Brenda Baker: The Inspiration Behind The Novel

 The Inspiration Behind the Novel

Next to writing novels, the thing writers enjoy most is talking about writing novels, which is why I’m grateful to Marcie, Steve, and Nancy for inviting me to indulge my second favorite pastime here on To Read or Not to Read
Today’s topic is the inspiration behind The Elusive Mr. McCoy. This is one of those questions that should be easy to answer. A person about to invest eight months of her life writing a book thinks long and hard about the topic, right? Maybe that’s how it works for other writers. In my case, not so much. I was halfway through my first book, Sisters of the Sari, before I figured out what it was about and the original idea for The Elusive Mr. McCoy had more to do with desperation than inspiration.
When NAL bought my first novel, they offered me a two book deal. Not understanding what that meant, I signed on the dotted line in a state of ecstatic ignorance that lasted right up to the moment my editor asked me to provide her with four outlines for the second book. There were two problems with this request. One: I’d only ever written an outline after I finished writing the book. Two: I didn’t have four ideas.
Fortunately, the internet abounds with the advice of generous writers who selflessly blog to educate their fellow scribblers, making the first problem easy to remedy. The solution to the second problem proved more elusive. I like to think of myself as an imaginative person, but after weeks of banging my head against the keyboard for a net result of three possible stories, it became apparent I had overestimated my imaginative abilities.
The deadline loomed. Just as I was preparing to admit defeat and send in three outlines and an apology, a friend called to tell me her husband had come home the day before and announced he was moving in with his new girlfriend. My friend was surprised as well as devastated by her husband’s betrayal. I was pretty surprised myself, because I couldn’t understand why she hadn’t seen it coming. We live in an era when divorce is almost as common as marriage. Most of our friends had been divorced at least once. I’d been through it twice. We had witnessed the signs of marital distress countless times, particularly infidelity, which is the commonest cause of breakups in my experience.
Writers are absolutely shameless when it comes to using friends’ tragedies for plot fodder. As I supported my friend through the motivational autopsy that is a necessary step in recovering from the trauma of betrayal, I silently wondered: How could she not have known? What if she never finds out why he dumped her? Can she move on with her life if she never knows? And most important of all, was there enough material here to produce a reasonable facsimile of a plot outline?
There was, especially after I punched up the plot by making the cheating husband a bigamist instead of merely an adulterer. I didn’t know anything about bigamy, but assumed that would not be a problem because the editor would fall for one of the three better outlines I had put more thought into.
Silly me. A few weeks later, I sat down at my desk to begin researching my second book by looking up “bigamy” on the internet. I hadn’t read more than a few news articles when I realized why my editor liked the outline. It was for the same reason my friend and I had those long phone calls after her marriage collapsed: fascination with the motivation behind bad behavior. And there it was—finally—my inspiration.


Author bio: Born in Toronto, Brenda spent 35 years writing computer programs in Canada, the United States and the Netherlands, before becoming a novelist. Her passion is exploring new cultures, with knitting and reading tied for second place. She likes cats, but resists owning one herself, since everyone knows little old ladies can't stop at just one.
Brenda’s recently released book, The Elusive Mr. McCoy, is a richly emotional journey of two women drawn together by an unexpected and unwanted bond. To read an excerpt, visit