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Where do book ideas come from?

One of the most popular questions I’m asked is where do my ideas for what happens to the characters come from? The simple–and vague–answer is: everywhere. Many times, I *try* to have events happen in books that I have some experience with–such as:

  • I’ve been to a bathhouse–in Intentions of the Earl and To Win His Wayward Wife, they visit a bathhouse. Since I’d been, I knew how to describe it–of course, I had to rusticate it a little to fit the time period.
  • I used to play chess A LOT–so do Alex and Caroline in Her Sudden Groom and so does Alex and Wallace in Her Imperfect Groom.
  • My oldest son spoke in 3rd person for roughly nine months (to his credit, he had a speech delay so it was just part of learning to talk for him)–to help deal with my own frustration with my son doing this, despite my days spent trying to explain pronouns and how they’re used, I made it light-hearted and hopefully comical by having Paul do this to irritate his wife.
  • My husband fly fishes and has bought me all the necessary equipment to fish with him, therefore, I know far more about fly fishing than I ever thought I would and it was easy to transfer my knowledge (and his relentless instruction of: don’t bend your elbow!) to Marcus and Paul.
  • I wear glasses. Big, thick, coke bottle glasses. I’ve worn them 25 years (yes, I know I’m only 26). I started wearing them following my first surgery in 1987 and have had two subsequent surgeries and I still wear the darn things. Without them, I’m hopeless. Poor Juliet inherited this from me.
  • Because of my wonderful vision, I struggled to learn to read, much like Edwina.
  • My husband also plays tennis… If you read His Contract Bride, you’ll know my true feelings on the sport. LOL
  • Last month, I was on a family canoe trip and while in the middle of the lake, my youngest decides he has to pee NOW. It cannot wait. Too far away from where we rented the canoe, which would probably have a bathroom, we paddled over to the nearest shore and I had to help him out so he could water a tree–and in doing so, we almost tipped the canoe. Fortunately, I was “stuck” on where to go with His Contract Bride, and this provided me with an easy solution: take them on an adventure and let them (not me, but them) tip the canoe.

This is just a quick list–I have a friend on Facebook who every time a new book comes out, comments to me that such-and-such reminds her of me and Bob, especially some of the things Edward and Regina say to each other.

Now, in case you missed it in my former statement, I referred to my husband as Bob again. And henceforth, he will be back to Bob for the stunt he pulled last week. Fortunately, I will be able to use this particular adventure in a future book, but it’ll have to wait to be a book based in the United States as such creatures do not exist in England…

As you might have guessed by the lack of posts, I’ve been away for the last two weeks. Our family took an extended trip to Charleston, South Carolina where His Yankee Bride will take place, then up to Gettysburg.

Before we left, my husband decided to pack for us. Why? Because he was ready to go and wanted everything loaded and on the car days before it was time to travel… So anyway, he must have been living in dreamland when he packed for me. First, we’d already had several 100+ degree days here in Oklahoma, the hottest being 105 and he packs me a large, fleece nightgown… Uh, no. Then, he grabs me three fishing shirts, two skimpy undershirts/tank tops and four pair of shorts–three of which don’t fit. See, I’m a size 10 and three of these pair of shorts were from two or three years ago when I was a six… As I said, he was living in a dreamland.

For my part in this, I didn’t even think he’d pack the wrong sizes (which still hang in my closest as I dream of fitting into them again) and just took his word that he’d packed properly.

So we, as in my husband, our two children, our new dog who is a four month old pom-a-poo, and me leave. We decided to take the southern route out of Oklahoma and drive across I-20 from Texas through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and then to South Carolina. At first, the trip was great. We’re a camping family and we camped for two nights in Texas. The first night everything was great–the second night things got weird. We’re laying in our sleeping bags and hear a strange noise, like something is sliding. It gets quiet, then we hear it again. This happens twice more and then there’s a “crash” like something has fallen. So Bob and I creep out of our tent to find that a large plastic box of cupcakes we’d left on the table are GONE. Seriously, cupcakes? We look around and find they’ve been tossed on the ground. Cupcakes are everywhere. The dome of the box is like five feet from the table and the little black bottom is clear on the other side–along with the cardboard. All right, so the animal has a sweet tooth apparently. We go back to bed. No more than ten minutes later, we actually hear the squeaking as the top of our cooler is opened, then slammed. The next morning, we find a large ziplock bag that one held chocolate chip cookies in it about 25 feet a way with a giant hole and half the cookies missing. As I said, our friend must have had a sweet tooth.

Just weird.

