Friday, March 21, 2008

Inspiration Under the Golden Arches

posted by Aunty Cindy

Very often, readers and new writers ask those of us who have circled the block a few times and have the completed manuscripts to show for it: Where do you get your ideas?

My usual answer is EVERYWHERE! However, since that might not be terribly helpful to those who seriously do want to know, here's an example of how story ideas can indeed be found EVERYWHERE.

A few days ago while I was out running errands, I stopped in at the lovely Golden Arches for a quick lunch. As I prepared to dunk my first McNugget into my chosen sauce, the lady at the table across from me came over and asked, "Are you going to be here long?"

"As long as it takes me to finish my lunch," I replied. (Obviously I exceed the size limit for the plastic tubes and paraphernalia in the "play yard.")

"Can you please keep an eye on my granddaughter while I use the restroom?" the lady asked, indicating a little girl of about four, who was busily munching a french fry.

I said I would and consumed my own fries and McNuggets while the child swung her legs and kept eating for the entire five minutes her grandmother was gone. However, once I finished and left the place, I was struck by how many possible story ideas presented themselves in my little scenario.
  1. The grandmother doesn't return.
  2. The grandmother returns only to find me and her granddaughter are (as in the succinct title of the DVD I recently watched) Gone Baby Gone.
  3. The grandmother returns and accuses me of abusing the child.
  4. While the grandmother is gone, the child shows me her bruises and asks me to protect her from grandma.
I think you get my drift, and I didn't even mention the hunky EMT drinking coffee at a nearby table, nor the homeless man hitting up people for change in the parking lot.

Now you know what I mean when I say ideas are EVERYWHERE, even at your local fast food joint! Who knows, maybe even Dennis Lehane (who wrote the original novel Gone Baby Gone) got ideas under the Golden Arches! Okay, maybe not.

Have you ever found inspiration in an unusual way or place? What about a fast food experience you'd like to share? And be sure to check in on Sunday when we have a Peep Hunt in the Lair (Easter eggs can be so icky if you don't find them all!)


flchen1 said...

Woot! Don't scare the GR!

flchen1 said...

I won't tell him that when we're at the Golden Arches, my kids tend to order the McNuggets...

Anyway, how funny and true that ideas are everywhere, but we don't always notice them or do anything with them. Glad you and other writers do, AC!!

I don't feel that I make much use of creative outlets so I tend to ignore any inspiration that might or might not be whispering in my ear or whacking me on the head.

And we've cut WAY back on our fast food visits since reading Fast Food Nation (*some serious yikes in there*) but we do make the exception while on vacation, when we either going to In-and-Out Burger or McDonalds. We took the kids to their first Playland experience just a few weeks ago, and they thought it was the greatest... ah, the joys of being young again ;)

Tawny said...

Groan... I just HAD to let the dogs out. Pout, I had a cozy lil corner here all set up for the GR.

ah well, Rock on, Fedora and congrats!!!

off to actually read the blog :-D

Aunty Cindy said...

WTG Flchen! So have your kidlets colored the GR up for Easter yet?

And yes, I saw Fast Food Nation... YIKES! Kept me out of the drive-thru for... oh about 2 days! LOL!

I really could NOT get over that woman trusting ME to look after her grandchild. I must look trustworthy?!?! Obviously she does not KNOW ME! HAHAHAHAHAHA!


Tawny said...

So... you get your ideas at McDonalds? hehehee joking... GREAT post, AC. You know, even as I was reading your description of what happened, a bunch of story ideas, or "what if's" as I call them, flew through my head.

I have a major 'what if' tendency, which actually drives my husband crazy when we're traveling (What if it rains harder and washes out the roads? What if we break down in the Mojave Desert AGAIN? What if 600 miles of listening to bluegrass music ruins my ability to write forever?) but I honestly don't know where I get my ideas. I mean, I have tons, they must come from somewhere, right? But I can't pinpoint where I've gotten the specific idea for any of my stories. The idea fairy???

hmmm... off to ponder this. I just don't know.

Aunty Cindy said...

LOL! Sorry Tawny, but we Doggie Moms KNOW who really rules the household, and it's NEVER us humans!

Off to watch Letterman

Anna Campbell said...

Fedora, you're showing off! Two days in a row? He obviously likes staying with you.

Aunty Cindy, what a fantastic post. Actually I never really know where the idea for something came from until WAAAAAYYY after I've written it and then I'll think, "Wow, that's where that came from." And even then, it's only partly where the idea originated and the idea will set off on its own wild horse gallop once I start working with it. Creativity is a very mysterious thing. Which is good. I think if I know too much about how it works, it will stop working. I can remember someone asking John Cleese once (I think it was John Cleese) where his comic talent came from. And he said he didn't want to know because if he did, he wouldn't be funny any more. I can completely relate to that! Or perhaps that's only because my house is run like Fawlty Towers!

