Where do Ideas Come From?

Where do ideas come from? It is a question all writers are asked and very few answer. I am going to answer it, sort of. I mean, I do not want to get kicked out of the union do I?

The reason most writers give a vague answer to this question is there is no one answer. Actually, it is the wrong question. The idea is not the important part, it is knowing what to do with an idea that sets writers apart, but no one ever asks that question.

Recounting how the pieces of, “Dirt,” came together gives a snapshot of how ideas form.  “Dirt” is the young adult novel I am writing and is the focus of My Grand Plan for publication.

Ideas are nebulous

No idea comes to you fully formed. It starts as a grain of sand whose gravity pulls other ideas to it.  As it gets bigger, it attracts larger ideas faster and so on and so on.

The original speck of sand for “Dirt,” came from my friend Carla. Carla is a lyricist, writer and one of my best friends. She was pregnant with her first child and looking for the perfect name, so Carla signed-up for the Name-of-the-Day on a Nameberry.com (a resource I recommend for all writers.). When it was an usual name, she tweeted it. Two days in a row odd boy names were posted–Cathmore then Dickran.

When I saw them I thought they were horrible baby names, but intriguing character names. Togather the names conjured the image of two kids about 10-years old digging urgently in the dirt, digging for their lives. I did not know why they were digging for their lives, I only knew that they were.  The image kept popping up in my head. It was a good way to start a scene or a novel. Start with it and see where it goes. I ignored it.

A few days later browsing for cast iron at a local flea market, I came across an old kettle for rending syrup, made by the Wagner Cast Iron Company. The woman running the booth gave me a deal I could not refuse–$20. It was mine.

Wagner Kettle with Ruler

Wagner Kettle bottom
Wagner Cast Iron Kettle circa 1900




It is late September, about time to decide to participate in NaNoWriMo or not. I usually make an attempt, but this year I was leaning toward not. What would I write about? A light bulb went off–the digging kids! I would consider it.

Almost out of nowhere, the thought came to me while driving, “Cathmore and Dickran are digging for the cast iron kettle.” Why? I did not know, but the thought was intriguing enough to make me miss my turn.

The Match is lit

Why would two kids need to dig-up a cast iron kettle to save their lives? The answer to that could be a very interesting story; a very interesting young adult story. Since the main feature of the inspiring image was dirt, I thought it a fun working title. Dirt. “I’m writing Dirt. No, really it is Dirt.” And this is the match point, the big bang, the tipping point; the grain of an idea is swiftly forming into a world of its own.  And the speed at which it forms, I do not know if you call it speed, it is instantaneous. Suddenly, there is this other world waiting for me to explore and report on. Writing that sounds crazy. It is as close to a truthful description as I can render at the moment.

I checked the meanings of the two names on nameberry.com and would post them here, but they no longer appear in the site’s array. Weird. Luckily, I wrote them down.

Cathmore–is a boy’s name and means protector-warrior or great warrior and is of Viking origin.

Dickran–means “name of the king.” It is a placeholder name until a young king or prince can choose or earn his true name. It also has Viking roots.

This is getting interesting. I picture Cathmore as a girl, though. Can you imagine growing up with either name? The image of kids saying “Cathmore” as if it were a Kung Fu movie phrase came to mind. A little girl weilding a Viking sword and stabbing into a bale of hay to her father’s delight followed by her thrusting an imaginary sword for her third-grade friends at show-and-tell because her father would not allow her to bring it to school, played as a mini-movie in my head.

Dickran is such an unfortutate name for a kid that I picture him as the type of kid people just like and never tease no matter the provocation. That is his superpower. He is the future king and people naturally gravatate to him. Cathmore is the the warrior protector of Dickran, the future king. King of what? I did not know. And what must she protect him from? No clue.

Cathmore and Dickran are now brother and sister. Cathmore is 14 and Ryan, as the kids at school call him, is 10.  Dirt would begin in the present in our world. I know Ran’s superpower; discovering Cathmore’s superpower will be mine and her journey of discovery as I write.

Rumaging through a box looking for my passport, I come across a DVD of the movie, “Harvey,” with Jimmy Stewart. If you do not know the movie you should see it. It is about an ambitious young man who, after drinking heavily one night, is befriended by a pooka that appears to him as a six-foot white rabbit named Harvey. Harvey decides who can see him and who cannot. In the movie, it explains pookas are spirits that often appear as large animals and are fond of playing pranks and hanging out where alcohol is consumed in large quantities. They can manipulate time. Pookas are from Irish lore.  I was intrigued by them since I was a kid.  Cath and Ran are digging for a cast iron kettle to summon a pooka in order to save their father and their own lives.

About a year prior to this I read a book, Darling Jim by Irish author Christian Moerk. It is a suspenseful mystery with an unique structure. The book talks about a Gaelic tribe of Seanchaí, (pronounced: shaun – a – key). They are oral historians and superb storytellers. I like the idea a lot and decided to use it. The “kids” must summon a pooka to help them find The Seanchi who can tell them their story and hopefully reveal how to save their father, if he can be saved.

Dirt is now the title because Dirt is the name of the pooka Cath and Ran summon. Despite starting very normally in a middle school in our world, I am well into the Fantasy sub-genre of Young Adult, so why not go all the way. The “magic” will derive from minerals. Dirt, minerals, see the connection? I worked for a number of years arranging geologically based walking tours and mine tours for the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. I like geology and know a thing or too about it. I even know some geology jokes that are funny.

The minerals can imbibed human characteristics and are almost God-like when they do. No need to go into the details now. I was on to something with this. Giving carbon, gold, iron and diamond personalities? This was going to be fun. All I needed was a villain.

The mineral serpentine would make a good villain based on its name and characteristic green color. Serpentine is a minor element and would need to free the essence of a BIG element to complete her evil plan of removing the human scourge from the earth; a minor mineral with delusions of grandeur. Salt. Serpentine would free Salt. There is a huge salt deposit under Lake Erie not far from where I live. The perfect place to imprison the essence of Salt and keep him from imbibing human characteristics.

Googling the mineral serpentine, I stumbled across an image of an intricately carved serpentine mask unearthed beneath the Pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacan outside Mexico City. This cemented the story and the world of Dirt.

It is the writer’s craft to take elements, mundane and wonderful, and mete them in an interesting way that tells a tale.  I can write about them, but it is not like experiencing them in a story. In writing, this is where the art lives.

I hope it is clear how this world formed and how it did so from my life.  Another writer may find value in the names Cathmore and Dickran, but their story would be very different because it formed in their universe.

I created a board on Pinterest to bring all these threads, and a few did not talk about, together.  Gather your thoughts on a Pinterest board, it is illuminating, and I mean that. If you find something cool that may add to Dirt, feel free to add it to my board.

Darn it! Did not include the Viking sword, the Titanic, runes or The Pickins in the post. Oh, well, you can see it on the board.

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