How I Come Up With My Plots — John Schembra

Today I’m happy to welcome author John Schembra to the blog to share about his writing process. And don’t miss the author spotlight below!

When talking to friends, family and strangers about my books and writing in general, the first question they usually ask is “How do you come up with your ideas?”

I tell them I have no specific process in figuring out what the plot will be.  Inspiration seems to come to me out of the blue when least expected.  It could be something said in passing by people around me, or something I heard listening to the radio while driving.  It may be an obscure back page news article in the paper.  Maybe something said by a character in a movie or television program catches my attention, or a story told by a friend at dinner.

Whatever the source, it’s whether it piques my interest.  My 4th book, Sin Eater, came about as I was half listening to a movie on television.  Though I can’t remember what the movie was, I know the scene was two men, one of whom may have been Robin Williams, sitting in a bar talking.  I don’t even remember what they were talking about, but one of them said something about a sin eater.  There was just that one quick reference but it caught my attention.  I had never heard of a Sin Eater and became very curious about what it, or he, could be.  A bit of research and I thought, Hmmm, this might make a good book.   A few months later it had been written.

There are accepted and recommended procedures writers can use in their writing endeavors to enhance and polish their skills and the pace and fluidity of their writing.  However, if one does not choose to use those procedures, it doesn’t mean they are doomed to failure.  Included in those procedures are ways to select a plot theme.  I found, in my case, that spontaneity works best. I don’t wrack my brain for hours trying to come up with a fresh spin on an established plot, or in coming up with a new idea.  Too much hard thinking about those things makes my head hurt!

The bottom line being that if one tries too hard to come up with a plot, or, for that matter, a character, it makes the writing process less enjoyable, and in my opinion, there is less chance of success.

Let those creative juices flow.  If something seems interesting to you, it will be interesting to your readers.

I consider myself a writer.  I don’t have to be normal!


What do you enjoy most about writing?  I enjoy researching the events and locations in my books. Most of them take place in San Francisco, and I like to have actual locations, streets, businesses, and buildings in the story, for realism.

How did you get started writing? Another Sergeant and Vietnam Vet at the PD and I would another Sergeant at the police department, a fellow Vietnam  veteran, and I would swap stories of our experiences in Vietnam. Other members of the department would listen, and began to encourage me to write down my stories.  They said it would make a good book.  So, taking heed of their advice, I began my first novel, MP.

What can your readers expect from you in the future? More Vince Torelli books, the SFPD Homicide Inspector in four of my novels. Occasionally, a new non-Torelli thriller, and perhaps another supernatural thriller beside the two I’ve written.

Question for the readers:  When you find a good author and follow him/her, what keeps you coming back to their books?


John Schembra spent a year with the 557th MP Company in Vietnam in 1970.  His time as a combat M.P. provided the basis of his first book, M.P., A Novel of Vietnam. In 1971 John joined the Pleasant Hill Police Department, retiring in 2001 after 30 years of service.

John’s second novel, Retribution, is a story of the hunt for a serial killer in San Francisco. His third novel is Diplomatic Immunity, book four is Sin Eater, and his fifth book, Blood Debt. John’s sixth and seventh books, An Echo of Lives and The List  are currently at the publisher’s.

Click to read the first chapter of his books.


11 thoughts on “How I Come Up With My Plots — John Schembra

  1. Great interview, John, You’re a natural born storyteller so writing good books comes easily to you. Keep them coming.

  2. I like how you said not to work too hard to figure out a theme! I think that is a job for the subconscious, and after the writer finishes a draft, the theme will emerge. In the editing process, it can be sharpened up a bit, if need be. The important thing is the story (which is, of course, more than the plot)! Sounds like you’re a natural storyteller!

  3. I am envious of you John and all writers that can produce books in months. I have read your books and they are great and I certainly recommend them to others.

  4. Good post, John. I like your response to questions about how you develop your storyline, ideas, and characters. You live life and pay attention. Combat and thirty years in law enforcement also give an author a lot to work with. I have been following John’s work for the past couple of years and look forward to anything new he writes.

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