C.K. Crigger lives with her husband and three feisty little dogs in Spokane Valley, Washington, where she crafts stories set in the Inland Northwest. She is a two-time Spur Award finalist, in 2007 for Short Fiction, and in 2009 for Audio, as well as the 2008 Eppie Award winner for historical/western fiction. She is a member of Western Writers of America, and reviews books and writes occasional articles for Roundup magazine. Her latest release is Two Feet Below, a novel of western suspense.
Wherever I go, the most common question I’m asked is, “Where do you get your ideas?” My answer? “From everywhere.”
I don’t know. Maybe writers see the world differently than non-writers. I’ve had people look at me like I’ve just landed my UFO in their flower garden when I mention where I got this idea or that, but really, I don’t think my process is so very odd. Why should it take a fully developed plan to begin a story when a mere glimpse can set me off?
Years ago, my husband and I were driving through the dry scablands in eastern Washington. The road, running as straight as though it’d been laid out by ruler, suddenly dipped over a hill and took a sharp 90˚ turn—right between an old, derelict gas station/house, and a barn. Chickens flew up as we drove through their yard.
What did I see as we navigated this stretch of road? More than the sagebrush, that’s for sure. I saw heat mirages rising on the road ahead, the vivid blue of the sky, the barren landscape with it’s basalt outcroppings. I noted the abrupt direction change as the road took a turn through someone’s yard. One of the features of this area are the small potholes lakes that dot the landscape. I knew that hidden over the hill is a tiny, deep lake.
Most of all, I saw a story and developed it in the space of about thirty seconds. A vision popped into my head, complete with the main character’s name. This stretch of road, no more than three hundred yards in length, became the setting for a short crime story, which, as it happens, didn’t get picked up.
Meanwhile, I’d already written the first two Boothenay Irons stories about my time-traveling gunsmith. From the beginnings of this rejected short story, that character and the setting morphed into the third Gunsmith book, Crossroad, published in audio by Books In Motion, and in print and ebook by Amber Quill Press.
For China Bohannon, my 1890s bookkeeper turned sleuth series, besides using the city of Spokane (gorgeous old homes on the South Hill right down to a tenderloin district) as a setting, I drew inspiration from the history of those years. Mining, logging, banking, agriculture—Spokane was the financial and supply hub of a huge area in those days.
In the second book of the series, Two Feet Below (Oak Tree Press) my heroine, who is a bit of a suffragette (although she doesn’t necessarily recognize this) is tossed over the side of a steamboat in the middle of the lake, and survives to get into trouble in the notorious, wide-open mining town of Wallace, Idaho. I planned much of the steamboat section as I bobbed about in my own boat, watching as the last of the tug boats brought logs down the St. Joe River and across the lake to the sawmills on the lower part of the lake—an enterprise that ceased to exist only a few years ago.
Or, for inspiration, how about we take a look at one police report. In a recent true case, police burst into a home where they expected to find drug dealers. They broke down the front door, confronting a middle-aged Asian woman and her dog. Within seconds they had shot and killed her dog and tasered her because she threatened them with a weapon. The police hauled the woman down to the station, booked her for dealing drugs, and released the information to the press. Only later did it come out that the attack dog was something like a toy poodle with a “sharp” bark, and the woman’s weapon a wooden spoon. She’d been baking when she heard a commotion and went to see what was happening. Turns out, by the way, the cops had gone to the wrong address. They never apologized, not only for wrecking her house and killing her beloved dog, but for tasering a woman recently out of the hospital with heart trouble. Oh, yes, and ruining her reputation. A woman who was a retired school teacher. A month later she died, broken hearted. Her son is suing.
How’s that for inspiring a good story? Well, maybe not good, but rousing. My point, however, concerns a writer taking facts that have finally been fairly well authenticated, and fitting them into a fictional story. The police, in this case, insisted the woman resisted arrest, threatened them, and that they were attacked by the dog. In case anyone wonders, the police were exonerated. Some, on reading this, might say police need policing. Others might insist the woman should’ve dropped the damn spoon.
The question is, if I were to take this scene and write a book, how would I slant the information?
Inspiration is all around us. Where a writer finds it and what she does with it—well, that’s what makes for unique stories and styles and settings and…. I get excited just thinking about it.