I suppose every writer at some point (or at many points) gets asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” And, of course, there are easy answers: newspaper and magazine articles, overheard bits of conversation, photos, events in your life or the life of someone you know, the appearance of someone you pass on the street, etc., etc.
We also always hear, “Write what you know,” and certainly the author’s career can be a source of inspiration as my teaching career was for A School for Sorcery and When the Beast Ravens.
Hobbies (mine is raising monarch butterflies), areas of expertise, leisure time activities, reearch, etc., etc. all can provide ideas.
But I am a fantasy and science fiction writer, and the question I get is “Where do you get those crazy ideas?” While the answer to that question can be the same as the answers I’ve given above, adding, in my case, that dreams are a big source of my ideas, in honesty I’d have to add, “I don’t know where many of them come from. They pop up out of my subconscious with no warning and no effort on my part to call them forth.”
By way of illustration, here is an excerpt from my novel The Gift of the Trinde Tree:
Marshall awoke with a grin despite his headache. The reception for the Starlings had been one hell of a bash. He groped around in the bed but felt only rumpled blankets and a flattened pillow. Reassuring clinks and clicks came from the kitchen. The homey odor of sizzling sausage coaxed him from the bed. He stumbled into the bathroom, gulped a pill to banish his hangover, caught sight of himself in the bathroom mirror and smirked.
“Not bad considering what you’ve been through,” he told his image, running his fingers through his tousled hair.
He finished in the bathroom and came out to hunt for his scattered clothing. “Ju-Ju?” he called to the sounds in the kitchen. “Is that you?”
“It’s China. Judy left hours ago.” A pixie face framed with short black curls smiled at him through the steam rising from the food on the tray she carried. “I promised to see that you got to your appointment on time this morning. Don’t you remember?”
She set the tray down on the bedside table and giggled as she watched him struggle into his trousers.
“Sorry, doll. I remember sending Cheri off happy. After that, things are kinda hazy.”
She came to him, reached up, and slipped her arms around his neck. Her body, pliant and warm beneath the thin white sheath, pressed against his. “I could refresh your memory.”
“I can’t miss that appointment.”
“You won’t. There’s plenty of time.”
Pressing his lips against hers, he lifted her off her feet and swung her toward the bed.
The Gift of the Trinde Tree is the second book of the Terrano Trilogy, following Shadow of a Demon. The third volume, Touch of Death, is not yet released but will appear later this year. What I want to explain here, though, is that The Gift of the Trinde Tree is actually the first one of the three I wrote. I intended it to be a stand-alone novel and thought I knew how it would progress and how it would end. Hah!
All was proceeding as planned until I reached the scene quoted above. I had written the first two paragraphs of the scene, paused, and typed the line, “It’s China. Judy left hours ago.” I did not intend to write that line. I had no idea who China was or where she had come from. She popped into the novel unannounced and completely unplanned for. And she took over and completely changed the novel’s direction. She was such a strong character that I felt I was ceding control to her. So I made a bargain. (I know this sounds crazy. It is, but it is exactly what happened.) I said, “Look, you behave yourself and let me direct things. You are not the central character of this novel. But if you behave, I’ll make you the central character of another novel.” She accepted the bargain, and I wrote Shadow of a Demon as a preceding volume, explaining who China was and what led to her doing the things she does in The Gift of the Trinde Tree.
But China is not the protagonist of that novel; her sister India is. China is a lesser but important character, but that wasn’t enough to fulfill the bargain I’d made with her.
And so I wound up writing a trilogy. China is the protagonist of the third book, Touch of Death. She is responsible for turning what I intended to be a stand-alone science fiction novel into a trilogy.
Where did she come from? I don’t know. You’ll have to ask her.