One of the questions I’m often asked is, “How did you come up with the idea for this book?” My books are fairly plot-driven, and Every Time I Think of You was no different. I could see the opening scene in my head like a movie so I knew what the inciting incident – in other words, the event that would send the main characters’ lives in another direction – would be. But in this case, my opening scene was the result of not only plot, but also a character. I have wanted to write a book where the main character was a crime reporter for a while now. I tend to gravitate toward heroes who are regular guys, and I wanted to see what would happen when I put this particular hero into various situations (and a little hot water). What would he do? How would he react? What, exactly, was he made of?
However, if main character Brooks McClain was going to be a crime reporter, that meant I had to come up with a crime (which ultimately, I’d have to solve). I’ve never written a book with a mystery or suspense element before, but I wasn’t going to let a little thing like that get in the way of telling this story. I’ve said time and time again that I never want to be an author who writes the same book over and over, but with that motto comes challenges. I have to deal with the discomfort that comes from tackling something different than I’ve done before, and often this means learning new things.
I have a love/hate relationship with research. I keep telling myself I’m going to write a book that doesn’t require as much research, and then I write a book that requires extensive research. I should really start listening to myself! Some of the things I did in the name of research for Every Time I Think of You included taking a four-hour firearms safety course and learning how to load and shoot a gun, which was something I didn’t have any experience with.
I also studied ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, by reading memoirs and poring over countless websites dedicated to the disease. Although the timing of the recent ALS ice bucket challenge is merely a coincidence, it makes me happy to know that this devastating illness is receiving such an outpouring of support from the general public.
I studied addiction, specifically methamphetamine addiction. What I learned was heart-wrenching, eye-opening, and often tragic. In total, I read six memoirs about addiction and read countless online articles. I watched a fascinating Frontline documentary from PBS about methamphetamine addiction and its effects on law enforcement and the community.
I reached out to a criminal defense attorney in California so that I could gain an understanding of that state’s legal processes, and I spent several hours in person and on the phone with my cousin Jack, who is a detective with the Des Moines Police Department. Jack was instrumental in explaining the outcomes of all the different scenarios I proposed (naturally, I named the detective character after him). I interviewed three different crime reporters (who all told me slightly different things), and one of them saved me from a potentially embarrassing gaffe. In Every Time I Think of You, I include an actual newspaper article written by Brooks McClain. Newspaper reporters use the Associated Press Stylebook to ensure that their articles are written correctly whereas The Chicago Manual of Style is the go-to guide for fiction writers. The crime reporter who proofed my article had me make a small tweak so that it was correct in form.
I spoke to a nurse, to make sure I got the details of Daisy’s DiStefano’s work schedule correct. There were less significant things I needed the answers to, such as what kind of jewelry a nurse would be permitted to wear to work and what floor she might work on if she were involved with a particular patient.
In addition to the factual research necessary to write this story, I also had to choose the path I’d take to solve the crime. I learned that there were a few different ways I could handle this: One, I could write the story in such a way that the reader would probably not know who committed the crime until the very end. Two, I could choose the slightly-less-suspenseful route and let the reader be privy to clues that would allow them to guess the identity of the perpetrator much earlier. That way, I could let the focus of the story rest on how the person would be brought to justice. I chose option two because I felt it would lend emotional resonance and depth to the story.
Now that I knew how I’d tell the story, I needed to concentrate on the characters. I usually have a pretty good outline in place before I sit down to start writing. This method doesn’t work for everyone, but for me it helps to have a roadmap of sorts so that I don’t waste too much time writing myself into corners. This is not a spoiler because you know from the blurb that the book deals with the aftermath of the death of Daisy’s beloved grandmother. However, once I was about a fourth of the way through the first draft, I realized that the character I’d chosen to commit the crime didn’t actually do it.
I fought it for a while, but the more I got to know these characters, the more I realized my inner muse was right. This person couldn’t have done it.
Delete, delete, delete, delete. Sigh.
The real perpetrator had a motive, but it was subtle and at first I couldn’t see it. And the person who I’d originally intended to commit the crime was actually somewhat responsible. But it will be up to the reader to draw their own conclusions about what transpired that evening in Daisy’s grandmother’s apartment, because the opening chapter of the book is narrated by Daisy’s three-year-old son, who has a very limited ability to explain it. I actually first wrote this opening chapter from the point-of-view of Daisy’s grandmother, Pauline. It gave the book a much darker tone than I wanted so I scrapped it and decided to let Elliott take the reins.
There is also one final plot thread that I chose not to tie up with a big red ribbon. Initially I wrote a paragraph that would have explained why a certain character made the choice that he did, but then I realized it wasn’t necessary. Readers are smart and book discussions are extra fun when there’s a bit of speculation involved.
I’m not an especially fast or prolific writer, and that’s fine with me. Between the research and the actual writing time, this book took fourteen months to complete, and there were times I wanted to pull my hair out. I’d told my husband there were a couple of twists I was hoping to pull off, but wasn’t sure I knew how to accomplish them. I told several people that writing this book made my brain hurt (but one of the readers who received an advance copy told me she kept saying to herself as she read it, “This book is so smart!”). When I hear feedback like that, it tells me that everything I did in the name of Every Time I Think of You was worth it.
I hope you enjoy Brooks and Daisy’s story.