Where Do Stories Come From?

The second most common question I get concerns where ideas for our novels come from (the most common questions concern what it’s like to write with a partner). Do we dream up the basic storyline out of nothing? Do we rely on news stories or personal experiences? Do other people suggest ideas? As it’s often a mix of all of the above, I thought it might be fun to look at where some of our ideas have come from.

Ann and I have the two-heads-are-better-than-one advantage and our storylines often start small and then bloom as each of us takes suggestions from the other and builds higher. But that teamwork has to start with an initial idea. So, without spoilers, because we don’t want to give anything away for anyone who hasn’t read the books (and those of you who have will know exactly what we’re talking about), where did our ideas start?

DEAD, WITHOUT A STONE TO TELL IT: A large part of the storyline for this novel was based in the setting. We were starting a new series and wanted to set it firmly in Essex, Massachusetts. Since a significant portion of history and life in Massachusetts, especially in that coastal region, involves the ocean and it’s shoreline, we picked the location of the body dump site and worked backwards around where the bodies exactly were found, what state they’d be in and why they were there.

NO ONES SEES ME ‘TIL I FALL: This story started with the details of the extremely specific bone injury involved. Because this kind of damage was so characteristic of a certain culture, the rest of the story fell in to place behind the type of abuse the victim portrayed.

A FLAME IN THE WIND OF DEATH: We can thank our good friend and fire captain Lisa Giblin for this book. There are two arms to this story and she was behind both of them. The osteological angle in this story came from a suggestion after Lisa watched a TV documentary on it. As soon as she introduced the idea (one that we were unfamiliar with up to that time), we knew we had to find a way to set a book around it. And Lisa offered to be our consultant if we ever wanted to write a book about fire and arson. As any victim recovered from a fire would be prime consulting material for Matt, we jumped at the chance. We couldn’t have written this book without Lisa’s incredible knowledge and willingness to get into the trenches with us, right to the extent of mapping out all our fire scenes and rescue attacks, teaching us a huge portion of what she knew, and reviewing the manuscript multiple times to make sure we had our details correct.

TWO PARTS BLOODY MURDER: The main story idea for this book actually came out of a side discussion of a very minor point in NO ONES SEES ME ‘TIL I FALL. Ann and I were discussing how the perp might be caught and Ann made an offhand comment about basements. I questioned whether buildings in that area had basements (because not all do, depending on terrain and other surrounding conditions). Ann replied that of course they had basements; that’s how they managed to hide a large number of the speakeasies during Prohibition. I kind of wish someone could have snapped a picture of the stunned look on my face and the light bulb over my head in that instant as the driving theme behind TWO PARTS BLOODY MURDER was born.

Abbott and Lowell #5 (unnamed WIP): We have a lot of things to manage in our current manuscript. Not only do we have the full case that will push the story more into thriller territory than straight forensic mystery, but we have the long arc storyline that started in A FLAME IN THE WIND OF DEATH that needs to be resolved. So it’s a busy book. But as far as the main case goes, the most important victim detail came from listening to a podcast featuring Jon Jefferson and Dr. Bill Bass (better known together as the writing team of Jefferson Bass). Dr. Bass made a comment about something found in every forensics lab and we realized it would be the perfect way to hide our victim in plain sight as well as reintroduce Matt’s nemesis readers were briefly introduced to in concept in DEAD, WITHOUT A STONE TO TELL IT.

Abbott and Lowell #6 (planned): Even though we’re still writing book 5, we already have a good idea where this book is going. The main story line will actually be crafted to fit where we need the team to be emotionally in this book, a state that drives the majority of the story and will push them into what we have conceived for book 7.

Abbott and Lowell #7 (planned): This book has been planned since the series was born. The character of Juka Petrović was put in place in the very first book to allow for the horrors this book will examine. It’s a history that has touched us with its tragedy and infuriated us with how the situation was handled. It’s a story that isn’t known nearly well enough, but this will give us the opportunity to highlight it and inform our readers through our fiction.

Abbott and Lowell #8 (planned): Ann brought a news story to my attention this week, and that story line may very well turn into the plot for book 8. It’s got everything we need—a mystery, tragedy and the bone clues we need to hang our hat on.

So that’s a quick rundown of where the Abbott and Lowell Forensic Mysteries, past and future, have come from. For the other writers in the group, where have your ideas come from?

Photo credit: Kamil Porembiński

It’s giveaway time! TWO PARTS BLOODY MURDER will release in February of 2015 and we’ve got ARCs to give away months beforehand. Want a signed advanced reading copy of Matt and Leigh’s next exciting adventure? Sign up here: https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/116827-two-parts-bloody-murder. The giveaway is open until 11:59pm on November 30th, so don’t miss out!