WRITING: Where do you get your story ideas?

I was asked on Quora: “What is your personal method for finding short stories ideas?” and this was my response:

I tend to combine past experiences and certain idiosyncrasies, and blend them into a story. To give you an example, this is my unpublished story Bonebag:
BONEBAG by Martyn V. Halm
Talons digging deep in her bony shoulder jerked Ange from pleasant dreams into cold dark reality. Muted green numerals floated in the dark bedroom to inform her that it was a quarter past two in the morning. Angrily she reached up, pried the fingers from her shoulder and turned to face her lover.
“Christ, Carla! It’s two in the morning, what the…”
A skittering sound in the kitchen made her swallow the rest of her tirade. Ange sat up and listened. The neon sign of the bar downstairs sprang on, blue light washing over the bedroom walls and the pale blob of Carla’s face, her dark eyes wide with fear.
Soft paws skittered along the length of the kitchen floor, followed by big paws that scrabbled for a hold. Ange could hear the claws gouge the linoleum floor as the cat wheeled around in pursuit of some ignorant rodent that had entered their apartment by mistake.
“That’s Felicia,” Carla whispered in a high strangled voice. “Your cat got something…”
Ange cocked her head. “Not yet. But she will in a minute. Now, can we go back to sleep? I have to be up at—”
“No, Ange.” Carla’s warm damp hand fell on her thigh and she could smell the sour smell of sleep on her breath. “Please, you got to do something.”
“Go to sleep.” Ange slipped back under the warm eiderdown, pulled the covers over her head as she turned on her side.
On the other side of the wall steel clanked against steel. Felicia’s food bowls. Apparently the pursuit had progressed into the bathroom.
“Ange!” Carla tugged her shoulder. “You know what she did last time!”
A couple of weeks back Felicia killed a mouse, opened the tiny rodent from throat to anus, and deposited the mutilated corpse on the floor in front of the bed, in obeisance to her mistress. Carla, who usually slept in, had the misfortune to get out of bed early. Still half asleep she put her foot in the gored mouse, her toes squishing into the juicy carcass. Yelling the whole apartment building awake, Carla had hopped on one leg to the bathroom and vomited all over the toilet seat while she removed the rodent’s entrails from between her toes.
“Just look where you put your big feet tomorrow,” Ange mumbled chagrined and turned on her side again. “And try to project your vomit into the bowl this time.”
“You know I can’t help it!” Carla took a deep shuddering breath. “Dead animals upset me.”
Upset was a mild term for the phobic revulsion Carla exhibited when confronted with a flattened hedgehog or a fish floating belly‑up. Her irrational hysterics spoiled walks along the beach and trips through the countryside. It put a damper on a pleasant walk in the woods when you had to hold your lover’s hair out of her face while she puked another meal behind a tree.
And still…
What bothered Ange was the suspicion that Carla’s abhorrence was mixed with fascination. Why else would her eyes scan the asphalt for roadkill? Or make Carla stand transfixed at the sight of gulls hacking an unfortunate crawfish to pieces? A slaughtered mouse in the house would keep her up till dawn.
And Ange with her.
“What the fuck do you want?” Ange turned around to face Carla. “You want me to help Felicia kill the stupid bugger? Is that what you want?”
“Just end its suffering.”
Ange whipped the eiderdown away. “I’ll make it suffer all right.”
The bedroom window was partially open and she was freezing her scrawny butt off, the cold waking her up completely. The neon sign flashed again, outlining her body in an almost pornographic blue nimbus reflected in the mirror in the corner of the room.
Where her parents found the audacity to call her Angelique was beyond her, for her appearance was anything but angelic. Her slanted green eyes narrowed as she viewed her reflection. Her thin frame with the pointed breasts, pelvic bones jutting out from her hips like handlebars, limbs strangely angular and bird‑like. She looked like she belonged in an enchanted forest, a malevolent pixie leading unwary travellers astray.
No wonder her nickname at school had been Bonebag.
The sign winked out again and Ange shivered as her feet touched the cold linoleum. She hurried across the kitchen floor and entered the bathroom.
After she closed the door behind her to keep the mouse in, she pulled the switch cord and shielded her eyes. The fluorescent strip light over the bathroom mirror flickered twice, then burned steadily, humming like an angry mosquito.
Felicia hunkered by the cabinet under the washbasin, her tail swishing from side to side. The cat didn’t even glance up at the light, her yellow eyes glued to the tiny creature hiding under the cabinet.
With her foot, Ange shoved the cat aside, but Felicia skirted behind her heels and took up guard at a different angle as Ange grabbed the sides of the cabinet and lifted it of the floor.
The mouse—startled by the rude disappearance of its shelter—spurted away, a small brown shape streaking across the floor for the back of the toilet bowl.
Felicia pounced and looked confused.
Ange noticed the trembling mouse behind the mop. Small fella, this time. An inch and a half at most, its tail three times the length of its body. Ange grinned, took the handle of the mop and shook it. She could see why Felicia liked this game so much.
The mouse didn’t like the game at all and fled into the shower stall. The rodent realised its mistake too late, for there was nothing to hide behind in the pristine cubicle. And the holes in the drain were too small to pass through, even for a tiny mouse like this one.
