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Where do stories come from? (proper care and storage of ideas)

30 Sep

When I released my first science fiction story “The Energy Scavengers” I already knew there would be another. The world those characters came from begged to be explored. Much like the human-built rover Calvin was meant to do, I yearned to explore the vast, bleak canyon system of the Junk Valle. And like the strange Arkheion, I had many questions. I also knew, I was going to sit on that thought awhile, for I had other ideas to venture through and most of them had nothing to do with the planet 33 Pegasi ZZ.

Also, I was initially hesitant to put more time into the “robot world” because I was really not sure how people would receive it. There were no humans at all in that story. A decision I was adamant about, but one I wasn’t sure I could pull off successfully. Don’t get me wrong I was very proud of the work and thought it one of my best accomplishments thus far. The reviews on Amazon were encouraging and as of this writing the story holds 4 out of 5 stars. Even recently the work continues to pop back up in Amazon’s Top 100 Free Science Fiction Short Stories now and again. I’ve tried to keep it free to garner interest and the strategy seems to be working. It’s been over a year since the release, and after a thousand (free) downloads I sort of stopped keeping track.

Over all that time, there was one thought in my mind that remained perpetually stuck in that machine-world. A singular notion. A concept really. And a name. I wondered about all those robots abandoned by their creators. I worried for them. What happened when they roamed out a little too far from known power sources, when they wandered beyond the canyons? I also wondered if the nefarious collective known as “The Body” was the only game in town.

Then an idea popped into my head (probably while showering since that’s where the good ones seem to originate for some reason). When you have an idea, a solid idea — you know it. It strikes you in nearly the same way a favorite song might on that first occasion you hear it and find some deeper personal meaning behind the words and chords. I’ve heard and read other artists (actual successful ones) talk about this. When inspiration hits you like a lightning bolt and things just come together all at once. Musicians will talk about how they wrote and recorded a song in one session completely off the cuff and then how that song actually went on to be one of their greatest successes. Black Sabbath has said that one of their biggest hits, the song “Paranoid” was written this way.

Prelim Sketch

Prelim Sketch

So I had this singular idea, I imagined this benevolent sentient machine floating high in the thermals watching over the robot world. Its mesh-like wings made entirely of simple energy collecting material. The machine would fly around and occasionally drop down on waylaid robots and impart its blessing of free energy; without stealing or fighting or bargaining. A direct contrast to the savage scavenger economics playing out in the canyon system among the rogue robots. This was also certainly at odds with The Body’s philosophies. I got a name out of the idea too: “The One Who Turned Them On.” I knew pretty quickly this would be the title, and I worried that people might get the wrong idea, but decided they would know exactly what they were in for when they saw the cover.

That was it. Just the idea of a mysterious and benevolent giving robot and its name. That was all I had, but I knew it would be enough. When you get those rare moments of inspiration you can just feel the ends of threads dangling loosely inside your brain–waiting for you to tug on them and find out where they go. The idea just sort of builds on itself and you feel like you’re following along and uncovering a story rather than shaping it. This reminds me of the great sculptor, Michelangelo, who talked about “revealing” the characters hidden within the stones he carved. You can see evidence of this in some of his unfinished figures: The Prisoners.

However, what do you do when you have (or think you have) a great idea, but you’re not ready to explore it? Well, I kept it at bay. I tried to not let myself think about it too much, because I didn’t want to lose the heart behind it before I actually got around to writing it. At the time, I was involved in other ideas and stories so I didn’t want to constantly be dividing and subdividing my attention until my progress slowed to a stand still. So, I wrote down the idea and a few notes to go with it and saved it for later. If another idea crept up at an inopportune time I’d just go add the notion to my “idea file” and save it for later. It felt a little risky at the time, because I have some “idea files” that are years and years old that have never amounted to anything (as of yet).

However, it paid off. I saved the idea and wrote a bunch of short stories and some longer works. Then when the time was right, I returned to 33 Pegasi ZZ. I put on my headphones and punched up some Radiohead on itunes and found the old playlist that I used to write for the first The Energy Scavengers story: The Pyramid Song, A Punch Up At A Wedding (No No No No No No No No No), We Suck Young Blood (Your Time Is Up), The Gloaming (Soflty Open Our Mouths In The Cold) and a few other favorites off “Hail to the Thief” and “Amnesiac.” I had listened to that playlist on repeat (over and over again) the last time I wrote in that world and had basically tried to avoid it until I wrote there again. The strategy worked, for I’ve completed another story in that vein. A continuation in The Energy Scavengers series.

To assist me, I enlisted the help of my writing group “The Southland Scribes,” to vet the work. Then I rehired my ongoing cover artist Daniel Gracey and the editor from my last story Tammy Salyer. All of whom are very professional to work with and great at giving prompt attention to your needs (can’t recommend them enough). For a sneak preview of things to come, I’ve included a rough draft of the preliminary sketchwork for the cover. In working with all these great people and doing all the writing, editing, rewriting, and all the other non-writing stuff that comes with releasing your own material, I’m having a new appreciation for the help I get.

Well, that’s all for now. I’ll be providing more updates as I ready for the promotion and release stage.

Stay tuned for more updates on “The One Who Turned them On (The Energy Scavengers II).

The robots keep rolling, keep treading, keep digging, keep scavenging…..

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One response to “Where do stories come from? (proper care and storage of ideas)

  1. jeannemeeks

    September 30, 2013 at 11:25 pm

    So you get your ideas in the shower?? Is that well water or city water? Hot or cold? Pulsating or gentle spray? Whatever it is, it works for you. I should switch baths for showers! Good article.

     

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