I first met Wyoming mystery author Barbara Graham back in 2007 when our debut novels were published by Five Star. Her mystery series features Theo Abernathy and her quilting group. Since Theo is married to the Sheriff of Park County, Tennessee, in the Smoky Mountains, you can imagine that means trouble for the sleuthing Theo.
And just so you know, Barbara includes a pattern for a mystery quilt in each one of her novels.
Barbara, I’m so pleased to have you as my guest today.
Where on Earth Does He Get His Ideas? by Barbara Graham, Guest Blogger
I’m often asked where I get my ideas for my books. For me, the whole process hinges on my imaginary friends. Most of them are very nice people. Some are not nice at all so I’d have to say I also have imaginary enemies. I often feel more like the characters’ biographer or chronicler than their creator.
Somewhere between the time I begin writing a new book and typing “The End” I lose control of the characters and therefore the plot. They come up with their own words and actions and I, the author, begin to feel like the person with a shovel, following the horses in a parade. I’m doing my best to keep up with them as they dash about killing people or falling in love or buying chocolate. They could at least share the candy.
I know authors who outline and keep firm hands on the proverbial reins, guiding their people through the jungle of plot and place. These authors accept no backtalk from any of them. I am jealous. Even in the real world I’m a pushover—my dogs have taken over the furniture in the living room, even the official no-dogs-on-this-one chair. Halfway through summer the weeds own my garden and I’m only allowed to visit and say admiring things about the new additions to the family. I suppose, therefore, it’s only natural for my imaginary people to tell me what’s really going on and expect me, with my pitiful typing skills, to “sit there, be quiet, and write this down”. And so I do.
Writing is different with series characters than those in stand-alone novels. Although there is much to be said for a character whose role is finite. Write them in, write them out. They can get married or divorced or die on page twelve and although they may haunt the author who tortures them, it’s a done deal. Series characters have lifelines just as we real people do, some days are good for them, some bad, and they get the flu, spill the milk, suffer from heartache and lose money in the stock market. Keeping track can be a nightmare.
Series characters can also become members of the author’s family. I know some of “my people” much better than I do my relatives or the neighbors. One of my bossiest and most irritating characters is a little old man named Orvan Lundy. His physical prototype was a homeless man who came into my office many years ago to get warm. He didn’t cause any trouble but he did tell me some interesting tales about “haints” and things in general. As I labored on Murder by Serpents: The Mystery Quilt, the first book in my series, he showed up in the sheriff’s office, wearing bib overalls and his customary shoe polish on half of his hair. He had a story to tell. I blindly followed his instructions, typing what he told me and never suspecting he would insist on a recurring role. The third book in the series, Murder by Music: The Wedding Quilt just released and like in the first two, Orvan is there, as scrawny and irritating as ever.
I’m working on the next book, and he’s already wandered into my office, showed me his hair, and confessed. Like some holiday traditions that begin with good intentions and the children insist on upholding long after the parents tire of them, there are characters with habits and foibles that may irritate their creators. But, here’s the other side of the same truth—I’m happy when Orvan shows up, puts his scrawny backside in a chair in my imaginary sheriff’s office and starts to talk. Chin resting on my hand, I listen to his story and find myself wondering “Where on earth does he get those ideas?”
Barbara, thanks again for this fun post. I think this might be the question most asked of writers by their fans, and perhaps one of the hardest questions to answer. All I can say is, anytime you get tired of listening to Orvan, send him down here to Colorado. We have writers who need a change of Muses.