A: I wish I knew.
It was spring of 2012 and I was nearing publication of THE SKELETON BOX, the third book in the Starvation Lake trilogy. A major editor at a big publishing house was talking to me about writing “your Mystic River.” Right. But, of course, I was seduced, and listening.
I gave her a summary of an idea involving an uncaptured serial killer who resurfaces years after his original murders. Serial killers are passe, the editor said. I tried again, this time with a totally different idea about the kidnapping of an autistic boy. I’m not positive why I chose to make Danny Peters autistic, but I have an inkling that I can’t share without crossing into spoiler territory. The editor liked the idea, but ultimately passed on publishing the manuscript. I could literally use parts of her rejection as a blurb.
I have clear recollections of the things that inspired my first three novels, from a nightmare about a snowmobile washing up on a beach (STARVATION LAKE); to a tree filled with shoes (THE HANGING TREE); to the early 20th century murder of a nun in northern Michigan (THE SKELETON BOX). I have no such clarity about the beginnings of BLEAK HARBOR, alas.
It really came to life on the page. Danny himself, his mother Carey, and his stepfather Pete all took turns inspiring story twists by making me curious about who they were and how they would behave under pressure. I can more clearly explain how I came up with the ideas for many particular things that happen in the book, but not where the story itself initially sprang from.
Mostly my ideas, big and small, sprout from the process of writing itself. As John Hiatt, one of my favorite songwriters, recently told an interviewer, “You know how writing goes for me. I get a couple of lines going, and then I just tag along as the songs start to reveal themselves. You’ve just gotta jump inside and take the ride.”