Feature for Crime Time
(Crime Time, a popular book site in the UK, asked me to write a short piece about THE SECRET CROWN. I had nothing better to do that day, so this is what I wrote.)
People always ask me where I get my ideas from, but I never know what to tell them. Not because my answer is embarrassing or because I’ve been sworn to secrecy by the elder statesmen of the Authors Guild. (Or maybe I have.) No, the real reason is much more complicated than that. The truth is I don’t know where my ideas come from. I really don’t. The darn things just pop into my mind, and I never know how or why.
Take my latest novel. It’s called THE SECRET CROWN, and it deals with King Ludwig II of Bavaria. Back in 1886, Ludwig was declared insane by his government and was forcibly removed from the throne. A day later, Ludwig’s corpse washed up in the shallows of Lake Starnberg. Rumors swirled about the tragedy, but few knew why the eccentric king was killed and what secret was silenced by his death.
Call me crazy, but that’s an awesome backstory for a thriller. Why? Because Ludwig’s real life was filled with all the things I look for in a novel: betrayal, deceit, murder, and revenge. Throw in some wisecracking heroes and a few explosions, and I’ll gladly stay inside all weekend to find out what really happened to Ludwig.
But here’s the thing: I honestly can’t remember when I first learned about Ludwig. It might have been in high school. Or college. Or when my mom and sister toured Ludwig’s castles (Neuschwanstein, Linderhof, etc.) in 2007. Truth be told, it might have been on my family’s cross-country vacation to Disneyland when I was just a boy. After all, Neuschwanstein was the inspiration behind Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, a fact that is repeated hundreds of times a day by the tour guides at Disney. For all I know, I might have to thank some dude in mouse ears for introducing me to Ludwig. And if that’s the case, let me take this opportunity to thank Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse right now.
Flash forward to 2009. My fifth book, THE PROPHECY, had just been released in the UK, and my agent called me to find out what I would be working on next. I hadn’t given it much thought, but that didn’t stop me from answering his question. I blurted out, “I want to write a book about King Ludwig.”
My agent paused for several seconds, then said, “Who?”
And the strange thing was, I didn’t know how to answer him—or why I had blurted Ludwig’s name with such conviction. So I did what any other author would have done in my situation, I pretended there was a bad connection and hung up the phone…. Okay, I admit it. I made that last part up. But that would’ve been funny!
In reality, I told my agent about Ludwig’s elaborate castles, his insanity, and all the rumors about his death. Then I detailed how my series characters, Jonathon Payne and David Jones, would get mixed up in the fray. By the end of the conversation, my agent was convinced THE SECRET CROWN would be a bestseller—and so was I.
But to this day, I still don’t know where the idea came from. I really don’t.
I’m just thankful it came to me.
(This feature was written for Crime Time.)