Wednesday, February 11, 2015

It Only Takes a Spark...

I was racking my brain for an idea of what to write for this blog. I had a topic all lined up and then some ornery varmit another blogger went and posted something quite similar. Back to the drawing board I trudged. Then inspiration hit—inspiration would be my topic.

I’m sure you all get this too, right? Whenever I tell people I’m a (soon-to-be published) author, one of their first questions invariably is “Where do you get your ideas?” I like to say I get them from BJ’s. You can get them in bulk, the price is right, and they’re great about taking back the ones that don’t work out.

But in all honesty, I rarely know where my story ideas are going to come from. Sometimes it’s a snippet of conversation overheard in a restaurant or on line at the supermarket that I don’t even really notice until it resonates days later. Sometimes it’s a story on the news­ —I once got a great little ghost story out of an article about a woman on her honeymoon who threw her new husband over a cliff in Colorado last year.

Like lightning, a writer really never knows when or where (or if) that so-hoped-for inspiration will strike. You just keep your eyes and ears, your ‘writer’s sonar’, open. And cross your fingers. But for me, at least once, my inspiration was something really unusual: a sign along the highway.

My wife and I were driving from upstate New York to Pennsylvania a few years ago, on our way to Amish Country around Lancaster. On the drive down I noticed a small nondescript sign along the side of the road. It said something like “Sub Express” with a phone number.

I’ve no idea why, but something about that sign got my brain working. “Sub Express” seemed to lack a certain something—like pizzazz and panache. So, I wondered, if I had a sandwich shop, what would I call it?

Another mile down the road I’d hit on the answer. “Sub-Versive”. A mix of bistro and literary arts center (I’ve always wanted to run a used book store). The “Sub” for the food side, and “Versive” for the literary side.

Hmm, not bad, I reckoned. Then I chanced to see another sign—this one announcing the upcoming towns. I love to see if the names of two towns go together to create a person’s name, and in this case they did. And suddenly I had a character, a woman who was going to open her new venture, a place called “Sub-Versive”, only to have the opening marred by murder.

As I drove on, I found the characters from this unplanned, un-wished for mystery sitting on my shoulders, pouring out their story. I’ve never experienced anything like this before or since, but it was amazing. When we arrived at our hotel I grabbed pen and paper and started to write down everything I knew about my new-found friends, their environment, and the murder of a loathsome poet. I was up til 2am. My exceptionally patient and understanding wife was not especially pleased with me. We’d come to Pennsylvania on a mini vacation and here I was off in Vermont, at least mentally, where my new cozy mystery took place. And paying attention to another (fictional) lady. To say that I was in the doghouse would be putting it mildly. (She did forgive me, but it cost me an Amish quilted wall-hanging).

I worked on that book, tentatively titled “Read Before Dying”, for a couple of years, and got it about three-quarters done. Then I went back to focusing on my main project, the fantasy/romance “Traitor Knight”, which after six years of writing and revising will be released this July by Champagne Book Group’s BURST imprint. I’m working on the sequel to that one as my next major project. But “Read Before Dying” still has a definite place in my agenda, and I’ll be revisiting Vermont and those characters to finish their story. And to write the next two books in that series—I’ve been hit by the inspiration fairy’s wand with more ideas to plague my characters with new bouts of murder and mayhem. I’ve got opening chapters and notes, but that’s it. Too much inspiration and not enough time to do anything with it. I guess it could be worse—could be a total lack of ideas.

So where do YOU find your inspiration? I’d be interested to hear some other takes on how the lightning strikes. 

Keith W. Willis
Author of "Traitor Knight" (coming Summer 2015)


January Bain said...

I know what you mean! Too many ideas and never enough time. Good post, thanks. Best, January

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Sometimes they fall into your lap. Always go with your inspiration. The enthusiasm will take you through to the end.

Big Mike said...

The idea of killing a husband while on honeymoon seems to be a recurring theme. Maybe the ladies are trying to tell us something.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)