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05-19 Sarah Raplee – Riff on 7 yrs. Of SPAM & a Giveaway

Friday, July 29, 2011


I dread this question, because the answer is a tricky one for me. Sometimes I know where an idea comes from, but many times I’m flummoxed. The kernel of an idea that set me on the road to writing a YA steampunk romance was a phrase that sounded in my head one afternoon out of nowhere: the fixer-upper boyfriend.

Go figure. 

I’ve always been curious about just about everything, so I read widely (books, newspapers, magazines, online) and love to have new experiences. And the more I learn and experience, the more questions I have. Sometimes I explore the possible answers to certain types of questions through my writing. Usually, they are questions about identity. My core story seems to be, “You have to decide who you really are.”

A news story about a sweet, smart Iowa schoolgirl who hid her pregnancy and killed her newborn baby made me wonder: What happens when a very good girl does one very, very bad thing? How might that act change her at her core, or would it? That exploration became my first completed manuscript, a romantic suspense.

Best-selling romantic comedy author Jenny Crusie says her ideas come from ‘the girls in the basement’, meaning her subconscious mind. This is often true for me. In that magical, hazy period at the edge of consciousness or dreams, after I’ve hit the snooze button but the alarm hasn’t yet rung a second time, seemingly-random creative ideas materialize with amazing regularity—no doubt products of my subconscious. A blind wedding-singer heroine at a drug lord’s wedding accidentally compromises an undercover cop hero.

Sometimes I can guess where my ‘girls’ found parts of an idea. I knew a blind wedding singer years ago. Drug cartels are all over the news. I watched the movie Wedding Crashers, and the next thing I knew my girls in the basement sent up the idea.

The rebellious part of my personality (that is overshadowed most of the time by my rule-following tendencies) takes over when I hear all-or-nothing statements about writing. I like to stretch the boundaries. If someone tells me readers will reject a blind or mobility-impaired heroine unless her disability is central to the plot, it doesn’t ring true. The end result is that my stories include a number of differently-abled characters.

And then there are the dogs.

I used to think that, although I enjoy many different kinds of pets, I am primarily a cat person. Now, I’m not so sure. Dogs figure in every one of my novels as secondary characters who are more than walk-ons. They play important roles in my stories. 

I don’t know where they come from, but they sure are fun to write.

Where do your ideas come from?


Vonnie Alto said...

Hi Sarah,

I've been thinking about this subject lately and concluded that many of my ideas come from having a strong experience or vicarious experience. What I mean to say is if something leaves a lasting impression in my mind or strikes me strongly or maybe it's something I'm drawn to, then often it winds up in some way in my writing. That's why it's so important to get away from the computer and read, experience life, watch TV, and take in other stimuli. You never know when some aspect of that experience is going to pop into your writing effortlessly as if it belonged there. And it does belong there because everything you write is from your unique viewpoint of experience.

For example, recently I was at Barnes and Noble and saw a delightful display on cupcake books. This is not something that usually interests me but it made an impression. Guess what? This week, I wrote cupcakes into my book as cupcake candles. It wasn't something that I deliberately set out to do but what seemed to work for the story. If I hadn't seen that cupcake book display, I wouldn't have enhanced my scene. I'm very grateful for these seemingly serendipitous sparks.

Paty Jager said...

My you do have some interesting thoughts. LOL My ideas come from various places, things I hear on the radio and TV, words in songs, when I do research a subject might intrigue me and I use it to make up a story.

Judith Ashley said...

Love the Great Dane picture, Sarah. We had Chandar, black GD at one time. A great dog...could clean the dining room table off with a swipe of his tail, LOL.

The central stories for my current series came to me in a dream state (day dreams, lucid night dreams, or that hazy in-between time). However the details come from a wide variety of places: something I saw in TV, a personal experience, something I observed when out and about, a place I've been, a place I've read about...

Fiction writers, I believe, have the knack of using anything that catches their fancy and holds their interest.

Sarah Raplee said...

I really like your cupcake candle example, Vonnie. Makes sense to me.

Paty, I guess research also fills the creative well, even when it doesn't yield the answers we're looking for.

Judith, to dream a story - WOW! Your 'girls' were busy while you slept. You're right about writers internalizing things that catch their fancy. We make connections others don't, like Vonnie's cupcake candles.

Tam Linsey said...

I mostly get ideas from other areas I am passionate about - food production, gardening, family. When I read controversial news articles, I get a lot of "what if" going through my brain. The characters come second, but are the main focus once I have the story idea.

Sarah Raplee said...

Tam, thanks for sharing where your ideas come from and a bit of your process.