Where Do Those Ideas Come From?

This is Lea Wait, taking a few deep breaths. I just got home from what was close to two weeks on the road. Yes: a family wedding was included. (A family wedding in Phoenix, I might add. I live in Maine.) But most of the days I was away from home I was talking about my books — at a children’s book festival in Albany, New York, as part of a live variety radio production in New Hampshire, at a mystery bookstore in Scottsdale, Arizona … and at other places along the road, where I smiled, handed out bookmarks, and answered questions.

One of the questions authors are asked most often is, “Where do you get your ideas?”

And, yes, I’m sure we’re all tempted to  say, “I google for them” or “One whole plot came to me in a dream,” or “Didn’t you know Macy’s had an ‘idea section’?”

Of course, no author I know would say any of those things. But it’s hard to explain where ideas come from, because … they’re everywhere.  (Who knows when a wedding in Phoenix might end up in one of my books?) At least for me, yes, some ideas come from my life. I probably wouldn’t have set books in Maine or New Jersey if I hadn’t lived in those places. Or invented a protagonist who was an antique print dealer if I hadn’t grown up in a family of antique dealers and collectors. Maggie Summer, my protagonist in the Shadows Antique Print Mystery series, probably wouldn’t have thought of becoming a single adoptive parent if I  hadn’t adopted my four daughters.

But  Maggie is also a college professor. I’ve never taught. Angie Curtis, the protagonist in my Mainely Needlepoint series debuting in January with TWISTED THREADS, has a license to carry and rarely reads. Not me, in either case.

Often an idea comes from a sentence fragment,  or a newspaper clipping. If the idea sticks around, I start to dig. Research. Ask more questions. I’ve written about AIDS (SHADOWS AT THE FAIR) and Alzheimer’s (SHADOWS ON A MAINE CHRISTMAS.) I’ve written about amputation (WINTERING WELL) and rape (SHADOWS OF A DOWN EAST SUMMER.)  I haven’t experienced  any of those things first hand.

Right now I’m writing about the politics of lobstering and the embroidery of Mary, Queen of Scots. My information in both cases comes second or third hand — although I have been out on lobster boats.

So – where do my ideas come from? From life. Mine, others’, or from research. Always, they come from digging into a thought … and molding it into a piece of a plot.

Making trouble for my characters.  Making an idea a story.


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