Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Where in the Heck?

Jo Robertson is back here at Over Coffee with her latest exciting thriller, The Avenger. I haven’t had the chance, yet, to read this one but based on her debut novel, The Watchers, you can bet I’ll be ordering it post haste.

It’s stories like this that makes a person wonder where the writers get their ideas. In fact, I think this is one of the most frequently asked questions received by authors.

Jo talks about her inspiration for The Avenger. 

An author's greatest fear is that one day she'll put her fingers to the keyboard and a complete disconnect between her brain and her body will occur.  Nothing will come to mind, no ideas or images, no characters or plot. She'll have gone to the well and come up with no water. 

The thought is terrifying, but I think it's a fear all writers live with.

So where do writers get their ideas? And why don't they come up empty? 

The standard answer, of course, is everywhere. Travel, school, home and family, church, any experience you've ever had goes into the catalogue in your brain's computer. Lots of it is drivel, and you're glad you don't have the access code to it, but often there's a kernel of an idea, the budding seed of a character or plot or setting that speaks to your imagination. 

As long as the writer continues to experience life in all its varied forms, the ideas should never dry up.  At least that's the theory LOL. 

While I was teaching high school, I took a lot of random classes at the local university, primarily to move myself up on the pay scale, but also because I love learning. I took drama, math, and English courses. Finally, I settled into psychology and criminal justice. Every story or experience or case file related by my teachers opened my mind to the possibility of more ideas, all based on WHAT IF? I learned about criminal law, criminal investigation, drugs, and psychos. 

My idea for the serial killer that inhabits Kate Myers and Ben Slater's world in my debut book THE WATCHER came from an abnormal psychology class I took. Psych classes generate great ideas, by the way. 

I don't want to spoil the journey into the killer's dark mind, however, so I'll just say that the concept of his pathology, what drives him to kill a certain type of person, is based on the true case of a person like my killer, whom I've named John Smith. I love the benign, ordinary sound of his name.

In the actual psychology case, the patient wasn't a murderer, but his uniqueness made me ask questions: how would a person like this feel growing up? How would he handle changes in his life? What kind of family dynamics might torture him further?

Thus, the villain in "The Watcher" sprang to life in my mind. 

The idea for my second book THE AVENGER came from a course I took called "Uppers, Downers, and All-Arounders," which addressed the history of drugs and their effect on the human body. I found more information about legal and illegal street drugs than I wanted to know, but I started wondering what would happen if someone had fantastic Olympic-style natural abilities, and these were enhanced by designer drugs so that he was able to perform almost superhuman feats? 

What could the government do with these kinds of people?  So "The Avenger," a cross between the TV show "Alphas" and "24" was born. 

Cover blurb for The Avenger. 

 A clandestine government organization called Invictus "recruits" outstanding athletes for secret projects. But their top agent Jackson Holt has extraordinary, almost preternatural, qualities not even the Organization can explain.  

Olivia Gant, professor of Ancient Studies at a private college in California, was once Jack's childhood sweetheart. But when he deserted her, he left her alone to combat her stepfather's drunken attentions and her mother's careless neglect.  

Nearly twenty years later, their paths cross in a mission to fight a bizarre religious serial killer whose methods include crucifixion and burial alive. Olivia and Jack battle for happiness against years of secrecy and distance as they use Olivia's expertise in Latin and Jack's special gifts to track a brutal killer. 

Can Olivia forgive Jack for his long-ago betrayal? Can Jack allow Olivia to witness the terrible Change that makes him such an  effective killing machine? Excerpt


How about you, readers?

  • How do you stimulate your creative juices? Whether it's art, music, writing, scrapbooking, or handiwork, what motivates you to indulge in your passion?

  • What do you do for fun and entertainment? Any out-of-the-box kinds of hobbyists out there? 

Like many writers, I penned my first story at a young age.  However, a family and a teaching career put my writing dreams on hold until my Advanced Placement seniors conned me into writing my first complete manuscript.  That story, which subsequently won RWA's Golden Heart Award in 2006, was THE WATCHER.

From the moment I put my fingers to the keyboard, the
barrier between my brain and the paper lifted, the story flew from my mind, and I fell in love with everything about the process of writing.

