Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Where Ideas Come From

When I was seventeen two sentences came into my head: "Beatrice's lover was made of lip. She wouldn't say where she'd found it." Being unusually sensible that day I wrote them down, looked at them and decided I was too young to have any idea what on earth to do with them, and put the paper away for another day. Almost twenty years later I took the paper out, finished the story, and sold it to F&SF. The only source of inspiration I can think of for the line is the Todal, a nasty monster from James Thurber's wonderful The Thirteen Clocks,.

In a similar way, the story I sold yesterday, "Boon," started out with the first line: "No Pampers in Elfland." But when I consider it, it really started with my contrarian response to the Borderlands series. I enjoyed the series a lot; it's an appealing conceit, and some of the stories are wonderful. But after reading several of the books I began to chew on what it would be like to live in this place--to be stuck in this place--if you didn't want to be a teen runaway living among elvish rock n' rollers and artists. What about an elderly pensioner who hasn't the money or drive to move away from the house in which her family grew and her husband died? Or a struggling single parent whose support system is so tenuous that survival is all she can think of? Borderland is a town for the young and the people who want to be that particular kind of young. So of course, I wanted to write a story about someone who wasn't, um, of that demographic. That's not what the Borderlands stories are meant to do, and that's fair. So I had to find some other way to handle the problem, and of course, turned to my home town, which has absorbed any number of immigrant populations. Why not elves and dwarves and brownies and nixies?

There are all sorts of ways to be stuck in a place you don't want to be. The most interesting one, to me, is the kind of inertia that comes from believing, whether correctly or not, that you have no options. Of course, the story went off in its own merry direction once I set it in motion, but that's where the idea came from.


Blogger Janni said...

I got a story once out of putting someone older and with different issues than the dominant demographic of a story into it.

Even though I write YA, I get twitchy when a world or an aspect of the world seems to exist entirely for the young and single. Because no world really works that way.

1:01 PM  
Blogger Madeleine Robins said...

That's one of the reasons I moved back to New York from Cambridge. I was working at Harvard, and everyone seemed to be young, single, and childless. After seven years there it began to feel creepy (granted, I was young, single, and childless, and all my friends were too, so I wasn't getting much exposure to the many older people, people with kids, married people etc.)

2:27 PM  
Blogger Maureen McHugh said...

I can't wait to read the story. For one thing, if there are Pampers in it, there is a mother, and the idea of a mother in the Borderlands who is the conventional wicked and ageless being who the adolescent is running from seems wonderful.

4:32 PM  
Blogger Madeleine Robins said...

What a cool notion, Maureen. Unfortunately, the mother in this one is not much more than a teenager herself. She ran toward New York, and her dreams of stardom, and has found that it's a damned hard life, especially with an unexpected baby. She's a kid with a lot on her shoulders, trying to get along (and rather envious of the apparently effortless lives of the elves who have moved into her neighborhood.

5:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The GWN POINT OF HONOUR review is here:

True North

9:02 PM  
Blogger Madeleine Robins said...

Looking at Maureen's comment again, I suddenly started thinking of a story, or at least a setup, where the mother is the one who ran away to the Borderlands...and took her child with her. A sort of Gilmore Girls setup, but with elves?

BTW--thanks, True. Nice!

8:26 AM  
Blogger Janni said...

I remember, in my early 20s, when I realized that it had been years since I'd interacted with anyone more than a few years older or younger than me. It was an unsettling realization, and I'm glad this is no longer the case.

11:50 AM  

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