I have some goofy writing routines.
I’m not talking about wearing special “writer’s socks” or doing a silly little spin and sit routine like Will Shakespeare in “Shakespeare in Love” (I think I’d fall on my ass if I tried). No, I’m talking about how I collect images, music, and reading material to act as inspiration for a work in progress, in this case Red Tide At Morning.
My next release is a mystery/thriller coming your way some time late summer/early fall. A brutal double homicide in the sleepy Northwest town of Raven’s Passage puts former Philadelphia Detective Malcolm Stone and his step-sister/partner Lara Richter on the trail of a deadly killer.
I’m about halfway through the initial editing stages, so the book has been on my mind a lot lately. Here’s where I dug up inspiration.
Every time I start writing a book, I collect lots of photos or pictures to keep my creative fluids percolating. (It sounded better than “juices flowing”.) Initially, this wasn’t just for me – when working with a cover artist (and I’ve had the good fortune to work with not one, but three) it’s always helpful if you as the author can give them some visual aid as to what you’re looking for. Usually the artists I work with ask for covers of books similar to mine, or else movie posters or other media that I feel captures what I’m looking for. This helps them create a kick-ass cover, which in turn helps me get motivated to finish those last few edits.
But after I did this the first three or four times I realized that gathering those visual cues was probably even more helpful to me than it was to my artists (because, let’s face it…they’re artists, and they creature visuals for a living, whereas I’m just a dork with a laptop). I’ve always been something of a leech when it came to inspiration – I draw some of my best material from teaser blurbs, movie trailers, and the plot summaries of television shows – so it just seemed natural to gather images which would act as visual cue cards whenever I felt my inspiration lagging.
For Red Tide at Morning, I took my wife’s advice and went further than just gathering images and decided to actually document them in a public forum…in this case, the living inspiration poster/DYI/cute puppy photo assembly/time suck social platform known as Pinterest. Yes, you’ve been there. You’ve probably wasted hours at a time looking up smoothie recipes, workout routines, pictures of what to wear and OMG THE PUPPIES!!!!!
Pinterest is terrific for snipping pictures from all around the internet and gathering them in one place, and that comes in real handy for grabbing visuals. I used Pinterest to collect photos of the general area that the novel is set in as well as the actors I envision portraying the characters in the novel, and doing it in a way that allows me to keep all of those pictures together in an easily accessible place for quick reference sure beats the hell out of my normal system, which involves losing flash drives, forgetting passwords and cussing a lot.
Check out my Mystery Project Pinterest board!
Even more important to me than visual inspiration is a good writing soundtrack. I’ve blogged in the past about how I like to create playlists for each of my writing projects, but the fun thing about Red Tide at Morning is that it’s set in the modern world (even if the specific setting is fictional), so where usually my soundtracks are only for mood and tone this time I made it a point to actually work the songs into the story. (This has the added bonus of revealing my horrible musical tastes to the world, so really it’s a win win.)
Red Tide at Morning – The Soundtrack
Linkin Park – Tinfoil (Moody instrumental, great opening title music.)
Nine Inch Nails – The Hand That Feeds (Some of Lara Richter’s driving music.)
Rihanna – Only Girl (In the World) (Background music in the Philadelphia apartment.)
Sting – Desert Rose (More of Lara’s music.)
Al Green – Let’s Stay Together (Music in the island’s breakfast diner.)
50 Cent – In Da Club (Detective Craig Glasser’s ringtone music.)
Trust – Icabod (More of Lara’s driving music.)
Daft Punk – Get Lucky (Malcolm listens to Daft Punk when he’s writing.)
Katy Perry – Dark Horse (Lara makes mention that Becca, Malcolm’s girlfriend, listens to Katy Perry, who Lara finds dreadful.)
Rob D – Clubbed to Death (Kurayamino mix) (Malcolm’s theme music.)
Gnarls Barkley – Crazy (Malcolm’s music)
Massive Attack – Teardrop (Playing in Lara’s apartment when first we meet her.)
