There's a funny thing about persistence that writers often talk about. We talk about continuing despite the odds, mustering up the courage to keep writing even when things get hard, just pushing on even when the outcome is not known.
This is what I felt with MURDER KNOCKS TWICE, and how moving it has been for me to see this book out in the world.
The journey of MURDER KNOCKS TWICE began about nine years ago. I was still querying--unsuccessfully--what would become the first novel in my new series--A MURDER AT ROSAMUND'S GATE. I kept getting rejected by agents, and I thought, 'Maybe I need to set aside this seventeenth-century novel, and try my hand at something different." (For the more complete journey of the first series, check out my post in HOW IT HAPPENED on the Thrill Begins).
Even though I'm a British historian by training, for many years I've been teaching a graduate course on the History and Philosophy of Higher Education. On several occasions, I had found my way to the amazing archives at my university, and I began to think about setting my book on a college campus (much like mine) in 1930 Chicago. I was interested in college rituals and the role of the first women in college.
I wrote about 200 pages of this book, which featured a young Egyptian woman named Shani, and her sidekick gum-cracking roommate Gina Ricci. I thought, this is going to be my new thing. My new historic period, my new world.
But then, an interesting thing happened.
That seventeenth-century novel ended up selling, and I ended up writing four books in that series (and will have a fifth out next year). So I set aside my 1930s Chicago novel, and it went in the DRAWER.
But then, a few years ago, when my publisher asked me about a new series, I came back to that drawer and made an interesting discovery. The sidekick roommate was really the star of the book, and I moved her out of college, and into a West side Chicago speakeasy. Most of those 200 pages were scrapped, but the idea of the story remained. I wrote the first part without a contract, and then it was picked up.
So there's a lesson in there, for me at least, about persisting even when the outcome is not known. The persistence was helped by loving the world that I was creating for my characters. I mean, speakeasies....cocktails....murder...?
Every writer I know is regularly asked, "Where do you get your ideas?" Some authors love this question, some hate it. For me, I'm somewhere in between.
With my very first novel, A MURDER AT ROSAMUND'S GATE, I was essentially answering a set of questions that had come to me while I was studying murder ballads as a graduate student (as one does!) So, back then, it was super easy and fun to answer.
With my new series, the ideas came to me differently, so my response is no longer so pat. But I am regularly inspired by 1920s newspapers.
Obviously the newspaper is a great way to learn about what's going on in the neighborhood where I set my Chicago speakeasy, providing a useful level of detail. But more importantly, this kind of event can also be so inspiring--WHY would someone bomb an ice cream parlor?
(Stay tuned--I answer that question in the second Speakeasy Murders)
And of course, the headlines reveal other interesting things about Chicago culture. This kind of headline, "Bare legs not immoral," is exactly the kind of thing I will stop to read. It gives a lot of nuance to our understanding of the "New Woman," and this is the kind of detail that will find its way into my story.
What inspires YOUR stories? Even if you don't view yourself as a writer, what inspires the stories you tell to others?
Historian. Mystery writer. Researcher. Teacher. Occasional blogger.