Monday, June 14, 2010

So, Where do you get your ideas?

By Guest Blogger Carl Brookins

That’s the marvelous cliché that purports to drive authors crazy because it’s asked so many times in a variety of ways. All right, let’s examine the question. A friend of mine once said she thought that writers are like cosmic vacuum cleaners. They suck up all sorts of dust and detritus from the universe, massage it, group, list and categorize it, and store it until a good use for it shows up.

I do that. A few years ago, as I was wandering through some buildings at our Minnesota State Fair, I saw a man demonstrating some really sharp knives. Of course, I thought about how easy it would be to slice some flesh with one of those things. A little while later I was in one of the food buildings and a man at one of the counters was just starting to cut into a round of cheese. You know, those things that are usually round with a hard waxy covering? They come in all sizes, but these were about as big as a hockey puck, maybe a little larger. As I watched him—he had a really sharp knife too—it occurred to me that those rounds might make ideal containers. If they were carefully hollowed out you could transport a small measure of powder in them. You know, like talcum powder?


Now you take a common Aussie and British phrase meaning it’s tough, old stick, or words to that effect, and what do you get? Maybe you get this:

So there’s just one example. Places sometimes suggest stories. “Devils Island,” for example. “The Keep.” Doesn’t that sound a little ominous? What’s a “keep” anyway? I don’t know but I bet if I look it up something will come to me that might be made into a story. How about “Vermillion Drift?” Is that a place or an activity? Is it dangerous, like “Wicked Games?”

So the answer to the question is that authors get their ideas from almost any and every-where. Do you ever get the feeling when you are around an author that he or she is listening and observing you? I’ve noticed that some really good authors in a crowd of people seem to spend more time listening than they do talking. I think they are cataloging ideas and language from the people around them. Now, I wouldn’t want you to get paranoid, dear reader, but sometimes there is somebody following you. Thankfully, she isn’t green.
Before he became a mystery writer and reviewer, Brookins was a freelance photographer, worked in public television and cable TV, and was a counselor and faculty member at Metropolitan State University in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He has reviewed mystery fiction for the Saint Paul Pioneer Press and for Mystery Scene Magazine. His reviews also appear on his own internet web site, and on others, including Books n’ Bytes and ReviewingtheEvidence. Brookins writes the sailing adventure series featuring Michael Tanner and Mary Whitney, the Sean NMI Sean private investigator detective series, and a series featuring the adventures of a mid-level administrator, Jack Marsden, at an unusual urban college.

Visit Carl's web site:


Julie Godfrey Miller said...


Hello from a fellow Minnesotan (Duluth). This is a great post. It's always good to get a tiny peek into a published writer's thought process.

Maribeth said...

Carl-- Don't you love listening in to the world? I do!
Giggles and Guns

Dana Stabenow said...

The idea fairy.

Gerrie Ferris Finger said...

In my dreams.

Great post, Carl.

carl brookins said...

thanks, to all. The idea Fairy. Hmm. Now there's a distinct possibility. Does she have wings and float down into sight or ken? Is that the knocking I hear at the back door that's been closed for years? I think I have to go back to the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior and think about this some more.