Saturday, March 5, 2016

I See Stories Everywhere by Alison Henderson

This morning while I was driving down Carmel Valley Road on my way to the grocery store, I drove alongside a pair of black BMW X5s with New Jersey plates traveling in tandem. Now coastal California is a LONG drive from New Jersey. I immediately wondered what their story was. When I mentioned it to OG when I got home, he suggested they might be here doing some road testing on behalf of the manufacturer or maybe getting ready to film a commercial on the Bixby Bridge in Big Sur. He’s probably right, but how mundane. My hypothesis was much more colorful. Can we say gangsters on the run, anybody?

Because we live in a tourist destination, I see cars with license plates from all over the U.S. and Canada all the time. And I always wonder the same thing: what’s their story? Does anyone else do this? I can’t help it. When I was little growing up in Kansas, I wondered about the story behind every abandoned farmhouse along the highway between home and my grandparents’ house in Junction City. I imagined all kinds of romantic and/or tragic scenarios. I was disappointed to later learn the answer was simple economics: they were likely victims of the Great Depression.

Many writers use bits of strangers’ conversations as inspiration. I don’t seem to do that. I’m more visual. I see people like the young woman in the shopping center parking lot wearing a zipped up ski parka and rhinestone encrusted flip flops in fifty-six degree weather and wonder: what’s her story? Or I drive past a lavish mansion or dilapidated shack and speculate about the lives of the occupants, both past and present. My first book, a historical romance set in 1866 Missouri, was inspired by an antebellum house in Kansas City I’d driven past hundreds of times.

I blame my active imagination for my becoming a writer. I need an outlet for all these conjectures—otherwise my head might explode. Sometimes I wish I could call up orderly ideas on demand, but alas, that rarely happens. And when it does, it’s never as much fun.

I might never be any good at creating a strong, consistent author brand, but at least I don’t have to worry about running out of ideas. I see stories everywhere!

Alison
www.alisonhenderson.com

10 comments:

Vonnie Davis ~ Romance Author said...

Your author brand is your name and building a reputation as consistently writing great stories. My mind gets bored easily. If I had to write the same kind of book all the time, say historical or romantic suspense, I'd get bored. Some authors write nothing but wolf shifters. Great for them. But I'd be SO over the wolves by the sixth book. I need variety, so my brand for all the mish-mash of stuff I write is my author name. I'd say the same goes for you. Yeah, I see, hear, and read stories everywhere. I love those two-sentence space fillers in the newspapers. I always think, man could I make a story out of that. Great post.

Jannine Gallant said...

I honestly don't know how I get my ideas. With the series I'm working on now, I came up with the concept of a scavenger hunt, and it became a cross country journey for my h&h. The supporting cast from the first book grew personalities that determined the course of the other books. It's odd what sparks our imagination.

Rolynn Anderson said...

My own experience with funerals helped me write the series; my travels on the boat inspired my British Columbia remote resort story as well as my Petersburg, Alaska story. But I grab character quirks from the newspaper (the blind forensic investigator, for instance). I saw a woman in a black cowboy hat for 2 minutes when our train stopped in France. She is my FBI agent in the story I'm writing now. So places I go, people I see/meet/read about. And oddities I pick up in the newspaper. It's complicated how they meld into books. But the drive/interest has to be there!

andreadowning.com said...

Hey Alison, as a resident of East Hampton (maybe the east coast equivalent of Carmel?) which is so famed as the setting for various tv series and so on, I find there are a lot of stories there--but, surprisingly, many are historical as it was actually founded in the 1600s. Lots of things spark this writer's brain, but most of them are out west. and just for the record, on my 7 week road trip with my daughter this past year, we drove through KS from MO and those abandoned farmhouses still exist--in fact, I mentioned them to my KS friend when we visited with her. We were amazed at the number...

Brenda Whiteside said...

Love your reflection on how you get your stories. Readers always want to know that. I have a different inspiration for every book I've written so no consistency there.

Margo Hoornstra said...

Houses and people I see are my inspiration too. Loved reading the comments of others here. We are a diverse group, a definite plus. My first full length book was the result of an Alaskan cruise we took with the in-laws (brother, sister, mother). My hero and heroine enjoyed the same experiences we did, with a few twists and turns of their own along the way!

Alison Henderson said...

Thanks for all your comments, everyone! I'm sorry to be late responding, but we were the victims of technological mayhem for the past couple of days. All is finally well now, and we're back up and running. :-)

Liz Flaherty said...

More and more of those farmhouses as farms go from being family concerns to big business and young people move "to town" because that's where the jobs are.

I think if I knew where my ideas came from, I'd have more of them. :-) Nice post, Alison.

Leah St. James said...

As soon as I read your first sentence, Alison, I thought "Mafia"! That's a lousy statement about my beloved home state though, isn't it? :-) I do the same thing, only I do both visual and audio. Saturday I was in the restroom at a local library and the woman in the stall next to me was have a hushed conversation on her cell phone (or just to herself...I couldn't see, obviously). Already mysteries and questions are brewing in my head. Then I realized she was speaking a different language, and I didn't recognize it. A whole plot began to develop having to do with spies and runaways and Cold War sorts of scenarios. Fun stuff. :-)

Alicia Dean said...

Yes, I do the same thing. I see people or places and wonder what their story is. I also get ideas from newspaper articles, and various other places. Like you, I'll never run out of ideas. Enjoyed the post!