Sunday, June 22, 2008

Where do you get your ideas, Nancy?

Saturday night, I stopped at a filling station and stupidly managed to spurt gasoline all over my jeans. I hurried home to toss them in the washer. The smell didn't come out. I tossed them in for a second wash. Sunday morning, I pulled them out again, and this time I spied something that wasn't supposed to be in the wash with them: at the bottom of the machine was my. . .cell phone.
I had neglected to check a pocket.

"Oh, noes!" a non-writer might say.

So might a writer. So did this writer, along with saying other words that started with the letters eff and ess. But then I said, "Eureka!" because as I stared into the depths of my washing machine I got an important idea for a chapter I'd been fighting. It came to me that the mother in that chapter will find something in her son's blue jeans before she washes them. Yes! Spare the cell phone, spoil the book.

And that, children, is where I get my ideas--at the bottoms of washing machines and other unlikely places.

Sometimes my imagination refuses to cough up an idea hairball. Then the universe applies a hard whack to get things moving. That's when I get an equation that may look like Saturday night: not feeling good, so head is fuzzy + get gas = accident +washing machine + fuzzy head + hurry = another accident. Accident + Accident = Idea.

I guess it's the saving grace of being a writer that every event can be exchanged for words at the Writer Redemption Counter, but to tell you the truth, sometimes I'd rather get frequent flyer miles.

p.s. I got a new and better cell phone for $18 from T-Mobile and they only extended my contract for two years. hah.


Nancy P said...

Early to bed, early to post for Monday.

katiebird said...

Wow. Now that's a story.

We've been going through cell phone adventures ourselves but, I don't think there was a Eureka moment.


Daughter: "Dad, I broke my cell phone. Could you buy me another one and activate it?"

Dad, "Sure"

Me, "Whoops! with me retiring are you sure we want to sign a 2 year contract (leading to extended lesson about how "free" phones work)"

I think my heart would stop if I found mine in the washing machine. Here's another blogger who washed her cell phone and wrote about it this week.

I can't wait to read about the mom and the jeans....

AndiF said...

Morning Nancy.

Hiya kb, almost-retiree!

Thanks, Nancy, for letting in some light on the subject ... and for giving me a theme for the Monday Picture Post:

Letting in the light - even if the it-takes-many-millennium version . [LINK]

Paul Lamb said...

Yeah, that two-year extension thing every time a phone fails is pure evil.

I've found that the oddest little things in day-to-day life can feed my plot or character developments.

Really enjoying Virgin, even more than Bum Steer (hometown fiction).

katiebird said...

Andi, that's a stunning photo. (stumbling off to find coffee)

katiebird said...

George Carlin just died.

Lisa Miller said...

That's it!! It's an idea hairball I've been trying to hawk up all weekend.
Dang it I already did laundry--Nothing.
Come on universe give me a whack.

Thanks Nancy. That's an epiphany this cat owner can relate to.

FARfetched said...

Argh! [uses seven words]

Nancy, I seem to remember a writer (was it you, here?) lamenting that the advent of cellphones made it so much harder to isolate a character. Then again, there are a thousand natural shocks that cellphones are heir to: forgot to charge the battery, dropped & broke, left at home, no signal (rural areas, office buildings, underground), and (as you've learned) a ride in the washer.

Hm… those Nextel "walkie-talkie" phones are really popular around here; building contractors advertise Nextel numbers alongside their phone numbers, and the kids at school consider them a status symbol. The right person can hear both ends of a wrong conversation, and…

Beth said...

Morning, all. GREAT picture, andi! Nancy, seems the Car Gods don't want to play nice with you - maybe this recent offering will appease them.

Health hell this past week - send healing thoughts. Along with everything else that went wrong last week, I'm now on major drugs for back cramps that won't go away, and kept me up all Saturday night - I never want to spend another night like that. STILL having computer issues, so I'm still stealing signals where I can find them - and Bill's house sold on Friday, so we have a week to find a place to live. Oh yes, and I'm supposed to be finishing a book.


Anyway, hopefully I'll be able to check in later - this is my mini-vacation spot, lost in andi's woods.

Big hugs to all (not the DD kind :-))

Nancy P said...

Hi, Kb. It'll be interesting (?!) to see what other decisions will be affected by your retirement.

I read the story you linked and laughed at her description of her cell window looking like an aquarium. Mine, too! It *could* dry out, in which case I'll have a spare phone. But I'm really happy with my $18 replacement so all's well. I was surprised to read in the comments to that blog that people have insurance on their cell phones. It's usually so cheap to replace phones with T-Mobile that I don't have to do that. I have some experience with this, having a soon who has destroyed several.

Nancy P said...