And Tawny, I was sitting there thinking what ifs when Cindy said she got left with the little girl. I don't think we can help ourselves. If it was a romantic suspense, there would definitely be skulduggery afoot at the Golden Arches!

Helen said...

Congrats again flchen he loves being at your place

Great post AC fantastic thought processes that is why I am not a writer I would have just thought I was being helpful. I love the way you authors think this is why there are so many wonderful books for us readers to read.
Thanks Guys
Have Fun

Suzanne Welsh said...

Congrats flchen!

I've had story ideas pop up from lectures at chapter meetings (female wannabe PI and hunky sheriff), a short article about white supremists (woman in the witness protection program and a state trooper), a book story I wanted to write differently (medieval lady need hunky knight to save her people from evil step brother who beat her nearly senseless), erotica...uh, stay tuned on that one!

Joan said...

Congrats, flchen! The GR definately needs the extended rest.

Great post, AC. only fast food "experience" came from my high school years. My friend decided that she need a bunny outfit...a REAL bunny outfit which my Mom sewed up for her cute Easter bow tie and all. We then cruised McD's in her Baracuda all night the night before Easter, LOL. I can still remember this cop doing a double take and just shaking his head. (Mild compared to kids nowadays, I think).

As to ideas got the one about my leprachaun in a store in Killarney and when visiting the Roman exhibit from the Lourve got another historical/paranormal idea from the funeral box of a 17 yo soldier.....modern heroine touching it and him materializing albeit a bit "dusty" in front of her....:-)

Unfortunately, I never garner ideas from my day job at the much grit and angst for me.

Looking forward to the "peep" show on Sunday!

Buffie said...

Great post!!! Since I'm not a writer, I don't really get inspiration for stories, but I have worked in fast food before. Of course it was during high school, and I have to say I was the cutest gal working at Del Taco. For those of you don't know, Del Taco used to be a Mexican fast food chain -- before Taco Bell. Needless to say I used to get some pretty quirky comments about my name. I vividly remember this gorgeous hunk of guy going through the drive thru in his black convertible. When I opened the window and told him the amount due, he smiled a smile that melted my insides, looked at my name tag, and said "Buffie? That's your name?". "Yes." "Is your boyfriend named Biff?" "No, I don't have a boyfriend." "Oh, well then maybe you can ride with me to the country club." Now, you have to remember, this was in the late 80s and the "preps" were everywhere. They all assumed that a Buffie had to have a boyfriend named Biff. Crazy!

Caren Crane said...

Fedora, I think we may have to send P226 your way to get that rooster back!! And how COULD you eat the McNuggets? *g*

Aunty, I will admit my mind was racing, too, when the lady asked you watch her granddaughter. I had envisioned the girl running off, the grandmother not coming back, the grandmother having a heart attack in the bathroom and you having to wait with the little girl until the police and Child Protective Services came. Well, you know. *g* And I don't even write romantic suspense!

I agree, the ideas are EVERYWHERE if you let your mind entertain them. Then again, they run hard and fast when faced with, say, a mile-long grocery list (thanks to the teenagers) or 12 loads of laundry! Somehow, pocket lint doesn't inspire me. *g*

I have, however, been very inspired by seemingly random vertical circles planted on the grounds of the art museum (look like a gateway to another dimension), a vision involving the Dukes of Hazzard, the movie 'About A Boy' and am inexplicably narcissistic girl I used to work with (she was nothing to write home about!). The ideas really are everywhere!

Caren Crane said...

Buffie, I remember Del Taco fondly! There was one near our house in Nashville. Fond memories of a beef and bean burrito! They were, IMO, far more flavorful than Taco Bell. *g*

Too funny about the Buffie and Biff comment. I'm sure that guy thought he was a real wit!

Amy Andrews said...

Ideas. Yep. If I had $1 for every time someone asked me the - where do they come from - question I could retire to Italy.

Like most I get them from amywhere. I can tell you I had a brilliant idea for a trilogy just the other day - 3 army medics all in the same core. Where did I have this revelation? On fellow bandita Christine Well's loo!!!
And a very nice loo it is too. Very inspirational.

Joan said...

And a very nice loo it is too. Very inspirational.


Too funny! Y'all keep army medics in the loo? :-)

I'll add a visit to Madame's loo on my list of things to see when I visit Australia!

Kirsten said...

Oooo, an inspirational loo! I'll put that on my "must see" list too! :-)

Fedora, you know there's no actual chicken in those nuggets, right? So the GR won't mind. Really...

