Thursday, November 10, 2011

Where on Earth Does He Get His Ideas? by Barbara Graham, Guest Blogger

I first met Wyoming mystery author Barbara Graham back in 2007 when our debut novels were published by Five Star. Her mystery series features Theo Abernathy and her quilting group. Since Theo is married to the Sheriff of Park County, Tennessee, in the Smoky Mountains, you can imagine that means trouble for the sleuthing Theo.

And just so you know, Barbara includes a pattern for a mystery quilt in each one of her novels.

Barbara, I'm so pleased to have you as my guest today.


Where on Earth Does He Get His Ideas? by Barbara Graham, Guest Blogger

I’m often asked where I get my ideas for my books. For me, the whole process hinges on my imaginary friends. Most of them are very nice people. Some are not nice at all so I’d have to say I also have imaginary enemies. I often feel more like the characters’ biographer or chronicler than their creator.

Somewhere between the time I begin writing a new book and typing “The End” I lose control of the characters and therefore the plot. They come up with their own words and actions and I, the author, begin to feel like the person with a shovel, following the horses in a parade. I’m doing my best to keep up with them as they dash about killing people or falling in love or buying chocolate. They could at least share the candy.

I know authors who outline and keep firm hands on the proverbial reins, guiding their people through the jungle of plot and place. These authors accept no backtalk from any of them. I am jealous. Even in the real world I’m a pushover—my dogs have taken over the furniture in the living room, even the official no-dogs-on-this-one chair. Halfway through summer the weeds own my garden and I’m only allowed to visit and say admiring things about the new additions to the family. I suppose, therefore, it’s only natural for my imaginary people to tell me what’s really going on and expect me, with my pitiful typing skills, to “sit there, be quiet, and write this down”. And so I do.

Writing is different with series characters than those in stand-alone novels. Although there is much to be said for a character whose role is finite. Write them in, write them out. They can get married or divorced or die on page twelve and although they may haunt the author who tortures them, it’s a done deal. Series characters have lifelines just as we real people do, some days are good for them, some bad, and they get the flu, spill the milk, suffer from heartache and lose money in the stock market. Keeping track can be a nightmare.

Series characters can also become members of the author’s family. I know some of “my people” much better than I do my relatives or the neighbors. One of my bossiest and most irritating characters is a little old man named Orvan Lundy. His physical prototype was a homeless man who came into my office many years ago to get warm. He didn’t cause any trouble but he did tell me some interesting tales about “haints” and things in general. As I labored on Murder by Serpents: The Mystery Quilt, the first book in my series, he showed up in the sheriff’s office, wearing bib overalls and his customary shoe polish on half of his hair. He had a story to tell. I blindly followed his instructions, typing what he told me and never suspecting he would insist on a recurring role. The third book in the series, Murder by Music: The Wedding Quilt just released and like in the first two, Orvan is there, as scrawny and irritating as ever.

I’m working on the next book, and he’s already wandered into my office, showed me his hair, and confessed. Like some holiday traditions that begin with good intentions and the children insist on upholding long after the parents tire of them, there are characters with habits and foibles that may irritate their creators. But, here’s the other side of the same truth—I’m happy when Orvan shows up, puts his scrawny backside in a chair in my imaginary sheriff’s office and starts to talk. Chin resting on my hand, I listen to his story and find myself wondering “Where on earth does he get those ideas?”


Barbara, thanks again for this fun post. I think this might be the question most asked of writers by their fans, and perhaps one of the hardest questions to answer. All I can say is, anytime you get tired of listening to Orvan, send him down here to Colorado. We have writers who need a change of Muses.

To learn more about Barbara and her books, please visit her website. You can also find her on Facebook.


Margot Kinberg said...

Pat - Thanks for hosting Barbara.

Barbara - Thanks for sharing the way that your characters come to life for you. You know you're writing a great character when s/he is at least as real to you as anyone you know in "real life." I wish you much sucecss.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Funny that her characters take over. I'm an outliner, and so far I've remained in control of my characters.

Cindy Keen Reynders said...

Pat, stop by my blog and collect your Versatile Blogger award that I handed out to you today!!!

Patricia Stoltey said...

Hi Margot -- Barbara's series is a great example of the modern cozy, and I love that her characters have minds of their own.

Alex -- you're missing half the fun if you don't give your characters free rein once in a while, just to see what they'll do. You can always veto their ideas.

Hi Cindy -- thanks! I'll be over.

Barbara Graham said...

I keep trying to leave a comment but they are returning to me.

Not being able to outline or control the actions of my characters has it drawbacks. It's like arguing with a three year old and takes longer write this way.

Barbara Graham said...

Ah, at last, The wind has been increasingly strong as the day continues--do you suppose it blew the words away?

Patricia Stoltey said...

Barbara, it's often very difficult to figure out why things work on Blogger one minute but don't work the next. In any case, looks like you're fine now. Thanks for taking the time to wrestle Blogger to the ground.

Dean K Miller said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dean K Miller said...

I can't wait unitl Barbara finds out her friends/enemies are not really imaginary! I wonder if they think the same of her?

Interesting and fun post! Thanks.

Barbara Graham said...

I don't mind the friends being real Dean, but the enemies--oh dear.

Pat transplanted to MN said...

Now she sounds like someone whose writings will be a treat...I love the thoughts on characters who become the series and I love the quilts.