Every year Pat Hermes and I sit next to each other at the signing tables during the Children’s Literature Festival in Warrensburg, Missouri on the campus of Central Missouri State University. Every year I ask Pat to show me her latest family pictures. If she ever fails to have a purse full of them, our friendship is off! Pat will kid and tease with the best of them but she takes her work quite seriously and she’s one of the best in the business. Here she is.
Where do you get your ideas? I think kids ask me that more often than any other question: Where do your ideas come from? Well, my honest answer is this: I don’t know! It just happens. But I know this: I have to be quiet. I have to listen for the voices inside my head. Some people think hearing voices is a sign of insanity, but for authors, it is not. It is, rather, a crucial part of our lives. So I’m quiet, and I hear the voice of a character speaking to me. It’s most often a girl, probably because I am a girl, but sometimes my main character is a boy. (I have one daughter, but I also have four sons, so I know quite a bit of what boys are all about.) And so the character in my head begins to come to life for me. You might find me, during my writing time, staring out a window. I do that a lot! But I am not simply staring. I am creating, writing, or maybe it’s better called ‘pre-writing.’ I daydream. I listen for that voice. What is she trying to tell me? What’s she concerned about? What kind of kid is she? Because you see, you can’t write a story with plot, until you know what the characters are like. If she’s spunky and noisy, then the plot probably won’t concern a kid who lives quietly in an attic reading books, or talking to her pet mouse.
And now, as I am writing this, I think: there’s an idea for a story! It just came to me. Maybe I should write about a kid with a pet mouse. Now what will I call her? Why does she have a pet mouse? Does the mouse have a name? Does she have any other friends besides her pet mouse? Where does she live? Does she really live in an attic? Why? Hmm. Does she have a mom, a dad, any siblings? Maybe she’s poor. Or maybe she’s sickly.
Ah! Now comes a little bit of truth to the story: When I was a child, I was sick frequently. I had something wrong with my heart, and I spent a long time in a hospital. Maybe my child with the mouse has been sick and isn’t allowed to run and play. (I wasn’t allowed to run and play because of my weak heart.) So I know how sad my pretend character feels at times.
Hmm. Good start.
But now, I’m thinking: Now that, is a stupid story line. Who wants to read about a sick kid with a pet mouse? Forget that idea, that voice.
But I can’t. I’m stuck with her. Every time I sit down at the computer – and yes, I write on the computer – she comes back to me. I can even begin to see her now. I think she’s wearing white, a long white dress, or maybe it’s a nightgown. She always wears white, and . . .
So do you see how story ideas develop? My newest venture is a series of books called Emma Dilemma. Emma gets into all sorts of mischief and trouble, though she’s a good kid at heart. Emma is very much like I was as a child. She loves animals. She has a gazillion pets. And sometimes those pets cause trouble. Sometimes, Emma causes trouble, too! My newest book will be called Emma Dilemma and the Best Horse Ever – because Emma is trying to persuade her parents to buy her a horse. They won’t. But Emma has her own plans for getting this wonderful horse Rooney.
And. . . . ?
So David – if they get someone at the festival with a name closer to Harrison than Hermes, I’ll just change my name. I’m thinking of Harriman. So the new guy could be to your left, and I’ll be to the right.
If that should ever happen, Pat, we’ll show them how a real revolt looks!