Hello. Let me introduce myself. My name is Alison Nomi Holt and I’m a writer who happens to have twenty years of law enforcement under her belt. I retired several years ago and have turned to a passion that I’ve carried with me since I was a child. I love to write, and have written four books in three different genres. I also love to teach other writers how to write realistic police scenes and characters. That being said, one of the questions I’m most asked is, “Where do you come up with story ideas?” The only answer I’ve been able to come up with so far is “everywhere!” For this post, I thought it would be fun to give you an example of a seemingly innocuous family story that has provided me with several characters and several different story ideas. Fifty some years ago, my father was driving his 1958 Jeep from Roanoke to Floyd, Virginia when he passed an ancient farmhouse off to his left. It wasn’t the peeling paint or the rickety banisters on the front porch that caught his eye. What interested him most was the motley collection of old furniture littering the front lawn. Old bedposts were propped against the porch stairs, glassware sat atop a metal kitchen table. Four metal chairs—at one time a bright red, but now white with patches of red showing through where the white had chipped off—surrounded the table. A hat rack stood sentinel next to a chest of drawers made of pine and stained to a light brown hickory color.
Out of curiosity, my dad pulled into the yard where he discovered a For Sale sign taped to the upright post of the hat rack. The big block letters had been scrawled by a shaky hand in what he thought was some type of thick leaded pencil. No one came out of the house to greet him when he arrived, so he climbed up the steps to the porch and knocked on the door. An elderly woman in her late seventies pushed open the screen and stepped out to meet him. She explained that her ninety-eight year old father had just passed away, and none of the children wanted any of his things. On his way in, my dad had spotted an antique barrister bookcase with glass front doors that used the “up and over” mechanism instead of the normal sideways opening ones.
He asked about the bookcase, and the only history she could tell him was that the piece had been in her father’s home since she’d been a child and she couldn’t remember a time it hadn’t stood in the corner of his office holding his books. She sold my dad the bookcase for $10.00 and he happily brought it home with him to Roanoke.
Now, even if that was the whole story, I’ve been provided with two characters, other than my father, whose lives could provide me several fictional stories. Was the father an abusive old man the children hated? Why? Had the daughter killed the father? Why were the children practically giving away everything the old man had owned?
Fortunately for me, that wasn’t the end of the tale of the barrister’s bookcase (which by the way is a great title for a book). The bookcase ended up in my brother’s bedroom. Now my brother was your typical teenager. He did fine in school, grappled on the wrestling team and hung out with his buddies. He wasn’t given to flights of fancy or an overactive imagination. One night, he awoke to the sensation that someone else was in the room. He opened his eyes to see a woman standing at the foot of his bed. She wore a white Victorian dress and had long flowing hair. When she realized he’d seen her, she flew at him, sailed through his chest, dove up and around and disappeared into the bookshelf. My brother ran into my parent’s room and my father said he’d never seen him looking so pale. My sixteen-year-old brother refused to return to his bedroom that night and ended up curling up in their overstuffed chair to sleep.
The bookcase went with my brother when he got married, and he guesses he’s seen the woman a total of fifty or sixty more times. After the first few incidents, she no longer frightened him, and he came to miss her during the times she was absent. Now there’s the real meat of this old family lore. Who was the woman? Where did she come from? Was she related to the ninety-eight year old man or had she haunted him too? Why did she relate to my brother, who just happened to have been born in Radford, Virginia?
Can you see the possibilities for any number of books coming out of this story that’s been told around my family’s dinner table for years? Now think back to stories that your family has told you. Do you have any ghosts in your family closets—or bookcases? How about black sheep? Bankruptcies, prison terms? The possibilities are endless. So, in answer to the question, “Where do you come up with your story ideas?, once again I say, “Everywhere!”.
Meet Lt. Alison Holt, a cop for more than twenty years. She has arrested everything from homicide suspects to emus, the latter earning her a spot on America’s Funniest Home Videos. She taught police procedures to officers, and now teaches writers how to write realistic police scenes and characters.
Published July 28th 2010 by Booklocker.com, Incorporated
Undercover officer Jesse Shaunessy is kidnapped and tortured, then thrown away by her department as damaged goods. The mind is a powerful ally, and 26-year-old Jesse has no memory of the abduction or the subsequent torture. Inevitably, the protective walls carefully constructed by her subconscious are beginning to crumble. Insanity, friendship, and redemption are all possibilities dependent upon one choice, one gamble, and two determined women who must risk everything to save one lost soul.
Melissa Rheinlander is a Momma to a beautiful, spunky, fun loving little girl. Lover of family, friends, books, Mexican Martinis, sometimes Bloody Marys or Margaritas, & Wine. Melissa has worked in publishing for years, helping International Best-selling authors. She is the owner of MSRheinlander Consulting as well as Biblio Babes.