Often people want to know how I get my ideas for books, or how I put them together with a few rough ideas. For this blog, I’ll tell you how my latest book came together.
I was listening to a true crime podcast and they were investigating a crime that happened 30 years prior. They hired cadaver dogs to search a forest in order to smell for human remains. On the way home I was thinking about the person who trains the dogs and if you were a serial killer, would you want those bodies to be found? I knew from other podcasts that sometimes the killers return to the bodies. If this person and their dog kept finding your bodies, would you be angry? I then thought, what if this person receives a letter in the mail, no stamp, no return address and it just says: “Stop finding my bodies.”
This was the initial start of a book idea.
In my last book I had created a detective I called Merlin Drake. He wasn’t a nice guy, but I liked his character. I thought I could explore his background more and make him a main character. I liked the fact that in the TV show Mr Mercedes, you got to know who the killer was in the first episode, rather than have to guess and it be revealed at the end. So, I figured I would introduce the killer very early on. Although this isn’t enough to write a book, there was a lot there to work with. I researched cadaver dogs and I wanted the trainer to be a woman who no longer did it, but still had the dogs. I skipped chapter one, and just left the heading, and moved to chapter two and introduced the dog trainer. I named her Bernadette Lawson, and her dog’s name was Breeze. Bernadette, or Ernie, lives out on her own and has a troubled past like Merlin.
So, what now? I figured she would say no to helping with her dog, as she had retired, but she likes helping others and giving families closure, so she agrees. I’ve written gore before, but I mostly write young adult fiction, so this would be a chance to really stretch my writing legs. I planned on bringing the reader in a few chapters with characters and introduce the small town; then, I would write a very graphic, detailed chapter that would make your stomach turn, then back to the nice chapters. I wanted to lure the reader in, then when they could barely stand it, bring them back.
A lot of the initial writing will start if I have a good name for the book. So, I was at the Ekka this year when we went and watched the wood choppers. I really like the book name ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ and the meaning behind it, so I was looking for a name similar. After the woodchopping competition the announcer said something about the last generation of woodchoppers, and I remember thinking ‘The Last of the Woodchoppers.’ It’s a book name that’s interesting and not really related to anything until you read the book. I tried to keep it in my memory bank all day until I got home. Then I was lying in bed trying to remember it. I woke up mumbling ‘woodcutters,’ and went back to sleep. In the morning I woke thinking, what was the name again? Last of the Woodcutters? So that became the name of the book. I made the town have an old wood mill and that would be the place of the first murder.
I got excited about writing the serial killer. Mostly because I’d never done it and as a writer, it was something that would be challenging and fun (in a weird way). It wasn’t the book I intended to write next, but the chapters just started flowing out. I looked at all the side characters that had to be there to move the story along, for example other police officers, and thought I could examine those more. The Sheriff, who didn’t have a huge role, suddenly became very interesting. His father, I had decided, used to work at the mill and has a few secrets that he has kept his whole life.
I normally think of how a book will end and make that the flag I am heading for. For this one, without giving too much away, I thought of it straight away. Then, as the book started to take shape, I thought of an epilogue that may open it up for a sequel. I had been reading an address somewhere and misread it as ‘The Letterbox Fields.’ I thought that would be a perfect name for the second book. It’s now about 25,000 words. I have the next five chapters planned out and I’m aiming to have it done by early next year. If this all sounds weird, it probably is. The more you write, the more that muscle expands and opens up, allowing ideas to form and connect. Scary place.
Mitchell is the author of Skellington Key, Heather Cassidy and the Magnificent Mr Harlow, and the Everdark Realms Trilogy
Visit Mitchell’s bio here