and well, but his memory is definitely better on the long-term stuff. We met a couple of weeks ago at a Starbucks to talk about the case. Traffic was thick on Garland Road in the middle of the afternoon that Saturday. A cacophony of noise kept distracting my new friend as well as the flow of people walking by us.
Interestingly, he had almost as much to say about Kinne as he did about himself. While I had to dig a bit to get his background, he gladly raved about Kinne’s prowess in the courtroom. “People should have had to pay money to see Kinne give a closing argument.” (Yes, I think I would pay a few bucks to see this guy in the courtroom now.) He also told me that Kinne had been on the other side of the table before becoming a prosecutor. In fact, Kinne had applied to the DA’s office for years to no avail – Henry Wade didn’t like Kinne and wouldn’t hire him. According to my friend, once Wade retired and Vance took over, Kinne was finally free to make the switch. I find this story a bit curious. For the most part, lawyers go from prosecution (if they ever sit in that hot seat) to defense, not the other way around, especially if they are as good as Kinne. It’s a reversal of fortune. The answer to this question may have no bearing on the book, but my curiosity is piqued.
As to the part about Wade not wanting to hire Kinne, it led me to research when Wade retired. If you report dates, you better have your facts straight. Wouldn’t you know, after poking around on the almighty internet, I found an historical list of Dallas County elected officials prepared by the District Clerk. Based on these records, the illustrious Henry Wade served the great county of Dallas from January 1, 1950 until his retirement more than 35 years later on December 31, 1986. Well, as an old East Texas man would say, that dog don’t hunt. Kinne was lead prosecutor on this case in 1986. Clearly, Kinne was hired by Wade or, at least, approved for hire by Wade. To be honest, I’m a bit more thrilled that Wade was at the helm in my story because he is such an interesting historical figure.
Leaving my new friend to return home to work on my notes, I started thinking more about the direction of Get Down and how I was going to write it. All along I’ve imagined it as a creative nonfiction piece, heavy on the nonfiction. After this meeting, however, it became clear to me that there is no way that I will be able to accurately relate conversations or even courtroom arguments—no records are available. This situation brought to mind Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. Capote invented the nonfiction novel. Others have also woven some pretty incredible tales in this genre as well: John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff, and Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. All are considered creative nonfiction pieces.
On the other hand, I have read a number of novels that could be classified as creative nonfiction but for one distinction: the dialogue is completely rendered from the writer’s imagination. In fact, I recently read a book that could be considered creative nonfiction but for the invented dialogue: The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin. Benjamin includes so many rich details of the time and events in this book that it’s hard to believe the conversations weren’t directly transcribed. Her ability to capture the lives of these memorable personas must rest on the shoulders of extensive research. Benjamin, of course, never met any of the people she describes in her book – all were long gone when she started her research and the events were closer to fifty years ago.
While an outline of Get Down is developing and scenes are coming together, I can’t say what the end result will be. This process – researching, interviewing and writing – is all about the journey and not focusing on the end result. If you can enjoy the journey, then the destination is just window dressing.