The Elusive Nature of Inspiration

“Where do you get your ideas?” is a question I often get when I’m discussing the nature of my latest story, usually with a person who does not write. Any writer knows that writers don’t know where their ideas come from. In his writing book/memoir “On Writing,” Stephen King said, “There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”

It’s true. We have no idea. However, we often remember our line of thinking when we’ve come up with some of our ideas. So where have some of mine come from? How different are their origins? Do some story elements come from different places? Let’s talk.

I’ve had stories arise from concepts I wanted to explore. The Order of the Key was about me trying to create a strong female hero from a geek who has been raised loving superhero media. Lucy Dies in the End was really solely about that concept–I literally just thought about the title and how cool it would be if Lucy herself was the one to say it. I’ve always been drawn to Greek mythology and Aphrodite in particular, which led to Never Say Never. My interest in past lives played into my ideas for the mystery behind Living in the Past.

I’ve had stories arise from dreams. Often when I have these, they play out before me like movies. Legally Insane was about a dream I had about a hidden relationship in a workplace. The present day tale in Living in the Past comes from a very vivid dream I had about a woman strongly connecting with a man and coming home with him, only to stumble into a mystery involving his son.

I’ve had stories arise from mundane reality. Like the lead character in The Order of the Key and Legally Insane, I am a geek. Legally Insane is largely about work in a law firm, which happens to be my day job. The concept of Lucy as Lady Justice in Lucy Dies in the End came from staring at Lady Justice during various court case searches at my job. My parents’ divorce heavily inspires some of the debates on long term relationships in Never Say Never. Dating experiences of my friends helped inspire other portions. And the characters work in an ice cream shop. My first job was at a Carvel. Choosing to Stand Still was a sort of wish fulfillment, regarding a pair of best friends I knew that I thought belonged together–if you’ve read that one, writing it made me realized they were right never to pursue that route.

17760096_1325475264199099_8399109544035762431_nI’ve had stories arise from conversations. The backbone of Legally Insane involves the main character visualizing a character from her favorite television series prodding her to be strong in the face of a major life change. This came from a joke that was made when chatting with fandom friends about Jack O’Neill, a wise-cracking character from Stargate SG-1. My friend said, “I wish I could take him around in my pocket to smack some sense into me.” From there, the idea was born.

I’ve had stories arise from fears. Without spoilers, the fear of losing a child played into The Keys & Guardians series plan heavily. Things You Can Create arose from the fear of the kinds of torture I could carelessly visit upon my characters. It is, unsurprisingly, my first short story.

I’ve had stories that arise from past trauma. One Percent is an exploration of my descent into anxiety prior to spinal surgery. One Headlight was born of the death of a friend, one who died in a car accident on the way to college. Tunneling dealt with my experiences with dealing with alcoholics. The Peace of Completion and Release dealt with some wish fulfillment regarding the aftermath of my sexual assault. Blue Ice dealt with the issue of domestic violence, handled by a third party, looking in.

What does this tell you? Stories come from so many different places. Some of the things on this list were planned. Some were things that spilled out of me once I began to write. But all of it were things I drew upon to create stories that meant a lot to me.

What does this mean for you? It means inspiration can come from anything. It can be a mix of many things. So collect writing prompts. Collect interesting factoids. File away tidbits about the people you meet. But most of all, experience. Live your life with a keen, attentive eye and look at all you see around you. Every bit of your life experience, even the bad things can be weaved into the fabric of a story.

So how do you find the elusive creature known as inspiration? The answer is simple. Live.

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop…Again!

The awesome Jess Sturman-Coombs tagged me to blog hop with her again, so I figured I would discuss my latest writing project (aka, what I’m tackling now that I’m in edit mode with The Order of the Key).  Because I’m out of projects to successfully blog about, I’m not going to tag it forward – simply because I fear being tagged again.

And now to attempt to answer some questions about a project I have mentioned on this blog before without going into great depth.  Here goes…

1.  What is the working title of your current/next book?

Legally Insane.

