Where do writers come up with the ideas for crime and mystery novels? It’s a bit of mystery itself, isn’t it! I’m sure for some writers the crime section of the local newspaper is a rich source of inspiration. Others may turn to history books and classical literature (like Macbeth) for ideas. I even had an idea for a mystery novel come to me in a dream not long ago. Unfortunately, the dream only gave me the title; I have to work out the rest myself.
It just so happens, however, that I remember the exact time and place when I got the idea for my new caper novel, THE DON CON. My wife and I were in Rockport, Maine at a restaurant called “Shepherd’s Pie,” and we were having dinner with an old friend. You may know him. His name is Jonathan Frakes and he played Commander William T. Riker on Star Trek: The Next Generation. I’ve known Jonathan for more than 40 years when we acted in a play together.
I asked Jonathan what he was doing nowadays and he told me he was directing a lot of network TV shows. He also said that one of his sources of income was going to Star Trek conventions and signing autographs for money. He regaled us with many funny stories about his experiences at these so-called “cons.” At one of them, for example, he was annoyed to find a booth on the convention floor where they were selling Star Trek action figures. A sign on the table said:
“Buy any three action figures, and get one Commander Riker FREE!”
But the part of Jonathan’s story that really stuck with me was how much cash he was bringing home. At $35 a pop for an autograph (more if you wanted a picture), Jonathan was leaving these conventions with his pockets, shirts, even his shoes stuffed with cash. That’s when the idea occurred to me:
What if someone tried to steal all that money?
Not long afterwards, I began writing THE DON CON. It’s a comedy thriller that tells the story of a washed-up actor who hit the high watermark of his career when he played a bit part as a gangster on The Sopranos. Now he makes a living signing autographs at fan conventions. One day, there’s a real gangster in his autograph line and he makes the actor an offer he can’t refuse: “You’re going to help me rob the celebrities at the next fan convention—or else.”
Jonathan was kind enough to write a blurb for THE DON CON, which will appear on the front cover when it’s released by Linden/Pace on April 1st. Jonathan also invited me to join him at a small private dinner (during the Louisville “Supercon”) with William Shatner, Henry Winkler, and LeVar Burton. Meeting Captain Kirk, Kunta Kinte, and The Fonz was like hitting the trifecta of iconic television stars, and it gave me some insight into what fan conventions are like from the celebrities’ point of view.
So how do mystery and crime writers come up with ideas for their novels? The answer is to always ask yourself the “What if …” question.
But after that, it’s mostly a matter of sheer, dumb luck!
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Richard Armstrong is also the author of another crime novel “God Doesn’t Shoot Craps,” in addition to two non-fiction books published by William Morrow, a division of Harper Collins. For more about Richard (and to get a free copy of his special report, HOW TO TALK ANYBODY INTO ANYTHING: Persuasion Secrets of the World’s Greatest Con Artists, please visit www.thedoncon.com