Where do fiction writers get their ideas?

People often ask me where I get the ideas for my stories. In fact, the members of my church book club asked me that question the other day. There’s an interesting story behind “Initiation,” my short story that has just been published in Vermont Literary Review. VLR1A few years ago on a visit to Bridgeport, Connecticut, to spend the holidays with my parents, my mother and I went to the mall to Christmas shop. The list of gifts for my niece and nephew was so long that our backs were hurting from carrying around the shopping bags. My solution was to periodically drop the bags into the trunk of my car, which was on the roof of the parking garage. You can guess what happened. After the last trip to the car, while my mother and I continued shopping, someone took a crow bar to pop the trunk open and stole everything: coats, toys, shoes. My mother and I were in tears. Of course, the items were never recovered.

A few months later I thought about fictionalizing the event. I asked myself what would happen if a mother and daughter had their Christmas gifts stolen from the trunk of the car at the mall, discovered who the thieves were, but then realized that if they revealed who the thieves were, mother and daughter would lose out on something they both desperately wanted. That’s the story behind “Initiation.”

 

Planning a book party is a lot like planning a wedding

For the past year I’ve been planning my wedding, set for next month. I’ve booked the venue, hired the caterer, secured the gospel quartet. I’ve chosen party favors, and selected the menu. I can’t wait to see what the guests think of the duck confit spring rolls, chicken coq au vin, and strawberry cream cake. Last night I took a break from wedding planning and drove to Brookline Booksmith to attend the book launch of one of Boston’s most celebrated crime fiction writers, Hank Phillippi Ryan. Her latest novel, The Wrong Girl, has just been released by Forge Books.

New Hank PhotoIt was a standing-room-only crowd. Champagne corks were popping. Guests crowded their small plates with hummus, fruit, and gourmet water crackers. The room was peppered with Boston literary luminaries and local television personalities. At least two professional photographers rubbernecked constantly to capture the scene.

As the emcee read Hank’s impressive bio, I noticed her standing a few feet away from me on the fringes of the crowd waiting for her cue. At the appointed time, to thunderous applause, she made her way up the center aisle to the podium. I’m sure some wondered how she stayed afloat on her black stilettos. I wondered why Mendelssohn’s Wedding March was playing in my head. It was in that moment that I realized something: planning a book launch is a lot like planning a wedding.

Launching a book is a major accomplishment so it deserves to be acknowledged. Plus, having a book party is a great way to get people to buy your book. Twenty minutes before Hank appeared, people were lined up at the register to purchase copies of The Wrong Girl.

During her presentation Hank said that after she finished writing her first novel, she thought she could relax. Soon she realized that her work was just beginning.  A book launch requires time, energy, and creativity, much like a wedding. At times when I’ve projected ahead to when my own book is ready for launching I’ve felt overwhelmed at the prospect of planning a book party. Now I can exhale. As I finalize the menu for my wedding reception and confer with my fiancé on the table seating, I am comforted by the fact that planning a wedding has given me a test run for planning a book launch.