Friday, February 12, 2010

Where do ideas come from?

Damned if I know. I don't get too many of them, and when I do, I'd better start writing or they'll be lost forever.

But with nothing else to write about, I thought today I'd offer the genesis for my three most recent (and yet to be published) stories.

* * *

The Intersection:

"The intersection of Bynum and Chambers was the most dangerous in town, often listed as the most dangerous in the state. Over the years, highway engineers were called in, the road was widened and regraded, vegetation cut back, and blind spots removed. Yet the accidents continued.

Only after a horrific crash seven years ago killed a mother and her infant son were lights finally installed. And the accidents continued. If anything, Foley thought, they'd only gotten worse. And from where he sat, sipping his coffee and watching the cars go by, none of it made any sense."

The idea for this one came from an intersection in the town where I lived for the past twenty years, located on an idyllic, lightly traveled residential street.

Now, halfway down this idyllic street, with well-maintained middle-class houses on the four corners, there's a cross street with stop signs on both sides.

It is an abattoir. A death portal.

One of the most dangerous intersections in the state, it has left a dozen dead over the past decade, and dozens more crippled and injured. And there's no reason for it, that I can see anyway.

The story offers at least one explanation . . .

* * *


"He dropped onto the bed and reached for the remote, knowing it was the filthiest item in any hotel room. This one did not disappoint.

Brown crusty stuff was embedded along the upper row of buttons. Remnants of grey matter ran along the side. A clear sticky substance was visible along the bottom.

He stared at it a while trying to find the order button. Most of the letters were too schmutzed or worn down to be read. It didn't help that he'd left his glasses in the car."

Sometimes, ideas come in the mail, like this e-mail I got from my sister just last week:

"I thought of you the other night when I stayed at a Holiday Inn in Concord. I was trying to use the remote to the TV there, didn't have my glasses on, and saw a button that looked to me to say 'Murder'.

I thought to myself, I don't want to order up a 'Murder'...jeesh what is wrong with the world! I put my glasses on and the button said 'Order', but you could barely read the 'O'....."

But what would happen, say, if the button really did say . . . murder?

Sometimes the things just write themselves.

* * *

Wood Work:

"Stepping onto the porch, he looked up and saw the late spring sun had almost reached its zenith. Lowering his head, he looked across their narrow strip of yard and saw immediately what she was talking about. The trees were indeed encroaching upon their land.

They only had about thirty feet to begin with. But the shade from long limbs now covered about a third, leaving only a narrow strip of sunshine between the trees and the shade of the house. The thick, bushy undergrowth beneath the trees had also migrated, leaving about ten feet less backyard than they had when they moved in.

Even as he watched, the light breeze blew more shoots from the trees onto their lawn. He saw then too that the air was thick with universes of floating pollen and felt a sudden headache coming on."

Not sure that's gonna be the final title, and confess too that I've been struggling with ending this one for the past week. I've only got another three-hundred words to go, I know exactly how it's going to end, and yet the words do not come. Gonna give it another stab today.

This one was barely a wisp of an idea when I started it, so maybe that's why it's been so vexing to write. And it was inspired more by "environment" than anything else, if you know what I mean. And if not, I mean this:

The kitchen window and rear slider in the condo I used to live in overlooked about thirty feet of lawn and then a dense patch of woods. In the late spring and summer, I had a neighbor who often sunned herself back there.

One day, I noticed that the trees and bushes beneath had migrated, leaving only a bare patch of sun for only a few minutes a day.

What would happen, I wondered, if this were a house where the wife liked to sun herself, and asked her milquetoast husband to cut back the trees?

And what if the trees didn't want to be cut back?

I know, I know. Just the wisp of an idea. With killer trees?

Well, the story had a mind of its own, and didn't go quite that way. And it may make no sense or be unpublishable for all I know. Still, as I noted last week, I'm determined to finish those half-dozen or so I started, and this was one of them.

Because for me, anyway, ideas are NOT a dime a dozen. They are more precious than gold.

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