Author: RJ MCarthy

Blog One 6-27-2019

Not infrequently, I’ve been asked how I generate ideas for stories. My answers are likely as broad as the question. They come from stories I’ve read (I read a lot), stories I’m mulling, stories overheard, stories remembered, and of course, stories imagined. Often, what emerges is an amalgam.

 

On occasion, a story idea has been triggered by an article I’ve read, e.g. the obscene level of unaddressed violence, sexual and otherwise, directed against Native women on Indian reservations. The result, my published novel, Where Seldom Is Heard. A contest-winning short story, Smile A Mighty Jesus, emerged from an older, undereducated relative of a good friend who misinterpreted “spinal meningitis.” Some of my stories have been catalyzed by broad-based reading that encompasses geography and history.

 

One short story sprung from a newspaper article about a Jewish-American who served in the Israeli Defense Force and experienced action in Lebanon against Hezbollah. I tied it into another article about street hoodlums counting coup with a cowardly brand of “tagging” by selecting, at random, an unsuspecting pedestrian and punching him from ambush.

 

A novel not yet published, The All-American from Scuffletown, developed from a professional contact with a lifetime alcoholic who, in his own inimitable way, had led a fascinating and (in my estimation) morally estimable life. I decided I wanted to write about him; he wanted me to. After detailed consultation with him, and with his permission, I did.

 

My soon to be published crime novel, Harmony, set in 2044 (therefore, it falls under SciFi as well), evolved from rising concern about unintended consequences of human gene editing. Specifically, I fear we need to be as concerned about what we might lose as humans compared to what we hope to gain.

 

A great friend, Kathy F, has been a wellspring of ideas over many years. Inherently bright and unapologetic about her intelligence, it is nevertheless delivered in butchered English replete with colloquial witticisms, proverbs, old saws, and sayings from an extended family rich in a riot of unforgettable nicknames. My requirement: to listen.

 

If I had to narrow my explanations for idea generation, I would emphasize keying on alertness to something that perks a storyteller’s ear and to record it ASAP. If the idea appears as you’re falling asleep, in a conversational aside, or in a dream upon awakening, record it then.

Ultimately, It’s my (your) imagination that expands the idea into a story.
 




7-15-2019


More on seizing creative ideas when they strike: Years ago (too many), Elmore Leonard, one of our pre-eminent crime fiction writers, addressed this subject in a manner as pithy as his dialogue. I’m unable to certify the setting, but as I recall it, he was sitting on a bench, possibly at a bus or trolley stop in New Orleans. He overheard one African-American man, chatting with another, use the expression, “Right from jump street.” My translation: Ab ovo. From the beginning. Is that accurate?  I don’t know, but that’s how it speaks to me. Over the years, I’ve heard it shortened to “Right from the jump” to the even briefer “From the jump.”

To Leonard’s point, he indicated that expression was going into his next novel. It did. Prior to that, however, he recorded the words as soon as he arrived home, possibly sooner if a writing implement and a scrap of paper were available.

I have written story ideas – names, tones of voice, facial characteristics, expressive language, colloquialisms, attitudes, projections of an imagined life – on restaurant receipts, napkins, on a tiny reminder pad my wife carries, on whatever is at hand when something impinges one of my senses. If I’m driving, I’ll ask her to please record it.

My suggestion: Be ready! Act immediately! I’ve never consciously experienced writer’s block (not sure why), but I sense that being alert to the whirl of subject matter the world hurls at us is one of the reasons, perhaps even a key. I keep a folder labeled (and filled with) “story ideas.” Periodically, I’ll review it. I suspect I will never use the majority of the ideas. But they’re there, awaiting me to rediscover them, to cull one as a gardener lovingly harvests a morning bloom to brighten a breakfast table. It’s a start.

If there are subjects, pertaining to my writing life, you’d like me to address, please feel free to let me know. You can reach out to me on
Facebook, and while you are there please like my page. 

RJ McCarthy



6-27-2019

Where Do the Ideas Come From?

Not infrequently, I’ve been asked how I generate ideas for stories. My answers are likely as broad as the question. They come from stories I’ve read (I read a lot), stories I’m mulling, stories overheard, stories remembered, and of course, stories imagined. Often, what emerges is an amalgam.

On occasion, a story idea has been triggered by an article I’ve read, e.g. the obscene level of unaddressed violence, sexual and otherwise, directed against Native women on Indian reservations. The result, my published novel, Where Seldom Is Heard. A contest-winning short story, Smile A Mighty Jesus, emerged from an older, undereducated relative of a good friend who misinterpreted “spinal meningitis.” Some of my stories have been catalyzed by broad-based reading that encompasses geography and history.

One short story sprung from a newspaper article about a Jewish-American who served in the Israeli Defense Force and experienced action in Lebanon against Hezbollah. I tied it into another article about street hoodlums counting coup with a cowardly brand of “tagging” by selecting, at random, an unsuspecting pedestrian and punching him from ambush.

A novel not yet published, The All-American from Scuffletown, developed from a professional contact with a lifetime alcoholic who, in his own inimitable way, had led a fascinating and (in my estimation) morally estimable life. I decided I wanted to write about him; he wanted me to. After detailed consultation with him, and with his permission, I did.

My soon to be published crime novel, Harmony, set in 2044 (therefore, it falls under SciFi as well), evolved from rising concern about unintended consequences of human gene editing. Specifically, I fear we need to be as concerned about what we might lose as humans compared to what we hope to gain.

A great friend, Kathy F, has been a wellspring of ideas over many years. Inherently bright and unapologetic about her intelligence, it is nevertheless delivered in butchered English replete with colloquial witticisms, proverbs, old saws, and sayings from an extended family rich in a riot of unforgettable nicknames. My requirement: to listen.

If I had to narrow my explanations for idea generation, I would emphasize keying on alertness to something that perks a storyteller’s ear and to record it ASAP. If the idea appears as you’re falling asleep, in a conversational aside, or in a dream upon awakening, record it then.

Ultimately, It’s my (your) imagination that expands the idea into a story.