So we pack up and leave. We’re no strangers to animals visiting our campsite, it’s part of camping. Last year we had a group of deer who ate our soy hotdogs while camping in the Southwest corner of Oklahoma. It happens.

That night we find a great little campsite in Alabama and have no issues.

Because we’d bought firewood and had a ton of it left over, my husband decides we need to stay another night so we can use it all. Brilliant plan, Bob!

That night we were visited again, but NOT by a raccoon with a sweet tooth or a deer who’d later have indigestion…

It was just past 11pm, the fire was gone, our closest “neighbor” was no more than one, maybe even two, football fields away, and my husband decided to take our dog out one last time before bed. While he’s out there, I’m “getting comfortable” which is hard to do when I’m wearing a pair of shorts that won’t zip due to being two sizes too small and a skimpy, spaghetti strap tank top that’s more of an undershirt than an actual article of clothing to be seen in. There is no way I could sleep in that fleecy thing when it was like 90 degrees out. I get as comfortable as I can and am nearly asleep when they come back in.

We’re using an air mattress, so as you can imagine, I can feel every single movement as my husband gets settled.

Then we hear it: metal clanging and the unmistakeable sound of someone or something digging in the little bowl of dog food which is only about five feet (at most) from the tent. Our dog, who is the most calm, docile creature ever created, starts going ballistic. His breathing speeds up and he’s moving frantically all over the bed as this wild animal makes himself comfortable in the dog’s pen messing with his food, clinging and clanging the dishes. Then all grows quiet outside and right next to the tent, we hear a low, but very unmistakeable, fierce growl and Sir Rhett (the dog) barks and shakes.

I’ve been married to Bob since I was 18 and I’ve never seen his eyes so wide–even when we’d been married only three months and told him I’d be having a baby before our first anniversary. Next to the bed, I’d put the axe he’d been using to chop the firewood and shoved it at him, telling him to go scare it off.

Of course he didn’t because he didn’t know what it was. Then the thing came up  right up to the side of the tent where I was sleeping and stood by the open window and purred again, deeper, louder, with more urgency this time.

I’ll admit it scared the living daylights out of me. Now, it wasn’t just the dog who was shaking–I was, too. Last month we were in Arkansas as Turpentine Creek Animal Refuge where they have 100+ big cats and I’d heard that noise then–I just couldn’t place which big cat made it.

Outside, the cat walks away from the tent, brushing the side of it as he walks back over to mess with the bowls and the exercise pen again, letting us know he hasn’t gone anywhere–occasionally we hear his or her noise, and it sounds almost more like a deep purr that sends a shiver down my spine and puts my teeth on edge.

The thing knows we’re in there, and he’s obviously smelled the dog or he wouldn’t linger. Not only is Sir Rhett’s food out there, but he’s been marking all over that campsite for the past two days. It’s undeniable, and the longer that cat’s out there, the more determined he seems to be. And the more determined he is, the more nervous I am. Don’t get me wrong, I do love the dog, but my babies are also in that tent!

Once again, I remind my husband of the axe I’ve given him, telling him to go scare it off. But still, we don’t know what exactly it is or how best to react. So my genius thinking is: aha, we have a flashlight, let’s see if we can glimpse a peek.

As soon as the flashlight goes on, we hear one more purr and a clatter of metal… Then nothing.

No more rustling of leaves.

No more pinging of metal.

No more deep purring.

Nothing.

The seconds creep by. Where is our fierce friend? Has he left? Or is he quietly waiting outside to pounce on us?

Though we can’t hear him, it does nothing for my nerves. Actually, that’s not true. It makes me more apprehensive. Hearing him pace by the tent, purring or digging in Sir Rhett’s food is actually comforting in comparison, at least we have an idea of where he’s at. Now we don’t know.

Either way though, the car is a much safer place to be than a tent. So after fifteen minutes of silence–we decide to do it: let’s wake up the kids and make a mad dash across those fifty, rock-covered yards to the car.

Of course, in an emergency I cannot find my shoes–not to mention my kids both sleep like the dead. With what had to be the most awkward experience ever, we begin attempting to wake our kids. Of course, they’re totally oblivious, even as we nearly shout, “Wake up! Wake up! It’s time to go NOW!” They’re off in la la land! My youngest manages to wake up just enough that my husband then thinks it’s all fine and dandy to take our only flashlight and run to the car! Yes, that leaves me with two little boys–one who is still asleep–and holding the dog who is the equivalent to carrying a raw T-Bone apparently to get to the car.

Going into a state of hysteria, I yell for my sleeping child to wake up only to watch in horror as he scowls at me, then crawls to the back corner of the tent and throws the blanket over his head!

