Showing posts with label writing ideas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label writing ideas. Show all posts

03 September 2018

Write What THEY Know


by Steve Liskow

One of the time-worn chestnuts about getting ideas is "write what you know," and many people point out that staying on familiar ground will limit you. Obviously, it depends on what you know. It certainly didn't hurt Tom Clancy, did it? Or maybe Xaviera Hollander. If you have the right experience, you're golden.

The shared experiences some people think are mundane will be fresh if you put YOUR slant on them. And if they're shared experiences, you already touch a shared nerve that will affect many readers.

Everyone has a first job, first day of school, first date, first heartbreak and dozens of other rites of passage. One of the great literary themes is loss of innocence, which fills a lot of the high school literature reading list. "The Girl in the Red Bandanna," which I published in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine last spring, revisits a summer job I only held for one night.

I've played guitar since the mid-sixties and one of my favorite stories was inspired by seeing the
Muddy Waters Blues Band when I was still heavily into the Monkees and Paul Revere & The Raiders. My musical world changed that night, but the story has had over 20 rejections and I've run out of places to send it. Oh, well...

Most of my titles are also song titles because Woody Guthrie, my wannabe rock & roller PI, came from meeting a classmate at my high school reunion. She was now a full-time session musician in Detroit. Blood On the Tracks, Woody's first adventure, was a long time coming, but he now appears in four novels and a few short stories, all of which take their names from songs.

My wife insists that Hell is really middle school. WE all have nightmares about it except the kids whose voices never changed, never had a growth spurt, or never went through puberty. Judy Blume is one of many writers who turned the angst into a gold mine. My own Postcards of the Hanging grew out of a scandal that rocked my school senior year.

Bel Kaufman had a huge bestseller recounting a first year of teaching in Up the Down Staircase, and Braithwaite fared nearly as well with To Sir With Love. My own Run Straight Down comes from my teaching, too, but has a little darker perspective.

Several of my friends (well, two. I don't have many) ask when I'm going to write a story revolving around theater. Well, Linda Barnes wrote an amateur sleuth series featuring Michael Sprague as an actor who solved mysteries. She gave the series up because, as she pointed out, if people got killed in every production Sprague joined, eventually nobody would cast the guy anymore. Barnes and I both grew up in Southern Michigan, moved to New England, and taught English and theater. She's younger and taller than I am, and much nicer. She also went back to theater for her standalone The Perfect Ghost a few years ago. If you have any familiarity with Hamlet, you might check it out.

Three days ago, I finished a first draft of my first attempt to use theater as a background for a story. I  only had to look up one detail that I no longer remembered after several years. It was fun to write, too, a refreshing break from my usual rock and blues.
My favorite poster from when I was directing...

Everybody knows something nobody else does. And maybe it's so obvious we don't even know we know it.

Now for the BSP. John Floyd and I both have stories in the newest issue of Mystery Weekly, now available at your favorite website.

08 April 2013

Lost Ideas


Jan Grapeby Jan Grape

I'm thrilled the President is backing research on mapping the brain. Mainly, because I'd like to know where my brilliant ideas go inside my brain when I lose them. Does this ever happen to you? I can't understand it and it's wonderful that scientist are going to map out the brain. I wonder if it will be like a file cabinet and things will be labeled alphabetically? Or will they just handle things regionally? Texas things here. NY things here. California things over here. Music, art, literature, science, mathematics, food, wine, sex, uh oh. I really don't care I just want to access those awesome ideas when I have them.

The aggravation is, I know I had a wonderful idea for this post last week. It was on writing and the lessons were perfect for the beginning writer, for the advance writer and for the astute reader. I had examples I planned to use and even thought of book covers I could incorporate. But silly me, I didn't write any of this down. You see, I was laying (lying?) in bed trying to go to sleep and my brain was running about 120 miles per hour. It happens to me at least twice a week. I just can't turn off my brain and go to sleep.

So I'm lying (laying)? there and suddenly I began having a brainstorm. I'll bet at least half of those 86 billion neutrons were popping at the speed of light and the thoughts kept blinking off and on. Off and on. I'd have a good thought and that in turn would melt into another related good thought. The next idea flowed into another and it all made wonderful sense.

I know, I know, I probably should have gotten up, picked up my pad and pen from my night stand and made notes. Problem is, I was so comfortable. I had my body in exactly the right position so that nothing hurt and it was so nice that I just didn't want to move. When you get to be my age, good sleeping positions are to be cherished and the worst thing you can do is move a muscle. Because once you move, that warm comfy position somehow slips away. No matter how much you try, after you get up, to get back into that comfort zone you just can't find it. It's gone. Where I don't know, but perhaps with the brain mapping there will be a cabinet drawer that's labeled "Comfort Zone For Sleeping." Lord, I hope so.

So I'm totally comfortable and I'm not about to move. The next best thing is to sternly tell myself, "Self, this is important. This will make a super article for my SleuthSayers blogspot." Okay, so I repeat several times what I believe is the main theme of my article. I mentally write on my forehead, as if it were a note pad. Number 1: The fantastic way to do this is by writing...this. Number 2: It's very easy to do, all you have to do is...this. Number 3: Show examples of this. Number 4: Get someone to show you how to pull book covers off web sites and put into your article. Finally, Number 5: bring it all together in a meaningful way and wow...you got this.

That's when the danged alarm went off and it was time to get up and get ready for my bowling league. I was exhausted because I had not slept a wink all night because I had this extraordinary idea to write for my blog. However, I couldn't remember any of it except all the meaningless things.. Like being too comfortable to get up and make notes. Like talking sternly to myself and saying "You will remember, you will remember, your will remember." Like mentally writing bullet number points on my forehead as it it was a lined sheet of paper.

BUT I had absolutely no idea what my article idea was about. Nothing. Nada. No way. I've tried every day for nine days to remember. Used every trick I could think of to bring it all back to mind and nothing works. Which means that y'all now have this silly little article about my forgetfulness and my frustration. As my Mama used to say, "It's aggra-fretting."

Please Doctor Scientist, hurry up and get our brains mapped so I can know exactly where to go in my mind to find those super ideas that I manage to come up with. And maybe, just maybe that awesome idea is there, filed away somewhere in my mental file cabinet and I'll be able to resurrect it and write it up for all of you to read.