Anne Louise Bannon is a journalist and former TV critic who has written several novels, including the Operation Quickline series; the Freddie and Kathy series, set in the 1920s; and the Old Los Angeles series, set in 1870. Learn more about her and her books at her website. Today she’s joins us to discuss how she gets the ideas for her books.
How I Get My Ideas
I’m sitting at my desk. Behind me, from outside, comes the persistent whine and occasional wail of TobyWan, my basset hound/beagle mix. I’m waiting, in spite of his plaintive cries because I know darned well that if I get up right away, the dope will amble inside as if I have all the time in the world to serve his needs. If I make him suffer endlessly, like a whole five minutes, he’ll hurry right in.
I suspect that a moment like this will end up in one of my stories at some point – which is a long way of saying that ideas are everywhere. You never know when one will hit. You can use anything.
This is going to sound horrible, but when our last dog before TobyWan passed away, it was a long night of waiting for it to happen. Sometime after, I was writing a scene in which a young boy died slowly. It was a scene that needed a lot of pathos. In addition, I really needed you to feel for the kid and his family so that when the villain was finally revealed, there was an added punch to the emotional breadbasket. And using old Clyde’s last night on the planet as the basis for this scene really wasn’t as callous as it might sound. It helped me work through my grief over losing our sweet dog.
A weird dream jumpstarted the Operation Quickline series, a romance with espionage intrusions. I dreamt that an old man wanted to move into my house. He brought his suitcase inside, and I took it right out onto the porch. I’m still not sure how that got everything else started, but the next thing I knew, I had written several short novels.
A dream about a tiger was the genesis of Tyger, Tyger.
I don’t remember if I had the dream first or if the cheesecake spilled first, but both were involved in the launching of Fascinating Rhythm, my 1920s series. I was making a cheesecake while listening to Ella Fitzgerald singing the George and Ira Gershwin songbook, and as I was getting ready to put the cake in the oven, I started dancing to Fascinatin’ Rhythm. Not a good move, but as I cleaned up the mess, I realized that it’s a song about obsession. And there was that dream about a Model T underneath a theater marquee. First Kathy, then Freddie started talking to me, and the novel happened.
That last bit is pretty key. I get tons of ideas. I’ve got an obnoxious neighbor across the street who should be inspiring any number of plots. Somebody shows up late, and I can come up with a bunch of different scenarios. But which are the good ideas, the ones that will flower into full-fledged stories?
For me, at any rate, if it’s a good idea, it will stick around. It may even keep bugging me. That’s why I don’t write down ideas or keep much of an idea file. If it’s going to go somewhere, I’ll probably remember it. Now some specific details I may write down because those I will forget sometimes.
The second thing that happens is that the characters start talking to me. That’s what happened with Death of the Zanjero. My husband was doing a lecture on the zanja system in Old Los Angeles, which is how they irrigated farms in the days before Mr. Mullholland raped the Owens Valley, and inadvertently gave me the best set-up for finding a body I’d heard in a long time. But it didn’t really turn into a story until Maddie Wilcox started talking to me and would not shut up.
In fact, she kept talking and when my research turned up that L.A.’s first police chief was killed by his own deputy in a dispute over a prostitute (I kid you not), Maddie quite politely informed me that was her next adventure. So now I have recently released Death of the City Marshal, which is based on that incident.
Now, if you will excuse me, TobyWan has suffered enough. I should probably get the cats in, too, and with luck they won’t be dragging in anything disgusting. Such as… Hmmmm….
Death of the City Marshal
It's October, 1870, and once again, violence has errupted on the streets of Los Angeles. This time, City Marshal gets into a gunfight with his deputy Joseph Dye, and is severely wounded. Fortunately, winemaker and physician Maddie Wilcox is on the scene to take care of the marshal. But the next day, she finds that the marshal has been smothered in his bed.
The morning after the marshal's death, red paint is splashed all over the front porch of his home, and a list of his sins posted on the front.
The list of people with grievances against the fiery-tempered marshal is long. But then another prominent citizen has his sins posted and house front splattered.
Maddie takes an interest in the vandalism in the hopes of finding Marshal Warren's killer. But she soon finds out that she is up against a killer driven by a profound longing, and who is prepared to do the worst to keep that most basic of human desires: a home.