I'm often asked where I get the ideas for my novels. It's a question all authors hear time and again, but it's a hard question to answer. Truthfully, I've never written a book that cam completely from a single idea. The closest I came to that was with On the Head of a Pin which began from a conversation I had at a hairdresser. I was getting my hair washed when the woman scrubbing my head asked, "Did you hear about those kids who accidentally killed that girl at a party, panicked, and hid her body?" The hair rose on the back of my neck — a sure sign that this was a good idea.
Yet that wasn't the only place that book began. I had been reading a lot of nonfiction on various religions and myth, including Joseph Campbell and books on Buddhism. These fed into the novel, as did the scandal at the time involving the Catholic Church and its priests. I wanted to show that not every priest is evil, something that is often thought when a tragedy like that scandal unfolds. Every person in a profession, a religion, a group, or whatever the evil is identified with is tarred by the same brush in the press.
Sometimes setting influences a book. Both On the Head of a Pin and Imperfect, the novel I recently finished, are set in rural Pennsylvania in the rounded mountains called the Allegheny Mountains where I lived for nearly two decades. I've wondered when I'd feel at home enough to set a book in Texas. After seven plus years, I feel no desire to do so. Instead, the setting of the novel I'm currently working on is set in the neighborhood of my early childhood. At least, that's the world above ground. The world below is the result of lots of research and many visits to caves and mines.
Research also breeds ideas. Reading about a historical period has triggered answers in various plots, if only by way of explaining how something happened before the book began. It can also inspire me to want to set a book in that time period, not that I've done that yet. Maybe that will be my next book.
Images of people and places have spawned quilts and books as well. I've shared some of the images that speak to me in this way here.