I sat down to write this blog while my kids colored in my office after dinner. I procrastinated because I had no idea what to write. I had an idea earlier this week, but it disappeared. It wasn't any good (at least, that's what I tell myself when I lose and idea.)
I walked away from the computer for awhile–watched tv with the kids, read to them, put them to bed, worked on page proofs for awhile, then picked up my oldest daughter who'd gone to Arco Arena to watch the Division I basketball sectional championships with her team. (Brag moment: Said Daughter's team won the varsity girls sections, Div V, last night–and the boys team won their sections, too. Yeah!)
When I returned, I rotated the laundry, checked the doors, and made myself a margarita–after all, it was nearly midnight and I was wired on caffeine consumed earlier that evening. I wanted to finish the chapter I was on of my proofs and go to bed . . . I knew I'd lose an hour of sleep because of that damn daylight savings time. As I was running the lime on the rim of my glass, I heard the cat playing with a toy behind the table. I was actually kind of happy about it, because he's getting old and lazy. Then I heard this horrendous squeal and I thought, Oh, f*&#, Toulouse got a rat.
But it didn't sound like a rat.
I run down the hall to get my husband to put the poor rodent out of its misery. He flips on all the lights and discovers it's a baby bunny. It's not moving, but after I get a bucket and a rag he announces that it's not dead, it might be injured, but he thinks it's just scared (no shit) so he takes it out behind my office where I see the jackrabbits all the time and leaves it in the tall grass–with the rag covering it like a blanket because it's cold out. (We live in the country on a couple acres.)
I'm thinking, Thank God the little kids weren't awake to see it. It reminded us of the time our other cat, Neelix, brought us a dead bunny . . . on Easter morning. (And you thought Toni had all the fun!) We found it before the kids.
So I pour my margarita, chat with my husband who'd returned only five minutes before the bunny-meets-cat incident, learn he won not one but TWO guns at the NRA dinner, and then proceed to my office for an hour or two of proofs.
Decide to check my email and see that Typepad is open and think, I almost forgot. Again. JT is going to kill me.
I put my hands on the keyboard and realized I had nothing to say.
I turned around, stared at my bookshelves, hoping inspiration would strike.
And remembered that Tess Gerritsen touched upon this last November in her post Curiosity and the Writer when she said:
"When story ideas come to me, it's seldom because I actively went looking for them. More often, they arise out of some interest that's completely separate from my job as a writer."
When you're actively looking for a story idea, it does not come. Believe me, I'm the poster child of looking for inspiration.
But this reminded me that the number one question I get from readers is: Where do you get your ideas?
I hate that question.
Except now, because I suddenly have an idea.
Perhaps I'm a bit harsh in the title to state that asking someone where they get their ideas is stupid. I suppose that it's an offshoot of what you ask someone when you don't know anything about their career.
Except, I kind of put it up there with the stupid questions cops get. A friend of mine said that more than once he's been asked, "Have you ever had to shoot someone?"
I can't say where my ideas come from specifically. And it kind of pains me to have to think about it, because depending on my mood or the day of the week, I'll have a different answer. I can say where details come from, however.
I used to write at a specific Starbucks in Elk Grove because it had a back room. I liked it because foot traffic didn't distract me. They played the music loud (this was before I had an iPod) and I had a great spot to write–in the corner where no one could come up behind me.
The first sign that the new manager was going to be a problem was when the volume of the music dropped. I can't write with soft music. Either no music or loud, but if it's soft I find myself straining to hear, which is distracting. Then she rearranged the tables in the back room. If that wasn't annoying enough, when I finally got comfortable in a new spot, she rearranged them again.
But the final straw wasn't really her fault. This particular Starbucks became the meeting ground for couples who were taking their internet relationship to the next level. Yep, the address must have been in the top ten of the Match.com safe list, because practically overnight my favorite writing spot was overrun with "
As a writer, this was hugely distracting.
