When a book idea strikes

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Monday musings on new ideas for books

By M.L. Doyle

It never fails. I usually get hit with the good idea stick when I’m at my desk … at my day job.

Like most indie authors, I don’t make millions writing books (don’t I wish), so I have to earn a living doing something not as fun or as cool or as fulfilling as writing books. Ah well.

That said, it’s at the job where I actually earn a living that I get ideas for the job that isn’t responsible for putting food on the table. I’ve never asked, but I’m guessing my real employer wouldn’t be too happy with me dashing off a chapter or two while I’m supposed to be doing what I get paid to do.

It’s frustrating as hell.

Between having the first two books in my Desert Goddess series made into audio books, I’m sketching out ideas for book three. I’d been rolling a bunch of ideas around but hadn’t really landed on anything that was worthy of a jumping-off point. Until, off course, I got to work.

It felt as if, as soon as I booted up my computer, opened Outlook and started scanning through the piles of emails that would govern my day, that Hester, Gilgamesh, Sarah, Reuben, Quincy, Rashid and everyone else in my made-up world, demanded my attention. The opening scene unfolded. The emotion and atmosphere made themselves real. I could hear Hester in my head and the new character that will make his debut in this book, finally became a solid, fleshed-out human. For the first time, I could see his thoughts, could feel his fatigue, his hunger and confusion. He finally took shape and I knew exactly how I would make him work.

I grabbed a post-it pad, scribbled a quick tease of the ideas, and stuck them in a notebook. Throughout the morning, between meetings, phone calls, discussions with colleagues, I kept scribbling ideas and setting them aside for later. By the end of the day, I had a decent stack.

Photo by Startaê Team on Unsplash

At home, I spent some time sticking the post-its to the wall, moved them around, tried to build a bit of a timeline. There is still a lot of work to do plot-wise, but I’m finding the sticky note method works for me.

Once I sat down to write, I flew through the words that tied all of those ideas together. Chapters one and two were done in a flash.

Writing and my day job, for obvious reasons, have to be separate, but I’ve yet to figure out how to tell my brain to stop firing when I get to the office. I’m not even going to try.

M.L. Doyle

calls on her years of serving as an Army Reservist to write about women in combat boots. She co-authored the memoirs of two brave soldiers to ensure their stories keep their proper place in history. Her work with Spec. (Ret) Shoshana Johnson, an African-American POW of the Iraq War, was finalist in the NAACP Image Award. She also co-authored with Brig. Gen (Ret.) Julia Cleckley the story of her rise through Army ranks from humble beginnings and despite great personal tragedy.

Mary has written the three-book Master Sergeant Harper mystery series, and Limited Partnerships, a four-novella erotic romance series. Her latest release, The Bonding Blade, is the second book in her Desert Goddess urban fantasy series.

Mary’s essays, reviews and interviews have appeared in The War Horse, The Wrath-Bearing Tree, The Goodman project and O-Dark Thirty.

Check her out on Facebook.com, or Twitter @mldoyleauthor, and you can read excerpts of all of her work on her website at www.mldoyleauthor.co

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How does gravity work? Where do ideas come from?

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Monday musings on the elusive source of inspiration by award-winning bestseller

David C. Cassidy

The original image and the final cover for The Dark

Where do my ideas come from? It’s a question I’ve been asked more than once. The truth is, it’s like asking, “How does gravity work?” Who the hell knows.

As a writer, I can say that my ideas—some of the best of them—come to me when I least expect it. Almost without fail, they strike when I’m not writing. And that’s often when I’m outdoors making photographs. In other words, the Idea Train is running in the background, when suddenly, the horn blows, the smoke clears, and wham, there it is: The Idea.

Photo by Giuseppe Ruco on Unsplash

To wit: At the time I was trying to come up with a book cover for my award-winning horror novel, The Dark—I create my own book covers, as well as for other authors—I was out with my camera in a graveyard. It was getting close to sunset, and the sky was awash in red. It was as if the sky was filled with blood, even on fire. I made a dramatic image using three simple elements: the fiery sky, the glowing sun, and a silhouette of a scraggly, menacing tree. And at that moment, it inspired the eventual cover for The Dark. Spoiler: the story’s darkness and evil surround a mysterious and frightening oak.

