It’s a question that all writers are asked, especially those who write fiction. Now, as I prepare to launch my debut novel, The Maid, a mystery about a hotel maid who comes across the dead body of a guest, it occurs to me that ideas are the greatest mystery of all. Where do they come from? Are they born? If so, how?
In my writer’s eye, I imagine a cabbage patch. I’m thinking of all those mothers of yesteryear who, when asked where babies come from, invented the cabbage patch and the magical stork that delivered little bundles of joy to expectant parents all over the world.
Perhaps that’s my answer. Maybe there exists a liminal time and place, a cabbage patch of ideas where ill-formed kernels are sown and watered, to eventually be plucked by the story stork and delivered unto expectant authors all over the world. If it were so, believe me: novelists wouldn’t be as cranky as they are. We’d have a much easier time of things.
The truth about ideas is more illusive. And even if you can pinpoint the germ of one, it’s often harder (or maybe even impossible) to track the myriad decisions that a novelist makes after an idea is sown – from the thematic landscape, to the genre and style of their writing, to the essence of the plot – all of which determine how that tiny kernel develops into a fully-fledged work of fiction.
As for my novel, The Maid, while I can’t pinpoint much else about how I created it, I do know when the idea was born. I know exactly.
It happened on a business trip in 2019, during which I stayed at a London hotel. The hotel had seen better days, but I instantly imagined it in its heyday – plush red carpets leading to an elegant Art Deco entrance, smartly dressed porters crisscrossing the lobby with guests’ luggage in tow, the grand marble staircase and brass railings polished to a gleaming shine.
Simply by cleaning my room every day, this maid knew so much about me. But what did I know about her?
After a meeting outside the hotel, I returned to my room and startled my hotel maid who was folding the jogging pants I’d thrown in a tangled mess on the bed. It occurred to me then what an intimate and invisible job it is to be a room maid. Simply by cleaning my room every day, this maid knew so much about me. But what did I know about her?
On the plane ride home from that trip, I continued to think about this diligent maid and about the hotel itself. Ideas germinated in my mind. What if a hotel room maid were to stumble across the scene of a crime in a guest’s room she cleaned every day? What if she knew things that no one else did, about the room itself and its guests? What if this hotel was in its heyday, polished to perfection, much like the maid who worked there? I gave the hotel a new name: the Regency Grand, a five-star boutique that prides itself on sophisticated elegance and proper decorum for the modern age.
I didn’t have any paper, so I took the napkin from under my drink and began to write. The prologue of The Maid surged forth in a single burst and Molly Gray, my protagonist, was born. Sharp and particular, perceptive yet flawed, Molly the maid revealed herself, a tiny kernel, delivered unto me by a story stork from the cabbage patch of ideas.
Everything after that was up to me. And so, the hard work began.
Author Bio: Nita Prose is a long-time editor, serving many bestselling authors and their books. She lives in Toronto, Canada, in a house that is only moderately clean.