Buffie, it's so nice to have you back around again. Hope your family is doing well. As for Biff and Buffie? What the heck was that all about? Who in their right minds would date a guy named BIFF? Especially if their name was BUFFIE?!

I never have problems with ideas...the problem is taking all the fabulous ideas and honing in on one cognizant story line. My best ideas come through the internal brainstorming I tend to do while jogging. Something about needing to be distracted from the pain, I guess! LOL.

Beth said...

Two days in a row, flchen? The GR must be having a grand time at your house! Has he colored eggs with you?

Great post, AC. Seems I'm always asking What If? Especially when I'm out and actually around people *g* Everything from a couple washing their car at the car wash to a woman trying to soothe a cranky toddler in the grocery store can be a possible story :-)

Buffie, I don't remember Del Taco but then, I'm in a small town (all we had when I was a teen was Mickey Ds and Burger King) I do, however, remember the 80's - although I'm still trying to forget my HUGE hair and that unfortunate incident when I wore electric blue mascara ;-)

LOL on the inspirational loo, Amy!

terrio said...

I can't remember where my first story idea came from, but since then I've gotten one while driving down the road listening to a particular song.

I also got a story idea while sitting at a stop sign. I glanced over to see a newly built, very large warehouse type building. It's a new boat building facility near my house and it somehow gave me the idea for a hero who owns his own charter business taking tourists out on fishing excursions on Ocracoke Island.

And it's abundantly clear I could never write RS because that Mickey D's story only made me think of how cute that little girl must have looked swinging her legs and eating fries. LOL!

doglady said...

I tend to agree with Caren. I think Fichen is hogging the rooster. Now there's an inspirational sentence!

Yes, the canine members of the family RULE the house. The cats run it!

Great post Aunty C. All the Banditas are trustworthy, aren't they? I would NOT, however, trust them for a minute with Richard Armitage or a few others I could name. Talk about Gone Baby Gone!

Hmm, I have to see this inspirational loo!

I try very hard to stay away from fast food. Don't always succeed as there is a McDonald's IN the Wal-Mart where I work.

I love playing the what if game and there are lots of possibilities in it every day. Music tends to inspire me the most. I get many of my best ideas while listening to music.

Marie Force said...

Hi Auntie,
I hope the kid doesn't go home and tell Mom that grandma left her with a perfect (and you are perfect, Auntie) stranger. That will be grannie's last outing with that kid!

You are so right about inspiration coming in the strangest places. The key is being open to it. That's what I tell people when I'm asked that same question--where do you get your ideas? Everywhere! I once followed a hot guy in a black Mercedes convertible in Friday night summer traffic heading into Newport, RI, and wondered where he was going. The answer to that question is my fifth book! Keeping your heart and mind open to all the possibilities is how the ideas begin to flow.

xo from your Sourcebooks sister!!

jo robertson said...

Sooo clever, AC! Loved the post.

Flchen1, are you on a run or something? You've nabbed the GR quite a few times lately. What's your secret?

AC, I love that great "WHAT IF" question and how it gives rise to so many imaginative possiblities.

My fast-food story: Have you ever wondered why fast food places have those metal guard posts?

It's because of me.

One night years ago when my husband was 1000 miles away, I packed all the little kiddies in the station wagon and went through the Micky D drive-through. The side of my wagon connected with a very large chunk of McDonald's property.

I cried.

The kids cried.

McDonald's installed the guard barriers and everyone followed suit.

I now have a phobia about fast food drive throughs.

jo robertson said...

Hi, Marie, thanks for popping into the Lair from Sourcebooks!

I was thinking the same thing about the grandma -- uh, she ain't gonna get those kids no more!

Donna MacMeans said...

Cindy - Loved the post. I think it's interesting how the various "what-ifs" follow the voice of the asker. For you it's suspense. For Caren, contemporary For me - I'd probably have the little girl show you a magical trinket that would launch you back in time.

I find I get my best ideas when walking the dog - or when driving the car - or anywhere where's not convienent pen and paper *g*

I've never had luck finding ideas in dreams though. Wish I could.

Suzanne Welsh said...

Donna...I know what you mean. I rarely remember a dream, and then it's almost a woo-woo premonition about a scenario with delivering a baby...all of which come true I might add!!! (Scarey at times.)

But my CP, Sandy Blair, she thinks about whatever scene she's writing right before going to sleep. Then she dreams about it, and when she wakes up, the whole thing runs through her mind and she can just go type it up!!! GRRR...wish I could do that.

Marie Force said...

