NOT YOUR USUAL SUSPECTS

A group blog featuring an international array of killer mystery, suspense, and romantic suspense writers. With premises and story lines different from your run-of-the-mill whodunits, we tend to write outside the box. We blog several times a week on all topics relating to romantic suspense and mystery, our writing, and our readers. We welcome all comments and often have guest bloggers. All our authors can be contacted separately, too, using their own social media links.

We find our genre delightfully, dangerously, and deliciously exciting - join us here, if you do too!


Julie Moffet . Clare London . Cathy Perkins . Jean Harrington . Daryl Anderson . Nico Rosso . Maureen A. Miller . Sandy Parks . Lisa Q Mathews . Sharon Calvin . Lynne Connolly . Janis Patterson

Monday, October 27, 2014

Stalking Ideas

by Janis Patterson
One of the questions authors are asked the most is “Where do you find your ideas?” - as if ideas were rare and wondrous things as difficult to discover as flawless emeralds. As far as I and most of the writers I know are concerned, there are fewer questions more maddening.

As if one has to ‘find’ ideas. They find us, as ubiquitous as mosquitoes during a lake holiday, and sometimes just about as annoying. For example : you’re working happily on a sophisticated big city humorous mystery, when all of a sudden the sight of an axe in a hardware store brings up a flash of inspiration for a dark and noir-ish story about a suburban serial killer. It lurks at the edge of your consciousness, waiting to leap on every unguarded moment with yet another character or plot twist.

The sleuth you’re trying to write is an urbane, wise-cracking former male model who speaks four languages and not only knows but actually cares about the difference between white tie and black tie evening wear. (Sigh) The sleuth who is trying to creep into your mind is a wise-cracking suburban mom who hates soccer, has a daughter mad for ballet and who, through her knowledge of some arcane middle-class suburban pastime, deduces the killer who has been decimating the neighborhood.

Finally to propitiate the annoying creature you take a few precious hours to make some notes, jot down an idea or two, scrape together the bare bones of an outline and file the results into your bulging Ideas file. (You do keep an Ideas file, don’t you? I have for years. Mine is now roughly the size of Rhode Island.) The only problem is, when you decide the suburban mom has to have a garden, there is the flicker of an idea about a well-known television writer who loves to raise poisonous plants and his encyclopedic knowledge allows him to solve crimes as there is suddenly an epidemic of poisonings on the set of a controversial new series...

See how insidious this is? Before long you’re doing nothing but making notes about possible story ideas while your sophisticated and urbane city detective languishes somewhere in black tie (appropriate to the occasion, of course) waiting for you to come back to him. Ideas are everywhere, and catching them can take over your life.

Now, as we must never forget, I will repeat my mantra – an idea is not a plot. An Idea Is Not A Plot. Repeat that three times every day before you sit down to write. An idea is a situation, a frame, a slice of a singular moment in time. For a successful book, you need hundreds of ideas, and you need to be able to mesh them together seamlessly to provide a workable story. That part is work. Fielding a couple of the bazillions of ideas that flash by you every minute is not.

For the record, my second-most-disliked question is when some bright-eyed naif comes bouncing up (for some reason this is usually a middle-aged male at a cocktail party) and says with the utmost generosity of a Lord Bountiful, “I’ve a wonderful idea for a book – why don’t I tell it to you so you can write the book and we’ll split the money.” If it weren’t so maddening it would be funny to see their faces fall with disbelief when I tell them that ideas are literally everywhere and why would a writer need or even want to borrow ideas when there are more around for free than we could ever even make notes on in our lifetime? Let alone that the writing of the book is the work part, not finding an idea or two.

There have been a few, foolish ones who forge ahead and tell me their idea anyway, apparently convinced that once I hear it I will find it so irresistible and wonderful that I will fall all over myself begging to write it. Huh. Usually this idea is either an improbable farrago of wish-fulfillment or a twisted re-hash of some recent television show. Sigh. Unfortunately, there is nothing in any etiquette book about how to handle this situation and stabbing the innocent but tenacious offender with a cocktail pick is frowned upon. (I say that from sad experience...)

