Where Do Ideas Come From?

When you make the mistake of admitting to others that you are a writer, they immediately assume you know things that are kept secret from “normal” people. For instance, they will simply assume that you can tell them where you get your ideas for writing. Well, I am fairly sure that I got the idea for this post from watching a YouTube video in which the Master, Neil Gaiman, says that every author has a joke answer for that one with enough sarcastic wit in it to punish the asker with public humiliation.

I asked the dog if she knew any jokes like that which I could use to prepare for someone asking me that question in public. She said, “You could tell them that your family dog tells you what to write every day.”

“No,” I said, “people would never believe it.”

“Well, it is supposed to be a joke. But you are right. No one would ever think you were actually smart enough to write down what a dog tells you.”

“Yes, it’s a good thing for me that you know how to speak in English. I could never translate and transcribe Barkinese.”

So, I began thinking of where some of my best ideas came from.


Some of my stories come directly from dreams that I had. The nightmare about being chased down a street in Rowan at midnight by a large black dog with red eyes was an actual dream I had in the 1970s. So was the nightmare of the werewolf climbing out of the TV during a late-night viewing of Lon Chaney in The Wolfman.

Those two dreams together were the start of the story that became my recently published novel, The Baby Werewolf. Both dreams visit the protagonist in the story I wrote almost as if they were his dreams and not actually mine.


Snow Babies, the best novel I have ever written, was based on two different blizzards I experienced, first as a child in the 1960’s, and then again as a high school kid in the 1970s. Each blizzard involved being snowed in for a week at someone else’s house. As a child, I was stuck at Grandpa’s farm place until the snow plows could finally do their work and open the gravel roads. As a teen, I was stuck in Great Grandma’s retirement apartment near the high school in Belmond.

That novel also is based on the next source of ideas;


I can’t think of any story I have written that isn’t based on real people I have known in one way or another. Valerie in the novel above is based on three different girls I have known or taught. One of those three is my own daughter. The four orphans on the bus in that story are all boys from my junior high classes in the 1980s.

Lucky Catbird Sandman, the hobo who wears the quilted coat of many colors, is based on the poet Walt Whitman, whom I knew well in a past life, and my own shiftless, storyteller self. Some characters are just so key to a story idea that they themselves are the reason for a book to exist.

In conclusion, the dog doesn’t really know what she’s talking about. None of these things are really where I get my ideas. But I am out of time. I will have to write about the bottle imp another day. No, really. A magical imp trapped in a bottle. You can make one of those give you ideas for novels with only a slight risk to your life and soul.


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