The question most asked after whether I miss my former job is how do I get the ideas for my stories and books? For me, inspiration comes from research, dreams, observing human behavior, contest or submission prompts or out of the air. In my previous Stiletto Gang blog, I traced the evolution of one of my favorite short stories, Who Dat? Dat the Indian Chief! from the research stage to its February 2014 publication in the Mardi Gras Murder short story anthology.
Contests and open submission calls often stipulate a phrase or thematic concept that must be used. The problem is that with everyone entering or submitting writing to the same prompt, many of the stories will incorporate the identical ideas. Again, I strive to find an unusual twist or idea. For Mardi Gras Murder, I knew most people would consider writing about Krewe activities and parades or New Orleans charm, but I kept researching until I found information about the secretive Mardi Gras Indians and their parades. That research led to Who Dat? Dat the Indian Chief!
The open submission call for The Killer Wore Cranberry: a Fourth Meal of Mayhem required The Killer Wore Cranberry is a well-established series, I knew many writers would be competing for the few open slots. My first decision was to find a food item fewer people would focus on. I picked greens because I could find a way to work them into a murder; they reflected the South, where I wanted to set the story; and they felt funny to me. Once I had the food item, I had to have people do something with it.
I was stumped and then I remembered that Thanksgiving weekend often is used for weddings because families already are together. Having officiated at Thanksgiving weddings and attended several (our extended family has a propensity to them), I concentrated on the guest behavior and interaction I had observed at these various functions. Taken out of context, each wedding had its own humor. The more ideas coming from my brainstorming, I realized I would have to limit my remembered incidents to avoid overwhelming the story I was writing. The result: Thanksgiving in Moderation.
The key for me is to take the seed of an idea and find the odd twist. For example, Grandma’s Garden was written for a short story contest that had a rain falling prompt. Although I incorporated some rain, I ended up using an analogy between tears and rain and contrasting regular gardening with growing flowers in window boxes. The story, Early Frost, features two characters attending a football game. It is a short short story that fully addresses the rivalry of Alabama-Auburn football, but has a twist that brings in an unexpected concept. Both stories grew out of experiences – rain at the beach, attending football games, but imagination took the tale far beyond the original idea.
Sometimes my impetus is a suggested name. My next book, Should Have Played Poker, was prompted by wanting to incorporate the name of the first person to ever buy one of my future characters at a charity auction. I was so tickled by her generosity and wisdom to buy my character that I wanted to put her name in a book rather than a short story.
Ideas come from all different avenues. Most recently, a friend came up to me and said, “I have the perfect idea for your next story or book.” Usually, when I hear these words, I run the other way, but this one was different. He suggested, “Take the extra banana.” No more than that, but it just might end up in a short story because it tickled my fancy. That’s the magic of writing – becoming engaged in an idea.