My mind works in mysterious ways.
Every writer, to a degree, is unique in his or her thought
process. Otherwise, how would we come up with new and exciting tales to
captivate our readers, create characters who spring, fully grown, out of our
minds, like Athena from Zeus’ head? I’m not sure exactly how everyone else’s
minds work, but my thought process is a little, well, off.
Writers, for the most part, are solitary creatures, happily
living in our own minds. We have a 24/7 job. Imagination is a tough wellspring
to turn off. No matter what I’m doing – work notwithstanding – I’m thinking
about work. My stories. My characters. The blog. How to fix that one scene in
the short I’m working on. How to compile the perfect marketing campaign. Book
launches. My characters. Do I need a professional photographer, or will my new
digital camera do the trick? My stories. You get the idea.
I think being a successful writer is really a function of
being comfortable alone. Being content to roam your own mind, allowing your
subconscious to come to the forefront, to acknowledge some of the crazier
ideas, even those that border on sociopathic, harness them, and create from
them. Or we’re just a little bit crazy. Take your pick.
Many writers I’ve talked to claim to be shy – I’m a bit
reticent myself, until you get me going. Is it really shyness? Or is it a
mindset that’s just plain different, and hard for a non-writer to “get?” Are we
shy, or are we actually worried that we’ll be judged for thinking the way we
A lot of my perceived “shyness” problem stem from the way I
look at the world – a bit skewed, off-kilter. To be honest, I’m a little
sheltered. I’m always so excited to find another like mind, someone who won’t
be freaked out if we talk about an autopsy over dinner. Journalists make good
friends; they’ve seen so much that it’s hard to shock them. For obvious
reasons, law enforcement folks are lovely dining companions.
The question I’m asked most often is, “Where do you get
your ideas?” Actually, it’s an interesting question, because I’m willing to
venture a guess that we’re all inspired by different things. It’s what makes
our writing so unique. My ideas can come from a mundane walk around the
neighborhood, a television show, another book, a dream, or real life
occurrences. Here’s a perfect example of both my skewed perception and a story
This past weekend, Hubby and I were in a big box retailer
who will remain nameless so I don’t get sued somewhere down the road. We were
searching for an overstuffed pillow. I’m pawing through the lumbar rolls when
something shiny winks up at me. I lift the pillow and see… a knife.
No kidding. A knife. Lying quietly on the shelf, under a
pile of pillows. It’s a standard steak knife, serrated blade of about 5 inches,
black handle. Now this strikes me as strange. Why would there be a knife
concealed under a stack of pillows on the shelf of a big box retailer, unless
someone was trying to hide it?
We have a mystery, and I’m juiced beyond recognition. I lean
in and look closely for signs of blood or tissue.
Hubby, well trained after living with a forensically minded writer for many
years, admonishes me not to touch it. Duh. To my untrained eye, there’s something
on the first inch of the blade; it looks like it’s been wiped off.
I find an employee, share my nugget of information. I ask,
half joking, if someone had been stabbed in the store today? She looks at me
like I’m out of my mind, then immediately shows an appalling lack of both
imagination and common sense. Despite me saying “Really, don’t touch it, let’s
get your supervisor,” she touches the knife. Actually picks it up, and holding
it pinched between her forefinger and thumb, walks away with it. My dreams of
being interviewed on the news for finding a murder weapon slide away. But I
tuck it into the cranial file folder to use at a later date.
Other juicy story ideas come from the 24-hour news cycle. On
May 15, 2006 a great story broke. A manhunt was on in the Kansas and Missouri
area for a couple suspected of murder. As the day progressed, more information
came to light. A body had been found in a shallow grave. Rumors began that a
videotape of the murder had surfaced.
Now, that’s more than enough information for me to create a
story. Fascinated, I dropped what I was doing and read all the news accounts I
could, watched FOX, and caught the story as it unfolded. By the time Hubby got
home, the videotape had been confirmed. A couple, Richard Davis and Dena Riley,
were suspects, wanted for the rape, sodomy and murder of 41-year-old Marsha Spicer.
The information is pouring in, and I’m thinking – man,
that’s a pretty sophisticated first murder. And they taped the whole thing?
