HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Where do you get your ideas?
Are you howling with laughter now? Well, come on.We've talked about this, and you know how I feel about that question.
I love it.
And as a result of one of our blogs, I got an email from Shannon Baker, and HA. She agrees with me.
And at the end of her fascinating blog about her own idea journey (and fears!), she asks a very interesting question: do you agree with John Steinbeck?
Where do you get your ideas?
Writers get asked that all the time.
Sit in on writers’ panels and workshops and it’s bound to come up 85.6% of the time. (Yes, I made up the statistic.) Most writers are polite but the overwhelming responses I’ve heard all come down to this: they have ideas coming at them so frequently they’re like Minnesota mosquitoes in June.
I want to shout, “ARE YOU SERIOUS?!”
My measly excuse for a lazy brain churns out ideas at about the same the rate as ice freezing in Tucson.
I worked on the same novel for nine years because I thought it might be the only good idea I’d ever come up with. Ever. And really, that one didn’t come from me, either. After I’d told a writer friend about a fascinating article I read, she responded with, “When are you going to write the book?”
Ideas are doing a kamikaze dive into my brain and I was wondering if we should have meatloaf for dinner or if whether I should paint the living room red.
But then we moved to Flagstaff. I started reading the paper to acquaint myself with the goings on around town. And there it was--the idea I’d been afraid would never arrive.
So get this: In Flagstaff, just an hour or so from the desert, there is a ski resort, Snowbowl. It’s one of the oldest in the country, dating back to 1938. Did I mention the proximity to the desert, which would hint at lack of water, and, hey, we’re in a drought!
Americans are nothing if not determined. Instead of giving in to logic, Snowbowl’s owners decided to make snow. Still, lack of water and all that. So they are using reclaimed waste water. Gray water. Pretty ingenious, right?
Turns out, not one, not two, but thirteen Native American tribes consider that mountain sacred. It features heavily in their creation stories. Are they happy about the ski resort? They are not. Does treated wastewater tickle them? Not at all.
I started researching tribes in the area and stumbled upon the Hopi. Ancient, tiny and destitute, this tribe believes they are responsible for the survival of the world. The Whole World. After all the research I’ve done, I’m not going to doubt that.
Then I got a job working for The Grand Canyon Trust, an environmental non-profit whose mission is protection and restoration of landscapes on the Colorado Plateau. (If you don’t know, and I didn’t, the Colorado Plateau covers northern Arizona to southern Utah.) For twenty years I’d lived in the Nebraska Sandhills, where environmentalists are shot on sight. More conflict.
My “what if” bone kicked in and I ended up with all these ideas. When Tainted Mountain opens, Nora Abbott is the owner of ski resort in Flagstaff on a sacred mountain and she’s just won a court victory allowing her to make snow. She’s got environmentalist tendencies which clash with mining interests and big business. The kachinas, Hopi spirits of the mountain, are not pleased. And let’s not even get into the issues with her annoying mother.
The what ifs kept coming and pretty soon I had a bunch of ideas. In fact, I had so many that I ended up with a series.
At the end of Tainted Mountain, Nora feels like she needs to start over. And where else would she choose but my favorite place, Boulder, CO. I’ve lived her off and on and it’s where my heart feels at home.
Then, wonder of wonders, I got a call from a former colleague recruiting me to join a startup firm back in Boulder. Me, Nora, Flagstaff, Boulder. Art imitating life imitating art. I was thrilled to get back to the quirky inhabitants, high altitude air, the gorgeous Flatirons, and majestic Rockies.
For over a year I didn’t have to imagine Nora’s surroundings. I biked the same roads, hiked the same trails, drank beer in the same outdoor cafes. Wait, I don’t have a scene in Broken Trust where Nora drinks beer on the Pearl Street Mall. I probably should have.
I even conjured up multiple troubles for Nora, including real Jesse Ventura conspiracy craziness with HARRP, Tesla towers, and using weather as a weapon of
My stay in Boulder ended too soon and we moved for the seventh time in nine years. As one friend put it, I’m an itinerant writer. Sadly, I’ve landed on the windswept prairie of southwestern Nebraska. I can’t picture Nora winding up here anytime soon, though she does travel to Moab in the upcoming Tattered Legacy. (March 2015)
But one day, out of thin air, someone else did show up here. Kate is a small town sheriff. She’s someone I want to hang with and book one is already written. I’ve got tentative plots for books two and three. Amazingly, ideas are splitting and growing like germs in a petri dish.
John Steinbeck says: “Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.”
HANK: Reds, do you agree? Where do you get your best ideas? (and of course we're giving away a copy of Broken Trust to one lucky commenter!)
The winner of Nancy Martin's A Little Night Murder is: ME! (Oh, okay rats. But I'm getting it anyway from Mystery LoversBookshop. Where they have SIGNED copies!) The real winner is Penny! (Email me at h ryan at whdh dot com)
(And tomorrow--OUR nightstands. You knew it was coming.)
Shannon Baker writes the Nora Abbott Mystery Series, a fast-paced mix of murder, environmental issues and Hopi Indians published by Midnight Ink. Broken Trust, released March 2014, takes place in Boulder, CO. A lover of western landscapes, Baker can often be found backpacking, skiing, kayaking, cycling, or just playing lizard in the desert. Tainted Mountain, the first in the series is set in Flagstaff, AZ and is a New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards finalist. Shannon is Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers 2014 Writer of the Year. She serves on the board of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and is a member of SinC, MWA, and TWA. Visit Shannon at www.Shannon-Baker.com.