Of all the questions I’m asked as a writer, the one that crops up most often is the ubiquitous, “Where do you get your ideas?” Apparently all writers get asked this, and all respond to it differently. (My favorite so far? “Grab the interviewer by the throat stare into his eyes, and say, ‘Never mind getting ideas! How do I get them to stop???’ ”) My standard answer is, “Getting ideas is the easy part; it’s developing them into a novel that’s hard.”
But a recent discussion with other writers gave me a new perspective. One author suggested we dislike this question because it’s so difficult to know how to answer; so much of the process is subconscious that we don’t really know where most of our ideas come from. I think that author is on to something. Out of sixteen published novels (and another four that are either in progress or finished but not yet published, to say nothing of several unpublished and unpublishable early works), I can only point with certainty to three of them and say, “This is where I got the idea.”
Usually the process isn’t nearly so clear-cut. The only thing I can say with certainty about my ideas is that they usually come plot-first. In fact, I’m always a bit taken aback when reviews cite characterizations as one of my strengths; I tend to berate myself as a plot-driven, rather than character-driven, writer. I don’t have the patience to do any of the detailed character interviews that other authors do; if I’m going to spend that much time at the computer, I’d much rather be writing the book!
The development of a mystery required a slightly different approach. Since the market for mysteries is very series-driven, I knew I would have to come up with characters I liked well enough to live with them over the course of several books. Then, since any books of mine would have to have a strong romance thread, there was the challenge of coming up with reasons to throw my romantic leads together again and again. Since the books were set in the Regency, a Bow Street Runner seemed a good place to start, and the murder of my aristocratic heroine’s husband would certainly give them plenty of opportunity for interaction. Furthermore, the series format would allow me to slowly develop a relationship that would be difficult to pull off in a single novel; a viscountess and a Bow Street Runner would have been a very unlikely pairing, so I have to make readers want to see them together badly enough to be willing to take the leap along with them.
I’ve also learned that mysteries require more advance plotting than romances do: the planting of clues, the establishing of suspects and/or their alibis—much of this has to be determined in advance. Still, I try to leave myself freedom to be surprised; to me, the thrill of discovery is the real joy of writing.
In disgrace with her aristocratic in-laws, recently widowed Lady Fieldhurst is exiled to
with her three young nephews in tow. On impulse, she and the boys decide to
stay at an isolated seaside inn under an assumed name, where they can enjoy a
holiday far away from the scandal that still plagues the family.
But trouble soon finds them when the boys discover an unconscious woman on the beach—a woman who bears a startling resemblance to the local laird’s daughter, missing and presumed dead for the last fifteen years. Uncertain whether to welcome her as a returning prodigal or denounce her as a fraud, Angus Kirkbride sends to London for a Bow Street runner—which presents a dilemma for Lady Fieldhurst, since she has chosen to call herself Mrs. Pickett after the handsome young man who saved her from hanging for the murder of her husband.
Meanwhile John Pickett, hopelessly pining for Lady Fieldhurst, resolves to forget her by marrying another. When magistrate Patrick Colquhoun receives Kirkbride’s summons, he packs Pickett off to
before his most junior runner can do anything rash.
Upon his arrival, Pickett is surprised (though not at all displeased) to discover that he has acquired a “wife” in the person of Lady Fieldhurst. But when Angus Kirkbride dies only hours after announcing his intention of changing his will in his daughter’s favor, “Mr. and Mrs. Pickett” must join forces to discover the truth about a family reunion suddenly turned deadly.
At the age of sixteen, Sheri Cobb South discovered Georgette Heyer, and came to the startling realization that she had been born into the wrong century. Although she doubtless would have been a chambermaid had she actually lived in Regency England, that didn’t stop her from fantasizing about waltzing the night away in the arms of a handsome, wealthy, and titled gentleman.
Since Georgette Heyer was dead and could not write any more Regencies, Ms. South came to the conclusion she would simply have to do it herself. In addition to her popular series of Regency mysteries featuring idealistic young Bow Street Runner John Pickett (described by All About Romance as “a little young, but wholly delectable”), she is the award-winning author of several Regency romances, including the critically acclaimed The Weaver Takes a Wife.
A native and long-time resident of
, Ms. South recently moved to Alabama , where she has a stunning view of
Long’s Peak from her office window. Loveland, Colorado
Website URL: www.shericobbsouth.com