Where I Get My Ideas

The most common question I get asked is, “Where do you get your ideas?”

In the 1950s, science fiction writers had a standing joke of answering, “Schenectady.” Probably because it’s fun to say.

But I would never do anything so immature. So in answer to your questions about where did I got the idea for Midnighters, I would have to say . . . Lake Titikaka.

(I slay me.)

Actually, I’m not sure exactly how I got the basic idea for Midnighters. I’ve always read a lot of science fiction, and frozen time is a pretty old idea. Of course, in most sf and fantasy, a machine or magical device freezes time. But I liked the idea of time interrupted as a daily event, something that’s part of the fabric of the universe.

And then I realized that something had to live inside that frozen time–something scary and evil and conflict-providing. The darklings come out of my fascination with early human history. I often wonder what it would be like to have lived way back before agriculture and the wheel and iPods. Especially the getting chased and eaten part.

If you look at animals that are prey (like, say, squirrels) you’ll probably notice that they’re very nervous all the time. That’s because at any moment another creature can appear out of nowhere and take them off and EAT THEM. This would clearly make life very different. You’d never be bored.

My only glimpse into this world-view was on a trip I took to Africa. I went on a walking tour (with a guide) into a nature preserve where a couple of mature lions lived. We spotted a few springboks (a sort of gazelle, the lion’s usual lunchmeat) and lion tracks, and even some lion spoor (ex-springboks). Then we heard one of the lions roar in the distance, which set off all sort of alarm bells in my body that have never gone off before.

Walking around that day was incredibly strange and intense. On the one hand, the preserve was really beautiful, and on the other hand, a big part of my brain was thinking ONLY about the maybe-getting-eaten part. Which, in a weird way, made the beauty all the more intense.

So I wanted the darklings to be sort of like wild animals: unpredictable, hidden predators that take us back to when we were basically squirrels. I was trying to capture some of that intense beauty I experienced on the African veldt. Of course, darklings also have a weird kind of intelligence (and even some phobias) to make them a bit more like us. Because that’s even scarier.

8 thoughts on “Where I Get My Ideas

  1. I recently read an interesting book on the subject of animal behavior called Animals in Translation, which seeks to explain how animals see the world. What makes it so fascinating is that Temple Grandin, one of the authors, is autistic, and believes that her affliction causes her brain to function more like an animal’s brain than a human’s.

    Whether this is true or not is a matter for researchers to decide, but she certainly presents a compelling case. And you can’t argue with the success she’s had.

    I realize this has nothing to do with how writers come up with ideas to write about. But your story of the prey instinct made me think of it…

  2. Well, I guess I was suppose to write a response to the guy who wrote before me, but anyways I am doing a project on Uglies and I have to write my own description of you. I’ve looked it up on goolge but I thought it would be cool to hear it from the actual author. So do u think maybe you could tell me a little about your past and what you’ve done in your life.

  3. Alex-

    The most detailed bio for me is, oddly, not in the Bio section of my website, but in the News section. This has items going back to 1996, and is the most detailed record of my career I’ve ever put together.

    A few things that aren’t in there: I grew up in Texas, Connecticut, and California, the result of a father working on computers in the 1960/70s. Back then, computer were huge and came with (mostly) guys in suits.

    If you have any specific questions, feel free to email me. (Go to the front end of the site and hit “Contact Me.”)

    John H-

    That book looks really cool. I’m a big fan of cognitive theories, especially on the autism/Asperger’s spectrum. Of course, I go to a lot of sf convetnions, so I see the mysteries and marvels of the latter a fair amount. And, of course, like anyone who writes sf, I myself exist on that continuum, and wouldn’t have it any other way.

  4. No, I think it was my inner 12-year-old BOY. That right, Harry? Titikaka, funny? He’s falling over laughing. Wha’d I tell you?

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