As I mentioned in my last post, I've joined a blog chain created by members of QueryTracker, a site devoted to helping writers keep tabs on their submissions to agents. (I'm a member too, but since Across Two Universes isn't ready for submission yet, I haven't used the tracking feature.) The current topic is, "Where do you get your ideas from?" You can follow the chain by going here and here. I've also linked to all of the chain members' blogs in the sidebar, so go ahead and check them out.
It's interesting that this is my first topic in the blog chain, since I wrote an essay about ideas for my website back in 2002. You can still read it here, if you'd like. In that essay, I talk about how the Beatles, particularly John Lennon, inspired the novels I was working on then. One of those novels got sent around to various agents (and to Tor) before being trunked; another has gone extensive revision and is currently titled Across Two Universes. Of course, I wrote that essay six years ago, and I've had other projects come into my life since then. I'll summarize briefly what inspired them.
Much of my inspiration comes from my daily life. My short story "A Reptile at the Reunion" came about from the combination of an invitation to my grad school reunion (which I skipped) and a writing challenge in a magazine. Other short stories (which I've started but not finished) came from a bout of insomina I had this winter or non-buyer's remorse I felt after passing on a beautiful silk blazer on sale up in Madison. These incidents made me think of ways to lure the "sheep of sleep" (the ones you're supposed to count) back into a person's life or what it would be like to discover a chest full of the things you once wanted but didn't get. Interests such as dealing with the conflict between evolution and science inspired me to create an alien race that has a unique way to handle this conflict--except that for one individual, it doesn't work. Yet another short story I need to finish.
Other times I get ideas from reading. Sometimes I get a little frustrated when I find too much of the same type of story on the bookshelves of my local B&N. There are stories that I think need to be told, even if they don't use "conventional" (i.e., commerically popular) types of heroines or themes. For instance, other than Julie Kenner's Demon series, I don't see too many mothers featured in stories. You could say my NaNoWriMo project from last year, about a working mother who gains the ability to turn into an owl, was inspired partly by a desire to find more stories with heroines I could relate to. Part of this idea also came from everyday life. I often see red-tailed hawks as I drive around, so I wondered what it would be like for one of them to be a human in disguise. I thought at first of a stay-at-home mother, but since the character I came up with is divorced, she has to work to support herself and her daughter. I also changed the bird to an owl so she could go around at night (and interact with werewolves), but I have plans to bring a hawk-person into that story as I re-think the plot.
I mentioned before that one of my short stories was inspired by a writing challenge in a magazine. After Firestorm of Dragons was published, I recieved an invitation from the editor to submit something for another themed anthology. (I don't know what the status of this project is, so I don't feel comfortable sharing the topic here.) This might be one of the hardest things for an author, to find an idea about a topic someone else picked. I did some research and thought about what kind of characters could bring a fresh perspective to this topic. Ultimately I did come up with an unusual take on a stock character, which then helped me determine the rest of the plot for the story. Unfortunately, I didn't finish the story before the deadline, but I may go back to it at some point.
I'll finish this post by repeating a point I made back in 2002; an idea alone isn't enough to make a story. Sometimes you need to combine several ideas before you can create the characters and plot necessary to make an idea come to life; other times, you need to interrogate the idea to generate the characters and plot. But when you learn authors such as Mercedes Lackey can write stories about paper bags (see "Roadkill"), you realize there are more ideas out there than you can ever write about.
OK, I think this finishes the blog chain for this topic. Tune in soon when I go Back on the Chain Gang!