Hey Jo,
High five on the drive through story. I thought I was the only one who had crashed into one! The day after I graduated from high school I drove over the Burger King drive through cement barrier thingie, rolled through the parking lot on two wheels as burgers and fries flew around the inside of the car, and came down with a crash on the two tires on the passenger side. My friend said, I think the car is okay. I said, Then why is it tilting to one side? Two tires popped, there went most of my graduation money, and the next time I went through the drive through, they had changed it! My father still talks about the day I crashed into the BK drive through!! LOL!

Aunty Cindy said...

Morning everyone!
It IS still morning here on the Left Coast (Aunty said, bleary-eyed).

ROFLOL about Madame C-W's "inspirational loo!" We really MUST install one of those here in the Lair. Preferable down near the Deadline Caves. Of course, our cabana boys can be pretty darn inspirational when they try (and when they don't try, Aunty brings out the crop!).

Hey, we still have Del Taco in this neck o' the woods! My niece Emily was hired to work there because she was the only person small enough to crawl INTO those playground tubes and clean them. EWWWW! Now THAT is a dirty job!

Doglady said: I would NOT, however, trust them for a minute with Richard Armitage or a few others I could name. Talk about Gone Baby Gone!
MUAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Doglady, you know us TOO WELL! Right now, Christie and I are having a private drool-fest over "inspirational" piccies of Eric B. What's NOT TO LOVE?!?!

And HUGS!!! Welcome to the Lair, Marie! So happy to have one of my Sourcebook sister-authors here! I am SOOO looking forward to your debut release in Sept.


Aunty Cindy said...

Jo-Mama and Marie, I'm ROFLOL about your drive-thru mishaps! So THAT is why they have all those metal posts around here, Jo-Mama? I've never been to Rhode Island (GASP! YES! One of the few places!) so I'll take your word for it, Marie.

One weird drive-thru experience I had was at McD's. I handed the girl my money and she said, "You have Avon Skin-So-Soft lotion on, don't you?" I said, "Yes, how did you know?" She said, "My mom is an Avon lady." I said, "SO IS MINE!" (cue Twilight Zone Music) Truth IS stranger than fiction!

Donna and Suz, I do sometimes dream scenes from my books. That's how I know I'm really "into" them, when my sub-conscious works on them at night. Unfortunately, it is NOT a reliable method. :-(

SERIOUSLY envying Sandy Blair!

Marie Force said...

Come visit us on the right coast! Any time! Rhode Island is the biggest little state in the union. My other funny drive through story was the time my husband shot wipers full of rain water STRAIGHT into the drive through window just as the girl turned to give him his change. She took the full load right in the face. And we tried, really we tried not to laugh... Sadly, we failed. She glared. Probably spit in the food... But we laughed all day. The next time we went to a drive through we saw a sign that said, Please turn off your wipers. More laughter. We wonder if we had something to do with that.

MsHellion said...

I've found it in church. (I tend to daydream during the sermons.) I've found it on BAD dates. I've found it with bits of dialogue that have been said to me (or that I overheard). I've had inspiration from the notion of "He's cheating on her and he bought her a GUN for Christmas? What an IDIOT. What if she actually shot him?"

MsHellion said...

Richard Armitage=Gone Baby Gone. *ROTFLMAO* Too true with this crowd.

flchen1 said...

Oh my! ROFL at all your drive-through stories--I'm staying away from the drive-throughs lest I create some of my own!

And Kirsten, of course there isn't any real chicken in those--we eat the soy ones! :)

I guess I ascribe the run of luck to having time to check in on the Lair just before heading off to bed--maybe some left-over luck? :)

No egg-coloring for the GR yet--that's on the calendar for later. He's enjoyed some more relaxing and a few spa treatments ;)

Kate Carlisle said...

All this talk of fast food is making me hungry. Great post, Aunty!!

I find ideas every day, right here at my day job. I'm always dreaming of new ways to kill my boss. Hehehe. Does that count? *g*

Madame might have to consider selling tickets to the Inspirational Loo. It's certainly going on my list of things to see and do Downunder!

Fedora, shhhh!! Don't utter the McN word in front of the GR!

Aunty Cindy said...

Hey Kate, boy do I HEAR YA on the how-to-murder-your-boss scenarios. I used to have those day-dreams on a daily basis (Okay, sometimes hourly) back when I had the DDJ (dreaded day job). :-P

Ms Hellion, way to get MILEAGE outta those BAD DATES! Work it, Girlfriend!

And Marie, I've been to the East Coast LOTS of times (LOVE Ocracoke, Terrio!) I just haven't managed to touch foot in Rhode Island or Connecticut yet. Ironic I know, since our editor's office is in Connecticut! Must remedy THAT situation ASAP!