Under Pressure – Finding Inspiration
Authors are often asked where the inspiration for their work came from. So far, I can pinpoint the origin of my books exactly. My debut novel, the romantic comedy Time After Time, is a story about a woman who’s unhappy with her life, which was me when we moved to Canada and my HR company crashed and burned, although the rest of the novel is fictional.
The idea for my first suspense book, The Neighbors, came from my being nosy. Not kidding! We live on a courtyard, and when two houses went up for sale, I wondered who might move in. A second later I thought, “Ooh, what if it was an ex-boyfriend?” (Answer? Awkward). Her Secret Son stemmed from a news segment I saw while I was at the gym (wishing I were eating cake instead) and the concept hit me like a lightning bolt.
Sister Dear was inspired by a radio segment about a woman who’d found a wedding ring at a playground and was trying to locate the owner through social media. Unsurprisingly, a ring plays a pivotal role in the book. You Will Remember Me was inspired by the true story of a Toronto firefighter who vanished from a ski hill in Lake Placid and showed up with amnesia in Sacramento six days later (he made it home safely—my character does not).
Never Coming Home was different—this story was character driven. I wanted to write a tale from a male antagonist’s point of view, but make him someone the reader would actually root for, and he needed to be funny. Lucas literally popped into my head and said, “Ta-da! Okay, I’m here, get writing!” Challenge accepted.
Inspiration can however be a slippery, fickle beast, and the genesis for this year’s thriller, The Revenge List, proved that in spades. Frankly, at one point I was getting a little worried, as I’d bounced a few ideas around with my agent and editor but none of them had stuck. Actually, we’d more than bounced stuff around—I’d written three multipage outlines and they’d all been rejected for being “too quiet” and “not high-concept enough.” High-concept essentially means easily pitched—think Jaws, or Snakes on a Plane—something you can explain in fewer than twenty words. My ideas needed three times that, hence the “too quiet” comment.
I felt the pressure, and was anxious I’d never cook up another good idea again. Worse still, tick-tock, tick-tock, my plot deadline was fast approaching. “Too quiet?” I thought. “I’ll give you too quiet.”
Moments later, The Revenge List concept hit me—what if an anger management therapy exercise went terribly wrong? I needed to know what would happen next, and the lead character came to me just as fast. Frankie Morgan. She’d have a good heart but a volatile temper, something not often depicted in women, which made her extremely interesting to me. I was onto something, but what was her story?
What if, I thought, Frankie lands in anger management group therapy because of something a client does? I imagined her sitting in a church hall with her arms crossed thinking being there was a complete waste of time. An angry character in anger management? Hmm…this might be fun. The sprightly counselor would task the group with writing a forgiveness list, i.e., the names of everyone who’d wronged them and who they felt they could, or should, work to forgive.
Frankie, being Frankie, wouldn’t have any intention of forgiving anyone, but she’d complete what she’d consider a pointless exercise anyway. However, she’d also include her own name, giving it the most prominent spot on her list because her past self was the one person she’d never forgive. Why? At that point I had no idea, but I promise all is revealed in the book.
Then came the twist—Frankie would lose her forgiveness list. One by one the people on her list would start having…accidents, each one more violent than the next. Would Frankie care that her enemies were getting hurt? Of course, because she’s not a bad person, but I found the internal conflict fascinating, not to mention she’d also have to figure out who was behind the attacks because otherwise she might be next…
All of this appeared in my head within very little time, and instead of feeling anxious about coming up with a new idea for a book, I was now terrified I might forget something, so I furiously scribbled notes. Thankfully my agent and editor were intrigued by the idea, too, and let me loose on the project.
Plotting the novel and fleshing out Frankie and the rest of my cast took about ten days, and five months later, the manuscript was ready for my editor’s initial input. Now the release of The Revenge List is imminent, and I couldn’t be more excited for you to meet Frankie Morgan, one of my favorite protagonists.
I’ve often maintained you can’t force inspiration—in fact, my ideas have generally hit when I’ve let my mind wander and deliberately wasn’t thinking about a book—but Frankie Morgan proved me wrong. The Revenge List was born from the pressure (I mostly put on myself) to come up with another idea, stat. Was I angry when I thought of Frankie and started developing her story? Mildly frustrated and a bit panicked is perhaps a more accurate description, but whatever it was, it worked. Once again, it turns out rules are made to be broken, including perhaps how I believed I came up with my ideas.
Hannah Mary McKinnon
The Revenge List by Hannah Mary McKinnon
They say life flashes before your eyes when you’re about to die. But all she could see was regret.
The people in Frankie Morgan’s life say she’s angry. Emotionally stunted. Combative. But really, who can blame her? It’s hard being nice when your clients are insufferable, your next-door neighbor is a miserable woman and the cowardly driver who killed your mother is still out living it up somewhere.
Somehow, though, she finds herself at her very first anger-management group session—drinking terrible coffee and learning all about how “forgiveness is a process.”
One that starts with a list.
Frankie is skeptical. A list of everyone who’s wronged her in some way over the years? More paper, please. Still, she makes the pointless list—with her own name in a prominent spot—and promptly forgets about it…until it goes missing. And one by one, the people she’s named start getting hurt in freak accidents, each deadlier than the last.
Could it be coincidence giving her the revenge she never dared to seek…or something more sinister?
If Frankie doesn’t find out who’s behind it all, she might be next.