Andi, that may be my fav photo of yours evah. Thank you. I'll probably use it tomorrow. And possibly every day after that. :)

Paul, thanks! Bum Steer is, I think, most people's fav of the Jenny Cain series, but I do think (hope) that Virgin shows that I've grown as a writer since then. I'm pleased when people like it better than earlier books.

Nancy P said...

George Carlin! RIP.

Lisa, lol. My cats are happy to provide metaphor material.

Far, if that wasn't me who said that, it could have been. I think one of the reasons I'm setting my new books half in the past is because that half doesn't have cell phones.

Nextel walkie-talkie phones popular with kids? Never heard of the phones, never heard of the fad! Lord, it's hard to keep up if you don't own your own personal teenager.

Nancy P said...

Ack, Beth! Gentle hugs to you.

AndiF said...

Morning all you later arrivals.

Beth, my sympathies on your back pain. I hope it eases up very soon.

Kelly McCullough said...

Hi All,

Andi, fab picture.

Beth, good luck and get well.

KB, bummer. He was a goodie. Is the track in the back of your head going almost done, almost done, almost done?

Lisa, Far, Paul--(waves)

Nancy, great description of the idea process. Like the old Reese's add execept that for books it's more often two bad tastes that don't taste bad together.

No tea today, sigh. But hopefully lots of writing--I'm getting the itch again. Also have to run to the post office and dump a ginermous stack o' stuff in the mail.


Nancy P said...

Kelly, here's hoping that itch becomes so unbearable that you just have to scratch it.

Off to search for peanut butter and chocolate. . .

FARfetched said...

Hey all!

Ow, Beth! Any idea what brought that on? My ankle was giving me trouble Saturday, but it was fine when I got up Sunday… I think my water shoes (about a half size too small) irritated that foot. Maybe the drugs will open your inner doors of inspiration & you'll have time to get it all down in between packing up and finding another place? In between Bill giving you backrubs?

Nancy, remove the battery & SIM card from the wet phone & put it somewhere warm (oven on Warm, or in the sun) for a few hours. Don't bake the battery, but a sunny window might be good. It might work once its dry, at least if the soap all got washed away. As far as teens go, don't you have friends with teens?

Kelly, you reminded me that I have some stuff to drop in the mail too. I should tackle that tonight or at least some time this week.

Nancy P said...

Yeah, far, I have you with teens! :) (Actually, I don't think I know how old The Boy is.)

Cell: I have had its widdle pieces drying out, so it just may work again--although, as you said, the soap could be dopey. It was the double dip of soap that egged me to get the replacement.

The t-mobile dude claimed it takes five days for them to dry. We'll see.

Kelly McCullough said...

You might also try putting it in a bowl of dry uncooked rice for 24 hours once all the visible water is gone. I'm told that does wonders.

Nancy P said...

I'll try it, Kelly. And if it doesn't dry out my cell phone, at least I can eat the rice with chicken and vegetables.

Jasmine, I'm thinking.

Beth said...

Thanks, everyone. No clue what happened, Far - one minute I was fine, the next I was out for the count. I think it was screwing with the &^%$ laptop for 6 hours, trying to fix it - enough stress for all of us! I refuse to believe it's old age..... :-)

Off to make some soup - for some reason, I'm hungry!

Have a good one, everybody!

Anonymous said...

Wow, how fortunate you writers are to be able to use unfortunate happenstances to provide creative ideas for your writing!
Me? Accident + accident = :-(

Nancy P said...

:), Anon.
Sometimes an accident is just an accident for writers, too. Wait. Do I really believe that? I guess the truth is, I don't. When we say everything is material, I think we mean it. Sometimes I can feel myself being stubborn about unfortunate events, and having a kind of, "okay, I WILL get some writing out of this. By god." Of course, I don't, always, but it helps to think I might.

Nancy P said...

Hi, to our visitor in Asia and our visitor in Australia.

Family Man said...

Good afternoon Nancy and everyone.

Our cell phone has never made it to the washing machine, but FMom did drop it in a glass of water. I still haven't figured out how she did that. FMom and I aren't big cell phone users, only for emergencies and one brother that always call the cell. We're not in a contract, but we have that AT&T Go Phone. We just buy more minutes when we need them and that's not that often.

Beth I hope your back get better and FAR I hope your feet are better. KB, being a retiree for a while now, all I can say is it's a great way of life. :)

Hope everyone is doing fine.

Nancy P said...

Hi, FM! She dropped it in a glass of water? That's pretty funny.

Dear FMom, a cell phone is not a tea bag. Love, Your Son.

Anonymous said...

