Tuesday, September 14, 2010


How do we get inspired to write? What experiences have planted the seed of an idea for my stories and for the various scenes in Speaking of Murder? Sure, we're advised to write what we know. For fiction that has its limits, but familiar events and scenes can also prompt the imagination to take off running. When that happens, I and my fellow writers have to race to keep up, getting as many words down in the first draft as we can.

Some years ago, I was driving home from work after dark. I saw a road crew digging a big hole in the ground to work on pipe or wires or something. Floodlights illuminated the area and it looked like a movie scene. All you could see were the workers in the spotlight. A few weeks after that I saw a man walking in Beverly, Massachusetts, who just did not look American. Italian, maybe, or Portuguese. Full head of dark hair, although he wasn't young, and pants and shoes of a cut you don't see in Macy's or Walmart. So I combined those into a story of a granite cutter from Portugal who works at night and his romance with a librarian. Never got it published, but I worked hard to craft the characters and I still feel good about the story.

My story, "Obake for Lance," which was published in Riptide (see the Publications tab), was loosely based on someone I knew when I lived in Japan. A fellow English-conversation teacher, he was deported on spurious charges. The story I wrote is fiction, but many of the scenes and descriptions stem from my experiences in my two years of teaching English there.

Melanson's Boat Shop was an Ipswich fixture. I was intrigued by it when I moved here and walked along the river. It was decrepit, strange, mysterious. I had already written it, renamed Pulcifer's, and a fictitious resident into a short story and into Speaking of Murder. Then last summer when we were in Maine for a week, my son called and said the boat shop was burning down. You can hardly make this stuff up. So the fire got written into the book, too. I don't know the actual inhabitant or anything about him, except that he survived the fire, so I felt free to continue to invent his character and subsequent events.

In the sequel to Speaking of Murder, Lauren walks on Ipswich's Crane Beach. I spent a lot of time on the beach this summer, as much as I could. And I noticed the area to the west where the wooded hill comes right down to the sand and rocks at the edge of the water. I thought, "Looks like a great place to find a dead body." And as I wrote along in the Challenge on the new book, bingo! A dead body happens along as Lauren runs on the beach.

What experiences have sent you to the keyboard to write a scene or a story? What stories have you read that you suspect have a basis in fact?


  1. So interesting how we stitch together images to make a story. I was once in a coffee shop, looking out the window, and I saw a man, who was reading his newspaper as he walked, run right into a pole. He punched the pole.

    Now I'm saving that to write a short story, but the plot around it eludes me still.

  2. I've been trying to think how I came up with the name of my Imogene Duckworthy. I get so many good comments on it (and her daughter's name, Nancy Drew Duckworthy). I remember the moment it came together. We were driving past the Hutto (TX) football stadium on the way home from Austin. The Hutto team is called the Hippos and I reflected on the odd high school team names in these parts: Taylor Ducks, for instance. I'd had an idea for a series featuring an Inept Detective (note the initials), and the name popped into my mind.

    Actually, it was Imogene Duckworth at that moment, but I found quite a few people named Duckworth, so added the Y to make it more unusual.

    Good topic!

  3. One thing that has happened to me a few times is that I'll start something that's hooked into real-life events and I'll immediately write beyond it, making fiction (as intended). Then a scary twist occurs. What I write really happens. I'm not trying to outguess life and I think I'm writing fiction till I get one of those chills-up-your-spine moments. I suspect this happens fairly often to fiction writers. Anyone else?