Perhaps if the music was turned up to a decent volume, it wouldn't have bothered me. But I was straining to listen to conversations, and worse, my eyes would glance up to observe body language. I could tell instantly if it was a mutual attraction (never saw one) or if one party liked the other, but it wasn't mutual (common) or if they both didn't like each other (majority.)
But the verdict after about two weeks? I couldn't write at that Starbucks anymore. I went to Panera Bread–which had it's pros and cons–before finding what I call my "favorite" Starbucks 🙂
But I got to thinking about how safe it is to meet up with someone online. The safety rules suggest to meet in a public place, bring someone with you, etc. Makes sense. My cousin met someone through an online group of people who had the same interest. They ended up getting married and have a daughter and are past their 10 year anniversary. My personal trainer met his girlfriend of more than a year online. And they're both normal. (Well, he likes to torture people in the name of fitness, but some people consider that normal.) So obviously this works for people.
Yet . . . because my mind is wired this way . . . I tried to think of all the nefarious possibilities. And I realized that if you meet someone you've met online, you assume that they are honest. Or, if they've lied, it's about their weight, or their age, or the photoshopped their picture . . . or used one ten years old.
What if they used a different picture? What if they pretended to be someone they weren't? Like a 19 year old college student?
And suddenly I had the solution to a plot problem. I hadn't been able to get it straight in my head how someone as smart as Lucy Kincaid, in a family full of cops, could have put herself in a position to get kidnapped. But if the kidnapper knew what she looked like . . . but she didn't know what he looked like . . . he could grab her before she ever got into Starbucks.
All that happened before Chapter One of FEAR NO EVIL . . . but I had to have it worked out in my head before I could write the book. Because it was the first plot critical point.
But in all honesty, people don't want that answer. They want a bigger answer. The reason behind a small plot point, not matter how critical, doesn't matter. They want to hear that we're born with a special gene and the ideas "just come to us" or that we have a repository of ideas on a password-protected website.
How I came up with the Prison Break trilogy idea (earthquake under San Quentin) was even longer and more convoluted than the initial set-up for FEAR. I realized after I told that story a couple times that no one cared about the ten little steps that led me to the premise. It was too much.
But ultimately, that's how I get most of my ideas. I read this, that, and the other thing and two weeks later a friend calls out of the blue and says something odd and LIGHTBULB! I have a premise. Or a turning point.
I'll admit, the big ideas aren't my problem. Meaning, I can come up with the overarching story idea pretty quick. But it's all the little details that make it work–the who, the what, the why, the how–and if I don't have those, the story ain't going anywhere.
The other stupid question I get ALL the time, my husband gets even more than I do: "So, do you research (nudge) the romance (wink)?"
Of course I do, dipshit, just like I research the murders. Want to help? I need to know how long it takes to die if you're injected with blood thinners and subjected to a hundred shallow incisions.
And then there's the, "How much do they pay you for a book?"
I just stare. I want to say, "Are you seriously asking me how much money I make? Would you ask a brain surgeon? A trial lawyer? A plumber?"
Instead, I'm polite (because it's usually a reporter) and I say, "Eight percent." If they persist, I go into painstaking detail about contracts.
My husband was confronted by a former colleague who'd read THE HUNT. He asked, "Aren't you worried about Allison?"
Dan, befuddled, asked, "Why?"
"Well, her books are very violent."
My husband is pretty good on his feet. Better than me, for sure. He responded, "Actually, I am kind of worried. She cut off the dick of a guy in her last book."
And the reader who asked, "How can you write such violent stories? You're a mother!" (This, specifically, was in response to what happened to Lucy Kincaid in FEAR NO EVIL.)
Why are people so worried about the violence? What about the sex?
(Well, dammit, I just remembered what I'd thought to write about earlier this week . . . it must not have been a stupid idea after all. It'll just have to keep. If I forget it, well, something else will pop up . . . I hope.)
Okay, don't feel stupid . . . what's one question you've always wanted to ask an author?
And authors, what's a stupid question YOU'VE fielded?