The petrified mouse cowered in a corner, while Felicia stalked it at leisure, her furry belly low to the ground, clearly savouring the moment. The mouse stared in the cat’s menacing yellow eyes, captivated like a rabbit in the bright light of a poacher. With her furry chin lowered to the tiled floor, Felicia stretched forth a tentative paw and nudged the mouse as if trying to spurn it into action. The mouse scurried back into the corner, reared up on its haunches and froze. Even the whiskers and the nose stopped moving. Its beady eyes, shiny with fear, glazed over. The mouse wasn’t petrified anymore. In mortal fear, its little rodent heart couldn’t handle the stress and stopped pumping.
Scared to death.
Felicia tilted her furry head. Surprised by the unexpected demise of her prey, the cat sat up and eyed the motionless rodent warily, her quivering ears twisting back and forth. With blinding swiftness, the cat lashed out. Her stiff paw whacked the mouse like a golf club and made the stiff rodent skid the entire length of the shower stall, until its diminutive corpse came to rest upended against the wall. Felicia uncoiled and pounced, coming in for the unnecessary slaughter.
Ange held the cat back by the scruff of her neck and picked up the stiffening mouse by its long tail to study the tiny creature. Its eyes—small black nodules bulging from the springy grey‑brown fur—were dull and lifeless. A tiny circle of blood had formed around the left nostril. Its slightly parted jaws revealed small yellow incisors. The tiny front paws were raised to its tiny chest like a dog begging for a morsel.
Ange opened the bathroom window to throw the corpse into the dark gardens three stories down. Felicia jumped on the toilet seat, her yellow eyes riveted on the dead mouse. Ange grabbed her cat by the neck and they both looked at the tiny dead creature swinging in the cold November air.
“Ange?”
She didn’t drop the mouse, but pulled back her arm and closed the window.
“Ange?”
Ange opened the bathroom door, noted the soft yellow light of the reading lamp over the bed shining into the dark hallway. The bedroom looked warm and cozy and here she was standing cold and naked in the freezing bathroom. All because of that stupid bitch and her necrophobia.
“What is it?” she yelled back.
“Is it… dead?”
Ange looked at the tiny corpse dangling from her fingertips. “You can say that.”
“Don’t forget to wash your hands, okay?”
Jesus H. Christ. Why had she ever shacked up with the stupid cow? She could have been lying in her warm bed. Felicia could have enjoyed her kill. Holding the mouse aloft in her right hand, Ange turned on the tap with her left and looked at her face in the bathroom mirror. The corners of her mouth, her most distinctive feminine feature, were turned down. She touched her full lips, so out of place in her narrow face. Stroked the sensitive skin, the tiny corpse in her other hand momentarily forgotten.
Felicia meowed and swatted the air under the swinging mouse.
Ange had a mind to take the mouse back into the bedroom and ask Carla to check if the tiny rodent had really kicked the bucket. An impish glitter filled the green eyes looking back at her from the mirror and her wide mouth curled into a wicked grin.
She took the fragile corpse between her fingers, felt the bones under her fingers. A little bonebag. Ange opened her mouth and placed the mouse inside, facing out. Tilted forward on her tongue, the tiny paws and the small furry head stuck out over the lower hedge of her white teeth. It looked like the mouse lived in her head and her mouth was its balcony. Staring into the eyes of her reflection, Ange closed her mouth gently to keep the little corpse in position. To keep the inside of her lips from touching the mouse, she had to pout lasciviously. Ange turned off the tap, switched off the light and left the bathroom. Her step was light as she padded to the pool of light in the bedroom.
Felicia followed closely, rubbed her furry body against her moving legs.
Carla sat in the middle of the bed, hugging Ange’s pillow against her breasts. Her dark eyes searched her face.
Ange stopped at the foot of the bed and kneeled on the eiderdown, pinning Carla’s legs under the covers. With a seductive smile around her pouting lips, she came slowly forward over the bed, supporting herself on her hands, trapping her lover under the eiderdown.
“Did you throw it out of the window? I heard—”
Ange shook her head slowly, her eyes fixed on Carla’s.
“No?” Carla looked worried. “You didn’t throw it in the trashcan, did you? I can’t…”
Ange leant forward and opened her mouth, arched her tongue under the small paws and moved the mouse up and down behind her teeth.
Carla blinked and focused on the dead mouse wobbling in her lover’s mouth. Her huge dark eyes widened in horror and she backed away until her back was against the wall. Ange closed her mouth, rocked back on her heels, pointed at her throat and swallowed thickly.
Carla’s eyes filled with revulsion and she broke away, threw herself off the bed. She bounced hard with her elbows on the carpet as she tumbled in a heap on the ground. Loud retching noises came from her mouth as she grabbed the door frame to support herself as she stumbled off to the bathroom.
Ange rose from the bed, opened the bedroom window and spat the tiny rodent corpse into darkness. The dead mouse dropped three stories and landed with an audible thud on the sidewalk. She hawked up a gob of saliva and spat into the blue neon night.
Wiping her mouth, Ange climbed back into the warm bed. She thumped the pillow back into shape, turned off the light and listened to Carla vomiting in the bathroom, then smiled to herself and pulled the warm eiderdown over her head.
Copyright: Martyn V. Halm. All Rights Reserved.

