Thursday, May 3, 2012

Drinking from the font of ideas (Also Laser Sharks!)

This morning, I found out that some brilliant and/or daft people mounted a laser on a shark just to prove that they could. I rushed over here with every intention of telling you all about how I was right and we really are living in the future. I mean, flying cars are all well and good, but after laser sharks, everything else is just gravy, right?

And then my inner geek became my outer geek and I said: "Heh. Dude... Laser Shark!"

Talk about a gift that just keeps on giving; you could do almost anything with a premise like that. Almost any story can be grafted on. Science fiction? Of course; c'mon, that writes itself. How about something hard...
Military Fiction: The brave men and women in uniform who labor shoulder-to-should to bring together the ultimate weapon, lasers and sharks!
Techno-thriller: Terrorists (there are always terrorists) hijack the laser sharks and threaten to loose them upon an unsuspecting world.
Mystery: A body washes up on a desolate stretch of the Australian coast, burned and bitten beyond recognition. Was it murder? What could possibly have committed such a heinous act?
Spy Thriller: A foreign power is developing a secret weapon at their base beneath a volcanic island.
Romance: A handsome marine biologist meets a winsome laser engineer with a dreadful secret.
Steampunk: Aetheric amplification of Sol's brilliant light reaps unexpected rewards in the submarine base of the nefarious Doctor Villainous Deeds!

The list goes on and on and on. Ideas tumbling over ideas in a rush to get their hands on a real-live laser shark. And it occurred to me that this week, of all weeks, was the perfect opportunity to talk about where ideas come from.

Are they delivered to me by Laser Sharks?

Sadly, no.

I started thinking about this when thriller writer Joseph Finder said this:

Then, he said this:

And got me thinking about just how fertile is the daily news crawl that crosses my screen. Not just for things like digital organ thieves and shark-mounted lasers. Take that same Facebook-borne logic leap that Joe was talking about and graft on a story about an MI-6 codebreaker found locked in a bag in his locked apartment and you have the material for quite a thrill ride.

How about a conservator in the rare book room at Brown University that found an engraving signed by Paul Revere stuck in a medical book? How did it get there? Who put it there? Were they hiding it from someone? Historical fiction, thriller, romance, the world's your oyster with a core story like that. And how about a 400 year old map that was found to have a fortress marked in invisible ink that could lead to a lost city in West Virginia? Really! Where can't you go with a lead like that?

Historical fiction and thrillers aren't your thing? Want something that's sweet, but just a little creepy? How about this story from NPR about how a baby's cells lurk in mom's tummy long after the baby is born.  If you're not interested in sweet and want to focus on the creept, there are cannibal shrimp are invading the gulf coast, Iceland is sending tourists into the heart of dormant volcanoes,  and scientists are getting blood samples and DNA from 5,300 year old Alpine mummy.  

That reminds me, there's a GIANT statue of Anubis, the Egyptian god of tombs, being carted around Seattle like a parade float.  That's either a horror story, the next Indiana Jones movie, or a lawsuit waiting to happen. Maybe all three.

Speaking of lawsuits, I found out this week that space lawyers are apparently a real thing. My high school career councilor really dropped the ball on that one. But you want a comedic legal thriller? Fine. A bear fell out of a tree and led to a lawsuit that could literally change the face of copyright law in America. yes, really.

Mysteries? A guy carrying a big bag of money had a heart attack on a train platform at Penn Station and no one knows where the money came from. And how about those thieves that staged an elaborate movie-worthy heist in Connecticut to steal a few truckloads of pharmaceuticals? Heck, just today I found out about a robot petting zoo and a hexapodal walking car that will, oh yes, it will be my next ride.

But I write Children's books you say? This week provided me with a harmonica-playing pachyderm, a kidnapped penguin, and an escaped Tokyo parakeet made it home because it could tell the cops its address. No excuses.

So where do I get my ideas? I pay attention. Because in the end, it's not coffee, or my favorite pen, or a special table at the coffee shop, or mystical muse that brings me my stories. It's not even the friends and news sites that dropped those leads into my inbox. I bring me my stories. I get them by paying attention, by collecting all the various bits of the history that came before me and the world around me right now. And I find the bits that fit together but don't fit with anything else.  And the glory of this weird enterprise of writing is that anyone else can take in the same elements from the same news items and they will create entirely different stories from the same ingredients.

So that's it. And the next person who asks me where I get my ideas gets poked in the eye. Seriously. Safety glasses are advised.  Don't worry, you can get a new bionic eye to replace it. Because this is the future we're living in. 

Oh, and I'd stay out of the water until the batteries on that laser run dry. 

Just a thought.

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Pages to Type is a blog about books, writing and literary culture (with the occasional digression into coffee and the care and feeding of giant robots).