Recently I’ve been preparing my first conference and keynote presentations as an author, and holy cripes is it turning out to be so fun! Having been an audience member for tons of different kinds of keynotes, I’m working mostly around excluding talking points that have made me drowsy or led me to believe the speaker was drunk. Fellow writers have said book reader/seller/librarian audiences love personal history, snapshots of the author as an infant in a sudsy tub playing with a board book (“See? I’ve always loved reading!”) or maybe some photos of a dog at one’s desk pretending to type and Dude, I am so down! My dogs are adorable! Also, writers tell me that audiences love to ask and have addressed Ye Age Olde Question:
“Where do you get your ideas?”
Mostly, authors will offer the standard, “From life!” and to be honest? Yeah. That’s pretty much it. Seriously, just paying attention while walking through life and being present at family holiday functions, I’ve got story ideas scribbled in the pages of more notebooks than I have room to stack them. Ideas are not the problem. But there’s no way I’m standing up at a breakfast presentation with one PowerPoint slide that just says, “Life….aaand scene!” Because A. Poor audience! And B. It’s clearly more about connecting pedestrian moments or a book outline into a new story informed by the visceral things we’re living; bending anecdotal details to support or enhance a plot’s larger theme, if you will. Any decent author, man or woman, has in fact lived their pretend story in a literal, actual, or figurative way. They have. No matter the genre. I don’t care what they say, it’s how it’s done. What we live + make some stuff up = A Book. See? Easy! (ED NOTE It is not easy don’t listen to this B.S.)
One of my favorite reader to author Where do you get your ideas? times happened to me recently via email. Actually, it was more a I know you don’t have any ideas and need to scavenge to find enough material for your little blog type deal. But same diff. And it’s kind of funny/sad. I’m going to nutshell this for you, you’ll love it!
Nearly two years ago my daughter was the new kid at a ballet school, and (unbeknownst to my husband and I) was bullied so badly by her classmates that she finally broke down and asked for help from the teachers and parents. The teacher, intimidated by the parents, refused to make the bullies stop, the bullies’ parents refused to admit what everyone saw their kids doing, refused even to acknowledge the behavior at all, so nothing changed. The bullying began happening in class, was ignored by teachers, and so my kid had to leave. No one there asked where she went or said goodbye. Not a single adult cared. It was not good times. (She auditioned for and was admitted to a better school so that part’s good.)
Right as this crap was happening, Jay Asher, author of the beautiful 13 Reasons Why began a fifty state Anti-Bullying tour, and I related this ballet story (using no names or identifying locations) in a blog post about how wonderful I think Jay Asher is, and how important it is for writers to address bullying and for parents and teachers not to ignore it, yadda yadda. Okay. So, a year later one of the bullies at the ballet school is stalking me on the interwebs, finds this year old blog entry and shows it to her mom, who immediately recognizes herself in my heavily veiled, anonymous description of a parent who let her kid mercilessly bully another child and then pretend it never happened. That’s when this mom suddenly cared about….her rad street cred? God, I don't know. Some random selfish thing….and she sends me the screwy Ideas email containing this gem:
“I appreciate that you are a writer and are generating content for your blog, but I am concerned that you have spent so many hours reflecting and writing on this situation.”
You guys. Pure. Gold. Concern for a bullied child chased from a school, or perhaps some concern about her own daughter’s cruelty? No way! Priorities, please! This woman is deeply concerned about me! About a year old blog entry, about my content generation, about my reflection habits, about how I organized my writing time last year. I am flattered and touched! Because people like her are curious about the writing process! And okay, maybe this particular person’s distinct curiosity demonstrates a need for psychotropic medication, but since I am not a licensed physician and can only help with one of those issues, here goes:
Oh, Sweet Lady. Rest assured, this shit does not take hours to write – we’re not dealing with Proust here; its just Jenny and it’s only a blog. Ten, fifteen minutes soup to nuts and as you have clearly demonstrated, there’s no ‘generating material’ going on - this stuff falls from the sky, through your anxious little typing fingers, and straight into my lap. Magic!
I’m pretty sure I’ll keep reflecting for, as T Swift would say, like, ever. I’ll reflect on how my brave daughter withstood being thrashed all year and tried to solve things by herself, for the rest of my life. I’ll reflect on how my kind, resilient girl asked grown-ups she trusted for help, and how every one of those self-absorbed adults failed her and rewarded cruelty. I’ll reflect on the sad bullies who still are being given no guidance, and how when our family was so heartbroken about the situation an amazing writer, Jay Asher, had the spine to stand up and make a difference in the world by fighting for kids like my strong, brave daughter, and his bravery gave me hope and inspired me to write about him. But above all else, I will reflect on the gift of such an awesome, ‘concern’-filled email, and on this beautiful, singular, loaded question:
"Where do you get your ideas?"
Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to direct your attention to this typing-dog-Jenny-as-a-baby-photo-filled PowerPoint presentation. Because have I got a story to tell you.