The Blog of Author Robert K. Lewis

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

A friend of mine asked recently, “Man, where the hell do you get your ideas from? Like, for your latest novel?”

It’s a good question. One of the usual questions that writers get asked quite a bit. And like most writers, I have a some answers:

1. I dunno, man. It’s weird, they just sort of pop into my head, usually when I’m watching TV, or reading a news article.

2. I dunno, man. It’s sorta like when you were in high school, and just as you exhaled this huge plume of smoke, you just kinda… saw the idea, right there, shining brightly like Jimmy Page’s eyes, circa 1977, while he was loaded.

3. I dunno, man. I really don’t.

Actually, I’m mostly along the lines of number 1. I usually get ideas while reading news, or catching a glimpse of TV news while I sit on the bed in a hotel room, waiting for my wife to get out of the shower. See, we don’t have cable, so don’t watch any TV. The TV becomes an added piece of vacation candy, and I watch it quite a bit. Man, I have to admit: I’m fascinated by HGTV.

However, that aside, I can tell you concretely how I came up with the idea for the first Mark Mallen novel. I had written a short story, called “Needle Priest”, which you can find here, on Cherrybleeds.

That gave me my first glimpse of Mallen. It got put up on CherryB’s, and I of course told all and sundry. A co-worker came to me later on and said, “Wow, you could really do something with that character.” I didn’t think of it at the time, but that statement stayed with me.

A couple months passed. The book I’m shopping at the time, an urban fantasy novel, is going nowhere fast. No one wants to read it, and I realize it’s time for the next book. Now, I’ve been a HUGE noir fan since I first saw Bogie in The Maltese Falcon when I was nine, and I’d always wanted to write a mystery, but I found the genre intimidating, what with all those pesky conventions and expectations. However, I’d been feeling that this might be the time to get my noir on.

I had, in the interim, written a piece of flash fiction, from the POV of a psycho:
The man turned the key and unlocked the door. The excitement was growing, and he wanted to touch himself, but knew it would be better to wait. It was always better to wait as long as possible, until that last, voluptuous moment when a life ended and his began again. He sighed as he passed through the doorway into the darkened room. His eyes, out of habit, went first to the windows. There were scratches in the paint, allowing thin, almost invisible rays of sunlight in. The rays didn’t make the room any lighter,
but he knew they often gave hope to the little visitors. Those scratches would have to be painted over. He hoped he still had the dark green paint down in the basement.
There was a rustling sound, and he looked to the far corner. There she was, nestled in the mound of blankets and old clothes, just like a little kitten warm in her bed. His heart beat faster as he gazed at her. The large, frightened eyes. The rosebud mouth. The little shorts that exposed the tanned legs. He walked across the room, noting he’d have to empty the bucket again. She hadn’t eaten much, and that made him sad. She would need her strength. She huddled away from him as best she could but the ropes and tape made that difficult. He smiled at her efforts. This one had real heart. He pulled the knife from his coat pocket as he undid his zipper. He prayed she would scream, long enough and loud enough.

That piece, along with Needle Priest, I’d pinned to the cork board above my desk. I felt they were the two strongest things I’d done. My wife, an incredibly voluminous reader and vocal critic, also felt that these two pieces were my best, especially the flash fiction. So, there they hung on my cork board as I sat there, trying to figure out what the hell to do next. I was literally looking back and forth from one to the other…

psycho… junkie… psycho… junkie… psycho… how do I get the junkie to the psycho… how… psycho… junkie…

And Unseen Damage was born. I made Mark Mallen an amateur sleuth who goes after a psychotic killer, and it took off from there. Hopefully successfully, but we’ll have to see about that.

Which brings us to today’s question. Where do you get your ideas? How do they happen?

5 responses

  1. Wow – interesting topic!!

    Ideas are elusive. They flit in and out, and yes, pop fully formed into my head. I tend to feel the emotion first, then see the characters, then the scene.

    Sometimes ideas come from phrases, a look, an image, a sound. I’m kind of in the same boat. For many of my ideas, I dunno…

    11/24/2009 at 3:58 am

  2. jmartinlibrarian

    Oh Mylanta. I love that flash fiction piece. There’s a duality in my emotional response–a sickening excitement as the tension builds and a feeling of terror for the victim. Woohoo. Can’t wait to read your book!

    11/24/2009 at 3:39 pm

  3. Thanks, jm! 🙂

    Yeah, Jemi, it’s weird, yeah? I’m sometimes (often times) more fascinated with where the ideas come from, than with the ideas themselves. I guess that speaks to quality of my ideas, lol.

    11/24/2009 at 4:57 pm

  4. Fantastic post, and great writing! Like you, sometimes ideas just pop into my head, either from tv, something I’ve read or even a song.

    The piece that landed me my agent was inspired by a combination of Absinthe, sex, the song “Song of Choice” played by Solas (about whether one will take a stand to help others when they’re suffering), and from the steampunk genre itself.

    My current ms was inspired by the opening to Hell’s Kitchen and the pagan god Pan. Yeah… just a little weird.

    11/24/2009 at 6:38 pm

  5. Wow, that sounds like an awesome project, Calista. Can’t wait to read it.

    11/24/2009 at 11:50 pm

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