Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Twenty Years in the Making

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?  That's a question writers hear a lot, but it's a hard one to answer. Every author is different, every book is different, every inspiration is different. I can tell you that most writers naturally live in a state of constant radar, so to speak, their eyes and ears and minds watching and listening and sifting all that they encounter, usually without even realizing it. The strangest things can strike us, and at the oddest moments. We overhear unique dialogue, witness intriguing interactions, read tidbits that tug at our curiosity.  

Sometimes those things can begin to snowball, and before we know it they have evolved into an entire story. At other times, they can go dormant, tucked away in some hidden corner of our brains, only to resurface years later and do the same. That's what happened to me with the idea for the Smart Chick Mystery series.

Heloise as Muse

Though I'm a terrible housekeeper, I've always loved reading household hints. I think they're the perfect mix of science (which I love), creativity (which I have in abundance) and common sense (of which I possess absolutely none whatsoever.)  Something about the problem-solution format is pleasing as well, as if no challenge is too great–not even scuff marks on a white floor or grass stains on a pair of jeans–that it can't be solved with the right approach.

Years ago, I was reading through an article of household hints around tax time when I happened upon this one:
If the AA batteries in your calculator die before you're finished with your tax return, try taking the batteries out of the calculator and rubbing each end of each battery with an emery board. Sometimes this can give you just enough juice to finish the job.

What's the Big Idea?

The tip sounds simple enough, but suddenly a vision came into my head, not of a housewife giving a battery a manicure over her tax return but a sleuth, caught in a jam. Here's the scenario I saw:

A clever, resourceful, and efficient young woman–one who just happens to be well versed in household hints–is closing in on the trail of a killer. She's outside, in the dark, following some clue, when suddenly the batteries in her flashlight die. Without missing a beat, she pauses to pull an emery board from her bag, buffs the battery ends, and gets the light going again just long enough to make it back to safety. (Where presumably she can buy some fresh batteries and head out again.)

Seemed like a cute idea, and it must've stuck somewhere within my brain, because 10 or 20 years later, as I was tossing around concepts for a new mystery series, it suddenly came back to me in full.

The Plotting Begins

The sleuth. The flashlight. The calm response. The emery board.  Soon I was brainstorming the possibilities...

...Why would a young woman be well versed in household hints?  Because she writes a household hints column herself, one she inherited from her mother.

...But isn't she a private detective? No, she could just be one of those people who gets embroiled in mysteries and uses her particular area of expertise to solve them.

...How could a knowledge of household hints be used to solve mysteries? Because both household hints and mysteries can involve lots of science and creative problem-solving.

and so on.  Soon that one little flash of memory had turned into a fully-fleshed-out framework for a series.

It All Comes Together

And there you have it, the origin of what would become the 3-book Smart Chick Mysteries including The Trouble with Tulip, Blind Dates Can Be Murder, and Elementary, My Dear Watkins.

Turns out, the heroine of those books, Jo Tulip, was the young woman behind that flashlight, the one with an emery board in her bag, an answer to every question, and an eye for solutions to every problem.

I haven't read a household hints column for years and was wondering if Heloise was still around. Curious, I just googled her and found that she has a big website filled with tips. Sounds like her daughter has taken over the writing, just like Jo Tulip did with her mother. How fun! You can find Heloise's website here.  How about you? Do you like household hints? Do you have one to share in the comments? Please do!


  1. I love household hints. One hint that I have found useful is putting apple cider vinegar into a spray bottle and spraying weeds. That causes the weeds to die and there is nothing harmful that goes in the soil.

  2. Interesting! I'll have to try this. Thanks, Melissa.