With thousands of books published every year, it can be difficult for authors to come up with a unique premise for a book. So when we found out that the e-book Trash Course revolved around a mystery set in a hoarder's booby-trapped house, we were immediately intrigued. We knew that we had to find out Penny Drake's inspiration for this unusual romantic suspense.
Humans collect stuff. But for some of us, this natural instinct goes haywire, and the victims discover they can’t throw anything away because they might need it some day. It’s not laziness or stupidity. It’s a psychological illness that’s very difficult to treat.
Several years ago, I shared a neighborhood with a perfectly ordinary, two-story house shaded by lovely trees. One day, I saw a hatchback parked near the sidewalk. It was filled with trash: fast food bags, old newspapers, ragged shoes, and more. There was only a tiny space for the driver, and most of the windows were blocked. No way that thing was safe to drive. A few days after that, a big padlock had been affixed to the outside of the front door along with an official-looking sticker. Nosiness overcame me–I dashed up to look. The sticker came from the Health Department, and it declared the house unfit for human habitation. Now that I was on the front porch, I could see through the windows that the place was stuffed with stuff. Clothes and books and old magazines and junk I couldn’t identify filled the house from floor to ceiling.
A few days after THAT, an industrial-grade dumpster appeared in the driveway. Over the course of a week, workers filled and hauled away at least three dumpsters that I counted. I learned that the old woman who owned the house had been relocated to an assisted-living apartment, and her children were renovating and selling the house. The old woman had been filling it over the course of forty years, unable to throw anything away in case it turned out to be valuable.
My writer brain went to work. What if something in there really were valuable? What would it be? Who would go looking for it? And, more important, how the heck would you find it?
(I feel I should add that I hadn’t even heard of the TV show Hoarders until my editor, Laura Anne Gilman, asked if that was where the inspiration for the book came from. I’ve seen the show since, and find it oddly difficult to watch--I feel so bad for the people it features.)
I started researching to learn more, and came across the case of Homer and Langley Collyer, two brothers who hoarded themselves to death in the 1940s. Their case cross-pollinated with another idea I liked--a shadowy agency run dedicated to helping women. Out of this, Trash Course was born. Writing it was a heck of a ride.
- Penny Drake