This week, it’s my pleasure to host another of my favorite authors, Marcia Meara.
In this post, Marcia answers the question:
Have you ever been reading a book, transported to a place you’ve never imagined, or an event you’ve never even heard of, and found yourself wondering how in the world the author ever came up with the idea?
Happens to me a lot, especially in recent years, when I’ve been reading a lot of Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, and Steampunk. I find myself in awe of writers who can invent entire worlds, cultures, political factions, and people-creature hybrids that have certainly never existed here on earth. How did they think of such places and creatures? And how much painstaking effort must have gone into laying out the fabric of these imaginary worlds and cultures, including setting up the political and social structures within these invented realms, and creating the rules by which their creatures live and function.
I also marvel at writers of more traditional fiction—murder mysteries, love stories, and the like—wondering how they’ve managed to put a fresh spin on their tale, whether through unusual locations, events, or truly engaging characters.
Here’s what I do when the seed of an idea comes to me. I ask myself, “What if?”
For instance, the idea for my first book, Wake-Robin Ridge, was born more than fifteen years ago, when I was on a trip to Chimney Rock, North Carolina, with a group of friends. In our travels along the backroads, we would often pass this little, deserted log cabin, and I wondered who had lived there over the years, and what kind of stories they could tell. One day, I asked myself what if there were two women who had lived in that remote cabin, fifty years apart. What if the first one was hiding there from an abusive husband? What if he found her, and something really bad happened? What if the second woman begins to uncover the first woman’s story? What if there’s a mysterious recluse living across the road from her, and he gets involved in the mystery? My story grew from those questions.
I wanted to set my second novel in Florida, so I could feature the rivers and wildlife I’ve explored for years, and love deeply. I wanted it to be a romantic suspense, with plenty of danger, so I asked my questions again. What if a serial killer is preying on young women in the area? What if his crimes are truly awful, and his way of disposing of his handiwork, even more so? I didn’t know who my lovers were, but one day, while out on my favorite eco-tour boat cruise, I happened to catch myself thinking what a wonderful job piloting that boat would be. And then…the lightbulb went off! What if my heroine had her own eco-tour boat, and what if the hero were a wildlife photographer who needed her help? Voila! Swamp Ghosts was born.
My third book idea came to me in a dream, believe it or not. I was half asleep when I heard Sarah Gray, my heroine from Wake-Robin Ridge, whisper in my ear about a little boy alone in the mountains, who needed his story told. I got up in the morning with Rabbit fully formed in my mind, and started writing. But again, I had to figure out why he was alone on the mountain, so I started jotting down questions. What if his grandparents had hidden him away from the world? What if he’s never seen another person in his life? What if he has no concept of electricity, or running water, or even music? Eventually, his story, A Boy Named Rabbit, looped through Sarah’s and Mac’s, giving my mountain series a whole new direction, and continuing the little touch of paranormal, as well.
My latest novel was simply the natural progression from Swamp Ghosts. I had introduced two secondary characters that I really liked, and I knew they had a story I wanted to tell, but you can only have so many serial killers in one small town, so it had to involve another kind of drama. In Swamp Ghosts, Hunter Painter confesses to Gunnar Wolfe that he has secretly loved Willow Greene since high school. What if Willow has loved him back the whole time, and he never knew it? What if the reason Hunter is so odd is because of deep-seated fears he developed within his strange family dynamic? What if his well-meaning, loving family had become totally dysfunctional, through nothing worse than poor choices and refusing to acknowledge facts? What if this constant denial over the years ended up causing a terrible tragedy, impacting everyone concerned? What if my heroine is the strongest female character I’ve ever written, and my hero is a sweet-natured, but emotionally battered man, in dire need of her help? And there you have the premise for Finding Hunter.
And my current work in progress, Harbinger, has taken me back to my beloved mountains. I love that the Appalachians are filled with ancient legends and tales of ghostly happenings. What if I picked one to work into my story? The legend of The Black Dog, or Ol’ Shuck, as they call him in that part of the world, is probably Celtic in origin, and quite chilling. Ol’ Shuck is a pretty scary apparition, and if you see him, it means someone is going to die. What if I could work that into the current dynamics of the Cole family, introduced in Wake-Robin Ridge, and expanded on in A Boy Named Rabbit? That’s what I’m aiming for, and I hope to have Harbinger ready for release by spring.
The Wake-Robin Ridge tales are all slightly paranormal . . . just a touch of spooky, here and there. The Riverbend stories deal with the eccentric, funny, and sometimes tragic characters who live in the little Florida town. Plenty of drama there, with nary a hint of the paranormal.
And they’ve all come about because I learned how to ask, “What if?” I open a document, and just let the what-if’s flow, and before long, I can see a pattern that might make a good story. It works for me, and maybe some of you will find it a helpful, more organic way to approach writing.
Thanks for having me here today, Evelyn. I always enjoy visiting with you and your readers, and I hope some of you will try asking yourself “What if?”
Wake-Robin Ridge Series