Kristen Lepionka is the author of the Roxane Weary mystery series, starting with The Last Place You Look (Minotaur Books, 2017). She grew up mostly in a public library and could often be found in the adult mystery section well before she was out of middle school. Her writing has been selected for Shotgun Honey, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Grift, and Black Elephant. She lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her partner and two cats. Her next book, What You Want to See, releases in May.
A question I get asked pretty often is, “Where do you get your ideas?” The answer is pretty disappointing, I think, but I usually say that I wish I knew. Because if I knew, I’d be able to go to that place, wherever it is, and get a new idea whenever I wanted--essentially, I could recreate inspiration on command. Ideas come from everywhere, and nowhere. My characters are everyone I’ve ever met, but at the same time, they aren’t based on specific people. Ideas are tricky things that come and go without rhyme or reason.
Now, all of that is not to say that my writing process is mostly just sitting around, waiting for inspiration to strike. I’ve tried it and can report back that it absolutely doesn’t work. There’s a Jack London quote that I love--“You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”--and I really think that’s true. So how do you go after ideas with a club if you don’t know where they come from in the first place? It’s all about knowing what excites you as a writer. Brainstorming is the metaphorical “club” here. When I need an idea, or when I have a baby idea that needs to be combined with something else before it can become a big, strong, book-length idea, I like to make scribbly lists until I come across something I like. I can’t generate the perfect idea on command, but I can usually get into the right neighborhood this way. A full-fledged idea often exists at the intersection of two or three seemingly disparate things--MacBeth meets outer space, for example. (Please, somebody, write that!) I consider time spent working on ideas as “writing” time, even if I am not actually typing out words that find their way into a manuscript.
That brings me to another question I’m asked a lot: how long does it take to write a book? The answer, again, is complicated. It takes precisely as long as it takes. For me, the process of actively typing the words into a manuscript usually takes two to six months, but “writing” also involves hours of brainstorming, character sketches, daydreaming, procrastinating, research, redecorating my office (that’s a joke!), outlining, etc. I can only focus on typing one manuscript at a time, but I’m often kicking around ideas for several at once. And because I write a mystery series, my ideas for character arcs tend to overlap, affect each other when they change, etc. Basically, I’m always writing, even if I appear to be browsing office furniture online (again, a joke! Sort of).
If there’s anything I’ve learned about being a writer, it’s that everyone’s process is different. What works for one writer won’t work at all for someone else, and that’s okay. It’s really a matter of figuring out what works for you and owning it. Lee Child, author of the brilliantly suspenseful Jack Reacher series, and whom I was lucky enough to meet at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate, England, last summer, has a writing process that absolutely terrifies me: he starts a new book every September 1st with no outline and no plan--and he only writes one draft. He just sits down and writes it, and then it’s done. I think that’s absolutely marvelous. It would kill me, but I love it. On the flip side of that, I’ve read that Jeffrey Deaver pens super-detailed outlines before he starts writing--think 100+ pages of just outlining. This, too, would kill me. I’ve learned that I like to have a little bit of a plan, but not too much of a plan, and that it’s best not to fight it. You don’t have to be a certain kind of writer to be a “real” writer. Writers write, and it doesn’t matter how--just that you do it, and keep on doing it until you get where you want to go.
The Last Place You Look
Nobody knows what happened to Sarah Cook. The beautiful blonde teenager disappeared fifteen years ago, the same night her parents were brutally murdered in their suburban Ohio home. Her boyfriend Brad Stockton―black and from the wrong side of the tracks―was convicted of the murders and is now on death row. Though he’s maintained his innocence all along, the clock is running out. His execution is only weeks away when his devoted sister insists she spied Sarah at an area gas station. Willing to try anything, she hires PI Roxane Weary to look at the case and see if she can locate Sarah.
Brad might be in a bad way, but private investigator Roxane Weary isn’t doing so hot herself. Still reeling from the recent death of her cop father in the line of duty, her main way of dealing with her grief has been working as little and drinking as much as possible. But Roxane finds herself drawn in to the story of Sarah's vanishing act, especially when she links the disappearance to one of her father’s unsolved murder cases involving another teen girl.
The stakes get higher as Roxane discovers that the two girls may not be the only beautiful blonde teenagers who’ve turned up missing or dead. As her investigation gets darker and darker, Roxane will have to risk everything to find the truth. Lives depend on her cracking this case―hers included.
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Where to Buy The Last Place You Look
I'm generally pulled in a million different directions and I wouldn't trade it for the world. Here's a glimpse of my life - hope you enjoy it! And if there's a big lapse between posts, well, that's the way life goes in Amy's world.