Yesterday I was in a private chat with Cedar and the evil woman infected me with a plot bunny that won’t go away. This isn’t one of your soft, cuddly little bunnies. Oh no, this one resembles the Killer Bunny from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Worse, it has a very warped sense of humor and has threatened to invade my current works-in-progress if I don’t give it some of my time. I’ve tried talking reasonably with it and all it does is laugh at me. I’ve tried threatening to never let it come to life as a story and it chuckled — a very evil chuckle, mind you. I even threatened to give it to another writer and I swear it rubbed its little plot hands together gleefully. That is when I realized I’d chosen the correct word when I told Cedar she’d “infected” me with the plot. It was an infection, one that writers tend to spread between one another without ever getting relief.
This is the life of a writer. Inspiration hits whenever and wherever it wants. You can be sitting in your car at a red light and see something happening in the car next to you. What is the woman in the rather dowdy clothing and stern hairstyle listening to that has her really jamming in her car? Could she be a closet fan of heavy metal music? Why did the corporate type leave his coffee mug and briefcase on the roof of his car when he pulled out of the driveway and what sort of corporate or personal secrets will be revealed when the briefcase falls off and someone finds it? Is that woman with all those kids in the van with her really a soccer mom or is there something more sinister than a trip to the local ball field happening?
Or maybe I’m the only one who looks at folks and wonders who they are and what they might do in any given situation.
Places also set off the plot monster in my brain. I still have the “novel” I wrote longhand years ago when I visited the then Soviet Union. Part fanfic and part social observation, I was too young to realize that what I was writing could have been taken wrong by our handlers there (I was in college back then and a group of us went with one of our professors on a trip that lasted five weeks, the vast majority of which was spent behind the Iron Curtain). I’ve drawn on what I saw during that trip to help with an alternate history/fantasy novel I’ve been working on for a couple of years.
But I have stored away even more from that trip, memories and observations that will be used for other projects. I’ll never forget the feeling I had one night in Prague when it became clear the Czechs felt betrayed by the US for the events at the end of World War II. Hearing from those who had been there that they could see the American troops camped near one of the towns outside of the capital but having to wait to see who their “liberators” would be sent chills down my back because I knew who would be marching through their cities and towns despite not being the ones to get there first. Without turning this into a political discussion, what happened at Yalta between Roosevelt and the other world leaders has given me a great deal of social, political and personal fodder for my writing.
Walking along the Neva River in St. Petersburg, looking at the palaces and churches and learning to recognize when they were built by their coloring and architecture — and then contrasting that with the sterile, drab and blah of Soviet architecture — I knew there are things that society can do in an attempt to break down the individual. It can be overt and covert, active and passive. But, as I had seen in Prague and Budapest, it doesn’t always work. There was always a group of people who fought back in their own subtle — and not too subtle — ways. Those were the people who interested me. They had a story to tell, one that transcends language and history and cultural background. They can become characters in a mystery or romance or fantasy or science fiction plot.
It was the same when I went to Ireland. Climbing the steps to the Blarney Stone, I wasn’t thinking about the legend behind the stone and why folks try to kiss it. My mind was thinking about how the Irish castles had been built for protection. I remembered the ruins we’d seen in the middle of fields, ruins that may have been hundreds of years old. Walking along the strand, seeing where James Joyce wrote and drew inspiration, hearing the song of the Irish accent and feeling the magic in the air, my imagination went wild. One day I am going to have to go back and “fix” the books I wrote after that trip.
But I don’t have to travel to be hit with ideas, be they plot bunnies or characters or simply plot devices. Last week, we were iced in with one of the worst ice storms we’ve had in a long time. Watching the kids — and their parents — trying to sled down our street brought a smile to my face. But it was seeing the folks who broke out their ice skates and cross-country skis that had my imagination flying. Human ingenuity won out and those folks were able to get to places using implements most of us don’t think about even owning in Texas when they couldn’t use their cars. Seeing the video of mile after mile of semi-trucks stranded on the highways because they couldn’t navigate the icy roads brought home how easy it would be for a metropolitan area to be cut off.
In that scenario, I know the current “big thing” is to go dystopian. That’s been the rage for several years now. But that’s not how my mind works. Yes, things would get grim but just seeing how folks adapted so quickly gave me hope. The story that formed in my mind that day was one of how the human spirit may be bent by circumstances but that it prevailed. Sure there’d be casualties. That’s life. But there would be triumphs too.
Of course, this being Texas, part of that triumph comes from the fact that we’re an ornery group of folks. Independent, gun-loving and not real trusting of the powers-that-be, no matter who they might be. My characters tend to reflect that mindset. Given a set of difficult circumstances, they roll up their sleeves and figure out how to deal with it. If sacrifice is necessary, it is made but there are ramifications even if only on the emotional level. The good guys aren’t completely good and the bad guys, unless they are sociopaths, aren’t all bad. And no matter how carefully you plan for something, there is always the possibility of that cosmic 2 X 4 smacking you in the head to send you down another path.
And the latest 2 X 4 sent at my head was Cedar. I swear, all I’ve been able to think about since our chat yesterday has been the evil plot bunny of death. The only redeeming grace about it is that there is humor in it. There has to be. How else could you write anything about a vegetarian zombie who also happens to need a nice kosher diet? Do you know how hard it is for a self-respecting zombie to find brains that meet the requirements of a vegetarian diet? And then there’s finding a rabbi to certify that the “meal” is kosher.
Help me, I’m being attacked by killer plot bunnies and I can’t escape.