Where Does He Get Those Crazy Ideas?

People who write fiction are sometimes asked where they get their ideas. With me I need a spark of inspiration, and if it catches fire I’m ready to go. Where do these sparks come from?

In the case of an upcoming anthology I was actually invited to contribute to, it came from the editor, Michael Ventrella, who – for reasons I have not yet figured out – decided to call the volume “Release the Virgins.” Once it was a go project, he asked the authors for a brief description of their stories, so we wouldn’t all be going in the same direction. In fact, we were all over the place. You’ll have to wait for the book’s release down the road to find out what other writers came up with, but with my background the title suggested the movie business.

Without giving the story away, I struggled with what to do with my idea, even as I decided to steal – um, pay homage to – the plot of a classic novel about Hollywood. It took me several days of mulling it over before I realized I needed to look at another novel as well, my own Shh! It's a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood, and the Bartender's Guide. It’s the first time I set a new story in a universe I had previously used, and it was an interesting challenge to make it a self-contained story that fit in with the earlier work but did not depend on the reader’s knowledge of it.

Another story is for an upcoming anthology that’s themed on stories related to “air.” (It’s the third of four books based on the ancient “elements” of water, fire, air, and earth. I was not yet submitting stories for the first one but have a story in On Fire.) This was a different sort of challenge in that I could write about anything I wanted – in the SF/fantasy/horror spectrum – so long as it had some connection to the theme.

What unlocked it for me was when I decided to write about post-divorce dating, something that, alas, I am all too familiar with, and have the protagonist meet a woman named “Breezy.” There are some autobiographical details in the story, but it then took me in an unexpected direction. When I shared the story with the writer’s group I’m in – and they’ve heard a lot of my prose over the years – they agreed this was a surprising change in direction for me. Yes, the humor that typifies most of my fiction is there, but I let the story go where I thought it needed to and ended up with a twist that may surprise people who’ve read some of my other stuff. I hope the editors like it.

The last recent story I want to mention was recently acquired by a major science fiction magazine, which is a first for me. (I’ve been asked not to mention the name until I get my contract back in the mail. I’ll be promoting it heavily when it appears in print later this year.) Here I have my daughter to thank. She prides herself on getting unusual but appropriate gifts for people and last year for my birthday she got me a book called The Writer's Block: 786 Ideas To Jump-start Your Imagination. It’s a three-inch cube of a book that one can open at random for photos, words, sentences, and mini-essays, all of which are intended to spark an idea.

I decided to try it. I opened it up and the suggestion was to write a ransom note. That made me think of the classic O. Henry story “The Ransom of Red Chief,” and from there I took it in a different direction involving robots. This was a story I might not have come up with on my own. The book did its job. It provided the spark I needed. (As my daughter said, “I give great gifts.” She does. For Father’s Day this year she got me a print of R2D2 as the droid might have been sketched by Leonardo DaVinci.)

So my advice to writers wondering what to write about next is to look around. You never know what might inspire you and where it might lead.

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Published on July 03, 2018 07:33 Tags: science-fiction, short-stories, writer-s-block
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Daniel M. Kimmel
Occasional postings about what I'm writing... or reading.
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