“Where do you get your ideas?” Since becoming a published author that’s, hands down, the question I’ve heard most often. (Though a close second is, “How much money do you make?”)
I wish if the second question has to be asked, the same person would ask both at once so I could reply, “Where I get my ideas is a million dollar question and if I had the answer, how much money I make would not be much of as issue.” But it never works out like that, so I tend to stammer things like “I don’t know” and “Not enough! Ha, ha, ha!”
Like many writers, Stephanie and I start with the characters and our stories are character driven. That certainly isn’t unique or even uncommon but it doesn’t answer the question about inspiration.
I recently spent some time thinking hard about this because we had a book signing coming up and I was sure we’d get that question. Ironically, we did not. I guess they were all too eager get to the refreshment table but that’s okay. I’ve got an answer for next time.
Very often, we start with a piece of dialogue or a passage of introspective thought. We don’t know anything about the character speaking or thinking, much less what they’re going to do but we have a clue.
Our recent release, Simple Gone South, originally started with, “Rita May Sanderson dumped me because she said I didn’t know what a relationship was.” It turned out that the speaker was Brantley Kincaid, a smooth talking blueblood of a golden boy who seemed to have the world by a string. Of course, he didn’t; they never do. Rita May didn’t turn out to be much of anyone important—just an on-again, off-again girlfriend who threw things when she didn’t get her way. From there, the characters were born and the story evolved—as did the first line. Ultimately, it became, “Getting hit in the head with taco will make a man rethink a relationship.” Rethink it, he did. And the heroine stepped up.
Similarly, our work in progress, Secrets Gone South, started with a passage. Arabelle Avery had a name because she was the sister of a hero from an earlier book, but we didn’t know much about her until we sat down at her dressing table one day and took a look at her jewelry.
She reached into her jewelry box for the plain pearl earrings that she wore almost every day, but she got distracted by the heavy gold charm bracelet that took up a lion’s share of real estate in the box. Her life had been chronicled by the charms on that bracelet, starting with the disc bearing her date of birth and ending with the latest, a Santa Claus that had been in her Christmas stocking a few weeks ago. In between, there were miniature milestone markers for almost everything that had ever happened to her. Ballet shoes, birthday cakes, graduation caps, stethoscope—and that was just the start. On the day Arabelle was born, her grandmother had bought the bracelet and the first charm. Then Mimi made it her life's work to fill that bracelet up until she died. It was a thousand wonders that there had not been a little gold casket in the safety deposit box with Arabelle's name on it.
Turns out, Arabelle had a secret charm that she had hidden away and never hung on the bracelet.
There are a few other passages like these hanging around in a file. We don’t even know the names of the characters involved. But it’s very exciting to think of where they might take us.
“Mama is in there acting like a Wal-mart greeter. She might as well have a punch bowl and a tray of cheese straws,” said sister number one.
“Wal-mart greeters don’t give out punch and cheese straws,” said sister number two.
“It's a bad day. Allow me to mix my metaphors,” said sister number two.
“That's not a metaphor. It would be a metaphor if you said Mama is a Wal-Mart greeter. But never mind. My question is, is she wearing the little blue vest?” asked sister one.
“No. She's wearing black crepe like a mini series mafia widow,” said sister two.
“Or a spy. Well, one out of three ain't bad. Come on. Let's go bury Daddy,” said sister two. And they linked arms.
Where do you start?