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Posts tagged with: ideas

Accidental Hitchhiker: The Story Behind the Story

hitchhikerPeople often ask writers where we get our ideas. Mine come from anywhere and everywhere—a dream, a snippet of conversation overheard in a bar, a walk with my husband. After that initial burst of inspiration, I build on the idea. Expand and improve it as only a romance writer can, making it more. More exciting. More funny. More romantic.

My first published work was a short story in Woman’s World magazine. I’d decided to try my hand at short stories, and when I sat down to brainstorm, the first thing to come into my head was a decidedly unromantic incident from my college days, in which I’d managed to get into a car with a strange guy because I thought he was my ex-boyfriend.

See, my sophomore year in college, I had dated this guy, Troy, who drove a blue Toyota Camry (name, make, and model changed to protect the innocent). Things didn’t work out, and we went our separate ways, but every time I saw a blue Camry, I’d find myself looking closely to see if the driver was Troy. This got to be pretty annoying, because there were a lot of blue Camrys on the road.

One day, as I was walking home from class, I saw yet another blue Camry. I did my usual check. The car was going pretty fast, but the driver looked like he could be Troy–same color and length hair, eyes disguised by sunglasses. As the car passed me, I turned around to see if the sticker Troy had on his car was on the bumper. It wasn’t.

Yet another blue Camry that wasn’t Troy’s, I thought, and continued on my way.

A minute later, the Camry pulled up next to me. “Want a ride?” the driver asked.

Oh, I thought. It was Troy after all. Why else would the driver have turned around to offer me a ride?

I was so convinced it was my ex that I was in the car with the door closed and my seatbelt fastened before I realized that the reason Troy looked so different was because he wasn’t, in fact, Troy. He was a complete stranger who had stopped to give me a ride because he thought I’d been checking him out.

Let me stop right here to explain something–I am not an adventurous person. Take the least adventurous person you know, and then imagine someone way less adventurous. That’s me. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t even make eye contact with strangers, much less get in their cars.

Cue total freak out. I was certain my life was over. I was speeding down the road with some random guy. He could be a rapist. He could be a murderer.

But, as it turned out, he was a perfectly nice person who drove me straight to my apartment. As he dropped me off, he said, “Well, at least you got a ride home out of it.”

But, actually, I got much more, because as I thought back over the incident, my romance-writer brain kicked into gear, massaging the chain of events and the characters until I had something totally different. Something funny and romantic. Thus was born my first Woman’s World short story, in which the heroine thinks she’s getting into her brother’s car, but is actually getting into the car of the hot neighbor she had been crushing on. If you want to see how the two versions of the story differ (in just about every way possible), you can read the fictional version at my website.

And that’s one of my favorite things about being a writer. I can take a terrible real-life experience and reimagine it in a totally different, infinitely more satisfying way.

What’s your favorite part about being a writer? Are there any crazy real-life stories you’ve fictionalized?

Writing Fearless: A Christmas Tale

I admit it. I am guilty of studying tropes and trends, because I know that readers like them and my publisher expects them. And also, being familiar with tropes and trends is helpful.

But early this year, when my publisher asked me to write yet another Christmas novella for the 2015 holiday season, I was less than enthused. Honestly, if I had to write another:

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a) Retelling of the Gift of the Magi (I did that in my novella I’ll be Home for Christmas),

 

 

 

 

 

 

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b) Take on Scrooge (I did that in my book Last Chance Christmas), or

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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c) Baby in a barn story (I did that in my novella Silent Night)

 

 

 

I. Would. Scream.

(Did I mention that the publisher made this suggestion in January, right after I was thoroughly Christmass-ed-out?)

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I expressed these negative feelings to my husband on our daily commute. I railed against Dickens for having written the quintessential Christmas Novella of all times. I ranted about Scrooge — about how he is such a powerful icon of the season that he’s everywhere, in every story you read.  I mean, even It’s a Wonderful Life and How the Grinch Stole Christmas have Scrooge archetypes messing up Christmas for everyone.

“Not gonna do it,” I said.

Then my husband said, “What if you wrote a story where Tiny Tim was all grown up?”

And I said, “Okay, if Tiny Tim is a grown up, who’s Scrooge? A little kid?”

And he said nothing.

Did I mention that he’s a whiz at knowing when to shut up?

The next morning, this idea of turning Cindy Lou Who into a tiny-sized Grinch was still rattling around in my head. So I Googled the words, “Kids who hate Christmas.”

I got the usual listing of posts about greedy kids, even greedier grownups, and people ungraciously mouthing off about Christmas gifts they hated. But once I got past all that crap I stumbled across several heartbreaking and utterly inspiring articles and blog posts about and by parents whose children either have autism or who are on the Asperger’s spectrum.

For many of those special kids, Christmas is a nightmare. For their parents, Christmas can be a difficult obstacle course that requires love and patience and even more love.

A story began to form in my mind, but I didn’t think I was courageous enough to write it. The courageous ones are the parents of these special kids, and I didn’t feel as if I had any authority to write about them.

I put the story idea aside. I worked on a dozen other ideas all of which had some well-worn Christmas trope that failed to inspire. I dithered. I procrastinated. I complained.

And then I sent an email to my BFF and critique buddy, Caroline Bradley, who just happens to be the mom of a child on the Asperger’s spectrum. I didn’t contact Caroline to seek information about Asperger’s– not at first. At first it was just to have a conversation about whether I was brave enough to take on this topic.

Bless her, Caroline was more than enthusiastic. She told me that if the story had captured my heart, then it shouldn’t matter whether I was qualified to write it (that’s what research is for) or whether it was the usual trope (sometimes you have to stop listening to the marketing people). In short, she told me to be brave, write fearless, and tell a good story – words I hope to continue to live by.

I started by asking a lot of questions of a lot of parents and siblings of autistic kids.  I did my research. And then something magical happened, when I had finally stopped telling myself that this story was beyond me, I discovered that it was actually inside me.

The story arrived fully formed in a matter of days and needed almost no revision.

This experience has convinced me that when I dig deep, stretch my boundaries, and tell a story from deep inside my heart, the writing is never a problem. It’s when I back away from the hard stuff – that’s when the writing becomes impossible.

midnight clear coverA Midnight Clear, a Christmas story of a single mom with a special needs child goes on sale today. Here’s an excerpt.

So, tell me, have you ever had a story present itself that you thought you weren’t brave enough to write? Did you write it? What happened? Was it hard or did it turn out to be easy?

Story Thievery?

Has anyone every asked you if you’re afraid of having someone steal your story? I have been asked this very question. Several times.

At first, I used to laugh and say, “Good luck to them. I sure as hell couldn’t sell it.”

Where’d You Get the Idea?

So does the title for today’s blog sound familiar to you?

I know it does because every non-writer friend and family member has likely asked you, “How do you come up with the ideas for your stories?”

My answer: It popped into my head.

The Latest Comments

  • Bev Pettersen: I need quiet and a big chunk of time. Knowing a clock is ticking leaves me panicky. Silence and...
  • Lenee Anderson: Well, since the flood my writing space upstairs has been taken over by all over the downstairs...
  • Autumn Jordon: Don’t beat yourself up! I just offered this advice to another writer. Do what is right for you...
  • Autumn Jordon: That is a wonderful attitude! You’re focused on the future and all the possibilities it holds....
  • Vivi Andrews/Lizzie Shane: For me it’s not about the place, it’s about keeping flexible and doing what I...

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