Where do Story Ideas Come From?

“Where do you get your ideas?” That’s a question readers and aspiring writers ask authors all the time. Well, it’s not a magical process for me. I’m a collector.

All of my stories began as an image, a memory, or a what-if? thought.  Sometimes, these bits of ideas takes forever to make sense. I’ve carried some for years and then one day — wham! — something else in my life collides with it, creating the perfect environment for the story to take shape. Sometimes, I’ve had the idea but not the knowledge of how to execute it. In those cases, it’s taken time for my skills to catch up with the story the idea warrants.

For Never Cry Werewolf it was a single image from a moving car.

I’d written a few young adult manuscripts that were getting attention from contests and agents, but I had yet to break through to traditional publication. Then, one day as I drove home from my day job, I passed through the dark, forested state park and started thinking about how it was the perfect location for a werewolf. And what if he was the hero and the heroine didn’t know his secret identity? I heard the sassy voice of Shelby, my protagonist, and her quirky, fumbling take on love and life and I was convinced to try writing the story. That vision of the park at night blossomed into my first published book.

The Clearing was inspired visually, too. What was behind the mist?

When I started writing novels, my desk was in a cramped single-wide trailer in the country. (We were so broke there were holes in the ceiling and the floors and resident mice — yikes!)  Anyway, every morning from that vantage, I could see a big red barn on my neighbor’s forty acres. Sometimes, the fog would unroll completely over that building, hiding it under a thick misty blanket. It was almost as if the barn ceased to exist in our dimension. I began to wonder what if it was another world — a capsule in time? What if there was a teen boy, trapped in 1944 who lived in that time bubble? I held onto that idea for a couple of years, until I heard the voice of Amy, the heroine who needed to meet Henry, to experience the healing only he could help her find. I was in a place where I needed healing too, and I was finally ready to write The Clearing.

Other novels have been inspired by my family.

Wherever You Go came to me by way of my grandmother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s and the selfless devotion of my grandfather who cared for her. I believed she was still there, somewhere inside, even as her touch with this world was fading away. I took that memory and paired it with some ideas I’d been thinking of about depression, the afterlife, and something I’d read about a caregiver support group for teens who were caring for the adults in their family. A character began to take shape — Holly, an over-burdened teen with a mother who works two jobs and needs help caring for a grandfather with Alzheimer’s. It was a way to write through the pain of losing my grandmother, and to say something about how everyone needs to be seen and understood. Certainly, Rob, the ghost in that story is aching to be heard, just like Grandpa Aldo and Holly.

Now, I’m working on a new werewolf series inspired by a family tradition.

When I was small, my father bought three jade necklaces and gave one to each of his daughters as we turned sixteen. (My dad is super awesome and so thoughtful.) For a while, I’ve wanted to do something with that cool idea of a gift you got at sixteen. Last summer, as I thought about what to write next, I realized I could incorporate this necklace idea — a pendant as protection — into a paranormal romance set in a country town much like the one I used to live in when I wrote Never Cry Werewolf. Also, in all honesty, I’m excited to write another werewolf hero. (Werewolves are the best!) I’m having fun writing it now, and I’ll let you know details on publication in a few months.

So, to sum it all up for you — ideas are everywhere!

It’s a matter of recognizing something cool and keeping it until I match it with other things to create something unique. Sometimes I’m not ready for the idea. I don’t know yet what to do with it, or what it could be. But like a crow, I keep collecting those shiny bits of treasure and saving them in my nest.  Or journal… You know what I mean.

Heather

P.S. Crows are amazing collectors. Check out this picture of one crow’s treasures.

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