Where do you get your best ideas?
When I’m starting a novel from scratch, my best ideas emerge from what seems like a random constellation of ideas. From my experiences or my friends’, I’ll find myself interested in a setting that includes people who are really passionate about their work, and people that can be hurt if something goes wrong. Maybe I’ll read about someone struggling with a personal situation; it’s even more interesting if our society misunderstands the problem. Somewhere else, news reports perhaps, I’ll hear about a murder that can be tweaked into shape for that particular setting. But trying to force ideas together seldom works for me, so I don’t push it..Often a bunch of ideas continues to sit there lifelessly, and I continue to ignore them. But when the combo is right, it starts generating its own details, the characters start telling me their stories, and it’s time to begin writing.
Once I’m writing, my best ideas bubble up from the combinations of things already in the stories. Nick O’Connor is an actor, and Maggie Ryan enjoys pranks. One reason they enjoy each other’s company is the games they improvise, sometimes to get information, sometimes to further a solution better than the legal system would have to impose. When I’m writing these scenes, the details often come from imagining myself in the scene mystelf, very concretely, with all their advantages (strength, knowledge, gymnastics training) and disadvantages (no weapons, chained to a wall, recovering from a knock on the head). Again, getting into the characters’ heads inspires the best improvisations.
Murder is Academic
MURDER IS ACADEMIC (Maggie Ryan 1968) An Anthony Award nominee Vietnam, assassinations and riots. In the spring semester of 1968, a series of brutal attacks draws campus women together to study self-defense and the psychology of rape. Graduate student Mary Beth Nelson struggles to keep the Lords of Death at bay by immersing herself in researching Mayan languages. Her new housemate, Maggie Ryan, has her own secrets. When murder strikes close to home, Maggie investigates with a little help from her friends.
ABOUT MURDER IS ACADEMIC, A 1986 ANTHONY AWARD NOMINEE
“Murder Is Academic treats violation of truth in tandem with assault and rape—true violations of person, mind, and body—and presents a cogent case for the inviolability both of persons and truth. . . . Maggie Ryan, statistician, proves that one can alter, but, in the final analysis, not suppress data, and that is the murder-mystery writer's dictum. P.M. Carlson has spent time in academia, obviously, but has emerged with not only a healthy attitude toward female scholarship but also toward the necessary inviolability of truth.” — Susan L. Clark, The Armchair Detective
P.M. Carlson taught psychology and statistics at Cornell University before deciding that mystery writing was more fun. She has published twelve mystery novels and over a dozen short stories. Her novels have been nominated for an Edgar Award, a Macavity Award, and twice for Anthony Awards. Two short stories were finalists for Agatha Awards. She edited the Mystery Writers Annual for Mystery Writers of America for several years, and served as president of Sisters in Crime.
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