Where do ideas come from?

Writers are often accused of living inside our heads where we carouse with imaginative characters. Some of us also invent frightful scenarios to cause great bodily harm to these characters.

I must plead guilty to all of the above.

When asked where I get my wild ideas, I sometimes inform the inquirer that they’re the result of the special medication I was taking back in the 60s. Anything’s possible. But the truth is we get our ideas from anywhere and everywhere. Possibly a dream or something we read in the paper or saw on TV. An idea for a plot may be sparked by a story a friend tells us, or an overheard conversation.

Some of my ideas have come out of the blue in a flash of clashing neurons depositing a graphic image in my head. That happened when I was writing my second Windrusher novel, Windrusher and the Cave of Tho-hoth. In that one my protagonist had been catnapped and flown to Southern California where he was imprisoned with three other filched felines. The family hires private investigator Quint Mitchell to track him down. Yep, Quint’s first appearance was in one of my Windrusher books.

I’d already given Quint an interest in archaeology when I was creating his resume, but archaeology played no part in that book. Yet, as I wrote a scene with Quint as the major player, an image popped into my head of our trusty PI digging up a corpse. I tried to push it aside, but the image dug in its heels and refused to go away. Finally, I scribbled a few notes and tucked it into my idea file. When I completed the Windrusher book I went back to Quint and the buried corpse and started asking some “What If” questions. Before long I had the premise for Matanzas Bay, the first Quint Mitchell Mystery.

Other ideas are the result of our own experiences. That was the case in my new Quint Mitchell short story, Blue Crabs at Midnight. Visit the link to the excerpt if you haven’t and you’ll see these lines:

Speeding along the dark highway, a dank tidal marsh to his left, the Atlantic Ocean behind them, he felt the crunch, heard the cracking of their shells.

Blue crabs and cars. Not a fair fight, he thought.

 I knew I wanted to send Quint back in time and present him as a young teen in this story. He ended up in Dania Beach, Florida as a 13-year-old reluctantly accompanying his family on a brief vacation. The premise for Blue Crabs grew from my own childhood  experiences. My family had moved to South Florida when I was seven, and lived in Dania for about a year. I remembered the horrible crunching noises as we rode back from the beach at night, and often wondered why those crabs were walking the blacktop two-laner in the dark. Other scenes in the story were also derived from my childhood, like playing “war” in a weed-strewn field, and huddling in a foxhole-like clubhouse.

I put all of these experiences to work in the story—greatly embellished, of course. I’ve been told it’s an excellent read, and a good lead-in to the upcoming full-length novel, Bring Down the Furies, which should be available in a few weeks.

Another story I’ve had lying about for at least ten years just won first place in the Florida Writers Association’s Royal Palm Literary Awards in the short fiction (unpublished) category. The idea for A Flutter of Wings came to me after a visit my dear wife and I took to BEAKS, a NE Florida bird sanctuary. She had rescued a chicken in our neighborhood—it was probably an Easter chick at one time—and decided it needed a home rather than a place on someone’s dinner plate. The kind lady who runs BEAKS takes in all kinds of stray and crippled birds, and I was impressed with the work she was doing. Of course, my story took on an entirely different tone, but it was fun to write. Although it’s unpublished now, I intend to include it in a collection of short stories coming to Amazon.com next year. If you’d like to read an excerpt, the first two pages are on my Windrusher website, and can be found here.

I’ve heard Stephen King once said there’s a special area in eBay that sells ideas. I’ve looked, but can’t find it. I’m curious to hear where you find your ideas. Let me hear from you.