The Answer is Everywhere
by Patricia Sheehy
Where do you get your ideas? That’s a question novelists get all the time. And it’s probably one of the hardest to answer. I remember attending a writers conference where the keynote speaker was asked that very question; she made a face (imagine eyes rolling, lips tightened) as though she expected better from the audience. She answered with a glib, “everywhere” and then moved on to other questions.
It was an honest answer, but not a fair one. So when people ask where I get my ideas, especially for my novel Field of Destiny (a contemporary suspense novel with metaphysical twists), I answer the same way, everywhere (sans the negative facial expressions). But then I explain what I mean: ideas emerge from daily living. The key to unearthing them is showing up and paying close attention.
Everything we see, do, witness — everything, everywhere — harbors gems for our next story. The problem is recognizing and mining those unpolished gems. The truth within that “everywhere” answer came to me one summer morning when I was complaining to my husband that I had trouble seeing the underbelly in the obvious. How, for example, do I go beyond the tree and see the story in the leaf, in the veins of the leaf, in the fallen dead leaves? How do I train myself to see what isn’t in what already is and turn that possibility into a story?
Looking harder isn’t enough. You have to look with intention, asking the questions: what if, what now, if this happens, then what. Accept nothing at face value. Listen to dialogue between strangers on a bus. Or between friends at lunch, confessing boredom or guilty pleasures. Look at a storm coming in across the sky. Or that woman limping when just last week she was running. Imagine the story. The details. The problems. And then imagine it some more.
Creativity is seeing connections in things not normally linked. You’re driving down the highway, your eye catches a billboard with a healthcare message and in the middle of that highway is a boy’s lone sneaker. What do you make of it? You’re in the place called everywhere and if you dig deep, there’s a story waiting to be found. And that story can be told in any art form, from painting to quilting, to poetry or fiction.
So what about my novel, Field of Destiny? The overarching theme is one of destiny versus free will with integrated themes of love and loyalty. Sounds heavy, huh? But it’s not. It’s the organic result of questions asked of a single experience. In this case, a friend of mine (we’ll call her Sandra) was about to adopt a baby girl. At the 11th hour, the birth mother changed her mind, took her baby and moved in with relatives several states away. Sandra eventually adopted a baby boy.
I sympathized with her situation, celebrated the arrival of her infant boy, and then in the privacy of my mind, explored the questions that wouldn’t go away: What if in the cycle of birth and rebirth, that baby girl’s destiny was to be mothered by Sandra? That means the birth mother’s free will altered that destiny. Would the baby find her way to Sandra anyway? Maybe she would meet and marry the boy that Sandra adopted. My mind overflowed with what-if’s. I followed the thread, pulled and tugged, watched it get caught, sometimes unravel, taking me to unexpected places, twists and turns. Eventually it emerged as a novel readers say makes them think about their own destiny and how every choice comes with a consequence.
The answer is everywhere. We only have to look for it.
Patricia Herchuk Sheehy has authored four books, including the Amazon best selling novels, Field of Destiny and Veil of Illusion. She has published close to 100 essays and articles and has three times been awarded Honorable Mention by Writer’s Digest for her personal essays. In addition, for twenty-five years, she has been a self-employed Working Writer, providing copywriting, consulting and communications support to corporate, non-profit and small business entitles. Patricia facilitates workshops, online classes, and critique groups and coaches emerging writers. Currently working on her next novel, A Thousand Whispers, she lives in the historic town of Old Wethersfield, CT and holds a Masters Degree in Liberal Studies from Wesleyan University. All of her books are available in paperback and in e-book formats. She can be found at: www.patsheehy.com
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