I thought I’d take a blog post to talk about ideas and where they come from. I’m reading On Writing by Stephen King and the passage about how he came up with the idea for Carrie really resonated. King talks about how in college, he had worked as a High School janitor and was fascinated by the girls’ locker room, in the sense that it felt like a forbidden and powerful place. Then, years later, while working in a laundry, a scene came to him set in a girls’ locker room. A girl gets her period, and the other girls taunt and torture her.
She thinks she’s dying, that the other girls are making fun of her even while she’s bleeding to death…she reacts…fights back…but how?
I’d read an article in Life magazine some years before, suggesting that at least some reported poltergeist activity might actually be telekinetic phenomena . . . There was some evidence to suggest that young people might have such powers, the article said, especially girls in early adolescence, right around the time of their first—
Pow! Two unrelated ideas, adolescent cruelty and telekinesis, came together, and I had an idea.
King then says he let the idea just simmer for years before even sitting to write anything down.
My ideas come to me in a similar fashion. I read an article and something hooks me. That little piece gets lodged somewhere in my subconscious until it finds some other things that resonate with it: experiences, a face, a phrase, a movie. Through accretion, a scene or story forms from these individual bits.
With Dogs, the idea came from having a friend who went down to New Orleans to help rescue trapped pets after Hurricane Katrina, plus watching a documentary about Katrina dogs called Mine. It also came from having dogs and feeling anxious about what they were thinking when I left them alone in the apartment. Childhood fears about leaving home and having no home to come back to also played a role in making that story. Plus more highfalutin concepts like the nature of story and why we might want to look up at the night sky and see something caring looking down at us. All these things simmered together before I started to write the series.
Sometimes, the simmering happens without my knowing it. With No Safety, the idea seemed to burst Athena-like from my subconscious, fully-formed and ready for writing. I was at a mall with my husband seeing the last showing of a movie. As we made our way from the theaters on the top floor down to the first floor parking garage, we found ourselves in darkness. The stores had long since closed and the lights had been turned off on the lower levels except for a few random fluorescents. But there were people on those darks floors! We saw shadows frolicking, heard voices, hoots and hollers. This mall—a place we had been to more times than I’d like to admit; a type of place I had spent more hours of my own teenaged years in than I can recall—was suddenly alien and scary.
The whole idea for the series came to me that night—being trapped in the mall, the bioterrorism, the four points of view. It was like the accretion of ideas had been going on under the surface and, in that moment, punched through into my conscious mind.
Still, I didn’t write No Safety right away. I waited five years before putting fingers to keys on that idea. And as I wrote the series, more ideas seeped into the mix. With No Easy Way Out, which I wrote and then rewrote entirely from a blank page, I felt inspired by the Kurosawa film Yojimbo and Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies and The Count of Monte Cristo and A Tale of Two Cities, which apparently inspired The Dark Knight Rises. The influence of these things on the actual book may not be apparent, but they helped me to create and define the story as I wrote it.
I’m working on a new idea now. This new idea is similarly an old concept which over the years has gathered more and more interesting bits around it until now, it finally feels like its ready to make a go as a full-fledged story. I can’t wait to see how it develops on the page.
There’s still time to enter the GIVEAWAY that I announced last week! Leave a comment on last week’s blog post to enter to win copies of all of my books plus a galley of No Easy Way Out!