Author Don McNair on Finding Ideas for Books

My special guest today is author Don McNair. Besides being multi-published in contemporary and YA, he’s the  author of Editor-Proof Your Writing: 21 Steps to the Clarity Publishers and Agents Crave. It is one of my favorite books about writing. Unlike some books that deal in generalities, McNair offers very specific steps to improving your writing. Go from foggy writing that drives editors crazy to clear prose that will have your editor smiling. NO, it’s not a grammar book, it’s all about writing. It’s the kind of book you read with paper and pen beside you for notes. In addition to writing, Don is a fantastic editor. Check out his webpage (listed below) for info about his editing services. Today he’s writing about creating ideas for books.

“Where do you get your ideas, Mr. McNair?”

I get that question all the time.  Consider, for example, this recent email:

I just read your romance novel,” Mystery at Magnolia Mansion,” and was impressed with your knowledge about antiques and redoing old houses.  Did you possess that knowledge, or did you research it? I’m afraid I’ll have to do extensive research if I write about anything except what I do, which is solving organizational behavior problems for client companies and singing in a barbershop quartet.”

Well, the short answer is that I almost always base my fiction on my own experiences.  That’s much easier—and believable—than putting in tons of research time and interviewing experts.  And since I springboard from my own life, I already have a key element of a good story.

A good example is the “Mystery at Magnolia Mansion” book the lady mentioned.   It evolved from my buying a crumbling historical house in Magnolia Springs, Alabama. As my wife and I renovated it, I realized it would be an ideal location and topic for a romance novel.

So I developed a story about a young interior designer who did to her fictional house exactly what we did to our real one.  My knowledge of the antiques she used to furnish it came from my years of buying and selling antiques by mail order, owning an antiques mall, and doing weekend antiques shows. I in fact staged a scene in my own antiques mall, giving its manager—actually my wife—a made-up name.  Here’s the romance story based on those real-life experiences:

Brenda Maxwell’s new interior design client tells her to “paint, wallpaper, whatever” his hundred-year-old landmark mansion, “but for God’s sake, don’t go overboard.” When she figures her grandiose plans will fit handily into his edict’s “whatever” section, they’re launched into a constant head-bumping mode.

Brenda’s poor money management skills (that’s his view, but what does he know?) and lawyer David Hasbrough’s ridiculous need to control her life (that’s her well-reasoned evaluation of the situation) combine to keep the battle going. Is this couple’s romantic goose cooked? Well, she can’t be near him without sparks flying and goose bumps popping out everywhere.  But that mansion has to be done right!

A bonus of that story was that I could use a picture of my own house on the cover.

Another example of using my real-life experiences is a romance titled “Mystery on Firefly Knob.”  It was born on a trip through Eastern Tennessee, when my wife and I ran across a log cabin on a Cumberland Plateau knob overlooking beautiful Sequatchie Valley. It looked like an ideal place to launch a story, but about what?

As I considered that, I read of a unique firefly that flashed simultaneously with others instead of individually, in only two places on the globe.  I also remembered my own hobby dealing in antiques in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. I threw in a murder, intrigue, love, and action, and came up with this story:

When Erica Phillips visits choice inherited property on a Cumberland Plateau knob overlooking a beautiful valley, she finds scientist Mike Callahan camped there to study unique fireflies. She needs to sell it fast to buy a new building for her antiques business in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, but he freaks out when a condo builder offers her a contract. Miffed, she tells him, “If I have my way, this place will be sold within the week. And, Mr. Callahan, I will have my way!” Their budding romance plays out before a background of a murder mystery, distrust, and heart-racing hormones. Will it blossom into a lifetime relationship?

Now, let’s get back to that email.  Remember, the lady said “I’m afraid I’ll have to do extensive research if I write about anything except what I do, which is solving organizational behavior problems for client companies and singing in a barbershop quartet.”

Well, those could be fertile fields!

Think about it.  Her heroine, while dealing with organizational behavior at a client’s place of business, is thrown into a murder mystery there.  My friend could show that heroine in her own real world, handling a real organizational problem, while that killer stalks her and she eventually captures him.

Or maybe the heroine sings with a traveling barbershop quartet.  When they arrive at a new town to sing, her host is murdered.  Or maybe she meets a handsome man who doesn’t “get” barbershop singing and her flying off frequently to perform, which puts them into a constant conflict that could be either serious or humorous.  The possibilities seem endless.

Now, let’s look at your background.  Can you build a story on it?  Why, absolutely!  There’s no question.  And when it’s published, your readers will email you to ask how you did all that research.

So, what are you waiting for?  Get to work!

Don McNair, who has written ten published books, is the author of “Editor-Proof Your Writing: 21 Steps to the Clarity Publishers and Agents Crave.”  The book, available from bookstores everywhere, has gotten eighteen five-star reviews at http://Amazon.com

Check out his McNair as an author and an editor at his WEBPAGE.

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3 Comments

Filed under Guest Author

3 responses to “Author Don McNair on Finding Ideas for Books

  1. Nice interview, Don (and Rita). Don’s editing skills and writing talent shine through his books. It was so good to see your name here. I miss all of our “old” GCC members!

  2. Very nice interview! Don, I love how you used your life experiences to build the world in your books. As Ray Bradbury put it, “Everything is compost.” I know picture framing, and some artists and customers drove me crazy. AHA! Murders in an art gallery.

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