This week, I’m hosting popular author, Jan Christensen
Jan Christensen grew up in New Jersey. She bounced around the world as an Army wife, and in Texas when her husband retired. After traveling for eleven years in a motorhome, she settled down in the Texas Coastal Bend.
Published novels are: Sara’s Search, Revelations, Organized to Death, Perfect Victim, Blackout, Buried Under Clutter and most recently, A Broken Life. She’s had over sixty short stories appear in various places over the last dozen years. She also writes a series of short stories about Artie, a NY burglar who gets into some very strange situations while on the job.
WHERE DO IDEAS COME FROM?
One of the questions writers often get seems to irritate many: “Where do you get your ideas?” Some writers have snappy answers: “Idea.com.” “The boys in the basement.” “The girls in the attic” (well, that one’s mine—the boys are Stephen King’s).
I don’t mind the question, but I have a really hard time answering it with any finesse. Each story has a different answer. Here are some specifics.
- Ripped from the headlines—my latest published novel, A Broken Life, is about a woman whose identity is stolen, how and why. And Revelations, about a religious cult, after reading about the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, while living just north of there.
- A Whim—no idea at all what to write about. Remembering some ten-minute writing exercises I’ve done with other writers, I decided to pick out an object in my office and start a story. It was going to be a short story. I noticed a camera. And I was off. It became a novel, though, Blackout, about a young girl who lost her memory, but begins to remember it as photographs from her past, and a camera plays an important part in solving the mystery of her mother’s death.
- Quirky Characters–I wanted to do a story with quirky characters and a New York City setting (I grew up in metropolitan New Jersey). It was going to be mainstream, but it morphed into my second try at writing a mystery (first one is still in a drawer). Sara’s Search was published in 2004 by a small press, and after having about thirty short stories published, I felt as if this writing gig was really for me.
- Favorite Reads–Some of my favorite reads are about female private investigators. Naturally, I wanted to write about one myself. Someone with attitude and humor. All I needed was a murder victim. That turned out to be the easy part. Thus was born Perfect Victim.
- My Main Interests–One of my main interests is time management and personal organization. Wouldn’t it be fun to have a personal organizer as a main character? She goes to help people clean up and stumbles upon dead bodies in Organized to Death, Buried Under Clutter, and the upcoming, Cluttered Attic Secrets.
These explain the novels. But there are those published short stories, over sixty of them now. I can’t even remember where all those ideas came from. So, like most writers, I can’t come up with a one-fits-all answer.
What I have concluded about inspiration is that a person has to be open to it. It doesn’t really matter what sparks it, each person will take the same bit of matter, an object, a setting, a person, an event, and make up their own story, each unique with a different slant. Which definitely keeps things interesting, for me, anyway.
Anyone have a great reason for writing a particular story? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
A Broken Life: A Lighter-Side Mystery
While in the middle of investigating a domestic case, Rhode Islander PI Paula Mitchell finds an old friend, ragged and homeless. Paula learns that Martha Hendricks is the victim of identity theft. Three years earlier a woman, with ID confirming her as Martha, was busted on a drug charge. After Martha’s boss found out about it, he fired her. Soon Paula begins to receive threatening phone calls. The doctor Martha worked for is murdered. And Martha disappears–until Paula finds her, beaten and left for dead, in her own backyard. For two days, Martha is unconscious. As Paula investigates further, she learns more about the doctor’s employees, meets Martha’s old boyfriend, and one of her former roommates. Paula’s suspect list grows. When she’s almost run down in a parking lot, her lover pleads with her to stop her investigation. Paula refuses. Not only is Martha in danger, but if Paula doesn’t push harder for answers, she knows she’ll be the next person on the killer’s hit list.
A BROKEN LIFE EXCERPT
I strode into the store. Looked around. The only customer was male, about five-feet eight, with short brown hair, brown eyes and a pointy little nose. My accident-prone tail [from yesterday]. Surprised, I stopped in the doorway, staring . . .
Deciding to play it cool, I walked farther into the store, picked up a candy bar, a box of doughnuts, and watched the guy out of the corner of my eye. He said something to the cashier, then sauntered toward the door, head down. Maybe he felt me staring, because suddenly he looked up, saw me, and took off. I dashed out after him, the clerk yelling behind me. When I reached for the door handle of the Taurus, I realized I still had the candy and doughnuts in my hand. I heard the other car start up and back away. Throwing the goodies on the ground, I jumped into my car and took off after him, squashing the candy and doughnuts under my wheels.
He drove . . . with me right on his bumper. . . . I managed to stay with him all the way to Springton, and then through several other small towns until we were out in the country. I had memorized his license number by that time, as well as the back of his head.
The sound of a train whistle wailed in the distance. The car ahead slowed down as we approached a crossing. Behind me, I heard another sound–a siren. Lights flashed in my mirror. Thank goodness, I thought, the police. I looked ahead again and saw what the guy was trying to do. He wanted to get through the crossing and have the train block me. Don’t do it, I thought. Remember your luck with the bus. This would be much worse. I wanted to close my eyes, but I couldn’t.
The whistle hooted again, the train almost upon us. The guy made his move, getting through, and I had to stop. I turned around and motioned frantically toward the police car.
But the police officer took his time climbing out, his notebook in hand. He sauntered over to me so slowly that I became impatient and jumped out of the car.
“Hold it right there!” he yelled at me, drawing his weapon.
“Officer,” I shouted, standing still, putting my hands up. “You have to catch that guy.”
As I raised my arms, my jacket pulled away to reveal my gun. Now the officer stopped walking, too. “Use two fingers to take out your weapon,” he said, his voice hoarse, “and place it on the ground.”
“Officer,” I pleaded. “I’m a private detective on a case. We need to catch the man I was following.”
“Yeah, and I’m the Easter Bunny. I’ve heard them all now. Do as I said. Get that weapon on the ground, then turn around and spread-eagle against your vehicle.”
Shaking my head, I used my thumb and forefinger to gingerly lift my gun out of its holster, and bent down a little so I wouldn’t have to drop it far and damage it. After I straightened up, I hugged my Taurus and uncomfortably let the officer search me for more weapons. Did his hands linger a little longer than necessary? It was hard to tell under these circumstances.
“Okay,” he said when satisfied, still shouting over the noise of the train. “Now show me some identification.”
“In my purse,” I said through wooden lips, as I reached inside the car for my bag.
When he saw my PI license his only comment was, “Huh. Well, anyway, you’re under arrest.”
“What for?” I demanded.
“Shoplifting,” he shouted.
The train chugged along until finally the caboose came into view. I gaped at the police officer a moment before collecting what wits I had left. With one final, mournful toot of its horn, the train disappeared around a bend. I looked at the road ahead, and of course, the guy in the car had disappeared. My only real lead in the case.
Here is my review:
Paula Mitchell, PI, is working on a domestic case when she discovers a homeless woman who looks like a fellow classmate from high school. When it turns out to be that person and Paula finds out how she came to be homeless, she takes Martha in and goes after the criminal who has stolen Martha’s identity which happened to be the reason Martha was out on the street.
As Martha’s investigation progresses, her former boss is killed and Paula does interview after interview with the people Martha worked with at the time her identity was stolen, only to come up with no real suspects. By now Paula’s had several threatening phone calls and an attempt on her life. Also, someone has been watching her. But who is he? And why is he hanging around her home?
When Martha is attacked in Paula’s driveway, the case really starts to heat up, especially when Paula’s deaf aunt shows up on her doorstep, adding one more person’s safety she has to worry about.
The characters were well-developed, and the mystery kept me turning pages. I recommend it to any mystery lover.