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.”

What Did You Leave Behind?

Recently I’ve pulled out of the closet some of those supplies. My painter’s hand is a little rusty, but the memory of color theory, of how to make shadows and reflections, is coming back more each time I sit down and try.


Robert Frost told us about how “way leads on to way” in his poem “The Road Not Taken.” How we tell ourselves at the moment of veering off, “It’s okay. I can always come back.” But Life moves us forward, choices lead to further choices, and we don’t always come back. Not even when the road not taken looked like a beautiful path that promised hours of happiness. Sometimes we just can’t see how to get back there again.

Many years ago, when our home was bursting with children and teenagers, and I had my own 70 square foot studio in the basement, I realized that my three daughters, sharing a 100 square foot bedroom, needed a bit more space. There was only one solution: let one girl have my studio for her bedroom. It was okay: I didn’t feel like a martyr about it. At the time, I wasn’t using the studio very much anyway. Life had become too busy.

I gave away a lot of equipment and art supplies to an alternative school. I couldn’t bear to get rid of everything, so I squirreled away some watercolor paper, brushes, canvasses, and the like in a closet—just in case I should ever “pass that way again.”

That was 20 years ago.

I went on to work in education and social services, and eventually as a psychotherapist and novelist which is my current path. But I’ve never forgotten that special kind of happiness I used to feel in my little studio as I painted.

Recently I’ve pulled out of the closet some of those supplies. My painter’s hand is a little rusty, but the memory of color theory, of how to make shadows and reflections, is coming back more each time I sit down and try.

But in my little writing rom filled with books, writing notebooks, my computer table and printer, there’s no dedicated space set up for painting. And you need a dedicated space.

Last night, on an impulse, I checked Craigslist, in search of a drafting table like the one I gave away two decades ago. I found a vintage one at a bargain price: my signal of affirmation from the Universe if you believe in that kind of thing, and I do.

I’m clearing out everything that doesn’t need to be here in order to make room for art.

And you?

What did you leave behind? What way did you veer off from, telling yourself you’d be back? Is it time to return there?

studio w twinklestudio 2

Above: The “Before” Pictures. More to come….

What I Love about Book Clubs

bk cl

Last night I visited a local book club, and I’m still glowing.

As an author, I sit alone and write the words and pictures in my head, never quite sure if what I’m writing is good, or bad, or even makes any sense. To start at that point, and go through the edits, rewrites, publication, reviews, book store signings and now, to book club meetings with people who actually bought and read the book and want to talk to me about it: it’s mind-boggling.

Norbert, Carlotta and all their friends took shape from my subconscious mind. To now sit in a roomful of readers and hear them talk about their own attachments to my characters and the personal meanings they found in the novel is an astonishing experience.

People I am meeting for the first time discuss with strong convictions how Carlotta truly does grow at the end, or how Norbert really surprised them. It makes my characters seem more real to me than ever.

Last night, a reader said she’d love to see The Reluctant Fortune-Teller become a TV series, with Norbert reading cards for a different “querent” each episode. We’d see that person’s life, and how the card reading affected them. This led to casting considerations. Tom Hanks might be Norbert. Shirley Mac Laine could be Birdie, and Meryl Streep would be a natural for Carlotta. Other names were shouted out, too, and as I looked around the circle, I realized that these women “saw” the people in Gibbons Corner, had taken them into their minds and knew them in their own way.

I love these visits to book clubs. I love being in the midst of a tribe of readers who get together regularly to talk and listen and to share their thoughts and their love of books.

It fuels my energy to write the next book.

Will There Be a Sequel?


Photo credit: Tom Davy

That’s the most common (and frankly, the most delightful) question I get when I talk with book groups and when I read emails from readers who enjoyed The Reluctant Fortune-Teller.

And now I can answer: Yes! And the next book about Norbert and his friends in Gibbons Corner is coming soon!

I will tell you that this one is mainly Carlotta’s book. It’s about how she gets her comeuppance (finally) for trying to manage everyone all the time. A bizarre stranger comes to town and turns Carlotta’s life upside down, another stranger–a nine-year-old foster child–also comes to town, and teaches Carlotta some life lessons.

There are still some scenes to add, but we’re almost there. I’d thought the sequel was all set to go. But as I’ve spoken with readers, I’ve realized that the common thread is always, “We want more from Norbert.” No one has said they want more from Carlotta! And understandably so. Norbert’s so much nicer. And yet, it’s the Carlottas of the world who bring the spice and the laughter, who set the plots ticking. Granted, I prefer my Carlottas in fiction, and not in real life.

