Floating Ideas

Floating Ideas

Share on FacebookShare on TwitterShare on Pinterest

My friends often look at me as if trying to understand what goes on in the recesses of my brain. “Where do you get your ideas?” they ask. “You know, for murder and stuff.”

“I’m not really sure,” I usually respond, but the truth is that an idea for a storyline can come from a number of unexpected sources. A writer only needs to be open to grasping onto one when it flashes by.

In the case of my last Stonechild and Rouleau mystery, Shallow End, the germ of the novel fermented for a good number of years. I was teaching at the time and was taking part in a professional development day workshop. A male supply teacher stood up with a cautionary tale: he’d been in charge of a grade eight class when two female students accused him of sexual improprieties. He lost his job and nearly lost his marriage before the two girls confessed that they’d made it all up. This story, combined with recent news items about female teacher aides having sexual relationships with young male students, served to drive the plot.

Newly released Bleeding Darkness, the fifth in the same series, did not evolve the same way. I pictured an opening scene: an older man dying in the hospital with a secret he’d kept for a good number of years. The secret would concern the murder of his daughter’s best friend some fourteen years earlier. And this was all I had. Was he the killer? The answer didn’t come until further into the manuscript. In the meantime, I nailed down the opening chapter and decided that his children were on their way to his bedside. The family fleshed out and grew more and more dysfunctional as I wrote. After all, they’d lived through an unsolved murder fourteen years earlier, and this trauma was bound to leave scars. Lauren McKenna, the dead girl’s best friend and daughter to the now-dying man, emerged as a central character. Her irreverence and flawed spirit became key to the mystery and made her one of my favourite creations.

The sixth in the series, Turning Secrets, is still in the production stage and is not due for release for another year. The nugget of this storyline comes from two disturbing news articles about two separate, but related, topics that I read online. The manuscript unfolded into a timely, unsettling story, but one that I felt compelled to tell.

The creative process is hard to analyse in many respects. Rarely do two authors draw from exactly the same inspiration, or approach an idea in exactly the same way. This is why original works continue to be written even though the same themes are used over and over again — because the idea is only the beginning. The mystique and the excitement come in expanding upon the initial notion and transforming it into an original 90,000-word story that keeps readers flipping pages long into the night.