Merrilee Robson is the author of Murder is Uncooperative, a traditional mystery set it a housing co-op, as well as numerous short stories. Today she joins us to discuss where she gets her ideas. Learn more about Merrilee and her writing at her website.
Where I get my ideas and what if….
It was the picture that first struck me. I’d heard some of my grandmother’s stories. I’d always thought her life, coming from England to teach in a one-room school in Canada and meeting the local Mountie, was very romantic. I smiled when she described how dashing my grandfather looked as he rode up in his red coat.
I was familiar enough with the pictures in the family photo album and the stories behind them. But it wasn’t until I really looked at the photograph of the school – standing alone the middle of nowhere – that I finally understood what my grandmother had done.
That young woman had left the village where she had lived all her life to travel thousands of miles by steamship and rail to reach that very unprepossessing building in the middle of the Canadian prairies. What must she have thought when she first saw it?
That led to the opening chapter of the historical novel I’ve just finished writing, set in Saskatchewan in the month before the start of the first World War.
And then, because I write mysteries, she finds a body.
For me, as for many writers, I think ideas come from finding an interesting situation and then trying to picture what it would be like for the people in that situation.
Writing fiction involves answering the same questions journalism students are taught – who, what, why, when, where and how – although we might describe them differently, talking about characters, setting, plot etc.
But we also address another question - What if…?
That question can come from anywhere – a newspaper article about a brass clock that turned out to be gold, a conversation about a relative with dementia who was convinced people were stealing from her. Caregivers soon learn that dementia can also involve paranoia. But I tried to imagine what if the thefts were real and no one believed you? That idea turned into a short story that will be published soon.
My first mystery, Murder is Uncooperative, is set in a non-profit housing co-op. The protagonist, Rebecca, is a single mom desperate to find an affordable home for her family. It’s a situation I was quite familiar with, having lived in a co-op when I was younger, and working for a national housing organization for over a decade.
But the question that started me off on that book was, “What if her new home isn’t as perfect as she thought it would be?”
I’m at work on a sequel to that book. Vancouver’s insanely expensive housing market has settled a little, but recent reports have revealed that organized crime members are using real estate to launder money. And I’m off, wondering what if….
Murder is Uncooperative
All Rebecca Butler wants is a good home for her young son and disabled father. At first, Waterview Housing Co-op seems perfect. But then she finds the body of the building’s manager.
When Rebecca learns that another murder took place in the building 20 years earlier, she suspects that the two deaths might be related. And that one of her new neighbors is hiding a secret that will put Rebecca and her family in danger.
Very interesting post. Inspiration for writing surrounds the creative person. I often get ideas for fiction from real life as well.
Very enjoyable post. You've made good use of some interesting family stories as well as your own experience. I look forward to reading your books.
Thank you Jacqueline Seewald and Susan Oleksiw for your kind comments. Right now I have so many ideas I wish I could write faster! But I do think it's the kind of thing you need to practice. I was always a daydreamer as a kid but there have been time as an adult when I was too focused on practicality to come up with fictional plots. I find I do need to try to slow down a bit and focus on "what if...."
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