2.  Where did the idea come from?

This story started as a simple tale of a divorcee who had lived her life for her husband until her divorce, and is now trying to find herself professionally, socially, and personally. That portion of the story admittedly arose from a personal place.  My mother was a housewife for my entire childhood, and hadn’t held a job since before my sister (who is 12 years older than me) was born.  When I was 14 my parents divorced and my mother was forced to navigate the working and dating world (to varying degrees of success).  Leah Marinillo was created at a time where I was creating an active wish-fulfillment world in which my mother had an easier time of her transition. There were differences, of course – Leah is not a mother, she is younger at the time of her divorce, and her husband is a soul-sucking bastard of a human being (my father is not) – but Leah’s journey was in many ways an idealized version of what I wanted for my mother.  

However, the story stalled there.  I had this great story of a woman re-establishing her own sense of self-worth in the world, but when I tried to sit down and write it, it just didn’t have legs.  I couldn’t find a strong motivation for my characters and it was a little too normal for me, given my tendency towards the bizarre.

It wasn’t until I was having a conversation with some of my friends in the Stargate fandom about what it would be like if the characters acted as the angel and the devil on your shoulders (Daniel as the angel, Jack as the devil, for anybody familiar with the series).  I thought it over and I started to play it out in my head – walk through my day with either Jack or Daniel commenting on everything I did as I did it.  Did they approve?  What did they think I could have done better.  And Carter St. James was born of that – he became Leah’s Guardian Angel / total hallucination – her favorite television character walking through her life and telling her how badly she was handling it.

3.  What genre does your book fall under?

Romantic comedy.  

4 .  What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

This one, I haven’t got much for.  There is a severe lack of actresses who look like Leah – short, somewhat plump, with a mess of auburn curls.  Doug, Leah’s love interest would definitely be  Michael Shanks.  Carter would be Ben Browder.  Callie, Leah’s best friend, was created as an amalgam of my two best friends in real life, Joy and Allegra, and my best online friend, Pip.  Appearance-wise, I’d probably cast Warehouse 13’s Allison Scagliotti.

5.  What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Previously content to be a housewife, Leah Marinillo navigates a divorce, a new apartment, a new job, new friends and sexual tension with her new boss, all while taking orders from her favorite television character, Carter, who appears to her after a traumatic experience to set her life straight.

SUCH a run-on, but I’ll take it.  

6.  Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I intend to attempt the traditional publishing route first.  If not, wherever the wind takes me.  The wind will likely take me to self-publishing, in that event.

7.  How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I’m still writing it, although admittedly, so far it has been a massive jumble of scenes without any structure.  I am just starting to organize it into chapters and see what I have missing (since I write out of order).

8.  What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I think this book can compare well with any romantic novel that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and any story about a woman finding her place in the world.  There’s a lot of that out there in the world, but I’m hoping my little Carter-shaped twist makes this one unique.  

9.  Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I think this is accurately answered in number  2.

10. What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?


I’m hoping that this book will accomplish my mission of sending the reader on all of the emotional ups and downs of starting life anew.  By Chapter 4, Leah is embarking on a new life and has no idea what to do with it – and even when she gets it, she’s got a bunch of kinks to work out.  Even Carter isn’t always the great fount of wisdom she thinks he should be.  

Okay, that’s the project I have just started working on.  Please pop on back in two weeks when I discuss why time is always on your side.  Until then, Happy Valentine’s Day!

How Fandom Made Me A Better Writer

A fangirl or fanboy is somebody who has an intense love for a book/movie/tv show/actor and shows it by congregating with others and discussing it, researching every single thing related to it (watching all of an actor’s movies no matter how bad, finding all behind the scenes info available about a movie), and creating ‘fanworks’ (fanfiction, fanvids, photoshop edits).  I am guilty of doing every one of these things.  First it was Buffy the Vampire Slayer or anything Joss Whedon related.  Then, it was Stargate SG-1 or anything Michael Shanks related (i.e. his latest series, Saving Hope).  Author Kelley Armstrong is my main book obsession.  The Hunger Games is another one.  When a fan finds a group of like-minded individuals either at a Convention or on the web, they have become part of a fandom.

