By JoAnna Carl
The question many writers don’t like is, “Where do you get your ideas?”
To me the question that’s much harder is, “How do you know what happens next?” The dreaded middle of the book terrifies me.
But ideas are easy. Settings, atmosphere, characters, some comment from a stranger in an elevator – any of these can spark an idea.
A character inspired the plot of my new book, The Chocolate Bunny Brouhaha.
I don’t usually admit that one of my fictional characters is based on a real person, but in this case I can. Because the person was me.
I’m one of those people who are always breaking things, knocking things over, falling over things, and spilling my lunch down my front. I don’t know exactly when I decided that my detective, Lee Woodyard, might get mixed up with a klutzy person like me, but an awkward woman named Bunny Birdsong wandered into the plot, leaving a trail of spilled chocolate in her wake. Lee just had to help poor Bunny solve her problems. The Chocolate Bunny Brouhaha will be published in November with a cover showing a scared-looking chocolate bunny with a bite out of one ear.
Of course, except for being a klutz, Bunny turned out to be nothing like me.
An overheard remark may stir up an idea. Or it may not. Way back in my high school days, I was walking down Main Street, and a passing woman said, “Spring is nearly here. All the bunnies are out.”
That inspired a vision of sitting on a porch watching rabbits frisking through the grass. I was disappointed when I realized the woman probably was referring to stuffed animals in the Easter-themed show windows we were passing.
I’ve never come up with a plot to match that line, but surely there’s one out there.
One of my first attempts at a novel began with a job at a radio station. The station was housed on the top floor of a bank building, and every Sunday evening I went up there to put together a news broadcast.
A key to the building’s front door let me into a dimly lighted lobby. An elevator took me on up to the top floor. The studio was down a hall and at the back of the building. On Sunday evenings that hall was not lighted. I found the situation – big dark empty building with long dark hall – so spooky I would almost run from the elevator back to the friendly deejay in the lighted studio. So naturally, in the book the atmosphere inspired I killed the deejay. That book caused my writing teacher to say, “Good try,” but it never saw a printing press.
The first idea that became a publishable book originated with a news story I was assigned while working in rural Kansas.
News Flash: One of our area counties elected a woman sheriff.
Today that would barely cause an eye to blink, but back then it was revolutionary. I drove 120 miles roundtrip to interview the new official. The woman sheriff served a small county. The courthouse had four floors: Two for county offices, one for the jail, and one for living quarters for the sheriff. Yes, the sheriff, her husband, and their three children lived right under the jail. She cooked for both the prisoners and her kids.
The “idea” was the family living in the jail, right? I still see their situation as a terrific mystery series.
But when I tried to put the book on paper, it turned out to be about a young couple living on a ranch. No apartment appeared, adjoining the jail or anywhere else. In the second book, they did move to the apartment in the courthouse, but they didn’t like it there, so for book three they remodeled an abandoned country church to use as a home. They never had any kids.
My original “idea” disappeared completely. As I got to know the characters, everything changed. The wife wasn’t even the sheriff, but simply a member of the sheriff’s auxiliary.
(These were the “Down Home” books featuring Sam and Nicky Titus: Death Down Home, The Devil Down Home, and The Down Home Heifer Heist, published under my real name, Eve K. Sandstrom.)
The Chocoholic books showed up after an editor asked me to write a cozy. The idea for what became a 15-book series was chocolate, because what’s cozier than chocolate?
I’ve had a bunch of fun writing them, and I’m looking forward to seeing how readers like the klutzy Bunny Birdsong. They can also catch up on detectives Lee and Joe Woodyard in a previous book in November as the paperback edition of The Chocolate Falcon Fraud appears.
Where will the next idea come from? I’m not sure, but last Sunday my hymnbook had an unsigned note tucked into it. Someone sometime had used the note as a bookmark. It said something such as, “Two o’clock Tuesday.”
But what if it had been a threat? Or – what if someone is found dead in the church on Tuesday afternoon? Or someone steals the hymnbook? The possibilities are endless.
And that’s where I get my ideas.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
ABOUT THE BOOK:
THE CHOCOLATE BUNNY BROUHAHA: A Chocoholic Mystery
By JoAnna Carl
Berkley Prime Crime, Hardcover
November 1, 2016