So, how does gravity work, anyway? I don’t know, and I don’t care. I’m just glad it keeps the pepperoni on my pizza … and that the Idea Train keeps rolling.

David C. Cassidy

Award-winning author David C. Cassidy is the twisted mind behind several chilling books of horror and suspense. An author, photographer, and graphic designer—and a half-decent juggler—he spends his writing life creating tales of terror where Bad Things Happen To Good People. Raised by wolves, he grew up with a love of nature, music, science, and history, with thrillers and horror novels feeding the dark side of his seriously disturbed imagination. He talks to his characters, talks often, and most times they listen. But the real fun starts when they tell him to take a hike, and they Open That Door anyway. Idiots.

David lives and plays in Ontario, Canada. From Mozart to Vivaldi, classic jazz to classic rock, he feels naked without his iPod. Suffering from MAD—Multiple Activity Disorder—he divides his time between writing and workouts, photography and Photoshop, reading and rollerblading. An avid amateur astronomer, he loves the night sky, chasing the stars with his telescope. Sometimes he eats.

BestSelling Reads author page    |      Website   |     Facebook     |     Google+     |     LinkedIn     |     Twitter     |     Instagram    |      Amazon Author page

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Where does inspiration strike?

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Monday musings by BestSelling Reads authors

Photo by Ameen Fahmy on Unsplash

One question that every writer gets is about inspiration. “Where do you get your ideas from?”

The answers are as varied as the writers themselves. Many writers find inspiration from everyday events, from people walking past on the street, or from news stories. Often, ideas come not when we’re looking for them, but at really inopportune times.

Writers are not the only people who find this. Ludwig van Beethoven said he got his inspiration from walking in nature. There are stories about him walking in the countryside surrounding Vienna, singing his new compositions as they came to him. Unfortunately, being deaf, he had no idea how loud he was — until city officials told him about complaints from area farmers, who said he was scaring their cows.

Your favorite BestSelling authors also have found inspirations at … interesting moments. 

Alan McDermott: 

“My inspiration normally comes when I lay down for my afternoon nap. I started a new exercise routine a year ago, which involves getting up at 6 a.m. to check my emails and social media with a couple of coffees, then exercise on the bike for 40 minutes (the first of two stints during the day). At lunchtime, I do 15 minutes of weights, then have something to eat. Half an hour later, I’m ready for an hour in bed. That’s when the ideas usually start to flow. I guess I find it helpful to get away from the laptop for a little while.”

Scott Bury 

says he does his best writing when he’s not in front of his computer or typewriter. “My best sentences come to me when I’m doing something else: washing dishes, walking to the coffee pot, shovelling the driveway … 

“Then the real challenge is remembering the sentences, the particular arrangements of words, that come to me long enough to get back to the keyboard and jot it down.”

Bestseller Seb Kirby, 

author of the Take No More series and other psychological thrillers, also says he finds inspiration other than from his typewriter. “I get my best ideas early morning when getting out of the shower and drying. These can be plot developments, snatches of a character’s upcoming conversation or fragments of place description. I always have my tablet handy and use the Notes feature to capture those ideas before they fade.

“The beauty of using Notes is that this is not only captured on the table but is also synced through the cloud to my desktop, so as I write it’s easy to pull up those observations. 

“Overall I think this way of developing a story is proof of the comment made by the great surrealist painter Max Ernst: All good ideas arrive by chance.”

For Samreen Ahsan,

inspiration tends to come at inconvenient times: “In the gym, in the shower, before sleep, anywhere except when I sit in front of computer.” 

DelSheree Gladden

“I frequently get stuck in loops of insomnia, especially when I get stressed out or overwhelmed. I’ll lay awake for hours with my brain running wild with all the things I should or shouldn’t have done, need to do, am worried about, etc. To calm things down and attempt to get control of my thoughts, I plan out scenes for books I’m working on, or just random scenes that pop into my head. It helps me focus and usually helps we work through story issues.

