I think the question I get asked the most often is where do my ideas come from? I was asked that most recently by Catherine Treadgold, the lady who runs Camel Press in Seattle, Washington. Camel Press reprinted my first novel, Daughter of Fortune, and made it available as an ebook, too. On January 1, Camel Press will reprint Miss Whittier Makes a List as a paperback and an ebook. Gradually, all my moldy oldies from Signet are coming out again, plus a new series.
Catherine recently needed to write a press release for "Miss Whittier," and asked me to provide some info about where the idea came from to write about a Quaker lass from Nantucket who ends up rescued by a Royal Navy frigate and forced to sail to Europe (she'd been on her way to South Carolina).
Here's how a writer thinks, or at least, this one: I'd been going through a stack of my children's old picture books and came across Brinton Turkle's engaging book, Thy Friend, Obadiah, about a little Quaker boy on Nantucket who is forever getting in trouble. It was a favorite of my son, Sam, and I loved it, too. The stories are set in the early days of the new American republic, that early 19th century era I like so well. I owed a Regency to Signet, and that was the era. Why not write about an American, for a change? I know the breed pretty well.
I looked through the book, ragged now, and asked myself: What would be the complete, absolute polar opposite of a proper young Quaker lass from Nantucket? It would be the salty commander of a Royal Navy frigate, on the prowl for French, and trying to keep the neutral Americans from doing anything that might aid said French. Looking at that children's book led directly to Miss Whittier Makes a List.
I never know where the next Big Idea will come from, so I take all my casual reading, or any activities quite seriously (or try to). Years ago, I came across a juez de campo (brand inspector) as a footnote in an obscure text of borderlands history in the 18th century. Just a footnote. Last fall at this time we were visiting the aforementioned Sam in northern New Mexico. I'd been there before to visit, but this time I seemed to be thinking about that brand inspector. Bingo. That was the beginning of The Spanish Brand Series for Camel Press. The first book will be out June 1, and it's called The Double Cross. Gee, a whole series from a footnote and a visit to my younger son (which makes any and all future trips to New Mexico tax deductible, because I'm doing research as I visit).
Right now, I'm writing Safe Passage, a novel about the Mormon exodus from Mexico in 1912, when the 1910-20 ejido revolution made living in the Mormon Colonies in Mexico too dangerous. The story of that exodus is in its centennial year now. I decided that my hero is going to be going back to Mexico, and not out. He has to find his estranged wife, and try to figure out how to get his cattle out, so they can start over somewhere else, if she's willing. Or so he thinks. It's not going to be easy, and thereby hangs the tale, of course. Novels, as life, are often a study in how much can go wrong.
It might be easier for me to think up ideas because historical fiction is my game. I depend on history to give me my framework, and Cleo the History Muse is a friend o' mine. This brand inspector happens to be living in 1780 on the border of Comancheria, a hyper-dangerous part of New Mexico/Texas, with the ferocious Comanches eager to relieve Spaniards of both hair and cattle. And Spain's power in the region is diminishing. All this is true, so I can waltz in and add some characters.
It's the same with Miss Whittier on the ocean, and Ammon Hancock trying to salvage something - anything - from revolutionary Mexico. The ideas are there because history is there. I respect it, I don't play fast and loose with it, and I enjoy the intricacy of fitting my fictional folks into realistic settings.
Nuff said for now. I'll check in again soon.