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Between the pages, Past
A Mystery Column
By Dennis Collins

Thinking like a writer

      One of the most frequently asked questions of authors is, “Where do you get your ideas?” It’s an easy one to answer. “They’re everywhere you look.” You simply need to learn to think like a writer.

Doug Allyn, one of my favorite authors talks about seeing stories in everything he encounters in his daily life, whether it be a newspaper article or an abandoned utility trailer rotting by the side of the road. He tells how he read a story about a great fire that occurred in rural western Michigan during the 1800’s that became the seed for “The Burning of Rachel Hayes.” Author Ann Prospero once gave a lecture on character development and described an airline employee who had helped her at an airport saying that she had created a whole new character based on her brief contact with the young man.

I do speaking engagements from time to time and when I’m asked where my ideas come from I generally ask the audience to focus on the podium in front of me and I tell them that there can be a story in something as simple as the lumber that the podium is built from. I tell them that the oak used to construct this podium came from a tree harvested in the Bear Paw mountains of Montana and that in 1877 Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce stood under the shelter of this tree while he addressed his tribe saying, “Hear me, my chiefs, my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more against the white man.” I go on to say that this wood is graced with the power to bestow greatness to all who come in contact with it. A bit of a stretch? Sure, but you get the idea.

My first mystery novel, “The Unreal McCoy” was inspired by a newspaper article that I had read some thirty years prior to putting the first words on paper. It was a story about an event that was so unusual that it stayed with me all of those years. It’s a very small part of the book but it was the germ that the story grew from. It was the same with the second and third books, just a little something that I stumbled across in my daily life that gave me the idea.

The most rewarding part of looking for stories in everything you see and characters in everyone you meet is that you’re allowed to disconnect with reality and let your mind wander into the world of fantasy without feeling foolish or guilty. It’s now a part of your job and so your imagination becomes totally unbridled. Envisioning people and situations becomes the doorway. Following them is the adventure.

2007 Past Columns

Interview with Mark Terry (most likely to Succeed)

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