I have a billion ideas for stories. They crop up like dandelions, brought to flower by a newspaper article (“Honey bees are being rustled”) an overheard conversation (“Omigosh, I just got some news that’s like, no bueno for me”) or sometimes a riff on a real life event (like the time I ate chili before a big night at the theater). Some of these dandelion ideas are weeds that have no place in a book, most of them are bits of fluff that need something more substantial to anchor them to a plot or character, and every so often one presents itself to me as a bright little story gift. The Sound of Murder was one of those presents. My dad inadvertently gave it to me when he came home from posse duty in his retirement community and said, “You know, we’ve had an unusual number of suicides here lately.”
That remark sparked a whole string of ideas: What if those deaths weren’t suicides? What if someone was killing senior citizens? And what if the posse was involved somehow? I’d been dying to include the posse in a book ever since my mom and dad became proud members of the Sun City West Sheriff’s Posse. This “volunteer police department” helps out the first responders in the area. They also perform health and welfare checks, locate people who have wandered away from home, and field calls that range from “There’s a suspicious character hanging around my yard” to “I’ve dropped my Thanksgiving turkey and I can’t pick it up.” The posse is the stuff of a mystery writer’s dreams.
So now I had a crime, a setting, and a posse. I also had my protagonist, Ivy Meadows, actress and PI in training. How did she fit in? Easy peasy. Ivy could perform in a dinner theater production of The Sound of Music, which has some great parts for older actors (and which I decided to parody by combining it with Cabaret). Those actors could be victims and suspects in the retirement community crimes. Ivy could housesit in the community so she’d be closer to the case (and the killer). And if Ivy inadvertently burned up her apartment, she’d really need that housesitting gig (confession time: these plot solutions may have come easy because they’re exaggerations of real life experiences. Not saying which ones).
Other ideas for the book’s subplots came from an article about a veteran, a TV ad, a gadget in a museum gift shop, a friend’s story about his fire-prone car and a lifehack about using Doritos as fire starters (yes, they really do work). Some of the ideas made the story pop. Others added color. Not all of them made it into the final draft (the Doritos are gone), but spread little seeds that crop up throughout the The Sound of Murder. Other excised ideas are tenacious and will probably turn up in other plots.
Sort of like dandelions.
Cindy Brown has been a theater geek (musician, actor, director, producer, and playwright) since her first professional gig at age 14. Now a full-time writer, she’s lucky enough to have garnered several awards (including 3rd place in the 2013 international Words With Jam First Page Competition, judged by Sue Grafton!) and is an alumnus of the Squaw Valley Writers Workshop. Though Cindy and her husband now live in Portland, Oregon, she made her home in Phoenix, Arizona, for more than 25 years and knows all the good places to hide dead bodies in both cities.