What if We Have an Old House…?

Ann H Gabhart Ann's Posts, One Writer's Journal 27 Comments

Often when I’m doing an interview, one of the most popular questions will be how or where do I get my ideas for stories. Sometimes the interviewer is more specific and asks where I got the idea for a particular story. That can be a hard question to answer clearly. That’s because ideas bombard an author from every direction. The trick is picking the idea that will develop.

That initial idea is like a spark, but in order to write a 100,000 word novel, that spark has to become a long burning creative fire. It’s not good if your creative spark dies out in chapter 3 or anywhere before you write “the end.”

That’s why before I start writing a story, I have to let an idea simmer a while in my imagination. Often I do a “What if” page. What if this happens? Or that happens? I’m not an outline/plotter but more of a seat-of-the-pants writer. That means I get that initial idea, mull it over a bit by jotting down a few ideas and then put my fingers on my keyboard with the hope that my characters will spring to life and whisper their story into my imagination.

I shared a little about my character planning last Wednesday. Tonight how about a glimpse of the first paragraph of my “what if” page for my upcoming Hidden Springs mystery, Murder Is No Accident? My spark of an idea was this old Victorian house. Then I said what if and tried to get my brain going down the right trails to a new mystery.

Hidden Springs Mystery What if Page

Think Cozy Mystery

“The little town that time forgot but murder didn’t.”

We have our main characters – Michael in love with Alex who unfortunately is not on site.

Time of year – September

Okay. What if we have an old house steeped in history that has gotten a little rundown over the years especially after Miss Fonda’s husband died and she began to have memory problems even though she’s not all that old. They didn’t have any close relatives and the wife once she got older became something of a recluse just because of her physical ailments. She tended to live in the past as her short term memory suffered. She and her husband were happy in their house that had been her family home. For years they only used the downstairs portions and then after Miss Fonda got older she pretty much lived in three rooms. The cousin, Fred Elwood, tried to see after her but then he dies of cancer and his wife takes over the job. Ellen does her best but she isn’t about to move in with her. “Not in that creepy old house. People have died in that house.” It’s bad enough that she had to go see about Miss Fonda in the house for three years after Fred died. She thought it an answer to prayers when Miss Fonda broke her wrist. That meant she’d have to give in to moving somewhere besides the old house.

I obviously already had Miss Fonda in mind. She turned out to be older than I first thought. She didn’t turn out to be a recluse. She and her husband weren’t all that happy in the house. At least her husband wasn’t. Ellen actually didn’t have that much to do with the story. I sent her off to Arizona or somewhere. Oh, and Miss Fonda had a cat. That was the “think cozy mystery” part. 🙂 And it ended up being October instead of September. I do like that line “The little town that time forgot but murder didn’t.”

So, that lets you see how I wander down some story trails to figure out what might work and what might not work.

You have two more chances to get another entry in the giveaway by leaving comments on this Sunday post or on next Wednesday’s post to perhaps win either Murder at the Courthouse or Murder Comes by Mail. I’ll pick my last winner, at least for this giveaway, next Sunday. I’ll be doing more giveaways in February and March. So if you’re at least 18, you can leave a comment and get an entry in the giveaway.

But now for this Sunday’s winner. Phyllis M. was the name that rose to the top of my drawing hat. I’ve sent Phyllis an e-mail already.

So tell me, do you think this old house will make a good setting for a mystery?

As always, thanks for reading.

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Comments 27

  1. Rory Lynn Lemond

    Great old Victorian house for a murder mystery. I wonder who got murdered and why? It could of happened in any of the rooms but maybe it happened in a room that was locked away and no one had opened the doors for years. I think that you have more than enough inspiration with this house to write a great mystery

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      Ann H Gabhart

      Maybe I should have posted this article before I wrote that last mystery, Rory. You guys are coming up with some great ideas. Hidden rooms. Locked rooms. Secret passages. My story may turn out tame compared to all the things you have suggested. 🙂

  2. Karen Jones

    That’s a story in itself! My grandfather, back in the 1800’s, built a house for my grandmother. It’s a grand old magnificent two story home complete with a turret where we were never allowed to go. My grandmother died in her sleep there. I don’t know about any deaths there, but she birthed 7 children there. The home stayed in the family until my cousin decided about 30 years ago it was much too big to heat and cool and sold it. However, no one else in the family jumped on the chance to buy it.