Eventually I fall asleep, and half the time I forget most of what I worked out in those sleepless hours, but the major points usually stick with me long enough to get them down on a sticky note (which I will hopefully not lose before I can make use of it).

Raine Thomas

“When working through writing challenges, it’s most often while walking my dog that I get inspired.

If that doesn’t help, I chat it through with my alpha reader, my husband, or a close friend who isn’t as close to the project.”

Sydney Landon,

bestselling author of romances, also says she gets her best writing ideas far from a keyboard or screen. 

“I think I do my best thinking when I’m in the car driving alone.  Scary for the other drivers on the road probably!  But when you have kids, that can be your only quiet time.”

D.G. Torrens

agrees. “My best ideas come to me when I am not writing at all. I am a vivid dreamer. By that I mean, I often have dreams that thrust me awake during the night. The dreams are often intense and leave me wide awake for quite some time. One of my favourite novels that I wrote was born from a dream—Broken Wings.  

“Great things rise from the dirt—you only have to look at the rainforest”—from D.G. Torrens’ 2019 book, Midnight Musings

Keep coming back to BestSelling Reads to read the results of this inspiration from all our members. Better yet, subscribe to our e-newsletter, and download a free book from one of our members. Until the end of March, you can get Raine Thomas’ bestselling Estilorian Plane novel, Return of the Ascendant, for your Kindle or other e-reader. 

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Hit the Road, write a book

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Travel and writing series

Traveling puts you face to face with people and lifestyles you otherwise would never see or experience.

By M.L. Doyle

In 1996, I’d been in the Army Reserve about fifteen years when my unit was deployed to Bosnia Herzegovina for the United Nation’s peacekeeping mission. We were a small unit of public affairs journalists, broadcasters and media relations specialists and we had zero idea of what we’d be facing. It was both exciting and frightening.

Roll calls, early wake ups, long bus rides, briefings and more briefings. It was a very long road to get us from Minnesota to Bosnia, and the minute I stepped out of the Humvee at McGovern Base, a forward camp located just outside the city of Brcko, I knew I’d have to write about it all someday. More than ten years later, I finally sat down to use Bosnia as the backdrop for my first Master Sergeant Harper mystery, The Peacekeeper’s Photograph.

My time in uniform and working for the Army as a civilian means I’ve traveled a lot, providing plenty of fodder for fiction.

Once I started writing, it was easy to remember the people, the sounds and smells, the living conditions, the food, the controversies and rumors. There was plenty of fodder for a good military themed mystery in that war-torn place, and I used as much of it as I could.

Prior to deploying to Bosnia, my reserve unit had traveled to a lot of far-flung places. We’d gone to Thailand, where I met a team of Special Forces soldiers. A crew chief harnessed me to a spot right next to the rear door of the C130 we piled into. At fifteen thousand feet, the rear of the plane opened and I moved out to the farthest point the harness would allow so I could take pictures as the SF team rushed out the opening in a free fall HALO (High-Altitude, Low-Opening) jump.

On that same trip, I’d gone to a tiny little village where an army vet told me the story of how he’d been walking from village to village in 90 degree heat, vaccinating oxen and goats. With a smile on his face, he told me he’d had to stick his plastic-encased arm up to his shoulder into the ass of an elephant to investigate some digestive issue. “You don’t get to do that every day,” he’d said.

My work as an Army Broadcaster and my deployment to Bosnia were the backdrops for my mystery series, beginning with The Peacekeeper’s Photograph.

On December 20, 1989, the U.S. invaded Panama. My reserve unit had been scheduled to go to Panama for training in February, 1990, so when we arrived, there were still bullet-pockmarked buildings and burned out cars scattered along the roads. I’ll never forget the scorch marks and signs of utter carnage. That trip was the first time I’d seen the aftermath of war. It wouldn’t be the last.

On another trip, I went to Guatemala’s Soto Cano Airbase and from there, traveled around doing stories about what soldiers were doing in the Central American country. I decided to tell the soldier’s stories by at least trying to do what they were doing, to get my hands dirty a bit. So, I ran a rock crusher, picked up and emptied a bulldozer bucket of rocks. I lay cement blocks for the foundation of a school, dosed a few cows and horses with de-worming medication and gave vaccinations to a couple of kids. One of the military dentists asked me if I wanted to pull a tooth. I said no thanks to that.

