WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR STORY IDEAS?
I get asked this question often and it’s an easy one to answer. When something grabs my attention, I naturally want to learn more about it. And before I know it, it works its way into one of my books. The details I learn while researching often suggest a new plot, a change in direction for Logan’s life, a murder weapon, or a motive for my killer.
Often, some stray fact will become a devious twist or turn in the story that even I don’t see coming! (That just happened, actually. Halfway through Book 9, my current project, I completely switched up my killer and murder victim! So much fun!) Here’s an inside peek into what inspired each of my books:
Ten years ago, when I wrote my first novel, I lived in Irvine, CA, about a half hour away from Laguna Beach. Unlike most of southern California, it’s a great walking town and they’ve worked hard to keep it that way. Having lived in Europe and Japan as a kid, I felt most at home there. A vibrant artists’ community, the annual Sawdust Festival is very popular. One summer day, after talking with some of the glassblowers after their demo, the ideas started flowing. What a perfect setting for a murder. . . Wandering through the warren of paths, you can enjoy food courts and live music, including the fiddle, which Logan plays. So, Laguna Beach became Jasper and the Sawdust became the Otter Arts Festival. There’s even a real Killer Hill in Laguna, although it runs parallel, not perpendicular, to Highway 101. There’s also a bit of Native American culture in there, because I was studying Cultural Anthropology at the time and liked attending local powwows.
As part of my Anthropology studies, I collected the life histories of Vietnamese refugees. Their stories stayed with me, along with a love of Vietnamese food. I remember attempting to make the Vietnamese soup, pho, one day for my friend. I’d boiled the bones and added all the new spices, just like she’d told me to do, but when she walked into my kitchen, she waved her hand in front of her nose and said, ‘Smell BAD!’ LOL I didn’t know I was supposed to scoop the foam off the top of the liquid as I boiled down the bones before using the broth. Live and learn! It’s humbling to be an inquisitive soul.
In writing Thanh’s story, I included bits and pieces of various people’s real life experiences as related to me, but names and circumstances have been changed. I also had the chapters involving the end of the Vietnam war checked out by a man who had served as an officer in the ARVN in South Vietnam at that time. He gave me a passing grade and said the facts I’d used in the story were accurate. All remaining errors are of course, mine.
I chose Portland as a location because I adore that city. Every year, when I flew up to Oregon to visit my sister on the coast in Lincoln City, I snuck in a few days in Portland. While staying at the Governor hotel (now called The Sentinel) I always stopped and got some pho from one of the food trucks across the street. That’s where the whole story came together. The Governor even put me up in a corner room so I could have the same view as Logan when one of the food trucks blows up! Oh, and the coroner gave me a fact about the initial intake process which prompted the perfect detail for Mrs. Nguyen.
This one came from a news story. A lone sea otter was spotted off the coast of Laguna Beach. It made me wonder what happened to the few who made it that far from their main colony near Monterey, CA. Who did they mate with? Did they die or swim back? As you know, hunted for their pelts, the sea otter population was decimated years ago. In Two Years Before the Mast, Richard Henry Dana talks about the piles and piles of sea otter pelts stacked on the beach, ready for shipping. They thought there was an endless supply.
I decided any sea otter who made it all the way down to Laguna Beach deserved to be rescued, so I created the fictional Southern Sea Otter Sanctuary and Education Center. To learn more about my new furry friends, I visited the Long Beach aquarium and interviewed the woman in charge of their sea otter program. The director had worked with otters for over thirteen years, but said although she loved them, she’d never turn her back on one! They can be mean and will take a nip out of you when you’re not looking. That line made it into the book. They look so cute, who knew?
This is the book that begins moving Logan from California up to the Oregon coast. Since I had recently taken the plunge, quitting my day job and moving myself up to Oregon to write full time, I figured Logan should move with me. She still keeps a foot in both worlds, as I do, but spends the majority of her time in the tiny, coastal town of Depoe Bay.
One of the most dramatic chase scenes starts right outside the bedroom window our little forest cottage. The killer chases Logan through the darkened forest and down to a rocky cove. I will not tell you how that ends!
