I Have An Idea! by Vicki Delany

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Jenn McKinlay: As a huge fan of the Sherlock Homes Bookshop mysteries, I am just thrilled to welcome Jungle Reds friend and fellow author Vicki Delany. And today, she is letting us glimpse behind the curtain. 

Vicki Delany: “Where do you get your ideas?”

As writers we’re often asked that.  I’d love to get my ideas from the Idea Factory, or maybe Ideas-R-Us. But so far I haven’t found such a convenient place.

What is an idea anyway when it comes to a novel? What does that even mean?

The idea is the spark from which all else flows. Coming up with an idea is pretty easy.  I can give you the ‘idea’ behind one of my books in one sentence. That’s idea is the spark, the germ of the story.

The task now is to turn that one sentence, even one word, into 80,000 words. And that is not so easy.

What has me pondering the origin of an idea at the moment, is my current work-in-progress. I’m writing the fifth in the Tea by the Sea cozy mystery series.  I was in Italy in October with my good friend, the Canadian writer Barbara Fradkin. We were, as one is in Italy, overwhelmed with great art. We’d been to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence and were walking through the streets heading for either more art or more food when I told Barbara I was having some trouble coming up with an idea for the next Tea by the Sea book.  One of the paintings we’d most admired at the Uffizi was Judith Slaying Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi (1593 – 1656).  

(Incidentally, the story behind the famous painting is a mystery writers’ idea in itself.) Barbara laughed and said, “How about a beheading? The main character finds a headless body in a bed at the B&B.”

As I write cozy novels, that wouldn’t quite suit.  Barbara thought some more and said, “a headless doll then. A gift, given anonymously at a bridal shower.”

Bingo! I had my idea. A headless doll is rather creepy, but not out and out gory or repulsive.

What the idea does, in this case the decapitated Raggedy Ann doll given as a shower gift, is provide the inciting incident. The point from which all else that happens in the novel flows.  It also sets the scene for character revelations: obviously not all is well between the bride and her friends and family.

How not well?  Someone is murdered later on. Is the shower gift pertinent to the murder? It might not be, but it sets the scene, starts the action, and gives our amateur sleuth character a reason to ask questions.

And, most importantly, it gives me, the author, a jumping off point.

In the Sherlock Holmes bookshop series, the idea is even less than a sentence. It’s a word. In the latest book, The Game is a Footnote, the word is “haunted house”. Okay two words. In next years book, as yet untiled, the word is “séance.” In last year’s novel, A Three Book Problem it’s “country house weekend.”

The idea is the germ from which all else flows.

Another thing most writers can relate to is the experience of someone offering to tell them their great idea, and then suggesting the writer use that idea and they can split the profits from the subsequent bestselling book. Uh, sorry.  If someone provides one word or one sentence, and I provide the other 79,999 words I’m not sharing anything.

Because it’s not the idea, it’s all that flows from the idea.  And that’s the hard part.  Lay down the clues, build the plot, create the characters, put them in an attractive (or otherwise) setting, have a believable sub-climax when the protagonist is threatened or all seems lost. Build it all to a climax and the grand reveal.  Then wrap it all up. 

I have over fifty published books now, and I’ll admit, an idea for something vaguely original is getting harder to come by.  One of the things I’m most struggling with is a way of having the protagonist catch or trick the killer.  You can only have your character eavesdrop on conversations so many times and leap out from behind the curtains to say, “J’Accuse” with pointed finger.  She can only wrestle so much with a deranged killer at the edge of a cliff in a storm at night.

But I’ll get it, eventually, because I started with ‘an idea’.

I’d love to know how the Reds (who have so many fabulous ideas!) generate their own ideas for such amazing and original plots. And readers, any ideas you’d like to share with us?

Gemma Doyle and Jayne Wilson are back on the case when a body is discovered in a haunted museum in bestselling author Vicki Delany's eighth Sherlock Holmes Bookshop mystery.

Scarlet House, now a historical re-enactment museum, is the oldest building in West London, Massachusetts. When things start moving around on their own, board members suggest that Gemma Doyle, owner of the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium, might be able to get to the bottom of it.  Gemma doesn’t believe in ghosts, but she agrees to ‘eliminate the impossible’. But when Gemma and Jayne stumble across a dead body on the property, they’re forced to consider an all too physical threat.  
Gemma and Jayne suspect foul play as they start to uncover more secrets about the museum. With the museum being a revolving door for potential killers, they have plenty of options for who might be the actual culprit.
Despite Gemma's determination not to get further involved, it would appear that once again, and much to the displeasure of Detective Ryan Ashburton, the game is afoot.
Will Gemma and Jayne be able to solve the mystery behind the haunted museum, or will they be the next to haunt it?


Vicki Delany is one of Canada’s most prolific and varied crime writers and a national bestseller in the U.S. She has written more than fifty: clever cozies to Gothic thrillers to gritty police procedurals, to historical fiction and novellas for adult literacy.  She is currently writing the Tea by the Sea mysteries, the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop series, the Year-Round Christmas mysteries, and the Lighthouse Library series (as Eva Gates).


Vicki is a past chair of the Crime Writers of Canada and co-founder and organizer of the Women Killing It Crime Writing Festival.  Her work has been nominated for the Derringer, the Bony Blithe, the Ontario Library Association Golden Oak, and the Arthur Ellis Awards. Vicki is the recipient of the 2019 Derrick Murdoch Award for contributions to Canadian crime writing. She lives in Prince Edward County, Ontario. 

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