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      Ann H Gabhart

      Sounds like a beautiful old house full of family memories, Karen, but sometimes things change and houses get sold or torn down. My families old homeplace got the torn down solution once the farm was sold. An old farmhouse built over a log house core. It was sad to see it going down. I’m guessing your kids wanted to go up in that turret in the worst way since it was forbidden.

  3. Donamae

    Yes, old houses have so many stories, if someone died there even more. Things happen I lived in a house that my great grandfather built. It stayed in the family on both my parents sides. Babies died and were born there. My mom and grandma were born there. My great grandma died there. My grandmas baby died there. Even a murder in the front yard! That house had noises and even the water turned on in the night.

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      Ann H Gabhart

      Wow, Donamae. You do have a house with many real stories and of course thinking about those real stories can get the imagination going too. I like that your great grandfather built the house and that all the stories, at least when you were living there, were your family stories. That murder in the front yard would fit right in with my Hidden Springs mysteries. Did anybody ever actually see a ghost or were there just the noisy evidence of something not quite right? I could have handled the noises. You can blame that on creaky floorboards or the wind or well, something. Not sure about that water turning on in the night. Unless you had a cat that learned to turn on the faucet to get a drink. That would fit in a cozy mystery too, wouldn’t it? 🙂

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    Ann H Gabhart

    I agree, Sandi and Peggy, that old houses are full of stories, both real and imagined. My new Hidden Springs mystery will be one of the imagines ones.

  5. peggy clayton

    I think the old house would make a wonderful setting. These houses can tell wonderful stories themselves. Have a good week !

  6. Post
    Author
    Ann H Gabhart

    Hi, Pat. Endless possibilities. You know you’re right. The interesting thing is how each writer or each person sees those possibilities differently or perhaps that’s not the word. Uniquely might say it better. We all bring our own thoughts and imaginings to each fictional possibility and we can look at an old house like this and our imaginations light up. The secret passages sound interesting. There may be some secret rooms in this old house because it was said they hid out some whiskey in it during Prohibition. Or it could be they just paid off the officials. I didn’t gt into that with my story since it’s set in contemporary times, but I’m thinking there are some historical stories hidden in those walls.

    Hi, Robin. Glad you think I settled on some good things when I was meandering through ideas. All writers work differently but I always enjoy reading how others get those stories down on paper or computer screens these days. Fun that I had you smiling.

    Hi, Ola. Always good to hear from you. I’m happy you think this old house will make a good setting for a mystery.

  7. Connie Lee

    Yes, I think this house would make an excellent setting for a mystery! Old houses hold all kinds of secrets, in hidden doors or passages ways. I think the deeper you look into the nooks and crannies the more you wonder about the lives of the people who lived there, what kind of people they were, and what secrets they had.

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      Ann H Gabhart

      Those secrets, Connie. Yes, that’s the key to coming up with some sparks for the imagination. Give a few characters a few secrets and then see what happens next. This is a great old house with many secrets, but I made up all new ones for my mystery.

  8. Margaret Nelson

    That old house looks like it would be lots of fun to explore! However, if there’s lots of dust and cobwebs, and the lights aren’t too good, and there are thumps (which the cat probably makes), it could get scary 🙂

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      Ann H Gabhart

      Hi, Margaret. Those bumps and thumps in a house where the lights aren’t working and nobody’s been around to disturb the dust and cobwebs and ghosts don’t leave footprints – hmm. As I mentioned in a previous comment the ghost hunters love this old house and they make it a centerpiece of the ghost walks here in town around Halloween time. All kinds of ghostly stories such as pianos playing on their own. Voices in the night. Things moving from one place to another. Whether any of that is true or not, and none of that played any part in my story, with a little imagination, things could get a little scary. 🙂

  9. Post
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    Ann H Gabhart

    Hi, Barbara. I’m glad you’re wondering about what’s going to happen in that old house. You can find out when you get a chance to read Murder Is No Accident, coming very soon.