Raised as an Army brat, I lived in Germany as a child, Northern Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Idaho, and Utah before finally settling in Northern California.  Whenever I visit my sister in Virginia or my brothers in North Carolina and Florida, upon returning home I remember again why I love Northern California, home of the ancient redwoods, the fecund forests and the rugged Pacific Coastline. 

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~Sia McKye~ said...

Jo, Welcome back to Over Coffee.

I can't wait to read this one!

Anna Campbell said...

Waving madly at Jo and Sia! Jo, I find the origins of your books absolutely fascinating. It's amazing how those off-track bits of information or experiences can sometimes be the important ones, isn't it? I know that horrible fear of not having any more stories in me - so far, touch wood, it hasn't happened. I find though when I panic, it's the worst thing I can do. I need to relax and trust in my subconscious. Things that stimulate my subconscious include the sea and music and reading. It's like if I turn my conscious mind away from worrying about my next story, it lets the spirit inside get to work somehow. It's all very mysterious!

Anna Sugden said...

Hey Jo and Sia! I certainly have the fear of the disconnect between brain and keyboard, but that's usually when I sit down each day to write!

I don't run out of ideas - in fact, I have a stack of ideas in my 'ideas' box that I hope I'll get the chance to write one day. And my brain is always asking 'what if?'!

Funnily enough, I find my creative juices are stimulated best when I'm doing something I hate like cleaning the bathroom or ironing! LOL

I don't have any weird hobbies, but I love watching hockey and football, gardening, cooking, cross-stitch, Japanese Hanjie puzzles, computer adventure games and reading.

Lisa Mondello said...

Great post, Jo, and love the excerpt!

I'm like Anna, I have way too many ideas. When I finish a book I have a hard time deciding what to work on next.

Anna, I think housework frees up the creative side of the brain. That's why sorting sox and folding laundry bring on the best ideas.

Weird hobbies. Depends on what you think is weird.

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Goooood morning Jo and Sia! And I'll wave at the two Bandita Anna's too! *Waving!*

Obviously all the writers are up and on the blog this morning. We all dread the thought of running out of ideas, but haven't yet. Grins. Like you, Anna S., I have STACKS of ideas just waiting for a story. Grins. If I ever need inspiration, I have a big, fat, enormously stuffed file of tidbits.

And Jo, I love taking classes because it does the same thing - stimulates ideas, concepts and my favorite "What If!?!"

Love the excerpt, and can't wait to figure out my new Kindle so I can download The Avenger!

KJ Howe said...

Hi Jo and Sia!!! I read THE WATCHER and loved it!!! I can't wait to read THE AVENGER.

I find a get ideas mostly through people watching, reading current events, and just daydreaming, a powerful way to engage the subconscious.

Jo Wake said...

Hi Jo and Sia, Jo here LOL. I have lots of ideas but have never managed to write them down. Blogging seems to be my métier. I haven't yet read your books, I will though.

Nancy said...

Jo and Sia, good morning! Fun post, Jo. My ideas, like yours, come from everything around me. I think writers and artists (whether or not they follow through on their ideas) have a "what if" circuit in the brain. Seeing something, hearing something, learning something, even reading something if interest triggers an "okay, but what if it where like _this_?"

And some of us follow through in that. I'm sorry to say I know people who have those ideas but never act on them because the think they "could never do that."

Anonymous said...

Hi Jo and Sia!

Love the blurb, Jo, it really draws you in. I get my ideas from life experiences, news, watching people--you know, regular ways. But, the first romance I wrote was spurred by my frustration at Julie Garwood for not writing a book about a couple of secondary characters in The Bride. I really wanted to know all the details of what happened to the heroine's sister and her marriage to her Scottish Highlander. One day, after reading the story for about the 20th time, I just got up and said to myself, "I'm writing it so every time I read this, I'll also know the other sister's whole story." It only took me about ten minutes to realize I had no idea how to write like Julie Garwood or where she would take those characters! However, the germ of the idea for the book I did end up writing sprang completely from that one moment of total and complete frusttration. (P.S. I STILL wish she would write that sequel, doggonit!!)

K.E. Saxon (I'm typing my name on this, because the blog's giving me grief when I try to use my google acct. to reply)

Jo Robertson said...

Hi, everyone! Thanks again, Sia, for having me back on your blog.

