Tuesday, October 27, 2009
People frequently ask writers: "Where do you get your ideas?" Different writers use different words to frame an answer but they all boil down to the same thing: from anywhere and everywhere.
The inspiration for my latest Avalon novel, By Whose Hand, came from a book on graphology I picked up at a used book sale. I didn’t have a plan in mind when I bought the book, but the instant I spied it I knew it was a must-have resource for a mystery writer. My series is set in a retirement community where the residents are mobile, alert and just bored enough to stir up trouble. With this setting in mind, it wasn’t much of a stretch to come up with Tess, a 74-year-old former FBI agent whose specialty was . . . you guessed it . . . graphology. After that, I can’t really say I created Tess. She pretty much stood at my shoulder and told me who she was. With her standing so close, it was impossible not to know how she looked: like the quintessential grandmother with tight gray curls and brown eyes that gave no hint of her thoughts. She was wearing loose-fitting trousers with large pockets and an oversized cardigan with a white linen handkerchief escaping from a pocket. The pockets are important. Tess insists on pockets. She likes muted colors. Nothing flashy. Her goal is to blend, not impress.
The real fun began when I started creating a handwriting style for each of my suspects. To test the theories set forth in the book, I filled several pages of unlined paper with my own random thoughts, then checked my script against the samples in the book. I was surprised to see how accurate their analysis was and also surprised by the number of elements there are to consider. I had no idea how much is revealed in the way an individual forms capital letters, especially the personal pronoun "I", how important the connecting strokes are or the degree and direction of slant.
This is just one example of the genesis of an idea around which a story was built. It could just as easily be a single leaf remaining on a tree after all the others have fallen. Or a line from a song that gets stuck in your head. Or an old photograph. A glimpse of an old man staring out of a bus window. A reflection in a puddle. The scent of lilacs. The possibilities are limitless and, as I said before, are anywhere and everywhere.
I have to tell you - our library is having its annual used book sale this week and today I found The Code Book, The Evolution of Secrecy from Mary Queen of Scots to Quantum Cryptography, by Simon Singh. There has to be material for a great mystery in those pages.
How about you? Where do you find inspiration?