So, here they come: Carlotta, Norbert, Margaret, Birdie, Summer and Hope, to have more adventures, to learn and to grow, and in so doing, (I certainly hope!) to give you some laughter and enjoyment.

A Fortune-Teller’s Daughter Keziah Frost

My mother wanted me to be a psychic, the way other kids’ parents wanted them to be beauty queens or A-students. She looked for any evidence she could find that I had “the gift.”


The Thorndike Press large print edition of The Reluctant Fortune-Teller comes out on August 1, 2018. In honor of this beautiful version, here is a post on my own fortune-telling childhood.

My mom & me 1958

Readers love to know where novelists’ ideas come from. At book signings, readers ask me how I came up with the idea of writing about fortune telling. Of all the questions I could get, that’s the easiest one.

I didn’t have to do any research about card reading or psychic consultations. I learned all about it during my childhood, from my mother. She considered herself to be a witch.

What did your mother want you to be when you grew up?

My mother wanted me to be a psychic, the way other kids’ parents wanted them to be beauty queens or A-students. She looked for any evidence she could find that I had “the gift.”

For example, whenever we moved into a house–which happened about every two years, she would ask me to predict how long we would be there. I would shrug and say, “Oh, I don’t know. About two years?” I was working from the premise that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Two years later, my impressed mother would declare, “You were right! You predicted we’d be out of here in two years. You must be psychic!”

I never predicted anything that couldn’t be explained by logic, but my mother was never discouraged about my psychic potential. She introduced me to every occult book she could find.

Maybe your mom taught you how to knit or how to drive. My mom taught me how to read cards, palms, and tea leaves. At twelve, I was drawing up astrological natal charts, and at fifteen I was gazing at auras. It was all a lot of fun, and unlike my character Norbert, I wasn’t a bit “reluctant” to tell fortunes. It was a great ice breaker when I got to my college dorm.

All of us, as kids, want to be what our parents hope we will be. But we also know who we are. My mom wanted me to be a psychic, but in my heart, I always knew I was a writer. All along, I saw my yet-to-be-written novels lined up on a bookshelf, somewhere in the future. If my mother were alive today, she would say, “See? You saw it before it happened. That means you are psychic!”



Orange and Yellow Are Practically the Same Thing

My mother’s constant goal was to turn both of us into psychics.

Here is how she did it.

There used to be an ESP game whose purpose was to test and develop your intuition. It contained a deck of cards, and each card had a large, colored dot in the center, either blue, green, yellow, orange or red.

You would practice with it like this.

First, decide who is to be the Sender and who is to be the Receiver. Set up the trifold cardboard between the two of you. The Sender takes a card off the top of the deck and looks at it, but does not let the Receiver see it. Then the Sender and Receiver look into each other’s eyes, and the Sender attempts to psychically transmit the color to the Receiver. All the correct guesses go in one pile, and all the incorrect guesses in the other. As you continue to play the game over time, your ability to send and receive intuitive messages should increase.

My mother and I would spend evenings working at our psychic development at the dining room table. Whenever she would be sending yellow, and I would receive orange, and go to put the card in the “incorrect” pile, she would object.

“No, you got that one right.”

I would say, “No, you said yellow, and I guessed orange.”

Then she would say, “Oh, come on! Yellow and orange are practically the same thing.”

Thus, our intuition grew at a prodigious rate.

Norbert Reads the Cards for Author, Lucy Burdette

Lucy and Ron

 Lucy with Lorenzo (aka Ron), the tarot card reader in her Key West food critic mystery series. The eighth book, DEATH ON THE MENU, will be on bookshelves August 7!

Lucy Burdette, author of the Key West food critic mysteries, shuffled the deck in Florida and sent this photo of her “horseshoe spread” for Norbert, the protagonist of The Reluctant Fortune-Teller, to interpret.

Lucy’s question:

How will I take my writing to the next level?

Norbert’s reading:

We begin with two strong women: the Queen of Diamonds and the Queen of Spades. The first is social and outgoing. The second is more quiet and perceptive. Hopefully they get along well, or it could be a real battle of wills between the two of them. The Queen of Spades would always win, though. “Still waters run deep” is an expression that applies to her.

