Saturday, December 17, 2005

Genesis of a Novel

A question writers often get asked is, "Where do you get your ideas?" By ideas what's usually meant is the theme or premise of one's books.

I can't always point to a single source of inspiration for my books. My first novel, The Immortal Game, was based on a short story I sold to the New Black Mask, which unfortunately folded before the story came out. The final novel was quite a bit different than the original story and benefited from some 13 years of percolation in my brain--not to mention dust-gathering in the drawer where I kept the original manuscript.

My second novel, Vulture Capital, was based on an amalgam of personal experiences working in and with the venture capital industry in Silicon Valley, no one of which represented the catalytic event that drove me to write the book.

The kernel for Candy from Strangers, on the other hand, can be traced directly to a Salon.com article of the same name. As the subhead reads, “Teen girls flash some skin on their ‘cam sites,’ and fans shower them with gifts. Who's exploiting whom?”

After reading the article, I felt having the mother of a “cam girl” hire my private eye to find the young woman when she went missing would be topical, consistent with the Silicon Valley themes I’d selected for previous books, and would also give me a chance to explore the idea I had—independent from the article—that the danger of exploitation for a young woman who set up one of these sites might not only be from strangers, but also from people who knew her well and were emboldened by what they saw on her site.

Another advantage was that the topic would lend itself well to discussion on radio and television shows. I’d learned from experience promoting my first two novels that it’s difficult to get bookings on talk shows to discuss a novel unless there is a nonfiction “hook” that can generate broader interest and discussion. For instance, with Vulture Capital, I found the only way to appear on the popular Ronn Owens show in the Bay Area was to talk about the venture capital industry in general, rather than the specifics of my book.

By the way, you may be wondering about my lifting the title from the magazine article for my novel. Titles cannot be copyrighted, so it’s common in the publishing industry for them to be reused as long as there is no danger of confusing the works that share the name. I thought Candy from Strangers was too good to pass up, but I later found that there was a (short-lived) TV show with the similar name “Strangers with Candy” and another nonfiction book from a Canadian publisher due to come out with the exact name.

I discussed this with my publisher Ben LeRoy and we decided “Candy” was still too good to pass up. Hopefully no one will be confused.

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