I'm pleased to welcome Sybil Johnson to Cozy Up With Kathy today. Sybil writes the Aurora Anderson Mystery series. Designed For Haunting, the fourth book in the series, was released last week.
The What If Game
by Sybil Johnson
Probably one of the most asked questions of writers is where do you get your ideas from? I’m sure you’ve heard this answer before: They come from all over the place. You never know when a chance comment or something you see will trigger something in your brain that becomes the idea for a story.
What typically happens with me is I see or hear something interesting and I start playing the “What if” game. For example, I once saw a scale advertised in a catalog that not only told you your weight, but also gave you your body fat percentage using a mild electrical current. My immediate reaction was “What if such a scale was modified to electrocute someone?” I haven’t used this idea in a story and don’t even know if it’s possible to make such a modification, but you get my drift.
In this post, I’m going to talk about how I used the What if game to come up with the idea for Designed For Haunting.
When I started the book, all I really knew was that it was going to be the fourth book in my Aurora Anderson mystery series and that the story would happen around Halloween. That was pretty much it. A number of visions of possible locations for scenes popped into my head, but no real idea of what the story would be about. So I looked in the cache of newspaper clippings I've collected over the years to see if there was anything that might serve as a springboard for an idea. Something that I could play the What If game with.
That's when I found it. An article from 2003 about a British company called MyLastEmail.com that provided a subscription service that did postmortem delivery of farewell emails. I needed an incident that starts the story and this seemed to fit the bill. It also was a little spooky so that went well with the Halloween setting.
That’s when the What if game started in my brain. What if Rory received an email from a friend from a similar service? And what if that email wasn’t an ordinary farewell email, but contained a request to solve the friend’s murder or disappearance? That sounded to me like an interesting beginning to a story.
I needed to know more about how such companies work so I pointed my trusty browser in Google's direction and looked into some of these companies, many of which have come and gone over the years. I needed to know how they decided someone was dead so the messages would be sent out. Did a relative or friend of the deceased call and tell them? That didn’t seem very efficient for a technology company. How would anyone know that someone they knew subscribed to the service in the first place?
What I discovered was several of the companies sent out periodic “heartbeat” messages. The user was required to reply or somehow indicate they were still around. If they missed some number of heartbeat messages in a row, that would trigger the automatic delivery of the farewell messages.
So in my story, Rory receives an email from her friend, Zelena Alvarez, after Zelena missed three heartbeat messages in a row. “I think I have a stalker,” the message read. “If you’re reading this I’m either missing or dead. My life may depend on what you do. Please find out what happened to me. You’re the only one I can trust.” Below those words were a list of Zelena’s social media and email accounts with their corresponding passwords.
There’s still a lot of work to write a mystery beyond coming up with the initial idea, of course. I had to decide who Zelena was as well as what other characters would inhabit the book, what subplots I would have, etc. But I knew I had an interesting basis for a story and a great way to get the mystery rolling.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this foray into the What if game I played to come up with the beginning of the story in Designed For Haunting.
Designed for Haunting (Aurora Anderson Mystery) by Sybil Johnson
About the Book
Cozy Mystery 4th in Series
Henery Press (October 9, 2018)
Hardcover: 276 pages
Paperback: 276 pages
October brings a message from Beyond The Grave...
Halloween is fast approaching in the quiet Los Angeles County city of Vista Beach, home of computer programmer and tole-painting enthusiast Rory Anderson. While her painting chapter prepares to open its annual boutique house, Rory receives an unexpected email from Beyond The Grave, a company that automatically sends out messages when someone dies.
“I think I have a stalker,” the message reads. “If you’re reading this I’m either missing or dead. My life may depend on what you do. Please find out what happened to me.”Haunted by her friend’s disappearance and possible death, Rory begins her search with the help of best friend and fellow painter, Liz Dexter. Can they discover who has designs on the missing woman and uncover the truth before one of them becomes the stalker’s next victim?
About the Author
Sybil Johnson’s love affair with reading began in kindergarten with “The Three Little Pigs.” Visits to the library introduced her to Encyclopedia Brown, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and a host of other characters. Fast forward to college where she continued reading while studying Computer Science. After a rewarding career in the computer industry, Sybil decided to try her hand at writing mysteries. Her short fiction has appeared in Mysterical-E and Spinetingler Magazine, among others. Originally from the Pacific Northwest, she now lives in Southern California where she enjoys tole painting, studying ancient languages and spending time with friends and family.
Author Links:Website: www.authorsybiljohnson.com
Facebook Author page: www.facebook.com/sybiljohnsonauthor
Purchase Links: Amazon B&N KOBO BookBub
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