Going even deeper with that, I wonder if these two Queens could represent your two different writer-selves—one who writes one kind of book, and one who writes something very different?

Next, you have the Ace of Spades, a card of great power. It shows an important shift. It is the end of one chapter and the beginning of new one.

The Ten of Spades signifies a new beginning as well, so I think we can say that your writing is definitely about to go in a brand new direction.

Here, you have the Seven of Clubs. Be on the lookout for an important new relationship. There is someone who would like to know you better!

The Five of Hearts tells you that you are safe as you contemplate this change. You are aligned with your higher self and flying high.

And here you finish with another powerful card: the Ace of Diamonds. This indicates that you have the power of the magician, the talent to create something out of nothing. Honor your talent.

All in all, it looks like this is a very important moment in your writing. I cannot wait to see what you will write next!

Lucy’s comment: I love Norbert’s reading! I sure hope he’s right!



Norbert Reads the Cards for Bookseller Mary Webber O’Malley


Norbert, the protagonist of the soon-to-be-published The Reluctant fortune-Teller, has been reading the cards of authors, and today he’s reading the cards of a dynamic bookseller, Mary Webber O’Malley of Anderson’s Bookshop in La Grange, Illinois. Anderson’s is the kind of book store that makes you want to buy bags full of books, because of the friendly and helpful people there, like Mary. Anderson’s is a huge supporter of authors and readers, and regularly has literary luminaries come for signings and interviews.

Mary’s question for Norbert concerns one of her own very favorite authors: Stephen King. On September 29, he and his son Owen King are coming to an Anderson’s event

As Mary shuffled her cards amid the shelves and displays of books, she focused on this question: “Will I get a chance to speak with Stephen King when he comes to town in September?”

Here are the cards Mary drew:

Four of Clubs

Seven of Clubs

Ace of Diamonds

Six of Clubs

Nine of Spades

Ten of Clubs

Jack of Hearts

Here is Norbert’s reading:

Mary, I see here a preponderance of Clubs. This signifies popularity, friendly relationships and social occasions.

The Four of Clubs says that you are more popular and more well-liked than you realize, and that you should know that your sphere of influence is widening at this time.

The Seven of Clubs says to be on the look-out for a special new relationship in particular.

The Ace of Diamonds refers to your own special talent, which is powerful. There is a mighty force of creativity within you. This is also a card of magic, so the power has a magical feel to it; it is the ability to build worlds, to build something out of nothing.

The Six of Clubs refers to a “business meeting.” This may look like a regular business meeting, or it may look more like a social occasion that turns out to push you forward in business. Since it is right next to the Ace, this meeting is full of powerful potential.

Nine of Spades can mean various things. It may say “no” to your specific question, while at the same time saying look to the other cards for a direction toward what you really most want. Or, on the other hand, it may say, you are finishing one thing, and now is a time for renewal.

The Ten of Clubs indicates a time to heal and recharge. For you, this may mean drawing happiness, energy and encouragement from relationships.

The Jack of Hearts is a fun-loving person. I feel this is the card that represents you, yourself, and you are looking happily toward that healing-recharging card.

So, Mary, what we have here is a very social period, where your connections with other people are highlighted. Your own talent and power are in the forefront now, as well, and are instrumental in how things are playing out. Something that no longer serves you is coming to an end, and this is ultimately good, as it allows the new energy to flow into your life. Concerning your question, I advise you to see in your mind and feel in your heart the conversation with Stephen King. Feel the feelings that you will experience in that conversation, as if it is actually happening now. As you do, this will reveal to you information that will assist you as you move forward.



Phaedra Patrick Has Her Fortune Told

Author Phaedra Patrick is next up to have Norbert (of The Reluctant Fortune-Teller–to be released in March) read her cards. Phaedra is the author of two enchanting, happy novels: The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper and Rise and Shine, Benedict Stone.

Phaedra’s husband had some old musician cards. She shuffled them in her home in a beautiful village in England, and emailed her “horseshoe spread” to Norbert, along with a comment and her question:

“Getting the three twos in a row was a bit spooky! My question is – I’d love to see The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper made into a film on the big screen. Will this ever happen?”

Norbert read the list of cards as follows:

2 hearts
2 spades
2 clubs
8 clubs
J diamonds
7 diamonds
Q hearts

Here is his reading for Phaedra:

You are right to notice the pattern of the three two’s! This indicates a lot going on, and “it”—whatever “it” is—comes all of a sudden.

