The Seed of an Idea

It’s good to be back home after an twelve-day trip that included the RWA Conference. It was particularly great to meet – in person – the other fillies at the conference.It’s always hard to get back on track, at least for me. Particularly when, on the second day of my return, my hot water heater broke, flooding the house. I’m in the midst of major repairs, including a new ceiling for my office, new carpets and painting.
I truly, truly hate hot water heaters. They obviously don’t like me, either. This is my third flood in two houses, and I’m beginning to think the pioneers had the right idea of heating water over a stove.

But as usual, I digress. I did not intend to whine, especially after having two glorious week driving up the California coast and feasting in San Francisco. It was just such a sudden jerk back into reality.

But back to the topic of this blog. One of the real pleasures of this blog was to drive me back to my western library. I’m finding books I collected throughout the last thirty years. Most came from western museums. Some are histories, some are diaries, some are pamphlets. I am fascinated by all of them, and I lose so many hours of time reveling in them. I’m like a kid in my own toy store.

My latest find is a sixty-page soft-cover book titled “Women of the West,” by Rick Steber. It’s a collection of one page tales of women of the west. One of them is the story of Gladys Berkley who traveled to the Virginia Valley to teach school. “When she saw the lonely place that was to be her home, she cried.”


But the pay was a fortune: $125 a month, and she was determined to stick it out for a year.

Her duties were not limited to teaching twenty ranch children. She was also responsible for janitorial duties as well as helping the first and second graders saddle and bridle their horses. “I was a city girl. I had never saddled or bridled a horse in my life. I learned.”

She also had to start a fire daily and pump a bucket of water to be used by the students. The one room school was also the mail stop. Ranchers sent mail to school with their children, and the letters were placed on the widow ledge in the hall, and during the day, anyone riding past the school going to nearby towns would stop and pick up the mail.

But her first impression of the “lonely place” changed, and she married a local rancher while teaching generations of rancher’s sons and daughters.

Those few paragraphs have the power to fire the writer’s mind. What prompted her to set out on her own? Who did she marry, and how did the courtship go? Did they have children?

And before long a story begins to grow in my head.

People often ask where I get my ideas. They usually come from some tidbit in a newspaper or pamphlet or magazine.  A seed of an idea that sometimes takes years to germinate, but lies there somewhere, tickling on occasion before making it known that its time has come.

So where do you get your ideas?    Do youlet them ferment for years before bringing them to the page? 

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15 thoughts on “The Seed of an Idea”

  1. Good morning, Pat.

    Sorry about the hot water heater. Floods are such a mess. Can you imagine those folks who live near a hurricane or have a levee or dam break? Nightmare to clean up IF it can be saved.

    The thing that popped into my mind was a book I’ve got coming in October called Buffalo Gal. I got that idea from a newspaper article about a buffalo ranch in Nebraska and the disgruntled farmers who found they were bidding against Ted Turner for ranch land, usually valued at around $100 an acre…all the sudden worth triple that amount because Turner would bid it up until he got it.

    Lots of stress there and what if, instead of Ted Turner, there was a beautiful young woman, idealist about buffalo and a gruff rancher who saw his way of life being destroyed by an animal so dengerous his children were threatened. 🙂

    BING! Story idea.

  2. Hi Pat and good morning. I’m glad you enjoyed your trip along the California coast, it’s beautiful. Hugs on the hot water heater problems. Not fun at all.

    It was such a treat to meet you in SF. Although, I think we met once before at another conference years ago.

    I get my ideas from tidbits of information too. Sometimes, I read something, sometimes I see a clip on television, and sometimes, I hear a story from a friend or neighbor that sparks interest.
    I always say, a writer is always writing, even when we’re not sitting at our computers!

  3. Pat,
    Great topic. I often get my ideas from little tidbits I read too. For instance, I bought this book and read about a young woman who…oh, wait. I don’t want to give that idea away.:-)

    I also like to take modern story ideas and see how they would fit in an historical. That’s lots of fun.


