by Shay Lacy, author of Hero Needed
Death by train seemed a common theme in historical westerns. In the 1914 movie serial, Perils of Pauline, the villain tied Pauline to the train tracks trying to kill her. The same thing happened in the TV cartoon starring Dudley Do-Right. The villain tied the love interest, Nell, to train tracks several times. It happened in a modern western, too. A few weeks ago on A&E’s Longmire, the villain laid a group of drugged female cult followers on the train tracks, and chained down the female whistleblower.
So when I first saw the train tracks that bisect the harbor in Watkins Glen, New York, it was natural that I thought of murder, right? Harbor visitors have to cross the tracks from the parking lot, and it’s an active line—several freight trains a week—which passes about six feet from a popular restaurant. I could not believe the location of those tracks. I thought, “Somebody could get killed.” The thought settled into my writer’s hind brain, where stories germinate. It morphed into, “How can I kill somebody with that train?” That, coupled with, “Who would use a train to kill?” set the scene for my novel Hero Needed.
Once I plotted the murder, it seemed the perfect crime if done subtly. Who would believe murder versus suicide, or accidental death?
Obviously the murderer would be the husband and there would have to be gain from the victim’s death—in this case financial and material. So if the female victim was well-to-do, how did my heroine know her? Thus evolved the housekeeper’s daughter. But the two women had to be as close as sisters for the heroine not to believe it was suicide. Thus my small-town rumor of the heroine’s paternity.
I write stories about a character’s transformation through love. Writers call it the character growth arc. During the course of a story I want my character to grow from being X to being Y (a better person). I’m cruel. I like to destroy my characters’ lives mostly over the course of a story, but sometimes life meltdown happens off-camera before the story begins. Either way, the story becomes about rising from the ashes of the old life with love helping the character make/accept new choices/realities and giving them a future.
Hero Needed was no exception to the phoenix rising theme. Once I had my murder weapon and victim, I looked at my heroine’s life and found her supports. Then I decided how to make them crumble: take away her best friend and her fiancé and cast doubt on everything she believes true. What I have as a result: conflict, my character’s growth arc, a romantic story with suspense/mystery, and a train for a murder weapon.