I always find this one of the silliest questions I’ve ever heard, and reply with a quip—that people take seriously!
“I subscribe to Idea Monthly.” They say, “Oh.”
“I close myself in a dark closet, chant a mantra,
and don’t come out until a complete story has come to me.” Oh.
“I remember everything everyone tells me and I use it.” Oh.
“Little green men come to me and night and whisper plots
in my ear.” Oh.
Seriously, I have to wonder whether or not the people who ask that question have never had an original idea enter their heads? Writers get their ideas just like everyone else does. Ideas just come to you. As a writer, you learn to brainstorm and embellish on the original idea until it’s plausible.
Many of my ideas come from hearing a song, watching a movie, reading a book, or from my research. Something will catch my attention, and I’ll think “what if”? Then I play with the notion until I turn it into a story.
From the original concept, I develop the characters first. Exactly what kind of person will fit this role or this scene or this setting? Then I create the other lead character with built in conflict and an opposing goal.
-- Heaven Can Wait originated as taking a girl who knew nothing of the outside world from a sequestered environment and flinging her into a completely alien culture. That theme still fascinates me, and I have more ideas for others.
-- Rain Shadow developed from the desire to do a sequel to Heaven Can Wait, using Anton as the hero, and needing an exact opposite to pair him with. Thus the gun-toting Wild West character of Rain Shadow developed.
-- Land of Dreams came from my fascination with and empathy for the children who rode the orphan trains, and, as a result of the many diaries I’d read. So many of the children suffered in their new environments nearly as much as they had on the streets of New York, often being sexually abused or used as servants, and many thinking they’d been adopted into families, only to find out years later that they hadn’t. I wanted to give some of those kids a good home. And Too Tall Thea was a character burning for a story and someone to love her.
-- Saint or Sinner sprang from my passion for watching late night westerns. There’s an old black and white flick with Joanne Woodward where this guy comes back from the war and builds a church. She’s just a kid he tries to reform, but I thought…what if this fellow had a life after death experience and came back a changed man…and there was a woman who didn’t believe he’d changed?
-- Badlands Bride actually started out as a title I’d saved for years. The idea of having an unprepared reporter go west disguised as a mail-order bride popped into my head, and I decided to send her to the badlands and use that title. I love the underdog characters, you may have noticed. She's desperate for her father's approvel.
-- A Husband By Any Other Name came from the Bible story of the prodigal son. One son runs away, squanders his inheritance and comes back to his father’s welcoming arms. The brother who stayed home and worked doesn’t think that’s too fair, even though he surely loved his brother. Seeing the father plan a feast and roast the fatted calf irks him. I further complicated that story by having the brother who stays home marry the fiancee of the brother who went away. Did I mention he pretends to be the brother who went away?
-- The Truth About Toby. I’ve always been a bit fascinated with dream interpretations, I guess. I had originally titled the book Dream A Little Dream For Me, because the hero is helping the heroine with precognitive dreams. Austin came to me first, a reclusive, tortured hero who simply wants to forget the horrors of his past. And for him I created Shaine, the woman he can’t resist, who needs him to remember it all.
-- The Mistaken Widow is a historical version of the movie, “Mrs. Winterbourne, where Ricky Lake pretends to be Brenden Frasier’s sister-in-law. As soon as I saw the film, I started picturing it in a historical scenario. My story has a bit more twists and turns, however.
and on and on.....