A Life of Strange Inspirations

 by Linda O. Johnston

I wrote last time I was here about how a writer might decide what to write.  I’m going to expand upon that a bit today since I’ve been considering some strange inspirations. 

There’s one we all have these days: Covid. Should we include the pandemic in stories we’re writing now? What about a series that deals, in a fictional way with a lot of the issues and arguments and other matters relating to the disease, and how people deal with them—or don’t? I’m fascinated with the idea, but doubt I’ll dive into it.

 And then there’s what happened on my very nice residential street the other night. 

My husband and I were walking our dog Cari around the block. When we got to the fence behind the property next to our home we saw that one of the fronds of the cacti growing behind it near the street had been broken. (We live in LA.) And then my husband saw a large, dangerous-looking knife lying there and we assumed it had been used to cut the cactus. We saw blood on the sidewalk and we then assumed whoever did it had cut him or herself. My husband moved the knife but hid it to show neighbors later. We weren’t thrilled, especially my husband, who’d planted the cactus with the neighbor’s approval. 

Cut to an hour or so after we got home. Our doorbell rang, and when I answered a couple of uniformed police officers were there. Turned out someone had been stabbed in the area in the middle of the night. We have security cameras outside but they weren’t connected at the time, unfortunately. The cops had hoped we would have footage of what happened—since someone was apparently stabbed there by another person, which resulted in the fallen cactus. 

My husband gave them the knife, of course, and said he hoped they’d make it clear why his fingerprints are on it. We still have no details about what happened or why or if the police are still investigating, but you can imagine that led my mind to start wondering if I could use that in a story. 

And then a dear relative, after we related what had happened, made a suggestion about a whole mystery series based on some matters relating to that incident. 

My mind is still churning around that. But I don’t know if I’ll follow through. I’m concerned about such things happening nearby, in any event. But as a writer, of course I let it potentially inspire me for a story or more. 

And yes, some strange things can become inspirations. When should we include reality in our stories? Whenever it works—with embellishments!

12 thoughts on “A Life of Strange Inspirations”

  1. Scary!
    I am sure you got your camera working again although I. Am surprised you didn’t call 911 as soon as you saw the knife with blood and that you moved it
    However the above are the kind of reality that you could use in a book as the kind of actions people typically do. I would love to know the true story when you first nd out although the cops might refuse to tell you
    Certainly, inspirational for a mystery writer
    Thanks for sharing
    Jill

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    1. Definitely scary, although we misinterpreted what had happened. And yes, the cameras are working again! I suspect we won’t ever hear what the police found.

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  2. Wow! It would seem very ‘Miss Marples,’ who kept finding dead bodies in a quiet, charming village – if we weren’t in Los Angeles, where there is so much crime and violence on our streets these days…
    I would find that much more inspiring for a mystery story, than anything to do with Covid! Right now I think we all want to run a mile from anything Covid related, so I would never read anything with Covid in it. Enough already! Maybe in ten or twenty years, we might revisit it!…
    Rosemary – still struggling to get recognized by WordPress!

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  3. Gad! But, honey, that is a great beginning to a story. The bloody knife part. That one you should use. As for COVID-related stories, I bet most people want to forget it like yesterday, so maybe it isn’t as good an option. Alice Zogg did use COVID as a background for her newest book, A Bad Apple, but it only set the stage for the detective to use other methods to detect the killer since she couldn’t do a lot of face-to-face methods. That worked really well and she didn’t drag the story down with all the pandemic fear that we all want to forget. I still can’t get the thought of that bloody knife out of my head. You have to catch the reader up front and you sure did.

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  4. Linda, as for writing about your experience with the bloody knife, I say go for it! I’m guessing the mystery writers in the group, like me, have already hatched potential plots.
    Incorporating Covid is trickier as it (hopefully) may be a temporary situation, so a plot that includes Covid protocols would become dated with time. However, I expect the virus will have a lasting impact on our psyches, at least for a generation, much like the depression and the many wars did in the last century.

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  5. Linda, this is a great “only in L.A.” story, and I say, use it! To the max! What if . . . you and/or Fred had quarreled with the neighbor over the cactus? Or . . . .

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  6. Oh, Linda, how scary! You and your hubby be safe!
    I pretty much think using anything happening in your life is good. But personally, as a reader, I like reading stories that take me in different directions than I would encounter in my life. Not fantasy, but make believe detectives, sleuths, etc.
    Again, keep safe.

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    1. Thanks! I mostly like to write about stuff that starts in my imagination, although dogs are a large part of what I do and they’re real. But I don’t mind getting ideas from reality!

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