In the Air, Like Pollen

It’s the question we writers often get at events: “Where do you get your ideas?”

My standard answer: They’re in the air, like pollen. Ideas for crime novels come at us from all sides. When it happens, it’s great.

A few weeks ago, I got an idea. I didn’t know whether it was a short story or whether it would grow to be a novel. The characters: a man and a woman. They are both living like recluses, away from society by choice. They are thrown together by circumstance.

Then the woman goes missing.

I started making notes and next thing I knew I had more than a dozen pages, exploring just who these two people are and what’s happening in their lives. They both have pasts that are leading them to the present. What happens in the future? Well, I haven’t yet figured that out, or how I’m going to get there. But I do have a setting now. And names for those two people. It’s been exciting to see the plot take shape in the short time these two characters made themselves known.

And apple trees are involved. Go figure.

Then there’s my novella, But Not Forgotten. Several years ago, I attended my 50th high school reunion. Yes, I’m that old. There was a big poster at the first evening’s event, listing all our classmates who had died, including the year of their deaths and the causes. I looked at the poster and said, what if? What if there was a question mark next to one of those names? What if a classmate disappeared on graduation night and was never seen again? What if another classmate was determined to find out what happened?

I thought about this as I drove my rental car to the airport. Inside the terminal, waiting to board, I took out a notebook and scribbled furiously. By the time I got home, I had my plot and characters and I’d solved the fictional mystery.

Right now I’m working on The Things We Keep, Jeri Howard’s 14th case. How did this one start? Well, it was the setting. I go to the local farmers’ market on Saturday mornings and sometimes I park in the vicinity of an old Queen Anne Victorian. Someone is living there, but the house is quite rundown. It looks haunted, as a matter of fact.

What if?

The idea pollen started flying. What if Jeri Howard finds a trunk full of bones in the attic? Two skeletons, even. Jeri has to figure out whose bones are in the trunk, how they got there, and who is responsible. Things are getting convoluted and I have a lot of plot to untangle, not to mention characters who are coming to vivid life.

Believe me, I’m having fun with this one, thanks to all that idea pollen in the air.

6 thoughts on “In the Air, Like Pollen

  1. Nice post, Janet. It’s a question a lot of people ask, and I always wonder why. Do you suppose they don’t sense the pollen in the air?


  2. Good post, Janet. Yes, ideas are like pollen–everywhere. Reunions are fertile ground for mysteries. In Friends and Enemies, the fourth Joe Silva/Mellingham mystery, a man returns to his hometown for his HS reunion to figure out who turned in his father for tax evasion, which ultimately sent him to prison and broke up the family. He doesn’t learn what he expects to learn. I haven’t thought about reunions in years but now that the idea has come I guess another story is on its way. This weekend was especially fertile–a new story idea and material for the novel I’m developing.


  3. Nice post, Janet! I’m endlessly fascinated by where ideas for stories and novels come from. Like you, a class reunion (not mine, but a friend’s) gave me the idea for a story, “Gone but Not Forgotten,” in which a classmate dies under mysterious circumstances a couple of years after graduation, and years later, the wife of another classmate becomes determined to find out what really happened. While I like the analogy of ideas to pollen, I sure wish that pollen weren’t so prevalent this summer. Seems like it’s everywhere, gathering in yellow gobs on anything that’s outdoors and indoors as well, through open windows.


    1. There must be something about high school reunions! And I see the collective unconscious caused us to come up with very nearly the same title.


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