Where do I get my ideas? That’s a frequent question from readers, and my answer is always, “From the world around me.”
That doesn’t mean I look through the newspaper, lift a situation whole and transplant it to a novel. Events in the real world provide inspiration, not blueprints. Any idea has to be tailored to my protagonists, veterinarian Rachel Goddard and Sheriff’s Deputy (now Sheriff) Tom Bridger, and my rural mountain setting in southwest Virginia. I can’t write a story that could take place anywhere else.
In the case of Poisoned Ground, I was inspired by my disappointment with a novel by a favorite writer. I thought he wasted a good concept by never taking the story beyond the surface. I didn’t steal his plot, by any means. But it reminded me of a controversy in the early 1990s in my own area, Northern Virginia, when Disney proposed building a theme park (“Disney’s America”) and 3,000 acres of housing and commercial development in a rural community called Haymarket. A ferocious battle raged between those who wanted development and jobs and those who wanted to preserve their way of life. Disney lost, but the argument over what might have been continues even today.
What would happen, I wondered, if a developer wanted to impose enormous changes on little Mason County, my fictional community in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia? No one died in the fight over Haymarket, but in Mason County the guns would come out. Never satisfied with a simple story, I began to imagine a scenario in which the violence appears to be connected with current events but actually has its roots deep in the poisoned ground of the past.
From there I developed a plot I could use.
Once I knew what Rachel and Tom would be up against, I started filling out the cast. Rachel’s friend Joanna McKendrick, who owns the horse farm that developers covet as the central section of a sprawling resort for the rich, plays an important role in this novel, as do the people whose land surrounds hers. My favorite new characters are the Jones sisters – Winter, Spring, Summer, and their deceased sister Autumn. Once these eccentric ladies moved into my imagination they began creating themselves, often surprising even me.
As the surface story plays out, the characters’ secrets are uncovered and the hidden story rises to the surface in bits and pieces to gradually form a complete picture. Rachel is in the thick of things as usual, and Tom – recently elected Sheriff and now married to Rachel – has several murders and serious acts of vandalism to deal with as the furor escalates.
So there you have the answer. A disappointing read, an old news story – in this case, at least, that’s where my ideas came from.