Where Do You Get Your Ideas?
The first thing everyone seems to ask when you say you’ve written a book is: Where do you get your ideas? I always find that kind of comical, because just about everything is an idea for a story. The great mystery writer, PD James, once talked about being in a nurse’s training class in which they showed her how to insert a tube into a patient’s stomach. Right away, she thought: What a great way to kill someone with poison! Probably no one else in the class was thinking that at all. But if you are a writer, you tend to have an overactive imagination to start with. So you’re always looking at things or situations and carrying them out to extremes in your own mind. Those extremes often make for good stories.
In my debut novel, Thirty-Nine Again, I tell the story of Sabrina O’Hara, a breast cancer survivor who’s hoping to resume her quiet, ordinary life when she accidentally discovers her fiancé is leading a dangerous double life. Instead of kicking back and celebrating her thirty-ninth birthday for the second time around, she winds up on the run from her charming but unpredictable fiancé, from some friends of his in the Mexican Mafia, and from a very sexy undercover agent who’s been posing as Sabrina’s personal trainer.
As far as I can tell, the entire idea for this plot came from me having a suspicious mammogram a few years ago, and spending a couple of months worrying about whether I had cancer. In the end, a biopsy indicated I did not, but those couple of months set my imagination spiraling out of control. In addition, the headmistress at my son’s school at the time was battling breast cancer. She’s a three-year survivor now, but at the time, I watched with admiration as she showed up at school nearly every day, throughout chemo and radiation. She said she wasn’t trying to be heroic, she was just trying to hang on to some sense of a normal life.
When I decided to make Sabrina a cancer survivor, I used my son’s headmistress as a bit of a role model. Like her, Sabrina wants to hang on to as much of her normal life as possible. Unlike the headmistress, Sabrina had the misfortune of being created by a writer with an overactive imagination and a taste for danger and mystery. Instead of getting back to normal, Sabrina winds up in the midst of an international investigation in human trafficking and drug smuggling. Fortunately, her bout with cancer has given her new self-confidence and determination, and she uses those skills to outsmart some pretty smart bad guys – and to find true love. I took a little negative moment in my own life, a big scary moment from a friend’s life, added that to my own fondness for mysteries and thrillers – and voila, a novel was born.
The next time, I’ll just do what Nora Roberts does and go buy some ideas at the Idea Store!