Now, I came up with the idea for this story because three things about this story are real experiences:

  • My mother has extreme necrophobia, like Carla in the story. Her revulsion to dead animals borders on hysteria and used to make me extremely angry at her when she would scream like she’d broken her hip when it was just the cat bringing home a dead bird.
  • I once got out of bed and stepped into an opened carcass of a mouse, lovingly laid out by my cat. I wasn’t revolted, like Carla, because I recognised that the cat gave me a gift. I was her master, so she gave me an offering. I praised my cat and pretended to eat the mouse, then – when she wasn’t looking – I tossed the carcass out the bedroom window for scavengers in the gardens to enjoy. And I recall thinking how my mother would’ve been in hysterics if she had stepped in a dead mouse.
  • And I was woken by the sounds of my cat stalking a mouse in the bathroom, where the events happened like in the story – I lifted the bathroom cabinet and the mouse fled into the shower stall, from where it couldn’t escape. It sat back on its haunches watching as my cat stalked into the shower stall, and then the mouse just died. My cat had the same response as Felicia – she was surprised and disappointed, then wanted to bat the mouse through the bathroom, but I intervened and picked up the mouse, studying it briefly before tossing it out the bathroom window.
Ange is modelled on one of my ex-girlfriends, who looked like a beautiful pixie. I hope she doesn’t mind that I turned her into a lesbian with a wickedly horrible sense of humour.
Everything else is pure imagination.
So, tell me, where do you get your story ideas?

New Katla KillFile on its way: Aconite Attack

Despite battling my kidney stones, I’ve been working on a new Katla KillFile called Aconite Attack:

Assassin Katla finds a devious way to get a target to poison himself…

The Aconite Attack KillFile follows Katla Sieltjes, freelance assassin and corporate troubleshooter, as she gets herself hired by the CEO of a modelling agency to permanently remove his playboy partner, who is quickly draining the firm’s resources on his downward spiral into self-destruction. Katla finds a way to administer a poison to the target, but he has to be isolated for her plan to succeed. But every plan has a fluke factor, and Katla soon finds herself in a struggle for life and death when the target reveals his darker side…

The Katla KillFile short stories chronologically precede the novels in the Amsterdam Assassin Series.

Each KillFile features Katla Sieltjes, expert in disguising homicide, executing one of her contracts. While not mandatory reading, each KillFile provides insight both in Katla’s work methods and skill, and additional background information in her character and personal history. The KillFiles can be read out of order, as the contracts are random samples from Katla’s past.

This e-book features a glossary.

First peek at the cover:

Aconite Kill File gray MS

Pre-publication snippet:

Katla put away her lock picks and took the oxygen tank from her bag. She covered her face with the biohazard mask before she entered the target’s apartment and closed the door behind her.

Although she had waited a good half hour after Gerard Snuif left, she took no chances and made a slow circuit through the target’s opulent bachelor pad to make sure she was alone before she went into the kitchen and took down the cereal box from the cabinet.

She lifted the plastic bag with cereal from the box and placed the bag on a scale. 114 grammes. So Snuif had eaten more than half the bag, unaware of the source of his complaints.

Probably figured nobody would mess with his cereal.

Katla smiled behind the biohazard mask and took a fresh carton of cereal from her bag. She removed the sealed bag with untainted cereal, measured against the used bag and tore off a corner. She poured 136 grammes of cereal into a bowl and weighed the bag to make sure it contained the exact same amount as the used bag.

Although it was unlikely that Snuif would know exactly how much cereal he had left, she preferred to be meticulous when dealing with poison.

She placed the fresh bag in the used carton and placed the cereal back in the kitchen cabinet. The used bag with the poisoned cereal went into a ziplock bag. She added the 136 grams of untainted cereal and put the bag in the carton in her bag.

Ready.

Leaving the oxygen mask on until she was near the door, Katla went out the same way she came in and used her picks to lock the door behind her.

Now, all she had to hope for was for his partner to be susceptible to her offer. If he didn’t take the bait, all her work had been for nothing.

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