  4. Hi Pat!

    I, too, don’t like water heaters. I’ve had my problems with them as well. Ours is now outside our house, which is a good place for it, I think. : )

    Ideas for me come from all life. From anything that might spark an idea — that includes research, friends, interests, new places, old places, comments people might make, songs, paintings — any where there’s life, there’s the possibility of an idea. : )

  5. Hi, Pat,
    Sorry about the water heater problem. Here’s hoping none of your precious books got damaged in the flood.
    Like you and others, I get my ideas from tidbits everywhere. When my friends have conversations about their love lives I tease them that I’m taking notes. It’s not all teasing. But as I tell them, the ideas I get from life are like soup. You put in a little of this and a little of that and simmer everything for a few hours and what it ends up is very different from what you started with.

  6. Morning ladies! Great topic today, Pat!

    I get my ideas from tidbits of everything, too. Sometimes I’m not sure where they come from.

    One in particular, that I’ve finished, was inspired by a picture on a myspace background. I was draw to it and used it for a while- young girl with long flowing hair, ghostly ship near a cliffside and it felt like it pulled me back in time to a sad mourning period in this girl’s life-Had she lost a loved one at sea? Was it “haunting” her? What could have happened? Where was her happily ever after?

    The colors enhanced the feeling of melancholy-deep blacks and purples and grays and for some reason the idea haunted me for weeks- during the day, as I was going to sleep, in my dreams, until I realized it worked well into a tiny idea for a historical I had from years ago for a novel.

    Wah La! The story came together- a historical, paranormal romance. I’m working revisions on it right now.

    Some ideas come from song lyrics or situations that come to me, dreams I’ve had, other story ideas I have had.

    I had ideas that took years to bubble and surface, but in the past couple of years, it seems so many of them come rushing upon me, I have a hard time deciding what to write next- Unless they make demands on my attention, then I know what I have to write.

  7. I’m a reader, not an author. I happily reap the
    benefits of those stories which are the results of
    the ideas which authors pluck from wherever!

    Pat Cochran

  8. Ah, those little bits and pieces that hang around in our minds and try to become stories. I wonder how much of my brain would be in use if I didn’t have all those tidbits clogging it up. 🙂

    I’ll often hear a line, from a song, or conversation, or an unusual twist to a normal phrase and think ‘that would make a great title.’ Then that title sits around for awhile and all of a sudden there’s a story to go with it. Like a tale I have currently pre-contract. 🙂
    The Prince of Dark Ness. And nope-doesn’t have a thing to do with vampires.

  9. Hi Pat!

    Sorry to hear about the hot water heater. What a pain! Glad you were able to enjoy the California coast, though.

    My ideas come from scattered tidbits of info, too. Just a sentence sometimes is enough to start an avalanche of ideas. I love it when that happens. Other times, I need more to go on and just start asking myself “what if I had a heroine who was running away from such-and-such…and she meets up with a man who believes so-and-so…” Other times I’ll watch a contemporary movie and I’ll wonder how a similar problem would be tackled in olden times.

    A lot of times when I’m having trouble with a plot, my brain will come up with a solution in my sleep and I’ll wind up slowly waking up to it in the morning. I’ve heard other authors say this, too. Strange how our minds work…

  10. Hi ladies, I just discovered your blog thanks to that hunky hot guy fan you had out at the goody room at National. Thanks to you I didn’t miss any workshops when they became overheated and he was a great conversation starter. LOL

    I get the seed of an idea anywhere. My latest story began when I was watching Jurassic Park and the doctor is talking about Amazon frogs changing sexes, and AHA! What if people could do that? The beginning of a shapeshifter story is born.

  11. I’m reading and enjoying all the other comments, intrigued by the way our stories come about.

    Welcome, Jill! LOL on the hand fan. Glad it brought you by. Wow, what a great idea you’ve got for a shapeshifter story. Good luck with it!

  12. Loving all the ideas and can hardly wait to read the finifhed products. Thank goodness you ladies are out there to keep the readers intertained.

  13. Hey Pat – I love my HWH b/c I like having a hot water! And yes, up here, we keep our HWH in the basement near the furnace. 🙂

    I keep a doc file on my laptop called ‘Ideas’. Most of the ideas are from things I see or hear and wonder, ‘What if…’. I’m a people-watcher. I like guessing what people are thinking while they’re sitting there, what their problems are.

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