The Old Man in the Pit

Here’s a confession: nobody has ever, ever asked me where my ideas come from.

And I always wanted them to.

I  shrewishly read the answers in author interviews when they are asked this. It’s always cheekily put off, like “ideas are all around,” and “oh, you just write one word at a time and the story shows up.” That last one I actually came up with, but it’s a spin on what most writers say.

book and pencil

Here’s the truth. Fiction writers (especially fantasy writers) are molded in a combination of good fishermen, superstitious athletes and ancient Appalachians who built their houses with witches’ keyholes atop their chimneys, and they do not reveal the source of their mojo.

But me, I overshare. When I was little I told a friend that she wasn’t allowed to come and play at my house, because my mother didn’t like her. She told her mother, who was in the same Jazzercise class as my mother…it was an awkward session, when the confrontation hit, Patrick Swayze posters glaring down in disapproval.

Here’s what I really want to tell you about the well of my inspiration. I’ve learned over the years to keep my works-in-progress to myself, because just as wishes don’t come true if you say them aloud, my characters wither and die when they come into the light too soon. But there is a place, deep in the pit of me, where a squat, bald, gnarled old man capers and stirs. He uses a huge paddle, taller than he, and moves the sludge about.

ancient diver

Occasionally he brings up a pretty, showing its sparkle to me in the dead of night or while I drive my kids home from school. Its glint blinds me a little, sets a quiver in my gut, makes me smile a private smile, just to myself. Sometimes I get lucky enough to catch hold of what he hands me, and I can turn it over and over in my hands and put it to the page.

When that happens some of the sparkle dulls, and then the editing comes, but hopefully the shape of the thing remains.

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