Monday, March 02, 2015

Guest Blog by Fran Stewart - Where Do You Get Your Ideas? - February 2, 2015

Please welcome Fran Stewart to The Qwillery. A Wee Murder in My Shop, the 1st ScotShop Mystery, will be published on March 3rd by Berkley.

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Where do you get your ideas? Did you ever ask that of an author at a book signing? It’s one of the hardest questions to answer—because there are so many possible answers. There’s often a pregnant pause before I answer that particular question. My mind churns through the myriad possibilities, discarding most of the answers I come up with, because where I get my ideas depends very much on what I’m considering writing. Or where I find myself in a story at the moment.

The truth—for me at least—is that the ideas simply pop up at all times of the day or night and in every situation I find myself in. At meals or parties, with friends or alone, strolling, jogging, dancing, standing still, in the shower or on the couch, in an ice storm or the middle of the night. Anywhere. Any time. Unfortunately, most of those ideas aren’t useable.

Let’s say I’m stuck with trying to make a character more believable. I need an idea and I need it fast. Most writers have their own approach to finding ideas to help us solve such a problem, whether it’s with a sticky character or a sticky plot. I generally walk.

I was on retreat one January on Sapelo Island when I simply could not get a feel for the murderer in my first ScotShop mystery, A WEE MURDER IN MY SHOP. Every scene with that particular character was flat, lifeless. So I bundled up and walked to Nanny Goat Beach. The rain hit and I simply pulled on my hood and kept going. As the surf thundered at my left side, I heard the murderer’s voice. “Listen to me,” the waters roared. “Listen to me.”

“What makes you tick?” I asked. “Why are you so angry?”

The waves pounded out his answer. I heard it as clearly as if he’d been propelled along beside me by the ferocious wind at our backs. My back, I mean.

“What,” I asked next, “could have resolved this problem before you committed the murder?”

When he told me the root of his anger lay a hundred years ago, I was dumbfounded. I also had a big re-writing job ahead of me. One of the problems was that I hadn’t seen him as a real person—he’d simply been the bad guy in my mind. The murderer. I hadn’t even thought of him as my murderer. I hadn’t owned him.

I hadn’t owned up to him, either.

You see, we all have murderous thoughts at one time or another—some more often than others. And every murder has roots somewhere. Sometimes those roots make sense to relatively sane (i.e. non-murderous) people. Sometimes they seem valid to the murderer alone. A good mystery allows writers—and readers—to explore consequences. Just think about it: what would happen if I/you acted out my/your homicidal impulses?

What would happen if … is the source of so many ideas. Let’s say I’m walking past you on the street and I hear you say to a friend, “I could have killed him!” I don’t need to know your backstory. I don’t need to know whether you really mean it. All I need to do is take that phrase and ask the new character sprouting in my mind: “Why?”

That’s where story ideas come from.

So, my question for you is - did you ever ask yourself What would happen ...?

A Wee Murder in My Shop
A ScotShop Mystery 1
Berkley, March 3, 2015
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 304 pages

Hamelin, Vermont, isn’t the most likely place for bagpipes and tartan, but at Peggy Winn’s ScotShop, business is booming…
While on a transatlantic hunt for some authentic wares to sell at her shop, Peggy is looking to forget her troubles by digging through the hidden treasures of the Scottish Highlands. With so many enchanting items on sale, Peggy can’t resist buying a beautiful old tartan shawl. But once she wraps it around her shoulders, she discovers that her purchase comes with a hidden fee: the specter of a fourteenth-century Scotsman.

Unsure if her Highland fling was real or a product of an overactive imagination, Peggy returns home to Vermont—only to find the dead body of her ex-boyfriend on the floor of her shop. When the police chief arrests Peggy’s cousin based on some incriminating evidence, Peggy decides to ask her haunting Scottish companion to help figure out who really committed the crime—before anyone else gets kilt…

About Fran

Fran Stewart had to wait a whole bunch of years before writing her first book—mainly because nobody would pay any attention to the other ones she tried to write. But when she finally got to where she had something worth writing about, she started churning out her Biscuit McKee Mystery Series (seven books so far). Her new ScotShop series keeps her equally busy, and equally interested.

