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.
 







8-24-2019

The products of science always outpace the ethics necessary for their proper use. Ethicists, due to the depth thinking they conduct for all of us, are always playing catch-up. Even with an ethical formulation to guide us, there are always unscrupulous practitioners who, in their quest for fame and fortune, will ignore ethical considerations. From the weight of this reality, I conceptualized Harmony out of a growing concern about the onrushing era of gene editing we are now entering.

My overarching concern – not mine alone – is that through gene manipulation we may eventually edit out experiences necessary for complete human development. As we seek perfection through genetic reworking, we may narrow our genetic make-up and, therefore, potential. If one were speaking of eliminating a genetic defect responsible for a terrible disease, e.g. Tay-Sachs, no problem. It’s the unanticipated effects, the unintended consequences that will also occur, that stir my angst, particularly as they might impact upon or unintentionally deaden the spectrum of empathic emotions. If, for example, we were to emerge from genetic tampering less able to experience empathy, shame, guilt, the emotions that enable us to balance ourselves in relation to others, would we be super-human or diminished in irretrievable ways? Would we emerge more separated from others than ever before? What might this portend in a futuristic sense?

It was from this murky concern that the idea of Harmony emerged. As an unedited FBI agent, Ari Harmony was hired precisely because a unit director sensed an emotional-spectrum narrowing of her gene-edited agents. It was her judgment that an unedited agent, exposed to a fuller range of human emotions, might instinctually possess an ability her enhanced agents were losing. It’s his knowledge and instinctive skills, whetted by unmodified emotions, that allow him to ferret out a serial killer overlooked by his “superior” fellow agents.

I’m not a science fiction writer by inclination, but since Harmony is set in 2044, my crime novel would seem to fall under the rubric of sci-fi as well. Hope you enjoy. Please let me know how you feel about it. A brief review on Amazon would be appreciated.

RJ McCarthy


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.

Author: RJ MCarthy