I get asked sometimes where I get my ideas from, and I don’t think I’m different from any other writer in how they enter my brain, but I’ll give a few examples here. And if any authors read this and think, “Yeah, that sounds about right,” feel free to back me up on how weird it can be at times, getting these random ideas inserted into your brain (often against your will because you’re driving and can’t do anything about it, or in the shower where you don’t have a pen handy).
First, I’ll start with THE BEST LINES, which I’ve spoken about a little, but it’s probably the one that had the idea evolve pretty slowly and took multiple steps to get there. At that time, I’d finished FRESH START, but had no idea if I was going to write another book at all. Where I lived at the time, I had an open tunnel-style kitchen with a high-top bar/counter with some stools that overlooked my living room. Sometimes, I’d get a drink or something from the kitchen and put it on the counter and walk around to get it before sitting down with it. One day, it felt a little like a bartender setting down a drink for a patron, and I thought, “Okay. Bartender.” After that, every time I was in my kitchen, I kept getting bits and pieces of dialogue, an exchange between two women who were meeting for the first time. It was nagging at me, but I didn’t even write it down. I would play it out in my head (and sometimes, out loud - don’t judge) until I was saying the same things over and over again to myself and I realized I had it. I still didn’t know what the book was about yet.
I was in a Facebook group for writers back then that did daily writing prompts, and one day, they had one that said, “Make the first line in your book, ‘Get out while you still can,’” and I swear, I got an image of two women on a date in my mind. That didn’t exactly go with the prompt, so I fleshed it out a bit and decided that they were on a first date. “But where would the prompt come in?” I thought about a napkin with the words written on it. “Okay. Got that. But, why?” Eventually, I got to the place where Ember gives Eva the napkin because she knows Eva’s date isn’t exactly upfront with only wanting to sleep with women. Ember knew this because that date had done that to a friend of hers. So, now I had the prompt and the reason why it’s the first line.
The next bit I needed was adding in the dialogue I’d worked out already, so I made Ember someone who helps out in her brother’s bar, and Eva was a professor who loses her job and needs a drink. Then, I had my dialogue. After that, the plot sorted itself out.
Let’s talk about one that I haven’t spoken about yet, shall we?
The THE MEET CUTE CAFÉ is a series of shorts all based around a café that caters to LGBTQ+ patrons, and I had no intention of writing it. I’d just finished writing the Holiday Series and was planning on taking a break, but I ended up throwing my back out, which was no fun, and I suck at being bored. I have a notebook that I rarely use for my writing, but it was easier than bringing my computer to the bedroom, so I decided I’d sketch out the idea that had come to me to see if I actually felt like writing it.
I used to walk to and from work (during the pre-COVID days), and I loved it. Fresh air. Audiobook in my ears. There was a coffee place on the way, so I could grab something if I wanted, and a grocery store, so I could pick up something for dinner on my way home. It was a short walk, but it was a nice way to get in some thoughts and free my mind a little. Sometimes, I’d call my mom on the way home, and I don’t like talking on the phone around other people. I don’t like hearing their conversations, either, and I always found it funny how we all talk on the phone and act like no one around us can actually hear us, but they can. And while it might just be one side of the conversation on the phone, if you’re with someone in person, they can hear your conversation - at least bits and pieces of it if they’re within earshot.
I got this idea of someone overhearing conversations on a daily basis. Where would that happen? Maybe a restaurant? Bar? Café? What if it’s a barista? I was a barista once. I heard a lot of conversations. Okay. It’s a barista. Now, what? What if they have regulars, so they hear more than one conversation? At first, the stories in my mind weren’t connected. Then, I realized that I didn’t want it to be just a few shorts with no connections.
So, that day with my notebook, I came up with character names, ages, jobs, and I still had no idea how they were all connected. Then, I thought about the kinds of people who would frequent the café, how they might interact, and I outlined 8 stories. No idea why I decided on eight. Taylor and Chelsea were the first story I came up with. Shelby and Maria’s story was the last. I started typing the next day, and THE MEET CUTE CAFÉ was born.
One more that I’ll share with you in this blog is THE DISAPPEARED. I’d already written THE FIRE, and I wasn’t planning on writing anything more in that universe or even another book involving a crime, but I did go to school for Behavior Analysis and Criminal Justice, so I tend to watch and read a lot of true crime. One day, I got the idea while sitting in my chair, writing something else, that maybe a boy goes missing with his sister there at the time. I had an image more than dialogue or a scene of a lake or river - or, at least, a body of water - and woods surrounding it. It felt deserted, except for the two of them, and I had no story to go with it. Just this image.
The next image that came into my mind was the rope swing. Then, it was sibling dialog. I had no clue where I was going with it until I realized that after he goes missing, she’d have to talk to the police, and I saw that scene so clearly in my mind: a young girl, wrapped in a towel or blanket, talking to an intimidating police officer about her missing brother. But what if the officer was young? What if she was a rookie and not intimidating at all? What if she was kind and made a promise to find the brother?
The rest of the book fell into place after that. It would be the ten-year anniversary of his disappearance, and there would be a TV show made about it, which is what would happen in the real world. I was able to bring over Kenna from THE FIRE because of that, and reconnect Ada with Dylan, the detective who was kind and made her a promise. Their love story was born.
I’ve had other ideas while driving, like I mentioned, in the shower, where my brain’s diffuse mode can take over and generate novels for me at times, and while walking home from work. If you’re asking what the key to getting a good, usable idea is, the only tip I can give is to relax your brain as much as possible. That diffuse mode is key here. The best ideas usually come to the most relaxed minds. Take a shower and just let your mind wander. Go for a walk or a hike if you can and think of nothing stressful for a minute. You’ll find that the ideas that come to you might not make sense in the moment, but they will in time.