Origin of Book Ideas

Everyone seems to want to know where writers get the ideas for their books. I've been asked this many times.

In fact, I started putting in a short article in the back matter of my novels telling what inspired me to write that particular story.

That doesn't happen so much now that I don't do autograph parties. Mostly, I get asked that by people I meet who discover I'm a writer.

I'm always happy to talk about that subject so I don't mind, but some authors get bored having to answer that same question all the time.

To beat boredom, they should answer with a witty quip like, "At my local mall, but I buy only when they're on clearance."

All Kidding Aside

Writers get ideas from everything they've experienced. People they meet. Things they read. Stories they hear. Television, movies, eavesdropped conversations. Everything is idea fodder for the author—especially found items.

Intriguing ideas from unexpected finds are especially interesting like things left in books bought at used bookstores, garage sales, etc.

Once in an antique cabinet I bought, I found a flyer dated August 1967 from Key City Drive-In Theatre. It was in perfect condition. In fact, I'm framing it to hang in our media room.

Idea File

I jot down ideas and toss them into an expandable  file. Found items get scanned and saved. The drive-in brochure I saved in an archival sleeve.

I've torn pieces from newspapers and other print publications and saved notes I've found in used books.

For instance, I saved a scrap of paper I found in a used book I bought. The cryptic note talks about a woman who is a slut and lists some Bible verses. I looked them up in the Bible.

I don't know who owned that book before I bought it, but whoever it was had a freak flag flying.

Another intriguing tidbit I tossed in my idea file is an ad torn from a newspaper. Yep, found it inside a book I bought at a used bookstore. By the way, I changed the phone number in the personal ad which reads:

"J.E.P. ALBUQUERQUE, CHA-CHA-CHA Lessons Needed. Hurry, he is dying. Call Julia @ (555)123-4567.

How intriguing. Think about all the possibilities. Was it from someone wanting to hire a hit man? Or maybe a hit man reporting the mission is over? Could it be from a CIA spook checking in?

I think it's finally time to use that tidbit. I think it's going to be the opening lines in a new book I've scheduled for spring 2022. (Yikes! Does this make me a target for getting whacked?) 

I've found the Woolworth's lunch counter menu you see at left, a Berlin movie theater "coming attractions" leaflet, and a hate-filled letter from a disgruntled university English teaching assistant.

I assume the letter was written by a man. He dismisses anyone from Texas as "stupid redneck kikkers," (his spelling). He hates politicians, hates kikkers, and he makes other appalling declarations.

He ends his nasty-gram with, "Your loving slave, Me, of course!"

Sheesh! Hope the recipient of that letter ran in the other direction.

From Expandable File to Notebook

When my expandable file folder gets too fat, I go through it at the end of the year which is why I'm writing this post. I've been culling the idea file.

Ones I want to save, I place in a binder. When I use the idea and write the book, I move the notes or scraps of paper to a big envelope where I store each book's research notes, outline, etc. when I've finished writing. Some ideas I leave in the expandable file; others I toss in the trash.

Takeaway Truth

If you're lacking book ideas, go browse through used books or just eavesdrop on conversations—which is easy since everyone talks on a cell phone as if they're alone in the world instead of surrounded by people. There's no telling what you might find or hear.

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