04 August 2017

Where do you get your inspiration?

How many times are writers asked, "Where do you get your inspiration for a book?"

Since you asked, I'll tell you about an inspiration.

I was an army brat who lived in a lot of places, went to a lot of schools. From 1960 through 1963, we lived in Italy and I attended the Verona American School on a via called Borgo Milano in Verona. The school had an excellent library where I discovered a series of young adult novels written and illustrated by Clayton Knight. It was a series of WE WERE THERE books, featuring kids who witnessed historcal events, like WERE WERE THERE AT PEARL HARBOR, WE WERE THERE AT THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN and WE WERE THERE WITH THE LAFAYETTE ESCADRILLE.

I read them all, my favorite was WE WERE THERE AT THE NORMANDY INVASION because the kids were French and I'm French-American (half Sicilian-American but there was no WE WERE THERE AT THE LIBERATION OF SICILY probably because one would have to ask 'which liberation of Sicily?'). Also the soldiers in the book were paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division and my father was in the 82nd before he became an army CID agent.

Loved that book. I was maybe eleven when I read it but it stuck with me as I grew up and earned a degree in European History, became a cop, became a writer. It floated in my mind, not the storyline, not even the characters, but the vision of France during World War II.

After I started writing mysteries, I began to daydream about writing an historical novel about France during the war and slowly characters formed in my mind. Not at all like Clayton Knight's kids caught up in battle around D-Day. And no paratroopers.

A few years ago, I watched the movie IS PARIS BURNING? (Paramount, 1966) and my imagination created a storyline. Le Maquis. The French Resistance. Eventually my characters took shape and I dropped them into France in 1943 where the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and the French resistance wrecked havoc on the Nazi conquerors of occupied France.

My characters formed a special unit. A secret cell. A cadre of young operatives given the code names of archangels, including Samael, the angel of death. These agents called themselves Death Angels. And I let my mind wander with them from an opening scene blowing up a train to the assassinations of Nazi officers and French collaborators. Scene after scene played out in my brain until the Death Angels arrived in Paris to help liberate the City of Light.

Did a lot of research before I started writing. Then I let the character loose and ran after them and wrote down what the did.

Four characters: French resistance fighters Louis (code name Michael), Chico (code name Gabriel) and American assassin Jack (code name Samael) and the most lethal member, French courtesan Arianne (code name Jopiel).

My vision. My story. All triggered, prodded, inspired by thoughts of Normandy and le Maquis and Paris during the occupation.

cover art ©2016 Dana De Noux

Several of my mystery novels and short stories were also inspired by true events. I'll continue with another blog.

That's all for now.



  1. I always find it interesting to see where people get their ideas and inspriation, O'Neil. I also always wonder at people who wonder where others get their inspiration... (I hope that makes sense.) And when I was a kid I felt sort of the same way about Landmark Books that you do about the We Were There series.

    Good luck with Death Angels!

  2. It's interesting how a book or even a few lines in a book can trigger a story. I wrote a novel based loosely on the life of an SOE agent from Poland after reading a few paragraphs about her in a children's book.

  3. I loved those "We Were There" books! And also the "You Are There" half hour TV shows, narrated by Walter Cronkite. Great stuff.

    Although it's not nearly as serious, I wrote "Miss West's First Case" because of two things: an atlas of 1940s Eastern Europe and a joke I found in an old book that starts off, "Three men went to a hotel, Schmidt, Jones & Martin..." The rest is herstory.

  4. Enjoyed your post, O'Neil. It's always interesting to see how different elements come together in a writer's mind and eventually form an idea for a story or novel. The process can take a long time, as your narrative shows.

  5. An historical background is a great canvas on which to paint a story. Many times it comes with a reader's preconceived emotions, or the feelings of "Yeah, I heard about that, let's see what's in here."

  6. Love the historical connection. I've been working on a similar post (although very different in content) about why we get inspired. So many don't. What's different in our brains? You've added more grist to the thought-mill, O'Neill.

  7. If I knew where I got my ideas, I'd probably find a lot more good ones. And write a lot more stories.

    This is a fascinating post, O'Neil. And, Paul, yes, I remember the Landmark Books, too. Read a whole bunch of them...

    Was it Neil Gaiman who suggested that everyone has about the same number of ideas, but that people in the creative arts recognize them more readily?

  8. This is fascinating, O'Neil! I've always been impressed by your historical novels and stories.


Welcome. Please feel free to comment.

Our corporate secretary is notoriously lax when it comes to comments trapped in the spam folder. It may take Velma a few days to notice, usually after digging in a bottom drawer for a packet of seamed hose, a .38, her flask, or a cigarette.

She’s also sarcastically flip-lipped, but where else can a P.I. find a gal who can wield a candlestick phone, a typewriter, and a gat all at the same time? So bear with us, we value your comment. Once she finishes her Fatima Long Gold.

You can format HTML codes of <b>bold</b>, <i>italics</i>, and links: <a href="https://about.me/SleuthSayers">SleuthSayers</a>