Toni here… I’m finishing up page proofs, so please welcome fantastic writer and guest blogger today, Shane Gericke!
By Shane Gericke
Ever wonder how us writers come up with ideas?
It’s simple. We don’t sleep.
Well, I don’t, anyway. At least I didn’t Friday.
So grab your coffee, sit back, and relax as I spin this tale
of woe-becomes-redemption. If you yawn a bit, that’s fine. Believe me, I
I wrote book chapters till one a.m., then went to bed.
Three a.m. Four a.m.
Couldn’t sleep. Couldn’t sleep.
“^%&%#$$#,” I mumbled. With a “*%^%” for good measure.
Not wanting to stare at the ceiling any more, I swung my
legs over the side of the bed, knees crackling like bacon in an iron skillet.
“What are you doing?” my wife said, stirring.
“I can’t sleep. I think I’ll go to the gym.”
“Now?” She, of
course, works out after work, when the sun is out. “What time is it?”
I peered at the alarm clock, which was not my friend this
night. “Uh, four thirty.”
She touched my arm. “It’s too early. Come back to bed, hon.”
“Darling, I wish I could. But I’m wide awake and don’t want
to lay here any more.”
“Maybe if you just lay down and close your eyes …”
Note to singles: when you’re married thirty years, this
counts as hot monkey love.
Separate note to you Murderati Power Readers who are chortling
at me, because you’ve been up since four with work commitments, family, exercise,
and life in general, and you do it every day, and you’ve done that as long as
you can remember: Be gentle with me. The only pitch-black skies I ever see in
the morning are from thunderstorms.
“Nah,” I decided. “I’m gonna go to the gym.”
“It’s the middle of the night,” she pointed out. “Are you
sure it’s open?
“Twenty four hours a day,” I said, with pride of ownership
that certainly wasn’t earned. In all the years I’ve hit the gym—well, in
actuality, a suburban health club with a mauve and black motif and
whiny-white-guy music videos in the locker rooms and signs that say, “No
Grunting” in the same mauve and black– I’d never arrived before dawn. I was
looking forward to it. This was going to be Shaney’s Big Adventure.
OK, so it’s not cave exploration in Borneo or saving
children in Africa. Sue me.
The first thing I noticed when I walked onto my driveway was
the quiet. I live in Naperville, a Chicago suburb of 150,000.
It’s a real city, and when I normally rise and shine, nine-ish, things have
been hopping for hours. But this was … different. No horns. No whooshing cars.
No garbage trucks. Nothing but breeze and streetlamps.
I drove as quietly as I could to the health club—er, gym. It’s
twenty degrees out, but I rolled the window down, to better drink in the quiet.
My favorite breakfast haunt wasn’t open. Most of the places I go weren’t open.
The car dealers weren’t out grabbing shoulders and yakkin’ it up. I got to the
gym in record time. No traffic.
Forty souls were inside the well-lit barn, burning shoe
rubber on the treadmills and starting at the overhead TVs as if hypnotized. I
took a look. One showed dead soldiers in Iraq. The one right next to it proclaimed:
“Hepatitis horror!” Then, in smaller type right underneath: “Celebrities at
My God, celebrities at risk. I couldn’t stomach that. So I
headed for the weights, smiling at all the treadmill people as I departed. They
didn’t smile back.
Too early for that, too, I guess.
I did my entire weight circuit, then did it again just ’cause
I could. Amazing how much you can get done in those four extra hours. I didn’t even
set off the siren—which they so graciously call the “Lunk Alarm,” as in only a
lunk would grunt and sweat and swear when the weight defeats them. That made me
happy. If I didn’t scare the natives, maybe they’d smile at me next time. I finished
the workout, hit the locker room, headed for the car.
Stopped dead in the still-perfect quiet.
I was in the middle of a big asphalt parking lot. The lot
was scraped clean of the recent heavy snow and ice. It seemed to go on forever,
a sea of blackness and little white stripes. The sodium vapor lights—think
“maximum security prison”—lit the asphalt into a million tiny diamonds.
