Art Taylor on Inspiration

Happy Monday! Liz here, and I’m happy to be sharing my spot today with our good friend and recent Macavity-winning author Art Taylor. Art just edited California Schemin’, this year’s Bouchercon anthology – and he gathered together some of the authors to find out from where they get their diabolical ideas…

Take it away, Art and friends!

Art: Where do you get your ideas? It’s a common question for writers—such a regular question at book events and author panels and online interviews that it’s become almost a cliché. 

But it’s a persistent question for a reason. Many of us like to hear how the creative process works generally—and often a particular story strikes us in a way that we want to know something more about the initial spark that set the storytelling in motion.

I was fortunate to edit California Schemin’, the anthology for this year’s Bouchercon, which took place earlier this month, and stories by several of the contributors had me wondering where the stories came from. Fortunately, I was in a position to ask.


Drops of blood from a murder knife on white background, Front view Blank for design.

California Schemin’ features stories by Bouchercon guests of honor Walter Mosley, Scott Turow, Anthony Horowitz, Anne Perry, Cara Black, and Catriona McPherson as well as a baker’s dozen of stories selected from more than 150 blind submissions—including works by the authors below. 

I hope you enjoy hearing them talk about where they got their ideas—and hope you’ll check out the full anthology, available now from Wildside Press. 

Kim Keeline on “California Fold’em”

“California Fold’em” sprung from a prompt by Carolyn Wheat, author of How to Write Killer Fiction. She had her class write for three minutes, starting with the line “No, I won’t give you the money.”

What I wrote was grittier than my usual style—and I liked it. The scene featured Eddie, a down-on-his-luck con artist, pleading with a pawnbroker who won’t buy his stolen goods.

From that prompt came the draft of a novella, “Crossing Vlad,” and the start of two more connected novellas. But what brought Eddie to such dire straits in the pawn shop? I figured it involved poker—and, of course, a con. 

Then I saw the Bouchercon anthology listing. Nothing said California and scheming more than Eddie, so it seemed time for his “origin” story. 

I live near one of only two legal card rooms in San Diego. It’s barely legal, having been raided by authorities multiple times, and is near a seedy motel often griped about in my community newsletter. It seemed the perfect setting. While I’ve never played Texas Hold’em, I researched and talked to friends who play. 

I am thrilled my second short story is now published. Maybe someday you’ll learn the rest of Eddie’s story.

Eileen Rendahl on “A Spoonful of Poison

I became friends with some amazing women standing on the soccer sidelines watching my sons and theirs play for, well, a long time. The boys are grown and have all flown the nest, but those friendships remain. We see each other once a week or so, and the text chains can be epic. These women have been next to me through some dark moments and I’ve stood next to them during some of theirs. The women in “A Spoonful of Poison” are an amalgamation of many wonderful female friends I’ve made over the years.

How did it become a murder mystery? One time when I was headed out to be with someone during a challenging time, my boyfriend quipped “Good friends help you move. Best friends help you move the body,” and I thought, “. . . hmmmm.”

Linda Townsdin on “Re-entry”

“Re-entry” was the result of two wildly different ideas. I had participated in the annual Sacramento Santa Run, where thousands of registered runners received packets with identical Santa suits, including beard and hat, and raced through the streets in a swarm of red and white. Always looking for ways to commit crimes—on paper—I imagined how easy it would be to get away with a criminal act where everyone moved fast and looked like everyone else. A sea of Santas! I filed it away as a fun idea for a humorous story. 

Later, after reading about prisoner recidivism, I wondered what it would be like for someone who had spent 20 years in prison to be released in an unfamiliar city with no family or friends to help him acclimate. I wrote an in-depth scene about that character. 

For “Re-entry,” I combined the two ideas, and wrote a story that teetered on the brink of humor but was ultimately heart-rending. 

