After DH retired, we started meeting a group of old friends at Wrigley Field Bar and Grill every other Tuesday. DH knew them all through high school. I met them once I “married into the group.” Regardless, we’ve known each other for a long time, and there’s nothing like enjoying old, dear friends.
When I decided to write a fixer-upper, cozy mystery series, I asked Ralph if I could ask him questions about flipping old houses. He’d bought houses to fix to rent for a while, and I can’t even begin to list all of the upgrades he’s done to his own house–big projects that involve earth movers and building cement holding walls. The man knows his stuff, and he’s meticulous. Everything is done right.
He asked me about my series, and when I explained that each time Jazzi, Jerod, and Ansel buy a house to flip, they somehow get involved in a murder, he nodded and said, “Do you need ideas for that?”
“For the murders?” I asked.
“You see, I was working on this one house, and every day, at the same time, this old man walked past it until I started to look for him. And suddenly, he didn’t come. And I worried about him.” That idea became the basis for The Body in the Wetlands.
I came up with an idea for book 3, because I could picture a dump truck backing up to a driveway, and when it spilled gravel from its tilted bed, a body flew out, too. (The Body in the Gravel). Book 4 grew out of a bunch of small images that flitted around in my head–a slashed up couch and ransacked house, an old lady raising a grandson who always got in trouble, and a few ex-cons. They finally came together as the The Body in the Apartment. But I was playing around with different scenarios for book 5 when Ralph said, “I was talking to this woman who found a box, and when she opened it, it was full of a person’s treasured things.” He listed some of them for me, and the idea intrigued me so much, I pictured a girl’s room that hadn’t been disturbed for years. And when Jazzi opens the girl’s hope chest, she finds grade school pictures, swim ribbons, tennis trophies, and journals. And those led to The Body From the Past.
I know what I want book six to be: The Body in the Beauty Parlor. After all, Jazzi’s mom and sister own a salon. I’m thinking of stashing a body in the hair wash chair with Olivia’s scissors in the woman’s chest. Sounds fun to me:)
But when I sat across from Ralph last Tuesday, he said, “What kind of house are they fixing in your next book?”
“A Dutch Colonial in an old, established neighborhood full of well-kept homes.”
He nodded, but a half hour after we got home, he called. “What if that neighborhood had a lot that sat empty for years, and suddenly, a house builder buys it to build a home of his own? Everyone resents it because the lot was the unofficial neighborhood park and kids played ball there. The house he’s building won’t fit the style of the neighborhood. And what if, when the man’s on a ladder working on the house frame, someone pushes it, and he falls and dies?”
That could happen. It would work.
“Or what if there’s a guy who buys a house in that neighborhood who works on cars? And in a few weeks, car parts and junk cars pile up in his front and back yard? It’s an old neighborhood with a weak neighborhood association. And no one knows how to make him clean up his property and take care of it…until a cold day, when he runs a hose from the exhaust of the car he’s working on to the garage door and outside, but someone plugs that hose, and the fumes kill him?”
Even better! I love it. I can’t use it in my next book, but I’m going to use it somewhere. The thing is, don’t you wish you had a friend like Ralph? It’s sort of intriguing that our old, dear friend not only can give me fixer-upper ideas, but he can think of as many ways to murder someone as I can. Maybe we’re kindred spirits:)
May many ideas flow to you, and happy writing!