Beyond the new scenery, the main story line was inspired by the idea of an underground railroad for women escaping abusive husbands. I don’t know if such a system truly exists, but if it does, I know it will be staffed by strong, feisty women, like the innocent-looking old woman I parked outside the young mother’s room in the ICU, silently guarding her, clacking away with her lethal knitting needles.
During the research phase for this book, I discovered how an intelligent, confident woman, close to family and friends, over time and through much manipulation, could be turned into an isolated, dependent person, too terrified to leave. It usually takes three or four tries or more for them to escape, and that’s if they’re not killed first. Restraining orders being fairly useless.
For a spot of hope and love, I also give one of the characters in this story an adorable English Cream Golden Retriever puppy—which we also welcomed into our home that year. Dogs are awesome-watch for them in the series. There will be more!
This is the first story set entirely on the Oregon coast. Everything about my new home fascinated me, including how my neighbors’ lives were so intimately connected to the sea. Depoe Bay is home to several charter boat fishing operations, so I started there. I was lucky to be introduced to Lars Martin, a charter boat captain, by his sister, Liz, who has since become a good friend. They were raised in town and knew all about the area and charter fishing.
One of the minor plots in the story touches on a young man and his addiction to drugs. Through people in my own family who struggled with this issue, I was aware of how woefully inadequate most treatment options are. So, in this book, I created Safe Harbor, a fictional detox and rehab center I wish really existed. Maybe someday.
This story also features visiting musicians from China who gave home concerts. I was fortunate to attend some of these concerts when we first arrived.
In the forest in my back yard, almost hidden with overgrowth along one of the trails, stands an old still, used during Prohibition. That definitely sparked my imagination! The Executive Director of the North Lincoln County Historical Museum invited me to dig through filing cabinets full of newspaper clippings and old photos from that era. One photo in particular suggested the main character of the 1930’s story line in what turned out to be one of my favorite books to write in the series. Also, my new forest home was littered with all kinds of mushrooms after a good rain, so those, of course, found their way into the story. I’m still fascinated with fungi!
Book 7, also set in Oregon, but mainly at the fictional New School in the Dundee/Newberg area, has some recurring themes and characters in the series, with a satisfying twist at the end. I spent a lot of time writing a great backstory for my murderer. I am always interested in how normal people can become damaged so badly over time, that eventually, something triggers them and they feel entitled to kill another human being.
I also had the pleasure of learning about how Search and Rescue dogs are trained. And yes, another dog makes an appearance in this book. In fact, she helps in the investigation.
Besides mushrooms, my new forest home—which is only a five-minute walk away from the ocean—has other cool, living things. . .like raptors! Owls, eagles, hawks, and ospreys to name a few. When I was casting about for an idea for Logan Book 8, this seemed the perfect branch of the animal kingdom to explore. So, after giving Logan a bit more free time (her career changes over the series), I have her volunteer at the Cascades Raptor Center in Eugene, OR.
Since the raptor center is a real place, I called and asked if they could help. I drove up there expecting to be given a short tour and handed a brochure, but they did so much more! They gave me up close and personal views of their resident raptors and were kind enough to spend hours sharing stories and answering questions.
LOGAN BOOK 9
Which brings us to my current work-in-progress, Logan Book 9, coming out this fall. A salient feature of life here on the coast and a major source of income for many is commercial fishing, specifically commercial crab fishing. The closest I ever got to fish growing up was frozen fish sticks my mom would sometimes make us kids for dinner, so I wanted to learn more about it.
As always, people were generous with their time, answering questions and letting me hang out with them on their boats. The more I learn, the more I want to know. Every time I start writing a chapter, I have another question! Out of respect to the people who do this dangerous work, I want to get the details right.
As an extra bonus, I learned how to catch, clean, cook, and eat fresh crab. Everyone has their favorite method, but all the results are delicious! I will never again take seafood for granted. It takes a hell of a lot of work and risk to bring fresh fish from the ocean to our tables.