Friday, May 23, 2014

Of Inspiration, Dreams, The Elms Hotel, Steampunk Detectives, and a Clockwork Killer


Novelists take their inspiration where they find it; songs, life dramas, friends stories, whatever. They have to, because inspiration is sometimes difficult to find, let’s face it, there’s no new idea under the sun. But the inkling for my last novel came to me in a strange way. A dream.
I was at The Elms, a huge sprawling Hotel in Excelsior Springs in Missouri, attending my local writer’s group weekend retreat. The Hotel is the third built on the site; the previous two buildings burnt down in huge fires, and was a frequent base for Al Capone and boxer Jack Dempsey. We had a great weekend overall. We done some writing in the same room that Harry S. Truman had once used, and we drank into the wee hours in the snug bar on the Saturday night.
Suitably tired, my wife and I retired to our old-fashioned room, and fell asleep. Imagine my surprise, when I woke in darkness, roused out of my deep slumber by a shocking dream. The bright red numbers on the bedside clock read 4:35. I sat and recalled the dream, and to my shock, found a whole novel in my head. A whole crime novel, thorough in every way, and in a genre I’d never touched before, Historical Crime.
I had all the main characters, an image of them, and their names. I knew the complete plot, from the first murder on page one to the final throes of the murder suspect. I had the period, a year after the American Civil war, I had the location, Chicago, Illinois, and I even had the surprise final plot twist that turned the book on its head.
I lay sweating in the darkness, wondering if I could sneak my laptop out and start writing, but my wife slept soundly, and I didn’t want to disturb her. I considered leaving the room to write in the Hotel foyer, but the thought of her waking up to find me gone dismissed the idea. So I settled back on the pillows, and determined to stay awake, the dream still fresh in my mind. But of course, nature weariness and the residual effects of the alcohol took its toll, and of course I fell asleep again.
When I woke, the morning sunshine was trying to break through the heavy velvet drapes, and I sat up, terrified that I’d forgotten the dream. The clock now read 7:35, and that made a trip downstairs far more acceptable. To my astonishment, I still remembered every nuance of the dream/novel, and jumped out of bed, dressed quickly, grabbed the laptop, and set off down to the foyer, leaving a sleepy wife behind who questioned my leaving through heavy eyelids.

In the expansive tiled foyer, which a hundred people could have easily played football in, I sat in a very comfy leather armchair and wrote the synopsis, plot points, and the first chapter, 1500 words in all. As the morning wore on, one by one the writers arrived and were told the whole dream thing, and they read what I’d written.
“You have to finish it!” They said. But of course, I already had many projects in the pipeline, and this new one had to sit for a year or three before I got the next surge of inspiration. It turned out to be a chance meeting and a chat in a bar, where I told the whole story to a writer colleague. “Why not make it Steampunk?” she asked. “Steampunk is very big right now.”
That did it. I set off that afternoon, and pushing all other projects aside (I usually have about six or seven novels on the go) I started work. I wrote the book in three months. I introduced some new characters not in my dream, and to my surprise book two automatically beckoned, looming large on book one's final pages, making my novel the first of a series.
The Clockwork Killer: Book 1 of the Steampunk Detectives, will be available soon, and I hope you enjoy. And to writers everywhere I say, take your inspiration by the throat and write well and hard. Never discard what you dream up, and always remain open to suggestions.

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