By A.J. Llewellyn
I went to a very interesting writer's seminar once, conducted by America's Queen of Mystery, Mary Higgins Clark. Her own personal life story is so fascinating it would make a great book (she finally immortalized it in a searing memoir, Kitchen Privileges) but what she taught me and those around me was to read everything and question everything. Who? What? Where?
And the big one: What if?
It has helped shape the 35 books and counting I've had published now.
I'm often asked where I get ideas and like Ms. Clark, I read. However, the stunning headlines I read, that we all read, while true, would not make believable fiction. Case in point, the current, mind-boggling abduction of Jaycee Dugard in Northern California 18 years ago. Yes, she turned up alive last week after being held as a sex slave in somebody's back yard. It is about the most horrific story of child rape and torture you will ever read.
But if you turned this into fiction and subbed it to a publisher, nobody would believe it.
The only author I can remember who turned a sensational serial killer story into believable - and profitable books - is Thomas Harris with Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs.
So I leave the headline ripping to shows like CSI and Law and Order and I choose instead, small moments of reality, which I believe give a foundation of truth to fiction, even when I am writing paranormal stories.
My new book Laid, coming to eXtasy Books on September 15 will also be shot as webisodes on Massive Studios. As I wrote it, based on an idea of director John Bruno's, I was mindful the book needed to fulfill the requirements of romantic fiction, have a strong storyline, be sexy and also be very visual.
I have been, since I was young, what I call inquisitive. My father would say I am just plain nosy.
I ask questions. I talk to people and I have found, people like to talk to me. I pick the oldest person at a party and learn wonderful things from them. I talk to people in restaurants and a chance encounter several weeks ago at a restaurant I've never been to before laid the truth-as-foundation for Laid.
I talked to a fantastic couple having a date night. I loved how they told me they made sure to do this twice a week. Their midweek meal is spent away from their home discussing problems. Their Saturday night date is strictly for pleasure.
I caught them midweek and they were both stressing. She's a realtor and we all know that particular market is in tatters.
He, the husband, is a high-end art dealer. He told me they often work together. He will provide art for the buyers his wife deals with but now he has wealthy clients begging him to buy back pieces they spent a fortune on...and these exquisite works of art end up being sold out of the country to Saudi families who don't blink at the price tag.
I was so fascinated with his stories and remembered reading an interview with Johnny Depp once. He said that the late, great actor Vincent Price told him to invest his money in art because its value rises quickly and you get to enjoy your investment every single day.
The art dealer concurred, describing one particular 18th century photo which has swapped hands exactly six times and is the most valuable photograph in the world.
It is to me, astonishing but true.
As I say, it is a small moment of life and I took it and beat the heck out of it for one of my characters in Laid. I felt it added an extra layer of depth to the character and the story.
I also felt it's not a slice of life that will likely appear anywhere else anytime soon and the art dealer was only too happy to share his knowledge with me. Inside every successful person, even in my accountant's cash register heart, I have learned there beats a frustrated writer.
For me, these encounters, these little scraps make a meal for me, and I hope, my readers. I believe in love and life and so I write about characters who ultimately find both.
I don't need to rip from the headlines. I have a deliciously full plate.
What about you, do you small moments like this inspire you in your work and life?