Because my new novel is out, and I’ve been speaking to readers, journalists, radio interviewers, and friends, I’ve heard the question all week long: Where do you get your ideas?
Perplexed relatives ask the question with a tinge of alarm. I sense what’s behind their unease: She seemed like a normal child. What cracked and let all these tense, dark stories pour out? I simply smile and shrug, and caress the blade of the steak knife in my hand.
(Note: not really.)
In truth, ideas are everywhere. They permeate the air. All I have to do is look around. Or read the news. Or wait for people to offer them to me, free.
1) Last month my daughter took a course on paleography, at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC. During orientation, students were given a safety lecture. Right away, the daughter sent me a text: I know how you could kill somebody in a murder mystery.
Paleography is the study of ancient writing. As part of the course, students worked in a subterranean vault with old documents. They were told: If fire breaks out, halon gas floods the vault. They would have 30 seconds to get out before the doors were sealed. Fail, and they’d be suffocated.
As a writer, I was fascinated. As a mom, I was torn between pride at my daughter’s life turning into National Treasure and concern that her first impulse was to text me, instead of planning her escape route.
2) This: Death Metal Band to Play in Soundproof Iron Box Until They Suffocate.
3) And this: Woman charged with arson for setting small fire to kill spider.
I think I could write at least 20 decent pages by combining these three tidbits into the opening of a thriller.