I’ll be doing a short series about the writing process. I’ll try to answer some of the questions I’ve been asked and explain how I get from idea to novel.
The number one question that I’m asked is – Where do you get your ideas?
I have an overactive imagination so I have lots of ideas. Most of them would make truly lousy novels. But every once in a great while, something decent percolates out of the mud and I grab onto it. Those ideas have been kicking their way to the top of the heap, and I have come back to them time and again like a terrier to a bone. The idea for Stuck in Korea Time was well ahead of the idea for A Shared Fear, but I couldn’t figure out how to make it work. But it just wouldn’t go away. Those are the ones that mean something.
Sometimes, the initial idea comes from a conversation that I overhear.
Guy #1 – “It’s hard to date when you’re a single parent.”
Guy #2 – “Dude, you have no idea. Wait until she’s a teenager. Thirteen year old girls are nothing but judgmental divas. Mine complains about anyone I date. Too tall, too short, too fat, too thin. It’s like they’re trying on some bitchy new personality.”
My immediate thought was, “What the hell would she say if you brought home someone five years older than you?” That thought was followed by a scene playing out in my head of an offended daughter making a snotty comment after coming home to find her darling daddy canoodling with the older woman on the couch.
My second thought was, “What if the woman she was so rude to was now the only person that can keep her alive when she is kidnapped?”
Saving Emily began with that overheard conversation and those two questions.
Ideas also come from goofing around. I was practicing for a speaking engagement, and I was playing with my laser pointer. Yes, I’m easily amused. I pointed it across a dark room just to see how far the light beam would go and when it appeared on the far wall, I thought to myself, “Wow! That looks just like a laser target dot. I wonder if it would fool anybody.” The scenario that popped into my head was an ATF agent confronting a group of bad guys with no backup. His girlfriend, hiding behind something puts the red dot on the leader’s chest and tells him she’s got them covered. I didn’t wind up using the laser pointer idea, but that’s how A Shared Fear actually came into being.
Sometimes, the idea comes from the things that scare me.
My biggest fear when I was in the military was that I would let someone down when they really needed me. That if we deployed to the wrong place at the wrong time, someone would get hurt because they were trying to take care of me instead of taking care of themselves. During my career, I heard literally dozens of stories about the problems during deployment. Diverted personnel, the wrong personnel, the wrong equipment showing up, equipment that never showed up, lost paperwork, no medical personnel, no rations, being stranded and being ignored. Protecting Parker was the sum of all these stories.
[By the way, if you think things like this don’t happen – you’re wrong. I can show you examples from every war where the wrong people and equipment are sent to the wrong place. The example I most frequently use is from Vietnam and the Battle of Ngok Tavak. When you read the sanitized version on Wikipedia, (it appears in a section about the Battle of Kham Duc and begins in the section marked Prelude) you should keep in mind a couple things. #1 – Captain White requested assistance in extracting his Mike Force. #2 – A Mike Force is supposed to mobile. They are best at the hit and run. #3 – A howitzer is NOT really mobile. #4 – The 33 Marines dropped into Ngok Tavak with their howitzer were artillery guys, not a trained recon unit or special forces. And just to be crystal clear – these types of things still happen.]
I can trace each of my books back to the basic idea or concept they came from. What I can’t explain is exactly why I couldn’t let one particular idea or image go. I simply know that when I can’t – it’s usually going to be a good book.