Where do ideas come from?
Is that your least favorite interview question? I was at a conference this weekend where Nora Roberts had an answer. "Ideas? I get them at the little store around the corner. I paid a buck ninety eight."
Even before Nora made us laugh, that question came to mind recently. Two Mondays ago a tree fell on our house. Our only “premonition” was the sound of the tree cracking and the crunch as it took out the deck headed for the roof and us in the kitchen. Paul and I did, indeed, have a moment of eye-to-eye wordless communication we write about that went something like “Here is comes! Let’s get out of here!” We never once thought we would be injured. We were not. We don't recall any noise beyond the crack and first crunch. We have a very responsive insurance company and are well on the road to rebuilding one wall, the roof, the kitchen and the chimney.
As the dust settled (literally), I began to think, “How could I use this in a book?” Trees must have fallen on houses in the Regency. What did they do without cranes to lift them off? How long did it take to repair them? I have yet to find the answers online but I am sure it is out there somewhere. What amazes me is that an idea would pop up even in a moment of great distress.
At a friend’s house a few weeks ago I picked up a book on her TBR stack “The Giant O’Brien,” by Hilary Mantel, a novel about a late 18th
century giant. What grabbed my attention was the work of
man-of-science John Hunter and how he was castigated for the (illegal) acquisition of cadavers for his research. Here was exactly the element I needed for my book currently undergoing revision. I found an excellent discussion of Hunter's life and work in the (non-fiction) book "Doctors: The Biography of Medicine" by SB Nuland. The author also examines the lives of a several other pre-19th
century men-of-science.” Giving rise to even more ideas.
Years ago, when we were living in Juneau, Alaska, I was hiking toward the Mendenhall Glacier with a friend who was visiting. All of a sudden I heard a sharp crack. Grabbing Teri's hand I yelled, “Run!” We headed out to the overlook in time to see the glacier calve, a gigantic piece, the size of a ten story building, broke off and fell into the river, causing a huge wave, rising up as a respectable iceberg and leaving behind the dark, dark blue of compacted ice.
Teri was not nearly as impressed as I was. I explained to her that this was a once in a lifetime experience. Her response: “I thought we were running from a guy with a gun!” That incident was the core idea of a book where the place – Juneau – is s much a character as any person in the story. (Sorry to say that book never sold)
I have an endless list of where ideas come from. Incidents, books, artwork, the actions of a complete stranger, all have pushed me to research beyond my own experience. That research often opens the door to whole new worlds. Isn’t that one of the best parts of writing? Creating a world and living it with your characters? A world you could never truly be a part of. Care to share where your ideas come from?