Where do you get your ideas? This is probably one of the most frequently asked questions of writers. Sadly, there is no one answer. I know because I've asked plenty of writers the same question. I always hope they'll give me directions to the magic well of ideas, but so far no one has ponied up the secret map. Darn it!
One of my heart-in-throat, sweaty-palms, wrestle-my-sheets like-their-monsters nightmares is that I have run out of story ideas. The idea that I'm going to wake up one day without an idea in my head, as if my brain is just a blank white board with nothing to offer ever again, terrifies me. Gasp!
Thankfully, I don’t have that nightmare very often because I am an avid people watcher. My favorite place is the airport. I always get there early when I travel, and I opt for longer layovers, too, so I can hunker in and watch my fellow passengers. There's always good material there. The happy family reunions, the tantrums over lost luggage, the drunkard being escorted off the plane, the kids flying alone, the solder back from the war, the new wife kissing her husband goodbye on his first trip since they got hitched, or vice versa. Good stuff in airports, believe me.
And sometimes, if I’m particularly lucky, a single phrase can launch a whole book. A writer friend of mine and I were talking one day and she admitted to me that she watched a beauty pageant reality show. I was surprised and a little jealous, because with two young sons to monitor, I have no time for quality bad TV, an oxymoron I know. But as we talked I realized this was her version of my airport people watching.
As she described the antics of the people on the show, I noted there was good material there. Then she lowered the boom. She told me they used the term "facially gifted" to describe the contestants. I clarified that this was supposed to to mean pretty and when she confirmed, it blasted me right between the eyes and I knew I had to do me some killing.
Thus, the story line for Sugar and Iced was born. Now to clarify, I am not anti-beauty pageants. I mean I
absolutely get the appeal of wearing sparkly head gear and being a princess for today, in fact, I think everyone should get to wear a tiara whenever they're feeling a touch princessy or just need a little pick-me-up that day. I mean, how can you be bummed when you have rhinestones on your head? But truly, the pageant world does invite so many mixed emotions it really was the perfect back drop for a cupcake bakery murder mystery.
So, that is the tale of where my stories come from, well, at least where Sugar and Iced came from. And to give you an idea of the book itself, here goes: Despite their beauty pageant misgivings, bakers Melanie Cooper and Angie DeLaura can't help but support a skateboard riding, punk rock loving teen named Lupe Guzman, who is in it for the scholarship. When Mariel Mars, a snarky judge of the competition is found dead, the beauty pageant turns ugly as Lupe, who Mariel had been decidedly cruel to, is named the chief suspect. It is up to Mel and Angie to find out who did it, before Lupe's stroll down the catwalk turns into a run from the slammer.
And yes, I did buy myself a tiara during the writing of this story - for research purposes, naturally.
Jenn is the New York Times bestselling author of several mystery series. She lives in sunny Arizona in a house overrun with kids, pets, and her husband's guitars. You can visit her website at www.jennmckinlay.com.
Sugar and Iced by Jenn McKinlay. Berkley, 2014. ISBN 9780425258927 (paperback), 304p.