People are always asking me where I get my ideas. They usually don’t like my answer, which is basically, ‘The trouble with getting ideas is choosing which to pursue, because there are at least a million potential ideas out there every day.’ Then I tell them that an idea is not a plot (repeat after me – an idea is NOT a plot!). Non-writers just don’t understand.
While there are many sparking points for every completed book, some big, some little, some remembered, some forgotten, there are a few that stick in the mind.
The germ for ECHOES IN THE DARK, my romantic Gothic set in the early 60s. came from a trip made with my mother. It wasn’t long after my father had passed away and Mother and I were just wandering through rural Arkansas more to get away from the house than anything else. We stopped for lunch at this magnificent old resort hotel and my mind began to awake from its grief-induced dormancy and start to churn, even though it was quite a while before this nascent idea bore literary fruit. This hotel was clean and bustling with activity as well as being in a town, but several years later it surfaced in my story as a derelict wreck, a deserted Victorian spa out in the country complete with buried treasure and ghost. The arrangement of rooms, etc, was the same, but no one seeing the real hotel would ever mistake it for my fictional creation. Still, that gorgeous old hotel in Arkansas had sparked my imagination.
It was another hotel (Are we seeing a thread here? Hmmm…) that stimulated my romantic mystery DARK MUSIC. I was fortunate enough to visit the magnificent Chateau Lake Louise at Banff in Calgary early enough in the spring that everything was still covered over with snow. For a Texan, that alone was memorable.
Some time later, long after I had returned home, we suffered one of the hottest summers on record. It cost a fortune to keep the temperature in the house bearable, so I tried to think of the coolest things I could. One of them was the memory of the snow at Lake Louise. From there it was just a small skip to being snowbound in a magnificent resort hotel by a late, freak blizzard in 1960-something. (Obviously I like the early 1960s!) Of course, I changed the hotel’s name and location and made no reference to the actual place; for some reason hoteliers don’t really like their establishment being linked to murder and mayhem! Then, really getting into the groove, I added a romance writers’ convention, a still-loved ex-husband living under a false name and a serial killer. Just for good measure I threw in some Chopin, too!
I love Chopin – he’s my favorite composer. I lived in an apartment then, and while writing this book played his music constantly. The neighbors started to waylay me at the mailbox to ask when I would finish the book and turn off the Chopin! I thought that was rather plebeian of them.
A funny memory from ECHOES IN THE DARK : the heroine sees the ghost of a Confederate officer in the basement of the old hotel. She has had an accident and suffers hallucinations in addition to having a broken leg in a cast, but she’s convinced that the officer was not a specter! Anyway, while I was writing the whole ghost sequence my mother came to take me out to lunch, knowing that when I’m working hard against a deadline I don’t always take time to eat. I was limping badly due to a couple of broken toes (long story) and my foot was sturdily bandaged. Mother took me to the local cafeteria and as I struggled out of the car I glanced up and saw a Confederate soldier in full uniform walking through the cafeteria door! Freaking out does not describe my reaction, and I was not encouraged when Mother, who had been busy locking the car, denied having seen anything. Was I losing my mind or what? Determined to find out, I disregarded my bandaged foot and loped ungracefully across the parking lot – a sight better neither described nor seen – and flung myself into the cafeteria.
There, standing placidly in line, were men not only in Confederate gray, but Union blue. I grabbed the nearest one and made sure that he was truly corporeal, all the while muttering “You’re real, you’re really real…” The somewhat startled young man was most kind to this crazy lady who was so delighted that he actually existed and explained that he and his fellow Civil War types were re-enactors, mustering at the Army Reserve Depot across the street.
The whole episode gave me an entirely new depth of sympathy for my heroine!
So you see, ideas not only come from everywhere, they sometimes come back to haunt you!
Janis Susan May is a seventh-generation Texan and a third-generation wordsmith who writes mysteries as Janis Patterson, romances and other things as Janis Susan May, children’s books as Janis Susan Patterson and scholarly works as J.S.M. Patterson.
Formerly an actress and singer, a talent agent and Supervisor of Accessioning for a bio-genetic DNA testing lab, Janis has also been editor-in-chief of two multi-magazine publishing groups as well as many other things, including an enthusiastic amateur Egyptologist.
Janis married for the first time when most of her contemporaries were becoming grandmothers. Her husband, also an Egyptophile, even proposed in a moonlit garden near the Pyramids of Giza. Janis and her husband live in Texas with an assortment of rescued furbabies.
Visit Janis here http://vinspirepublishing.com/author_pages/janis_patterson.html
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