Thursday, February 19, 2015

A Little Inspiration, Please: a guest blog by Frankie Y. Bailey

ETA: We have a copy of Frankie Y. Bailey's next near-future police-procedural, WHAT THE FLY SAW, to give away to one lucky commenter!

 JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Frankie Bailey is one of those women who makes the rest of us look like slackers. She's an academic - a criminal justice professor at the State University of New York at Albany; an author - who's been nominated for the Edgar, Anthony and Agatha Awards among others; a volunteer - she's served as both EVP of Mystery Writers of America and President of Sisters in Crime. To top it off, she's funny, nice and has a beautiful Maine Coon Cat. 

Frankie's known for her  Lizzie Stuart series, about a crime historian who stumbles over bodies in small towns and colleges, and for her nonfiction on the intersection of crime, culture and history. But she's stepped out in an intriguing new direction with a The Red Queen Dies, a near-future police procedural:

The year is 2019, and a drug used to treat soldiers for post-traumatic stress disorder, nicknamed "Lullaby," has hit the streets. Swallowing a little pill erases traumatic memories, but what happens to a criminal trial when the star witness takes a pill and can't remember the crime? When two women are murdered in quick succession, biracial police detective Hannah McCabe is charged with solving the case. In spite of the advanced technology, including a city-wide surveillance program, a third woman is soon killed, and the police begin to suspect that a serial killer is on the loose. But the third victim, a Broadway actress known as “The Red Queen,” doesn’t fit the pattern set by the first two murders.

With the late September heat sizzling, Detective Hannah McCabe and her colleagues on the police force have to race to find the killer in a tangled web of clues that involve Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, and Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.
The next in her new series, What the Fly Saw, will be out at the beginning of March.

            One of the more anecdote-friendly questions a writer can be asked is, “Where do you get your ideas?” This question allows the writer to go off in a number of different directions (e.g., research, day job, personal experience, observation of human behavior). “Where do you get your ideas?” invites the writer to entertain her listeners with a behind the scenes look at her process. She can recount how her book or short story was inspired by a real-life event, derived from a myth or legend, or spun from an overheard conversation.
If they were ever asked the question, a number of early writers might have mentioned a real-life event. Edgar Allan Poe used the mysterious death of Mary Rogers, the “beautiful cigar girl,” as the basis for his Dupin short story set in Paris. Pauline E. Hopkins, the “mother of African American mystery writing,” drew on the 1892 Lizzie Borden double-murder case for “Talma Gordon” (1900), her serialized short story about race, gender, and murder. While covering an Iowa murder trial, journalist and feminist writer, Susan Glaspell, visited the farmhouse that was the scene of the crime. A decade and a half later, she drew on the Hossack case and that visit as inspiration for her play, “Trifles” (1916), and a short story, “A Jury of Her Peers” (1917).  When she wrote Murder on the Orient Express (1934), Agatha Christie had her own experience as a passenger on a snow-bound Orient Express train and the massive media coverage of the kidnapping and murder of the son of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh.
As a teacher, I love it when a writer draws on a source that I can identify – wonderful for those additional reading or viewing assignments. But I’m also fascinated by the less obvious connections that creative people reveal when asked about their inspirations. During a post-screening Q and A for her film Night Catches Us (2010), scriptwriter and director, Tanya Hamilton was prompted by the film’s producer (Ron Simons) to tell the audience about the title. Set in 1970s Philadelphia, the film (starring pre-Scandal Kerry Washington) is about the return of a former Black Panther to his old neighborhood. Hamilton explained that her husband, a fiction writer, had suggested the title. On visits to Jamaica, he had heard her relatives say, “Don’t let the night catch you” (i.e., don’t be late, come home before dark). When Hamilton needed a new title for her film because the working title no longer fit, her husband suggested Night Catches Us

            In a Billboard interview (7/26/2014), “alt-rock icon” Jennifer Herrema revealed that television is one of her sources of inspiration. She always has it on, playing as “white noise” in the background. Now and then something catches her attention. I don’t know what else Ms. Herrema and I have in common, but I felt instant kinship. She drew on reality TV for a song on a recent album. Soap operas played a role in one of my mysteries. I made a list of my sources of inspiration, and it’s a long one. Putting aside the research that I do as a crime historian, my list includes Daphne du Maurier’s “The Birds” (set in Cornwall, not California), two Kenny Rogers songs (“Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town” and “Reuben James”), a photograph of a black velvet evening coat, circa 1930s, High Noon and Sean Connery in Outland, and 1950s sci-fi movies. And, yes – I know you’re here, fellow fans -- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I happened to look up and see the boxed volumes that a friend had given me in my bookcase and thought – “Alice – Albany in the near future” – and then I thought “children’s literature – inspiration for series”.

