"Where did you get the idea for your book?"
July 21, 2014 7:39 AM   Subscribe

Please suggest some interesting answers for this question (for a fictional book).

I was selling my books and a lot of people asked me where I got the original idea from. The truth is I don't remember where I got the idea, it was more than ten years ago... So far I've been going with, "It just popped into my head" but they seem to want something more impressive. What are some excellent answers you've seen to this question? Thank you!
posted by cmcmcm to Grab Bag (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
"From Charles Manson."
posted by kindall at 7:43 AM on July 21

"From strangers on the internet."
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:44 AM on July 21 [1 favorite]

It was maybe (?) Daniel Pinkwater who used to answer this question, "New Jersey."
posted by jessicapierce at 7:50 AM on July 21 [3 favorites]

From Neil Gaiman's essay: "In the beginning, I used to tell people the not very funny answers, the flip ones: 'From the Idea-of-the-Month Club,' I'd say, or 'From a little ideas shop in Bognor Regis,' 'From a dusty old book full of ideas in my basement,' or even 'From Pete Atkins.'"
posted by bluesapphires at 7:57 AM on July 21

posted by argonauta at 7:57 AM on July 21

"You know, it's funny: I can come up with a good story for a book, but I can't think of a good story about how I came up with that story."
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:59 AM on July 21 [3 favorites]

"Classical Greek and Latin sources, just like Shakespeare. I'm sure I don't have to tell you which ones."
posted by ubiquity at 7:59 AM on July 21

From a dream.
posted by snorkmaiden at 8:00 AM on July 21 [1 favorite]

"I just pushed aside the peas and there it was!"

(Actually the punchline to the classic terrible dad-joke that begins "And how did you find your steak?" but seems like it could work here.
posted by dersins at 8:05 AM on July 21 [1 favorite]

I saw Francine Prose talk about this once.

"It was the song, My Funny Valentine. Does everyone know that song?" She waited for all of us to nod and smile enthusiastically.

"I hate that song."
posted by mochapickle at 8:06 AM on July 21 [1 favorite]

posted by Mothlight at 8:11 AM on July 21

I've always told people that my landlady whispers ideas to me through the ducts.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:13 AM on July 21 [1 favorite]

"I had a pet guinea pig when I was 8."

Then give them a significant look and nod knowingly.
posted by phunniemee at 8:16 AM on July 21

Try this: tell them a true anecdote about your writing process. Many people are unfamiliar with the creative process, so here's your chance to educate and engage the people who have bought your book.
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 8:21 AM on July 21 [6 favorites]

Great ideas so far! Do y'all have any anecdotes from other authors (for instance J. K. Rowling's story is very interesting)
posted by cmcmcm at 8:25 AM on July 21

Not to flippantly tell you "just google it!" but searching for the phrase "where do you get your ideas" does turn up a lot of interesting responses from published authors, including this essay by Neil Gaiman, which includes several quick, funny answers as well as a longer explanation of how he really does generate ideas and turn them into stories.
posted by jessicapierce at 8:33 AM on July 21

"Never answer the question that is asked of you. Answer the question that you wish had been asked of you." -- Robert McNamara, The Fog of War

What would you like people to know about your book? Use this as an opportunity to tell them.
posted by neroli at 8:49 AM on July 21 [3 favorites]

Stephen King: "I like to tell them I have the heart of a small boy. And I keep it in a jar on my desk."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:14 AM on July 21 [3 favorites]

That's a great idea, yet I think I'll leave out the keeping it in a jar on my desk.
posted by cmcmcm at 11:38 AM on July 21

Stephen King: "I like to tell them I have the heart of a small boy. And I keep it in a jar on my desk."

King used to credit Robert Bloch for this line, but so few remember who Bloch was these days.

I thought King's original answer was that he subscribed to an idea service that delivers four to six fresh ones every month. Presumably wrapped in a lovely basket.
posted by Flexagon at 11:55 AM on July 21

I think a good way to answer this would be to say that you are a natural observer. That you enjoy other people and their foibles, their experiences and that when you are that kind of a person, you naturally create interior characters from them, and then ask "What If I put that old lady I saw on the bus in the same room with a lion? Or with another old lady who routinely gets on that same bus and argues over the same seat?"

You could use that question as a pedestal of sorts to communicate how important awareness is in our daily lives and how stories create themselves if you pay enough attention to what's going on around you.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 12:07 PM on July 21 [1 favorite]

Tell them you have watched the dreams of them and others.
posted by janey47 at 12:37 PM on July 21

It didn't come from anywhere. I made it up. That's what "original" means.


I started with a general theme of , and just worked out the details as needed.
posted by SemiSalt at 1:13 PM on July 21

Tell them you have watched the dreams of them and others.

That would be so fantastically creepy.

Or something like, "I was watching you when you were sleeping, as I usually do, and you kept mumbling [name of your protagonist.... name of your protagonist.... name of your protagonist.... ] over and over. So perhaps you could tell me?"
posted by mochapickle at 1:21 PM on July 21

posted by xenization at 1:35 PM on July 21

I'd like to rephrase my first comment: I am looking for answers appropriate for an interview. When giving an interview, all my answers are deep and insightful except for this one!

Thanks for all your answers including the funny ones!
posted by cmcmcm at 1:51 PM on July 21

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