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?



Jane Myers Perrine said...

Very interesting, Sandy. Your inspiration comes from much more interesting places than mine!


Loretta C. Rogers said...

I often get the same questions, Sandy. This weekend, I attended the Florida Cattlemen's Assn. 'Gathering' with real working cowboys. As I sat around the campfire listening to the old-timers adventures, well, needless the event was a fodder for ideas for several new Westerns. BTW, love the graphic on your post.


Sandy Cody said...

Thanks, Jane and Loretta, for taking time to leave a comment. Jane, my inspiration came from a book. Lots of people would consider that dull. Of course, to most writers, it's the BEST place. Have to say, though, sitting around a campfire with a bunch of cowboys is close. Jane,the graphic is actually the cover of my book.

Edna said...

I just wish I could write, it is all I can do to come up with enough about a book I just read and put a review on about it,


Sandy Cody said...

Edna, bless you for doing reviews - and for being a reader. You're the ones who make it worthwhile.

Elisabeth Rose said...

My inspiration comes from anywhere and everywhere too Sandy.

I have a terrific idea for a murder mystery which stemmed from something odd that happened to my daughter and another idea for an Australian historical (the gold rush and bushrangers) but haven't really branched out yet into those different (for me) genres. They'd probably end up as romances.

It's one thing having the brilliant idea and quite another turning it into a book!

Sandy Cody said...

I agree! There's a lot of hard work between that first brilliant idea and a good book.

Lyn said...

Excellent post, Sandy. Let me see--what am I mulling today. Okay, that airplane that overshot its landing by 100 miles. What were those pilots really doing?
Sleeping? Why? Who drugged the coffee in the pilots' lounge. Romancing the cabin personnel? Each other? Teleported out of the cockpit by aliens, mindwiped, and returned--or replaced with alien doppelgangers. Or whisked off to look at their futures by the Ghosts of Destinations. Or were they using that passenger plane to spy on a rival team's practice sessions by manipulating surveillance satellites with their laptops? Or just playing WOW to pass the time?
Sigh. Cowboys around a campfire would be more fun.
I look forward to reading about Tess.

Sandy Cody said...

Wow, Lyn, what a great imagination. You're right. The possibilities for a cloak and dagger plot with those pilots as a starter are limitless - maybe even the modern day equivalent of a cowboy story.

Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban said...

I agree with you Sandy. For me a book also starts with an idea, the idea of a plot. Then the characters become alive in my mind and tell me their story. In fact, they are so alive while I'm writing them down that is scary.

mulligangirl said...

Great post, Sandy. I enjoyed reading about how you are inspired. It's amazing what little things can trigger a whole story just by looking at them with a new perspective.

Carol Hutchens said...

Great post, Sandy! Loved the story. Thanks for sharing.

Carol Hutchens said...

Lyn, loved your post.