The one inevitable question some earnest unpublished writer always asks at any conference or writers’s workshop I’ve ever spoken at is “Where do you get your ideas?” Although one attendee did put it another way: “Who are you channeling?” I’ll admit my first response (unspoken, fortunately) was to reply “Any channel broadcasting a Texas Rangers baseball game.” But one shouldn’t poke fun at those who just might possibly buy your books after your presentation. As it turns out, she didn’t, so I wasted the opportunity for a flippant remark the rest of those listening would have laughed at. Alas, that my mother taught me not to make unkind replies to even the most incredible questions. I follow her admonitions about fifty percent of the time.
It is a legitimate question though however it is phrased, and I have a legitimate answer that ends in a flippant remark. Not all flippancy is bad; sometimes it is inspirational. My answer goes like this:
The snows began the 28th of December and continued intermittently through the 10th of May. That last date may be off by a day or two, but I remember the blizzard came in May. My daughter was less than two weeks old when the snows began and my son was barely two. My daughter began her attack of colic ( she only had one, but it lasted for nine months) with the first snowfall, and my son had an asthma attack, quickly followed by tonsillitis. He alternated the two illnesses for the next six months. By February I had lost 10 pounds and had dark circles under my eyes. Sleep was a state of being I had heard about but hadn’t experienced in my recent memory.
Then one Friday afternoon in late February my husband, Mike, came home early to find both children, miracle of miracles, asleep at the same time. I was tucked up in bed with a two foot stack of library books beside me, all mysteries. “Why don’t you write a mystery since you read so many?” he asked.
“Because mysteries are all set in places like New York, San Francisco, LA, or anyplace in England, although there is that French detective in Paris. If you would stay with the kids, I’ll fly off to research those settings. I’ll check in periodically and promise to be home in time for high school graduation.”
I could tell by his expression that he wasn’t keen on that idea. “Why don’t you set a mystery in the Texas Panhandle since we live here?”
I glanced through the window at the six foot snow drifts piled against the back fence, thought of the bleak plains where cattle fed, the thousands of acres of wheat that turned gold in the summer, and the men with their sun-blasted faces, wearing boots and jeans and baseball caps. “Yeah, sure, I’ll do that, and make a Texas county sheriff my detective, and bury the body in the barbecue pit.”
And that’s what I did. So was born the first of the Sheriff series: The Sheriff and the Panhandle Murders.