She lives with various rescued cats beside a creek on the other side of Hog Mountain, northeast of Atlanta. She sings alto in a community chorus and volunteers at her grandchildren’s school library. Fran is a member of the Atlanta Writers Club, the National League of American Pen Women, Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and the “Wish-I-Knew-How-To-Play-a-Tuba Club,” of which she is the only known member.

Website  ~  Facebook

The Giveaway

What:  One entrant will win a Mass Market Paperback copy of A Wee Murder in My Shop by Fran Stewart from the publisher. US ONLY

How:  Log into and follow the directions in the Rafflecopter below.

Who and When:  The contest is open to all humans on the planet earth with a US mailing address. Contest ends at 11:59 PM US Eastern Time on March 23, 2015. Void where prohibited by law. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 years old or older to enter.

*Giveaway rules and duration are subject to change.*

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  1. What would happen if.........? If I were in a situation where I or someone else would die if I didn't follow through on those impulses.

    1. Sounds like the impetus for a great story, oh bejeweled one. For purposes of fiction, would it drive the story more if you were the threatened one - or if were someone you loved?

  2. I rarely ask myself that; i always think the outcome will be negative or one that i don't like.

    1. Oh dear, Lisa. Sometimes good things happen, though - just as they do at the end of cozy mysteries.

  3. What would happen if...? Isn't that how all our daydreams start/ At least that's how mine start---and off I go in my imagination.

    1. It's funny how daydreams sometimes turn into something real, Sue. For instance - I used to daydream about writing mysteries. I was 55 before my first mystery was published - and the dream/reality has just kept getting better and better.

  4. Replies
    1. That's okay, bn100 - if you follow this blog, though, you must be a reader; and writer-s-who DO wonder--truly appreciate readers!

  5. Thanks to each of you who left a comment today and to those who signed up to win a free copy of A WEE MURDER IN MY SHOP. I hope you'll check out the rest of my blog tour over the next two weeks so you can find out a lot more about the book and how I wrote it. The appearances are listed on my website

  6. No, I'm happy with life as it is and I'm not terribly curious.

  7. @Anne - That works, too. I'm glad you're happy with your life. If more people felt that way, there'd be a lot more smiles on the streets!

  8. I have very often asked myself that question throughout my life, as I am a person who likes to consider all alternatives to situations and ponder their possible consequences!

    skkorman AT bellsouth DOT net

    1. @ skkorman - I imagine there are a lot of people who enjoy thinking things through like that; the difference between those people and us writers is that we put the possibilities on paper!

  9. What if comes up a lot in my life. But not in terms of someone dying to change situation. What if I hadn't done this or that. Would the outcome be the same? I believe certain things will happen on schedule and if not one way then another. I put my mom on a plane and sent her on vacation. She passed away the next day. Not going would have changed nothing . She still would have passed, another way, another place....

    1. @ oneponychick66 - It's such a good question - what if I had (or hadn't) done such-and-such. And, even if the "same thing" happens regardless of which choice one makes, all the little events around that major happening are changed. Your mother's dying on vacation rather than, as probably would have happened, in her own home is a case in point. Her life, say on the plane, might have influenced someone that you'll never have a chance to know about. I'm sorry for your loss, but the writer part of me sees a whole story of how someone's life changed for the better as a result. Just think, maybe someday someone will approach you and say, "You don't know me, but I have to tell you what your mother said to me one day years ago..." Therein is the writer's tale.

  10. I ask myself "what if" all the time. I'm a night nurse - there are many chances to do so.

    1. @ "People food for dogs" - A night nurse? Oh my gosh, what you must run into. I have the greatest respect for nurses, particularly after a recent health challenge I experienced. I'm glad I checked back to see if there were any other comments. My best wishes to you.

  11. Replies
    1. Now the writer in me is wondering what sort of answers you come up with, Kaye!

  12. I try not to ask myself "What if" in relationship to the past, as it can steal away contentment with the present.
    "What if" is a great question to ask yourself when considering doing something today that your future self will thank you for though!