No, wait, not diamonds. Something smaller. Finer. More
I was mesmerized. I had no idea asphalt glittered like a
treasure chest, not from what was on top of it, but what was in it. Did you? It was like Tinkerbell backed
up the endloader and spread the fairy dust by the ton. It reminded me of the
stars in the sky, but reversed, like a photo negative, in the days when there
were photo negatives.
I finally got too cold and started the car.
On the way home, my favorite restaurant was open. Traffic
was getting heavy. The honking had started. The trucks were hissing. The noise
I came home, kissed my wife, went back to sleep.
Well, almost. This is where the “how writers get their ideas”
part comes in.
I’d just about hit dreamland when my eyes sprung open. The “aha”
moment had arrived, and I needed to write it before it disappeared. I rolled
out of bed, knees cracking like strings of little firecrackers, and hustled to
the keyboard. Started pounding the keys, the idea mushrooming with each heavy
I’m writing the third book in my Emily Thompson crime
thriller series. Emily is a police detective here in Naperville. She’s smart, pretty, tenacious,
passionate, and adores her friends. She fights crooks with gusto, has fended
off not one but two serial killers, has fallen deeply in love with the first
man to attract her since her husband was murdered, and at age forty three, is
rediscovering how much joy there in life.
For the past couple days, I’ve needed to get Emily from A to
B: from her house to the home of her best friend, Annie Bates, a Naperville
Police commander. The visit kicks off a fireball of excitement and drams, but I
just couldn’t think of how to get Emily there in the first place. She drives a
maroon Accord. I suppose I could have her drive there. Maybe take a squad car,
jazz things up a bit. But cars are, ultimately, boring. This is a thriller, and
thus supposed to thrill. What to do, what to do? How do I make mere transportation
a song about the characters? It was
driving me nuts.
The sparkly asphalt.
Emily would walk. Miles and miles, alone with her thoughts.
Passing house after darkened house at four thirty in the morning, wondering
about the people inside. Did they have children? Were they happy? Are they
criminals or honest johns? Did their house burn to the ground like hers did, at
the hands of a madman? She shortcuts through a car dealership, looking at models
here and there, free of the hassle of salespeople. She strolls across an
oak-filled park, crunching grass. And when she’s halfway across the supermarket
parking lot that separates Annie’s subdivision from the rest of Naperville…
She stops in her tracks, astonished at the millions of twinkly
winks from the inky sea. She’d never noticed them before, because when you’re a
cop, midnight patrol is just as busy as daytime. But because she couldn’t
sleep, because she got herself out of bed, because she went for that long, long
walk with just her and her thoughts, she discovers a wondrous something that
she’ll never forget.
A wondrous something that later saves her life.
Remind me to thank Mr. Sandman for not coming around last
night. I know Emily will.
So tell us… where’d one of your unusual ideas come from? What sparked that creative moment for you?
– – –
bestselling author Shane Gericke spent 25 years as a journalist, most
prominently at the Chicago Sun-Times, before plunging into crime thrillers.
His first, BLOWN AWAY, appears in five languages and was named Romantic Times magazine’s debut mystery of
the year. His current, CUT TO THE BONE, also from Kensington Books, continues
the escapades of hard-charging police detective Emily Thompson, and he’s
hard at work on Number Three. Shane also writes for a variety of national
magazines, is a founding member of International Thriller Writers Inc., and is chairman of AgentFest and the charity auctions at ThrillerFest 2008 in New York City. Visit him at www.shanegericke.com
“Shane Gericke is the
real deal, and Cut to the Bone is an
—New York Times bestselling author Lee Child
“A frightening thrill ride, with beautifully drawn characters, sharply
observed detail, and exceptional writing. This is a damn fine book.”
—New York Times bestselling author
“Cut to the Bone is one of those scary rides through criminality
that can melt away a fifteen-hour flight. The scenarios (trust me on this) will
haunt you for weeks.” John J. Nance—New York Times bestselling author John J Nance
“Shane Gericke writes with the clear eye
of hard-nosed reporter and the sweet
soul of an artist. His power is visceral and unforgettable.”
—New York Times bestselling author
Shane Gericke“Cross James Patterson with Joseph
Wambaugh, and you get Shane Gericke.”
