I think it's a law. People at parties ask doctors and attorneys for free advice, standup comics to be funny and authors where we get our ideas.

In fact, it's the question asked at booksignings, during interviews, on blogs and websites, on dates (or even before them, "You can't take out my daughter until you tell me! Where do you get your ideas?") probably around the table at family reunions and, for all I know, on authors' death beds ("Gramma Agatha, before you go, just one last thing...").

Lawrence Block, the prolific author of the Matt Scudder, Bernie Rhondenbarr and Keller series of crime novels claims he gets the ideas for his books from a factory in Cleveland. Can't you just see it? "The Idea Factory: Where Books are Born"? "Twelve Ideas for a Buck. Get 'em While They're Hot!"

Were there really such a factory, I might be tempted to buy a few for myself. Aw heck, who am I kidding? No I wouldn't. Good ideas aren't at all tough to find.

The TV series Law and Order takes a basic approach. Their plots are, "rrrrripped from the headlines!" A very logical and popular place many of us go for ideas.

Plain old emotions are a great source, too. Fury has inspired many a murder mystery. Killing one's ex-spouse was the idea that landed Sue Grafton on the bestseller list. Linda Mickey's series about temp worker Kyle Shannon was born when Mickey decided to off her boss (on paper, of course). And don't you suppose Cormac McCarthy was a little ticked off when he penned the blood-spattered No Country for Old Men?

I benefit from a career spent covering cops. Many of my ideas are rrrrripped from stories I worked, the characters based on colorful individuals I've encountered on both sides of the law. I developed part of the plot of my first book Deader by the Lake from the chance comment of a cop buddy who was frustrated by foreign cab drivers. The title and basic plot idea for my second book, Every Secret Crime, comes from a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote I saw posted on the wall of a detective squadroom. The bleak location where two children were murdered became part of a scene in Every Secret Crime and I blended memories of a late but wonderful old friend into one of my favorite characters in Crime as well.

I grab ideas from conversations, too. One came to me just the other day as a friend was describing the disappearance of her brother, an Air Force cryptologist presumed lost in a crash. A gun shop discussion about silencers put another idea into my head (gun shops, shooting ranges and pistol enthusiasts are always a wonderful source of information and ideas for crime novelists).

In fact, the same people who ask the Idea Question often contribute ideas of their own. Usually, it's the same one: "Have you ever thought of having an icicle as your murder weapon? That way when it melts . . ."

Before my first book came out, I made the mistake of telling a relative how frustrated I was with the publishing process. He spent the next half hour giving me his idea for a book plot that he likened to Star Trek Meets Jessica Fletcher. "See, Cabot Cove is actually on Mars and Jessica is an android who..."

I warn people who offer lousy ideas that the union requires them to pay me at the rate of a quarter a word if I turn their plot into a book.

When someone slips me a good idea, I just take notes.

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Comment by Doug M. Cummings on April 16, 2008 at 1:47pm
I always love that one. I had one frie...no. A business associate not a friend kept asking me when I would be finished with my first book. Week to week he asked and asked. He said he thought it only took a month or two. Not one of the brightest bulbs in the package!
Comment by Susan on April 16, 2008 at 1:30pm
Just as annoying, when my book came out, everyone (well, not writers, but other "normal" folks") kept asking me "how long did it take you to write it?"

I was tempted to say, oh, a couple of weeks. I didn't of course, but I wanted to ...

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