Writers are often asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” Much of the time, in my case, something small sets off my brain. A commercial showing a bride flinging her veil out onto the road while she zoomed off in a convertible gave me the opening scene to one story (unpublished…for now). Watching a show about scam artists and thieves kicked off Rulebreaker, which led to Caught in Amber, which led to Deep Deception 🙂
The idea for Murder on the Last Frontier emerged after a conversation with a long-time resident of our town when my husband, daughter, and I went to investigate a local, little-known cemetery.
My husband serves on the city’s Planning and Zoning committee. At a meeting a few years ago, they were going over city land that could be sold or leased or what have you. A nice-sized plot in a residential neighborhood near the high school was marked “Not for Sale.” There were homes on either side of it, and it was large enough for a small house.
DH: Why is this plot not for sale?
Committee Guy: It’s a cemetery.
Committee Guy Who Had Been a Resident for 20 yrs: Really?
Like many people, I had been by that lot hundreds of times, either while trundling kids to/from school or our critters to/from the veterinarian whose practice is nearby. The lot is either overgrown with weeds or covered in snow most of the time, and there’s no sign of it being anything other than an empty lot. Little did we know it was far from empty.
One sunny spring Saturday not long after hearing about the cemetery, we were headed to the high school for some event and decided to check it out. Sure enough, among the weeds and saplings, a few graves. They had low headstones that were barely legible. One or two had those low iron fences around them. It was easy to see why if you were just driving or walking past you’d never know it was a cemetery.
As we made our way across the lot, we saw Marv, the man who owns one of the neighboring houses, puttering about his yard. He asked us what we were up to (in a nice way, as Marv is a nice guy, and it was obvious we were looking about, not out to cause trouble). We told him my husband’s P&Z committee story.
Marv smiled and nodded, saying not many folks were aware of it and that was fine by him. He gave us a neat little history lesson about the cemetery, including the unfortunate incident of some group coming in and “cleaning up” the old bits of wood which happened to be markers.
Then he told us another story.
Back in the 1930s or 1940s, a prostitute (yes, Cordova had a “red light” district for years, like a lot of towns) and her child were found murdered. One of them was buried in that little-known cemetery, the other in a different one (we have three, all fairly small). I don’t know if the woman had been pregnant or the child had been recently born or what the circumstances were, but it was quite sad.
We said our good-byes to Marv and went over to the school. We were kept busy at the event we attended, but I couldn’t shake the idea of the dead prostitute. My writerly brain locked onto its own scenario as to how and why this woman was killed.
And who would earnestly look into the murder of a “sporting” woman? I’m sure real-life local authorities investigated, but as a writer, I saw someone else–an outsider with her own secrets to keep–acting on behalf of the dead. She would need to stand up to convention and represent justice for all.
I had always been interested in the women of the suffrage movement and decided my protagonist would be a suffragette. Though they had their faults, I appreciated their bravery and efforts. The person mostly likely to really care about the death of a prostitute would be one who wanted all women treated fairly. She’d be an outsider, having come to Alaska Territory for her own reasons. She’d poke her nose into places it didn’t belong and stir up a few folks. That’s how suffragette and journalist Charlotte Brody was born.
The events and characters in Murder on the Last Frontier are, of course, fictional. I still haven’t hunted down the actual murder that set things off for the series. But I did go through a number of old editions of the local paper and came up with another murder for Charlotte. Borrowing Death (Kensington, July 2016) was also inspired by real events. And the third book Murder on Location employs the real-life occurrence of a movie crew coming to town.
So where do I get my ideas? Pretty much right outside my door.