So, how did a time-consuming activity like fandom help me as a writer?

1) Characters – Being part of a fandom exposes you to new people.  Meeting people with similar interests does not mean meeting people who are similar to you.  Among my closest online friends, you’ll find: an archaeology major from Florida, a brilliant woman who goes under the name of an infectious bacterium, and a librarian with Asperger’s.  I’ve learned so much about differences in people from them, and so many others.  Conversations with them have spawned fresh story ideas and that archaeology major inspired one of the characters in an upcoming story.

2) Learning social networking – I used to be a lurker.  I would go on sites like Twitter, Tumblr and Fanfiction.net and sift through them without ever bothering to participate in them.  Then one day, my little sister made me sign up for a Tumblr, proclaiming me a secret fangirl who needed a “place to flail.”  She wasn’t wrong.  Not long after joining Tumblr, I became a full-fledged fangirl, writing fanfiction and posting thoughtful analyses of my favorite television shows.  This, eventually, led to the building of a Twitter writing network and to this very blog.

3) Deep Discussions – The perception of a fangirl is mostly the picture of a girl who shrieks like a banshee when her favorite singer blows a kiss into a crowd of thousands and proclaims proudly, “That was for me!”  Most of us are a tad more mature than that.  I’ve had significant discussions on the full character arc of Stargate’s Daniel Jackson, read essay length writing pieces on why Clary Fray from The Mortal Instruments Series is a Mary Sue (aka, a perfect character with no flaws and special characteristics that nobody else has – a literary no-no), poked holes in the entire plot of Buffy Season 7, expounded at length on how you can tell something’s a Joss Whedon piece without reading the credits, and played strange games like “Place the characters from The Hunger Games into Hogwarts houses” (thanks for the that one, Pip).  That’s character development, how to create strong characters, spot and correct plot holes, tie loose ends, and have a distinct and strong voice – all essential writing skills.

4) A book idea – I was goofing off with my favorite online crew of friends, discussing Stargate character, Daniel Jackson.  Somebody said, “Wouldn’t it be great if you had a Daniel on your shoulder, telling you what to do?”  And someone else said, “Wouldn’t it be more fun if it was Jack O’Neill?”  (Daniel is brilliant, but calm and peaceful.  Jack is a tough as nails bad ass.)  And I thought, how would one truly react if they had their favorite character from their favorite television show trying to direct their lives?  Last post I referred to the story of the divorcee with the imaginary friend, remember?  And thus, a story was born…

5) Fanfiction – Fanfiction is when you take characters you love from a piece that you love and write a story about a previously unrecorded adventure.  This is strictly for fun, not profit, and can be a powerful exercise.  For somebody who is serious and respectful of the original work, it can be a bit like writing for television if you were sitting in the writer’s room with the series creator.

Shortly after joining Tumblr, I got my first fanfic idea.  This was after six months of a stress-induced writing drought.  With some trepidation, I pursued it – a short story length tale.  I posted it and spent the next couple of hours obsessively waiting to see what people thought about it.  It got good reviews.  Reviews that asked me to keep writing for the characters.  My peers, people who loved the same television show I did, thought I did a good job with their world.  So I tried another one, a longer one: about 100 pages broken into 10 chapters.  I posted chapters once a week and was prodded constantly by people that now considered themselves my fans to post more.  I’d received useful constructive criticism and compliments.  Eventually, I won fan-voted awards for both stories.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  The entire time I’d been working on these pieces, I had been cringing, thinking I should be hard at work at the original thing that I couldn’t write.  It didn’t occur to me until I was posting thank yous for my fan awards that this was just as important a step as if I had taken a writing class.  Writing fanfiction returned my confidence to me.  It reminded me that I was a good writer and asked me for more and it gave me the kick in the pants I needed to start writing my own work.  People genuinely liked my ideas.  They liked the way I handled characters.  And maybe, they would like my plots and my voice in a brand new world of my own creating.

I started writing in earnest once again less than a month after I published that first fic.  By the time the fan awards came in, I had begun seriously considering myself a writer.