Where Do Writers Get Their Ideas?

Where do writers get their ideas? Maybe the question should be: where do writers not get ideas?

I signed up for a watercolor class at my local art league. It’s the same art league on which I based the center of intrigue in both The Reluctant Fortune-Teller and Getting Rid of Mabel.

I walked in and met my instructor, a Sicilian American called Carmelo. Carmelo wears his long wavy hair combed back from his forehead. When I told Carmelo that I had stopped taking classes here 25 years ago, he said, “Twenty-five years ago? How old were you then? Four years old?”

“That’s right!” I said. “I’m twenty-nine!”

I knew then that I would enjoy this class.

I told Carmelo and the class that I had to quit art back in the early nineties due to family needs, and have always missed it. I was finally returning. I added that I’d written two books that use that very art league as a setting.

“No way!” exclaimed Carmelo, tapping away at his phone. In a few moments, he’d bought both books, and another student bought one, too. I told the class that the local bookstore around the corner has copies, but instruction was beginning.

Carmelo taught us a watercolor technique. “See this waterfall? Watch. I’ll show you something called fumato. Fumato! It means ‘smoky’ in Italian. Now, watch this!” He pulled a dry brush skillfully down the white paper where the waterfall would be, dragging along just a little of the wet blue sky. He talked as he worked. “Any time you want to make it…what do you call it?… Foggy….What do you call it?… Misty… Fumato, fumato. What’s the word I’m looking for in English?”

“Smoky?” I asked.

“Do you speak Italian?” asked Carmelo in surprise.

“No. You just told us. Fumato means smoky.”

But Carmelo was already moving on.

“Don’t get too anxious about the trees. Have fun, like a child! Look at this! I go: blah-bi-dee-blah-bi-dee-blah! That way, you just relax, like when you were a kid, playing with your paints. Blah-bi-dee-blah-bi-dee-blah!”

I turned to another student and said, “I think I feel another book coming on.”

“Another book?” said Carmelo. “Am I going to be a character in your book? Hey! I like that! You can use my name! And my character can say, ‘Blah-bi-dee-blah-bi-dee-blah!”

“And ‘fuhgettaboudit!'” supplied another student.

“Right!” said Carmelo. “‘Fuhgettaboudit!’ and ‘Bah-da-bing, bah-da-boom!’ That’s what I always say. Ask anybody.”

The next time someone asks me, “Where do writers get ideas for stories?” I’ll answer, “Try your local art league.”

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