L.J. Sellers is an award-winning journalist and the author of the bestselling Detective Jackson mystery/suspense series: The Sex Club, Secrets to Die For, Thrilled to Death, Passions of the Dead, and Dying for Justice. Her novels have been highly praised by Mystery Scene, Crimespree, and Spinetingler magazines, and the series has been on Amazon Kindle’s bestselling police procedural list. L.J. also has three standalone thrillers: The Baby Thief, The Suicide Effect, and The Arranger. When not plotting murders, she enjoys performing standup comedy, cycling, social networking, and attending mystery conferences. She’s also been known to jump out of airplanes.
How An Opening Scene Becomes a Futuristic Thriller
by L.J. Sellers
Where do you get your ideas? That’s what readers often want to know, but for my latest novel, a futuristic thriller, I get that question more than ever. Typically, my plots spring from social issues I feel passionately about or from intriguing criminal concepts, but The Arranger started with the opening scene. One day as I watched paramedics carry a patient from a home, I thought: What if those paramedics witnessed a crime? Or heard a deathbed confession that made them a target to be killed? I visualized such a scenario as an opening scene for a crime fiction novel. I became so intrigued by the idea, I decided to see if I could develop a plot.
At the time, I was considering writing a futuristic thriller, one of my favorite genres to read, and I realized Detective Evans from my Jackson series had a background as a paramedic. Those things came together to give me a time frame, a character, and an opening scene. As for how the rest of the plot developed, it was a complex combination of ideas that eventually melded.
The underlying themes in my stories are almost always rooted in my fears. Because I try to be optimistic—and fearless—in my personal life, my fiction gives me a way to process fears that I otherwise try to suppress. One of my greatest concerns now is what will happen if high unemployment continues and the economy stagnates. In such a scenario, ten or fifteen years from now, I envisioned that jobs would become a premium, valuable commodities with the inherent capacity for corruption.
Once I had that idea, my second character, who’s both a protagonist and antagonist, quickly developed. At first, I envisioned Paul as a sociopath, but as I began to write his story, I empathized with him and he morphed. I began to see him as someone who felt powerless and invisible, yet wanted desperately to be seen and loved. Paul is a decent man who is presented with an opportunity to change his life. And he does. But as a result of an interesting set of circumstances, he goes too far in his transformation.
The real protagonist, ex-detective Lara Evans, already had a background established in my fifth Jackson book, Dying for Justice. She is intensively physical with impulsive tendencies. From that, the idea of a national endurance competition with jobs as the prize emerged as the ideal scenario for Lara. Her impulsiveness also gave me an idea for what had happened to end her law enforcement career and give her the driving motivation to win the Gauntlet.
Now all I had to do was bring the diverse ideas together in a way that worked with my opening scene. It required a few brainstorming sessions, but then the story seemed fall into place. Still, it was the most difficult novel I’ve written yet. In some ways, The Arranger is less complex than my mysteries, but the characters were more challenging, and the Gauntlet scenes were out of my league. Yet writing them was the most fun I’ve ever had, and early readers say those scenes left them breathless.
Many readers have asked if The Arranger is the start of a new series, hoping that it would be. I honestly don’t know. My plan is to write two more Detective Jackson novels, then see what comes up for me next. If “future Lara” proves to be popular, she could make a comeback.
Readers: Will you follow a familiar character into the future?
Writers: Where do you get your most unusual plot ideas?