Carrie Voorhis on “The Fandancer’s First Murder”

My sleuth is a 19th-century woman that I built from, really, trash. I’m forever falling down rabbit holes on the Internet, and one day I found the website of a man who excavates Victorian rubbish dumps and adds his finds to a database. Dishes and silverware, bottles of household cleaners, makeup containers, candy tins, photographs, discarded clothes and shoes. There’s something very human and revealing about the things we throw away and the story grew from there.

Thanks for joining the Wickeds, everyone! Readers, where do you get your inspiration? Leave a comment below!

About the authors:

Kim Keeline was co-chair for Left Coast Crime 2020, designing their logo, program book, interactive mystery game, and more.  She’s also president of the San Diego Sisters in Crime 2019-2020. She’s relatively new to short stories. In March 2020, her first story, “The Crossing,” was published in the anthology Crossing Borders. She freelances in marketing, editing, web site design, bookmarks/postcard design, etc.—particularly helping other authors. She is currently writing/revising two mysteries. 

Eileen Rendahl is a national-bestselling award-winning author of mystery, thriller, urban fantasy, romantic comedy, and romantic suspense. She also writes as Kristi Abbott, Lillian Bell, and Eileen Carr. If you think you’re confused, imagine what it’s like inside her head. She has had many jobs and lived in many cities and feels unbelievably lucky to be where she is now and to be doing what she’s doing.

Art Taylor is the author of The Boy Detective & The Summer of ’74 and Other Tales of Suspense and On the Road with Del & Louise, winner of the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. His short fiction has won an Edgar Award, an Anthony Award, and multiple Agatha, Derringer, and Macavity Awards. He edited Murder Under the Oaks, winner of the Anthony Award for Best Anthology. He is an associate professor of English at George Mason University. 

Linda Townsdin writes the Spirit Lake Mystery series inspired by her childhood in northern Minnesota. Focused on Murder (2014), Close Up on Murder (2015), Blow Up onMurder(2017), and Longshot on Murder (2019)have been called “complex murder mysteries with bone-chilling thrills and a little romance.” Townsdin’s background as writer/editor for a national criminal justice consortium has been helpful in plotting her series. Her short fiction is published in several anthologies. She lives in California.

Carrie Voorhis—former advertising copywriter—started her writing career as a proofreader for the For Dummies publishers, a skill she still lends to friends and family whether they like it or not. In her spare time, she cooks, eats, and enjoys reading about cooking, eating, and people killing each other. She is currently at work on her Zoe Falconer mystery series.

15 Thoughts

  1. I believe inspiration can come from anywhere, and these stories seem to support that. Congrats on the anthology! It sounds great.

    1. Thanks, Edith — and I’m checking on that again this morning…. Hopefully will be for sale everywhere soon! (Just saw that the kickstarter promotion that Wildside put up has completed, so…………………)

  2. Congrats on the Macavity and on the anthology, Art. I’m looking forward to reading California Schemin.

    Inspiration is in everything. I like to take a thought or an idea, turn it on its side, shake well, and see what falls out!

  3. Welcome to the blog! Congratulations to all of you for being in the Bouchercon anthology and to Art for editing! How fun to hear where the story ideas came from!

  4. Thanks, Liz and all the Wickeds for hosting us! It’s a great anthology, and I’m proud to be associated with it—and love the stories by each of these contributors… and the stories behind the stories too!

  5. Wishing you the best of luck with the Bouchercon anthology Art and authors! Ideas can come from everywhere and it is fun to read about how your ideas germinated and came to life. You are all new to me authors, so I will head to Amazon and see what I can find to read next. 🙂

  6. Art, thanks for visiting with the Wickedds today! It is always a pleasure to read your posts! I really enjoy hearing how other writers mix and meld ideas into a story so this post was a particular delight!

  7. Welcome to the Wickeds, Art and friends. I love hearing about people’s inspirations–and their extensions, combinations and recombinations that result in stories.

  8. Always fun to get a look behind the scenes, so thanks for this. I pre-ordered a copy, so hopefully I will have it soon.

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