Where Do Your Ideas Come From?

Peg HerringPeg Herring is the author of the critically acclaimed Simon & Elizabeth Mysteries, the award-winning Dead Detective Mysteries, and the intriguing Loser Mysteries. When they’re not exploring the world, Peg and her husband of many years live in northern Lower Michigan, where they garden for the benefit of local rabbits, deer, and elk.

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Picture me at Malice Domestic, on a panel discussing invisible female sleuths. I tell the audience about Loser, a homeless woman on the streets of Richmond, Virginia, who avoids interaction with almost everyone, can’t sleep inside a building, and wears tennis shoes held together with duct tape. Inevitably, the question comes: Where did you get the idea? I have to smile sweetly and admit, “I have no idea.”

I know where Loser came to me, walking around the Fan, looking at lovely old homes, statues, cobblestone alleys, and homeless people only a short distance away. Why? How? No clue.

Readers love Loser and want to know more about why she’s the way she is. “Where did she come from?” I’m asked. Um, she appeared in my mind and grew more and more real to me. Surely every street person has a story. I asked myself what might make a “normal” person take to the streets. Then I asked what might make her pull herself back together. That became Killing Silence, the first book.

Once Loser began to function somewhat like others do, she needed time to heal, so the second book, Killing Memories, deals with that. Released May 23rd from LL-Publishing, the story takes Loser back to her home town in West Virginia, looking for peace and quiet. Of course, it’s a mystery , so what she finds instead is a murder to solve, a man who’s determined to like her, and a teenage boy who might be too good to be true. That story came naturally: Readers need to know a little about Loser’s roots.

But how does an author conclude, “That’s what I want to write about!” For me, the answers vary. I can tell you I’ve always admired Elizabeth Tudor, but that doesn’t explain how she and Simon Maldon got together to solve murders in my Simon & Elizabeth Mysteries. I can’t even recall Killing Memorieshow the Dead Detective Mysteries got started. Where did the idea for crime investigation by the dead come from? I don’t know, but all of my series are a lot of fun to write, and each has its die-hard fans.

I’ve always been a story-teller. When I taught high school English and history, my students enjoyed (well, some did) the embellishments I provided to liven up the classroom. I’ve done some reading on the workings of the human brain, and scientists can identify differences in how the “wiring” of thoughts runs. Those that go along paths close to each other tend to meld. My theory is that writers’ brains hear or see things that meld with their need to tell stories. The kernel might be small, but a story forms around it. For example, Laura Lippman says one of her books came from a news article she saw. The story stuck in her head, she wondered how that might have happened, and a novel was born. Other writers report the same thing, even if we can’t verbalize how the kernel becomes a full-blown story.

I’m working on the third book of the Loser series, Killing Despair, which will answer the remaining questions of Loser’s back story. It’s been hard to tie up all the loose ends, but Loser insists on it. I might not know how she got inside my head, but she’s there now, and she wants answers.