One daughter turned forty years old, another thirty. Two milestone birthdays.
Let’s get together for a celebratory weekend in the Finger Lakes! What a great idea!
(Family fun on Keuka Lake. Photo by Jeanne Sullivan Meissner)
So we traveled to Keuka Lake, New York, from Brooklyn and Peekskill and Chicago and Trumansburg on Cayuga Lake and had a wonderful time frolicking in the water and the sun for a few days. My wife and I, four adult kids with spouses, six grandkids, and a family friend. But all good times end eventually. For our daughter Anne Lise, who lived on a neighboring lake, the end meant cleaning up the rented house she had found for us, and returning the keys to the real estate company. We all offered to help, but she insisted that we get started on our drives of four hours back to Brooklyn and ten hours to Chicago.
A couple of days after arriving home I received an email from Anne Lise with a photo attached. The message read, “Pops! Your next Rick Peters story! ‘Dead Man’s Shoe.'” The picture showed a lone athletic shoe on a pier. “Found this in the lake as we were cleaning up.”
I loved the title, but wondered how a single black Merrell shoe could translate into a Rick Peters story. Peters is the first person protagonist featured in most of my crime fiction, including “The Beano” (AHMM, Sept/Oct 2021) and other short stories, and one (so far) novel. He is a commercial photographer with a portfolio that includes images of everything from nudes for a men’s magazine to a guitar once owned by Eric Clapton (see “The Beano”). Taking another look at the picture, I wondered what the shoe could possibly have to do with a photographer.
Maybe I should create a new hero, or antihero, because if it’s Rick Peters’ shoe that would mean he was the dead man in the title and I would be saying goodbye to my favorite protagonist!
The thought of creating a new Rick Peters made me dizzy just then, so once again I brought the image up on my cell phone to ponder other possibilities. The connection hit me like a high inside fast ball.
Picture . . . photographer.
Photograph . . . photographer.
Rick Peters . . . photographer.
Rick Peters took the photograph of the shoe! It wasn’t his shoe and foot at all!
So what? A single athletic shoe on a pier on a lake. Why would he take such a picture, especially since he normally works in the controlled lighting environment of a commercial studio? Quick cell phone captures are not his style at all. They make him nervous.
Then the picture wasn’t taken with a cell phone. Peters took it with a professional digital SLR camera.
The question arose in my somewhat addled mind, why was Peters in the Finger Lakes Region of Upstate New York in the first place? He works at a studio in Chicago. The answer to that question came to me when I asked myself, why were we on Keuka Lake that weekend?
For fun! A brief vacation!
Peters would be in Upstate New York for the same reason—to get away from it all for a week or so. Peace and quiet in a beautiful, dare I say picturesque, part of the country, far away from the big city and its crowds and noise and . . . crime?
Okay, there has to be a crime. But it’s just a shoe on a pier. How to turn a simple shoe into a dead man’s shoe, that was the question.
Maybe this: I’ll put a man’s foot in the shoe. A dead man’s foot.
But was that realistic? An athletic shoe washing up on a lake shore with a severed foot still inside? I googled “feet in shoes washing up” and immediately this sentence appeared at the top of my cell phone’s display: “Since 2007, nearly two dozen human feet have been found in sneakers unattached to bodies . . .”
It was possible. There was precedent. My photographer protagonist Rick Peters could be hired to take a picture of a shoe still holding a disembodied foot; hired by the local, small town police because they needed a professional to take high resolution photographs of the evidence of a potential crime, at the possible scene of that potential crime.
I had the initiating action for “Dead Man’s Shoe,” and a location. Luckily we visited our daughter and her husband in the Finger Lakes on a regular basis which made adding descriptive location details a more reliable task than depending on my memory or photographs.
Next, I needed characters. I had a foot in a soggy shoe, but the victim himself needed to be fleshed out, so to speak. And who would be the perp? Or perhaps perps? And what would his (her? their?) motive be? The solutions to those problems came as I worked on the first draft of the story.
After several more drafts, frequent proofing, and final minor revisions, I was ready to submit. Soon after I sent in the manuscript Editor Linda Landrigan sent me the happy email informing me that AHMM would like to acquire “Dead Man’s Shoe.”
Thanks for the inspiration, Anne Lise! Now, please send me more story ideas. Your first was hugely successful. Keep ’em coming!
One response to “Inspired by a Soggy Shoe by Floyd Sullivan”
Such a great telling of how a story emerges. Where we get ideas, how they manifest. The mystery of the creative process. Wonderful.