Thursday, April 15, 2010


You don’t have to profess to be a writer for too long before someone, somewhere, asks you The Question. You know, the one it seems every writer ever born has to answer in every interview out there: Where do you come up with all those ideas?

As writers with one foot in the science fiction world, we can certainly come up with some wild ideas. For most of us, the least little spark can lead to a supernova of creative thinking. But we all need to nurture that creative flame, lest it go out and we be forced on an epic quest for fire throughout the arid universe.

Everyone has their own paths to inspiration, of course, but just in case you need a little nudge today, here are some of the trails I take.

Keep Current in SFR

I read like a fiend. How else would I have acquired the marvelous image of floating pirate dirigibles from Nathalie Gray’s FULL STEAM AHEAD? How else could the future assassins of Sherrily Kenyon's BORN OF ICE rescued from publishing oblivion inspire faith in the ability of a good story to endure? Then, too, there is Alexis Morgan’s DARKNESS UNKNOWN to remind me that an SFR story set largely on Earth with mostly human protagonists can find both a market and a nomination for RITA.

Read Other Subgenres of Romance

Yeah, that’s right. I admit it. I (gasp!) cross over to the other side. Occasionally that means erotica, but more often that means historicals (Eloisa James writes the best dialogue anywhere), romantic suspense (Linda Howard and others) or paranormals. I find inspiration in the way the writers in those subgenres structure their novels, build their worlds, establish their characters. I follow the romantic threads, particularly in the historicals, to see how the characters find their way to each other in a world that is so different from ours. I figure if those writers can imagine such an intimate relationship in a culture that has been gone for nearly three hundred years, then I should be able to project one into the future in the same way.

“Go Home” Occasionally

I don’t read much unadulterated science fiction these days. But every once in a while a friend will press something into my hands and insist that I read it. Last year it was Vernor Vinge’s A FIRE UPON THE DEEP and A DEEPNESS IN THE SKY (spider-like aliens in one, group-mind canines in another, a trippy deep-physics view of space travel that my liberal-arts brain could barely contain). A few months ago it was the post-apocalyptic DIES THE FIRE by S.M. Stirling and THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy. (Two more different views of the end of the world one could NOT imagine. And since I hate the cold and I’m decent with a sword, I’d much rather be in Stirling’s world!) Right now I’m hurling through deep space with Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner and their FLEET OF WORLDS. My head is full of two-headed, three-legged aliens evolved from herd animals whose cautious nature is at odds with their human allies. How long can this alliance last?

Get Out More

Of course, inspiration doesn’t have to come from a book. If you are visually oriented, art or architecture, gorgeous scenery or vibrant cityscapes can provide the jolt you need. A lot of writers work with music in the background. Linnea Sinclair, among others, provides the “soundtrack” to her novels with a playlist at the beginning. (I’m a quiet type(r). The closest I ever got to listening while working was donning headphones with the sound of the ocean running when construction was going on in my house.)

I plan on getting lots of deep background imagery from a trip to Turkey later this spring. I soak in sights, sounds and smells from travel in both foreign lands and right here at home and store it away for future use. You never know when this face or that babble of voices, this dusty marketplace or that distant mountaintop will be needed.

Can’t afford to travel just now? Take a trip to your local Starbucks or Main Street Café. Linger over your latte or have breakfast in a corner booth. Just watch. And listen. Save the notetaking for later and try to be present now. You may be surprised at how inspirational that little trip can be.

Movies, plays, sculpture, meditation, martial arts, playing with the kids, walking the dog, seeking wisdom from the cat—there have to be a million ways to stoke the fires. What’s your secret?



  1. Inspiration can come from anywhere, can't it? In addition to all of the above, I sometimes get on the internet and just randomly suft. It's amazing the ideas this can spark.

    And then there's the brand that jumps into your subconscious unbidden. Dreams. Two of my novels started with elements that lingered from a dream.

    Great post, Donna.

  2. Wonderful post, Donna. I jumped over from the SFR Brigade to read this.

    I do think we as SFR authors need to read across genres. And there is certainly inspiration everywhere for sure too!

  3. Glad you found your way over, Kaye! As you can tell, I'll read just about anything, as long as the writer is talented. And, ooh, dreams! I'd forgotten about that one, Laurie. Most of the time, my flashes come just before I fall asleep, but I know others who dream great epics!

  4. I read just about anything too for pleasure and inspiration. I also love Eloisa James!! In fact - my reading of choice if I need a gentle story before I sleep - is a regency romance everytime. It's the structured world that is so fascinating. I've read literally hundreds of these books. They all - more or less - have conformed to the mores and morals of the time, though I expect a pure history buff would disagree. There is something comforting in the stricture for me. You know where you are with them. So in that respect they are the antithesis of sci fi rom. Yet as you say - its a different world to ours just as sci fi rom is - and yet the journey to love is still the core.

  5. I really need to make more time for reading. Thanks for the great reminder!


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