Strange Inspiration

This post is a little odd; it’s amazing that it even exists, frankly. The idea came to me earlier this week, and though I had, at first, decided to not even have a Friday entry this week (I’ve been embroiled in finishing up Room 3 and working on my upcoming Wednesday Fiction series), it seemed too good to pass up. At the very least, I thought it might be fun to look back at the source of some of my stories.

I suspect it’s common for writers to find themselves somewhat loathe to reveal the sources of their inspiration. I mean, is it really smart to show people how the sausage is made? What if people think that “inspiration” has instead spawned a total ripoff? I don’t know. I debated that for awhile, but I figure, what the hell? It’s not like I’m 100% ripping off a work of art, and it could be somewhat educational. It’s also not like I’ve avoided the topic in the past.

It’s something of a cliche, but inspiration really does come from the oddest places. Take my “Rudest Man in Rock” piece, for instance. Some people identified that character as being based on Billy Corgan, and it’s mostly true. The title (and the line about the Gaultier) come from an interview with the man back in 2000, which you can read here. I still laugh all these years later at this:

“Nice skirt,” says Q, by way of friendly introduction.

“It’s not a skirt,” he replies gruffly, pulling back the long flap to reveal two trousered legs. “It’s a Gaultier.”

Of course it is.

The rest is pulled from different bits and pieces of rock lore that I’ve picked up over the years. An interview with Eddie Vedder here, a Kurt Cobain piece there, maybe some Robert Plant thrown into the mix. It comes from a place of real fascination with the mythology of rock, which is why I feel it breathes so well.

That’s the real key to solid inspiration: it needs to come from a place you can feel. Room 3, for example, drew its initial inspiration from the fantastic horror movie Videodrome and my childhood fascination and repulsion with the film. That story in particular shows just how far from inspiration one can stray and still find a coherent, fitting tale – all of the elements inspired by that film have since been removed, though it popped up again on my short story On The Air, which you should be seeing in an anthology in the next few months (don’t worry, I’ll have lots more to say about it in the near future).

My recent work, Once Upon a Friday, is inspired by a great deal of real-life events that I’ve encountered along with a couple of Douglas Coupland books: JPod, which details the day-to-day life of a group of office workers at a gaming software company and Hey Nostradamus!, a book about a school shooting. Every character in Once Upon a Friday is also inspired by at least one real-world person, and in some cases are amalgams of two or three people.

I really want to talk about my upcoming work, though. This story has been bouncing around my skull for a few months, and the original version had been intended for a TESSpecFic anthology, which may or may not still happen. Known as I Was Born for the Stage, I’m really excited about it. The story is set in the Old West of an alternate world America, where a devastating plague came across the plains states and wiped out most of civilization, leaving people either dead or transformed into aggressive mutants.

Magic is a very real thing in this world; the protagonist, Elsbet, is an 11-year-old apprentice who’s traveling East with her father to find out whether her aunt’s homestead still stands (a story that will be told elsewhere). They stop off in a small dusty town in Arizona to load up on supplies when their puppy runs off into a mysterious theater where Elsbet discovers the town’s dirty secret. It’s pretty much writing itself and is a lot of fun, so I can’t wait to share it with you, but it also spurred this post, as its inspiration comes from a recent Shins video that grabbed my imagination and wouldn’t let go:

So how about you? What movies, books, music, or other encounters have inspired your stories? I always love hearing these stories, so feel free to share.

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  1. Years ago, a fanfic piece I wrote was inspired by an episode of Little House on the Prairire that I watched while home sick with a cold, coupled with the recent arrest of Michael Skakel.

  2. First let me say this is one of the best posts I’ve ever read regarding not only inspiration but authenticity.
    Yesterday an author friend and I discussed a work in progress we’d received from a third author. Both of us feel she has talent – natural, raw, god-given or gods-given talent. However, the story was inauthentic and because of that neither of us made it past the first few pages.
    It felt as if she wrote the story based upon what she thought she should write – the words were did not originate in her heart, or her soul, or from anything she’s familiar with.
    I’ve read advice – authors and pundits have said – use your imagination, write from your imagination! You don’t have to know anything about anything to tell a good tale!
    But at the core of a story, no matter how imaginative, I believe there must be some truth that you, the author, knows. Some secret place or well or voice or inspiration residing within that you draw can from.
    Did I get it right? Is this what you mean?

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