Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Where Do Your Ideas Come From?

This is possibly the most frequent question I get when people learn I’m a writer. The answer is often ethereal and elusive. Things just pop into my head. Most of the time, however, I can point to exactly what triggered the series of fortunate events that germinate, sprout, and flower into a novel.

Scent is important to me. I have a sensitive nose and love fragrance. Good, natural fragrances, not manufactured chemical perfumes. One day, I picked up a book on the history of perfume and—voila!—the idea for Family Guardian was born. That story became my first Avalon sale, my first sale, and won the National Reader’s Choice Award for the Best Regency, much to my shock.

Wanting to target a book at a specific line, I did a little research and read about missing federal gold around the time of the Civil War. What would happen if a lot of people went looking for it? What if one of them found it? I sold that story to Barbour Publishing. Learning that New Jersey had a glassmaking industry in the eighteenth century led me to The Glassblower, my next release and first in a three-book series.

One of my favorite inspirations is part of a nursery rhyme, something we used to say while counting buttons on our clothes to find out what kind of man we would marry: ‘Doctor, lawyer, merchant, chief’. I changed the ‘chief’ to ‘chef’, made the professionals all women, dropped them into the 1890s, when women were becoming sort of accepted as professionals, and voila! My next Avalon series.

My latest sale, to Baker/Revell, is a little harder to trace. It just bloomed like a wildflower in the garden of well-tended blossoms, an amalgam of many bits and pieces of my knowledge on midwives in history, the War of 1812, my love of early U.S. history, as well as early 1800s British history and how closely the two were tied by loyalty and dislike and those who would like to start or stop a war according to their own purposes.

Sometimes, ideas just come from plain, hard work. My agent asked me for a proposal on a certain type of book and specific era. I dug into my research materials and began to simply read. I read three books in a week and the proposal was there, coming into focus like a Polaroid photograph developing before one’s eyes.

So if you ask an author where her ideas come from, don’t be surprised if she gets a vague look on her face, or gives you an answer that has you getting glassy-eyed.


Kathye Quick said...

Hi Laurie.

Ideas, like clouds somedays are plentiful. My problem is getting them down in a journal or in a file so I can refer back to them.

Love how you got yours!

Sandy Cody said...

I'm like Kathye; no problem with ideas, sometimes a big problem translating the idea to a something a reader can identify with. Laurie Alice, I like your comment about the importance of scent. Details like that really help to set the tone of a location.

Tina Dee Books said...

LOL--I absolutely loved Family Guardian. What a fun book with great characters.

I think you've hit it spot on the nose (wow, a pun, sort of), my ideas hit at the oddest time when random thoughts seem to meld together by the trigger of one small real-life detail. It's crazy. If only I'd learn to carry a pad & pen to write the ideas down. LOL!

Thanks for your the fun you put in your stories, the sweet in your characters, and the details that make it all come to life!

Ramona Cecil said...

Hi Laurie Alice! Great blog! I agree. Sources of story ideas are as varied as the stories. As a writer of historical romance, I like to take an interesting tidbit from a place's history and build a story around it. Two excellent examples of how you used that technique with marvelous results are your stories Better Than Gold, and The Glassblower.


Golden Keyes Parson said...

My husband asked me one time, "Do you just make this stuff up?"

"Yeah, it's fiction."

It seems my ideas come from everything around me - someone's conversation, a scene in a movie, lyrics in a song, my grandchild's fuss with his brother. I think ideas come when we are alert to the details and nuances of our world.

Fun topic.

Christine said...

I finally got to read this posting. Lots to ponder. Thanks Laurie Alice.