Too Many Ideas Not Enough Time by Paty Jager

Lit Light BulbIf only I could write twice as fast! Ideas come at me like raindrops in a storm.  Some ideas seem like a great idea at the time and as I get closer to writing the story, decide it won’t work.

And then there are the ones that come when you least expect it and hold up the more you think about them and start researching.

In December, my husband and I spent a weekend at a nice casino in Reno. I’d won the weekend from the Silent Auction at the Left Coast Crime conference in Reno last February.  Part of the package I purchased was a spa package. I was excited to get a massage.

And the spa…on my! I’d never been anywhere that pampered and had such wonderful amenities.  I sat in a dimly lit room, watching big colorful fish in an aquarium, drinking lemon water, and waiting my time for a massage. Depositphotos_213681916_l-2015

The masseuse arrived and escorted me to the room. It was dimly lit, soft music playing. She showed me everything and headed to the door. “Take off your robe and get under the sheet, I’ll be right back.”

I did as instructed and as I laid there, face down, my arms dangling over each side of the table, my mind went to- “What if I were a dead body?” And of course my head began spinning with how to work it into one of my Shandra Higheagle books.

By the time my massage was over, I had the plot all figured out in my head. What I needed now was research.  While waiting for my hubby to come out of the men’s side of the spa, I started quizzing the people at the counter. I filled up the back side of two price sheets with answers to my questions about how a spa of that magnitude ran.

Then two weeks ago, I spent a week at the Oregon Coast writing. It was wonderful! What I especially like when I write at the beach are my walks on the beach.

On one walk, when the wind was blowing and cold enough I had my sweatshirt hood tied tight, I shared the beach with an older gentleman and a little boy of about six. I assumed the older gentleman was the grandfather. The the boy had on only a t-shirt and shorts. He had something in his hand. He came up to me and said, “Look! I found a mermaid scale!” It appeared to be a colorful piece of mollusk shell. But I agreed with him.

20190206_182452I went on my walk and noticed a boat bobbing in the ocean just the other side of the breaks. Thinking it would make a nice photo, I took several, then turned and headed back the way, I’d come.

The grandfather was near the water. The little boy was splashing in the waning waves sweeping up on the sand.  I passed them and glanced out at the waves. The boat was moving along the other side of the breaks in the same direction I was.

I thought I saw the head of a sea lion. I stared and took photos, trying to capture the creature. Walking briskly because the wind was getting colder, I headed to the hotel stairs two blocks from the house where I was staying. I looked back at the beach.

The man was there but I didn’t see the boy. And the boat was heading the other direction. Perhaps what I saw wasn’t a sea lion but a man in scuba gear?

As I walked to the house, I put together the kidnapping of a boy and the woman who captured it on her camera without knowing. It will be a story in a Gabriel Hawke book.

I love when ideas hit and I can see they will be a fun book to write.

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Lessons from a Bad Neighbor

He’s long gone. In fact, I wrote the first draft of this post back in September and just now rediscovered it in my files. Some of these lessons I learned from enduring a bad neighbor for six weeks were things I already knew conceptually, but experiencing them emotionally last summer was enlightening for me as a writer.

Shortly after Bad Neighbor’s arrival in our lovely old adobe apartment building, which is entirely non-smoking, even the courtyard, I began to smell tobacco smoke leaking through the gaps around the kitchen and bathroom pipes. Second-hand smoke causes low-level carbon monoxide poisoning, and opening windows and running fans isn’t enough to clear it out. He smoked so much, I got headaches and dizzy spells and had trouble concentrating, and the stink often woke me up in the middle of the night. To make it worse, he seemed to be a drug dealer. People stopped by for five to ten minutes at all hours. He left his outdoor light on all night for them. When one of my good neighbors confronted him (“Are you selling dope?”), Bad Neighbor threatened to knock his head off. Bad Neighbor accused me of harassing him when I complained, and he was furious with me for getting him evicted by telling our landlord about the smoking. Not that Bad Neighbor let the eviction notice cramp his style. After a month, instead of leaving, he moved his equally hostile, smoking girlfriend in with him. They had no lease. They paid no rent. They didn’t move out until a few days before he had to appear in court. Meanwhile, I acquired some insights.

One: How con artists work. This squatter took advantage of my kind, soft-hearted landlord with a sob story about why he couldn’t get a place to rent or afford a deposit and why he could only pay for one week at a time. My landlord was new in town. If he’d been in the rental business here longer, he might have heard about this guy’s history as a serial evictee, sort of a professional squatter. Bad Neighbor found a perfect mark. I suspect he knows the law as well as anyone and exploits it to make sure he can live rent free, utilities included, as long as possible.

Two: Why people could get the urge to be amateur sleuths. My good neighbors and I were convinced there were drug sales going on, and so was the gentleman next door. But we couldn’t prove anything. The temptation to ask each of the five-minute visitors what they were doing was strong. So was the desire to find a way to prove Bad Neighbor was not just a squatter but a criminal. I could see it especially in the old soldiers—a Korean War vet and a Vietnam vet. They wanted to be brave and see justice done.

Three: How frustration could drive people to act on their own when the law can’t move swiftly enough to suit them. In my best moments, I sent positive intentions toward Bad Neighbor, visualizing him quitting smoking, acquiring a conscience, and paying what he owed, but at other times I fantasized having superpowers that would make him wander off in the desert and fall into a canyon, never to be seen again. Not that I would actually have hurt him, but … I got it. How a peaceful person—I’m a yoga teacher, for Pete’s sake!—could wish harm on an enemy.

One of my good neighbors suggested I might break with my “no murder, just mystery” approach and write a story in which Bad Neighbor dies. Good idea, but I plan to write it without murder. I’m thinking of giving one of my recurring characters such a neighbor. In keeping with an ongoing theme in my series, she could recruit help from someone with paranormal powers, taking justice into her own hands. Actions like that have a way of biting back. I like this plot idea, but I have two books to revise before I can get to it.