A common reader question is “where do you get your ideas?” I’m always at a loss to answer, because writing a book is such an organic process. I’ll see something in the news that makes me think of a tangential scene in the books, or I’ll read a news story and try to incorporate the gist of it into a paragraph or passage. For me, by the time I sit down at my computer, I’ve worked out great big chunks of the plot and have a general idea of how I want my characters will handle it. The surprises come when I realize that everything I planned won’t really work. That’s when the fun starts. So, in answer to where I get my ideas, it’s basically: I don’t know.
With FALLEN, my next book, I can definitely point to one single event that gave me the idea for the opening of the story. I had the great pleasure of watching agents with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation train for a school shooting scenario. To practice for an eventual shooting, they took over an abandoned school building in a rural part of Georgia and set the stage with role players pretending to be scared faculty, screaming students and the actual shooter. The lights were turned off. Loud music was playing. Somewhere in the school, the shooter was popping off rounds of simunition.
Two dozen GBI agents spent all day going through the school and trying to neutralize the shooter. Pre-Columbine, the directive for all police forces was to set up a perimeter, then go classroom by classroom clearing out the innocent and wounded, and finally isolate the shooter. At that point, negotiators were supposed to be called in and hostages were traded with an eventual eye toward capturing the bad guy. Of course, with Columbine, we realized that wasn’t the best way to do it. Wounded suffered far more injuries and one man died because the police did not go into the building. This was an awful situation, but the police were following the proper procedures, which were handed down by the FBI.
Fast forward to the Ft. Hood shooting, where the MP went straight into the building, gun drawn, and fired at the shooter until her magazine was empty. That’s the new directive now. If we can say one good thing came out of Columbine, it’s this: law officers are now trained to stop the shooter at all costs.
So, given this new directive, the GBI was training agents to ignore screaming kids and teachers, step over the wounded if they had to, and find the shooter. I followed each of them through the course all day, and without exception, they all took less than sixty seconds to find the shooter and either arrest them or kill them.
Following these men and women, I was struck by the adrenaline rush I got just watching them. My heart was pounding. My hands were sweating. My mouth was dry. At the end of each run through, the officers were literally bumping off the walls. They were so full of adrenaline they couldn’t stand still.
It was quite a rush to watch, and when I drove home, I could still feel my heart pounding in my chest. I sat down at my computer and typed out the first chapter of FALLEN. It’s not the same scenario–in FALLEN, Faith pulls into her mother’s driveway and realizes something really, really bad has happened inside the house–but every word I wrote is a direct reaction to what I experienced that day. I hope you’ll feel your heart pounding just like mine did.
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