Wednesday, June 17, 2009

My Inspiration

A few days ago, Ben Small posted about some of his sources of inspiration. I thought that was a great post and decided to follow up with some of my own. thanks, Ben, for starting the thread.

Looking over my stories, I see that a lot of ideas and plot points originated in the pages of Sports Illustrated. My first published story was inspired by an article in one of the SI Swimsuit editions. There are words in the SI Swimsuit edition? The truth is there are fewer and fewer, and, yes, I am complaining. There was a time when the Swimsuit had fewer photos and more articles about outstanding women athletes and some of the lesser known women's sports. An article on the women's open ocean canoe race from Molokai to Oahu over 40 miles of treacherous ocean inspired my story, "Wahine O Ka Hoe" (Women of the Paddle.) Another SI article that inspired a story was titled, "Homewreckers," and was about the women of Purdue beating the women of Tennessee on their home court. An article about rodeo bulls being athletes and another one about the experience of being a rodeo clown inspired my latest story, "Horns" on The Thrilling Detective website.

Inspiration can come from a variety of sources. One of my favorite stories came about because of a television commercial.

The story is "Drop Dead Zone" published in 1998 in Mystery Buff Magazine. (Mystery Buff lasted only two issues. DDZ was in the second issue, but I don't believe it caused MB's demise.) It tells the story of a murder during a skydive. We were all sitting around drinking beer and eating pizza following my first jump when the woman who is now my daughter-in-law said I had to write it up in a story. We came up with the title on the spot, a combination of drop zone, drop dead, and Stephen King's "Dead Zone."

The title was the easy part. Figuring out a death in a skydive was a lot harder. At this point you're probably saying, "Whoa, dying in a skydive is easy. Not dying is the hard part." Well, yes and no. Falling out of the sky can kill you, but skydiving is a sport that is all about safety. All the procedures and equipment are designed to get the jumper safely on the ground. Skydivers themselves are fanatical about following procedures. So, killing someone in a skydive posed a real problem. I had two other conditions: First, i was thinking about it as a locked-room type of murder where the murder occurs in a limited space and the killer can't get away; Second, it had to look like an accident.

The second condition caused me real problems. I could have the killer tamper with the victim's parachute so it wouldn't open properly, but as I already mentioned, skydivers are fanatical about their equipment. If you tamper with a skydiver's gear, the chances are very good the tampering will be discovered before the jump and, instead of a corpse, you'll have a very angry skydiver. Rather than messing with the skydiver's gear, I had to mess with his behavior, i.e. get him out of his safety routine.

The inspiration occurred during a broadcast of a Super Bowl commercial. You may remember it. It's a Mountain Dew ad called "Duet" in which a boy and a girl on snowboards come flying off a mountain and meet in mid-air. Both have parachutes on their backs and one has a Mountain Dew. They both grab the Dew and circle in the air until the girl pulls the boy's ripcord and off he goes. As soon as I saw that, I had my story. Read the story on my website and see if you can tell how the commercial inspired it.

So those are some of my inspirations, what are yours?

Here's a deal for you. I can't find the Mountain Dew ad on the net. The first person who sends me a link to it will get a copy of "Pilikia Is My Business." Don't forget to send me your snail mail address. For another chance at "Pilikia," see the contest on my other blog, Hawaiian Eye.

Mark Troy


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Here you go (don't know if I'm the first):

Inspiration does come from unusual places! :)

Elizabeth :
Mystery Writing is Murder

Mark Troy said...


That's it. Excellent job. If you send me your snail mail, I'll send you a copy of "Pilikia Is My Business." Send it to

Thank you.

Chester Campbell said...

Interesting post, Mark. Now I have to go read that short story.

Dana Fredsti said...

hee heee... I remember that commercial well. I don't think there's any limit to what inspires writers/artists other than their own imaginations and ability to observe...