The title of this blog is a question I have often asked other writers in interview situations. The obvious answer is, "It starts on page one, doofus. Next question?" What I'm talking about, however, is the genesis of the book -- another way, I suppose, of asking the question that so many writers dread, "Where do you get your ideas?
I can refine the question further by asking: Does it start with a character? a setting? a few words of dialogue? What I'm really getting at is, what inspires an author to write a particular book? I can offer some examples of how books started for me.
Eight years ago I wrote several sample chapters and a synopsis for a new mystery series set in Houston, featuring an older, wealthy socialite as the sleuth -- the "Murder, She Wrote" of the monied set, more or less. My agent read it, thought it was okay, but that it didn't have that spark of originality. Then she asked me why mysteries so often focused on rich people. Why hadn't someone written a trailer park detective?
After I stopped thinking about being rejected and started evaluating her question, I had a character (Wanda Nell Culpepper) and a scenario (murder of an ex-husband by lawn flamingo) in my head, and I wrote the first chapter in what would become Flamingo Fatale in about two hours. The book was published in 2005 under the name Jimmie Ruth Evans.
Rejection prompted me another time with an idea for a book. An editor turned down an academic mystery I wrote, saying that the character didn't stand out enough in the crowded market. What could I come up with, I asked myself, that would stand out? At the time (1998) I was reading some of the early paranormal mysteries out there, namely Laurell K. Hamilton, P.N. Elrod, and Tanya Huff. Their books were all fairly hard-edged, and I realized that I hadn't read any cozy paranormal mysteries. What if I wrote a cozy vampire mystery?
Within minutes of articulating that thought, I heard two sentences in my head: "The vicar doesn't know I'm a vampire. Nor does he know I'm gay." Those are the first two lines of Posted to Death, the first of four books about an American vampire, Simon Kirby-Jones, who resides in an English village. I had to write the book to figure out who was talking in my head. The first book was published in 2002, and I think the Simon books might be the first paranormal cozy mystery series, or close to it.
So there you have it, a couple of examples of where writers get their ideas. In my case, from rejection. Hmm... maybe I should think more about that... In any case, for those of you who also write, where does a book start for you?