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How Do You Get Your Ideas?

At book signing and author events, readers sometimes ask, “How do you get your ideas?” My easy answer is, “The newspaper.” The weird and sad articles get my attention, and I circle headlines of stories that catch my interest. I used to rip out the item, but my husband tired of reading holey newspapers, and he asked me to stop tearing. Now he cuts it out for me when he comes across my notes. What a guy!

I’ve found great material from the “watcher” story about the New Jersey house whose new occupants received creepy notes from someone professing to be "watching" the home. The person said he inherited his surveillance mission from others who had watched the house since 1920. Another story I’ve squirreled away is one about living conditions for mentally challenged adults who worked for decades at an Iowa turkey processing plant. The local crime report and arrest photo gallery always get my attention, as do any articles about the inanity of criminals. When you’ve got robbers who leave their driver’s licenses or phones at the targeted bank to burglars who fall asleep after gorging on refrigerator contents, who needs imagination? Truth is often better than fiction! I’ve clipped some arrest photos along with the subjects’ alleged misdeeds to use as minor characters in stories. Thefts from unlocked cars interest me because I’ve noticed items of value in unlocked cars and realized the temptation of such. I’ve only begun to lock my car. Whereas I don’t keep items of value in my car, I really do not want my E-ZPass stolen or my car’s interior vandalized. In graduate school, I had a car that did not lock. Well, it did, but then I had to use a coat hanger to pop the lock – remember those days? Consulting a locksmith ranked up there with vacationing in the south of France back then, so I ignored what could have been resolved for $10. Oh, well. A few times I sidled into my empty car and was met with body odors. I had mixed feelings about my car being used as a motel for homeless people. My visitors didn’t leave any disgusting presents, and only took a few coins from my toll stash. Once I began parking under a streetlight, and the homeless sought other accommodations.

We are of all types in this great big world, and I mark the person who asks, “How do you get your ideas?” as one of the practical types; in Myers-Briggs lingo, maybe an ESTP. These people are rooted in the concrete, the literal, and the here-and-now. Me? I absorb the physical and real-time but am transported by its blossoming impressions and images. Such is the case in writing, too. The fun for me is in the imagining. The work and satisfaction is in the craft of structuring and producing a coherent story. By corralling the imagination and focusing on the structure, the story emerges. Creativity continues to step in, adding story branches and twists that sometimes are added and other times saved for the next story.

Like mediums who hear or see spirits of the departed, my imagination floods with scenarios and stories. How do spiritualists block out communications to operate in the day-to-day world or to focus on only those subjects sought? Well, I don’t see spirits, but my imagination does wander through impressions and notions, and capturing them is my task. For someone big on imagination and short on discipline, it’s a challenge.

Share the origins of your plots. Do you cull from current events? Does history inspire you, maybe revisionist history? Do your stories stem from your having met fascinating and/or maladjusted people? Perhaps your plots originate one way, and your characters are plumbed differently. Stories develop in different ways. In sharing our various methods, we may provide a needed springboard for one another. Write on, everyone!

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