During our trip to Honduras the troops did much of the same kinds of missions, but the mountain villages were much harder to reach and the small villages felt isolated and cut off from the world. That trip was the basis of the second book in my mystery series, The Sapper’s Plot.

As a civilian working for the Army, I spent week after week in Hohenfels, Germany, a massive training area in Bavaria. The mock towns, miles and miles of dirt roads and live fire ranges were the basis of my third book, The General’s Ambition.

The Ziggurat behind me was the inspiration for the Desert Goddess series and the books The Bonding Spell and The Bonding Blade.

Shortly after the start of the Iraq War, I was assigned a mission to go to Baghdad from Germany on the occasion of the change of command from one general officer to another. I decided to take advantage of the assignment by flying into Kuwait and convoying from there to Baghdad as a chance to shoot video and capture stories along the way. It took two days to get from Kuwait to Baghdad. Along the way, we stopped at an ancient Mesopotamian town called Ur. The Ziggurat in Ur and the streets of Baghdad were the basis of my urban fantasy series, beginning with The Bonding Spell.

Additionally, the trip between Kuwait and Baghdad helped me greatly when I co-authored Shoshana Johnson’s memoir. The stories she told me of the ambush her unit encountered, and the days she was held as a POW, were so vivid and easy for me to describe because I had been there, walked the sand, driven the roads, spoken to the people and knew at least the basics of what she saw. Her book, I’m Still Standing: From Captured Soldier to Free Citizen, My Journey Home, benefited from our shared experiences both from having been in those places and from being black women who had served in Army uniforms.

I haven’t written a book about my time in Thailand, but I’ve used bits and pieces of that trip to color other stories. And so far, I haven’t based a story in Guatemala or Panama, but I’ve taken some of what I saw in those places and woven them into other narratives. There are plenty of other countries, military bases and experiences that could be imagination-fueling fodder for a good story. I’ve barely tapped into the places I’ve visited on vacation or any of the stateside duty locations I’ve spent time in.

Without doubt, location plays a big role in how and what I write. I’ve always enjoyed learning about new places, interesting careers and unusual spots in the books I read. Where the story takes place is the backbone which leads to how the story will unfold.

For example, the third book in my Desert Goddess series will have some bits that take place in modern-day Iraq, something I’ve not done with any of the other books. The next Master Sergeant Harper mystery is probably going to take place at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. I haven’t figured out the plot yet, but I know where the mystery will take place because of the different missions that take place on that installation. And a new novella series I’m working on may very well take place in the DMV – the D.C., Maryland and Virginia corridor where so many military bases and federal agencies are located. Yes, I know it’s a common place for a thriller style story, but it’s also the seat of the nation’s power and the Pentagon. Plus, I know the area and for this particular new series, it’s a perfect setting, at least for a start.

For me, location, location, location is more than just a mantra for buying property. It’s also an important character in my storytelling.

M.L. Doyle, military mystery, erotica and urban fantasy

M.L. Doyle

aimed to prove her brother wrong when she joined the Army on his dare. Almost two decades later, she not only confirmed that she could, contrary to his warning, make it through basic training, her combat boots took her to the butt-end of nowhere and back countless times and she lived to tell about it … or write about it as it turned out.

Unafraid of genre jumping, Mary has co-authored two memoirs, a three-book mystery series, a four-novella erotic romance series, and has just published the first book in a planned urban fantasy series.

A native Minnesotan, Mary lives in Baltimore where her evil cats force her to feed and care for them including cleaning up their poo. To escape from her torture, Mary loves to hear from readers. Check her out on Facebook.com, or Twitter @mldoyleauthor, and you can read excerpts of all of her work on her website at www.mldoyleauthor.com.

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The impact of travel

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Part 3 of our series on how travel has inspired our members to write new stories and books.

