Kate Flora: Part of the fun of being on vacation with good friends is the breakfast table conversation. It floats from politics to what we’re reading to the latest news, good and bad. This morning, we discussed a recent article in the Boston Globe reporting that thieves are now funding their drug habits by stealing giant-sized bottles of liquid Tide detergent from grocery stores. Tide, it seems, is the most popular detergent in America. With a large bottle costing up to $20.00, it has great resale value, and thieves are walking out of grocery stores and Walmarts with gallons of the stuff.
All of this led me to start playing around with headlines, and silly plot scenarios, involving the stealing, storing, and reselling of Tide. Among them, the massive car crash which ensues when escaping Tide thieves pour enough of their ill-gotten gains onto the highway, causing a Tidal slick, masses of churned-up foam, and decreased visibility. Of course, as we all know, there are certain chemical products that lobstermen pour into the water to mask oil spills. Might Tide be among them?
My first Thea Kozak mystery, Chosen for Death, was inspired by a letter to Ann Landers from a birth parent who didn’t want to be found by the child she’d given up. What books, or scenes in your books, have newspaper stories inspired in you?
Kaitlyn Dunnett chiming in. Oddly, I don’t read newspapers much. My father always used to say there was no point because all the news was bad. That was fifty years ago. Things haven’t changed much! Still, I do sometimes skim the headlines and that’s where, back in the 1990s, I saw a story about Beanie Babies (then all the rage) being smuggled into Maine from Canada. I knew I had to do something with that story. I made a couple of attempts that went nowhere. And then, finally, after I created Liss MacCrimmon and her friends , I found I had the perfect vehicle for the story. A Wee Christmas Homicide was the result, in which Beanie Babies are transformed into Tiny Teddies, the toy the whole world just has to have and which, by some quirk of fate, can only be found in the tiny Maine village of Moosetookalook.
Sarah Graves: I’m a long-time obituary reader, and Eastport’s Quoddy Tides (the nation’s easternmost newspaper) does them up right, with everyone’s parents, kids, relatives, friends, pets, hobbies, and other info lovingly detailed. And although I’ve never taken a character whole from one of them, the wonderful variousness of people as evinced by Eastporters’ obituaries goes into all the secondary characters in the Home Repair is Homicide books. I find these post mortem mini-bios instructive especially when I’m writing elderly characters, whose physical presentation in old age may not suggest the fabulously adventurous, vigorous, exciting lives they’ve led and in many cases still are leading.
Vicki Doudera: The New York TImes has inspired me several times, and a very creepy real estate news reporting service, which I used to get regularly, has provided so many plot ideas for future Darby Farr Mysteries that I have a bulging folder full.
Several of us have blogged about The Bangor Daily News, a treasure trove of book ideas right here in Maine. I haven’t come across that Tide story, but I can believe it — after my fourth winter coat was stolen out of my barn at the beginning of March, I’ve decided it is time, after 26 years, to lock our doors.
Paul Doiron: This is a bit of a tangent, but when I started at Down East, newspaper Web sites hadn’t really yet begun to blossom, especially those in Maine, so each of the magazine editors was assigned the task of reading a certain number of local papers and clipping (with scissors) interesting articles for discussion and possible feature stories. I was given the Ellsworth American, the Biddeford Journal-Tribune, the Quoddy Tides, the Rockland Courier-Gazette, the Bethel Citizen, and some others. (The more senior editors got the dailies.) In retrospect, I realize that I discovered many more offbeat stories flipping through these small papers on a regular basis than I do now browsing the internet. I’d see some strange little item next to an advertisement for Nissen’s Bakery Outlet and follow up and learn that I had a genuine scoop on my hand.
The Poacher’s Son has its genesis in one of these items. I saw in the Courier that a bear was
marauding around Waldoboro one summer, roaming from farm to farm killing pigs. It seemed to have a demonstrated preference for pork. We don’t get a lot of marauding bears on the midcoast. Something about this anecdote struck my fancy. I followed the bear in my imagination until it was finally shot one night by Maine Game Warden Joey Lefebvre. The next thing I knew I was beginning a work of fiction from the point of view of a rookie warden faced with the same situation….
Kate Flora: I have a bunch of clippings on my refrigerator door. One is about plague mice that have escaped from a research lab. Another is about a cruise passenger who mysteriously disappeared. A third is about a pulmonary physician who died at home, alone, after an asthma attack. I imagine a stealthy relative substituting dead inhalers for working ones.
And Paul, you’re right, one the pleasures of actually reading the paper is what surrounds the article you’re looking at. You can’t easily replicate that experience on line. That’s why I like to read newspapers in other places when I’m traveling. And Sarah, obituaries can be so rich with story.
Barb Ross: I agree with Paul that the small papers often contain the best stories in terms of inspiration. That’s why I try to pick up the local paper wherever I go. Right now we’ve just had a hung jury in a murder case here in Key West. The young male victim is a native Conch with deep roots in the community, the young man charged is a tourist. The crime happened in an altercation after Fantasy Fest, the Key West Halloween celebration. As a friend of mine says, “Nothing good happens on Duval Street at 4:30 in the morning.” There’s also a great story about the arrest of a guy who was convicted of tax evasion in Minnesota and sentenced to jail, but instead moved to Key West and opened up an office doing tax preparation. Endless possibilities.