Most of my books have had fairly commonplace origins. Sometimes I was writing in a series with established characters, where I knew what sort of plots were acceptable. Occasionally I’ve even taken over a series in the middle of an ongoing storyline. Other times an editor would get in touch with me and say, “Write me a book about the Gold Rush” (RIVERS OF GOLD) or “Write me a book about a family of doctors during the Civil War” (THE HEALER’S ROAD). So in quite a few cases during my career, that initial spark of creativity came from someone else.
Not so DUST DEVILS. I know how the idea came to me and where I was when it happened. I was driving down to Brownwood, Texas -- don’t ask me why, that part I don’t recall – and listening to an oldies station on the radio. A song by Bobby Goldsboro, “Summer (The First Time)” came on. If you’ve never heard this song, it’s about a young man’s initiation into the glories and mysteries of sex by an older woman. It’s not a song that’s a particular favorite of mine, and I’d heard it many times before, but for some reason that day I asked myself if you couldn’t write a book based on that concept . . . only it would be one of those books where nothing, absolutely nothing, was what it seemed to be at first.
From there I started building a plot around that idea, only instead of a novel I decided to write it as a screenplay. I’m not sure why, except I had it in my head in those days that I wanted to write a screenplay and I thought this could be a very visual story. I got about forty pages into the script before I realized I wasn’t really comfortable with what I was doing and decided to turn it into a novel instead. That’s why the whole book is very lean and visually-oriented: it started life as a screenplay.
While I was writing those opening scenes, I worried that the story might start out too stereotypical, that the readers would just assume they knew where the plot was going. But I knew if they would just stick with it until the first big twist, the predictability of those early scenes would work in my favor and make the direction in which the story veered off even more surprising. I didn’t stop there, of course. I kept more surprises in reserve for later on in the book.
But where it all started was a boring drive to Brownwood and a Bobby Goldsboro song, and it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable books I’ve ever written.
If you have a book coming out you would like to write a piece about, feel free to email me.