Stealing and more…

Remembering way-back-when at my first few book eventsoften asked questions were, “Where do you get your ideas?” and “How do you know all that stuff?”[i] Then there were blog-tourswhich several generous and kind authors asked me to participate inand often talked about was, “where do ideas come from.” And of course, our thoughts on inspiration and ideas, have all been shared here on Writers in Residence from several directions.

But then recently at the Vons grocery store, a lovely lady traveling on Route 66 from Illinois to Santa Monica came up to me, and said “I know you!” I had on a Route 66 T-shirt, and as it turned out, it was mistaken identity–she thought I was a “Roadie” she’d met elsewhere in another state.[ii] But after I gave her a bookmark and mentioned about my Route 66 connected writing and my books, she asked, “Where do you get your ideas from?” She seemed genuinely interested. Hence, this post was inspired.

Her question is not one I’ve thought about in detail for a long time, so not having a good answer, I flippantly said, “I steal ‘em.” And though a smart-alecky response, driving home, I realized there was a lot of truth in that statement. For example, in Rhodes The Movie-Maker,[iii]:

  • I stole film crew as an idea from Marilyn Meredith’s Tempe Crabtree River Spirits book,
  • Stole Cap Coleman tattoo from Hap Meredith’s very real tattoo,
  • Stole the real “ghost child” experience from Robert Haig – retired firefighter and author of Fire Horses,
  • Stole the castle-in-the-desert scenario from Scotty’s Castle in Death Valley,
  • Stole photographic flyovers from Aerial America,
  • and on a more generalized writing style level, stole a love for multitudinous characters with unique back stories from Ngaio Marsh, and Agatha Christie. And the love of and use of multitudinous (and far more than I should) compound sentences from P.D. James.

And to use a gentler word, incorporatingthere are the personal experiences, like with helicopters flying across the Mojave causing my ancient windows to rattle and my dogs to hide behind the couch, glorious sunrises and sunsets that I’ve lately come to appreciate, black-birds flying en masse and lining up on electrical wires going down our road, people who live where I live who willingly share orally, or like “Mojave Desert tales,”[iv] in the written word, and from seeing Route 66 films, articles, and museum visits. And even if the stealing connection isn’t direct, I’m pretty sure my subconscious snatches, grabs, kidnaps—whatever you want to call what it does—then lets my conscious mind use whenever and wherever needed. Just like with dogs that I talked about in an earlier post.

So part of this post is an “into-the-cosmos thank you” to so many, but also to verbally acknowledge a deep gratefulness to those who have come before me—laying a path for others(including me!) to follow. Especially my rock stars, P.D., Agatha, and Ngaio. And odd as it may sound, I want to thank computers and word processors.[v] They have been my enablers, wouldn’t be a writer without them. Indeed, how my writing-heroes wrote/edited on olden typewriters with their deep and hard to push keys, or with pen and pencil–will always amaze me. I once heard/read (possibly not true but sounds good), Eudora Welty would cut out her paragraphs and move around in her editing process. Early “cut and paste!”

And my ramblings connection for my fellow writers?—absorb, absorb, absorb. It may sound like I’m encouraging criminality, but I’m not. It’s more like, let it all in. Something I don’t do enough of. I tend to think what’s important is what I think is important at the time—what I’m doing research on. But all the other stuff needs to get it, be mushed(technical term) together, intertwined, concatenated; a lot will get used some time, somewhere.

And “on the other-side of the coin,” one of Louise Penny’s most wonderful novels is The Beautiful Mystery. I love her writing, and this novel in particular. After reading, I so wanted to write a book about a seminarian or monk detective. But it didn’t and won’t ever happen. Don’t know enough to get inside such a protagonist head, and can’t make it up (even though I know and have known several seminarians and priests)—and never will know enough. Sadly, sometimes stealing, incorporating, experiencing, and just plain winging it, just don’t get you there.

Happy writing trails!

[i] Like how things work, and types of items mentioned, or procedures or pottery stuff, and recently desert stuff…etc. — Real answer is research, flippant answer is “I make it up.”

[ii] Alas, I’ve never been approached by anyone recognizing me as an author. And after I mentioned my name to the lady in Vons, she still didn’t have a clue. Sigh, so much for fame and notoriety.





[iv] By Bill Smith

[v] Even with their crashes, malfunctioning software-hair-pulling incidents, and just general aggravation…

24 thoughts on “Stealing and more…”

    1. Uh oh! Hopefully no one will press charges! (Secret–I go to bed many nights listening to a Marsh or Christie audio book on my Kindle–and Patrick Malahide(sp) does the reading on Christie’s and he has a great voice!) I guess that’s subliminal stealing? (smile)

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Your shoplifting bits and pieces of facts and ideas from other sources has certainly made for some great reading. And I have to say, your style is all your own. It is your discerning eye that captures those views and vistas along Route 66. You did make me think about the bits I have gleaned from places, friends and family that have found homes in my work. We are like curators of our life’s museum. Thanks for pointing that out.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I LOVE your phrase “curators of our life’s museum!” I mentioned on FaceBook I’m sure to steal and use somewhere… Thanks for your kind words. Much appreciated.


