Where Does It Come From

October 25, 2023

Like all authors I am often asked where I come up with my ideas. Generally, there appear to be two sources. And I say \”appear\” because if any writer is honest the whole thing is a mystery. So what I say here is really just an understanding of the outer edges of the creative process. The ideas, not the dialogue or other parts of storytelling come from two general sources.

First, there are readily definable sources like books, movies, songs, paintings, and nature. Sacred Duty, my first book was inspired by a reading of \”Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy,\” by Eric Metaxas. My Max Engle character is loosely based on Bonhoeffer. After reading Metaxas’ book I was struck by the fact that Bonhoeffer’s potential to change the world was never fully realized as he was executed by the Nazis. Then one of those moments that all writers cherish when a single idea plots out an entire book quietly wandered into my consciousness and dropped a bomb that would become Sacred Duty. \”What if Bonhoeffer had a son, and not just any son, but one who rejected his father’s dogmatic beliefs to become the very thing his father despised…a follower of the Fuhrer, Germany’s greatest war hero.

That’s how it works, at least for me. One thing inspires another. Though many times the connection is not such a straight line. My most recent script being pitched currently to multiple streaming platforms was inspired by a butterfly. I’d written half the script but was stuck. (I often write without a clear vision, like a hiker taking a trail that’s not on his map.) Being stuck is always part of the writing game. I just just push through and find the vision. But sometimes it never comes. In this case, this teen musical drama found itself when a butterfly landed a few feet from me as I was quietly thinking about trashing the whole idea. And I immediately knew what the story was really about. If it gets picked up, you’ll understand the connection. It’s currently titled, \”To catch a Butterfly.\” Keep your eyes open for it.

Second, many of my ideas are what I like to call \”heavenly whispers.\” They come in dreams, or float about my head at 2:00 a.m. when I’m suddenly awakened for no particular reason. They are ethereal messages and I’m simply a scribe trying to get them onto a notepad. Much like a scene in Sacred Duty where a dying Jewish prisoner relays a dream to Max Engle that finally frees him from his soul crushing guilt.

Good stories come from good ideas, and good ideas never come from within the writer, they come from without, and through. In my third book, \”Captured,\” a story about the border crisis, the Mexican Cartel, and three retired U.S. Marines was inspired by a dream and a chance encounter. Here’s the dream. A migrant sits in the back seat of an old bus, her five year old boy asleep at her side. At midnight, the bus pulls over at a tiny Mexican pueblo. The passengers get out to relieve themselves, she hesitates not wanting to wake her child, but then leaves him. She’s the last to exit from the bathroom, finding the bus is gone, losing her son forever. I woke up in a sweat, breathing hard, feeling what she felt. The next day I had a conversation with a man painting my daughter’s house and he told me about his heartaches getting to the States from Honduras and the loss of his wife. The migrant crisis was not on my radar as a book subject. Now it was. Though the story has little to do with the woman in my dream, or the painter, these events were dropped into the tinder of my consciousness igniting a creative blaze that I believe many will enjoy.

Hey, like I said in the beginning, it’s all still a mystery to me. I’m still poking around in the dark, and every once in a while I think I get it, and then something happens as I type away, or as I cut my grass, or on a run, when some random idea knocks me off my feet and I’m reminded that I’m just a lowly scribe trying not to screw it up.