By Caleb Pirtle III

Photo by Dariusz Sankowski on Unsplash

I spent much of my early career writing travel stories for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and then Governor John Connally’s Texas Tourist Development Agency.

They were simple, traditional travel stories that told a vacationer where to go, how to get there, and what the cost would be when the family arrived.

When I became travel editor for Southern Living Magazine, however, all of my thoughts about travel abruptly changed.

I had come to a crossroads and took an entirely different direction..

We won two Discover America Awards because I turned our travel columns into short stories.

All true.

All authentic.

Just told from a new and different point of view.

Those days of travel writing remain with me still even though I no longer write travel.

But I remember the places.

I remember the characters.

I remember the faces.

I remember the stories those characters told me while sitting out whistling and whittling on a courthouse lawn or wedged into the back corner of country honky-tonk sipping a beer.

As the years go by, those characters remain in a locked room in the back of my brain, a place I refer to as central casting.

No matter what kind of character my novels need – hero, heroine, villain, or bit player – one is hanging around and waiting to be thrown onto the printed page.

The following travel story about Maine’s Hendrick’s Head Lighthouse was printed in Confessions from the Road, a collection of true short stories gleaned from my time as a travel editor.

***

IT BEGAN with a storm.

Hendrick’s Head Lighthouse. Photo by John Shaw.

Nothing fierce.

Nothing out of the ordinary.

It was little more than a gale blowing across the sea during the chilled evening of March in 1871. A ship’s captain battled the winds, fighting the swells of the Atlantic, headed toward the distant shore hugging the coastline of Maine.

It wasn’t far now.

He could see the splinter of beam from the lighthouse flashing at him.

Only a half a mile to go.

Only a half a mile from safety.

The ship suddenly trembled, and the captain heard the deadly, cracking of lumber breaking hard and in agony against the rock ledge.

The captain’s muscles tightened.

The ship was taking on water.

It was quiet for a moment.

Then came the screams.

Only a half a mile to go.

He would never make it.

Even the screams died away.

The cold, bitter sea water churned around his knees and kept rising.

The winds battered his ship.

The rains lashed at his face.

One last scream.

Then the ominous sound of night when there is no sound at all.

Early the next morning, as faint shards of light swept the shoreline, the keeper of Hendrick’s Head Lighthouse and his wife began picking through the debris that had washed upon the rocks.

A dying ship was a rest.

A captain, his crew, and his passengers had been drawn to the unforgiving ebony floor of the Atlantic.

No hope.

No prayers.

No survivors.

He stopped.

The keeper heard a faint and gentle cry in the wind. He and his wife found a feather mattress bound with a rope. It held a tiny cargo, a wooden box, and wedged inside was a baby girl. She was alone but had not been abandoned.

Some heart-broken mother had done her best to save the baby, to cast her to the sea and pray that the ocean would not claim her.

There had been a prayer.

And a survivor.

The family of the lighthouse kept her as its own.

They looked for any trace of the mother until all traces had been washed away and buried by the sea.

But on some nights when the sky is dark, and a gale stalks the rim of the Atlantic, the silence is broken by a faint cry caught in the throat of a distant wind.

“It’s the mother,” I am told. “She walks among the rocks, and sometimes you can see her shadow outlined against the ocean. After all of these years, she is still searching for her baby.”

“Has anyone ever seen her face?”

“We only hear her grief.”

“She keeps coming back?”

“No.” There is a slight shrug. “She never left.”

It began with a storm.

So long ago.

It has yet to end.

Caleb Pirtle III

began his career writing about history and travel. He learned quickly, however, that what happens is never as important as those who make it happen. Many of those people have made their way into his novels.

He is the author of more than 65 published books, including the new noir suspense thrillers, Golgotha ConnectionSecrets of the Dead, Conspiracy of Lies and Night Side of Dark. His other novels include Back Side of a Blue Moon and Friday Nights Don’t Last Forever

He has written such award winners as “XIT: The American Cowboy,” “Callaway Gardens: the Unending Season,” “The Grandest Day,” “Echoes from Forgotten Streets,” and “Spirit of a Winner.” His nonfiction works include Gamble in the Devil’s Chalk and No Experience Required.

