By Susan McCormick
Inspiration is a funny thing. As a cozy mystery writer, I need inspiration for the murders that anchor the stories, inspiration to sit myself down and write for hours on end, inspiration for the big ideas of the characters and the books, and, most importantly, inspiration for the magic that happens on the page.
I am attuned to murder possibilities in everyday life. A cutthroat music competition that comes every four years with only one scholarship awarded? I see a mom who will do anything to help her child succeed. An arguing couple in a National Park? I see a husband who might lean too close to the edge and “fall off.” I am kind, sedate, and boring in my real life, but my imagination is full of mystery.
Authors need inspiration for the actual process of putting pen to paper, minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day. In many cases, the writing happens after coming home or before heading off to work. And, at home, so many distractions! The view outside the window, the dog angling for a tummy rub, the children clamoring for a snack or a game, the tea kettle ready to warm, the outdoors calling for a walk, the bedside table stacked with fully formed books that someone else has toiled over: grit and determination are the only antidotes. For me, with a day job as a doctor, the preciousness of time forced me into that chair before the sun came up each morning.
The fun parts of inspiration, though, are the wisps of inspiration we collect and add together over time. My book series, The Fog Ladies, deals with old ladies, senior sleuths who have plenty of time on their hands and plenty of suspicion. The inspiration came when I lived in an elegant apartment building in San Francisco, and I was a busy medical resident with no time on my hands, so busy and tired I envied the sick patients lying in their hospital beds. In my apartment building were many older women, and I pictured them, incorrectly, as living the life of leisure I so coveted, sitting in rocking chairs looking out at the beautiful view and reading murder mysteries. My Fog Ladies’ characters took shape over the years as a conglomeration of older women I met in my building, in my practice as a doctor, at my mother’s retirement community’s dinner table, and anywhere else spunky ladies gather.
Inspiration for me also involves dogs. My gigantic Newfoundland dog, Albert, was my faithful writing companion, slipping downstairs with me in the early morning hours which are so good for writing and lying silently by my side as I typed. Looking at his large, black, solid, calm presence, I created his antithesis, a tiny, white, high-strung, fidgety Bichon Frise, who yips through the book, creates chaos and trouble, and ultimately saves the day. My dog, Albert, makes a short, sedate, and dignified appearance in Book 2, but in Book 3 he will finally shine, with a Newfoundland front and center in the action.
The final and best type of inspiration, however, comes from the inner recess of my mind, unplanned, unanticipated. Without this, there is no magic. With my doctor work, sometimes a diagnosis or a concern about a patient will come to me in a dream, and these messages from my brain have always been accurate. Writing is the same. Though I try to plot and plan, my favorite part of writing is when characters I’ve created do unexpected things and get themselves into trouble. One of my characters, Enid Carmichael, discovers Starbucks lattes at the ripe old age of eighty. She loves the bitterness, the froth. I wrote that. Then she craved more, and the next thing I knew, she was stealing Starbucks coupons from her neighbor’s newspaper to feed her addiction. She did that. Not me. I have learned to give my characters a little space to be themselves, because the surprises they bring are a delight.
Inspiration is around and within us. As a cozy mystery writer, I love to twist real life into murder, twist bits and pieces of people and dogs into rich, feisty new characters, and twist secrets from a part of my brain that is hidden.
The Fog Ladies: Family Matters (A San Francisco Cozy Murder Mystery, Book 2) synopsis:
Till death do us part, with kitchen shears. When a family man kills his wife, the Fog Ladies—spunky senior sleuths and one overtired, overstressed and newly suspicious young doctor living in an elegant apartment building in San Francisco—set out to discover the truth. Their probing finds the threat is perilously close to home, endangering another troubled family struggling to survive. Marriage can be deadly.
Susan McCormick is a writer and doctor who lives in Seattle. She graduated from Smith College and George Washington University School of Medicine, with additional medical training in San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Susan served as a doctor in the U.S. Army for nine years before moving to the Pacific Northwest. In addition to the Fog Ladies series, she also wrote Granny Can’t Remember Me, a lighthearted picture book about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. She is part of The Cozy Mystery Quartet, with YouTube podcasts about all things cozy, for authors and for readers. She lives in Seattle with her husband, two sons, and, until recently, a giant Newfoundland dog, Albert.
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