Today’s post comes from Michael A. Kahn – take it away Michael!
The most common question for authors: “Where do you get your story ideas?”
For me, the creative process is—to quote that Beatles song—a long and winding road. A good example is my latest Rachel Gold mystery novel, Face Value.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle gets credit for the initial spark. Browsing through my bookshelves one night, I came across an old paperback collection of Sherlock Holmes short stories—so old that the list price was 75 cents. Realizing that I hadn’t read a Holmes story in at least 20 years, I put it on my nightstand. As I read gradually through that collection, I was struck by how truly eccentric Sherlock Holmes was. Though he lived long before medical science recognized the neural development disorder of autism, he certainly functioned somewhere along that spectrum.
That was the spark of the idea: I would create a modern Sherlock. My version, however, would be an eccentric genius who works in a law firm’s mailroom.
Say hello to Stanley Plotkin, a brilliant oddball so hampered by Asperger’s that he’d never gone to college. Among his obsessions, in addition to an encyclopedic knowledge of the Electoral College votes, is the Facial Action Coding System (FACS), a massive compilation that correlates hundreds of facial muscle actions with specific emotions and mental states. Because Stanley’s autism renders him incapable of intuiting emotions from facial expressions, his mastery of FACS enables him to detect clues about people literally invisible to others. And specifically, it causes him to conclude that the death of a young associate at the firm was not, as the police ruled, a suicide but a homicide committed by someone at the firm.
Thus the first challenge for me: a quirky mailroom clerk can’t solve a murder mystery on his own. He needs a Dr. Watson. My version became Jerry Klunger, a huge, good-hearted fellow mailroom clerk who would act as Stanley’s protector.
But several chapters into the original draft of Face Value it was clear that these two powerless mailroom clerks needed help. In the words of Tommy Flynn (the retired cop who serves as the building’s security guard) they needed a “rabbi.”
Enter Rachel Gold.
As Tommy Flynn explains to her at the end of Chapter 9:
“Them boys need a rabbi.”
“I go back to my days on the force. You wanted to get something done, you had to go get yourself an ally higher up. We used to call that fellow a rabbi, though I never figured out the resemblance to a Jewish preacher, but be that as it may, I’m assuming it’s the same in a law firm. You got some heavy hitters on this list of suspects, and that means that even if them boys come up with a good idea for investigating, they’re going to need a rabbi to sell it to the big dogs. You still following me?”
I smiled. “You think I’m the rabbi?”
He shrugged. “Seems to me you could be.”
And so she agrees, and Stanley’s obsession becomes the dangerous driving force in this latest Rachel Gold mystery.
Michael Kahn is a trial attorney by day and an award-winning author by night. His latest novel, Face Value, is the ninth in his Rachel Gold mystery series