The Elusive Nature of Inspiration

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“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.

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Year In Review

2013 was a good year and instead of closing out the year with where I want to be, I’ve decided to take a look at how I got to where I am now that 2014 has begun.

– 2013 started with me riding high off of the announcement of my first publication.  This was huge for me, more so because it was genre work.  I have a few literary fiction shorts out there and those matter to me, but as I’ve said, I write weird stuff.  So, having my first publication be a genre story validated me as a writer, reminded me that I should continue to pursue what I fancy as a writer and not what others feel I should write.  Never mind the fact that I placed second in a writing contest.  Or the fact that the anthology was named for my title.  Icing on the cake, ladies and gents.

I rewrote a story that scared the hell out of me.  I took something deeply personal to me and put it out there and worked it and reworked it ad nauseum, until I honestly couldn’t bear to look at it again.  And though it didn’t get published in the end, the experience was worth every minute of artistic and emotional agony.  Not only did I learn a ton about the writing and revision process, but I finally allowed myself to explore the crazy feelings wrapped up in my spinal surgery and that entire time of my life.  It was a groundbreaking, cathartic, intensely difficult project, and I haven’t given up on publication yet.  It will happen.

– I joined the staff of Sucker Literary for Issue 3 and I learned so much about the lit mag submission process.  I also got to read some amazing work and make some great new writing friends and there is so much that makes more sense now.  Not only am I super proud of Issue 3 and my contribution to it, but I’m super proud to work for Sucker in general.  I’m hopeful that I’ll be returning for Issue 4 and I’m eager to see where that leads.

– I just joined an online literary critique group and brought Ismael along with me.  I have since submitted my first story and received excellent feedback that will help me revise that story and hopefully, eventually, up its chances for publication.

– I have rewritten two short stories, wrote a flash fiction piece, and wrote a prequel short story to that book series I always talk about, Keys & Guardians, that I plan to shop out as a stand alone.  Not bad for someone who had no intention of pursuing short story writing at all, huh?

– I have completed first drafts of The Order of the Key and Legally Insane. Of course, that has just opened up a whole new avenue of work, namely, “How do I revision?!!!”

– I have outlined and written a few chapters of The Lost Key, sequel to Order.

– I have begun to outline two new stand alone novels, The Broken Hearts Club and Soul Sight.

– I have resurrected a dead novel idea for a short story contest.

– I entered a couple of writing contests, which, while I didn’t win, provided me with the opportunity to create new content I wouldn’t have created otherwise.

– This blog had it’s first guest blog post! By the way, I’m always open for more, so if you’re a reader of my blog and have something relevant to say, please feel free to shoot me a message at justinehmanzano@gmail.com.

– I have continued writing blog entries for this blog, despite starting this a year and a half ago and basically giving it a life expectancy of a few months.  I assumed I’d be too busy to maintain it, but twice a month isn’t so bad, and as yet, I’ve managed to have the time to keep it up.

– Oh, and my big announcement – as of my next blog post (at some point between now and January 15th, this blog will become http://www.justinemanzano.com.  I’m making the investment to pay for my own domain, because I expect this blog to one day grow into something bigger than it is, and I want to be ready to make it into a true writer’s homepage.  It will still look the same, but I want the potential for growth that owning my own domain will create.

So, that’s my year in review.  Here’s to another year of steps forward in the process!  So, what advancements have you made in the last year?  Share below!  I’d love to hear all about your steps forward and the steps you plan to take in the New Year!

And most importantly, here’s wishing all of you a very Happy 2014!

StoneThread Publishing Anthology – Things You Can Create Blog Hop

ImageHello readers!  I know I said I’d be discussing the married life of two writers in this next blog, but it appears I’ll have to push that back in honor of the early release of Things You Can Create, the speculative fiction anthology released by StoneThread Publishing containing my short story of the same name.  You can purchase the book, which is being released in e-book format only, here.

So, in honor of the release, I’m participating in another blog hop, the purpose of which is to introduce all you readers to the talented team of writers behind the stories in this anthology.  You can find the blog introducing this blog hop and a list of all of the authors who will be participating, as well as their blogs, here.

Enjoy the blog hop and this brief Q&A about my story.

Q: What is the title of your story?

A: The Things You Can Create

Q: Describe your story in one sentence.

A: A successful but bitter writer faces surprising consequences when she decides to kill off her main character’s love interest.

Q. Where did you get the idea for the story?

A: Writers all grow very close to our own characters.  They are our creations and they start to feel like friends and enemies.  They certainly begin to feel real.  The idea for this story came after a few too many cups of caffeine and a few too many hours torturing the main character of my novel.  At 2 in the morning, it’s easy to imagine anything – “My character would kill me for this!” isn’t much of a stretch.

Q: If your story was optioned for film, what actors would play the main characters and why?

A: Not sure.  I never pictured anybody.  I could definitely see Autumn Reeser as Laura, Kelly’s publisher.  When I think about it, I could picture Angelina Jolie as Juliana, Kelly’s main character, due to the badass qualities of both.  That is a slippery slope, because now I’m seeing a young, quiet but focused Brad Pitt as Kennedy, Juliana’s lover.  I can’t say who would play Kelly.  I feel like that would give too much away…

Q: Who are your favorite authors and why?

A: That’s a tough question.  I have favorite authors in many genres.  I love Orson Scott Card for his ability to think very far outside of the box, Kelley Armstrong for her ability to show the human condition in sub-human circumstances, Matthew Warner for his disturbingly accurate attention to detail, Suzanne Collins for her ability to make grandiose topics completely relatable, and Veronica Roth for the cadence of her writing voice.  And Joss Whedon for just everything.  Does Joss Whedon count?

Q: What else about this story will enthrall readers?

A: If you like “The Twilight Zone”, you’ll appreciate what this story has to offer you.  I’m no Rod Serling (nobody is), but there is a definite spooky feel to the piece that is very similar.  In that vein, it is much more of a character study of our writer, Kelly, than it is a suspenseful thriller or an action story, although this does contain elements of that as well.  

Q: What are you working on now?  

A: I have two more short stories completed, both of which are not genre fiction, but literary fiction.  I am currently shopping those out.  I have a third in edits.  I’m also working on the novel I discussed in my blog last week as well as two others that have taken a backseat, but are still in the works.  Basically, I’m a busy woman.

Finally, a brief excerpt of the story in question…

Some would say that the good I’ve done for her has done little to outweigh the bad, but I’m fine with that. Why? Because it pays to torture Juliana Collins. I sleep well at night despite the fact that her sad eyes stare back up at me from the ink-filled pages. Every time I see my name splashed across the newest Kelly Marin original, I take pride in it, despite the years I have spent torturing my hero in book after book of the “Chronicles of Heroism” series. It makes it all okay. I made her. She owes me. But lately that has changed.

Lately, a lot has changed.

 

 

And I promise – next blog I will actually discuss my married life with a fellow writer.  I promise. 🙂

It’s official – I’m a Published Writer!

ImageHello all! 

I just wanted to throw a post up here really quickly announcing the release of Things You Can Create, featuring my short story of the same title.  You can find it for purchase here.  Expect a promotional blog hop post from me discussing that particular short story and introducing some of the other authors in the anthology to be posted on January 15th.  

As always, thanks again for your constant support!

Love, 

Justine