“I Can’t Believe That Story Came Out Of Your Brain!” – Guest Post by Karen Harringon

janeologyKaren is the author of the great book “Janeology” which I reviewed in 2008.  This is her second guest post on this blog.  In addition to being an author, she also has a fun blog of her own.

Recently, I was at a reunion cocktail party. An old friend had read my novel and approached me by saying, “I can’t believe that story came out of your brain!”

This comment could be interpreted several ways, but I chose to be flattered. I think most writers secretly wish that those who know them are surprised by their ideas. And of course, following their surprise comes the question, “Where do you get your ideas?”

Most writers have probably heard this question, too. There’s no one answer to this question, but when I was ironing the other day, a “what if” idea popped into my head. So I thought I’d tell you how that nanosecond of an inspiration might make its way into a novel or short story.

Here’s what happened.

I was ironing a shirt for my daughter. For some reason, my brain receives good ideas while I’m ironing or blow drying my hair. Must be the heat. Anyway, I’m doing the back and forth thing, zoning out, skimming over my mental calendar. I think about my hubby’s upcoming 4-Wheel Bronco trip (he’s an off-road enthusiast with a SWEET rebuilt Bronco). I think about how fun it might be if he invites our next door neighbor’s 12 year-old son to go along with him. He’s a Boy Scout and the prospect of charging over giant granite rocks inside a vehicle with tires that are more than half his size would be right up his alley. Then the mamma bear in me thinks, well, what if he got hurt? I would feel terrible. His mother is one of my best friends. She and her family moved back to the U.S. from Israel when her son was four so he wouldn’t be compelled to join the Israeli Army when he became a man. Like most moms, she’s gone to great lengths to protect the son she loves.

Then, the magical story palette appears and I start choosing colors.

What if a man took his neighbor’s son on a trip and he was accidentally killed or injured? What would that do the relationship of the neighbors – particularly as they watched their other kids grow up? Could they still be friends? Would someone have to move? Would both women carry different versions of Mom Guilt with them forever? What would it take to heal? What if the mom who didn’t lose a child was somehow more damaged as a result of this event while the mom who lost her son achieved peace?

Suddenly, I was very interested in the human drama that would play out between these two families in a Jacquelyn Mitchard kind of way. And if there is a story you want to read and it hasn’t been written, you can write it yourself, right? Of course you can.

After I finished ironing, I made a few notes about the questions I would have if I were the Gladys Kravitz neighbor across the street. You member Gladys, don’t you? She was the busybody neighbor on the TV show Bewitched and it’s my experience that every neighborhood has some version of this nosy character. If I was Gladys, peaking out from behind my window curtain at the houses of these two neighbors, what would I want to know?

And that’s the genesis of a potential story. For me, it all starts when I’m become curious about something and start asking questions.

Thanks to Jen for inviting me to visit her wonderful blog today!

Karen Harrington
Author, Janeology

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