Whether it’s the heartache of a breakup, grieving the loss of a loved one, or overhearing a compelling plight of a stranger on a bus (and infinite other examples), we all experience that impromptu spark of creativity that lights the way for our work.
I’ve always been intrigued by what inspires my fellow writers – especially those who are able to find the extraordinary in the mundane and translate it into a spectacular story that ultimately serves as a testament to that particular writer’s brilliance – and it’s that curiosity that led me to query a diverse pool of authors for this post.
The responses I received on what inspires them varied wildly. Some were familiar. Some were foreign. Some were undead. And while these examples of personal inspiration are specific to each writer I introduce here, the one thread of commonality they share is that they’re all important – important to the writers and to the readers of their works.
Nick Belardes – author of Random Obsessions: Trivia You Can’t Live Without
“I love talking to my characters, asking them bizarre questions like, “What kind of pancakes would you wear to bed?” I also get inspiration from listening in on conversations at bus stops (or anywhere really), movie-going, taking baths, walking, and especially, as I mentioned, channeling characters in weird ways. Oh, and I also love to perform skits from my novels. If the audience buys into a character then I’m inspired to write more and more on that character.”
Alexandra Allred – author of White Trash
“One word: ‘niglet.’ I was fairly new to Texas when I first heard the word. An attractive black couple walked by with a toddler. The little girl was adorable and I said as much. The woman next to me said, ‘Yes, what a cute little ‘niglet.’ I was stunned. Stunned! Later, I became angry because I did not say anything. The word ‘niglet’ threw me into fiction writing. It was a way to make fun of people who never miss a Sunday service, swear by the teachings of Jesus Christ yet can say things like ‘niglet’ and truly not understand the issue. As my frustrations grew, a story took hold. In 22 days I wrote the 448-page book, White Trash.”
Gregg Cebrzynski – author of The Champagne Ladies
“As a child I used to play “Mass.” That is, I tied a long towel around my neck so that it hung down my back like a Catholic priest’s chasuble. I then went through the ritual from start to finish, using a piece of white bread cut in a circle to represent the host. Young boys were encouraged to do this in my heavily Catholic neighborhood of Little Village in Chicago. At about the same time I used to hear the old men in the neighborhood talk about the Vietnam War and how the United States should “bomb the Commies back to the Stone Age.” When they weren’t talking about the war, they were discussing how Mexicans seemed to be moving into the traditional Bohemian, Polish and German neighborhood. These memories from youth are the inspiration for my novel, The Champagne Ladies, a Kindle e-book, the theme of which is patriotism and religion run amok.”
Dagny McKinley – author of The Wandering Rose
“My first flash of inspiration came when a woman said she had woken up and eaten breakfast in her bathtub without any water. The backwardness of that thought led me to a character who embraced all the freedoms I was lacking. The Wandering Rose is the book that came as a result of that comment. The character is also documented in a bi-weekly column in Steamboat Springs’ The Valley Voice.”
Lucy Leitner – author of Working Stiffs
“My debut novel Working Stiffs, a horror-comedy about zombies in the office, was actually the result of a workplace safety presentation at a title company where I was employed five years ago. During incidents of workplace violence, we were told to barricade ourselves in the conference room. I thought, ‘What do I need this for? I’ve seen Night of the Living Dead.’ And thus, a tale of a ragtag group of corporate drones fending off a zombie attack from the pharmaceutical company conference room was born. I am currently at work on my second novel for which I took inspiration from an interview that my mother heard on NPR and my third, which I came up with while listening to an obscure Alice Cooper album that he doesn’t remember recording.”
Colin Murphy – author of The Small Hours
“I have three kids under 5 years old, including 2-year-old twins. I have spent a lot of nights in the past couple of years lying on the floor between cots trying to soothe two babies at once. I try to turn this into little vignettes that tell the truth about parenting in a comic (sometimes blackly comic) fashion. It’s modest work, but it strikes a chord with people. I was doing it on Facebook until recently, and have just migrated to a blog, which is in its infancy.”
Lindy Schneider – author of More Money in Tough Times: Discover the $10,000 You Never Knew You Had
“Several years ago due to a series of events that happened in rapid succession, my husband Tom and I found ourselves without a home, without a car, and without a job. It was a scary time, but those 33 days of uncertainty became the inspiration for our book, More Money in Tough Times: Discover the $10,000 You Never Knew You Had. We show over 100 ways that people can spend what they earn with maximum efficiency for a better life today and tomorrow regardless of what life throws at them.”
Ann Everett – author of Don’t Trick My Cherry
“Most of my inspiration comes from conversations I listen in on or something as simple as a bumper sticker. In my short story, Don’t Trick My Cherry, I combined the complaint of one of my grandchildren when the local Sonic Drive-in left the cherry out of her limeade, with five bumper stickers on a car that was in line at McDonald’s. From the five plastered across his tailgate, I could tell he was a gun-toting Texan, Republican, Baptist golfer. Since I write humor, I find fiction is never funnier than life. At least not in Texas.”
Linda Carlson – author of Internet Safety and Your Family
“For the little book Internet Safety and Your Family, I was inspired – or shall we say horrified – after I attended a concert at my daughter’s high school. Interested in the senior who played a solo, I Googled her name and was astounded to find within a few minutes her home address, mother’s name, cell phone number, and that she would be attending a popular Seattle festival. Talk about an invitation to a stalker! I was appalled at how much information family and friends (including her teenage buddies) were making available to strangers.”
Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan – author of The Bumpy, Grumpy Road
“I get tons of inspiration from my young children. Frequently their bad behavior forces me into creative responses, or a question they will ask about the confusing, difficult things we face in the world turns into an amazing writing prompt.”