Thursday, November 6, 2014

Guest Post: Ideas Anyone? By Joanne Carl


 By JoAnna Carl

 Some writers hate being asked that classic question, “Where do you get your ideas?” I don’t mind being asked; I just hope the questioner doesn’t expect a sensible answer.
 I was once on a panel where everyone answered that question. One writer said she got hers “From the Bible and Shakespeare, as anyone who’s read my books should know.” Another said she ordered hers from a warehouse in Wisconsin. If I answered honestly, I probably said ideas litter the ground. I stumble over them all the time, bend down, and pick one up.

 Recently, I was coerced into selling soft drinks to benefit the Friends of the Library at a local festival. (Yes, writers have real lives and have to do civic chores like everybody else.) As soon as I got to the drinks booth, the other person on duty said, “I have this recurring idea for a mystery novel, and I’d like to tell it to you.” “Tell away,” I said. And her idea was tricky, I admit. There’s nothing wrong with it at all. But it doesn’t appeal to me, and I can’t imagine ever using it. And that illustrates a truth that’s almost universal: Other people’s ideas rarely grab you.

 Only once has such a donated idea worked for me, and that turned into a short story. Well, a donated idea worked twice, if you count the time Earlene Fowler, out of a clear blue sky, said, “No one has ever written a series and put the word ‘Chocolate’ in the title of every book.” She said this the same day I had the idea of writing about chocolate, but before I’d mentioned it to anyone. I’ve always counted that as Divine Intervention, rather than trading ideas, especially when Earlene added, “You can do it; I’m not going to.” I did thank Earlene in one of the Chocoholic books.

 As for the ideas that inspired my most recent books – well, neither idea was too exciting to start with. And both had a lot to do with the books’ titles. THE CHOCOLATE BOOK BANDIT came about because I have a son who’s a librarian. I’ve written nearly fifteen books in the Chocoholic series, drawing on the expertise of his two sisters – one who used to work for a chocolate company and one who is a CPA. My son has never complained because his sisters got all the fictional attention, but I thought I might as well exploit him the way I’ve exploited his sisters.

 So I offered my heroine/detective Lee Woodyard a spot on the local library board. And naturally a body turned up at her first meeting. This also brought Lee into contact with an interesting and attractive man who was a librarian. I wanted to get away from the idea of crabby old ladies glaring from behind the circulation desk and hissing, “Shh!” I’ve hung around in libraries all my life, and I’ve only met one librarian who acted like that.

 Then I had a terrible time thinking of a title. BOOK BANDIT was finally suggested by a friend at church. THE CHOCOLATE CLOWN CORPSE, on the other hand, had its title before it had any characters or plot. Since the Chocoholic titles fit a rigid pattern (“The Chocolate Something-or-other Crime.” And I like alliteration) I occasionally make lists of suitable titles. I started with THE CHOCOLATE CLOWN CLUE, but my editor suggested substituting Corpse for Clue, and she was, as usual, right.

 It sounds much more mysterious. I often come up with characters by a method I call “casting against type.” This led me to create a clown who wasn’t either funny or nice and a stepmother who was downtrodden rather than wicked. My doctor suggested the kidnapping plan used in the book and is given due credit in the acknowledgements. I’m not sure Medicare covers that service, but I sure appreciated her work, and she hasn’t yet sent me a bill.


  1. I always enjoy hearing how an author comes up with an idea and book title. Thanks for the great info.



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