Eight Ways to Die

Got ya with the title, didn’t I? It’s a good one. A really good one. The trouble is, that’s all I’ve got. At least, so far…

Recently, for the first time in six years, I suddenly found myself between projects. Free time meant I had no excuse not to go through the twenty-plus years of accumulation that make our house look like it belongs in an episode of Hoarders. But while some writers procrastinate by cleaning, when it comes to cleaning, I procrastinate by writing. So I embarked on a desperate search for a new book idea.

I decided to go on what I call think-walks to let my mind wander and make room for the muse. We live a few blocks from a trail that leads to Mulholland Drive, so I hiked that one day. While I was rewarded with a gorgeous view, I was not rewarded with inspiration.

Hi, San Fernando Valley! You look much lovelier from a distance than close up.

The next day, I think-walked to a hidden garden in our neighborhood, created by a neighbor on a land easement…

Don’t I live in a lovely neighborhood?

I drank in the fantastic plants and sculptures. Unfortunately, my creative drought continued. So, I went for a night-time think-walk…

I call this photo, “Cover For the Album Joni Mitchell Has Yet to Make.”

While this walk resulted in a cool photo, it did not deliver any storyline.

Bored and depressed, I gave up the hunt and decided to tackle a tiny cleaning task. While going through stacks of magazines before recycling them, I came across this photo in Historic Preservation of a house that has always fascinated me, and happens to be in the town next to my mother’s. We’ve driven by it many times.

This is the Armour-Stiner House. It may be the only octagonal house in the world topped with a dome.

When I corresponded with my agent the next day, I joked that the only book idea I had so far was something set in an octagonal house, with the title Eight Ways to Die. I got an LOL from him, so I turned it into a tweet…

It really is a great cozy title, too.

To my shock, the jokey tweet turned into one of my most “Liked” tweets ever. And something occurred to me. I’m obsessed with architecture. My Cajun Country and upcoming Vintage Cookbook series were both inspired by historical homes. A catering hall inspired my Catering Hall Mysteries. Could the joke about an octagonal house possibly contain the seed of my next project?

The answer is… maybe. I’ve ordered a book written by the architect who restored the Armour-Stiner house pictured above. I’ve begun researching the genesis of this odd nineteenth century architectural quirk. (Only around 60 octagonal houses survive in America.) I may not have a story yet. But given time and a lot more think-walks, there’s a solid chance that Eight Ways to Die – or Dye – will one day grace your TBR pile.

Or, I’ll learn a lot more than I ever needed to know about octagonal houses.

Readers, what gets your creative juices flowing? Walks? Jokes?

44 thoughts on “Eight Ways to Die

  1. Deadlines will suddenly make me creative. The thought “Ack! I have a book due in a few months!” works every time, lol. Also, my house is now clean because I turned in my book a week and a half ago. Now I need to come up with a plot for the next one, because, you know, deadline.

    I love your title ideas.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Joyce, I’m jealous! Deadlines make me panic, so I always finish my books early because otherwise I freeze up. And I am also very impressed you cleaned your house. I’ll do anything to avoid that!

      Liked by 3 people

    1. This is brilliant, Ellen! What if Eight Ways to Die is the title of your series of 8 books and the type of murder is different in each one? An eight book contract would keep you busy for a while. 😎

      Liked by 3 people

    2. Ooooh, J.C., what a fantastic idea. And lol re: keeping me busy. The protagonist could live in an octagonal house, so everyone would think there are 8 ways to die in the first book. It’s a tease. But sadly so far, I can’t think of ONE plot.

      Liked by 3 people

    1. Hah!! Marla, that’s hilarious. And also so true. Thank God for the iPhone voice memo and Notes. When I lived in NY and had these moments, I remember leaning on a building to scribble something on my copy of the NY Times .

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I would love to read Eight Ways to Die/Dye. I would also love to live in that house! What usually gets my imagination flowing is reading–biographies, history, advice columns, anything.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Love both of the titles, El! You definitely got me salivating to read this post.

    An octagonal house is very fascinating. If it’s the only one with a dome, I’m wondering what’s under that dome . . . if it’s filled in?

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Love it! Maybe you could literally have each book show how/why/where the same victim died in a different way, with a different killer (from same cast of characters), different motive, different room in house. Octagonal Clue!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. That is a very cool house!

    My muses must be pretty shy because I need it quiet and calm for them to visit me. But I tend to answer specific questions, in front of my computer, and then just type stream-of-consciousness style. Who got killed? Why? Who did it? Who does everyone *think* did it? Why? Where are they? and so forth.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Fabulous title, photos and concept, Ellen!! I can’t wait for you to write it so we all can read it!!

    I used to think-run but found myself distracted by potential obstacles in my path. (And I mean that literally. My mantra was “There’s a stick. There’s a rock. There’s a dog.” And so on.) Now I think-sit, which sometimes yields ideas but more often results in discovering new meme formats or Schitt’s Creek GIFs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Shelley, for me, it’s when I can tell the complete story in about 30 pages and it feels like I can flesh it out into 300 pages. Of course, if I can’t, then it becomes a novella or short story!

      Liked by 1 person

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