What has inspired you as a writer? Have you heard an interesting story about an inspiration? 

Frankie Bailey has five books and two published short stories in a mystery series featuring crime historian Lizzie Stuart. The Red Queen Dies, the first book in a near-future police procedural series featuring Detective Hannah McCabe, came out in September, 2013.  The second book in the series, What the Fly Saw is due out in March 2015. Frankie is a former executive vice president of Mystery Writers of America and a past president of Sisters in Crime.  You can find out more about Frankie and her novels at her website and you can follow her on Twitter as @FrankieYBailey


  1. So nice to meet you here, Frankie. I am always fascinated by the "where do you get your ideas" question. I'm looking forward to reading "What the Fly Saw."

  2. What wonderful stories, Frankie. And I just realized how behind I am on reading your books. Must catch up!

    Inspiration comes from so many sources. A foreign-looking guy walking on the street. A layoff. The idea of pigs eating human flesh...(Sorry if it's too early in the morning for that one!)

  3. looking forward to your book. For inspiration, the tabloid headlines on the net and agony aunt columns in the Washington Post. Just when I thought I'd heard it all...

  4. Thanks for sharing some of your inspiration, Frankie. As a poet, I'm most often inspired by people and music. My father, also a mystery writer, was inspired by something Stephen King said (forgive the paraphrase): Imagine the worst possible thing that can happen to you and then go from there.

    Looking forward to picking up The Red Queen Dies today!

  5. Both The Red Queen Dies and What the Fly Saw just went on my to-buy list, Frankie!

  6. The ordinary, skewed slightly by a receptive mind, becomes the kernel of a novel idea--I love these stories of inspiration. Thanks for sharing. And now, new books to add to my list of TBR!

  7. Hi, Frankie! LOVE the cover of WHAT THE FLY SAW and can't wait to get my hands on it.

    Like you, I love the question "where do you get your ideas" because so often the answer is very unexpected. I was once in a Manhattan coffee shop sitting in the window when a guy strode by, apparently deep in thought, and ran into a light post. He reared back and punched it.

    That man became a character in teh book I was writing and of course, he did punch the lamppost.

    I'm a magpie - I find ideas everywhere so don't tell me anything you wouldn't want to see in a novel.

  8. I could honestly listen to Frankie Y. Bailey speak for hours on just about any topic. She really knows her stuff.

    For those that haven't given The Red Queen Dies a try, here is a link to my spoiler-free review from when the book was released. (

    I have What The Fly Saw on my TBR pile and find myself getting giddy as I see if move closer and closer to the top. I'm really looking forward to visiting her Albany of the future again soon.

  9. I am so happy to find you here this morning! I'm a huge fan, and the one and only time I got to meet you I was completely tongue-tied while suffering a major fan girl moment, so it's nice to be able to have an opportunity to tell you how much I have enjoyed your work. I do have a delightful photo of me, you and Margaret Maron (who introduced us) and it's easy to see I'm in a happy daze.

    I love your take on the “Where do you get your ideas?” Seeing it as "One of the more anecdote-friendly questions a writer can be asked is" is kind and gracious and quite refreshing.

    Looking forward to the new series!

  10. Welcome Frankie--what a great essay! and the new cover is just stunning.

    I am definitely a magpie when it comes to picking things up for book elements. Walking around Key West almost always yields nuggets--and the local newspaper is full of unbelievable stories.

  11. The Red Queen Dies sounds fabulous. As an English lit major, I read both Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass so anything related to those is fun.

    Where do I get ideas? Everywhere. Overheard conversation is a favorite (especially standing in line at Starbucks). News stories. I love the real-life stories (like criminals caught because they took selfies with the dead body) - you can't make that stuff up, yet so intriguing for a mystery.

  12. I've had the good fortune to appear with Frankie a few times, and, as Kristopher says, she's a wonderful speaker - so if she's at a bookstore or library in your area, be sure to go!

    I'm also a writer who finds inspiration in other books. I have one with themes from THE INFERNO, one influenced by Shakespeare's comedies, and my third book played with lots of themes used by Sharyn McCrumb in her earlier Ballad novels.

  13. Thanks everyone for the kind words. It's great fun to visit with such a lively group.

    Reading about your sources of inspiration, it's obvious we all walk around with our antenna up.

    I wonder what we'd each come up with if we all began a story with the same inspiration . . .

