The Font of Ideas

One of the favorite questions people ask authors is: “Where do you get all your ideas?” THe classic response is that one subscribes to the service provided by the little old lady in Schenectady, NY, who mails out a monthly idea-list. Mercedes Lackey once showed how a cardboard box scooting across the road on a windy day could inspire a horror story. Sarah Hoyt gets characters narrating their adventures in her head, then waiting (most impatiently) for her to catch up and finish the rest of the story. Immersion in others’ stories and then asking “What if . . .” has inspired even more authors.

I’ve been spinning yarns and weaving tales since I was small. And reading everything I could get my hands on, in lots of genres (outside of romance, modern thrillers, and modern mystery, I should add.) I drifted away from fiction in the late 1990s, although at the time I couldn’t tell you why (OK aside from a binge on Ann Rivers Siddons after hearing part of Low Country on “Radio Reader.” That woman can pace a novel, and her setting descriptions? Lush, wonderfully lush.) Instead I read history and horse training books, and history of equitation, and geology. The novels I looked at in the bookstore just didn’t appeal, for some reason. Once I hit grad school, aside from a few M. Lackey brain-breaks, my non-academic reading centered on old naturalists’ books (Edwin Way Teal, Aldo Leopold) and the Stillmeadow Farm books, and related titles.

But I wrote military science fiction to escape. After passing one story to fellow-sufferers  other grad students, and getting lots of praise, I became a little more serious. Science fiction became my sanity outlet. At the same time a fellow grad-student/sci-fi author introduced me to David Weber and other current mil-sci-fi authors. What resulted was the Cat series, now up to almost 100 short stories and novellas. Rada Ni Drako and Joschka von Hohen-Drachenburg took on lives of their own, leaving the author in the dust. Joschka was supposed to be a minor character in one story. Yeah.

Two years ago, more or less, I started worrying about running out of things to publish. The Cat stories seemed to be slowing down and I was fresh out of ideas. Perhaps I was burning out? I decided to write a short story loosely based on a historical character who has interested me for many years. But a short story proved too small, and a trilogy resulted. Then a fourth book. Then an earlier episode from the same part of Europe popped into my memory, and lo, here come book five. Well, how did Colplatschki come to be the way it is? I never intended to write about the Great Fires and the origins of the Babenburgs. So of course here come book six. OK, I’m done, right? Nope. I kid you not, I was pulling into a parking space at the local library and Matthias Corvinus showed up in the cab of my pickup and glared at me. This became book seven. Now I’m totally done, really, period. You know what’s coming, don’t you? I picked up a copy of Medieval Warfare magazine, the recent issue about women in warfare. Un huh. Book eight is now 15,000 words and growing, based on a woman from east of the Alps and a very different woman from an earlier period west of the Alps. And the novella that will come out in August, and possibly another short, maybe.

Meanwhile . . . I’d been kicking around the setting of the Cat books, leading to the Powers stories, including a libertarian version of Beauty and the Beast (I’ll try to get it out in August). Since the Cat stories are in an alt-world version of Earth, I needed to figure out what changed. Two alt-history WWI books, plus a few short stories, are coming soon.

And then, last year, I was reading about nuclear energy while watching the Tour de France. At one point a breakaway rider crested a hill and disappeared from view, and one of the announcers mused that it would be a minute or two before anyone saw him again (low weather kept the telecopters grounded). I thought, What if CERN really had opened a hole in the fabric of the universe and he rides out of sight and crashes into a dinosaur? I need to write that story.

So stories come from a few places. Crazy “what ifs”, logical developments from other stories, and tales stolen from the past. I’m getting a little nervous about what else is lurking in the dark corners of my mind.

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One thought on “The Font of Ideas

  1. While I haven’t gotten these “stories” written down, one story universe started while I was grumbling about “Close Encounters Of The Third Kind”. IE the alien villains started as the little aliens we see at the end of the movie. Mind you, they sort of “melded” Stirling’s Draka.

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