Other authors get asked this question all the time (see title of post), and during a recent discussion with one such person, she suggested I explain how I fold so many real life situations into my stories.
Okay, but first this.
As I explore horror stories, Jonathan Tisdall suggested I check out Stephen King’s “Pet Semetary” which he called “the finest ‘textbook’ on staging and building dread I know of.”
So I promised to check it out. And I did. Which gave me the basis to address the two other questions I’ve been asked, above.
Here’s a synopsis of Pet Semetary from IMBD. (Parts are from Murray Chapman’s synopsis and other parts are from Chris Dale’s.)
The Creeds have just moved to a new house in the countryside. Their house is perfect, except for two things: the semi-trailers that roar past on the narrow road, and the mysterious cemetery in the woods behind the house. The Creed’s neighbours are reluctant to talk about the cemetery, and for good reason too.
After moving into their new home the Creed family’s cat is killed after wondering onto the highway. Jud an elderly neighbor shows Louis, the father, to an isolated hill behind the local Pet Cemetery and instructs him to bury the deceased feline there. Not long after the cat reappears at the Creed home, only he is not the same. The docile cat is now vicious and destructive. When their youngest son meets with a fatal accident, the distraught Louis buries him in the same location hoping to revive him. Unfortunately he unleashes far more than he had bargained for.
Now, where did the inspiration for the story come from?
According to Wikipedia (condensed):
In 1978, King returned to his alma mater to teach for a year. During this time his family rented a house on a busy road. The road claimed the lives of a number of pets, and the neighborhood children had created a pet cemetery in a field near the Kings’ home. King’s daughter Naomi buried her cat “Smucky” there after it was hit, and shortly thereafter their son Owen had a close call running toward the road. King wrote the novel based on their experiences…
Got it? A simple matter of one plus one equals two. This connotes the phrase by Orson Scott Card: “Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.”
I see great story ideas everywhere, don’t you?
Here’s the second part of the lesson from King: “…but feeling he had gone too far with the subject matter of the book, he discarded the idea of having it published. However, needing a final book for his contract King reluctantly submitted it to Doubleday on the advice of his wife Tabitha and friend Peter Straub.”
Tabitha, you will recall, also saved “Carrie” – King’s breakout novel – from the trash.
So, (A) good for Tabitha, the best career manager an author ever had, and
(B) it just goes to show EVERYBODY suffers periods of doubt when it comes to their writing!
Okay, back to our topic.
Where did the idea for my new romantic comedy “Poggibonsi: an Italian misadventure,” come from?
Here’s the blurb Allison wrote for me, so the explanation will make sense:
A job assignment in Italy is just what Mike needs to advance his career and bring passion back to his marriage. His wife is the only woman in Atlanta not flirting with him, and what better place for romance than the Tuscan countryside? His hopes shatter when his Italian partner falls ill and his family does nothing but fight. After his wife and daughter head home, a stunning Tuscan beauty captures the attention of everyone on the train. Mike thinks the goddess will remain a fantasy – until she introduces herself as his new assistant. She promises romantic adventure, if Mike can forget the cost.
Now, here’s where the idea came from:
I went to Italy on a vacation with my wife and daughter. Before we went, I thought, I bet Italy has a story for me. Lots, probably. It’ll be difficult to pick just one.
As we toured around from the Tuscany region to Venice to the leaning Tower of Pisa, we occasionally took a train. Some trains are rows of seats on American buses, and other trains have little compartments — kind of like a booth at a restaurant, only bigger. You might have four people on each side and a tiny little table by the window, but the seats are like big, upholstered couches.
As people come on and off the train, people come in and out of the compartments, and at some point a young lady came into ours, sitting across from me. She was very pretty, and she was doing some kind of highlighting what looked like a textbook, but she appeared to be a little too old to be a college student — and a little too well dressed.
So like all good writers do, let my imagination run wild. She must be somebody’s mistress, a collegiate courtesan for some well-to-do businessman. Maybe she was on her way to see him right now. She was Italian, but she had blonde hair. She had great posture. She was well made up.
Anyway, I got off the train and forgot all about her. We enjoyed or trip and that was that.
On the way home, I was thinking that Italy had to have a story for me; what was it?
We were seated, surrounded by other tourists and a lot of weary businessmen on their way home to the states.
What if an American businessman met an Italian girl and had an affair?
Enter a nice hard working family man, who goes to Italy with his family, like we did; he is a business man like the ones on the plane, and he falls for a pretty girl like the one on the train. It would have romance, deception…
It would have a lot of funny travel stuff, and humorous husband-and-wife relationship stuff… From there, it was a matter of making a decent excuse for him to go to Italy (a big promotion), a reason to take his family (working vacation), a sexy interlude, and a happy ending. Which the story has.
In fact, I took on a LOT of very un-funny stuff like infidelity, divorce, death, travel, doctor’s exams (hey, gotta get a physical before traveling to Europe on business), office politics (good and bad), bosses (good and bad) – and made them hilarious through the eyes of my MC, Mike.
I added all sorts of real life funny stuff that actually happened on our trip, too. (I think that makes it a tax write-off, doesn’t it?)
And it all basically came about because we sat next to a girl on a train.
I should thank her. Or did I just do that?
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Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious upcoming novel “Poggibonsi: an italian misadventure.” Check out his other works HERE.