    1. Thanks, Marilyn! I was hoping you wouldn’t prosecute. River Spirits is one of my favorite Tempe books. Very creative, I thought. And the movie crew was sooo compelling…

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the kind words, and yes, Linda, agreed on what we do with what we steal! And I’m going to use your comment as my defense in court if accused. (smile)


  2. I steal all the time! I call it “utilization of good ideas,” to be lofty about it.
    I frequently get the where-do-you-get-your-ideas question and have posted about it (in fact I did on Marilyn Meredith’s blog). But Madeline, rest assured that you have offered a unique take on the subject—in fact, I may help myself to bits and pieces. 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Maggie! Another great phrase, “utilization of good ideas!” Yes, it’s a way of keeping an idea/thought active in the world. It’s a good thing!!! So glad you found bits and pieces to utilize…

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Okay, so let’s confess that (almost) all writers are thieves too. But aren’t there only seven basic plots in the world? Each time we use/steal one, we make it our own with characters and settings and story complications. I steal from my own life and the lives of almost everyone I know. I have a t-shirt that says, “Be careful–you might end up in my novel.” Fair warning.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I know an author who draws from comments on her blog if I’m remembering right, or a similar exercise–to have their names in her next novel.

      I’ve been warned! I must say, I find it strange when I even see my name in a novel. I’d like to be a murderer if a character. Or a vigilante would be good too… (smile).

      And yes, there’s only so many basic plots, and we bring our own unique twists to them! Isn’t writing grand?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I knew it! You have those “thieving” kind of eyes, large purses and pockets for holding snatched goodies, and the daring-do to use what you’ve stolen, blatantly in your books.
    GOOD FOR YOU! (haha) Madeline, thanks for sharing this “confessional” post. We have ALL used things we’ve seen, heard, or read. It’s HOW we put them all together in our own works that matters. As old Solomon said, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” You just have to take the familiar and make it spectacular.
    You’ve made me think back over the things I’ve written, and boy could I name names and places I’ve gotten ideas from. (…from which I’ve gotten ideas.) It’s actually very cool how our minds work to take what we can, mush it all together, and present a story or book that will entertain, inspire or amaze our readers.


    1. Yes, Jackie, it is pretty darned cool how our minds work. Woke up from a dream this morning that had places and things all mixed together to create a whole new rather strange place and world. Kind of like what happens in my books.(smile) I’m going to have to be careful now with my purse and ubiquitous totes now that my secret is out–and it’s the squinty eyes that are my “tell” I think… I’m smiling from your lovely comment.


  5. I just found a cool book – “Steal like an Artist” by Austin Kleon – and here’s what one reviewer wrote about it: I read this one in about an hour. It was a quick, entertaining read with a lot of great tips. I think it’s hard to come up with totally original things to write about and this book takes the pressure off of making ourselves believe it’s 100% necessary. It isn’t about plagiarism, which is illegal and morally wrong. It’s about liking something and expanding on it, putting our own twist things and going for it. It’s about taking inspiration where you find it. What if you absolutely adored The Wizard of Oz and wanted to write a modern version of the story? Perhaps a steampunk or post-apocalyptic version? Just because the story has already been written, doesn’t mean that there’s not room for a different take on things! Yes, it might not be such a great idea to make your main character’s name be Dotty, give her a dog named Totem, and travelling companions similar to the Tin Man, Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow. Instead, let the story spark your own imaginative, creative juices!
    In my recent short story of 1,500 words, I actually found THREE instances of theft. It made a great story… and it’s all mine!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Good to know… 🙂 Great post.
    I participated in a webinar this week where Joe Bunting of The Write Practice gave us the 4 secrets to writing a good book (hmm, not sure anymore about secrets to what but I wrote the four secrets, haha!) and Secret #2 is “Steal” Ideas. He said that good authors do not reinvent the wheel but steal the good ideas from others and make them their own. In fact, Shakespeare was the best at that, with Romeo and Juliet. Another fellow writer/blogger also said that there are only a handful of love stories. All love stories we write are based on them. We can and we should steal ideas because the ideas do not necessarily make a good book but the execution. If we write for ourselves then we don’t have to go with the “formula” but good authors write for the readers. I’m working on changing my belief system so that I may start writing for the readers and not for me. Otherwise, I must just keep a private journal, right?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, for stopping by, Anne! Very interesting your thoughts on changing your belief system when it comes to writing for readers… Not sure where I am on that, because I know there’s “things” (words, phrases, ideas, etc.) I do for myself. Makes me feel good. Then there’s lots I write that’s for reader enjoyment. Like you said, “…Otherwise, I must just keep a private journal, right?”

      Liked by 2 people

      1. My pleasure. 😊 I’m sure I’ll still write what I enjoy but I won’t be too selfish anymore. Haha. I am seriously listening to those who have succeeded ahead of me. But I’m more open when it comes to advice from other writers since I’m not trained in writing.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Anne, I too took that “class” and smiled at the steal part. I think ALL ideas come from something we have heard, seen, read, experienced with others. We get several of these and just put them together consciously or unconsciously to make our own stories.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I did see your name at the chat or Q&A, I think. 😊 Absolutely, right? I thought I was original then I wrote a flash fiction and my friend who reads all my writings said it was good but sounds familiar. I did well on that one with the judge. 😜😊

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I think we writers all unconsciously ‘absorb’ other people’s ideas – and I just love your Route 66 backdrop. My late husband and I drove that route often, heading to Kentucky. You really capture the atmosphere perfectly. Thanks, Mad.


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