On July 8, my seventh novel, Skin Deep, comes out in hardback. And soon after that I’ll do some touring in the Northeast, then in Los Angeles in mid-August on the way to the Maui Writers Retreat and Conference, this year in Honolulu.
And in preparation for all that and a bunch of radio interviews, I’m polishing my response to what might be the most asked question of any writer: “Where do you get your ideas?”
The boring answer is that we make them up. But ideas come from almost anywhere: an experience, an overheard conversation, a news item, a movie scene, a dream—a notion that has been with you for years, sitting in the middle of your brain like an artifact. I have a separate book that evolved from each of those. And so do hundreds of other writers.
Like other genre writers, my publisher expects some basics from me: High concept thrillers centered on the development of a “hot” medical or biomedical breakthrough. For instance, the development of an anti-aging drug (Elixir); boosting the intelligence of slow children for parents intent on raising geniuses (Gray Matter); rushing to market a cure for Alzheimer’s disease (Flashback). Each story should be centered on ordinary American people—family folks with kids, cats and dogs. And each with the message: Beware what you wish for. So those are the basic ingredients of my assignments. But every time one book is finished, it’s like getting fired. I find myself trying to come up with the next big What If?
Well, after weeks of thrashing around, that happened. I was drifting through the family room where my wife was watching “Dr. Phil.” There on the screen was a young mother woefully confessing that she could not walk past a mirror without being depressed at how she didn’t look like Jessica Simpson in spite of 18 separate cosmetic surgical procedures. And she was lined up for more. It was unbelievable, because the woman was rather attractive, except for the grouper lips. What she needed, of course, was not another cosmetic surgeon but a good shrink. She was surgically addicted, obsessed with Jessica Simpson’s face, and miserable she would never look like her no matter how many times she’d go under the knife.
That story episode told me a lot and formulated the core idea for Skin Deep.
What that “Dr. Phil” moment brought home was how obsessed people were with their looks and how they were turning to cosmetic surgery for the quick fix. Losing your hair?
Get plugs. Look like a dork in glasses? Call a laser clinic. Lips too thin? Get them plumped with collagen. Eyelids a tad thick? Get a lid lift. Nose too ethnic? Get it snipped. Crows walking all over your face? Get Restylane injections. Frown line too deep? Botox it. Got a belly that won’t quit? Call the liposuction doc.
That woman’s obsession also got me thinking about the nature of beauty and a concept known as the Golden Ratio or the “divine proportion.”
During the Renaissance, artists and mathematicians determined a formula for the most aesthetically pleasing creations of nature and art—flowers, seashells, trees, as well as music, paintings, and architecture. Also the human face. They determined the ideal facial beauty had a fixed ratio of various proportions: facial length to the width, mouth length to nose width, length of lips to width of nose, nose tip to chin to lip to chin, and several others. The ratio turns out to be a constant of 1.67 to 1.0. Philosophers say it’s the ideal that beauty aspires to. The closer that a face’s various proportions approach that ratio, the more attractive the face. And that is why most iconic beauties have heart-shaped faces, with wide-set eyes, thin noses, full mouths, and short chins.
Skin Deep is a novel about an obsession with an ideal of female beauty—an obsession that drives women to seek enhancement; an obsession that is like catnip to a killer who stalks these very alluring women. A killer who is quite unlike any other you will have met.
But that’s all I’m going to say. You’ll have to read the book to find out for yourself. So far the critics are loving it. And I hope you will also.
Until next time…