—Roy Huntington, American Cop
What a fabulous post!
Tinkerbelle with the end-loader’s gonna stay with me for quite a while, and I love it. You’ve the gift of verbal pictures, no easy feat.
Love it – I have noticed that fairy dust asphalt too! I have moments almost exactly like what you’ve so beautifully described here, where some bit of serendipity happens, then pops back in to my consciousness at precisely the right moment to fix the current stuck place in my writing. It’s like magic, and the writing is worth it to me just to have those moments.
You’ve captured it so perfectly!
Shane,Welcome to Murderati! What a great post — beautiful, easy to read.
I get my ideas everywhere, all the time. I just don’t know when I’ll HAVE the time to write them all.
But it is weird . . . some of those ideas come when I’m in the middle of a mundane act — taking out the garbage, sitting in my daughter’s cello lesson, putting the pot roast in the crock pot.
Shane, thanks for such a terrific post today.
I love the imagery of Tinkerbell with a front-end loader, and that’s going to stick with me, as well.
Driving around town seems to be one of the best catalysts for me–maybe because I’m seeing such disparate objects which have nothing to do with one another and so the free association is natural. Hot jacuzzi baths tend to be the other one. 😉
Shane – great post! It’s wonderful how sometimes those ideas just arrive out of nowhere and fall into place.
Somewhere in the back of your mind you hear a sound very like a sigh. Yes, it fits …
Shane – great post! Sometimes the most satisfying ideas are the ones that arrive out of nowhere and dovetail perfectly into your story.
At times like these, in the back of my mind I hear a sound very like a sigh. Yes, it fits …
Oops – sorry! Typepad threw a fit when I was typing and I thought it had dumped my comment, but when I re-typed it, it put both up at once.
Like buses, you wait for hours, then two come along at once …
Thanks very much for all the kind words. One of the great joys of being a writer is I get to live in the moment, write about the experience, and nice folks like you tell me the words resonate with you. How can I not love a profession like that? Plus, Zoe lets me go with her and Andy to the top of the Empire State Building in the middle of the night 🙂
I get my best ideas while not consciously trying to think of ideas. Like, when cutting the grass. The roar of the mower, the feel of the sweat dripping off my nose, I’m just into another world and Brain Shane comes out to play. So I totally get the pot roast and cello, Pari.
But God knows where Tinkerbell with the endloader came from 🙂
Toni, I couldn’t agree more on the whirlpools. They are a joy, aren’t they? Along those lines, Jerrle (my wife)and I tried a mud bath while visiting Calistoga, California. I loved it. The tonnage of heat from the volcanic mud was awe-inspring. Jerrle was not a fan, to put it mildly. Of course, being a Grrrrrl, she has many more places than I in which mud can play hide and seek. It took her forever to clean up totally. But being we were in wine country, we quickly found a way to anesthetize the discomfort 🙂
Billie, Fran, I’m delighted you like the imagery. I couldn’t believe how glittery that parking lot was. That one moment made getting up that early totally worth it.
I felt that way about New York City streets, too, Shane. Like all the stars had fallen and gotten stuck in the asphalt.
My own private epiphanies come in the mail. My 90+ year old mother with Alzheimers will every now and again send a newspaper clipping from thirty or forty years ago that she’d shoved in a drawer.It is always the answer to my current plot dilemma.
Wow, Louise, you still get real mail! That’s pretty cool in our e-mail age. Those clippings are something, aren’t they? I’ve been cleaning out our basement for a couple months–need more room for the books–and have come across stuff from my high school prom, my wife’s second grade art classes, college newspaper articles I wrote, the works. Wow. Wild stuff. My hair was black, thick and strong. That’s never gonna happen again 🙂 Sure brings back fine memories, though, of which a few will sneak into the next several thrillers.
#>] Definitely am getting with it! No. 3 is hoppin’ now that I have the opening I want. Zoe Sharp is spot-on when she says the rest of the book cannot flow till the opening is in place and perfect. Now that it is, I’m off and running. Wine is ALWAYS appropriate. Just tell me who you are!!!