Look around. See them? I’m talking about ideas. They may be invisible to the naked eye but they’re everywhere. They’re in the air you breathe, the sights you see, and sounds you hear. They lurk in the shower and, if you’re lucky, in your sleep. They can even pop out of nowhere.
Ideas are probably the most numerous things on earth. Yet I’m constantly asked where I get the ideas for my books. As any writer will tell you an idea is nothing more than a tiny seed. Once you have this seed in hand you must then go after your story, sometimes with a sledgehammer. That’s what Rod Serling called the bleeding part.
Most writers I know read everything—even tubes of toothpaste. Books, magazines, movies and music are chock full of precious nuggets waiting to be turned into new stories. If all else fails we even eavesdrop. My friends have been warned to watch what they say or do in front of me or they may end up in a story.
The idea for a Lady Like Sarah, the first book in my Rocky Creek series, came from an article about Pearl Hart who robbed a stagecoach to pay for her mother’s medical expenses. (Bet you didn’t know that medical expenses were highway robbery even back in the 1800s.) Reading about that lady outlaw provided a seed but that’s all it did. Still 80,000 words short of a book, I went to work by asking questions (that’s the sledgehammer part). How desperate must a woman be to rob a stage? What if she got caught? What would happen if…. I was just about to run out of “what ifs” when a woman named Sarah (no last name) jumped up in front of me and demanded to have her story told.
The idea for my September 2010 release A Suitor for Jenny lurked in a dusty Kansas museum. While rifling through old newspaper clippings I came across a meeting notice for “The Society For the Protection and Preservation of Male Independence.” Talk about “aha” moments. From that clipping came the idea to have my heroine Jenny Higgins breeze into a town of confirmed bachelors looking for husbands for her two sisters. Fireworks, anyone? (I also found a meeting notice for the “Society for the Prevention of People Being Buried Alive” but needless to say that failed to pass the “aha” test.)
Book 3 of my Rocky Creek series A Vision For Lucy was inspired by photographer Julia Shannon of San Francisco, who, in 1850, took the family portrait to new heights when she shockingly advertised herself as a daguerreotypist and midwife. Her old newspaper advertisement sparked the inspiration for my heroine Lucy Fairbanks, who owns the only camera in town. Anything can happen when posing for Lucy—but you’ll have to wait until June 2011 to find out what does.
A story in the National Enquirer about Avon ladies selling to Amazon natives inspired an older historical novel of mine, Touch of Lace. While running around with a sledgehammer I looked up Avon and discovered that the first Avon “lady” was a door-to-door book salesman. He gave out perfume hoping to entice women to buy his books, but the perfume proved more popular. Not only did this give me a great idea for a story but some good advice about what not to give away when promoting a book.
Like I said, ideas are everywhere. Though I’ve yet to have an “aha” moment while staring at the toothpaste.
Author of more than 20 books, Margaret Brownley's books have been published in 15 languages. A Lady Like Sarah is a finalist for the Romance Writers of America RITA award. You can reach her through her website: www.margaretbrownley.com. She's also a resident blogger:www.petticoatsandpistols.com