  14. Welcome, Frankie! More books for the to-read pile -- going straight to the top.... Insiration comes from crazy places — I believe it's letting yourself be open to that inner voice, not just shutting it out the way so many of us are taught when we're younger.

  15. I love your idea of seeing what types of stories would come from different authors with the same source of inspiration.

    Might be a great topic of an anthology. Any budding editors out there? Hmmm?

  16. Love this,Frankie! ANd I have What The Fly Saw right here and ready to read.

    I'm in the " I need an idea" stage--and what I have learned is you cannot MAKE it appear. It simply--will, when the time comes.

    All of my TIME books are from Shakespeare plays: As You LIke it, Romeo and Juliet, Comedy of Errors, and Winters Tale.

  17. This sounds like a great series. I'm going to see if I can get the first one.

  18. I can totally see how using other works of literature can inspire a new idea. The great poet William Stafford once gave this as a writing prompt: to take a line from poem and use it as the take-off for your own poem.

    Poetry, especially for me, does that--lines lead me to ideas for themes, stories, titles.

    And Hallie, love the story of the guy and the lamppost!

  19. Hi Frankie! Your books sound wonderful. How have I missed them?? I'm going to remedy that straight away. And I love the "near future" premise!

    I'm a magpie, too. Nothing is safe:-)I always think of it as playing "what if?" You see or read something and you think, yes, but what if... Or sometimes, why would someone do this?? (A man in Cheshire locked the gates to his country estate, then burned everything, including his wife, his children, his dogs and his horses before shooting himself.) I was so haunted by this that I wrote something similar into a novel--my way of trying to make sense of the inconceivable...

  20. Well, after enjoying your post so much, the only logical follow-up is to read your books, so they are now on my Amazon wish list. I immediately got a sense of how much I would enjoy them as you talked about ideas from and connections to those things that inspire you and other writers. And, the plots for your books are so fresh. Oh, and did I mention that your Hannah McCabe covers are sure to be on my "great covers" list on Goodreads? They will be. I love the idea of the crime historian in your Lizzie Stuart series. It just jumps out at me as "thrilling reading ahead." So, it would appear that I have even more books to add to my overwhelming (but in a good way) TBR pile.

    Hallie, what a great character gift the lamppost guy was! Kristopher, I will be reading your review after I post here. Lucy, I can imagine that your magpie ways do indeed succeed in Key West, especially since people tend to let down their guard there and even speak a little louder than usual (not influenced by the easy flow of drink at all, hehehe). Oh, and Hank, I really enjoy being able to connect a story to a well-known piece of literature.

  21. I love checking in and finding that I'm being added to TBR lists. Thank you, all.

    And Ksthy, thank you, for adding my McCabe covers to your cover list. Since I had nothing at all to do with creating them, I can say that they are gorgeous. They have a sly quality that I love.

    Lizzie was my first protagonist, so she does what I do (as in writing about what you know) - except her research leads to much more interesting situations.

    I wonder how many writers would actually trade places with our protagonists. Writing can be torture, but it's a lot easier than what we put our protagonists through.

  22. Kathy, those are great covers. Kudos to the folks in the St. Martin's/Minotaur art department for those two.

  23. I have loved various combinations of mysteries and speculative fiction, such as The Eyre Affair et seq., so I'm excited to learn about this one. Plus I like your answer much better than "Schenectady."

    Jim in Durham

  24. Love that title, Frankie! And it's always fun to see where ideas came from -- such an amazing, and sometimes hard to trace process!

  25. Great guest blog! I'm looking forward to reading this new series. (Thanks, Kristopher for the link to you review of the first book.)

    Math majors were assigned the Alice books, too.

  26. Frankie -- interesting background stories, most of which I had never heard.

    As an aside, I graduated from SUNY Albany when only three of the four quads were built and the wind came whipping though from Buffalo with nothing to stop it other than a couple of wannabe trees.

    Best of luck on the new series. Near future is so interesting to me because by the time everyone gets around to reading your book for many it will be near past.

    ~ Jim

  27. Jim, that wind is whipping through the uptown campus this winter as if we didn't have that fourth quad and a few more trees.

    Yes, the near future is a difficult to place to write in because it does catch up with you. I learned that from reading comments from authors who were already writing near future. So I decided the safest route was to create an alternate universe that is a lot like the world we live except for some alternate history.

  28. What a great post today. I know that there must be inspiration all around us, but kudos to you writers who are creative enough to take that and make it into something all of us want to read.

  29. Thanks Reds for another wonderful new writer. She is going on my library t-b-r list right now.