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Where my writing ideas come from

Reading Goosebumps is where it all started.

People have asked me a number of times where I get my ideas to write. I honestly can't give a good explanation to that other than they just 'come to me.'

When I was a kid reading Goosebumps, I always thought it would be cool to release my own Goosebumps series. So I began churning out short story after short story, and kids in class itched to read the next one. I wrote titles such as "The Day the Halloween Decorations Came to Life" and "Tenth Planet," mimicking what I read from R.L. Stine. I read all of the original Goosebumps back then, and the characters and major themes from those books transferred over to my stories. It was from there that my love of the horror/thriller genre was born.

The "Tenth Planet" story won me a Young Authors Award in fifth grade, and I had the opportunity to attend an Illinois State Writer's Workshop with other Young Authors Award winners. They gave me a free book and the author was there to speak on the book's behalf. It was a really cool experience.

I suppose stories are inspired. Like a lot of artists, I get most of my ideas from real-life events, and I take those ideas and stretch them into fiction. After all, truth is stranger than fiction. I remember writing a poem, "Emajanation Street," about a woman who crashed her car into a hair salon by the same name in Charleston, Ill. I included the poem in my first book, 20 Something. I I thought the idea of a woman crashing into an imaginary street was too poetic of an idea to pass up.

"Emajanation Street"

An elderly woman crashed into

Emajanation Street

A hair salon open 9-8

She crashed her 'Olds right through the glass window

It is said

She saw a 9 or 8 year old in the reflection

It is said

She had no seat belt, no airbags

Nothing holding her back

People gathered round, mouths open

She wore a smile on her face

It's a grim story. I just took a true story and added a fictional element to it. When the Beatles wrote "A Day in the Life," they got the idea from both the death of Tara Browne and from a newspaper article in the Daily Mail. Browne was the 21-year-old heir to the Guinness fortune who had crashed his car in 1966, and the newspaper article spoke of "4,000 holes in the road in Blackburn, Lancashire."

For those that remember the lyrics, two of the verses specifically mention this.

"He blew his mind out in a car

He didn't notice that the lights had changed

A crowd of people stood and stared

They'd seen his face before

Nobody was really sure if he was from the House of Lords"

"I read the news today, oh boy Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire

And though the holes were rather small

They had to count them all

Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall

I'd love to turn you

Several writers write about things they know, and I am no different. I've written about baseball, golf, parenting, food, hiking and nature, places I'm familiar with, things I've experience in life, and people I've run across. Then you take those elements and you flush out a world, a story. To me, a story is more real when you've experienced it.

I always liked the work of Alfred Hitchcock. Some horror films or TV shows are fun for kitsch reasons, such as The Walking Dead. It seems unbelievable that people would come back as zombies and starve on human blood, or Jaws where a shark purposefully seeks out swimmers. But then there are stories that feel like they could really happen, such as Hitchcock's Rear Window, or Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl. What happens when someone thinks you're crazy, but you're not? What happens when you married a psychotic woman? I'm not saying that Jaws wasn't scary. I was terrified of it. I didn't want to swim in the ocean for years, but when it gets right down to it, something that is real is always more terrifying to me than something that is not. Maybe that's why so many people freaked out about The Exorcist because that could really happen.

Anyway, I live in Chicagoland suburbia, and as I was walking through the neighborhood recently, I saw seeds for future stories to pop into my head. Some of the best storylines from novels occur right in suburbia. If you just look at the examples below, you'll see what I mean.

To Kill a Mockingbird - What's up with Boo Radley?

Little Fires Everywhere - Is Shaker Heights an Ideal Community?

It - What are these kids' role versus evil in Derry?

Bluest Eye - How does the town of Lorain, Ohio affect the characters?

Great Gatsby - What is the story of East Egg versus West Egg?

I hope this post has been enlightening for you writers out there, and you may have already known a lot of this, but it never hurts to read it from another perspective. Now clear your mind, and pay attention to the world around you. The ideas will start coming.

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