The other day I was trolling the internet for crime stories because, as aforementioned, that’s how I roll (really creepily), when I came across a local New Mexico story about a woman who was being sentenced to jail time for burning down her own house. The fact that jail is, perhaps, not the best place for a woman with these sorts of issues aside, this story is weird. She had previously called the police numerous times to report that someone was living in her attic. The police probably checked it out a time or two. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they did. After that, they probably started blowing her off because it’s pretty clear from her behavior that she’s a few llamas short of a petting zoo.
Anyway, after repeated attempts to get the police in on this person living above stairs, sister turned herself into the attic avenger and burned the house down. When the police came she told them clearly that she’d done it because she was trying to kill the person who was living in the attic. Then she made several requests of the police trying to see if she’d accomplished her task. I closed the article thinking that prison probably isn’t the kind of lock up this lady needs and went about my business.
But I’m a writer. And I can’t just read an interesting story and leave it alone. After a few minutes, I thought, “What if she’s telling the truth?” O.o
Maybe her reaction was a little crazed, but what if there really was someone living in her attic? A friend of mine from high school sent me an article detailing a true story from Denver about a man who lived in someone else’s attic for a long time, eventually murdering one of the home owners and chasing the other away when the police refused to listen to her complaints that someone was living in her attic. Eventually, the man living in the attic was caught, because the police accidentally decided to do their jobs, literally, it was an accident, and he died in prison in the early 1960′s. So there’s precedence. This has happened before.
What a story, huh? Hapless heroine trapped in a house where she knows there’s someone with her, though everyone swears she’s wrong, even crazy. What would cause her to make such an extreme move?
This is the kind of crap that makes me love being a writer. The ‘what ifs’ make a writer’s world go around.
My current mystery series, Rules of Scam Mysteries, came from a ‘what if’ too. There’s a woman, a ‘psychic’ who advertises around here. In the form of a twenty foot picture of her rather frightening expression looming over the highway in three-D coming at you horror. Usually, I just cringe. But one day, driving past, thinking oh good heaven’s it’s coming to eat me, I thought to myself, “Why would anyone think a twenty foot tall head lunging over the highway is a good idea?”
But after that, I thought, “What kind of person pretends to be a psychic?” I make no assumptions about whether or not this woman is or isn’t psychic in reality. My ‘what if’ was just based on the idea that a person was not psychic but was pretending to be one anyway. I had a few ideas, most notably about con artists, and tucked the question away.
A few days later I was watching one of those nutty paranormal ‘documentary’ shows that are all over cable. I don’t even remember which one, though I’m inclined to say it was some TLC show, and this dude was saying that he believed he was being hunted, not haunted, by a demon. Then I thought, “What kind of person honestly believes they’re being hunted by a demon?”
I ask ‘what if’ several times on a good day so I didn’t immediately make a connection to my previous question. But when I did it was an almost immediate story idea. The daughter of a fake con artist psychic gets sucked into helping a guy who believes he’s being haunted by a demon. Light bulb moment.
But I love to encourage my children to play the ‘what if’ game too. And I would totally encourage everyone to trying playing a round at least once this week. Because it isn’t just about writing. Everything great starts with a ‘what if’. What if I could stop polio? What if I could build a nano computer? What if I could find the cure to cancer?
And that’s power of ‘what if’.