That’s the single most common question I receive when I speak to reading groups. The thing is, it’s not an easy question to answer. There’s not one repository of ideas, nor can I point to one source of inspiration. My stories come from multiple sources–snippets of ideas, views, sounds, articles–that simmer in the slow cooker of my muse. Then wham! I have the story beginning and I start writing.
Take my current trilogy. “An earthquake at San Quentin Prison precipitates the escape of several death row inmates.” Sounds easy, right? Well . . . it took me weeks to come up with the premise. The only thing I knew when I started KILLING FEAR (Feb 08) was that Detective Will Hooper, the partner of my heroine in SPEAK NO EVIL (Feb 07) was the hero.
An article I read mentioned some California legislators talking about selling San Quentin–437 acres of prime real estate on the San Francisco Bay. I remembered that in SPEAK NO EVIL, I’d had Will testify at an appeal hearing against Theodore Glenn, a killer on death row who Will had put away seven years before for murdering four strippers. I re-read the scene where Will tells Carina he has to leave while they’re in the middle of an investigation, and there was maybe two paragraphs about Glenn. But already he intrigued me, and I wondered how I could get him out of prison.
It’s rare to escape from San Quentin. I heard a news report about California sending prisoners to other states for incarceration because of prison overcrowding. I wondered if Glenn would be a candidate for transport–but thought it would be too contrived. Train wreck, plane crash, bunch of killers survive. Been there. I researched the history of San Quentin just to become familiar with it, trying to see if there was at least a possible way to escape–even if it wasn’t probable. Then I came across a seismic report about the structural integrity of San Quentin buildings and all of the sudden wham! I had it. Earthquake.
A dozen prisoners escape and most are caught off page in KILLING FEAR, except of course Theodore Glenn who returns to San Diego to seek revenge on all those who put him in prison–including Will Hooper who arrested him and Robin McKenna, the former stripper who testified against him and had been Will’s lover.
In TEMPTING EVIL (on sale now), two killers are trapped in a secluded resort during a blizzard in Montana, and one of them is obsessed with romance writer Joanna Sutton who is seeking peace at her family lodge four years after the murder of her husband and son.
And in the upcoming PLAYING DEAD (Oct 08), the one innocent escapee–Tom O’Brien, an ex-cop who was responsible for capturing most of the remaining fugitives–has to convince his daughter that he didn’t kill his wife–her mother–and to help him find the real killer. Claire, who at 14 testified against her father, is now a no-nonsense fraud investigator who doesn’t believe her father is innocent, but her curiosity compels her to at least follow-up on his claims.
The premise alone isn’t the whole story–just the spark that gets me started. Similar disparate threads and ideas get woven together to create the hero and heroine, their individual histories, and different plot points.
It’s impossible to point to any one thing that ignites the story, so being asked Where do you get your ideas is never an easy question to answer, but I guarantee every book has a different backstory. And that’s part of the fun of writing–I never know where my ideas really come from, I just hope and pray they keep coming!