I used to think I knew the answer to this question. I used to think ideas were born out of hard work and intellectual prowess. To that, I now say “pphhhhhfffffffffffffftttt!”
The truth is, I have no idea where ideas come from. In a few cases, I can tell you what triggered me to be thinking about a certain topic, but not what brought about the new idea itself. Gargoyles? How in the heck would you ever pair up gargoyles and romance? I get asked that a lot. That is one of those rare cases where I remember the instant the seed of the idea — the topic of gargoyles — was planted. Even if I can’t tell you how I eventually worked up the idea of my individual gargoyle reality.
I was in the bookstore — always my favorite way to procrastinate writing — and on browsing the bargain table, I found a coffe-table book full of beautiful photographs of gargoyles. I thumbed through it, intrigued. I was raised Catholic, attended Catholic schools for a few years, and I’d always wondered why these bastions of holiness (in their minds) had decorated their most revered cathedrals, such as Notre Dam, with these horrific, even demonic (dare I say Satanic) carvings. Sure, I’d read all the theories that the gargoyles are really just decorative water spouts. But I wasn’t buying it. They could have formed flowers or little bunnies or saints as water spouts. Why these evil-looking creatures inspired by nightmares?
I found in the book a legend about how gargoyles came to be popular. It spoke of a town in France under seige by a dragon about the time the area was struggling with the conversion from paganism to Christianity. It spoke of a priest who came to town and offered to slay the dragon if the townsfolk would promise to build a Christian church and convert once the deed was done. So he did, and they did. Then they dragged the dragon’s carcass back to the village and burned it — all except the head and neck, which wouldn’t burn because it was already so charred from the beast’s fiery breath. They took the head and hung it on the wall of their new church as a warning to all that evil that they were not welcome here. Kind of like in Texas when the ranchers hang a dead coyote on the fence to keep other coyotes away. Yuck.
Anyway, I called “bullshit”. Because, being raised Catholic, I’m a little jaded about some aspects of the church. In my mind, the scene went a little differently. The priest had recently converted from paganism himself, and had quite a few tricks up his sleeve. He used his pagan magic to trick the villagers. Instead of slaying the dragon with prayer, he called forces the powers of nature and merged the souls of the village men with animals. The bears and lions and tigers (I would say “oh my” but it would be so cliche) then charged the mountain and slayed the dragon. These villagers who could then convert from man to beast were revered for ages as protectors of humanity. The carvings put on the churches were icons of respect.
See how twisted the writer’s mind really is? All my life, TV shows didn’t end when the screen went dark. Movie plots were just rough drafts for me to mentally rewrite. I didn’t realize that every kid didn’t make up new episodes of their favorite shows in their heads. Thankfully, I’d already met a lot of other writers and realized I wasn’t alone before I found out everyone didn’t also make up stories in their heads to put themselves to sleep at night.
Sometimes ideas come like the gargoyles — a nugget, a backstory or a “what if.” Occasionally they come fully formed, as did the idea for “Angel and the Hellraiser” which appeard fully formed while I was on a cruise vacation in the Caribbean. Sometimes they come out of purposeful research and perspiration. Everytime I read the news or watch TV or flip through a magazine I’m looking for one of those nuggets, something that intrigues or moves me. I keep a file of them so I don’t forget the ones I find. Most of them will never be written, but it is comforting to know I have a list in case I draw a blank on the next book.
Ideas are everywhere around us. You just have to be open to them when they come calling.
See, being raised Catholic I tend to be a little skiptical of such things.