The Making of a Novel

 

 I have just completed a novel entitled The Trial of Lucy Summerfield. Fiction is never created in a vacuum. All fiction has to have some reality based in the story or otherwise the reader will never buy into the plot. The Trial of Lucy Summerfield is no exception. Although some of the incidents in the story are written almost directly from real life, the great majority of the novel is fiction. However, the story was created from meeting actual people and the events are drawn from every day history. And developing the character Lucy Summerfield has been the most interesting creative processes I have ever experienced.

 During the late 80’s I worked as an Employment Specialist for the Indiana Employment Service. At least half of my job was interviewing people so, hopefully, job referrals could be made. One early afternoon a long blond haired woman sat at my desk. She was in her mid-thirties and had a solid work history. She was not beautiful but had an interesting face that would be hard to forget. Additionally she came across as articulate and intelligent. I never remembered her name but always remembered her.

 

 As interesting as she was, I may have forgotten her if she hadn’t gone out of her way to make an impression. In the middle of the interview, she made it point to mention that she had just finished being on trial. Her husband had been murdered. She was not accused of the actual crime but instead was tried for conspiracy. The charge had been that she had paid the killer to pull off the crime. She had been found not guilty.

 There was no reason for her to tell me this story. It had no relevance to her looking for work. A criminal record would have been relevant but with the not guilty verdict she had no criminal record. So why did she tell me this irrelevant but interesting bit of information?

 A trial judge I know told me that she was actually confessing to me. And a woman co-worker who sat next to me recognized the interviewee. My co-worker was convinced the woman was indeed guilty. Of course, this was all conjecture.

 

One final thing: Toward the end of the interview, she asked me for my home phone. There were two excellent reasons why I couldn’t give out the information: I was happily married and my employer will frown on my attempting to use my position to meet women. I told her politely but firmly that I could not give her my phone number.

 

 Looking me straight in the eye, she said. “That’s okay. I understand perfectly.”

 After the interview, she walked away with head held high. She was not about to lose her dignity. I would never see her again.

 But right after she left, I began thinking of writing a short story. My encounter with her had been interesting but in itself didn’t constitute a story. So now it was time to create some fiction. I remembered being told a story where an auto mechanic got a call from a woman. Her car was not running and, in return for his services, she offered herself. I now had a new character-an auto mechanic whom I named Alex.

 Now how about the desperate woman who needed her car repaired? Driving home one night, I passed a business named Summerfield Trucking. I now had the last name. For some reason I picked Lucy as the first name.

 

Lucy and Alex would have quite the confrontation. The confrontation became a story I entitled “Angel Face.” The story would be published in an anthology called Murder Is My Business that was released in late 1994. In “Angel Face,” both Lucy and Alex would be harmed not by violence but by the fact they needed each other and instead drove each other away.

*****

 

My wife Delia suggested that I expand the story into a novel. I liked the idea but it took me a while to figure out how I could turn a short story into a novel. In doing so, I went back to the real incident of the woman asking me for my phone number.

 

 

 Why was she so willing to put herself out there with a stranger? Well, I was a happy person both professionally and personally. That probably came across as I talked to her. Feeling this positive energy, she decided to take a risk. However, it was that happiness that made me turn her down. I was not about to risk my marriage and job on the account of a stranger no matter how interesting she looked or acted.

 But then the creative juices started flowing. What if I was alone and otherwise not happy? Would I have given my phone number to her and risk what little I had even if she was as dangerous as some said? The answer was yes.

 So now I had a third character in the mix. His name was Ted Phillips and he was a successful crime writer. Despite this success, Ted was not happy and wondered why his life had taken a sour turn. Now he was trying to revive his career and jump start his life by writing about Lucy Summerfield.

 And what about Lucy Summerfield in this novel? She would not be as cold and calculating as the Lucy Summerfield in “Angel Face,’ but she would be smart, mysterious and otherwise quite multi-sided. Ted would be fiercely drawn to her.

 

 Alex is there, too, although only at the beginning and the end. However, Alex is vitally important and his presence is constantly felt throughout the story. He is also drawn as intelligent, introspective and vulnerable. Why else would Lucy be attracted to him?

 

 The three make for a strange love triangle. And they do have strong feelings about each other despite the fact that those feelings aren’t expressed or acted upon. Or at least this happens during most of the story. That’s what is called tension.

 

The Trial of Lucy Summerfield is an example of how real life can be turned into believable fiction. The main characters in the story become overwhelmed by events outside of their control. But because the three characters actually come to care for each other, they turn their lives around and find a peace they never thought they would experience.

 

And this story was written because an assertive but misguided woman asked me for my phone number.