Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Overtaken: Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Before I get started with today's topic of "ideas," here's a good one to mention first: Overtaken is now on Kindle, and for the great price of just $4.99. I'd like to invite all you e-book fans to take advantage of this new opportunity to indulge in the lush, gothic, and romantic world of my heroine, Sara Bergsen. And of course, if you're still like me and not quite ready for virtual reading, you can always order a paperback copy direct from me or any other bookseller.

Which leads me back to ideas in general. While I was submitting my e-files for this new edition of Overtaken, I was reminded of my original inspiration and motivation for writing the story in the first place. So often I am asked (as are most other authors, I'm sure): Where do you get your ideas? On the surface it sometimes seems like a standard question, one that's easy to gloss over. After all, ideas are everywhere, the hard part is winnowing through the crop to finally settle on just one. But when I really thought about it, there were definite instances, experiences, and prompts I could point to throughout my creative life that have each influenced my work and given me my ideas.

One of the main sources to thank for much of Overtaken is The International Women's Writing Guild. At one of the IWWG Skidmore College summer conferences where I was teaching a workshop on self-publishing, I had the great privilege of attending classes with authors Emily Hanlon and Marylou Streznewski. The very last page of Overtaken was written before any other part of the book in Emily's class, and one of my dream sequences I eventually assigned to Sara was written under the guidance of Marylou. So thank you, ladies!

After returning home from the conference I continued to work on the book, mainly in the form of journal entries, morning pages, and other writing exercises from both how-to books and my writing groups. Within these writing sessions I would find myself wanting to write about different times and experiences from my own life, for instance:
  • London. Oh, how I love London. And just like Sara, for a while it was my home. Fortunately I've been able to go back a few times, but I still can't get enough of the place, so any excuse to set a story in London takes me back to my favorite shops, streets, museums, and galleries.
  • Sara is an artist--and I try my best to follow in her footsteps. Of course she is much more highly skilled than I am (she makes her living as a professional portrait artist), but it was fun to imagine the kind of paintings and style she preferred.
  • The Theosophical Society. For many years I've been intrigued and interested in the work of Helena Blavatsky and the society she founded. Even if you're inclined to regard (or dismiss) her writing as sheer myth and storytelling, it's mythology on a grand scale. The language of metaphor, symbolism, and "what if" helped me imagine the possibility of Sara and my other characters inhabiting parallel universes and realities.
  • From the TS, I was introduced to the work of Russian artist Nicholas Roerich, especially his costume and set designs for the Diaghilev Ballet, which then worked its way into my plot line as well.
  • Editor Ellen Datlow and her great anthologies of speculative fiction. Whenever I've come across these books I've devoured them. After several volumes I was inspired to write my own paranormal tale. The result was Overtaken.
  • My favorite pieces in the Datlow anthologies seemed to stem from fairy tales, and my favorite fairy tale of all time was, and is, Lona by Dare Wright. So it was natural that I asked myself the question: What if the Princess has to rescue the Prince? Hence the disappearance of Sara's new husband, Miles, and the primary story problem.
  • Greece. Okay, I've never been to Greece, but I've always wanted to go and I wanted Sara to go there too. The best way I found to start my research was with magazine cut-outs and collage. Collage helped me to "feel" where Sara was once she arrived there, and how she would react to her environment. It also provided me with some specific details I would never have found just by reading about the country.
  • Color; and the year my mother made hats. This is probably my most obscure motivation for writing Overtaken, but all of my life I've loved color, the more unusual the shade the better, and I think it stems from the time when I was in the first grade and my mother studied hat-making from a Hollywood dress maker. Every day after school we would go to the woman's house which was filled with the most fabulous fabrics, trims, and furbelows I have ever seen then or since. While my mother learned the intricacies of wiring Gainsborough-style brims, I got to play in the walk-in closet and try on the seemingly endless array of netted petticoats and gowns in every color imaginable: peacock blues; poison apple greens; Jezebel scarlets. I was in heaven! Now, as an author, I was able to relive that wonderful time by giving my heroine a similar immersion into her wardrobe, environment, and artistic palette.
Tip of the Day: Now it's my turn to ask you: Where do you get your ideas? Writing down your answers is a great way to prepare your marketing material for editors, publishers, and readers alike. This is an exercise that can work for artists and all creative-types, too. Don't hold back; enquiring minds really do want to know what makes your work personal and unique.

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