Told Hubby right then and there, there are more bodies out there. I was
smiling. Thinking, Ooooh, this is a good story.
That’s where I go horribly wrong. It’s not that I enjoy the
pain and suffering, I don’t. I abhor violence. I’m a big fraidy cat myself. But
my inner monologue loves this stuff. It’s all processed, sanitized for my
edification, then spit out, ready to be fictionally capitalized upon. I can
separate my psyche from the actuality of the situation and create a fictional
case around it, no problem.
I was right about the couple from Missouri. Two more bodies
have been linked to them. I feel vindicated, in a way. My research has paid
off. I recognize the bad ones quickly now.
The news is fraught with ideas. Hour long news shows are
dedicated to open cases. Families with media savvy get their message out,
sometimes with good news at the end of the story, sometimes bad. I watch
endlessly, and all of it goes into my brain funnel, to be brought out and
chewed upon by my subconscious. Many times, I’m haunted by nightmares. I wake
and write these down. Other times, I can’t sleep. Saying a prayer for the
family helps my conscience, but what am I really doing to help? I’m not. I’m
glorifying their pain and suffering into words.
I realized that writing thrillers is just my way of coping.
In my stories, there are happy endings to go along with the bitter. Bad men are
caught and or killed. There is retribution and revenge; I mete out the
punishments, and I’m not shy. I’m happy to make them hurt. I wish I could wave
my keyboard over the homes of the true victims, ease their pain a little.
Perhaps, one day, they’ll read a book I’ve written and will realize that this
is their story, and in the make believe world, they’ve won.
With that in mind, please stop by Murderati next Friday and
see if you can’t help solve a real cold case. Tell all your friends, too – the
more people who come, the better chance of finding some long awaited answers.
Be the first on your block to buy THRILLER. See what happens if you don’t here.
Wine of the Week – La Crèma Pinot Noir
I know some of you are probably sick of reds by now, so
I’ll throw a bone to the white lovers out there – Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio
“Charity never faileth: but whether there be
prophecies they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether
there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy
in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part
shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a
child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish
things. For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face: now I
know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth
faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
“Is it really shyness? Or is it a mindset that’s just plain different, and hard for a non-writer to “get?” Are we shy, or are we actually worried that we’ll be judged for thinking the way we do?”
A certain amount of ‘shyness’ factors in, but perhaps it’s also that we’re just slightly outside the perceived “normal” space-time continuum. By that, I mean able to step back and see things differently because our minds travel on different tracks. I was thinking about this just last night – I was only 6 yrs old when my aunt’s dog died. It happened only a few months before she was making a big move, about 1200 km’s away. Now, I’m an animal lover, always have been, but I went and told my aunt that at least now she didn’t have to worry about how her dog would take the move, her dog would never have to leave “home”. (My aunt had been worried about this.) But isn’t that an odd thing for a little kid to even think? Even stranger to actually say.
I think part of it is that we step outside of situations and are able to look at the potential ramifications of decisions and see what could happen, while a lot of other people are just living in the moment.
And I’ll stop rambling now – great post JT!
My mind definitely works in the same way. I am both horrified and interguied by what I see in the news. You can’t help but turn on the “wonder” switch, projecting out to what else might be going on, or at least could have gone on.
On the shy front, for me it’s absolutely the looking at the world from a skewed viewpoint thing. Well, that and I enjoy being in a crowded room just watching everyone else, figuring out the relationships, creating whole lives from just a quick glance of someone.
Okay, plus I’m worried about sounding like an idiot…
You nailed my “shyness.”
Now I just need to figure out how to explain my reticence without sounding even scarier. 😉
J.T.Our minds work similarly re: finding ideas in the news, in regular life . . . whatever.
re: being shy — I’m not — as you know but, I definitely have an introverted aspect to my personality that demands quiet in order to write and think. I need this silent space in order to translate ideas into words on the page.
Day #2 of Boise is starting off great. The interview on the ABC affiliate — and the adventure of getting there — will probably be part of my blog next Mond.
BTW: I love the idea of posting cold cases. I think that’s something we should do more of.
Thanks guys. It’s good to know I’m not the only one who perceives things a little differently. Maybe this is step one in getting past the shyness, huh?