I'm a bit hung over this morning, LOL. No, not from drinking, but from staying up too late watching Sons of Anarchy on FX. That show is my wicked weakness LOL.

Jo Robertson said...

Hi, Anna, fellow Bandita! Yes, I think tensing up about your writing is one of the worst solutions to a brain freeze. You know the story's there in your head, but you have to relax and allow it to come out.

Anyway, that's the way I justified my vacation this weekend in Monterey!

jo robertson said...

Hi, Anna S.! I envy your idea "box." I'm afraid I have to interact with something to stimulate my ideas. They usually come from outside of myself, although the stories are from inside (if that makes sense).

Not unusual, you say? What are Japanese Hinjie puzzles?

jo robertson said...

Hi, Lisa! Thanks so much for stopping by. I'm with you and Anna S. on the mindless activity thing being a great place to come up with ideas. I like to do it when I'm cooking, which is a very restful activity for me.

jo robertson said...

Hey, Jeanne! It looks like we're having a Bandita quorum here with Sia.

Hope you get that Kindle figured out. I recently bought a second one and immediately afterward Amazon came out with the Kindle Fire, which I'm dying to get my hands on LOL!

jo robertson said...

KJ, isn't people watching a great activity? I feel like a perverted old woman when I go to the mall, sit on the bench where moms take their kids to play, and watch the interesting activities children (and their mothers -- even MORE interesting!) engage in.

jo robertson said...

Thanks, Jo Wake (a great name btw, LOL)! I hope you enjoy the books. I'm very bad about writing my ideas down too, but I'm going to reform. Somehow, I always think I'll remember them later, but often never do.

Jo robertson said...

I agree, Nancy. WHAT IF is the great question artists of all sorts ask themselves. Well, and scientists, too! Everything discoverable seems to start with a hypothesis, right?

Jo Robertson said...

What a wonderful story, K.E. Saxon! Thanks for stopping by and sharing. It's so frustrating when authors don't tie up the threads of the secondary stories' characters. I have a secondary character in "The Avenger," who's quite villainous and I hear him shouting in my subconscious to write HIS story. Hmmmm, interesting.

Jo Robertson said...

Oh, and K.E., sorry about the difficulty. I've had lots of trouble with this format in the past also, but today's it's working for me. I'm using the name and url.

Linda Andrews said...

Great blurb. I love hearing how writers develop their stories.

Anna Sugden said...

Oh, Jo, my idea box is full of articles and pictures and all sorts of snippets of things that have made me think 'what if'. It's also full of scraps of paper where I've jotted something down.

Japanese Hanjie puzzles are logic puzzles which give you a picture at the end. It's a blank grid with clues as to how many squares are filled in per row and column. When you've worked out which ones and filled them in, you get a picture. I find them more fun than Sudoku or the other number puzzles.

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Morning Sia and Jo!

Fun blog post! And just in case you have any doubts, I have read both Watcher and Avenger (there are real perks to being Jo's critique partner!) and they are GREAT reads! You are in for hours of enjoyment with lots of action and spine-tingling suspense with these books. ;-)

Nancy, I love your "what if" circuit! I knew we writers were "wired differently!" :-) I never know when something will spark an idea for a story either. So I try to take in as much info in as many different ways as I can.


Caren Crane said...

Jo, so great to hear more about your new book. I'm reading 'The Watcher' right now and it's fantastic. Really captivating stuff! I know what you mean about psychology being fertile ground for novelists. Everything I ever read in 'Scientific American Mind' (a super magazine!) gives me story ideas. :)

I'm also with KJ on people watching. I love to imagine what sort of dialogue people are having and what their situation is based on their body language and facial expressions. I've always studied people, since I was a little girl, so that's probably been some fodder for the old grist mill, too.

I love word games and often run across words in crossword puzzles that send me to the computer to do research. I love research! I often write down rabbit holes I want to go down as I'm researching one thing and end up researching those later. I've learned some of the weirdest stuff! Also StumbleUpon is a great site for finding odd things that make you go "hmm".

Best of luck with 'The Avenger', Jo!

Larissa Hoffman said...

Hi Jo and Sia,
Like your post. Watcher and Avenger sound great! I can't wait to check them out. I taught high school psychology and our (my students & I) favorite unit was on the criminal mind.

