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It’s no mystery

Photo by Mary Knox Merrill.

Some five years ago, Northeastern University English professor Gary Goshgarian watched an episode of Dr. Phil featuring an attractive 28-year-old woman who wanted to look like pop singer Jessica Simpson.

Celebrity worship, he said, served as a jumping-off point for his 2008 novel “Skin Deep,” a psychological thriller in which a serial killer murders beautiful women in Boston.

Goshgarian, the author of eight critically acclaimed novels, including three that have been optioned for films, gave an on-campus presentation last week on the making of a mystery. The program was part of Insights, a faculty lecture series created by the Office of Alumni Relations.

Great story ideas, Goshgarian told alumni, faculty and staff, are like “fossils hidden inside the cave of your brain.” He said he chooses to excavate those ideas by watching TV, surfing the web and channeling personal experiences.

A poll on CNN asking viewers what they would change about themselves—80 percent of respondents wanted to be more intelligent—served as the basis for his 2004 novel, “Gray Matter,” in which a middle-class mother worries about her underachieving son.

What he referred to as a “Stephen King moment” fueled his 2006 novel, “Flashback,” in which a pharmacologist tries to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. “My aunt had Alzheimer’s and I was visiting her in a nursing home,” said Goshgarian. “All of a sudden she started to have a coherent conversation with her dead mother in a little girl’s voice.”

Goshgarian, whose nom de plume is Gary Braver, plans to release his ninth novel, “Tunnel Vision,” in June. The book follows neuroscientists who conduct a series of experiments on a young man who had a near-death experience.

He said the late Northeastern English professor Robert Parker, who wrote popular crime novels about a private detective named Spenser, demystified the challenge of writing a novel.

The trick, said Goshgarian, is to think of a 350-page novel as thirty-five 10-page short stories with the same characters. “The author who worries about writing a novel,” he said, “is like a squirrel that contemplates an acorn the size of a basketball.”

Goshgarian, who finds it nearly impossible not to “project yourself into all of your characters,” writes every day at the crack of dawn. Like author William Faulkner, he chooses to leave a sentence — or scene — unfinished for the next session.

“I drink a French roast and I write,” said Goshgarian. “Some days are good days and some days are bad days.”