What? All right, I'll explain. As is often the case, I am quoting a song in the title of this blog post. The subject of the blog post is a writer's inspiration.
Today's "Saturday Quote-O-Rama!" post below is the first line of one of my favorite Springsteen songs, "Your Own Worst Enemy" from the "Magic" album. Whatever that song is about, it's NOT about teenagers on a hazardous post-apocalyptic wilderness trek. And yet, those first few words ("you can't sleep at night, you can't dream your dreams") somehow fired off some neurons in my brain to start a train of thought that ended with the inspiration for my current work-in-progress, THE BOOK OF KELL. (aka the Post-Apocalyptic Young Adult or PAYA)
So, I hear the song. "You can't sleep at night, you can't dream your dreams." My brain starts its own hazardous trek in the wilderness of my cranium and somehow I start thinking of a teenager who can only dream one dream. I don't mean dream as in goal, I mean as in when the kid falls asleep, only one dream is available. The same dream, over and over... This thought process began in the summer of 2009. That initial idea is still on the back burner and might make a short story one day. It actually does not appear in any form in THE BOOK OF KELL. But the idea of a teenager... who then became a post-apocalyptic teenager... who had some real problems identifying with the rest of the senior class... eventually morphed into the plot of TBOK.
Which just goes to show that the idea for an entire novel can blossom from the simplest thing. SHADOW POINT sparked from 3 ingredients that came together in the same week: a trip to my hometown of San Diego, spending time on the beach there with a friend and her 5 year old daughter, and re-reading THE TURN OF THE SCREW on the plane ride home. Boom. A San Diego ghost story with a 5 year old girl at its center was born.
ROMEO FAILS just came out this month. (yay!) Its setting in a tiny Midwestern town was based on the time I had spent in two Midwestern towns, one very small and one tiny. I did (again) draw on personal experience to create its plot, which - let me be clear - is fictional, not autobiographical. I remember reading an article about Truman Capote many years ago which talked about him alienating all his friends and relatives by writing about them. They Were Really Mad! An author may choose to be careful when drawing upon personal experience. Or not. Gulp.
Stuff happens either way, right?
My third novel, HEAVENLY MOVES, is due out next year. This 1982 rock'n'roll murder mystery started with the simplest of inspirations: I moved into a new apartment (just like the one Heavenly "Hev" Wilcox moves into in HEAVENLY MOVES) and kept getting mail for the previous tenant, a total stranger. His mail was way cooler than mine. D'oh! That was the beginning...
The fascinating thing about inspiration and writers is that you could give the same core idea to a group of writers and get wildly different results from each of them.
For a new or struggling writer having a hard time finding a good idea for a story, my advice would be: Relax. Take a deep breath. Open your mind to and take note of all the gifts the world presents you. I mean literally, Take Notes! Carry a little notebook or at least a pen with you ALL THE TIME and jot stuff down as it comes to you. Do not think you'll remember it later. Even if it turns out to be stupid when you read it later, eventually there will be a pearl amongst the oysters.
- Listen to Bruce Springsteen.
- Go to the beach.
- It ain't art if you're not alienating someone.
- Federal mail regulations - more of a guideline than a rule?
- Eat seafood.