Thursday, October 22, 2009
You Can Go Home Again : : Anne McAllister
Hardly a writers' conference goes by -- or a library talk or an article in a newspaper or magazine -- that doesn't somewhere contain the sentence, "Where do you get your ideas?"
People who don't write -- and sometimes even people who do -- seem to want to know that more than they want to know anything else. Except for how much money we make!
I think it has to do with the 'mystery' of writing.
It seems like it should be easy because we've all done it, haven't we?
Everyone over the age of six has written a composition about what they did on their summer vacation or about their favorite pet or, if they are like my youngest son, they write fabulous adventures using every gun every known to man because he spent his youth devouring Gun Digest.
So it should be simple. Everyone should be able to do it.
But they don't. Because the ideas aren't the hang-up, when you get right down to it.
We all have them. Ideas for books have, to be honest, come from things I've done on my summer vacation. They've been inspired by places I've been, songs I've heard, fortune cookies I've opened. They've been infiltrated by my favorite pets -- and several other peoples' pets as well. (Hi, Sid!).
And if I haven't got all the guns known to man in my books yet, well, it may be just a matter of time -- or genre.
The ideas are the easy part. You just use what you know, what you remember, what you feel, what you're interested in. You find the story in it -- and you've got a book.
Well, sort of. But that's the basics. Even though, after 63 books, I find myself digger deeper and deeper into what I know so I don't use the same stuff over and over again.
Still, I do use it. When I wrote my newest book, One-Night Mistress ... Inconvenient Wife, I needed a place that was upscale and yet not really glitzy. I dug through my mind for what I knew -- and I ended up going clear back to the beginning and basically 'went home again.'
I grew up in Manhattan Beach, California. While I spent summers (those well-used vacations that got me through nearly 20 Desires and Special Editions and a single title!) in Montana and Colorado, I spent school years on the beach of So Cal.
And even though Manhattan Beach changes regularly and quickly, some things about it don't change -- The Strand, the pier, the broad walkup sidewalk streets, and most of all, the informal beach-oriented lifestyle.
It's an upscale community now compared to when I grew up there. You do pretty much need to be a millionaire to live on The Strand these day.
So it was a perfect place to put Christo, my hard-driving lawyer hero, because it gave him the beach on his doorstep so he could kick back and relax and go surfing when he wanted to (see how useful growing up on the beach was?). It was an equally good place to stick Natalie because it was his turf and she was out of her depth.
I went home again in my mind a lot while I was working on the book. I also called my friends who still live there and picked their brains about how things have changed. (Writing is good for maintaining friendships).
Of course, 'going home again' to a location wasn't enough to get the book from my brain to the page to the bookshop. Books are more than settings and ambiences. They require a lot of bits and pieces that make up the patchwork. Occupations, families, backstory, emotions.
Which are simply more types of going home. I needed to reconnect with other friends and relatives, too -- one in Brazil who helped me with Christo's Brazilian father and grandmother, and one in Pennsylvania, a lawyer cousin who on a daily basis kept Christo from getting disbarred.
I borrowed the name of one of Robyn Donald's granddaughters. I borrowed someone else's cat. (No, not you, Sid!) I moved a house from Hawthorne to Torrance. I played fast and loose with few things from my own emotional baggage. I threw in a sand castle and some body surfing, a rainstorm I remembered all too well, a wedding with fairy lights, and, especially, a beloved grandmother.
I went home again, physically and emotionally -- and I went to a few other peoples' houses, too. And I wrote a book.
It's the same process every time I write one. And I never quite know until I'm actually working which memories, which facts, which emotions, which bits and pieces are going to be the ones I'll need.
It's the joy of writing -- getting up every morning and discovering where I'll go and what I'll use today.
How about you? Do you go home again? Have you written about it? Where do you go in your head?