One of the questions authors get most often is, “Where do you get your ideas?” And the answer is difficult at best. We have all faced it, and other writers have come up with more eloquent or smart-ass answers (I’m thinking of Harlan Ellison: “Poughkeepsie.”) than I probably will. I’ve thought about this a lot, and like a lot of habits and personality traits that follow us as adults, I think the answer lies, at least for me, in my childhood.
In a lot of ways, I was an only child as a kid. I had two half-siblings, and both were older than I me. One was nine years older, and the other eight. My mother was also a single mother for the first ten years of my life, so the truth of the matter was that I spent a lot of time alone. I had to find ways to entertain myself. I did that by reading, but probably more importantly was that I played with Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars for hours on end. I’d make houses out of cards, towns out of Velvetta boxes, anything I could find; we didn't have a lot of money for toys. I had police cars, ambulances, firetrucks, hot rods and farm trucks. Cars wrecked. Banks got robbed. Dream vacations got taken. Monsters showed up at the worst possible time. I love the old Godzilla movies. They were on TV in the afternoon on Saturdays. At six years old, I was learning how to plot, how to imagine, how to entertain myself with stories that I made up. Very simply, I think that’s where ideas start, by playing, by exploring the stories around us. Imagination is a muscle that needs to be strengthened, just like a ballet dancer’s legs, or a singer’s voice. When it came time for me to sit down and write, I already had a skill and the ability to conjure ideas. All I had to do was entertain myself and mesh that skill with the power of language, which would, of course, take a long time to learn. That time alone as a kid, was more a blessing than a curse, no matter what it seemed at the time.
The answer: My ideas come from playing just like they did when I was kid.
It’s no a coincidence that when I’m writing the Marjorie Trumaine Mysteries that her truck, a small die-cast toy, sits on my desk.