Where do ideas come from?

Where DO your ideas come from?

That’s a ques­tion a writer often hears. And, the writer has to think about it. Yes, the idea came from some­where, but how did it devel­op and grow into a sto­ry? Quite pos­si­bly, the writer may have for­got­ten what sparked some­thing, that in turn, pulled togeth­er a bunch of mem­o­ries, ideas, hap­pen­ings, or, just pos­si­bly, a flight of fancy.

I remem­ber the spark that start­ed my young adult ghost mys­tery. It was a sign that direct­ed one to “Sandy Bot­tom Road.” We passed it by, I nev­er saw the road, but I just could­n’t for­get that name. Even­tu­al­ly, Sandy Bot­tom Road became a major part of that book. How­ev­er, I don’t remem­ber the twists I devel­oped on the way.

More recent­ly I wrote a short sto­ry to sub­mit to a future book of short sto­ries. They want­ed sev­er­al mys­ter­ies with a time trav­el theme. My sto­ry was­n’t cho­sen, but I’ve been play­ing around with the idea, devel­op­ing it into a pos­si­ble new series.

What did I throw into the pot to let it sim­mer into a full fledged project? I’m rather old so my mem­o­ry goes well into the past. The mem­o­ry I had took place a year or two after the end of World War II. I was in high school and a fel­low of about high school age came to school with a stu­dent for about two days, then dis­ap­peared. The sto­ry was that he’d arrived in Seat­tle on a Russ­ian boat as part of  the crew and jumped ship.

I nev­er heard what hap­pened to him, any­thing about him, or even his name. But I decid­ed to supply/invent his sto­ry. When my sto­ry failed to find an audi­ence, I decid­ed to add a few oth­er things and mere­ly use that part as an intro­duc­tion to a time-trav­el mys­tery series. The next step was to research his­to­ry and decide where else to send my ama­teur sleuth. I need­ed a more his­toric destination.

Hmm. Recent­ly I’d heard about a repli­ca of the Lin­coln funer­al train tour­ing the coun­try. Nope, did­n’t think about that soon enough to actu­al­ly vis­it the train. Now that would have been per­fect, but I was too late. But there are plen­ty of sites on the inter­net where I found a lot of infor­ma­tion. Next stop, look­ing up slang and music of the era. Check­ing out where the funer­al train was and when. Find­ing the may­or of one city (Philadel­phia) where the train stopped. Dis­cov­er­ing a few rumors from that time — rumors that if car­ried out, could have been dis­as­trous (I did need a crime for a mys­tery, yes?)

Some­thing else perked in my mind. A year or so ago, maybe longer, I read about a series of short books being devel­oped by a team — uni­corn West­erns. They decid­ed that with uni­corns, they would­n’t have to wor­ry about being his­tor­i­cal­ly accu­rate, or even phys­i­cal­ly pos­si­ble, I guess. It was­n’t the uni­corn idea that made a spark, it was the short books, to be offered at 99 cents each. The first three would come out one a month. Now, THAT is what sparked my inter­est. Short books, at 99 cents each. Hey, maybe I could write three of them, pub­lish and keep writ­ing. (Like I may have men­tioned, I dream big.) And there’s cer­tain­ly a lot of his­to­ry in our past that could be looked into. Hey, such books might even spark an inter­est in learn­ing his­to­ry, always an admirable notion. Yeah—then…

Then I applied a whole lot of imag­i­na­tion. So I’m cur­rent­ly work­ing on a new book. (Or, I should be doing that instead of writ­ing this blog. But that’s anoth­er story.)

I’ve had peo­ple ask me where I get my ideas. Now, I’d like to ask the read­ers — When you read a new book, of what­ev­er kind of fic­tion, do you won­der where the idea came from? Or, do you make your own con­nec­tions and think, I bet this … was the spark? (If so, just maybe, you have a book inside you wait­ing to burst forth!)

Pie in the Sky

Recent­ly I saw a car­toon that men­tioned “pie in the sky.” I’ve heard the expres­sion before. I decid­ed this would be my first blog entry in some­thing new—a once in a while series of mem­o­ries con­nect­ed to his­to­ry. Um, that sounds weird, does­n’t it? Maybe I’ll just start with an illus­tra­tion and con­tin­ue from there. Okay?

Now for the mem­o­ry of “pie in the sky.” Actu­al­ly, it’s my father’s mem­o­ry, one he shared with me when we were orga­niz­ing his sto­ry of work­ing for col­lege money.

In 1923, when he was nine­teen and liv­ing in Wash­ing­ton state, my dad got a job in Alas­ka. They sent him by boat, but not by first class. He and sev­er­al oth­er men had bunks in the hold, along with five cows. One of the oth­er men they called Baldy since he was par­tial­ly bald, and the old­est of the group—maybe twen­ty-nine or thir­ty. Anoth­er one they called Shorty.

Shorty was being sent to Alas­ka to spread the word about the Indus­tri­al Work­ers of the World. He gave quite a talk on Com­mu­nism, which was new to my dad.

When Shorty got through, Baldy had his say, which was, “Hooray for free speech. I believe in the IWW, free speech, and over­head sew­er systems.”

Short­y’s response was to sing the fol­low­ing song.

A long-haired preach­er comes out every night.
And he tells us what is wrong and what is right.
He tells us when we’re flush, give our mon­ey to the Lord.
And he tells us when we’re on the bum.
Work and pray, live on hay.
You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.

My dad had the impres­sion that was an Indus­tri­al Work­ers of the World song, but Wikipedia has a bit dif­fer­ent sto­ry. Pos­si­bly the IWW appro­pri­at­ed the last two lines of the orig­i­nal song. But “pie in the sky” meant the same thing it does today.

Anoth­er thing that spurred this blog is my dad’s book, his mem­o­ry and my deci­sion to start post­ing my mem­o­ries. The book we put togeth­er is A Knuck­le­head in 1920/s Alas­ka, now avail­able as a paper­back and as an e‑book for all e‑book read­ers here.

Do you have a mem­o­ry about “pie in the sky” to share?