You have the four suits evenly distributed, which shows things going on equally in all sectors of your life at the same time.

Let’s take the cards in order, from left to right.

Two of Hearts shows good news is coming. Something new is on its way; some kind of adventure.

Two of Spades, however, shows a bit of a delay for something that you wish would come very soon. Remain your kind and calm self, knowing that what you want looks favorable.

Two of Clubs is a social invitation that turns out to be more beneficial to you than you would have thought.

It seems that in regards to your question, social connection and relationships with people will figure in strongly in the positive resolution—that is, getting your first novel to the silver screen.

Right next to that social invitation you have the Eight of Clubs, the most favorable card for business. There is an opportunity. When it comes, be sure to consider all sides, of course. Note the surrounding cards for guidance here.

Next to this business opportunity, we have the Jack of Diamonds. I am going to use my intuition here and say that this card, which usually represents a young person at the crossroads, actually represents the book, The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper, itself.

Following this, we have the Seven of Diamonds: relationships are deepening, and it’s relationships that are emphasized most of all, right now.

Last but not least, Phaedra, we have the “querent card,” or the card that represents you: The Queen of Hearts, a good-hearted and generous woman.

My overall impression is that relationships both social and business are key here. The things you want will come to you through these precious relationships. Accept social invitations, especially those that your intuition bids you to. While the cards are not giving us a definite “yes” or “no” at this time, they are showing favorable conditions, and they are saying that a great deal of good things are coming to you, all at once, and that you are in an excellent position to receive what you ask for.

In the meantime, let’s ask readers: do you have any suggestions on who should play the part of Arthur Pepper, if he comes to the big screen?

Mary Kubica Has Her Fortune Told

Today Norbert, the main character of the soon-to-be released novel, The Reluctant Fortune-Teller, will be reading the cards for New York Times Bestselling author, Mary Kubica. Mary shuffled her cards in her home in the suburbs of Chicago, and sent us the seven cards she drew, along with her question for the fortune-teller.

Ok, my question for Norbert is this:

All of my novels have been set in Chicago.  Though I once thought Chicago would be the setting for all of my books, I’m considering changing it up for the next manuscript and moving the story somewhere else (perhaps some wonderful spot that would require a research trip!).  What should I do, Norbert?  Stay in Chicago or give another location a try?


The 7 cards I picked were (from left to right):

Jack of Clubs

Queen of Spades

10 of Diamonds

5 of Hearts

Jack of Spades

10 of Spades

2 of Spades

Here is Norbert’s assessment of Mary Kubica’s query:

The question you pose is an interesting one, Mary!

 First of all, I see a preponderance of black cards—five out of seven. This indicates that it will be most important to always maintain a positive mental attitude. The next thing I notice is all the face cards! My! Are these people in your day-to-day life, or characters in your next novel, I wonder?

Let’s see….

 The Jack of Clubs is a person with hidden depths and undeveloped potential; this could be a child or an adult. Could be either gender, but I have a feeling this one is male.

 Next, the Queen of Spades represents a perceptive and talented woman. I feel that this card is you, yourself.

 Now, the Ten of Diamonds is an extremely favorable card. It says, “Your project gains traction. Whatever you have been focusing on is ready to take off now!” This is a very good card for an author!

 The Five of Hearts can show a separation of loved ones; the important thing to know here is that you are safe, and ultimately, it all turns out well. Perhaps, in view of your question, this might mean you could travel for research and be away from family for a short time.

 Then you have the Jack of Spades—again, could be either gender, but I think this one is female: a younger version of you. So, could it be that you would be separated for a brief period from this young person in order to do your travel research?

 Next, you have the Ten of Spades, and this does show research and beginning a new work. Traditionally, it stands for new beginnings, learning and growing.

 Last of all you have the Two of Spades, which indicates a short delay, and that it may be hard to wait for what you want. While waiting, the cards always advise doing a small, random act of kindness, as it makes the time go faster, and is always good karma.

 Mary, it does look like you will be travelling to do research for a book that will really take off!

As you consider destinations, I have to suggest my own beautiful New York State, a land of green, rolling hills, winding roads, farms and forests. Or did you have the tropics in mind?

 Readers, what do you think about Norbert’s reading?

And do you have suggestions for the location of Mary Kubica’s next novel?