I saw Robert B. Parker at a book signing many years ago. He told a story of being on one of those morning wake-up shows all television stations have, sharing a spot with Elmore Leonard. They were sitting in the Green Room, passing the time, and agreed the question they least liked answering was, “Where do you get your ideas?”

Ten minutes later, on camera, the helmet-haired blonde hostess’s first question was to Parker: “Where do you get your ideas?”

“Utica,” he said. “There’s a little store there. Lots of writers use it.”

The hostess accepted that as the most logical answer in the world, then turned to Leonard, “And how about you, Mr. Leonard?”

“Same place.”

This story came to mind at Bouchercon when I saw Reed Farrel Coleman on a panel, and the topic of where ideas come from was raised.

“Schenectady,” he said, then did Parker one better. “Too bad this conference wasn’t a couple of weeks earlier. We missed the end of summer idea sale. Now they already have the Christmas ideas in.”

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Comment by Dana King on October 4, 2013 at 12:15am

I did read Crack-Up, and I can see where an idea like that wasn't just thought up and written out; it had to be worked. I must get three "good" ideas a week--good at the time--but the ideas I know will stick are the ones that hang around for a year or more, pushing their way into my thoughts. Those are most likely the ones tha match up best with my interests and skill set.

Comment by Eric Christopherson on October 3, 2013 at 7:40am

My ideas often percolate for years. I'll usually have half an idea sitting around waiting for the other half. I think you read my novel, Crack-Up, Dana, and I had the idea of writing a thriller from the POV of a paranoid schizophrenic for many a year without any notion of plot, then one night I was watching Nightline on TV and heard of predictive analytics for the first time. Instantly, I had the novel ready to write...

Comment by Dana King on October 3, 2013 at 5:24am

I used to think that, until I spent the night with a couple of my cousins on the way to Bouchercon and got to talking to my one cousin's wife. She's an avid reader, and we got to talking about what Bouchercon is for, and the subject turned to ideas. I was about to poo-poo the discussion until I saw the expression on her face, and heard her tone of voice. It was almost like she saw me as someone different, a published writer to whom ideas for intriguing stories come unbidden. Readers don't see the sausage being made; they accept the work at face value, as if a higher power injected it directly into our heads.

I once signed books for an anthology my local writers' group self-published; every contribution was accepted, after editing. Those folks gave a similar reaction. Those of us who write are prone to forget the respect people still have for storytellers, and how the hardest thing to do for a person who is not by nature a storyteller is to come up with an idea for a story. There's something about being hard-wired to tell stories that allows writers to see ideas everywhere.

I promised myself that night I'll always be patient and answer that question to the reader's satisfaction, no matter how many times I hear it. I only hope I'm lucky enough to get to hear it a lot.

Comment by Dan L. Coleman on October 3, 2013 at 3:22am

I've always thought this was the dumbest question anyone could ask a writer. And only one who is clueless about anything creative would be capable of asking it.

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