Wednesday, August 15, 2018

An Embarrassment of Riches

by Janis Patterson
I've done it again. I didn't mean to, but I've done it again.

Every time I get buried by unfinished books - and that means more than the four or so I am always writing on at once - I swear I will not plot/plan another one until I've finished up everything I'm already working on.

I really mean it, but I just can't help myself. Book ideas keep hurling themselves at me with the density and rapidity of a snowstorm, and they're too good just to ignore.

For example - when The Husband and I went to Illinois for his high school reunion earlier this summer I was trying not to think of anything writerly, wanting just to have a good time seeing his old hometown and the kids he grew up with. No such luck. As we are both rabid historians, we spent a grey and lovely morning in the rain exploring an historic cemetery there. It was deliciously spooky, with clouds so low you could almost grab a handful if you reached up over your head, and lots of examples of over-the-top Victorian mourning cemetery art, and a dense, dark forest choked with sinister-looking underbrush hovering at the edge.

One thing that I find tragic and infuriating is that so many - especially of the older stones - have been vandalized. Pushed over, scored to illegibility, parts broken off - what kind of person would damage the stones of the long-dead? I do hope there is a special part of Hell for these savages, and that they get there soon! I mean, what kind of mentality would get pleasure from breaking the head off a baby lamb on the gravestone of a two year old child who died over a hundred and thirty years ago? They're sick - just sick!

While we were walking through the oldest part of the cemetery, looking for some of his relatives and Civil War casualties who were buried there, within twenty minutes I had a complete book - the second in my Rachel Petrie, Contract Archaeologist series - completely plotted. (Rachel's first book is A KILLING AT TARA TWO, and will be out this fall.) The main characters had walked in, introduced themselves and told me their function in the story. Later that afternoon, I sat down at my laptop and made a new file with a couple of pages of notes and a gaggle of photographs so everything will be fresh when I finally am able to write it. The title is A KILLING AMONGST THE DEAD.

Okay - that makes five books in my to-be-done queue. That's enough, I thought. I'll quit plotting for a while.

Yeah. Sure. Right now I'm almost finished with a Mindy McMann book called A WELL-MANNERED MURDER. She's a researcher for a non-fiction writer who always manages to get herself into trouble. I guess Mindy was jealous that Rachel was getting a new book, because while The Husband and I were in historic Jefferson Texas at a (fantastic!) symposium on the War Between the States a new Mindy book popped into my head, complete with action, setting and characters. It's about revisionist history, radicals and long-held grudges. While The Husband napped after the seminar, I pulled out my laptop and made another file, complete with storyline, character sketches and photographs. This one isn't titled yet, but it will come to me.

Note - I never go anywhere without my laptop. Do you? Sometimes on short trips I never take it out of its case, but I have to have it near me. The Husband calls it my security blanket, and I guess he's right, though so far I have resisted taking it along to the grocery store and my nail salon.

So - now you see why I sometimes get so steamed when people ask in all seriousness how I get my ideas, as if it's some special rare talent that must be learned. I would really like a place where for a week or two at least I DIDN'T get viable ideas. I can't tell you how many 'ideas' both complete and fragmentary I have tucked away on my computer, most of them good enough to be turned into or at least used in books. Don't these people think? Don't they have some sort of rudimentary imagination? How can they NOT get ideas from just about anything? I don't understand. I just don't understand.


Shalanna said...

Yes! I have ideas sneak up on me, and I've finally become able to type a few lines into a Facebook post and tell other writers, "Have at it!" That takes the pressure off of me to write Yet Another Book when I have so many already partly written, partly plotted, and so forth. I get distracted and sidetracked. Or I will be in the middle of a book and some real-world crap rains down (I go to the hospital, we have a family crisis, some important part of the house or car conks out, GOD FORBID) and I have to take time out to settle it RIGHT THEN. By the time I get back to the book . . . urg. Momentum gone. Who would want to read that, anyway? So it goes. Then another idea creeps up!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

It's great that you have such a creative, innovative mind! Keep cooking.

Susan Oleksiw said...

I like your way of coping with the bombardment of ideas. In my case, if an idea returns a few times, then I know I have to do something with it, that it's worth the time and effort to spend putting the whole thing down on paper. The ones that stay are the ones that sell--stories or novels--and make me better as a writer. I can't imagine what it would be like to live without ideas pouring in.

Nancy J. Cohen said...

I agree that ideas are out there. I began thinking of a mystery plot after a conversation at a condo meet and greet party. I wrote my idea down afterwards. Often I'll make a note on my cell phone if nothing else is handy. My problem currently is lack of motivation to pursue these ideas.

Mary Marvella said...

I hear you! And with ideas fighting to be next, a friend or even a stranger will say, "I have just the story for you to write!" or "My friend could give you tons of ideas!"

authorlindathorne said...

I loved this! I wrote a post on this same subject for Writers Who Kill that was posted in March of 2016 on the same topic. I remember my surprise and delight when Lawrence Block showed up and commented on my post. You are so right, how do you not find ideas for your books? They come at me from all over the place. I enjoyed this. Thank you.

Morgan Mandel said...

I usually get great ideas when I'm in the midst of trying really hard to finish a book already started.