Sunday, June 06, 2010

Guest Blogger: E.F. Watkins

The winner of E.F.'s book is: tetewa. Congrats, tetewa! I'll send E.F. your contact info. Thanks to everyone who participated.
Where Do You Get Your (Weird) Ideas?

Every writer who’s published more than a couple of stories will be asked, in interviews and even casual conversation, “Where do you get your ideas?”

When you write on paranormal themes, though, the question may come with more of an accent on the second word. As in, “How do you think of such bizarre/creepy/violent things? You seem normal enough, but--!”

I like to smile and answer that I get my ideas “from real life.”

Since I’ve written about vampires, genetic-mutant yuppies, an ancient fertility god passing for a modern-day actor, and a neo-pagan cult shaking things up in a small Pennsylvania coal town, I guess they might not see the connection right away. But all of these stories were inspired by very ordinary experiences.

Someone else might have chosen to turn them into romances or mysteries or even humorous novels. I’m just compelled to give things that out-of-this-world twist.

DANCE WITH THE DRAGON, for example, started with two characters — lovers who shared some paranormal traits and a desire to fight evil. But I needed to put them up against a villain who’d really put them to the test. Around the time I was conceiving the story, David Koresh and the Branch Davidians dominated the news. That started the gears turning in my head. How about a cult leader who was an actual vampire? Who used what sounded like religious rhetoric to draw people in, mesmerized them, then “turned” some followers to be his enforcers and milked the rest for their blood? The more I read about how real cults operate, the more parallels I found. I let the group kidnap a senator’s daughter, and suddenly my hero and heroine faced a formidable enemy!

BLACK FLOWERS grew out of my experiences covering visual art for many years for a daily newspaper. A couple of decades ago, corporate headquarters often held rotating art exhibits in their lobbies, and many were classy enough to rate reviews. Some were pharmaceutical companies. Sometimes I’d encounter a high level of security before I could even get into the company gallery, which made me speculate about what they kept so secret. I imagined a woman artist married to the head of such a company who knew little about what her husband did all day. What if she began to suspect it was something nasty, at odds with her own very humanitarian ideals? I upped the stakes throwing in some uncanny murders by electrocution, and putting even her own children at risk.

I once overheard an…er… “cosmetically challenged” young woman fantasizing about going to Hollywood and throwing herself at the handsome male movie stars. I realized that while many plots have homely men winning the hearts of gorgeous women, the reverse is rarely shown. So in PARAGON, I decided to flip the Pygmalion story. A very plain and somewhat scarred young woman gets the chance to “create” the man of her dreams with the promise that he will love her as she is -- providing she never asks who he really is or where he came from. I liked the idea of a dark fairytale with a loophole. Of course, eventually she’s going to try to find out! I based her handsome and talented actor boyfriend on the type of real celebrity who shoots to fame almost overnight based on sex appeal and getting the right breaks. (In this case, his rivals all tend to fall by the wayside due to unfortunate accidents.)

Inspiration for my latest book, DANU’S CHILDREN, goes all the way back to my childhood. My mother’s family hailed from northeastern Pennsylvania and we often visited relatives there. Compared to where we lived, in the New York metro area, the Lackawanna Valley seemed to me to be cut off from the outside world, trapped in time and scarred by its mining history. By the time I attended college there, it had grown even more economically depressed. I absorbed impressions of Jurassic potholes and stories of whole buildings disappearing into the ground and a large church sliding downhill, all from mine subsidence. From our campus, we could see one of the old slag heaps still burning in the distance. I thought the area felt cursed, poisoned — but by what? Or Whom? I filtered that question through my half-Irish ancestry and came up with the villainous entity of DC.

In short, if you’re searching for a unique character, plot twist or setting, before you copy some cliché from the movies or TV, look at your own life. What has moved you, frightened you, intrigued you? What people, places or events have stuck in your mind over the years? Can you give one of them an extra twist to create a paranormal story?

But if you’re reading this, you already may be one of those writers who gets asked, “Where do you get your ideas??”

E. F. Watkins, author of DANCE WITH THE DRAGON (2004 EPPIE Winner, Best Horror Novel), RIDE A DANCING HORSE, BLACK FLOWERS (2006 EPPIE Finalist, Action/Thriller and 2007 Indie Excellence Award Finalist, Mystery/Thriller), PARAGON and DANU'S CHILDREN

"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious."--Albert Einstein
E.F. will give away a copy of Danu's Children to one commenter. Her winner will be selected and posted here on Tuesday evening. Stop back by to see if you won.


Blogger Mary Kirkland said...

Great blog post. I'm always wondering where writer's get their ideas from, so it's very interesting to to hear from you how you came up with the story lines.

1:19 PM  
Blogger Rosie said...

Thanks for the great post!! I always enjoy reading about how authors come up with stories.

2:55 PM  
Blogger Linda Andrews said...

I enjoyed your post and have drawn upon my own family's past in some of the stories.. I had a friend of mine comment on one of my stories--she doesn't drink coffee? That's so you.
Have any of your personal habits made it on the pages of your books?

6:03 PM  
Anonymous E. F. Watkins said...

Actually, Linda, I just finished a book in which, for the first time, I based the character pretty closely on myself. I'm deliberately trying to give her some of my tastes and quirks. The funny thing is, as soon as she started doing what she had to do for the plot, and interacting with the other characters, she became her own person! But when she needs to express her personal tastes or dislikes, I usually throw my own in there.

6:14 PM  
Anonymous E. F. Watkins said...

I'm holding a little contest to give away an e-book of DANU'S CHILDREN (or, if the winner has another strong preference, one of my other books). My next book, ONE BLOOD, to come out in September, is a prequel to one of my other novels. The first person to guess which one and post the answer gets the free e-book! You can just take a guess, or you can cheat and go to the Jan. 24 entry on my own blog,
Good luck!

6:20 PM  
Blogger SandyG265 said...

Interesting post. I'm not sure I would come up with vampires etc. from things that happen in life.

7:03 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Great blog post. I'm always asked that question myself. I, too, love to put a paranormal spin on things that happen in real life. My latest came about when I was driving through one of Cook County, IL many forest preserves with a friend.

7:14 AM  
Blogger tetewa said...

I'm always looking for new authors to read, enjoyed the post!

10:12 AM  
Anonymous Silke said...

Hehehe I liked this. :)
I get ideas for stuff at the oddest times, in the oddest places.
Stood at work, in the warehouse, and suddenly imagined the hero running in, chasing a bad guy, and the two of them making a hell of a mess, cartons and goods falling off the shelves... until he comes around a corner and the heroine takes him out with a ceramic hand basin. (I work at a plumbing merchant...)
I pictured the guy getting up, while the bad guy is about to escape, and our hero takes him out with a length of copper pipe, used as a javelin.
Seriously... go figure. :) Like I said, weird ideas, in weird places, at weird times.

6:21 PM  
Anonymous E. F. Watkins said...

Thanks for the great feedback. I'm glad everyone enjoyed the post! Don't forget to guess the book title--we still need a winner for the free e-book!

6:24 PM  

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