Monday, September 5, 2011


Where do I get my what?

Oh. Ideas. Yes. Well, funny you should ask, especially today as I contemplate the terrifying blank screen on this and several other projects. Authors get asked that all the time. I once heard the amazing and prolific Harlan Ellison say that he got his ideas in Schenectady. Picked them up in six packs. If only.

But seriously, getting ideas is no kind of problem. Ideas are everywhere, popping out of the newspaper headlines or even ads, waving at you from the street, peering out from the racks in stores, filtering out of your dreams. I have thousands of ideas. Seems like every casual conversation, obituary, crime report, wedding announcement, lost cat poster and community bazaar announcement contains the seeds of the best new book ever. Sometimes, when you are minding your own business, someone will approach you with their very own terrific idea, a winner, which they are willing to share and all you have to do is write up the book.

Too bad, ideas are the easy part. That’s right.

The tricky bit is turning that brilliant idea into something that resembles a completed story. Here’s the thing: it’s not just a matter of typing. Those stories that authors crank out, they didn’t actually happen. The story didn’t pre-exist; the characters didn’t do what transpired in the tale; and none of the dialogue was ever uttered. If the sun shone, the author decided it would shine and described what that looked like (yellowish) and felt like (hot). If it rained, the author decided how it would sound slashing against the window. You see, a novel doesn’t simply assemble itself neatly in the author’s brain and then flow out down the arms and out through the fingers to the keyboard after which it is just a short hop to the bestseller list. Hard to believe, but trust me, there’s more to it. There’s all the tossing and turning at night, the pacing, the napping in the afternoons, the talking out loud when no one is there, not to mention the dozens of distracting household projects.

Are your spices in alphabetical order? If not, you may not be really writing a book.

Then there are dogs to be cuddled, walks to be walked, not to mention long chats with friends, visits to blogs (sad but true) and endless wanderings through Facebook and other social labyrinths.

Ideas? You can keep them. Me? I’m working on the eighty thousand words that turn my latest nifty idea into a story worth reading for the next Camilla MacPhee book. But first, I think my bookshelves would look better if the volumes were sorted by colour. I’ll be back shortly. Save my place.

Mary Jane Maffini rides herd on three (soon to be three and a half) mystery series and a couple of dozen short stories. Her thirteenth mystery novel, The Busy Woman’s Guide to Murder, which hit the bookshelves this spring, is brimming with names, no two the same.

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