Readers often ask writers where do you get your ideas? Writers ask each other the same thing sometimes. The answer can be as simple as I went for a walk, or it could be far harder to explain. Ideas come from many places and are fed by brainstorming with yourself or others. For me, it's mostly about creating complex characters and then putting them in a difficult situation to see what they will do. For those who write thrillers or who-done-its the front page of the daily paper is teeming with possibilities. Seems like there are crazy things happening all around us every day. And I dare anyone with an imagination to visit a historical site of any type and not find lots of ideas lurking in the ancient walls and pathways.
My first book in print was a mainstream novel about three men in a tight race for the White House. I once flippantly replied to the query what made me write it that I didn’t like any of the choices I’d had for most of my adult life and decided to create my own candidates. In a way, that was partially true once I got to creating the characters, but mostly it was one man’s personal journey. My protagonist was in a close, three-way campaign for president when he was confronted with a personal crisis during the last critical weeks. I got my ideas from a number of places, some of them real life stories. Here, newspaper stories about different people experiencing different life events and how those impacted their public life provided leaping off places. My imagination did the rest.
I also enjoy historicals. Partly because I enjoy history and partly because I like to imagine living in a different era, a past very unlike where I exist. Ideas for stories seem to leap out at me when I visit old sites. One book, not yet in print but hopefully one of these days, starts out on an island off the coast of Maine. I sailed there with my daughter and my dad one glorious summer day. The island was once a busy community of farmers and fishermen, but today it’s deserted with just old cellar holes to mark where the houses once stood. I’d read some of the history of the island before I sailed out there and knew there had been a bustling trading center at the time of the Revolutionary War. So, as I stood on the edge of one of those empty fieldstone foundations gazing back towards the brilliant blue harbor, one of the stones beneath my feet wobbled. Then came the random thought: What if I fell into that old cellar, hit my head and was knocked unconscious? And what if when I woke up, there was a roof over my head? So that’s exactly what happened to my heroine. I had a grand time writing that story.
Old deserted buildings of all kinds provoke questions about who lived there once and what their lives might have been like. Castles and churches, old taverns and narrow twisting alleys lined with homes built hundreds of years ago. Maybe it’s just my busy imagination, or maybe it’s the ghosts of those people who once lived there urging me to tell their stories. A visit to the Boston Tea Party museum and a meeting with Samuel Adams, or a saunter around Mount Vernon and a chat with George Washington’s body servant make the men and women we met in the history books back when we were in school come alive. Suddenly their everyday lives inspire me with stories of others who might have lived back then, in those same places, experiencing those same events.
I’m currently writing a contemporary romance series about a family living in a town I created on the coast of North Carolina. I can’t say for sure where Jake first came from, but he grew out of the aspects that I find intriguing about the heroes I’ve read and been touched by, both fictional and real. And the more I knew about him, the more I discovered about the kind of heroine he’d be likely to fall in love with. Then it was just a matter of putting them together with a mountain of conflict to overcome. So, I guess it all just boils down to asking yourself, "What if?" And letting your imagination take flight.