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Between the Pages, Past
A Mystery Column
By Dennis Collins

"Where do you get your ideas?"

     I’ve done a fair amount of presentations and book signings and always conclude my talks with a question and answer session. The one question that I can almost always count on hearing is, “Where do your ideas come from?” Actually, I love that question. My standard answer is, “See this chair right here? I get my ideas from things like this. The frame of this chair was made from the wood of an oak tree that once stood in the Bear Paw Mountains of Montana. It was under the shelter of this very tree in 1877 that Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce tribe said, ‘ Hear me, my chiefs, my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more against the white man.’ The Great Spirit has endowed the wood in this chair with mystical qualities. Those who sit in this chair are capable of unimaginable powers. Now there you have the germ of a story.”

     A writer needs to view everything they see, hear, or read as a possible idea for a plot and see every person they meet as a model for a character. It takes a little training and discipline but it can be a fun adventure. I know writers who have used historical events as a springboard. Just think of how many stories you could generate out of something like the Chicago fire or the bombing of Japan.

     Ann Prospero, author of “Almost Night,” tells the story about the time she was traveling and needed wheelchair assistance at an airport. The attendant who wheeled her from the plane to the terminal was a young, handsome, Italian looking man in a crisp uniform and had the top two buttons of his shirt open to reveal the hint of a manly chest graced with gold chains. Ann claims to have developed a whole new character for her next book during that short journey.

     Edgar award winning Doug Allyn says that he learns everything from observing dogs.

     A newspaper column that was only three paragraphs long inspired my own first novel. It was an unlikely story with an unlikely hero, the stuff that books are written about.

     Ideas are everywhere; you just have to be looking.

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