Where does a story begin? A novel is created out of thin air and the writer’s brain, but there has to be something that sparks it, some inciting incident or picture or whatever. Perhaps it’s something so small that the writer’s conscious mind doesn’t even notice, but the brain keeps chewing on it until one day the idea simply pops out and drags the poor writer along willy-nilly. Or maybe it’s just the plot-pixies.
I honestly can’t say where the idea for THE HOLLOW HOUSE originated. As strange as it sounds, one day I was just writing away on it. Of course, from that moment it grew and changed until it was a complete novel, but as for the original genesis – I have no idea. Sort of like walking out into your back yard one morning and finding a three-foot high sapling that wasn’t there the night before.
The period and location sort of surprised me too. I knew little about World War I –the Great War, the War to End All Wars – and nothing about the Great Flu Epidemic of 1918-19 other than my grandmother’s sister died in it. Though I have been to Denver once or twice, I couldn’t say it was familiar. Being sensible, I decided to change the story time/location to something I knew and felt comfortable with.
Unfortunately, what is sensible is not always practical. And the plot-pixies didn’t like my trying to change it. I attempted two or three time periods and locations, ones that I knew, and each time the story died. It simply stopped, the magic ended, and the whole thing lay there like a leaden lump while the plot-pixies laughed and stuck out their tongues.
I know when I’m beaten. I started studying up on 1919, Denver and (even though it doesn’t appear in the story itself) Boston. All the historical facts in THE HOLLOW HOUSE are real, including the spectacular and almost unbelievable Great Molasses Flood in January of 1919. I am a fanatical stickler for historical accuracy.
On my last trip to Denver several years ago The Husband and I toured the Molly Brown House. Yes, that Molly Brown – reputedly unsinkable and a survivor of the Titanic. After many incarnations, the last as a shabby boarding house, and much neglect, the Molly Brown house was revived and made into a museum. I don’t remember if the furnishings were from the Brown family or not, but they are of the correct period. It was to this house that my mind flew when I created the Stubbs mansion. Now I have no legal right to use or even mention the Molly Brown House, but it is of the correct time and socio-economic viewpoint and was a great springboard to my imagination. There are a few changes in the Stubbs mansion, but they are also correct to period.
Sometimes being an historical purist can be difficult. I needed a weapon that was distinctive enough to be identified easily, something that was unique. Now I know something about modern guns – and am a crack shot – but am clueless as to historical weapons. Luckily, though, The Husband has an extensive knowledge of weaponry and, after a little thinking, came up with the perfect gun for the situation and the time frame – the Mauser Pistol-Rifle. He even arranged for me to see and hold (though not shoot – they are antiques) one. Another gift from the plot-pixies – the history of the gun’s sporadic distribution in Colorado fit perfectly into the story.
Another true fact that fit right into what THE HOLLOW HOUSE needed was the Great Molasses Flood in Boston. I wasn’t looking for an historical fact when I found that – I was looking in an old cookbook for an authentic menu from the time and there was a short mention of the 1919 Great Molasses Flood. (A gift from the plot-pixies?) I’d long ago accepted the year 1919 and Boston was already part of the backstory, so it seemed that it was meant to be.
So who can say where an idea for a book comes from? I have no idea. I do know there’s no ‘one’ idea – there are hundreds, all needing to mesh seamlessly together to create a story. One leads to another to another to another…
And I will say it again, all history should be accurate. If it isn’t, you’re writing revisionist history, which is perfectly fine as long as it is labeled as such. To do less is to insult both your readers and those who lived before. Can you tell this is one of my hot buttons?
Back to THE HOLLOW HOUSE. This is my first straight mystery in a long time, and it was an unbelievable amount of fun to write. The plot-pixies were right; 1919 Denver was the perfect setting for the book.
See for yourself – THE HOLLOW HOUSE is available at Carina Press.
Janis Patterson is a seventh-generation Texan and a third-generation wordsmith who writes mysteries as Janis Patterson, romances and other things as Janis Susan May, children’s books as Janis Susan Patterson and scholarly works as J.S.M. Patterson.
Formerly an actress and singer, a talent agent and Supervisor of Accessioning for a bio-genetic DNA testing lab, Janis has also been editor-in-chief of two multi-magazine publishing groups as well as many other things, including an enthusiastic amateur Egyptologist.
Janis married for the first time when most of her contemporaries were becoming grandmothers. Her husband, also an Egyptophile, even proposed in a moonlit garden near the Pyramids of Giza. Janis and her husband live in Texas with an assortment of rescued furbabies.
Read more about Janis at her website.