I have an idea ...

It's the age-old question, the one every writer on the planet has been asked at least once (if not a bazillion times) - where do you get your ideas for your books? And every writer on the planet has pretty much the same answer, albeit in many, many different forms. The simple answer, at least from where I'm sitting, is ... from life itself.

For instance, after I dropped our youngest off at school this morning, I took the back way home, and at a stop sign I pulled up behind an SUV that had a Northern Arizona University sticker on the back window, along with an NAU Alumni license plate frame. (Having been born in Arizona and having spent part of my Air Force Brat childhood there, whenever I see anything from or about Arizona, it captures my attention.) My first thought was, I'm going to have to hit the Interweb when I get home and find out where Northern Arizona University is, exactly. (It’s in Flagstaff, in case you’re interested.) My second thought was, how did an NAU grad end up in Tennessee?

And there it is. It sprouts from a tiny seed of wonder into a full-blown barrage of questions. Was this person originally from Arizona? If so, where? How did s/he end up at NAU? What did s/he study there? What brought him/her to Tennessee? Is s/he married? Does s/he have children who might be going to school with mine? What does s/he do for a living now?

These are the kinds of questions you ask yourself, as a writer, when you're creating a character. Where did s/he come from? Where is s/he going? What makes him/her tick? Once you have your character in mind, then you get to wonder things like, what kind of job does this person have? What if s/he's, I don't know, say ... a cop? Or a private investigator? A lawyer? Which leads to more questions: Is s/he going to work, placing the SUV in this exact spot in front of me so that I could begin to wonder about all these things? What does this job have in store for this person today? What if this lawyer's most important client just discovered a dead body in his house ... and it isn't anyone he knows?

And there's an idea for a story. Admittedly not a great one, but maybe now you see my point. Ideas for our books take root and grow from the tiniest, sometimes most innocent, innocuous thoughts. And they grow, and grow, and eventually you have 95- to 100,000 words expanding on that single, tiny thought.

Our kitchen has a bay window that overlooks our back yard from second-story height. To the south of the window, off the hallway that leads to the garage and the other levels of the house, is a deck. Attached to the deck rail on the north side is a hummingbird feeder, which is strategically placed so that I can see it from - you guessed it - the bay window in the kitchen.

I love to sit here at the table and watch the hummingbirds. I watch the field birds (cardinals, finches, chickadees, jays, and the occasional woodpecker or oriole) eat from our bird feeders, which are smack in the middle of the back yard. I watch McCartney and Calliope (our English shepherd and miniature beagle, respectively) play and romp and chase each other all over the place. In the fall, I watch the deer come out of the woods to graze the long, flat rectangle of grass between the back of our yard and our neighbor's. And I sit at my kitchen table, watching the birds and dogs and deer and thanking God I have the ability and intelligence and insight to do this, because it brings me to a place of peace and relaxation so that my mind is free to ponder on the things I have observed, those things from whence my ideas for writing come.

What about you other writers? Do you answer this question - where do your ideas come from - in the same way? Do you look at life and say, what if ... ?

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