The Birth Of An Idea

Dennis Collins was born into a show business family. After attending parochial schools including the University of Detroit, he moved on to the auto industry where his career in manufacturing engineering helped to finance a lifetime of adventurous interests.

His avocations so far have included skydiving, motorcycle racing, flying, scuba diving, and over thirty years as a professionally licensed hydroplane racer.

Dennis is the proud father of six children and an ever growing number of grandchildren. He lives on the shores of Lake Huron which provides him with just enough solitude to foster his newest career as a mystery writer.

The First Domino was his third novel in The Unreal McCoy series. He has three other full length projects in various stages of construction, as well as plans for several more.

Over the course of the last twelve years or so I’ve done scores of book signings, presentations, lectures, and discussion panel appearances. By far, the most asked question from the audiences has been, “Where do you get your ideas?”  The answer is not always easy… here’s an example.

In early January of 1945 my grandparents received a letter from the Army stating that 1st Lt. Edward Gosselin of the 14th Armored Division, one of their sons (they had five boys overseas) had gone missing in action. No other details were available.

Fast forward to 2009. The last of my uncle’s siblings died and when his children were going through his belongings they came across a box filled with over a hundred letters that had been exchanged between my grandparents and their boys. Among them were letters sent by friends of my Uncle Edward.  One letter in particular was from the medic who rushed to my uncle’s side after he was hit. The letter said that they were fighting house-to-house in a town named Rittershoffen in the Alsace-Lorraine area of France. They were up against a division of Hitler’s elite SS troops. My uncle was hit by a mortar shell as he was advancing on the enemy. On examining my uncle the medic said that he was certain that the wounds had been fatal but he was driven back by enemy fire. The Americans were forced to retreat temporarily but later regained control of the town. All of the dead and wounded had been removed by the time they got there, therefore without a doctor’s examination the Army would not pronounce my uncle killed in action.  My grandparents clung to that thread of hope that he might still be alive. The official letter that confirmed his death came ten years later, along with a bronze star. His body was never recovered and my grandparents never passed the information to the rest of the family.

That discovery almost sixty-five years later got me wondering just how many other families had to wait generations to find out the fate of their loved ones. The result of my pondering was The First Domino.

In my “McCoy” series I had the perfect character for that situation. Sergeant Otis Springfield of the Detroit Police department had already been established as an inner city kid who grew up in a fatherless environment.  The subject of his father was a forbidden topic in his household. The reasons are explained in my book.  His age was right too (with a little fudging) because he was very near retirement.

I invented his father, Lt. Isaac Otis Springfield of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, killed in action in the skies over Italy and buried in the American military Cemetery in Florence, Italy.  I wanted his grave to be far from home because I wanted to make it pretty inaccessible for visitors. Otis will be the first person ever to visit his father’s grave.

Now I had my back-story but absolutely nothing to support it. I spent months trying one plot after another. The story would need “discovery,” when Otis unseals his heritage. This needed to be a powerful segment of the story so I combined it with the death of Otis’s mother. He found out about his father the same way my family found out about my uncle. I’d lived that emotional rollercoaster so I felt confident writing about it. Heroes are discovered slowly. I know that.

Then I had to have a reason for Otis to travel all alone to Florence, Italy. It couldn’t be a vacation so I made it police business. He was being sent to collect a prisoner wanted for multiple cop killings in Detroit.

Now it was time to write the final chapter. It begins when Otis drinks just a little too much good Italian wine and sneaks over the fence at the American Military Cemetery and sits in the wet grass in front of his father’s grave marker and begins to introduce himself.

So the answer to, “Where do you get your ideas?” is:  everywhere and nowhere, from your family, from your past, and from your life. Now wasn’t that easy?