Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Idea Fairy

by Shannon Baker

Where do you get your ideas?
Writers get asked that all the time. Sit in on writers’ panels and workshops and it’s bound to come up 85.6% of the time. (Yes, I made up the statistic.) Most writers are polite but the overwhelming responses I’ve heard all come down to this: they have so many ideas coming at them so frequently they’re like Minnesota mosquitoes in June.

I want to shout, “ARE YOU SERIOUS?!”
My measly excuse for a lazy-assed brain churns out ideas at about the same the rate as ice freezing in Tucson.  
I worked on the same novel for nine years because I thought it might be the only good idea I’d ever come up with. Ever. And really, that one didn’t come from me, either. After I told some writer friends about a random news story I found interesting, one of them asked, “When are you going to write the book?”
If I’d been one of those writers who have too many good ideas to use, I’d have figured that out all on my own. But I’m much too dense to see the obvious.  Ideas are doing a kamikaze dive into my brain and I’m wondering if we should have meatloaf for dinner or if I ought to paint the living room red.
But then we moved to Flagstaff a while back. I started reading the paper to acquaint myself with the goings on around town. And there it was--the idea I’d been afraid would never arrive.
So get this: In Flagstaff, just an hour or so from the desert, there is a ski resort, Snowbowl. It’s one of the oldest in the country, dating back to 1938. Did I mention the proximity to the desert, which would hint at lack of water, and, hey, we’re in a drought!
American’s are nothing if not determined. Instead of giving in to logic, Snowbowl’s owners decided to make snow. Still, lack of water and all that. So they are using reclaimed waste water. Grey water. Pretty ingenious, right?
Turns out, not one, not two, but thirteen Native American tribes consider that mountain sacred. It features heavily into their creation stories. Are they happy about the ski resort? Naw. Does treated wastewater tickle them? Not at all.

That’s one big conflict. Perfect for a murder mystery. And I didn’t even need my writer friends, who have ideas to spare, point it out to me.
I started researching tribes in the area and found out, Hopi, one of the smallest tribes in the world lives on isolated mesas and one of their villages is the oldest constantly inhabited village in North America. This small tribe believes they are responsible for the survival of the world. The Whole World.  
Then I got a job working for The Grand Canyon Trust, an environmental non-profit whose mission is protection and restoration of landscapes on the Colorado Plateau. (If you don’t know, and I didn’t before I got the job, the Colorado Plateau covers northern Arizona to southern Utah.) For twenty years I’d lived in the Nebraska Sandhills, where environmentalists are shot on sight. More conflict.
 So my writer’s “What if” bone kicked in and I ended up with all these ideas. When Tainted Mountain opens, Nora Abbott is the owner of ski resort in Flagstaff on a sacred mountain and she’s just won a court victory allowing her to make snow. She’s got environmentalist tendencies which clash with mining interests and big business. The kachinas, Hopi spirits of the mountain, are not pleased. And let’s not even get into the issues with her annoying mother.

The what ifs kept coming and pretty soon I had a bunch of ideas. In fact, I had so many that I ended up with a series.
So now I’m feeling cocky. Look at me, the writer with enough ideas for the next few books.
Then a very successful writer friend of mine brought me back down to where I live. She was talking about her multi-book series and said, “I need to get this book finished so I can work on all these other books I really want to write.”
You mean one mystery series isn’t enough? I should be working on something else? She has so many ideas she doesn’t know where to start. Me? Not so much.
Where will I ever get another idea? 
What about you, where do you get your ideas, and do you have any to spare?


Beth Groundwater said...

When people ask me that oh, so common question about where I get my ideas, my pat answer is that they sneak up on me in the middle of the night and say BOO! Seriously, though, I think sleep is very important for creativity, because it frees up our subconscious mind to go to work.

Shannon Baker said...

Beth, I just finished reading David Corbett's book on character and he believes strongly in sleep and the subconscious doing the work for us.

Kathleen Ernst said...

Now that you've got a great idea under your belt, I bet they'll come more often. Re ideas, I'm afraid I fall into the "too many to use" group. I think it's a sickness. PS - glad you made it out of Nebraska alive!

Shannon Baker said...

Hey Kathleen, when we meet up at Malice you can pass along some of those good ideas to me!

Deborah Sharp said...

Oh, I love, LOVE this post, Shannon. Signed, a fellow writer with a lazy-assed brain. (And, No, I don't have any ideas I can spare ;-)