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Lori Handeland | Where do you get your ideas?

November 21, 2008

By far the question I’m asked most often is “Where do you get your ideas?” Not only by interviewers but by readers and by friends and family. I get the impression that those who know me best can’t believe I come up with all the creepy, violent “weird” stuff without some help. Which I guess is a compliment.

I get my ideas in several ways. For instance, from something I’ve read. The concept for Any Given Doomsday came to me several years ago when I was researching another book and came across the legend of the Grigori, and it fascinated me. How the Grigori, or fallen angels, came to earth to watch the humans, then mated with the daughters of men and produced a supernatural race known as the Nephilim.

I bought a bunch of books on prophesy, Revelation, angels, demons and read them whenever I had the chance and an idea started to nag at me—one of those ideas that captures an author and won’t let go. In the world of The Phoenix Chronicles, the Nephilim have been here since the beginning of time, wearing human faces, but beneath they are the monsters of legend—vampires, shape shifters and more.

I had long wanted to write a series with a continuing character—a cross between Stephanie Plum and Anita Blake—two of my favorite heroines in fiction. I had the vague idea that my heroine would be psychic; I wanted the series to be set in my hometown of Milwaukee.

I came up with the character of Elizabeth Phoenix, however I had to admit to myself that the zaniness of Stephanie would never work for Liz. Liz is dark, dangerous; she does not screw around. If she does, people die.

I continued to build on Liz’s world little by little, uncovering her background as a foster child, meeting her foster mother Ruthie, her childhood love Jimmy and her mentor, the Navajo witch, Sawyer.

Liz discovers there is a secret society that fights these supernatural creatures, and she’s just been put in charge of the ground troops. One little problem—the end of the world has been set in motion—doomsday is right around the corner—and she has no idea what she’s doing.

Sometimes an idea comes from someone I meet in my travels. For instance, when I decided to set the second trilogy of my Nightcreature Novels in New Orleans, my husband and I took a three day tour. I’d been to New Orleans twice before, but I needed more specific knowledge.

The first day we were there, we ended up in an Irish bar off of Bourbon Street. The place had a terrific juke box that played Patsy Cline. The bartender was a gorgeous red head from Boston whose name was Diana.

The bar appears in Crescent Moon as Kelly’s, where Patsy Cline sings “Crazy” while the heroine, a red head named Diana, asks pertinent questions of the bartender and the patrons.

At times I get an idea from my own life. The little boy in my Harlequin Superromance Leave it to Max is very similar to a little boy who used to live at my house (he grew into a very large, bearded young man when I wasn’t looking). A lot of my son’s best lines ended up coming out of Max’s mouth. My little guy always opened all the doors and cabinets in every room he was in. You never knew what might be in there. He was accident-prone big time.

The day I went to the fed ex box to mail the manuscript (about a little boy with a broken arm who got into all sorts of trouble) I returned home to a phone call from the school informing me that my version of Max had one too. That was kind of creepy. My husband begged me to “never put him in a book.”

Sometimes I get ideas from a line in a magazine, newspaper, an image in a movie or a TV show, a dream. I even got one once from a license plate. It was pretty cool.

I’m always interested in other people’s thought processes so tell me—Where do you get your ideas? Where do you think writers get their ideas? What have you heard from others? Share!

Lori Handeland

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