by Kathleen Bailey
When I tell someone that I’m a cozy mystery author, two things usually happen. First, the blank stare. I immediately scramble, trying to explain the genre, only then to abandon the attempt and simply say, “Agatha Christie.” The head nod of understanding is immediate, and then I’m asked, “Where do you get your ideas from?”
Ideas come from everywhere—our daily lives, the news, stories passed down from our families. Writers are sponges that soak in all they observe and then tinker, mixing and matching bits and bobs, often on a subconscious level. We take a little of something that comes across a news feed, pair it with the questionable character we saw at the grocery store, and then infuse dialogue based on a conversation we’ve eavesdropped on. Voilà! The next thrilling page turner!
Writers are an imaginative sort. We’re curious. We keep asking questions. I wonder what would happen if …? What’s really going on when …? Is that a good place to bury a body?
The idea for one of the core themes in Where the Light Shines Through, the first book in The Olivia Penn Mystery Series, took root in my childhood. Every summer, my family would visit the Outer Banks of North Carolina. We stayed close by the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, and at night, I would watch the beacon light spin around, thinking about the ships far off the coast. That light, for me, always imparted a sense of direction. As long as you could see the light, you were never lost. This theme worked away in my subconscious for decades until it was my season to write about it.
Which brings me to an incident the other day when I was in a grocery store, waiting at the pharmacy counter behind a senior gentleman who was picking up his wife’s prescription. First, let’s be clear. I wasn’t eavesdropping. If you’re speaking loud enough for me to hear from six feet away, it’s all fair game.
This supposedly kind-hearted man came in for his wife, who was outside in their car because she wasn’t feeling well. The only other item he was buying, though, was a jug of drain cleaner. As a cozy mystery author, it was one hundred percent clear what was really happening here. This man was going to poison his wife when he gave her the medication by lacing it with the drain cleaner. Classic tactic.
The Bat-Signal went up, and I immediately donned my amateur sleuth cape, quickly considering my options. My first inclination was to tackle him on the spot and shout, “Citizen’s arrest!” I was a little murky on the legality of that, and in the heat of the moment, I just didn’t have the time to google it.
Then I thought I could abandon my shopping cart, run out into the parking lot, and start pounding on the window of every car with a waiting female passenger while screaming, “Don’t take the medication!” I realized, though, this wasn’t a good look for me, and it may have gotten me arrested. Besides, it took a long time to get all those groceries, and I didn’t want to risk my cart disappearing.
As the flywheel spun in my head, the pharmacy tech called out, “Next.” The gentleman turned, yielding his spot at the counter, and smiled while saying, “Hello. Thanks for waiting so long for me.” I smiled back, offering a small wave, and returned his pleasantries. I watched him walk away, thinking, “He seemed friendly… for a murderer.”
So, there’s an idea. Will it ever become the plot of a future novel? Who knows? Perhaps a grocery-themed cozy mystery series? Imagine: Death by Drain Cleaner, Bludgeoned by Baguette, Knocked Off by Gnocchi.
The idea for one of the core themes in the second book in The Olivia Penn Mystery Series (coming out in October 2022) was partially inspired by a line Emily Dickinson wrote to her aunt. But that’s a story for another day. What I can say is that it’s five days before Halloween in Apple Station, Virginia, and fall turns frightful when a child’s drawing entangles Olivia in a murder at a park lake.
So, dear reader, this is your fair warning. If a writer is lurking around, everything you say or do may become a part of their next story.
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