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Monday, January 4, 2010

Monday Spotlight: Karen Harper

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

I really think “Where do you get your ideas?” is the number one question authors get from readers. My own mother has asked me this question during the entire twenty-seven years I’ve been published.

I did a booksigning years ago in South Florida with a very veteran author sitting next to me. (So veteran, she had once worked at an Atlanta newspaper with Margaret Mitchell, author of GWTW.) A reader came up and asked that idea question of both of us. Having been a university instructor (hint—Go Bucks!) and high school teacher for years, I was ready with my ‘teacherly’ answer: I used to explain that I get my ideas for my books either off the page or off the wall.

That is, I either find them through intentionally researching for them or by stumbling into them. For example, the idea for my romantic suspense novel Down River was something I just stumbled into when my husband and I visited Alaska. A rushing salmon river, the wildlife, a wilderness lodge and the independent people I met hit me over the head with ideas that would make a great backdrop and plot for a love/adventure story. Two estranged former fiancés, reunited and forced to survive the wilds together struggle against a killer and their rekindled feelings for each other.

On the other hand, my novel Deep Down was something I researched to get ideas for. For years, I’d been saving articles on the Appalachian-area herb ginseng, that amazing root that many believe gives long life and vitality. I then got several books on the subject, read a lot on line, did interviews—research from which I ‘grew’ my book. With either of these methods, once I get a core setting or idea, I play the game of “what if?”

What if a researcher who is studying ginseng as a cure for cancer had to return to her Appalachian roots to help the sheriff locate her mother who has gone missing in the woods while counting the rare ginseng for the government? What if this heroine/hero has a difficult past together? And what if her mother’s murderer is a forest monster which now seems to be stalking her? What if…

But back to the reader asking me and another author where we get our ideas. As I was about to give my answer for where I get my ideas, the other author blurted out, “Honey, either you’re born with them or you’re not!” And that’s the truth. It’s in the genes or it isn’t, a gift of God, an inexplicable talent, just as others receive different abilities authors do not have. Some authors say they dream their plots, others comb the newspaper for ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ characters. Authors get their ideas anywhere and everywhere. Ask one sometime.

4 comments:

Virginia C said...

Hi, Karen! Happy New Year! Thanks for a very enjoyable post. Most of us with an imagination can dream up story ideas. However, it takes a born author to shape, refine and expand the idea into a completed creative written work. It was very interesting to follow how your idea about ginseng developed into a book : )

gcwhiskas at aol dot com

Rebekah E. said...

Thanks for the great post. I really enjoyed reading it.

Lisa said...

Hi Karen!

Great post. I think everyone wonders where ideas come from. Sometimes the most unusual ones, and the best ones I think, are the ones you stumble on. Well said.

robynl said...

Hi and welcome Karen; I can believe that ideas come from different times, different places and can come at any time.

yourstrulee(at)sasktel(dot)net