Caleb earned a journalism degree from The University of Texas and became the first student at the university to win the national William Randolph Hearst Award for feature writing. As a reporter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he received both the Texas Headliner’s and Associated Press Awards.

He served as travel editor for Southern Living Magazine, and his travel writing was given the National Discover America Award three times. For more than two decades, Pirtle was editorial director for a custom publishing company in Dallas.

He has also written teleplays for network television.

Find more about Caleb at his:

Website   |   Blog    |  Facebook    |   Twitter

You can find Confessions from the Road on his website or on Amazon.

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I am a traveller

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By Samreen Ahsan

The author at the Castle of the Moors, Sintra, Portugal.

“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta

This quote indeed fits on me as a writer. I’ve travelled to quite a few places and have incorporated them in my stories. Or, if I had wanted to add a particular place in my story setting, I try to visit it, later on, to experience it like my character. 

The CN Tower, Toronto

My first story: A Silent Prayer, a multiple award-winning romance novel is set in the city of Toronto, where I currently live. I have taken this city as an inspiration: the charming Christmas time, which I’ve always admired walking through the downtown streets, the sound of Christmas carols, the aroma of hot chocolate and lattes. I have tried to introduce the flavours and aromas of my multicultural city. 

Great Pyramids and Sphinx, Giza, Egypt

Since childhood, I had always wanted to visit the Pyramid of Giza but never had a chance. I introduced my characters to the majestic city of Cairo first, entering through the narrow passage of the pyramid, and a provocative conversation with a four-thousand-year-old jinni. I visited the pyramids later on, after publishing the series. As intrigued as my characters, I stayed in the same hotel across the River Nile as them, and I climbed the same claustrophobic passage of the pyramid, and had the same experience as them, except for meeting the real Jinni 🙂 

I’m also an admirer of castles and palaces, regardless of their geographical locations, and stroll through them. These grand castles and palaces, where people once lived, breathed and died, have always inspired me. 

“To Travel is to Live”

Hans Christian Andersen

In my second story, Once Upon A [Stolen] Time,  which is set in both contemporary and medieval England, I have introduced a fictional Hue Castle, which is a character on its own, inspired by many different castles and palaces and the darker elements from the Beauty and the Beast. There are certain parts in the castle that I took from real European castles: some chambers, the dining hall, the Great Hall, the library and the chapel. I feel very close to my character Myra, who, like me, has wanderlust, loves visiting historical places, admires art and poetry from the past centuries and who has always wanted to live in those palaces. This same interest as my character helps me write about the things I have seen and make her experience in the same way as I did. 

Windsor Castle, England

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” —

Henry Miller

In my upcoming novel Unveiled, I have introduced the city of York, U.K. in England, which I visited during the Holiday season of 2016. I fell in love with the city and decided to add it to my next story. I didn’t have a story in my mind at the time, but I knew that whenever I’d write, I’d make my character live in York. When I travelled to Istanbul last year, in April 2018, I had a trip to Princess Island with my friends via ferry. When we headed back to Istanbul, I saw the golden hour through the ferry and wrote the ending of the novel in my mind by gazing at the sun setting down. I never knew a moment of sunset in such a crowded city of Istanbul would give me inspiration. 

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Though I write fiction, the travel experience in my books belongs to my real travel diaries. I know I can’t write science fiction in a place that doesn’t exist at all, or that is impossible to exist, such as landing on Jupiter, or some unknown planet, meeting aliens, because they can never be a part of my travel expedition. I love visiting new places, encountering different cultures, tasting different foods and walking through the passage of time.

I love to give my readers a sense of longing for a certain place, the same way I have felt after leaving those beautiful destinations.

Some travel photos

About Samreen Ahsan

History, art and literature are my passions. I love digging out information about prophecies, divine miracles and paranormal events that are mentioned in history and holy books, that don’t sound possible in today’s modern world.

Since childhood, I have been into reading and writing—and yes, it can’t happen without imagination, which luckily has no boundaries. Dance and music are also pastimes I enjoy, as well as reading romance fiction. I love to travel and explore historical cities.

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