When someone asks, “How do you come up with your ideas?” I never know how to respond. The truth is that I FIND ideas all the time. They are lurking everywhere I go, in everything I see. The seeds of ideas are in newspaper stories, buried in dreams, hidden in works of art, and dancing to music.
In March of 2014, I took a class at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) taught by one of the art conservators. It was billed as a “backstage look” at how the museum cares for and conserves works of art. I took the class out of curiosity and because I suspected that the lab where precious artworks are cleaned, repaired and examined would be a great place to set a mystery. It is.
Months and months later, I heard a story on NPR about a woman with a strange and rare neurological condition that rendered her unable to experience fear. Calcium deposits, strategically placed in a critical part of her brain prevented her from feeling the need to flee or fight in the face of dangerous situations.
I called Kari—my friend and favorite obscure medical information resource. (She used to be a forensic pathologist in NYC and she is now the acting commissioner of health in an upstate county.) We had a conversation about odd phenomena. Kari agreed that a fearless character would be perfect for a mystery. Although she had never heard of the diagnosis and expressed some doubts about it as a true “syndrome” (a constellation of associated symptoms). Then she gave me her candid opinion on why a character would opt to avoid surgery. She also gave me the email address of a pathologist with neurological expertise. He sent me to a few sites for some basic information.
I took these two FOUND OBJECTS and began to assemble the story, with the addition of a few more bits and pieces. This included consulting with another friend, Ante. He used to be with Cirque du Soleil. At that moment he was going to NYU for a MA in performance, he hooked me up with a book on the history of women in the in the circus—with a great deal about circus families. This informed the background of one of the principal characters.
As the other characters took shape, I struggled with how to format the story so that the story didn’t stall out weighed down by too many pages of expository text upfront. Additional ideas for twists and turns in the plot were rarely a problem. I kept finding them in unexpected places.