Greetings, WYMOP readers!
Where do you get your ideas from?
It’s the question every writer claims to dread, but one we always hear. Where do you get such whacky ideas? It’s so common it’s become a stereotype: I’ve seen it asked by fictional interviewers in movies, on television, and even read it in books. And though writers claim to hate the question, if you ask them about a specific story they can quite often tell you exactly where it came from. I have (to name five, just off the top of my head) had stories spawned by: a Long John Silver’s commercial (“The Penitent”); someone’s name I met online (“Lost in Ohio”—yep, that was her handle); someone’s casual mention of a holiday (“The Christmas Spirit”); finding myself shouting into the dryer at 12:30 am (“One Sock, Two Sock”); and an amalgamation of several people I personally know—and you know who you are (“On Cats and Crazy Ladies”). If you take that all in, the general answer to Where do the stories come from? is sort of simple: everywhere.
Recently, though, I’ve started hearing a new twist on the old question: where do you get your terrific characters from? This answer, as unsettling as it might be to hear, is also simple: you.
Sounds weird, I know, but it’s true. It’s been pointed out to me time and again (and again, and again) that I’m not the most social of creatures. In fact, I could spend a couple of hours in a large room filled with people, all talking and being friendly with each other, and unless I already knew someone there, or unless one of them went to the trouble to talking to me, I could spend all that time without ever actually engaging in any conversation more in-depth than the occasional “excuse me.” I wouldn’t be talking, but I’d be watching. I’d be listening. Because that’s what I do.
Creepy? No, of course not!
Okay, maybe a little. But it’s really just an extension of what we all do at comic conventions, or street fairs, or the mall: I people-watch, and if the people I’m watching make an impression on me for something, then there’s a chance they’ll turn up (in one form or another) in a story somewhere.
For example, the other night there was a midnight book-release party at Wicked Good Books, in Salem, MA. for the new book in the massively popular Harry Potter series. Since they actually have my book on the shelf there, I decided to stop in and see how they run their events, in case I ever want to have one there. Hey, I may be no J.K. Rowling, but at least I’d actually be there for it!
Anyway, it’s a small bookshop, and by the time I got there I’m pretty sure they were just two people shy of having to station someone at the door with a big jar and brush to grease the customers up in order to avoid total gridlock. If the place had gills it would have been full to them with people, many of them standing nose-to-nose with two or three other wildly grinning Potter fans (Potties? Pottheads? What the hell do you call these people?), all gabbling away, explaining how mildly damp about the bits they were over the new book they hadn’t even read yet. And there I was, moving about the edges of all this, getting by on three excuse mes and one pardon me thrown in just for variety.
As someone who dreams of someday maybe being the focus of that kind of crowd dampness (that sounded better in my head, I swear), it was a sight to behold. And as impressed as I was with the staff’s exuberance, and how many of the crowd they knew by name, I wasn’t there to take a book away with me. Instead, I took something completely different: I took a writer.
The writer was a gentleman I saw engaged in one of those nose-to-nose conversations I mentioned, between himself and three other individuals. I know he was a writer, because he told us.
Potthead #1: “What did you think of The Deathly Hallows?”
Writer: “Yeah, I’m a writer myself.”
Potthead #2: “I saw the ending coming, but she did it just so well, you know, it didn’t matter.”
Writer: “Two books. They had them both in here—they used to be over there.”
Potthead #1: “Oh, I know! She’s so good at hooking you in like that.”
Writer: “I . . . can’t see what’s over there now, but my books aren’t here anymore. They sold out.”
Potthead #3: “I pre-ordered The Cursed Child as soon as they said I could.”
Writer: “Working on the third book in the series now . . .”
They weren’t even really aware of him, but he was okay with that; he wasn’t all that aware of them either. He was so wrapped up in himself he was at an event for someone else’s book, trying to drum up some enthusiasm for his own books, which he didn’t even have with him at the event. I actually started to feel bad for the guy—he was there looking for attention, but in reality was even more invisible than I was. I hope, I really hope, I never get that bad. So far I’m okay, though I might mention that there are two more autographed copies of Echoes of Darkness there in Wicked Good Books . . .
But I digress. That guy is now lodged in my head as a wonderful example of someone so self absorbed they’re really not keeping track of the world, including the people talking directly to them. He’s almost a caricature of a human being, but he’s real, and I know what he looks like, know what he sounds like . . . and believe it or not, I already have a place to put this guy, a story where a character like that will fit right in—and now I have the beginnings of one.
Thank you, Mr. Writer-man!
So if you see me around, at a book event, or some sort of social function, and you notice me quietly watching the people around me, now you know: I’m populating the inside of my head with people I’ll someday share with you. And if you see me silently staring at you—creepy, I know—don’t be alarmed. But you might want to mentally run through everything you were just saying and doing and try to remember it, because there’s a chance—a chance, mind—that someday I’ll immortalize you in prose.
If you’re not paying attention, you might miss it.
But thank you anyway.
Talk to you later!