    Hi, Karen. Glad you enjoyed going down this writer’s creative path with me. And very glad you think this old house will be a good setting for a mystery since I’ve already written the story with the house a kind of character.

    Hi, Pam. I’ve admired this house ever since I was a kid. It’s on our Main Street and has a very interesting history. I didn’t use any of that real history and made up my own. Well, I did let the family that built it make their money as whiskey distillers back before Prohibition the same as the actual family who built the huge old house. That probably didn’t come up in the story. Only in my thinking about Miss Fonda and her family. It was fun imagining what if with that house in mind.

  10. Robin in NC

    I just love the way your mind works Ann! I smiled as I read how your story & characters meander their way through your mind! October is my favorite month, having a cat adds to the cozy & that old house definitely adds to the mystery!! 🙂

  11. Pat Brown Holland

    Yes, I think it will. There can be hidden rooms .Surely the ancestors had some hidden drama too. And the walls have had plenty of time to be covered and things hidden in them. There could even be a hidden bomb shelter or tunnel. The possibilities are endless. I admire you for being able to write books like you do. !

  12. Luan Panning

    Old houses are the best with all their nooks and crannies and no place better to dream up a mystery. For instance, we lived in one for 20 years, and often visited by the Wooba-Wooba Monster whom our daughter blamed for every strange noise, creaky door, squeaky step–spilled drink, messy room, lost items, and more. Once while peering down the laundry shoot she noticed an area that was built to hide something and farther down something was shining. She got a hammer and was determined she had located a hidden treasure. After breaking through she discovered she had broken through the tile in shower. I stared at the hole in shock and started laughing hoping her father would do the same, he simply fixed it. We sort of understood and wished it had been a hidden treasure. The shiny thing was a bottle of shampoo, no treasure, no mystery but funny memory that still enters into family conversations when we talk about our beautiful old home, where nothing was under a hundred years old.

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      Ann H Gabhart

      Thank you for sharing that story, Luan. What could you do but laugh although finding gold coins might have been more fun than shampoo. Sounds like something I might do. I like that Wooba-Wooba monster too to blame things on. I don’t live in an old house, but I think that might come in handy to blame things on. I did grow up in an old farmhouse, nothing like this big mansion, but there were definitely creaks and groans that I could have blamed on the Wooba-Wooba monster. There were definitely some kind of gremlins that made off with hair pins and other various sundry items that were never seen again.

      Sounds as if your daughter knew how to navigate through life without worries while in search of treasure. Fun story. I’m sure it brings laughs every time you tell it these days.

  13. Paula

    That’s a fabulous house for a mystery. I love the turret rooms. And might there be a hidden passage? Or hidden space behind the bookcase or butlers pantry? Or a small space to hide something near the fireplace?
    My aunt took care of an older lady that had a Victorian with a turret room. We used to play in it in the summers. The bathrooms were cool, too. One had a foot tub and the other had a shower with tubes with holes in them going in a semi circle on three sides. Pretty innovative for the time they were put in. The staircase was pretty grand going up and then turning halfway to the second story. I love old houses. Happy plotting!

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      Ann H Gabhart

      Sounds as if you could have been a good reference source for my old house, Paula. The turret room and the staircase both play parts in my upcoming mystery. But I mostly just had to use my imagination about the house. I’ve been in it, but never got to play in the turret room or run up and down the staircase. 🙂 Hidden panels or rooms does sound very mysterious too. Something could be hidden in those walls!! Sounds like another mystery in the making.

      Hoping readers will enjoy the setting.

  14. Karen Jones

    Yes, I definitely think “this old house” will be a great setting for a book. A writer’s imagination amazes me! Thank you for entertaining us! 😊

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      Ann H Gabhart

      Love it, Kathleen. Now I may have to write another mystery. Ahh, but who is looking through those binoculars? Was she escaping the murderer or perhaps he was in cahoots with the bad guy? Is there someone else in the house coming after her or does a strange flash of light reflect off the binoculars to warn the perpetrator there is a witness? And who got murdered anyway? And why? Surely not just a random act of violence in the stillness of the night. Wait. Did that murderer really kick the poor cat that happened to wander upon the scene? So many questions.

      It is a beautiful old house and I’m glad I could set a story in it. Thanks for the fun of your suggested idea.

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