With a strength borne of who-knows-what, mother’s instinct, perhaps, I reach over, scoop him up in my free arm, command my younger son to run to the car (which my husband is now safely in, with the lights on) and I begin running with a tantalizing meal for a wild animal in one arm and my dead-to-the-world six year old in the other across fifty yards of sharp gravel in my bare feet and ill-fitting attire, screaming like a maniac!

We all made it safely to the car where we waited for sunup before taking down the tent. I will say, it was rather uncomfortable as the car was extremely hot–partially due to the weather, and the labored breathing of four humans and a dog, but also from the steam that was undoubtedly spiraling out of my ears and nose at Bob for just leaving us! As the sun came up, my irritation faded as I did realize that he couldn’t have protected us had he been walking with us had the thing struck, because he’d been struck, too. So his sitting in the car with the lights on as we made a mad dash was actually the better thing (at least that’s what I’m choosing to believe).

As nerves settled and logical thinking set in, with the help of youtube, we determined it was a cougar who’d been outside our tent! I know, weird that they’re be such an animal in Alabama, but there you have it.

Now, for as terrified as I was at this whole experience, two good things have come out of it:

1. I no longer have to camp again. Yay!!

2. I will now be able to (and plan to) incorporate something similar into a book as I experienced a vast array of emotions that night, most of which I’ll never forget–the only difference is, the hero will NOT leave the heroine behind!

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11 thoughts on “Where do book ideas come from?

  1. You live quite the life. I am glad you won’t have to camp again. I went camping with my family last year (the first time in about 25 years). Other than thinking I was going to die from being cold (it was 45 degrees in our tent), the only animals we encountered were a bunch of cows grazing outside our tent. My husband is very good about making sure the food is all put away in the vehicle before bedtime.
    As for your husband doing the packing, you are a brave woman. My husband would probably have packed my too small clothes as well, since I too am still hanging on to them hoping to fit back in them. My husband would have probably found my silky nightgowns that I no longer wear and packed those instead of flannel. Did you have to buy some clothes on your trip? I would have insisted on it.
    Glad you are back in one piece and that you have plenty of stories to share with us.

    • I’ve camped all over the US and have encountered all sorts of animals, never one as dangerous as this though. But yeah, I think it’s because Bob didn’t bother to put the food away that he came. *shivers*

      Silky nightgowns. LOL

      At home I’m more of a long t-shirt kind of gal. My husband hates that and thinks I should wear those silky nightgowns, too. So to avoid him mistakenly packing them for me, I just don’t buy them.

      Nope. I didn’t buy any new clothes except a t-shirt that I slept in. The problem was we didn’t have room in the car for new clothes–especially after I bought tons of new books!

      I have tons of stories, this was just the most memorable and exciting.

      • I only have 2 silky things left. My wedding night nightgown and one my husband bought me a month after we married, it is a long nightgown, but very pretty. They are both stuffed in the back of the dresser. I used to wear nightgowns and night shirts but since having my youngest almost 3 years ago I now wear cotton tee shirts and cotton knit capris. I can’t stand skin to skin contact of my legs. So very strange, I know.

  2. Well I’m glad nothing bad happened, hungry cougars can be vicious! Thanks for sharing the story, it was entertaining to read (again glad nothing bad happened.) If I were you in that situation I think I would be frozen with fear (flight, fright or fight) I am so fright, but i think as my adrenaline picks up I would be able to actually think. And thanks for the insight on how you go about getting ideas for your books.

    • Alanna, thanks. I’m glad nothing happened, either. I lived in the mountains up in the northwest part of the United States while growing up and heard talk of cougars, but never actually encountered one. Scary creatures, they are.

      I’m actually surprised I was able to act, either. Thinking on it I don’t know how I wasn’t paralyzed with fear.

  3. And this is why all my camping takes place in a concrete jungle! 🙂 Also, I’m guessing we passed each other somewhere in our journies…bummer. I was on the coast between MD & PA in June.

    • Oh drat! But we actually didn’t make it all the way to the coast. We came up from Richmond, then went around Washington DC to up to Gettysburg.

      Yeah, “roughing it” for me will now be a hotel that doesn’t have a pool or a continental breakfast. No more tents for me. Ever.

    • I tried to drag Bob and the boys to Hershey, but we had our dog with us so it really wasn’t an option–especially the chocolate factory. I loved Gettysburg so I’m sure we’ll go back again.

      This was my first time ever going to MD and I must say the traffic around Washington was nuts!

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