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Wednesday, March 13, 2019


By Lois Winston

Ask any fiction author, no matter the genre, the most frequently asked question readers ask her, and she’ll answer, “Where do you get your ideas?” Ask any fiction author, no matter the genre, what advice she’s heard most often, and she’ll answer it’s to write what you know.

Some may wonder how the two can be compatible. What about authors who write about zombies or stories which take place on distant planets or back in ancient times? Zombies aren’t real, and no writer has ever traveled to a distant planet or hitched a ride in a DeLorean to go back in time.

“Write what you know” doesn’t mean write only what you’ve personally experienced. Once you research a topic, you know about it. And research can take many different forms, including reading books by other authors who write the kind of books you want to write. Once an author immerses herself in the world of zombies or interstellar travel or life in medieval England, she can put her own unique spin on the genre.

Since I’m often asked where I get the ideas for my stories, I thought I’d write a series of posts in the coming months on how the ideas for each of my books came about. I've also invited some of my fellow authors who write in a variety of genres to join me. Today I begin the series. Look for more posts on the topic in the weeks and months to come.

I get most of my ideas for both my characters and my plots from the world around me. I’m a die-hard news junkie who has always believed that truth is stranger than fiction. That belief is reaffirmed every time I pick up a newspaper or turn on the evening news. I’ll hear a news story or read an article, then give the event a “what if” spin. The voices in my head take over from there, and the next thing I know, I’ve got a plot, a subplot, a scene, a protagonist, or a secondary character.

When the writing bug first bit me, I started penning a sweet romance, a story that came to me one night in a dream. Prior to that, I hadn’t written any fiction since Freshman Comp in college. I called my romance Spilled Coffee because of the way the heroine and hero meet at the beginning of the book.

At the time I was living in a Philadelphia suburb. While I was writing this romance, a shocking murder occurred in a nearby town. Each day the news was filled with more and more gruesome details of this horrific crime. To my surprise, the murder began influencing my writing.

Eventually my sweet romance morphed into a story about secrets and revenge and the lengths some people will go in order to bury the former and achieve the latter. The plot is ripe with scandal. Drugs, violence, blackmail political machinations, and attempted murder. My heroine is a wealthy young widow whose abusive, cocaine-snorting, deceased husband was about as low as a low-life can get.

A decade after I first sat down to write a romance, Spilled Coffee became the award-winning romantic suspense Love, Lies and a Double Shot of Deception, the second book I sold. The novel is by no means a fictionalized retelling of the murder and attempted cover-up perpetrated by Main Line Murderer, Craig Rabinowitz, but elements of the crime played a huge role in how the story developed.

Love, Lies and a Double Shot of Deception
Life has delivered one sucker punch after another to Emma Wadsworth. As a matter of fact, you could say the poor little rich girl is the ultimate poster child for Money Can’t Buy Happiness — even if she is no longer a child.

Billionaire real estate stud Logan Crawford is as famous for his less-than-platinum reputation as he is his business empire. In thirty-eight years he’s never fallen in love, and that’s just fine with him — until he meets Emma.
But Emma’s not buying into Logan’s seductive ways. Well, maybe just a little, but she’s definitely going into the affair with her eyes wide open. She’s no fool. At least not any more. Her deceased husband saw to that. Besides, she knows Logan will catch the first jet out of Philadelphia once he learns her secrets.
Except things don’t go exactly as Emma has predicted, and when Philadelphia’s most beloved citizen becomes the city’s most notorious criminal, she needs to do a lot more than clear her name if she wants to save her budding romance with the billionaire hunk someone is willing to kill for.

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Hywela Lyn said...

What a great theme for a series, and I'm looking forward to taking part.
I loved hearing how your 'sweet romance' turned into a romantic suspense - I think that's part of the joy of writing, how often your characters or plot lead you in a direction you'd never imagined when you set out to write it!


Thanks, Hywela Lyn! We're hoping for some fun guest posts from this new theme.

Maggie Toussaint said...

I love how you accepted that you were being influenced by outside factors and didn't fight to keep your story true to the original concept. It's my humble opinion, that the gut reaction writers get, that fixation with certain story elements, that it's all for a reason. The universe is trying to tell us something. It's our responsibility to interpret those facts and emotions and share it in a way that is accessible to others. As it turns out, I walked a similar path through romance to suspense and ultimately to mystery, so I totally get what you do and I'm a fan.

Has this happened to you? Some well-meaning soul will confide in you that they have a great idea for a book that they're willing to share with you in exchange for 50% of the book proceeds.... Grrr. It's happened to me more times than I care to think about. Ideas are great, necessary, even, but it's how you apply the idea that makes all the difference. I'm glad you have great ideas and have great writing skills, Lois!

Lois Winston said...

Yes, I've had that happen to me more than once, Maggie, usually when I've done a talk at a library or bookstore. Someone will hang around after the event and approach me. One guy became so persistent years ago that I felt like I was being stalked. I finally had to tell him not to contact me again. Then I spent the next few months looking over my shoulder whenever I was out in public. It really freaked me out! Hasn't happened in several years, though.

Susan Oleksiw said...

Great idea for a series of posts. Sometimes I look back and am surprised at how different the final book is from what I had envisioned, but all that change comes from following one idea after another and using everything I can. I'm in the midst of a rewrite now that will make the story wildly different from the first draft. (Thanks for the link.)


Thanks for stopping by, Susan. Let us know when your next book is available. You know we love having you visit.

Janice Seagraves said...

I love how the news started shaping your story.


Lois Winston said...

Thanks, Janice!