Writing a Muscular Mystery

People often ask me where I get my ideas, as if they were hard to come by.  Most authors will tell you the problem is quality, not quantity.  How do you know an idea will lead to an entertaining, well-wrought book?  You can never be sure.

I write an academic mystery series and because other books of mine have been taught around the country, I’ve done a lot of readings and talks at universities in the U.S.  At almost every school I’ve visited, Ivy League or community college, someone tells me about a scandal, feud, or vendetta worthy of Monty Python or Joseph Heller.

The ideas and stories people offer me compete with the ones already swirling through my head. I’ve always been making up stories about people I see, whether in restaurants, malls, parks, theaters, wherever. It’s a habit my parents noted when I was very young. That’s just how I see the world, or the many worlds within this world.

One of those is the enormous health club that I’ve belonged to for twenty years. It’s a great mix of old and young, student and professional, single and married, real athletes and wannabes–and ethnically diverse. It’s a place where strangers will talk to each other and friends might not, because they’re too into their workout. It’s also a place where people change themselves by undressing and putting on a costume — and attempt to change themselves by their exercise routines. But are they really different? And what do they reveal at each stage?

People have told me stories there, and I’ve imagined many of my own, which is why my latest mystery Hot Rocks is set at a health club.  My sleuth Nick Hoffman likes swimming and working out there because he can escape the problems in his twisted academic department, a place the New York Times Book Review said the Borgias would feel at home in. Unfortunately, trouble stalks him even at the gym.

Nick finds out that there’s plenty of simmering lust and rage underneath the gleaming surface of this gorgeous, upscale gym. The beautiful people have some ugly things to hide. Despite himself, he’s drawn into unraveling sexual secrets and much more than he could have imagined in a world of pecs, passion and Pilates.

This blog appeared in a different form on The Huffington Post

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