Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Where Do You Get You Ideas? by Catherine Dilts

While hiking in Utah with my husband, our adventurous friends took us to see an odd sandstone formation. A huge stone slab angled over a jumble of rocks. Obvious human handicraft filled in the gaps with stones. A man had lived in the rock shelter for several years.

That sparked a series of questions. Why did the man build the stone shelter? Was it by choice? Did he have no other options? Was he running from the law? I used those questions to create a character in an as-yet unpublished novel. 

“Where do you get your ideas?” Eventually every writer faces this question. Most of the time it is nearly impossible to answer, except in the vague sense that some event inspired that author to ask “what if” questions.

My husband and I had stopped in Lin Ottinger’s Moab Rock Shop many times, buying fossils and gemstone jewelry. On one visit to Utah, I interviewed a clerk named Kyle, annoying him with dozens of questions about running a rock shop.

Although the idea for my novel’s setting was birthed in that moment, it took me a while to work out the when, where, and why of the story. My rock shop is located in a Colorado tourist town, not the main drag in Moab, Utah. Middle-aged widow Morgan Iverson manages my imaginary shop, not an internationally renowned rockhound like Lin Ottinger. In short, a real rock shop may have provided inspiration for Stone Cold Dead, but the similarity ends there.  

A conversation with my father inspired another aspect of Stone Cold Dead. Dad worked for a newspaper in his youth that had a typesetting printer. With so many people rejecting advanced technology and returning to old-fashioned, artisan methods of doing things, a man running an antique newspaper had appeal. A man caught up in another era not his own. And Kurt Willard was born. His small town newspaper operates using modern printing methods, but he has a passion for all things from the 1940s. 

And then there are the donkeys. In real life, they run around half wild near our property in the mountains. Donkeys are just neat animals. Houdini and Adelaide in Stone Cold Dead are imaginary donkeys, but I did my research, and nothing they do is impossible for the hardy little creatures. They gave me an excuse, along with other stories I’m working on involving horses, to take riding lessons with the grandkids.

When people ask, “Where do you get your ideas,” I can’t give an easy answer. Ideas for fiction come from being curious. From listening to other, especially older, peoples’ life stories. From asking “what if” five hundred times. A lot of experiences go into a mental bucket overflowing with memories and bits of useless trivia. Some jumble together and morph into fiction. I don’t know how that happens, but it sure is fun when it does. 

Thanks Catherine for writing such a wonderful post!! If you missed the review of Stone Cold Dead last week, be sure to check out an awesome book!.

1 comment :

  1. Thank you for having me on your blog, Dalene! I had fun remembering the starting points for some of my story ideas.