Monday arrived and for once I had nothing drafted for this blog, with no ideas swirling in my mind. Which led me to read an online Writer’s Digest article, “Where Do You Get Your Ideas: On Mindfulness and Creativity in Picture Books and Graphic Novels,” by author Minh Le and illustrator Chan Chau.
I’m not an author of picture books or graphic novels, but I still thought reading this piece might spark a train of thought or inspiration, and I was correct.
Author Minh Le’s words resonated with me and how I write my Other Worldly speculative fantasy novels about aliens: “…I don’t actually think of ideas as something I ‘get.’ An idea doesn’t feel like an acquisition or something I’m hunting down. Rather, for me, it’s more like receiving or noticing ideas.”
Le described how things noticed “become the seeds of the books” he writes. That, as a writer, his process is about making himself open to receiving ideas, and creating the conditions that make him “available to notice inspiration when it’s staring me in the face.”
So much of what I write, including addressing myriad sociopolitical issues, comes from things I’ve actually heard and observed over time, even as a child. Though I didn’t experience seeing the red orb protagonist Rowan Layne encounters in Alienable Rights until I was a full-blown adult.
My fascination with planets, stars, constellations, and gazing at the moon shining outside my bedroom window, telling it my childhood secrets and woes as described in Aliens Abound, seems to have been with me since my earliest days. And yet, I’ve never been a fan of science fiction, and absolutely was not born with the science (or math) gene.
That didn’t stop me from garnering writing ideas from things like apples (think Newtonian physics), piezoelectricity and triboluminescence (featured in Alien Sensation), as well as DNA testing (which I still haven’t personally done). When it comes to technical subjects like DNA, I often glean ideas from news stories, or academic articles. I’ve even drawn bits and pieces from television documentaries and shows about aliens and other fantastic creatures, letting my own imagination spin what I’ve learned into an Other Worldly original.
Sometimes a potential subject is, as Le said, literally staring me in the face. A prime example was back in April when I began drafting initial chapters for the next Other Worldly novel, Aliens Watch. There it was, in a Portland airport gift shop.
I was surrounded by Bigfoot kitsch for sale, ironic because, not only had I never before seen Sasquatch-themed merchandise in Oregon during the many, many times I’ve visited there over 40 years, but I’d also already decided this legendary creature would be the subject of Aliens Watch. Coincidence? Fate? Maybe it was written in the stars.
In the aforementioned article, Minh Le said, “Mindfulness can be our most valuable tool as creators. Our secret weapon, if you will. Being fully present in the moment can allow us to notice the stories and inspiration that are swirling around us at all times.”
This actually kind of tickled me, because throughout my Other Worldly novels, Rowan’s Mom is always passing along horoscope messages to her, and in book three, Aliens Abound, the very subject of mindfulness becomes a theme via a horoscope advising her to “be present in her life.”
A themed message for my work in progress, Aliens Watch, is already scribbled in my notes for yet another horoscope Rowan’s Mom will impart: Live in the present. Savor the moment, not wishing for something different to do or earth-shattering to happen.
I don’t have to wait for ideas to emerge from earth-shattering events, because they inevitably will happen. Like a volcano erupting on the Big Island of Hawaii last fall, immediately after I’d written about it as I drafted Altogether Alien, published earlier this year.
Similarly, while drafting Altogether Alien, I dug out a 1986 photo album depicting the Hawaiian Island chain on the cover, in search of photos of me visiting Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park and posing in front of a lava tube. There also happened to be a rather curious creature amongst the islands on the album cover, a sea dragon of sorts. So very much like Nessie, aka the Loch Ness Monster, featured in Being Alien set in Scotland.
Ironically, yet again, I had already drawn correlations between Scotland and Hawaii for Altogether Alien, this was simply observed reinforcement of that concept—right before my eyes on my coffee table as I typed away.
Inspiration was surely swirling about, and spiraling around me as I wrote and dreamed and imagined a world that also made sense, on so many levels, having lived in and traveled to both of those very real yet mystical locales (think Bali Hai and Brigadoon).
Illustrator Chan Chau, co-author of the Writer’s Digest article on mindfulness, said, “Oftentimes, it’s an accumulation of moments and memories that form into ideas. Things that I engage with on a daily basis shape what narratives I wish to tell.”
As Rowan Layne would say, boy howdy! Also, downright uncanny. I have drawn Other Worldly novel narratives and inspiration via everything from actual daily horoscopes to wine labels and gourmet meals. From rubber stamps for paper crafting to cumulous and ventricular clouds—and what they might be camouflaging. From favorite gemstones and petroglyphs to my precious dog and cat, Bodie and Morris, featured as themselves.
And then there’s the mask, black fabric patterned with green alien heads that somehow mysteriously landed at the end of my rental house driveway during the COVID pandemic—immediately after I published Feeling Alienated. There it was, unused and folded neatly, as I arrived home from walking Bodie one morning. Spoiler alert: there’s a scene in Feeling Alienated where Rowan walks Bodie in that very neighborhood and experiences a strange encounter with what many describe as “little green men.”
As noted in Being Alien, there are no straight lines occurring in space, despite human attempts to fashion lines between stars for constellations. Writing ideas would seem to emerge in much the same way, drawing imaginative lines between life’s experiences and observations to create something magical on the page. In many ways, I’m still that kid gazing at the moon, telling it my secrets.