Culling Ideas from Life


David Pereda

Most of the ideas for my stories grow out of specific incidents, places, activities or people I meet in life. A case in point is my Havana Series of thrillers.

The idea for the series popped into my mind while watching my ex-wife, a successful and highly skilled plastic surgeon, perform a complex surgery. As I observed her nimble hands undermine aging skin and chisel a bulbous appendage into a perfect nose, I said to myself, “Why don’t you write a thriller based on a face-disguising plastic surgery to Fidel Castro?”

I picked Castro instead of Hugo Chavez because I was born in Cuba, so I knew something about the topic. I chose to write a thriller instead of a mainstream novel because the subject matter lent itself to the thriller genre. Besides, I love to write thrillers.

Another interesting anecdote about the Havana Series of books is how I came up with the idea for the beautiful but ruthless female assassin, Marcela.

I wasn’t happy with my first draft of the manuscript. The basic story of a widowed doctor lured to Cuba after thirty years to perform plastic surgery on Fidel Castro, in the process rekindling his love affair with the childhood sweetheart he left behind and meeting the son he never knew, was interesting but plain vanilla. I felt that it lacked punch and needed a counter-point subplot. So I came up with another idea, “What if Raul Castro sent an assassin after the doctor?”

So I developed a male assassin named Marcial and stuffed him in the book. My problem was that I felt no empathy for Marcial. He was simply a muscular and mean lump, lacking energy and excitement. Marcial gave me writer’s block. One day, commiserating with my wife during dinner about my problems with Marcial, she gave me a great suggestion. “What if you made the assassin a woman and called her Marcela?”

And, suddenly, I had an epiphany. The character of Marcela exploded in my imagination. I could see the entire storyline, in vivid detail, in front of my eyes. It was an incredible moment of illumination. Hollywood couldn’t have done it better.  Marcela would be Halle Berry on steroids but with yellow eyes, a lethal professional killer with a strict religious and moral code. I wrote the rest of the first book of the series in three months of furious writing.

Most of the ideas for my stories come to me like that, from unexpected sources.  That’s why I try to be always alert and observant to the world around me. I don’t want to miss anything. Culling ideas from life is hard work.


When an old fisherman is gunned down on a Mexican beach, prominent Miami surgeon Raymond Peters becomes the prime suspect. The dead fisherman is believed to be Fidel Castro whom Dr. Peters had helped disguise through clandestine plastic surgery on a trip to Cuba two years earlier. But is the body really that of the Cuban leader? In order to save his own life, the beleaguered physician must solve the murder, find the killers and retrieve a mysterious journal. And this has to be done while outwitting a sensual but ruthless assassin named Marcela, sent by Castro’s brother Raul.


To Marcela’s delight, Tula arrived promptly at eight. She paused at the

door, scanning the crowded bar. Her red halter dress and black spike

heels with ankle straps did the job she’d obviously intended them to do.

Marcela waved from her small table in the back of the room, her heart

quickening. Tula waved back and started skirting the tables. Men and

women stared at her as she passed by, triggering in Marcela a strange


She rose when Tula reached her table, and both women greeted each

other with the customary exchange of kisses on the cheek. Tula’s eyes

were somber.

“Something wrong?” Marcela asked, sitting down again. “You look—”

“Sad?” Tula said, sitting down next to Marcela.

Marcela nodded.

“A friend of mine died recently,” Tula said. “A very good friend. We

used to come here sometimes. It made me sad when I walked in.”

“Sorry,” Marcela said. “You want to go some other place?”

“No. This is fine. I need to get over it.”

“What did your friend die of?”

“He was murdered.”

Marcela raised an eyebrow. “Miami is a violent city.”

“You can say that again.”

“How did it happen?”

“He was shot in his apartment.”

“My God!” Marcela said. “A thief?”

Tears came to Tula’s eyes. “Who knows? He was such a good person.

I can’t imagine anyone wanting to kill him.”

“Poor thing. Did they catch who did it?”

“Not yet.”

“Do the police have any leads?”

Tula shook her head and suddenly started sobbing.

“Now, now,” Marcela said, leaning forward and patting her hand.

“You need a drink.” She waved to the waiter. “What would you like?”

“A mojito.”

“Just what I was going to order myself,” Marcela said as the waiter

arrived. “Two mojitos. And when you see these glasses empty again, you

bring some more.”

“Yes, ma’am,” the waiter said.

An hour and four mojitos later, Tula had to go to the bathroom.

Marcela got up to go with her. When Tula’s head was turned, Marcela

slipped two roofies into her drink.

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3 Responses to Culling Ideas from Life

  1. david pereda says:

    Everything changed, Lisa. A woman and a man are different animals. I made Marcela knee-knocking beautiful but lethal, sleek and able to disguise herself almost at will. The Marcela character was based based on several modern professional women I have been fortunate to meet –gorgeous but watch out! The character of Marcial was just powerful. The incredible thing was that by making the change the entire book became easier to write.

  2. admin says:

    I’m happy you’re here, David! I’ll get the ball rolling. Many readers don’t realize that most of the work of writing is in the re-writing. You have given a perfect example here — Your original villain got a sex-change! What were some of the challenges of changing out a character during revision?


  3. David Pereda says:

    Hi Lisa, Dropped by to say hello and thank you for having me as a guest on your blog today. Will be glad to answer questions from your readers. David

Comments are closed.