Over the years people have asked where I get ideas for my books. They come from many sources, everything from fantastical dreams to sobering, often awful, news, and I don’t hesitate to make them into stories of my own. I’m in good company—“Ripped from the headlines” is a time-honored tradition among authors and television and screen writers.
While I am developing my story, I think about who would be in it, what will happen, and what I want a reader to take from it. I imbue the characters with attributes I desire for them and provide descriptions sufficient for the reader to know their “faces,” wants, hopes, and dreams. I also need to ensure that each character speaks in a manner appropriate for that personality. How someone expresses confidence, anger, love, confusion, etc. can tell a lot about the person.
Enough of the hypotheticals. What I want to talk about is actually more of a confession than anything else. When I was writing my third Wally Morris novel, VENGEANCE CUTS LOOSE, a book that takes place primarily in a hair salon, I was shamelessly eavesdropping. I had taken my mother for her weekly appointment and sat waiting while her hair was washed, rolled, dried, combed out, teased, and sprayed. To be truthful, most weeks I left to run some errands while she got beautified, which also included a manicure every two weeks. One day, however, I just had no place else to be, so I sat nearby and waited. Slowly the din of the hairdryers and blowers faded and I started to hear a conversation between a hairdresser and his client taking place in the next chair to my mom’s.
They discussed a wide range of subject matter. I heard about people getting divorced, Botox that was available on the street, tummies that had been tucked, as well as relationship issues of people I will never meet. I learned more than I needed to know about the latest scandals among the movie stars and starlets, and I was drawn into the saga of more than one person suffering from a dread illness.
At the back of my mind I had been ruminating on a deeply personal story which was waiting impatiently to be told. It was about a poor unsuspecting person (me) in search of a cut and blow who stumbled into a highly recommended salon and received, due to the arrogance of a stylist, the most insultingly bad haircut. I had to seek revenge, if only literarily. But that hadn’t been enough to get the novel going, it was too cut and dried (pun intended) or at least it wasn’t much of a story, not until my day with Mom at her salon. Suddenly characters abounded.
I still needed a murderer and a motive, those came from a conversation with a neighbor who had no idea I would put it into my story when she told me about a problem her child had experienced and overcome. And while looking out the window from an upper floor during a trip to the dentist I found the means for the murderer to escape. I used the local hair salon as the prototype of the location of the murder, since it could help the murderer and appease my need for revenge.
Sometime after publication of the book, my friend came running into the library where I work, her hair beautifully coiffed, to tell me a funny story. While she had her hair styled, a woman sitting next to my friend was talking about a book she was reading that sounded as if it could have been set right in the salon they were in (and where my abusive haircut had been perpetrated).
“What a coincidence,” I marveled with the satisfaction that I had captured the setting (no pun intended) well.