S.G. Browne

Slushpile of the Mind

One of the questions I and other writers are often asked is:

Where do you get your ideas?

Ideas are funny things. Sometimes they’re as prevalent as Starbucks and other times, they’re as hard to find as good customer service. You can sit in front of your computer for hours and try to come up with a good one without any luck and then have one pop into your head without any warning while you’re standing in line at Safeway.

Or you can sit down to write an idea for a short story in your journal, this great idea that just came to you out of nowhere, one of the best ideas you’ve ever had, only to discover that the original idea you had isn’t nearly as brilliant as what you’d first thought. But while writing down this idea that sounded better in your head than it does on paper, you stumble upon another idea with far more promise, something that doesn’t take shape for another year. Which is how Fated was conceived.

The original idea involved some generic supernatural event that happened to some generic normal guy. I have no idea where I was going with it. But not wanting to give up on whatever it was that prompted me to write down the idea in the first place, I kept journaling, throwing out a lot of “maybe this” and “maybe thats” until I stumbled upon the idea that this character lives in Manhattan and has first hand knowledge about certain events because he’s Fate.

At the time, I didn’t pursue the idea any further than that. But the following July, while sitting on a bench at a shopping mall, watching people walk past and wondering what their futures held for them, I wrote what would eventually become the opening chapter to Fated.

In addition to shopping malls, I’ve had ideas come to me from random conversations, song lyrics, dreams, standing in line at an ice cream parlor, sitting in front of an annoying little girl on an airplane, TV commercials, a Jack the Ripper tour, a newspaper article, an hourglass in an antique store, a trip to a place called Lower Slaughter in England, Greek mythology, a painting by René Magritte, a moment standing by the bank of the Stanislaus River, staring at a poster from the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, sitting on a bench in New York’s Central Park, and getting stuck sixty miles south of the Mexican border with a broken water pump.

All of the moments and ideas above led to short stories or novels that I’ve written. As for the idea behind Breathers, that came from my 2001 short story “A Zombie’s Lament,” which you can find in the John Skipp anthology Zombies: Encounters with the Hungry Dead. While I can’t point to any single moment of inspiration for “A Zombie’s Lament,” I just wanted to write a story about zombies that I hadn’t read before. And putting myself inside the head of the zombie seemed like the way to do it.

In the next couple of days, I’ll post answers from a handful of other authors as to how and where they get their ideas, so check back for Slushpile of the Mind, Part II.

Filed under: The Writing Life — Tags: , , — S.G. Browne @ 9:49 am