This is way off topic, but I'm curious to ask a professional about something. I find that I can read just about anything if I like the characters in a story, you know people that I find interesting and/or likeable in some way. How much do writers take that into consideration? It seems some writers I've tried to read (I can't think of any specifically at the moment) don't create interesting and/or likeable characters? So, I guess basically I'm asking, which is more important to an author, the plot or character development (and I know both are important but which do you find primary)?

Nancy P said...

Never fear, Anon. I don't think we've ever stayed on topic here. It hadn't even occured to me that we could, lol! We're only partly about writing, and the rest is social.

Most writers I know think a lot about "what makes readers like a character." I even led a "master class" on the subject at the recent Writers Retreat Workshop in Ky. Mostly, I think what most writers conclude is that the same things that make us like real people also make us like ficitonal people. That's an all-too easy answer, I know, and if this were a class I'd say a lot more, but it does pretty much get to the simplistic root of it, I think.

As for plot/character, honestly the emphasis depends entirely on the writer. Some will tell you they're all about plot, others are all about character (they say), and others are somewhere between the two extremes. My own way to operate is a fairly popular one among writers, which is to start with a plot idea, then "meet" the characters so that the rest of the story evolves out of them. They will also let me know if my original plot idea sucks, and they'll make me change it if necessary. That's what sort of, more or less, happened to me this time. Characters! Can't write with 'em, can't write without 'em!

boran2 said...

That's a wonderful story, Nancy.

What I did with my cellphone late last summer might be good for an idea also. I had gotten this fancy new western style cellphone case out in Arizona just after I visited with Manny in Sedona. A few weeks later back home, I had it on my belt while mowing. It fell under the mower, both phone and case were literally shredded.

Unlike T-Mobile, Verizon wouldn't assist me with a reasonably priced phone. I actually replaced it with a cool vintage (circa 2004, yes they had cellphones way back then.) phone purchased on ebay.

Then again maybe this tale is only good as a cautionary tale: mowing and cellphones don't mix.

Kelly McCullough said...

Anon, here's another take. I spend a good deal of effort and thought making characters likable, but it's in service of plot for me.

I deal with characters in much the way a director deals with actors. There's a script. They follow along. If someone wants to know what their motivation is, I make something up and then go back and layer it into the early parts of the story. Say that on page 138 it becomes important that Johnny is fanatically attached to the color blue and that impacts the plot in a way I hadn't thought about in the original outline. I write the scene on 138, note the new twist down in my constantly updated plot outline, then go back and look for places earlier in the story that I can introduce the idea of color attachment, both personally for Johnny and thematically for the story.

Now, say that the character of Johnny wasn't actually fond of the color blue. I've rewritten his history at this point, so now he is. Simple as that. I hired these people to play certain parts. If that doesn't happen, they're out looking for a new job while a new actor comes in, identical in every respect but the fact that this one will do the job.

Does that mean that nothing off script happens? Of course not. If an actor improvises something that's cool and that moves the main story forward (the story I wanted to tell from that get-go, since that's how I write) I use it. Whole chapters have been born this way, and huge important new sections.

Nancy P said...

Kelly, that is a really REALLY interesting look into your process. I'm going to steal you to use in classes as a sterling example of a novelist who puts plot first--and makes it work.

Boran2, that moment when you saw your new cellphone and case go into the mower. . . .I want to use a moment like that in a coming chapter, so thank you very much for the idea. :)

FARfetched said...

«that moment when you saw your new cellphone and case go into the mower»

I think that's called an onosecond. Your brain and body totally lock up for that moment of time, except for the part of your brain that goes, "aw CRAP!"

Anonymous said...

Thanks, y'all.
I was reading something recently and just really didn't like the characters and wondered why an author would do that.
As someone said to me recently, "if I can't get interested in a book in the first 30 pages, I'm not going to finish it."
There are toooo many good books waiting to be read and life is for a limited time only. Why would I want to waste it with "people" I don't like.
I can't choose my family, but I can choose my friends and the characters I like to spend time with. LOL
So, again, thanks for a look inside the process!

Nancy P said...

"onosecond!" Far, I love that.

Anonymous, I agree, and even go further. Not only do I not want to read about characters I don't like, but I don't want to write a book with nothing but characters I don't like. I had a series about a true crime writer and one of the reasons I stopped it after 3 books was that I liked her, but I didn't want to spend months/years of my life hanging out with the kind of people she had to know.

Kelly McCullough said...

Ditto that last bit, Nancy. I won't write anything at novel length that involves characters I don't like or at least really care about. If I'm going to spend every working moment for the next six month with these folks they'd better be enjoyable to work with. And if it's going to be a series, where I might spend parts of the next five or ten years with them...

Glad you find the actors thing interesting. It's very much how I work in terms of my relationship with characters. I'm really world-driven at root, I like to see all the cool stuff in the new place--which is why I write f&sf--but after world, plot is the next thing that gets me excited.