Where Do You Get Ideas?

Quarter Horse

People ask, “Where do you come up with your ideas?” We had this discussion on the LitForum not long ago and my answer there was, “Where don’t you get ideas?” I’m a people watcher. I watch not only appearances, but also mannerisms, clothing, speech. Interesting bits will trigger scenes.

A man on twitter started following me and who had an intriguing avatar, which was his actual photograph, or so he said. He was an older man with a silver mustache and goatee and a very serious look. I thought about him for a while and looked at the avatar and a scene came to me as brilliant and vivid as any movie. He was in light armor with a billowing deep red cloak and striding down a corridor. On his right was a series of stone arches leading to a grassed courtyard.

I wondered, where is he going with such purpose?

Ah, he’s going to see his daughter, the queen and wife of the missing king in my fantasy. She’s been manipulated into starting a civil war against some of her people. He’s there to tell her to stop or he will declare war on her.

She’s firmly in thrall to a charismatic holy man and declines to stop, which ups the ante in the war.

Sometimes a name will intrigue me. John Davis Frain for one. He’s a regular commenter at Janet Reid’s blog and I asked him if I could use his name. He agreed and became a doctor and spy in The Rain Crow.

Animals also become characters. We raised Quarter Horses for many years, and they all had very distinctive personalities. Skidboot’s daddy was a cutting horse and her mama was race and cutting bred. She was dappled yellow, deep gold when she slicked off in the summer, with a silver mane and tail. From the very beginning, she was a character. She’d run as fast as she could and then stop at the very last minute before she hit a fence, planting her butt in the ground and sliding up to the fence. I told Don (my husband) we’d have to put skidboots on that baby before she was a week old. The name stuck and we registered her as WW Skidboot.

All of the horses were fascinated with water. If you left a water hose in a water trough to fill it, one of them would pick it up and spray it so the other horses could get wet. Then she’d drop it and another one would pick it up. I blame Don for that because he used to spray them down in the summertime to cool them off. I guess they decided if he wasn’t going to spray them, they’d have to do it themselves.

Skidboot took it a step further. She’d come up to a water trough and sink her whole head in until just the very tips of her ears were showing. In a little bit, air bubbles would rise. I told Don one day when she was doing that, “Odd, she didn’t look depressed.”

It really did look like she was trying to drown herself.

Another mare we raised was a genuine Houdini. We had to tie her lead rope up under her jaw so she couldn’t reach the knot, or she’d have it untied and be off untying any other horse she found and then opening every stall. Don forgot to tell a friend who borrowed her to rope on about her bad habit. They came back from lunch and found every horse in the arena untied and Cowgirl trying to unfasten the arena gate.

I decided to combine the two mares to make one horse character for The Rain Crow. She does play a part in the story and is more than just an interesting (I hope) rabbit hole. After all, you can’t introduce a rifle on the mantle in the first act of the play if you aren’t going to fire it.

Skidboot and Garrett the grandson feeding her hay.

Where do you get your ideas? What is your favorite source?

From The Rain Crow:


“Rachel, have you seen Frank or Mr. Updike?”

“Yas’m. They went to look at equipment. Zona went up the bee garden to pick peas. Maybe she saw where they went.”

“Butterfly garden,” I corrected.

“Yas’m, but what hangs out there bzzzz, bzzzz, bzzzzing around all the time trying to bite people? Bees.” She made another buzzing noise and pinched her arm as if she’d been bitten.

“They don’t—Never mind. We’ll go up there.”

Fox untied the rope around the gate and unlatched it, looking quizzically at the double closure. “Trying to keep the bees in or out?” he said with an amused grin and retied the gate.

“A luricawne out,” I replied. Even this early in the season, several flowers were in bloom. With such a mild winter, pea vines were massed with flowers and pods alike where the girls staggered the planting and volunteer plants sprouted. Zona bent over, plucking peas from the vines covering the back fence and dropping them in a willow basket. “Have you seen Mr. Updike?” I asked.

She straightened, put her hands on her back and stretched, then pointed toward the hay barns and machine shed. “Down there, Miss Mac.”

“Thank you.” We wandered through the flower garden discussing various plants and arrangements. We always planted herbs and flowers strategically for visual and symbiotic effect as some plants naturally supported others. The knot garden was my favorite, though. We were exploring that when the gate rattled behind us. A dappled yellow mare with silver mane lipped at the gate rope. Rachel gave her the evil eye and returned to picking peas. Fox, on the other hand, stared in fascination. The horse continued worrying at the rope, biting at it and lipping it until she got the first part of the knot loose and pulled the tail through. Then she started on the second section. Instead of letting the untied rope fall to the ground, she gripped it in her teeth and waved it like a banner signifying her victory. Flipping it to the side, she opened the gate latch and sauntered in, glancing at me in a slightly accusatory way as if it were my fault she’d been inconvenienced. It was, but why did I even bother?

“Meet Luricawne Gold,” I said to an astonished Fox. The mare moseyed over to the cream bowl beside the bench near the pond and drained it, she similarly emptied the bowl of beer, and ate the bread that had been left for the fae folk.

Zona shook her finger at the horse, “We put that out for Marse Mac’s little people. Do you look like a little people? I don’t think so. No wonder we havin’ bad luck ’round here.”

Luri flicked a disinterested ear at her and made her way to the pond. She washed down the dry bread with a deep drink and waded out until she was knee deep, then kissed her rippling reflection. There she stayed for a moment, contemplating her image and slowly plunged her head below the water until only the very tips of her golden ears remained showing. After a time, bubbles floated to the surface.

Fox stared at her dumbfounded. “Odd, she didn’t look depressed. Should we save her?”

“No, Papa swore she was visiting with the merrows. They’d have to be small mermaids to live there. I can’t decide if she’s watching the goldfish or she likes cooling her head. The girls think she’s talking to cymbees, water spirits.”

Presently, she lifted her dripping head, inhaled deeply, and exhaled what amounted to a contented sigh.

“Is she for sale?”

“No, and you don’t want her. She has an infuriating habit of untying herself and then sets about freeing every other horse. We’ve tried to sell her a few times, but she’s like a homing pigeon. People don’t tolerate her escape artist routine well. Papa, regardless of her eating the little people’s food, figured that meant she was McKenzie luck. He was big on signs.”

“You certainly can’t sell your lucky horse.”

“I didn’t say she was good luck. I said she was McKenzie luck.” 000


  1. My face right now? It’s the look of flattery. A doctor AND a spy? I swoon.

    I get some of my best ideas late at night walking my dog. He loves it because I don’t rush him. He can follow a scent for two blocks for all I care because I’m putting together a scene in my head. So it’s a win-win for the two of us. I used to bring a notepad, but I’ve found that by taking notes I was stopping the process. Like waking up from a dream, it’s hard to get back into the story once interrupted. So now I take only his leash. Sometimes we come back with a story, sometimes an opening scene and sometimes a character description. But there’s always something out there if you’re receptive to finding it.

  2. Heh, yes, Doctor Frain gets around. Poor Colin was my kissing captain, but he gets killed early on and I sacrificed the scene on the word count altar. He’ll reappear as a different character. Janet Reid is an opinionated widow woman.

    I used to walk in the arena late at night when I couldn’t sleep. The other mares would just look up to see who was wandering around in the dark. Skidboot made every step I did, like a faithful dog. It’s surprising how much a person can work out in their head when you’re out walking with a friend. I agree that stopping to write it also stops the flow. I keep a notebook by my bed, but that’s because I won’t remember something I think about in the middle of the night when I go back to sleep.

    There’s definitely always inspiration if you let your mind see it. Thanks for stopping by.

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