By Jennie Bentley
I’ve been tossing book ideas around lately. Being up to my eyeballs in DIY – revisions for book 1 were due this week, the completed manuscript for book 2 is due July 1 (I’m about ¼ of the way through), and then I have book 3 to write by the end of the year – I’ve felt the need to think about other things once in a while, just for a change of pace. And because I get my kicks from coming up with ideas and titles for books, that’s what I’ve been doing.
Where do these ideas come from? Funny you should ask.
One of my all-time favorite authors, the brilliant MPM – Barbara Mertz AKA Elizabeth Peters AKA Barbara Michaels – claims to buy all of hers from a small general store somewhere in – I think – Nebraska. (It’s one of those questions that best-selling authors get asked all the time, I believe, so it must be tempting to come up with an answer like that. I wouldn’t know, since I’m hardly best-selling. Not selling at all, yet.) Other people say they get theirs on e-Bay or from a secret website just for writers, where we auction them off to the highest bidder.
My first book – the one my agent loves, but that no one wants to publish – came about because of a career change. I had just gotten my real estate license and was starting to practice. As I walked into empty house after empty house, often in the company of some guy I didn’t know from Adam, any number of scary scenarios presented themselves to me. Dead bodies inside, or the guy beside me being a homicidal maniac; or a homicidal maniac inside, while the guy beside me was an undercover cop... That’s why, in the first chapter of A Cutthroat Business, my protagonist, new-minted Realtor Savannah Martin, is at first afraid to leave her car when confronted with her new client, and when she goes into the dilapidated house he wants to see, they find the butchered body of another realtor, throat cut from ear to ear, on the floor of the library. I’ve been there, done that. The only dead bodies I’ve found have been those of roaches, rats and birds, admittedly, but that’s where the idea came from.
As far as the DIY-series goes, the idea for Fatal Fixer-Upper was pretty much forced upon me. My editor asked, “Would you like to write a series about a renovator?” and I thought, you’ll pay me? Then sure. There had to be a house, obviously, and because of the kind of book it is, there had to be cutesy tips for projects, and a hot handyman – what’s a DIY-book without a hot handyman? – and because it’s a cozy, there had to be cats. The background for the mystery came from doing research on Maine Coon cats. Interesting animals, they’re either descended from Norwegian Forest Cats that the Vikings brought over when they explored Vinland, or from the cats of one Captain Coon, who used to sail up and down the coast 300 years ago, or maybe from Marie Antoinette’s cats, when they were brought over from France in 1794, after a botched attempt to rescue the Queen from Madame la Guillotine. Take your pick.
When we visited Pittsburgh last year, we had to take the kids for a trip on the Monongahela Incline. It was an early morning during Easter, with no one around, and there was a very creepy guy on the incline with us. “What if,” I said to myself – a big question, what if! – “someone walked into an incline car first thing in the morning, and found a dead body...?”
So what about you? Where do you get your ideas? Do you have a hard time coming up with them, or are you like me, so full of ideas you’ll never be able to write about them all? Would you subscribe to an exclusive site for writers, where we can post our ideas and auction them off for extra cash when royalty checks are lean? How much would you give me for Inclined to Murder? And since I’m eagerly awaiting the first time someone asks me, “Where did you come up with the idea for this?!” – how about some help figuring out what to say? Because somehow, saying that ideas are everywhere, just waiting to be scooped up by the handfuls, doesn’t have the same ring to it as saying the idea was hand-made and mail-ordered from a small convenience store in Nebraska...