Any writer, I’m sure, has had the experience of a great idea striking them while engaged in an activity that had nothing to do with writing and nothing to do with whatever plot their minds were currently worrying at—like being at your child’s ballet recital and noticing the teacher’s son, pressed into doubling as the sound engineer, hustling back and forth trying to weed that static out of the speaker precariously mounted stage right…suppose this were a ballet competition and not just a chance for parents to see why they’ve been writing checks all year…a particularly competitive stage parent might get very upset over a break in their kid’s music quality…maybe even kill….
Or you’ll be teaching your daughter to knit, guiding her little fingers over the pointy edge of the needle and you realize what a good murder weapon it would be…knitting isn’t as common as it once was but what if there were a group of knitters, a club…easily concealed, innocuous in a normal setting…untraceable? Do knitting needles have serial numbers?
Or just as you are writing the scene where Dudley runs his rival down in the street and wonders how to conceal the damage to his car, a commercial comes on for a revolutionary new car body with flexible bumpers…get a dent and it pops right out.
With me and my latest book, Takeover, this happened a lot. Just as I’d be mulling over some aspect of my plot—in which my forensic scientist Theresa becomes involved in a robbery/ standoff where her homicide detective fiancé is one of the hostages—someone or something would come along and prod me into the next few chapters.
Not the basic plot, which is a robbery gone bad: Theresa goes against the flashy negotiator by giving the robbers something they want in order to free her wounded and dying fiancé. I am embarrassed to report that it grew out of a recurring daydream about gorgeous Rory Cochrane on CSI Miami. The scene never occurred on CSI Miami, but somehow my brain synapsed the cute guy and the brilliant sunlit street and the desperate situation together and worked at it until I had it perfect, not that thoughts involving Rory Cochrane were difficult to return to. Just a daydream. (Okay, fantasy, I admit it, are you happy now?)
From there, I happened to go to the Sleuthfest convention in Fort Lauderdale and happened to attend the Sisters In Crime dinner and happened to sit next to an older man and his wife, people unknown to me. In the course of making polite conversation (my mother did teach me a few manners, despite what others may tell you) it turned out the man had been a New York police officer for years, many of them on the hostage rescue squad, and he had written an article on negotiation that was still used to teach classes at the FBI Academy. Through him I tracked down a copy of it, which I used and listed in my bibliography in the book.
Then, I was sitting on the couch watching TV with my husband (a scene which, unfortunately for our waistlines, occurs all too frequently in my house) when a commercial for the 2006 Harrison Ford movie Firewall aired. I sat up and said aloud, “I won’t make my robbery at an ordinary bank. I’ll make it at the Federal Reserve bank.” Having walked past the Fed in downtown Cleveland many times on my way to the library, I knew it was a large and distinct location. What I didn’t know was that there are only 12 in the country and that a Fed is completely different from your corner savings and loan, so that no one in their right mind would rob a Federal Reserve. This, however, eventually worked in my favor, adding another layer of things-are-not-what-they-seem to the story.
Of course the movie Firewall has absolutely nothing to do with the Federal Reserve. Perhaps the wiring in my brain has a few shorts.
These facts and ideas and half-baked scenes were floating around in my head when we went over our friends’ house for a party one evening. We live in Cape Coral, Florida, so that while my husband and I are in our 40s, most of our friends are retired. I like partying with retirees. They cook well, don’t cancel because they couldn’t find a babysitter, never show up ‘fashionably late’ and have lived long enough to have an endless supply of interesting stories. One such man had been an elevator repairman, one of those guys allowed into even high-security buildings because, of course, no one wants to take the stairs. He could tell me quite a bit about the layout of the Cleveland Fed. Another person at this same party had worked in a bank for all of her professional life and as an examiner for the latter portion of it. She had been to the Fed many times in the course of her work. I had been struggling to come up with a significant title and asked for any inside terminology regarding banks, or robberies, or the Fed. At first she said no, thought about it, got another drink and said, “Well, when we had the kind of robbery where the guy waited in the parking lot for the first employee to show up in the morning, usually the manager, and walked them in at gunpoint to open the safe, we would refer to that as a Morning Glory. When there was a single robber, he was a Lone Gunman, and when there were two or more, we called that a Takeover.”
You never know where or when this kind of help will fall into your lap. Talk to the people you meet, and ask questions. Lots of questions. Even if you don’t even know yet what it is you want to know, ask, talk, and most of all, listen.
Oh, and go to parties.
Lots of parties.