Since I finished writing Murder in Ocean Hall, I’ve gotten questions from friends and family regarding the book. Creating something from nothing seems enough of a magical act to inspire some questioning. The question I’ve gotten most is:
Where’d you get the idea from?
I originally planned to write a much different book, something much more serious and literary. It’s a manuscript that I’ve worked on for three or four years and exists on my laptop as a mix of disparate scenes and ideas that have never quite come together. The novel that I had in mind was a much grimmer story, about DC during the summer before 9/11. The book is about people chasing success, unaware that their world is about to be undone.
Finishing that big serious book was my plan. It’s why I decided to leave my government contractor job.
However, I had been thinking about genre fiction (mysteries, science fiction) since they’re supposedly easier to get published. At a screenwriting conference, I heard a mystery author, Andrew Klavan, say that the best way to break into Hollywood was to write a novel. I’ve written a bunch of unproduced screenplays (including MOUNT PLEASANT which won the Film DC Screenwriting Competition) so this idea made a lot of sense to me.
I’ve been writing my whole life – short stories, screenplays, articles – so the thought of writing a novel wasn’t too daunting. It’s a just a series of short stories, I told myself.
About the same time, Ocean Hall opened up at the Smithsonian. NOAA, the government agency I worked for, had supplied artifacts, videos, photos and text for the exhibit. My boss and many of my coworkers had contributed to this project. I had been hearing about it for years.
And I was pretty familiar with the subject matter, having been the Web Site Manager for NOAA Ocean Explorer. I was the project manager and managing editor for the site. I worked with underwater explorers from around the world, publishing their stories and discoveries on our web site.
So, at my going away lunch, I joked that I was going to write a book called, “Murder in Ocean Hall.” Everyone thought this was pretty funny.
The idea for the plot – an arrogant bastard is killed and he’s so disliked that suspects are many – actually came from an idea I had for a short film for the 48 Hour Film Project. The idea didn’t fit for 48 Hour but it stuck around in my brain.
The plot amused me, and the idea of using all I had learned about ocean exploration from three years at NOAA really appealed to me. Since the book would be set in DC, I could also satirize the city I had come to love and hate.
So, as you can see, Murder in Ocean Hall takes experiences and ideas from my life, as well as things I’ve learned, to create a brand new story. In other words, “write what you know.”