Thursday, April 12, 2012

Those Elusive Ideas by Lucy Burdette

Ideas for books and stories are everywhere out in the world--it's putting my finger on them that's not so easy. But here's an example of how a story evolved--the pieces were all there; I simply had to put them together.

Every year Mystery Writers of America publishes an anthology of short stories centered on a theme that is chosen by a big name guest editor. Two years ago, the editor was Nelson DeMille and he called for stories based on the very rich.  I very much wanted to be included, so I racked my brain for ideas. At the time, I was staying in Key West and my sister and her husband had come to visit for a couple of days. We wandered down to Mallory Square, where the sunset celebration takes place every night. The big cruise ships dock there too, though almost always they are required to set off before sunset so they don't block the tourists' view.

On this particular night, one of the ships seemed to be delayed. And then we spotted a man carrying his luggage off the boat, by all indications arguing with the crew. He steamed off into the crowd and the ship left the dock. Now that got us all thinking...and finally we came up with these ideas: What if his girlfriend had not returned to the boat in time to depart the port? And what if a detective from out of town happened to be watching, and had seen the same man squabbling with a woman on Duval Street earlier that day? And what if her picture turned up as a missing person in the crime report of the Key West Citizen the next day? And what if the cat man of Key West had seen something that turned into a clue?

All I had to do was to figure out what happened to her....

And where the detective had come from and why he was there...

And why he preferred to spend his vacation in Key West helping the local cops solve a crime...

The last part was the easiest. I borrowed Detective Meigs from my advice column mysteries and gave him an unwanted, nonrefundable vacation from his sister. And had him greeted at the airport by a taxi driver with a parrot on his shoulder.

And out of all that emerged my short story "The Itinerary" (by my alter-ego Roberta Isleib), now published in THE RICH AND THE DEAD, edited by Nelson DeMille. And even better, nominated for an Agatha Award at the Malice Domestic convention!

Here's how it begins: 

"Detective Jack Meigs knew he’d hate Key West the moment he was greeted off the plane by a taxi driver with a parrot on his shoulder. He hadn’t wanted to take a vacation at all, and he certainly hadn’t wanted to come to Florida, which he associated with elderly people pretending they weren’t declining. But his boss insisted, and then his sister surprised him with a nonrefundable ticket: He was screwed." Read the rest of the story here.

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib is the author of nine mysteries including the first Key West food critic mystery, AN APPETITE FOR MURDER. Please follow her on twitter or facebook.


  1. How very cool to be in the collection and your story (and background) sounds fascinating!

  2. Wow--fantastic to be included..the competition is intense. Congratulations!

    See you at Malice..and what would we do without "what if"?

  3. This is a great post! I try not to examine too closely where the ideas come from (for fear I'll stop getting them). But to go through it this way--with the What if? Or even to take a book/story you've written and then go backwards and see where you picked up the pieces when you were writing is so fascinating.

  4. Such a great post! So much fun to see the evolution of an idea!

  5. Thanks girlfriends! The evolution of this story seemed more clear than most of my messy book processes:). And yes, Hank, see you at Malice! Can't believe it's coming up so quickly...

  6. caught up in a messy, messy plot right now, I'm envious of the clarity of this story. Love the parrot and the cat man...You go!

  7. thanks Sheila! Yes, this story makes my current WIP seem like a rat's nest...maybe because it is... xoxo