I found myself in a similar situation, loving to write when I was young, but then life took over. I had stories in my head, but never put them down on paper. We adopted our two girls and I became a stay-at-home Mom. The stories entertained me while they were babies, but I was still too busy or exhausted (& out of practice) to write. We moved to Japan, my preschoolers were suddenly in school for more than 2 hours, and Time fell into my lap. I haven't stopped writing since.

Local news stories often give me ideas, but also music lyrics and scenery. We live in GA & driving through the mountains always prompts new ideas.

I'm glad you posted this on KOD. I'm a new member and enjoy checking out blogs!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Well howdy everyone. What fun reading through the comments and seeing our similarities and difference.

I've been MIA. My apologies. I had a long list of business to handle today. Just got home. Glad to be here and it's cold--40 degrees, ugh. I'm so not ready for winter weather, darnit!

~Sia McKye~ said...

I'm going to be reading The Avenger in the next few days and I'll be sure to report how it goes.I'm really looking forward to it.

jo robertson said...

Ah, Anna S., that makes sense. I'm very weak at anything that relates to logic, you know, those if all somethings are somethings and some something are something else, then all blah are blahs. I go nuts with those things!

Funny, but my youngest daughter is really good with Sudoku, beats me every time, and she's supposed to be the family dummy! JK, of course! That's what SHE says because everyone else in the family except her and me is hecka smart!

Jo Robertson said...

Hi, Linda! Thanks for stopping by. My sister's name is Linda and I've always loved how pretty it is.

Are you a writer too?

Jo Robertson said...

Anna S., you organizational skills put me to shame!

Jo Robertson said...

Hi, Cindy! Didn't I just see you?! Cindy and I had a working lunch today.

Thanks for the compliments. I appreciate your support.

Jo Robertson said...

Hi, Caren, so glad you're enjoying "The Watcher"!

It's so easy to get sucked into that research hole (which is so fascinating and alluring) and forget WHY you're researching!

When I taught drama, I had my students act out different scenarioes, using body and facial language only. It's interesting to see how people display emotion without words. I think that's why people watching is so interesting.

Jo Robertson said...

Hi, Larissa, I'm so glad you stopped by. Boy, would I love to pick your brain. I've only taken a few psychology courses, so I'm a real newbie!

So glad you now have time to write, and I hope you enjoy the journey!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Movies and music for me!
Sia, I sent you an email - did you get it or did it go MIA?

~Sia McKye~ said...

Alex, found it and reply sent!

Speaking of movies, son wants to see the one about time travel--IN TIME, I think it's called. I'll let you know what I think of it afterward.

Donna MacMeans said...

Hey Jo - Sorry I'm so late to the party. I was speaking to a group of school children. I was expecting to speak to high schoolers - but the organizer thinks the heavy rain kept them away. I ended up speaking to the parents of all the elementary age kids there (grin).

I get ideas from travel (Seduction of the Duke), movies (The Trouble with Moonlight), actual historical events (Redeeming the Rogue) & just playing the what-if game (The Education of Mrs. Brimley). As you said, ideas are everywhere. The writer just needs to add a twist of the unexpected. (Like elementary kids showing up for a romance author's talk - grin).

Kennan said...

My Mom Rocks! This is Jo's daughter here :) I read The Watcher in 2 days, and it usually takes me a couple of weeks to finish a book; kind of an ADHD reader thing. Super exciting stuff, and the creepiest villain I have ever come across in fiction.

I find the biggest obstacle to writing is just making the uninterrupted time to do it. Once I actually start, the ideas keep flowing. Living next to an exciting place also helps. I can look out my window and see a priest with a horrible tupee and a lover's quarrel, among a thousand other things. I think environment really sparks the imagination best.

Congratulations on your books, Mom! The Avenger sounds as thrilling as the first!


Jo Robertson said...

Hi, Donna! Thanks for coming by anyway! I agree -- travel is a great place to get ideas, for me not so much exotic places, but ordinary ones. I'm visiting Jersey City this weekend and am looking forward to the "culture exchange." LOL

Jo Robertson said...

Thanks for coming by, daughter #2! I'm glad you enjoyed "The Watcher." You have a grand view out your window to spark lots of writing ideas. I hope you continue your writing venture.

Jo Robertson said...

Sia, thanks so much for having me here yesterday. It's always a pleasure to visit your blog!