Readers always want to know where writers get their ideas. Some writers have famous snarky answers to this question, things such as “The idea warehouse in Pocatello, Idaho” or “Stephen King sells me his extras.” In truth, it’s not where, but how.
Ideas are everywhere. It’s just a matter of changing the way you think about things you encounter every day that turns them into a story idea. I did a workshop with Betty Webb years ago in which she gave each of us a page from the newspaper, telling us to come up with a story about something on the page. She handed them out randomly, so it was the luck of the draw as to what you got. I got a page of grocery ads.
I’m not one of those writers who perform well in public, and this challenge I thought had the best of me. Looking around the table I was sitting at, I saw most people had a page of actual news. That made me very grumpy. The words “Not fair!” came to mind.
After wasting a lot of minutes on that futile response, I looked at the page and started asking myself what could be the story behind the various things on it. Much to my surprise, I came up with a story idea. I don’t remember what it was now, and I doubt that it was very good, but it was an idea. Huh.
Then there are the ideas that jump up and smack you in the head.
I’ve always liked African violets, grown them on and off to greater or lesser success. One of the times I decided to start growing them again, I placed an order with the Violet Barn. After setting up my tiny plants, not much more than a couple of leaves, I opened up the catalog enclosed with the order.
A few pages in, I ran into a dark red variety called Ma’s Crime Scene, with the description “so red, it’s criminal.” Well, you’d have to be deaf, dumb, and blind—or maybe just not a mystery writer—not to have your imagination run with that one.
I’d been thinking about writing a cozy mystery series, but had no idea what it would be about. If you’re reading this, you probably already know that most cozies focus on food or a hobby. I couldn’t see myself doing another series about a restaurant or bakery, particularly since I don’t cook very often anymore, and “recipes in the back” would be a major challenge for me. I didn’t have hobbies since most of my waking hours were focused on my day job.
But African violets? I definitely could see myself writing a series about African violets.
But someone must have done one already, right? I searched Amazon, I Googled, and found not a single mystery about African violets. My goodness!
Well, time passed and the cozy mystery series about African violets sat on the back burner for years. By the time I was ready to write it, again I thought somebody must have beat me to it. But no, they hadn’t.
So I started plotting “True Blue Murder.” I still had to come up with an amateur sleuth, but that tale will have to wait for another time.
Photo: The first of this variety I grew. Not very show-worthy, but pretty.