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INSPIRATION – WHERE DO YOUR IDEAS COME FROM?

June 29, 2011

            I’ve always had a great imagination. That was evident early on when I was walking home from kindergarten one day. Yes, back in the 50’s, it was normal for kids to be able to do that, even in the Los Angeles suburb of Lakewood. I drew something in class I had yet to name. Some of the mothers saw me proudly flashing my fine work of art. They stopped me at the end of the cul-de-sac as I cut between houses on the way toward my house. They gathered around and admired my crayon scribbles.

            “What is that, Freddie?”

            I thought a moment and then it hit me. “It’s a polka-dot sewer!”

            My mom, who was waiting for me by the front door, heard the peals of laughter. She walked down from the house to investigate.

            I don’t remember anything else about that day. It was, however, the start of my illustrious career of telling tall stories. Not long after that, during show and tell, I told the class how my sister went down the drain after bath time. Somewhere, I have a note about that on one of my report cards.

            I sometimes wonder if I had the writing chops back then, what kind of stories I might have come up with. I’ll never know, but I’m sure they would’ve been whoppers. What I do know is if I hadn’t pulled them out of the air, they would’ve started with some inspiration. That hasn’t changed. A great idea can originate in the strangest place, from the most mundane thing.

            This may surprise you, but I get plenty of ideas from crossword puzzles. When I solve a word, I sometimes think, “Wow, I could use that word in a scene.” That little jumpstart may send me on a path of discovery.

            Unusual or even normal people can inspire me.

Something that happens in my life can inspire me.

Books as well as movies, places and things inspire me.

Music plays a special part in my muse (a snooty word for inspiration). One thing I’ve always wanted to do is list all of my favorite bands at the beginning of each of my books. Music is a big reason I am a writer. I was never technically proficient enough at any one instrument (I‘ve played many), nor was I able to slap the right combination of notes and rhythmic meters together to create songs people would want to pay money to hear. I’m just better at writing than expressing myself musically. Yet many rock bands provide muses for me.

            The 60’s and 70’s were especially fertile ground for my imagination with the psychedelic bands and the beginnings of heavy metal. I used to buy albums based on the band’s appearance rather than on what they sounded like. Most of the time, I was pleased with the sound and only once in a while was I disappointed in their music. Their musical journeys were their stories, with notes instead of words. It’s funny because though most of those songs had singers and lyrics, I hardly ever listened to the words. To me, they were just “articulated vocal noises,” to quote Frank Zappa.

            Today, music still finds its way into my writing. I have a tendency to plug my favorite bands in my stories. Many of them are rather obscure so this is my platform to give them the recognition I think they deserve. They inspired me, so I’m returning the favor.

            Music has inspired me directly. For almost a decade, I’ve been e-mail friends with Joanna Deacon and her husband, guitar virtuoso Tony McPhee from the British blues band The Groundhogs. Tony wrote a song called Bog Roll Blues on his great 70’s album Who Will Save The World. I wrote a short story with the same title. He and the “classic” band members from that album are fantasy heroes in the story. I sent it to him just for a hoot. It’s the only fan fiction I’ve ever written (and completed). They loved it (or at least loved the gesture).

            What inspires you? What fires your muse? To be a writer, you must have the passion, that something that puts the fire in your belly. What is that drive that sets you on your path, that something that focuses you toward your goal? Is it media like music, movies, or other books? Is it the people around you? Could it be inspirational, emotional? Is it something that has affected your life in a positive or negative way? Whatever it is, grab it and don’t let go. Follow it. Find your own polka-dot sewer!

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Carol Davis Luce permalink
    June 29, 2011 4:58 pm

    Wow, Fred, not only did you live in my birthplace town of Hammond, Indiana, but you went to school in the 50s in a suburb of LA not far from where I lived. I grew up in LA, Norwalk and Downey. I had my first booksigning in Lakewood. Small world, huh?

    Good blog. What inspires me? Reading good books. I’ve always been a voracious reader, but it wasn’t until I was in my early forties that I tried my hand at writing fiction. I wasn’t finding the blend of suspense and romance in my favorite author’s works. So I decided I’d have to write what I wanted to read. The result was my romantic suspense novel, Night Stalker, which became the flagship for the women-in-jeopardy genre for Kensington Books.

    Do you listen to music when you’re writing to fuel that inspiration?

    • June 30, 2011 1:54 am

      Carol,

      Thanks for the reply! Sometimes I do listen to music. It depends on who’s around me. The stuff I tend to listen to can be pretty obnoxious so I usually have to listen to it solo. However, most of the time, I’m writing around other people so the music is playing in my head as a soundtrack with whatever idea I have.

      I didn’t think I’d like romance until I read Night Passage. Your style made it exciting. That hooked me on your stories. I’ve never been the same since. I’ve read all of your novels now and have read some from other authors in that genre, but none of them come close to the originals. I can’t help but drop your name every chance I get!

  2. July 8, 2011 3:06 pm

    Great post Fred. Too many children these days are incapable of conjuring their own “polka dot sewers.” They are tunnel visioned into the “real” images presented to them in movies and on the computer and TV.

    My ideas just seem to pop into my head and lurk there until I do something about them. In other cases, since I’ve led a pretty interesting life, things I’ve experienced are the seeds of fiction. I picture a scene from my memory and then ask myself “what if?” Occasionally I’m surprised by the answer but almost always wind up with an idea for a story, article or book.

    I’ve enjoyed watching your growth as a writer.

    Morgan St. James
    http://www.morganstjames-author.com
    http://morgan-stjames.blogspot.com

    • July 8, 2011 11:09 pm

      Morgan,

      Thanks so much! And you’ve been an inspiration to me. Thanks for all your support. You’ve been especially helpful in deciding to just keep my real name and disposing of all those pen names I was going to use for my different genres. I may do a blog about that one day. You’re a great writer and I’m honored to be your friend.

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