“Where do you get your story ideas?” is the first question most people ask a writer. My answer is, “It’s a process,” which probably annoys the hell out of whom ever asked the question. I give this answer because to explain how the idea for a story jelled would, at most times, fascinate another writer, but bore the reader to tears. However, since you have asked so many times, if not me, someone else, I will attempt to give you insight into how I get an idea for a story.
My husband and I were in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Asbury is a New Jersey Shore town that grew seedy in the seventies. Once, it was one of the hot spots at the Jersey Shore. They still have a beautiful beach and the Clean Water Act along with the help of multiple environmental groups have worked hard to make the water as inviting as it was back when. The town was financially troubled and never recovered from riots in the seventies or series of disastrous, promise long—cash short developers.
Late in the nineties, a new group of residents began to move into the town. They weren’t concerned about schools, they had disposable incomes and the means to set up small businesses and the clientele to support them—they were gay. By the summer of 2007, they established themselves as permanent residents of Asbury Park, welcomed by the town as a tax paying minority group who improved property and enlarged the tax base.
Along Cookman Avenue, the once fashionable shopping district, boarded up storefronts reopened and turned into galleries, smart restaurants, and trendy boutiques. This brought back business from the straight citizens of the surrounding towns and slowly but surely, Asbury Park was turning chic. We used to go visit the boardwalk just to walk by the ocean on a regular basis.
After our walk along the boards, we usually strolled down Cookman Avenue to see what was new or to find somewhere for lunch. That day we found a cute little eatery that was doing a bustling brunch business. We stopped and ate. Throughout the restaurant were paintings on the walls from the local galleries. The one just behind my husband’s head caught my attention; indeed, I could say it caught my imagination. It was a poignant study of a young man’s face. The artist put it that indefinable something extra into the portrait. The young man’s eyes held the weight of the world. He was frightened, yet quietly resigned to something. I knew I had to have that painting. My husband sat through lunch watching me stare at a point somewhere above his left ear. When he asked me a question for the third time, he finally said in exasperation, “Where are you?”
“Look on the wall in back of you,” I answered. All of a sudden, he was as caught up in the painting as I was. We discretely checked the name of the gallery on the tag and, to our delight, it was only two doors away. We were there as soon as we paid our check. The owner of the gallery told us that their resident artist had done the painting on a board during his student days. He had painted it from a photograph. The compelling young man in the photo was Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd. I did not care who he was. I wanted the portrait. Leaving my husband to settle the details, I went to study my latest acquisition and after about fifteen minutes, I knew there was a story in that picture and it was not Syd’s story. However, I still did not know whose story it was. He was a rocker, from sometime in the late eighties to the early nineties, but I had no plot, just a face. I brought the painting home and wrapped it carefully. We were in the middle of packing up and moving from New Jersey to New Mexico primarily for my health. I have a joint disease that thrives in the humidity of the Jersey Shore, but dies in the high desert.
When we unpacked, I put my painting of Syd Barrett right across from the chair in my office where I usually sat while I wrote. I finished The Sarran Plague and was in the process of editing it for publication. The radio was on and Jon Bon Jovi’s "Make a Memory" came on the radio. I absently listened to the song while doing my edits but my subconscious mind heard something that my ear did not. The next time I heard the song, I was in the car and my husband was driving. I could listen carefully to the lyrics. Syd’s painting now had a story. With a little bit of imagination and an application of my particular writing niche the song became Shattered Glass, a work in progress.
Here is my blurb for the story— Liam and Milo, two former members of a mega band, are about to confront each other six years after the end of their love affair broke up the band. But Milo will have to accept and publicly admit his sexual preferences and Liam will have to grow out of his role as the “little boy”, if they are going to reconcile their love for one another, overcome the meddling of a stalker who knows too much, and try to save their friend and former band mate Rick from a downward spiral into drug addiction.
I’m sure that this was not quite the story Jon Bon Jovi had in mind when he wrote the song. However, my painting of a young man who turned out to be Syd Barrett, coupled with a song from Bon Jovi and my move from the Jersey Shore to New Mexico gave me a book, Shattered Glass, which I hope will eventually be available at a website or bookstore near you sometime in the future.
Oh, and by the way, I located the photo from which the artist painted my painting. He is a very talented young man. The photo said nothing. The painting said everything.