See the problem? It’s not that we have to stalk ideas – it’s that ideas stalk us, continually battering at the gates of our mind until we acknowledge their existence, which diffuses our focus. Perhaps a friend of mine said it best : “It’s not the idea; it’s what you do with it.”

What we do with it – writing the story itself – is the important part.

UPDATE :

Well, my one book release every two weeks from 30 June-30 October publishing blitz ends in a scant handful of days, and am I glad! It was madness to undertake such an insane schedule. What surprised me was how many people – including many writers, who should know better – asked disbelievingly if I were writing a new book every two weeks. Yes, two of the releases were new, but they were completed and edited before this all began, and all the rest backlist books whose rights had reverted to me. Still, it was all a tremendous amount of work that distracted me from everything else in life. Luckily The Husband likes frozen pizza, but he will be glad when I have the energy to get back in the kitchen, though the local restaurants will regret the loss of our all-too-regular patronage. In a way I too will be glad, for the business end of publishing has been so all-encompassing that my writing has been ruthlessly shoved aside. Only recently, as the publishing obligations started to decrease have I been able to approach the computer creatively. Jump-starting my brain and switching from the mind-set of publisher to author was more difficult than anticipated, but slowly the words have been creeping from my fingertips and once again I am feeling the radiant glow of creation. It’s about time.

The ultimate book in the blitz is a re-release of a traditional Regency romance entitled LACEY. It’s a fun book about three couples finding love in spite of societal conventions, meddling relatives and past hurts. Like all the rest, it has been re-edited, re-formatted, given a beautiful new cover and is available in both electronic and paper versions.




Now I am going to rest for a while, at least until the siren whisper of ideas becomes too strong in my ear!

11 comments:

Fran McNabb said...

Janis, I love your comments about being bombarded with ideas from helpful friends especially at social events where there isn't an escape. Ideas are wonderful to have and share, but you are so right to remind everyone that an idea is NOT a PLOT. Your next blog should be a list of comeback lines!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Janis/Susan,

I am nodding and laughing because this is precisely what happens to me. And it usually is men who come up to tell me about their great idea and how I must write a story or book using it. I also get asked where I find my ideas as well. My answer is that writers get their ideas from a combination of living life and imagining it.

Kathleen Kaska said...

When I'm asked that "idea" question I respond for telling the person to look around and listen.

Josh Lanyon said...

Very true. Ideas are not the hard part. If I had a dollar for every time some has approached me with the proposal that "we" write a book together (they will supply the brilliant idea and I will write the book) I could forget about writing altogether and just collect those thousands of dollars. :-D

jean harrington said...

Janis, a question: Are you republishing Lacey yourself, or going (regoing) a more traditional route? Would love to know.

Anne Marie Becker said...

That question never ceases to amaze me. Do non-writers really have so few ideas that they're shocked when we get one? I'm guessing the answer is no. LOL I'm also guessing they're just amazed we can elaborate on an idea and really flesh it out. ;) (Either that, or they're worried the characters in my serial killer books hide my true personality?? Mwahahaha.)

Congrats on surviving the book blast!! I've been amazed at your productivity and I hope you'll have a much-needed break!

Elise Warner said...

If we all connected the scraps of paper with the ideas we've jotted down, I wonder how many many miles they would come too? Great blog. Enjoy your time back at the computer and make something special for your husband.

Susan said...

Thanks for all the agreement and kind words, folks. I was beginning to wonder if I was some sort of weirdo magnet, or just a plain garden variety curmudgeon. Or both.

Jean, to answer your question, I am publishing every book in the blast - both new and rerelease - myself. I started my own publishing company - Sefkhat-Awbi Books - hired a great formatter and a great cover artist and went to town. It's very picky work, and not easy but not egregiously difficult. It was a wild ride and I enjoyed it (mostly) thoroughly.

Susan, aka Janis Susan

Cathy Perkins said...

I had to laugh over the "I have this great idea for a book you should write." Been there, clenched the cocktail pick.
I don't get the "where do you get your ideas" as often as I receive the sideways glance, the I did't know you were like that, comments. Hmm, last time I checked I hadn't personally killed anyone!

Marcelle Dubé said...

I don't think I will live long enough to write all the stories in my ideas file...

Congrats on surviving the experiment, Susan. My hat's off to you!

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