Behind the Curtain: Unveiling the Mysterious Inspirations of a Mystery Writer

May 24, 2023 | 2023 Articles, Mysteryrat's Maze

by James Polkinghorn

When I started my debut novel, Liquid Shades of Blue, a couple of years ago, I had a simple story in mind and could clearly see the beginning and the end. But what about all that in-between stuff? I’ve come to learn that this is not an uncommon question among writers. Of course, it’s the “in-between stuff” that cements the bonds with the reader created at the beginning and promises a satisfying pay-off in the end. I discovered that my experiences over the years, inhabited by memorable characters throughout, provided great source material for narrative forays in the book when coupled with my own imagination.

So, for instance, a relatively frightening experience as a young lawyer cross-examining a witness in trial for the first time became a scene in the book with some significant adjustments making my lead character, Jack Girard, come off a little better than I did in the event. Similarly, a later observation of a small-town judge handling a phalanx of big-city lawyers inspired a scene in the book where Jack wins an argument without actually saying anything. And, of course, the jumbled memory of countless witness interactions, depositions, hearings, and trials made Jack’s legal experiences relatively easy to convey realistically.

Another source of great utility consisted of the countless hours spent in bars of varying degrees of ill repute and danger. You hear things, some of which stay with you even years later when your buddies bring up that crazy trip to Ensenada. Or Las Vegas. People speak differently in bars after a couple of cocktails than they do elsewhere. It’s interesting to capture that distinction, a task made easier by recollections of specific conversations.

James Polkinghorn

And then there are the people. A novel is populated by many characters, some of whom are pure products of imagination. But, in my experience, even those characters carry traits of real people the author encountered one way or another. While my protagonist, Jack Girard, is a pure work of fiction, he is, physically, the embodiment of a friend of mine from college. Emotionally, he reminds me of another friend I spent time with who viewed me as one of the few people he could confide in. It wasn’t hard to channel this as Jack encountered emotionally draining scenarios in the book. Other people appear in the book almost as though they were transposed from real life. Generally, these are the relatively minor characters who don’t actually move the action. I found that to create the memorable characters, particularly the bad ones, it was necessary to dig deep in the creative mine while assigning certain qualities observed in others in real life. You don’t actually run into characters like this all that often in your day to day life. Or if you do, you don’t have enough experience with them to take them as deep as your plot demands they go. So you simply imagine how they would interact with the other characters you created in the same way.

This is the really fun part of writing a novel: creating these characters, putting them in situations where they interact, and then imagining how those interactions will turn out. In Liquid Shades of Blue, these interactions created the “in-between stuff” that ultimately set the stage for what I hoped would be a meaningful reader experience.

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Also listen to our new mystery podcast where mystery short stories and first chapters are read by actors! They are also available on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and Spotify. A new episode went up last week.

You can use this link to purchase the book. If you have ad blocker on you may not see the Amazon link. You can also click here to purchase the book.

James Polkinghorn is a lawyer and partner in a national law firm specializing in labor and employment law. He has extensive trial and litigation experience in multiple jurisdictions throughout the country. A Pittsburgh native, Polkinghorn moved with his family to Florida in high school, where he has since stayed. He has a degree in political science and a law degree from the University of Florida. He now lives in Key West with his wife, Becki, and their dog, Major Tom. Liquid Shades of Blue is his first novel.

Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.