Writers are often asked where they find their stories. Betsy Byars gets inspiration for her topical children’s books from newspaper articles. Sue Grafton was a screen writer before she wrote mystery novels. Her protagonist, Kinsey Millhone, the author’s alter ego sans husband and children, solves mysteries as if she were cast into one of the author’s TV or movie action plots.
Family stories about an intrepid female relative of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century inspired mystery writer, Juliet Kincaid. She researched that period of history in Kansas City for a new historical mystery series. A facsimile of her relative, a sassy, independent young woman much like Juliet’s ancestor, is the sleuth who solves period-appropriate mysteries.
Like many writers, I keep a journal. Mine isn’t formal. Formal would be good. I have several beautiful, hardbound notebooks in which I’ve written story starters, rambling outlines, and snippets of conversations. But, it never fails that my journals are nowhere near when I find the best stories, interesting situations, amazing people, or startling settings. I end up recording my impressions on restaurant napkins, on my phone’s memo app, on used envelopes, or in my head.
My head is the worst and the best place from which to retrieve my stories. Something I’ve heard or experienced may come back in bits and pieces—frustrating when I can’t remember details that made it a good story. On the other hand, the important parts of those stories are what made them stick in my memory, and I’m free to use imagination to fill in the details and create even better tales.
For my cozy mystery series, I used a story a friend told me about a “psycho cat” that she swore saved her life when she was a young apartment dweller. Her cat story, a bit altered, combined with a bizarre story one of my rental tenants told me about her life, formed the basis for the first Psycho Cat and the Landlady book.
In the second book, I used impressions I gathered while visiting a small Ozark town and combined them with more of my landlady experiences and crazy cat stories provided by…well…everyone I know who has or has had a cat. The skeleton in the attic came from my own demented imagination.
For years, one story stored in my memory begged me to use it. At a meeting, I heard a speaker bring the house down with her account of attending a conference in another city where the eerie elevator in her hotel wouldn’t go to her floor. She gave me permission to write that story, but by the time I wanted to use it in my third book, I couldn’t remember exactly how the story went. By filling in details that fit, adding some mysterious goings on that happened in my mother’s retirement building, using ideas from a story about some suspicious tenants told to me by another landlord, and, again, imagining a murder, I gave my protagonist plenty of mysteries to solve and difficulties to overcome.
Writers could spend their time tucked away in attic turrets, but the only stories they’d learn would be about spiders and dust. Get out there and collect good stories as you enjoy life. And if you have a story tucked away—mysterious, funny, heart-warming, or otherwise interesting—share it, even if you don’t remember all the details.
I’d love to hear one of your stories. It might show up in one of my books or short stories. You can comment here or contact me on Facebook or on my website at http://www.joyceannbrown.com . Also, you can find out more about my Psycho Cat and the Landlady series on my author page at: http://www.amazon.com/Joyce-Ann-Brown/e/B00OL6JH08/ .
Joyce Ann Brown (http://www.joyceannbrown.com/) owns rental properties in Kansas City with her husband, but none of their tenants have been involved in theft, kidnapping, or murder. Besides being a landlady, Joyce has worked as a story teller, a library media specialist, a Realtor, and a freelance writer. Her writing has appeared in local and national publications.
Twice award-winning Catastrophic Connections is the first of her Psycho Cat and the Landlady Mysteries, soon to be an audio book. The second is positively reviewed Furtive Investigation. Lifeline will published this spring.
Catch a glimpse of Joyce Ann’s writing about many cozy subjects on her blog at: http://retirementchoicescozymystery.wordpress.com/; read about trails she walks in Kansas City at http://hikingkctrails.wordpress.com/.