Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Tracy S. Morris: So where DO ideas come from?

Well that's the question, isn't it? When someone finds out you write, or when a delighted reader meets you for the first time, one of the most basic questions is "where do you get your ideas?" If you're suffering with that peculiar condition some call writer's block, you may be asking yourself the same question. "I can't think of anything!" you cry.  This week Broad Universe member Tracy S. Morris looks the question squarely in the face and pops it squarely in the nose.

When I was a child, my history teacher described New York City as a great melting pot – a place where people from all over the world come together like ingredients in a fondue.  A melting pot is a great description for the brain of a writer: scraps of ideas from all over meld together like cheeses in a melting pot, producing a unique story.

Take for example, Suzanne Collins’s story of how she came up with the idea for The Hunger Games. One night while flipping through channels on TV she passed reality game shows and footage of war. That, and her childhood memories of a father in the Vietnam War, all combined to produce a story of teens forced to kill one another in a televised competition to win food for their communities.

No writer lives in a vacuum. If you look hard, you can usually find the seeds of ideas in popular novels that influenced the writer. In The Lord of the Rings , you can see the fingerprints of Macbeth in Eowyn’s story (no man of woman born), and in the Ents (Burnham Wood comes to Dunsinane.)  In the Dead Marshes, you can see Tolkien’s remembrances of no-man’s land from his time as a soldier in the First World War.  In his Shire, you can see his love of the English countryside, and his worries about industrialization ending the pastoral life he knew as a boy.

Tolkien influenced Stephen King, who later wrote The Stand as a sort of post-apocalyptic quest story.  On his website, King wrote  “. . .what all of my ideas boil down to is seeing . . . two things and having them come together in some new and interesting way, and then adding the question 'What if?' 'What if' is always the key question.”

In my own work, the settings provided plenty of ideas for my books. Bride of Tranquility is set in a fictional hotel in the Ozark Mountains that I loosely based on the Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. The actual hotel claims to be the most haunted hotel in America, complete with secret passageways and a history as a cancer hospital with a quack doctor.    A tuckerized  version of this hotel was the perfect setting for a murder mystery. For the previous work, Tranquility, I drew my inspiration from the numerous ‘scary beast out in the woods’ stories that pop up throughout the south, such as the Boggy Creek Monster and the Mothman. 

Some writers find their ideas when they take a break from their own writing. That’s how Joss Whedon came up for the idea for the space western TV series Firefly.  He was reading a book about reconstruction in the south after the Civil War. If you have ever seen the series, that sense of defeat and doing what it takes to get by permeates the series.

For writers, inspiration is all around. It’s just a matter of letting the cranial melting pot simmer a bit.

Learn more about Tracy S. Morris

When Tracy S. Morris was four years old, she wrote her first “novel” in crayon on the back of a newspaper and gave it to the post man along with an antique silver dollar so that someone could turn it into a novel. She is still waiting to hear back from her publisher.

On a good day, Tracy has photographed two of the Presidents of the United States, taken a hot air balloon ride and met two of her favorite sports legends from separate sports. On a bad day, she’s been dragged behind a speedboat on an icy lake in freezing rain. She’s been a photographer, reporter, writer, fencer, historian, costumer, and gardener. She holds a black belt in taekwondo, and is a self-confessed kamikaze speller. In 2012 she assumed her most challenging and rewarding role: Mommy.

Tracy’s first novel, Tranquility was published in 2005 by Yard Dog Press. It was the runner up for a Darrell Award for Best Midsouth Science Fiction in 2006. Her second novel, Bride of Tranquility was published in 2009. It was a finalist for the Darell Award in 2010. Both books were picked up in eBook format in 2010 by Baen Books.

When she’s not writing, Tracy goes by the name Tracy Godsey.  She lives with her husband Ryan, daughter Issa Belle and two shiba inu dogs. Ryan is a computer programmer for Tyson foods and administers her blog. The dogs do their best to avoid Issa.

Read more by Tracy S. Morris

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