Where novels come from

Where in the world do writers get all their ideas? Well that’s just it. The world. And beyond. Sometimes dreams play a part.

Stephen King got the idea for Misery after he fell asleep on an airplane. He dreamt about a woman who held this author prisoner. She killed him, skinned him, fed his remains to her pig and bound his novel in human skin. That was the dream. Misery, of course, turned out a little different but when King woke up and landed, he immediately started to write and got 50 pages down before reaching his hotel.

Back during the Depression in 1936 The San Francisco News had a writer do a series about the terrible conditions in migrant labour camps. His name was John Steinbeck and from that came The Grapes of Wrath, which is perhaps the quintessential novel about poverty.
Harper Lee put a lot of her own life into To Kill a Mockingbird. She was a tomboy, her father was a lawyer, and she even went to law school herself before dropping out.

I can empathize.

My first novel Gift of the Bambino was a way to deal with grief after my father’s death; I wondered how my two young kids would remember their grandfather. A 1934 photo of my dad with his bantam basketball team – he was 15 at the time– was the inspiration for the book, and I only got the photo after he died. But the catalyst was learning about Babe Ruth’s first professional home run in 1914 when he was a minor leaguer. That launched me on a journey to the Roaring Twenties and New York City and a young struggling ballplayer who idolized Babe Ruth. The Babe, of course, was known as the Bambino.

Another time I was sitting in a doctors’ waiting room and there was this magazine with a story about the mummified remains of a man found in a melting glacier in the Alps. The mummy was more than 4,000 years old. That would culminate in the novel QUMRAN which is about an archaeologist who makes an incredible discovery in the Holy Land.

Finally, we have the proverbial ‘what if’ scenario. Over the years I had read a lot about Nazi Germany. Topping the list would be William Shirer’s brilliant The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich which is 1,300 pages and, believe it or not, I read it three times. Not to mention Sir Martin Gilbert’s The Holocaust – The Jewish Tragedy. There were many more books, along with articles, documentaries, and even listening to all the World War II speeches of Winston Churchill.

So what if the last living survivor of the Holocaust just turned 100 years old, say, in the year 2039? And he’s caught in a world that is so abysmally ignorant of the past that nobody believes his story? That became The Last Witness. But other things got into that too. I knew a writer who committed suicide. He jumped into the gorge at the Elora canyon, and so, the Elora Gorge became part of it. And I met all these former child survivors and something from each of them got into the novel as well.

This then is how authors finagle their way into becoming quasi-experts on all kinds of things. So if you want to know anything about the war or mummies or Babe Ruth, you know who to call.

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