Will Smith – Gettin’ Jiggy With It (Some of Glasser’s driving music.)
Diorama – Truth & Movement (Song quoted at the opening of the novel.)
Gotye – Somebody That I Used to Know (Music from Becca’s place.)
IAMX – After Every Party I Die (More music from the Philly apartment.)
Delerium – Silence (More music from Lara’s apartment.)
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross – You’re Here (Great investigation music.)
Writers have to read – that’s just the way it is. And since writing a murder mystery is outside of my proverbial wheelhouse in more ways than one, I took it upon myself to check out a host of modern mystery authors I thought I might enjoy and whose work I could turn to for inspiration. Rather than grabbing books at random I decided to read two novels each by four authors I was interested in, and so far the results have been spectacular.
Lawrence Block: “A Walk Among the Tombstones”, “A Dance at the Slaughterhouse”. After watching the Liam Neeson film based on the first of these two novels, I knew I had to give Lawrence Block a read, and he doesn’t disappoint. The Matt Scudder crime novels aren’t really traditional mysteries, but they’re damn good yarns chock full of atmosphere, great characters and despicable villains. And, man, are they dark. Like women being chopped up or The Gimp cutting your nipple off sort of dark. Be wary.
Robert Galbraith: “The Cuckoo’s Calling”, “The Silkworm”. Chances are you know already that “Robert Galbraith” is just a pen name used by J.K. Rowling…that’s right, the Harry Potter lady. Well, it turns out she has a hell of a knack for writing murder mysteries (which should come as no surprise, really), and her characters of Cormoran and Robin are a terrific crime-solving duo. The novels are a bit lengthy, but well worth the read. And, rest assured, there isn’t a Quidditch match in sight.
Craig Johnson: “Another Man’s Moccasins”, “As The Crow Flies”. Longmire was one of the surprise shows of the past couple of years – compelling mysteries peopled by terrific characters in a rustic setting. And while it was a bit of a shock when the show was dropped by A&E (no worries, it was recently picked up by Netflix), you can keep up with Walt, Henry and the gang in the novels where they originated. Yes, they’re even better than the show. And yes, Henry truly does not use conjunctions when he speaks.
Louise Penny: “Still Life”, “Bury Your Dead”. My wife loves the Inspector Gamache mysteries, and while I was worried they might be too “cozy” for my tastes (I like it dark, folks) I have to admit that I’m glad I took the plunge. Like The Longmire Mysteries, the Gamache stories feature very memorable characters in a “place that time forgot” setting, and while the multiple POVs Penny employs (which is very different from the other authors listed above, who make use of either First or Limited Third Person) sometimes throws me off, I’m in the middle of “Bury Your Dead” and thoroughly enjoying it. And how many murder mysteries are set in Canada, eh?
This was a bit strange for me, but Red Tide At Morning required me to do something called “research”. A lot of it was done online – Crime Scene Investigator.net is a tremendous resource – but I also found myself pouring through dozens of books about everything from forensic evidence to racism in America to dealing with depression to patrolman’s accounts of what it’s like to be a cop on the street. Here’s just a small sample of what I checked out.
Arlen Schuman – “Cop on the Beat” (A YA book, and a nice account of a patrolman’s daily life.)
Diane Yancey – “Tracking Serial Killers”, “Murder” (Crime Scene Investigating) (Both YA books with lots of pictures and great organization. Both of these books are awesome.)
Lee Lofland – “Police Procedure & Investigating” (This is THE guide for mystery/thriller writers. I need to buy a copy for keeps.)
Steven Kerry Brown – “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating” (Lots of interesting tidbits, which make clear how un-glamorous being a P.I. really is.)
John Douglas – “Inside the Mind of BTK: The True Story Behind the Thirty-Year Hunt for the Notorious Wichita Serial Killer” (The interview with serial killer Dennis Rader is extremely interesting, and extremely disturbing.)
Terrie M. Williams – “Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting” (A fascinating look at depression in Black communities in America.)
That’s it for now: stay tuned for more sneak peeks from Red Tide at Morning later this week!