“That’s a book”

I spend an awful lot of my waking hours reading the news, following the discussion on Twitter, and having conversations with my publishing colleagues. Part of this is just a natural curiosity about the world, but part of it is a deliberate attempt to find new book ideas. During a biweekly staff meeting, we all come to the table with ideas that we have and discuss their merits, trying to figure out if some person, topic or new item is, indeed, a book. Mostly we’re thinking about nonfiction. Some of the ideas are clear and ready for a writer, while others may be interesting, but aren’t quite a book. Some need a new twist or spin that we figure out during our discussion, or a small idea may lead to something bigger.

But more interestingly, I think, is when a story prompts an idea for a novel. An author of mine has a book coming out next month that was inspired by an article I read–several times–and became obsessed with. And just today an author of mine tweeted about a story she found that is the perfect inspiration for a novel. I couldn’t agree with her more; the story is mysterious and rich and calls for exploration. I can’t wait to see what she does with it. I have to admit: I have a fondness for “ripped from the headlines” stories, so if you’ve got those, send them my way!

Are there any stories you’d dying to see fictionalized? And as writers, do you draw from the news when dreaming up new ideas?

8 Responses to “That’s a book”

  1. Ciara says:

    Funny the story I’m writing now has loose origins in a news story I read years and years ago that just stuck with me.

  2. When news stories inspire my work, they tend to all be science-related, “scientists think this might happen on other worlds!” type of things. It’s a bit funny, since my WIP is the first story I’ve written with aliens since childhood, but multiple stories have been dreamed up after reading about all the crazy stuff that happens in space.

    I’ve come up with a couple of character names from reading tragic news stories, though. It always feels a bit macabre to read a story, feel horrible for the victims, and then a few days later realize I can’t get one of their first names out of my head.

  3. Catherine Whitney says:

    As a nonfiction writer I have found that the best ideas can spring from a small kernel–a what if, what happened, oh, really, moment. There is no limit. I love the fact that you guys do that kind of thinking in your meetings.

  4. Jaclyn says:

    I think the Kobe Killer accident in Japan would be set a great stage for a fiction novel. After all, the Kobe Killer was thought to be a middle-aged man but turned out to be a particularly sadistic 14-year-old schoolboy.

    I guess that kind of issue – the upbringing of young children/nature vs. nurture – has already been explored, most notably in Lionel Shriver’s acclaimed WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN, but that book was written in the mother’s point of view. I imagine I’d be quite in rapture to read from the perspective of a pre-teen serial killer.

    I like the sound of that author who tweeted about drawing inspiration from another story. These days, with critics rearing their heads left and right, it feels to me like too many authors are afraid to even give nods to where they get their inspiration.

  5. Colin says:

    I do keep an eye/ear to the news in case something strikes me as an interesting story idea. I don’t have any “ripped from the headlines” stories at the moment. But I’m always looking… :)

  6. Gill Avila says:

    The problem I see with “stories ripped from the headlines”is that a book will come out a year or more after the headlines, so its lost it’s “timeliness.”

  7. Joelle says:

    I have an unsold book that I love which was inspired by an article in The Tennessean. And Restoring Harmony got its kick-start from an excerpt in Rolling Stone from a nonfiction book (The Long Emergency).

    I do want to say here for the record, if you ever come across a book idea that sounds good for me, LET ME KNOW!!!! We both know how I struggle for book-worthy ideas!

  8. I wrote a novel once, which was prompted by a story a friend told me, although I’m not sure the novel was particularly good. I decided fiction was not my thing, but I do like — no, I love — “telling stories,” so although I’ve worked as a journalist most of my life, my heart is in narrative non-fiction. You just can’t make up the greatest stories. Part of what makes a good story truly excellent is that it’s true. And I’m not even sure it needs to be ripped from the headlines. Of course, people are going to want to read the story of Gabby Gifford’s recovery and extraordinary stories like that, but I think people also like to read stories about people who are like themselves, ordinary people, people you might see on the street and not notice. It’s the Superman phenomena — he could be you or me, but he is special. The reader can relate to the mild-mannered reporter and fantasize about being the superhero. If the superhero is a real human being, the story is even more awesome!

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