June 04, 2010

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Look around. See them? I’m talking about ideas. They may be invisible to the naked eye but they’re everywhere. They’re in the air you breathe, the sights you see, and sounds you hear. They lurk in the shower and, if you’re lucky, in your sleep. They can even pop out of nowhere.

Ideas are probably the most numerous things on earth. Yet I’m constantly asked where I get the ideas for my books. As any writer will tell you an idea is nothing more than a tiny seed. Once you have this seed in hand you must then go after your story, sometimes with a sledgehammer. That’s what Rod Serling called the bleeding part.

Most writers I know read everything—even tubes of toothpaste. Books, magazines, movies and music are chock full of precious nuggets waiting to be turned into new stories. If all else fails we even eavesdrop. My friends have been warned to watch what they say or do in front of me or they may end up in a story.

The idea for a Lady Like Sarah, the first book in my Rocky Creek series, came from an article about Pearl Hart who robbed a stagecoach to pay for her mother’s medical expenses. (Bet you didn’t know that medical expenses were highway robbery even back in the 1800s.) Reading about that lady outlaw provided a seed but that’s all it did. Still 80,000 words short of a book, I went to work by asking questions (that’s the sledgehammer part). How desperate must a woman be to rob a stage? What if she got caught? What would happen if…. I was just about to run out of “what ifs” when a woman named Sarah (no last name) jumped up in front of me and demanded to have her story told.

The idea for my September 2010 release A Suitor for Jenny lurked in a dusty Kansas museum. While rifling through old newspaper clippings I came across a meeting notice for “The Society For the Protection and Preservation of Male Independence.” Talk about “aha” moments. From that clipping came the idea to have my heroine Jenny Higgins breeze into a town of confirmed bachelors looking for husbands for her two sisters. Fireworks, anyone? (I also found a meeting notice for the “Society for the Prevention of People Being Buried Alive” but needless to say that failed to pass the “aha” test.)

Book 3 of my Rocky Creek series was inspired by photographer Julia Shannon of San Francisco, who, in 1850, took the family portrait to new heights when she shockingly advertised herself as a daguerreotypist and midwife. Her old newspaper advertisement sparked the inspiration for my heroine Lucy Fairbanks, who owns the only camera in town. Anything can happen when posing for Lucy—but you’ll have to wait until June 2011 to find out what does.

A story in the National Enquirer about Avon ladies selling to Amazon natives inspired an older historical novel of mine, Touch of Lace. While running around with a sledgehammer I looked up Avon and discovered that the first Avon “lady” was a door-to-door book salesman. He gave out perfume hoping to entice women to buy his books, but the perfume proved more popular. Not only did this give me a great idea for a story but some good advice about what not to give away when promoting a book.

Like I said, ideas are everywhere. Though I’ve yet to have an “aha” moment while staring at the toothpaste.

A Lady Like Sarah 
Available now.  

He's a preacher; she's an outlaw. Both are in need of a miracle.

This was chosen as a Women of Faith fiction 
and is currently a RWA RITA finalist.

A Suitor For Jenny 
Releases September 2010 

When looking for a husband it's best to go where the odds are in your favor. 

Stagecoach Etiquette


Vickie McDonough said...


That's one of the most creative book trailers I've seen. Very cute!

I love the cover of your new book.

Martha W. Rogers said...

Loved the book trailer. It's one of the funniest, cutest, and most clever ones I've seen. Loved your book too. Just finished reading it this week. Wondered why it took that preacher so long to figure out he should do. :)Looking forward to the next one.

Carla Gade said...

I loved hearing about your creative process, Margaret! The ideas for your stories are awesome and I look forward to reading them. Great book trailer!

Brenda said...

I loved the stories about how you write your books! Great book trailer!

A J Hawke said...

I found it very interesting to hear where your ideas originated.
It shows how amazing your mind is to be able to take a couple of thoughts and turn them into an 80,000 word novel. Thanks for the insight.

A J Hawke

Julia M. Reffner said...

Oooohh...what a fun site. Thanks for inviting me here. I love the old pics.

Margaret Brownley said...

Thanks all for stopping by. Regarding the trailer: those adorable children are my grandchildren. I figured out a way to show them off and promote my book at the same time. Brilliant, wouldn't you say?