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    Bridge Ladies Sometimes I think a meteor could strike the earth and wipe out mankind with the exception of my mother’s Bridge club — Roz, Bea, Bette, Rhoda, and Jackie — five Jewish octogenarians who continue to gather for lunch and Bridge on Mondays as they have for over fifty years. When I set out to learn about the women behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, and most of all the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Heaven Holds a Place for Those Who Pray

I never have ideas. I have a character, a line, a situation. I don’t really even know what an idea is or what it looks like or how it talks. For me, it’s the wheel on a grocery cart that wobbles. That’s what gets me started.  That is the pebble in my shoe. The fine crust of mantle in my nostril. You have five new ideas for a screenplay!  You have an idea for a new novel. Mazel tov! For me an idea is: let’s get ice cream from Bill’s, or let’s go to the mall. I’ve never had a Eureka moment. If you sink a few putts in life, you should be happy. Whenever a writer says he started with an idea, excuse yourself to make a phone call, get  a drink or powder your nose.

Virginia, where do ideas come from?

12 Responses

  1. The foodcourt? I heard this gorgeous story just yesterday. A writer, needing distraction and at the mall overheard a woman engaged in a taut discussion sigh, ‘It’s not the pizza. It’s the last fifteen years.’

  2. Aren’t ideas the result of creativity and inspiration sharing a glance across a crowded room?

  3. Tell me about it. Maybe it’s the word’s fault, leading me to believe that an “idea” pops up clean and complete, sure of its right to exist. But if that’s not how I roll, why should it? Look, it’s early over here, but now that I think about it, this may explain why I have filled pages during Nanowrimo yet failed to know why. Like other things, maybe it all comes down to confidence.

  4. “Virginia, where do ideas come from?”

    Hi. Virginia couldn’t make it, but she asked me to fill in for a sec.

    Ideas come from everywhere and they go everywhere because they are everywhere, which is the same as saying they come from nowhere and go nowhere and are nowhere.

    So much for ideas. Cheap in the bargain.

    Me, I never start with an idea. Same as you said. I start with one or more persons doing one — up! kettle’s whistling.

    Okay, I’m back. This is a few minutes later. I attended to the kettle and saw the sun was rising, its morning light shining in through the living room windows. I had the idea to stand there and watch.

    Is that a story idea? A poem idea? A picture idea? Is there a symphony there, or a ditty? What that is the that to which I refer? The sunrise over the lake? The man in his living room in his pajamas, watching, wondering where ideas come from, or not so much where do they come from, but how can he finish addressing the question?

    Ideas for pieces of creative bric-a-brac — stories, poems, paintings, songs, etc. — come from anywhere, but they never come alone. And they are not ideas. They are visitors, they are windows, they are doors, portals that we may open or that may open upon us despite our often having other things to do.

    My tea will be done steeping now. I have no madeleines.

  5. Thin air, a ripped stocking with a scratch line of blood, and time spent alone beyond the outstretched hands of conventional wisdom.

  6. First idea, I married him.
    Second idea, 7lbs 13oz.
    Third idea, 9lbs 1oz.
    Fourth idea, fourth book, write my ass off.

  7. Ideas are overrated. Not really. I just said that to make myself feel better since I never have them either. At least not the Eureka! moment ones. Which makes me love Tetman’s answer.

    I have a writer friend who was floundering with her latest work. She was slogging along, couldn’t get past 20K, and kept fiddling with those words over and over, looking for inspiration, some way, any way, to move the story forward. One day she went to this spot she visits every day – a gas station/seedy restaurant combo where you can pump gas, purchase food, and if so inclined, sit down in a hard, uncomfortable booth decorated in bright orange, with dirty silver napkin holders, and drench that hot dog with the ketchup and mustard bottles handled by all. It was there she became an inadvertent participant in a crime. The actual crime didn’t happen then – it was being discussed. Whatever had happened to Lorna? (not the real name). Lorna was missing, and my writer friend held a candlelight vigil because while Lorna had led a not so healthy lifestyle, lived in a ramshackle trailer in the backwoods with no electricity and running water, she’d been kind and sweet.

    And from there, my writer friend was obsessed with what happened to this woman, and the end result of what happened, (possibly) was a bit mind blowing. Suddenly, the shape of this true story became the fodder she needed to adjust what she’d already had in place, and those 20K words were adjusted, shifted to make room for this burgeoning idea. It truly was her Eureka! moment. She’s on fire writing it. She’s a fantastic writer anyway – and when the time is right, I’ll have to share who she is, the title etc.

    All that to answer, Virginia, where do ideas come from? Sometimes the doggone gas station.

    • The opposite of idea leading to story just happened to me this morning. For awhile now I’ve been thinking of a story centered on someone freezing to death on a lake (my morning walk is along a lake). This morning’s headline was about a woman found frozen on Lake Champlain. The reality is harsher than any story.

  8. Ideas for my column come from things I’ve done, seen, or heard from others. Ideas for other stories come from unusual things I’ve seen, like black squirrels in a cemetery, backwaters along a river, that sort of thing.

    Hurricane Michael has kept me from the water, where I like to be, but provided other ideas.

  9. A follow-up report — something resembling what writers often refer to as an “idea,” caught in the wild.

    Last night I was reading a short story (by Barry Hannah) and something in it reminded me of a specific incident I witnessed, and of my reaction to the incident, and of the context. It was not an incident I had ever thought of as a catalyst for a story — it was just something that had stuck with me. I put the book down and went to my desk and wrote the beginning few lines of a new story of my own. I had been in bed when I was reading Hannah’s story, and returned to bed, where I thought a little — only a little — about how the story might proceed, then I fell asleep.

    So, a few points: 1) I didn’t so much have an idea as I had an inspiration catalyzed by something else — in this case, another story; 2) I was in bed, in my pajamas already, but I got back up and wrote down enough lines generated by this catalyzed inspiration so that I would not lose it and would have a starting point when I returned to it; and 3) I didn’t work it all out as I lay in bed before falling asleep, so that whatever routes it may take — whatever paths of growth — will be fresh and will support the growth of a fresh story; I do not, this morning, know what those paths will be, or how the story will end, though I do have some general ideas.

    Now, the sun is rising over the lake and I must go see.

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