John B. Rosenman joins me for the February 2009 Drollerie Press blog tour. This month’s topic: origin stories!
WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR IDEAS?
by John B. Rosenman
“Where do you get your ideas?” It’s a common question that writers get, especially famous ones. I’m not famous, but I thought I’d talk a little about the origins of some of my stories and novels, and how they came into being.
One day I was walking through Barnes & Noble, and I saw a book title: The Calm Technique. Wham-o! All at once a similar title leapt into my mind with one chilling word change. The Death Technique. And I knew at once it would be about a man with a morbid “artistic” gift: the ability to will his body to decay as if he were dead. Gruesome and sick? Yes, but it found a home with Dark Arts, a professional hardback horror anthology published by Cemetery Dance Publications.
And here’s how the story begins:
I discovered the Death Technique the day after my twelfth birthday. Perhaps it was puberty that made it possible, or the fact that I simply did the right thing at the right time.
It’s more likely, though, that I was genetically predisposed to discover the DT, that it was in my nature to lie down one day and concentrate on a realm somewhere beyond this one and start to dissolve as a result. Well, “dissolve” isn’t the word. “Decompose” is more like it, as in ashes to ashes, dust to dust. “Decompose,” as in there goes my right eyeball, there goes my left. And darned if I can’t feel my bones emerging from where my flesh used to be.
Charming, huh? Well, here’s something a little more pleasant, though the origin, as with many of my stories and novels, is extremely slight. One day I found myself wondering what would happen if a person found that every time he made love or had sex, he changed into the opposite gender, and the only way to change back was to have sex again. The result was a story called “When I Was Mischelle,” and the experience of his first transformation goes like this:
When Michael Truman was seventeen, he made love to his first girl. It was the most wonderful and exciting experience of his life.
An hour later, his whole world fell apart.
It started with a tingling in his genitals that soon intensified and spread to his entire body. It felt like a thousand crazed insects were scurrying over his skin and biting deep into his flesh.
Alarmed, he locked his bedroom door and tore off his clothes. What he saw made him whimper.
Uh, sorry, folks, I can’t go any further. This is a PG site, after all. But I hope you get my basic point, which is that many, not all of my tales originate from the flimsiest of sources. One story, “High Concept,” sprang full bloom from just glancing at a page when a book fell open. I didn’t read a single word. Another, “Ancient Art,” which I just finished, came from watching a documentary on ancient Australian cave art which in ancient days, was accompanied and complemented by musical instruments. Suddenly the basic plot and theme were just there. All I had to do was expand them a little.
I even wrote a novel inspired by a single evocative word: Dreamfarer.
Occasionally my stories do have a more substantial foundation and ripen a while in my mind. That’s the case with my longest and most ambitious novel, A Senseless Act of Beauty, published by Blade Publishing and available at http://www.bladepublishing.org. Beauty is African SF that takes place on a distant, exotic world in the 24th century, and its hero, Aaron Okonkwo, is a Nigerian scientist who has to save this “New Africa” from colonial exploitation—just as the original Africa was conquered and colonized.
Where did I get the idea? For many years I had taught at three historically black universities and was immersed in African-American culture. Then one day I was sitting near a bookshelf at Norfolk State University and suddenly just knew that if I reached out and picked a book from a shelf, the book would inspire me to write my next novel. So I reached out and picked a book at random, and when I brought my hand back, I saw that it held Things Fall Apart, a novel by the great Nigerian writer, Chinua Achebe. In it, Nigeria is conquered by colonial exploitation—something that my hero on the planet Viridis tries to prevent against overwhelming odds.
First, though, since all my novels involve romances, Aaron has to resist a more immediate threat by a delectable native girl who will soon prove to be irresistible:
Peering through the shining leaves of a sarberry bush, Aaron Okonkwo watched the naked alien girl dive into the pond. Her green body lithe, and breasts full and firm in the sun. He wet his lips, feeling his blood course as her delicate, sinuous form glided through the water faster than any human could swim. She moved smoothly, with barely a ripple, her webbed hands flowing with graceful precision. Watching the water caress her long, slender limbs, he felt his body respond.
So where do I get my ideas? Like many writers, I get them from many places, although it seems that often I reap when I have done only the barest of sowing. Whatever the source of my ideas, I’m grateful for every one and invite you to come explore them with me at http://www.johnrosenman.com.