I’ve read hundreds of author interviews over the years. Some highlight the viewpoints of the big dogs on the storytelling block, and others give newcomers a bit of air time. Hell, I was even the subject of an author interview back in 2007, when an essay I’d submitted to a Women on Writing contest actually came up a winner.
At some point, the interviewer almost inevitably asks the writer “so, where does your inspiration come from?”
The subject of what inspires us to write is hashed – sometimes to death – in writer’s boards and writing classes. Perhaps it needs to be. During those moments when writer’s block attacks, it is nice to have your arsenal of weapons drilled into your head.
A writer’s inspiration comes from everywhere. A life-changing event. A snippet of conversation overheard in line at the bank or the coffee shop. A newspaper article or a spotlight on the local news station. A peculiar look on the face of a stranger that makes you wonder what he’s thinking. A dream or nightmare. A night of strolling down memory lane with friends over a few drinks. The possibilities are endless, and like most other writers when I’m asked about my inspirations I will probably list them all.
But even so, I am occasionally surprised by what gives me an idea. This week, the twists and turns of my own head took me for an unexpected ride.
I was rushing around on a Monday or Tuesday morning, going about my normal routine of getting ready for work, mainlining coffee, and grumbling because I just wanted to go back to bed. In the living room, Lee was drinking his coffee and watching the morning news, as he always does.
I tend to ignore the news first thing in the morning, other than the weather. During the workweek, I’m cranky enough when I start my day, and don’t need my negativity reinforced by a reminder that the economy sucks, gas prices are skyrocketing, politics are ridiculous and people are downright crappy to each other. I catch up on the news when I’m in a better frame of mind.
Given my bad impression of the morning talking heads, I was surprised to hear Lee laughing in the living room. I had to check out what was going on.
It turned out that in the midst of disaster, crime and everybody being broke, they’d thrown in a story about a mailman who had been caught on film taking a dump in the yard of someone on his route. I gotta admit, that’s a good morning laugh.
So I chuckled along with Lee and then put it out of my mind, getting back to the business of curling my hair and slapping on makeup in a vain attempt to look like I actually wanted to go to my first meeting of the day. But on the ride in to work, and in that meeting, and through lunch and long after I came home at night, that news story stayed with me.
I was haunted by the Pooping Mailman.
At first, what went through my mind was just questions. What had put the mailman in a position that led him to taking a desperate dump in someone’s yard? Why had the person who caught the act on film happened to look out the window just then? What would I, or any host of other people I know, do if they peered out one sunny morning and saw the reliable postal guy – the mail will come regardless of rain, snow or explosive diarrhea – squatting in the yard with his pants down?
Then, although I know nothing about the mailman who left that special delivery or the person he left it for, those questions started answering themselves. Those people didn’t matter anymore. I’d taken this silly event in their lives and applied it to my own cast of characters, with their own unique circumstances that would lead to a very different outcome.
It had become a story.
This morning I stopped turning it over in my brain and started writing it. So far, it goes well.
And I laugh at the imaginary someday when I am interviewed once again and asked what inspires me to write, and I get to say “anything and everything. Like, remember that mailman who had to take a crap?”
Um … yeah. You just never know what will deliver inspiration.