Authors’ Roundtable: Taking Inspiration from the Headlines- Kent Holloway and Stacey Cochran

12 Jul
This week’s topic is, “How can current events inform and influence your fiction?” Each of our guest authors has his own unique take on the subject. Stacey Cochran‘s last two books, Claws and Claws 2, incorporate ‘ripped (pun intended) from the headlines’ zoological creature thrillers focusing on contemporary wildlife. While Kent Holloway‘s ‘day job’ as a crime scene investigator brings him face-to-face with the headlines on a daily basis, his writing, including Primal Thirst, tends toward the cryptozoological.

Kent Holloway

To be honest, I don’t believe there is any better source for inspiration for a great sci-fi thriller than the 6 o’clock news, cable channels such as Discovery or TLC, or newspaper/magazine articles in recent periodicals. In fact, my best ideas all come from snippets of news or recent discoveries I’ve seen on TV or read about somewhere in cyberspace. To demonstrate this, let me share how I came up with the concept of The ENIGMA Directive series and, in particular, the first book Primal Thirst.

The series was conceived quite simply from being a huge fan of the SyFy series “Destination Truth.” I remember sitting on my nice comfy couch, minding my own business, and not really considering the possibility of starting a budding writing career. Then a Josh Gates-shaped muse slapped me across the head and shouted, “Dude! Wouldn’t it be awesome if there was a novel based on this show?” I had a agree. So, the next day, I started scouring the Net and bookstores for anything I could sink my teeth into. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t find it. So, my muse struck again…”Okay, knucklehead, you’re gonig to have to write it.” And so, I set out to do just that.

The only problem…what crazy cryptid would my earstwhile cryptozoologist hunt? I mean, Big Foot has been overdone…a number of times over. And some much better authors than me had tackled ol’ Nessie. Fortunately, it was a few days after deciding to write this crazy book of mine that I happened upon a documentary. A documentary about recently unclassified papers from the Soviet Union involving Stalin’s diabolical plan to breed an army of invincible “man-apes”…hybrids between apes and man. I was dumbfounded. That kind of stuff only happens in cheesy sci-fi movies, right? Well, according to these unclassified papers it was most definitely true and I instantly had my new plot…though still, I had no creature. After all, I couldn’t completely steal Stalin’s idea right? A man-ape was just too similar to good ol’ Sasquatch for my liking. So I kept searching. It wasn’t long before a cable news channel presented a feature on Malaysia and tourist traps people often find themselves when they visit. In some of these tourist traps, merchants sell a very strange trinket to unwary visitors…a trinket of mystical and supersticious significance. The trinket is called a jenglot…a doll-like object a varying size and shape and color that is said to awaken at night and feed on the blood of unsuspecting victims. A lightbulb went off in my head and I suddenly had the story to Primal Thirst.

The point of all this is that, as an author, not only should we keep our noses buried in books…studying the craft…but it doesn’t hurt to have our eyes glued to the TV or to the print of a newspaper or magazine. Inspiration comes when we least expect it. And often, our imaginations take the little bit of inspiration and run with it in ways no one would possibly imagine. Stalin’s ape-men do not appear in Primal Thirst. Nor do twelve-inch blood-sucking voodoo dolls. But all these things were thrown into the pot and were turned into a rather tasty cocktail by the blender of my mind. I’ve since taken to keeping a digital voice recorder on hand (not only are they great for ghost hunting, they’re fantastic ways of keeping track of new ideas). The recorder sits next to me on the couch and when some news story or documentary turns that light bulb on in my head…eureka! I immediately record it and save it for later consideration.

So, to recap: 1) Keep tabs on what’s going on in the world around you. Inspiration will strike when you least expect. 2) Don’t look at a current event at face value. Turn it upside down and inside out. See what ideas might just fall out when you do. 3) Don’t be afraid to combine these events into one humdinger of a huge idea! And finally, 4) be sure to get these ideas recorded somehow. The only thing worse than not getting an idea, is discovering a great one only to forget it two days later.

Stacey Cochran

CLAWS 2 is a grizzly bear version of Jaws, set in the mountains of southwest Colorado. The first book in the series featured mountain lions and was set in Arizona. My plan with the books was the feature a different animal as the focal point of each one, while maintaining the same protagonist Dr. Angie Rippard, a wildlife biologist.

David, you and I mentioned in our emails that maybe I should discuss how current events impact the writing of thriller novels, and the CLAWS series is a case in point. When I started the first novel I was living in Arizona, and a number of mountain lion sightings and stalkings had closed parks and elementary schools in Tucson months before I began and continued through the months when I was working on the first draft. I definitely used the momentum of the news stories to dig into research on the big cats, and it sustained me through the project.

For CLAWS 2, a similar thing occurred. I was interested in trying to answer the research question of whether grizzly bears still roamed southwest Colorado. I knew they were thriving farther north in Wyoming, but most people considered grizzlies extinct near Durango, Colorado.

And then as I was wrapping up the novel, sightings began occurring in the Colorado press: http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_4414320 The coincidence was enough to spur me to want to finish the novel.

So in my case, the news stories playing out in the local and national press was emotional lift that made me interested in researching the topic and writing the books.

Thanks so much for having me at your blog today. If folks want to help, I still need tour stops in August to round out the Blog Tour. Feel free to drop me a line through, staceycochran.com. Of course, reviews of CLAWS 2 are always welcome as well.


Thanks so much.

3 thoughts on “Authors’ Roundtable: Taking Inspiration from the Headlines- Kent Holloway and Stacey Cochran

  1. Great comments, Kent and Stacey! Very interesting to hear about your inspirations for thriller writing. How do you tell which news events might be worthy of your attention? Books take a long time to write, and sometimes I find myself drawn to something to only find it's gone from the news by the time I would finish a longer project. How can you tell what has staying power, so to speak?

  2. Great question, Anon. In the case of animal-human encounters, the news is only increasing. It's a complicated issue but it boils down to 1) more and more people are moving out West and into wilderness areas in the American West, 2) strong wildlife management and conservation efforts have contributed to a rebound in large predator populations. Neither of these trends can be stopped (nor should they be, many would argue), and so when you look at statistical data drawn from the last 70 years, what you see is a stunning and sustained uptick in attacks on people over the last 20-30 years.

    The problem is there are few (if any) good answers to resolve the issue. Making folks aware is one good answer, and the novel was intended to do so.

    And so to answer your question, I just happened upon an issue that is simply not going away and will only continue to make national news headlines in the months, years, and decades to come.

  3. That's why I said to be sure to turn these news events and stories upside down and inside out. For me, the news event, documentary, or TV show only sparks the inspiration. I only draw nuggets from them and then weave a complex story around those nuggets.

    In my own personal writing, I tend to stay clear of doing a story based completely on one event. I simply take that event and concoct a completely different thing from it. That way, it tends to stay as timeless as possible.

    For instance, I recently read a Popular Science article on brain chips being used in some animals. I took that story, twisted it into some other articles I've read recently, and is now featured heavily in the sequel to Primal Thirst…Sirens' Song. But I wouldn't want to hinge the entire story on one news item.

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