I’ve had a lot of people ask me where I get my story ideas from. My quick and most common answer is: “I don’t know, they just come to me.” On reflection though, there’s more to it than that.
The idea for my first book, The Lost Revolution, dates all the way back in the 8th grade when an inspirational teacher challenged the class to read The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman. This wonderful book made the start of World War 1 and history in general come alive for me. It was like a kid with athletic capabilities (which I wasn’t) seeing his first NFL game. After reading the book, my first thought was: Man, what interesting and terrible times those were. My second thought was: Man, I wish I could write like that.
Then life came along and fast-forwarded me through high school, a stint in the army, college, marriage and child-rearing. I have no regrets about any of that (well okay, I could have done without the army thing but the draft didn’t give me much choice) but, the point is, writing was left slowly percolating on a back burner. Sure I’d tried writing a story here or there but I really couldn’t finish anything I started. Not only that, most of what I did write one day would sound terrible to me the next.
Still, all through this time, the story for a novel kept developing, plot point by plot point. At first it was called, The Frenchman’s Diary, then Of Cultures and Continents, then A Secret of the Monarchy. I was in my fifties when I completed the first draft of The Lost Revolution—all 167,000 words of it. Then came the hunt for an agent, constant revisions and the hiring of a professional editor. I chopped it down to 120.000 words—all good words, I thought. More years passed. I’d often get encouraging replies to my queries but still no agent would take me on.
Finally, along came print-on-demand and the Indie Author experience. Finally I was able to publish the story that, for me, started all the way back in the 8th grade. Sure agents and publishers are great but they all seem to be looking for the next Harry Potter book, or the next YA vampire book or the next erotic romance book. In short, my wheelhouse just wasn’t commercial enough.
Since publishing that first book, I’ve gotten enough sales and enough general and professional reviews to convince me that, while my book may not be best-seller good, it’s still good; maybe even great among the right readership. And I know that I’m not alone. Many, other writers, some of them already established, are going the indie route. Maybe it’s something you might consider. But, no matter your publishing path, be sure to have others read your work before you publish; others who will not be afraid of hurting your feelings when they find fundamental flaws. It’s always better that they find them rather than your readers.
As for the Ideas for my other two books, The Caruso Collection and The Scientist’s Accomplice, those came about through my interest in art, murder, science and long-haul trucking. More about that in my next blog.