Where DO We Get These Ideas? Mona Karel

Posted by: Emily Shaw on Jun 3 2012, 5:08 pm in , ,

We’ve all heard those questions.  “Do you research your sex scenes with your husband?” “Do your parents know what you write?””Don’t you just write the same story over and over again, and just change the names?”  Most of these we ignore for the irritations they are, and if we’re feeling charitable we feel sorry for the questioner.  Then there are the less insulting but still sill questions: “What time do you write?” (Generally asked of a very popular author, as if emulating their schedule would make someone else popular.)  And the one I particularly like: “Where do you get your ideas?”

Being one to, as Det Sipowicz would say “crack wise,” I generally can’t answer this one too seriously. I’ve been known to say “I found a great deal on ideas on Amazon,” or “Ideas were on special at Wal Mart last week.”

Because, really?  Where do we get our ideas?  A writer takes a snippet from the newspaper, blends it with a memory, and laces in observations made on a walk through a museum.  The exact source can be as indistinct as pinning down a politician.

Except a few rare occasions, when an event or a memory implants itself so deeply in our subconscious we automatically build our story until it’s right there at the front of our mind, and coming out our fingers. 

I had one of these events one day while attacking snails in our Southern California garden.  It’s said you can push a stick into the ground in Southern California, water it, and voilá you have a tree.  Not quite, but the main challenge tended to be overgrowth of pesty plants, and (ICK!) snails. One afternoon I’m deep into the snail conflict, and I reach for a bottle of “Frontline,” a very efficient snail poison.  And a voice comes into my head, deep and strong: “You don’t want to do that.”  I was briefly transported to a deep dark forest, and my out of control rosemary bushes became a magical garden.  I even know what the owner of that voice looked like since I had met a truly gorgeous young man the year before at a dog show.  The magic moment probably lasted only a few minutes, leaving me not only with the germ of an idea, but the whole frame for “My Killer My Love.”  I didn’t sleep much for the next few months as I was driven to get that story down before it slid away.

“Teach Me To Forget” started with the first time my husband and I rented a motor home.  It was a Class C, the kind built on a van frame, with a sleeping area above the driver’s seat.  As we were spooned together in that limited space, with the rain falling just inches above our head, I knew I would have to use that scene in a book, but with people who were not comfortable sleeping together.  A harrowing afternoon driving in San Francisco offered several scenes of dealing with horrendous traffic.  And so the story was born.

I’m thinking it’s not so much where do we get our ideas, but how in the world do we decide which idea to work with first?   Ideas bombard me on all sides, from visits to alpaca farms to the mounted events with the Single Action Shooting Society. I’m still working on how to load one of those guns with something other than blanks, since that would make for a great mystery.  But that’s for the future.  Right now my mind is on a young woman lost on Earth when her family was visiting.  It would have to be in New Mexico, since the vistas here are magnificent and sacred places abound.  She’s going to be rigidly scientific, having suppressed all her magic, and she won’t believe in any of that Gaia nonsense.  Wherever that idea came from, it’s a good one.


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