Fascinating post, J.T.
I guess I’ve been lucky in that most of my writer friends aren’t shy. Hell, they wouldn’t put up with me if they were.
The cold case idea is great, and I’ll pass on your info to the lists I belong to.
The shyness thing…from my pov, it’s ’cause when we’re starting out, we’re insecure as all fuck.
Great post JT! I could comment forever on your insights 🙂
I’m not shy in the traditional sense, but I’m definitely quirky. I remember an interview I did with this really nice reporter, a mom with two kids, about my age–who told me at the beginning that she was in the middle of THE KILL but she could only read it in daylight when he husband was home because it was so scary. I should have taken the cue . . . but she then asked when I got my ideas, specifically writing about such dark subject matter and how I researched my books.
Yep, one of my favorite subjects. Because she was reading THE KILL, I told her how I researched decomposition of bodies and how weather and environment effects the evidence and identification, why I decided to have my victim with an identifying piece of jewelry (because after three months outside in a moist and warm environment she wouldn’t be easily identifiable on sight and I needed my detective to know immediately that this murder was connected to his current investigation . . . )
I sort of got lost in my own mind remembering how I pieced together the evidence and when I surfaced, this reporter looked scared half to death. Here I am, seemingly normal mom of five, talking matter-of-fact about murder and evidence collection and also serial killers and why the killer in my book did what he did.
So, I can relate. 🙂 We’re all a little off. And like you, there’s not a day–or hour, really–that goes by that my mind is not churning over ideas.
Man, Allison, I’m sitting her laughing at your description of this interview. I had a similar situation discussing some bad adipocere, and bless her heart, the woman doesn’t speak to me to this day.The simple fact that I find this amusing tells you something, huh?
Tribe — amen to that, my brother. You’ve hit the nail on the head.
Tribe, amen, brother.
Allison, great story! I can totally imagine it happening. In fact, it probably happens with writers all the time. We look normal, but…
Good post, JT. I think each of us as writers have our own unique way of looking at life and the world around us.
Its funny you mention this. I was at the gas station yesterday and browsed the front page of the Detroit Free Press where they were talking about two girls who were in a car accident over the weekend. One girl died and the other was in a coma in the hospital. Well it turns out the IDs of the girls was mixed up.
The family that buried the daughter found out she was really alive and the family who was by the bedside of their daughter as she started to recover were given the terrible news.
It was the mother of the girl in the coma who was the one who figured out the girl was not her daughter and my brain immediately clicked. What if the mother figured it out but didnt tell anyone? And then the girl got back her memory many years down the line. What would happen to that family?
Theres a story there somewhere…
Bryon, you’ve stolen my next story for Demolition… I still have a little twist for it though.
I just had to come back and tell you about a similar story. Ann Parker, my daughter and I were sharing a hired car in D.C. on our way to Malice a couple of years ago, and we got to talking about which poisons were quick acting, where to find the info, and other methods of murder. We were so engrossed in exchanging info, we forgot about the driver and it wasn’t until I noticed (I was riding shot gun)him giving me some strange side glances. I quickly explained that we were mystery writes on our way to a mystery convention. I don’t think he bought it, because he suddenly went from 55mph to 70mph and continued to check me out when he thought I wasn’t looking.
We no sooner arrived at the hotel, when he jumped out, opened the trunk, and damn near threw our bags on the ground. When I paid him, he tore the money out of my hands, and hauled ass so fast, he almost ran over the bell man at the next car in front of us.
Needless to say – he wasn’t the driver who picked us up when he left.
A number of years ago a friend of mine, who was a writer, and his girlfriend were discussing a scene from the story he was working on. In the story the character was conversing with a hooker and ironing out the price details. The only problem was they were into the diologe and forgot about the hitchhiker they had picked up who was sitting in the back seat.At this time of night, who cares how one spells diologe!
It must be later then I think. I’m sure it would help if I remembered my URL. Is this the beginning of a mystery? The unemployed carpenter, who writes to keep his sanity in a complex world, up till all hours of the night, trying like hell to make some sense of his post so that those reading it won’t shake their heads wondering what in the world his problem is.