There was a time, back in the bad old days when I thought I wasn’t cut out to be a novelist, when I envied the authors of the novels I read. How in the world did they come up with their wonderful ideas? And why didn’t I have enough imagination to think of plots that would fascinate readers? I resigned myself to being a nonfiction writer. Not that nonfiction was a bad thing, but there was a part of me that needed something that writing essays and articles just didn’t satisfy. It was like longing to be a ballerina when you know very well that you can barely walk without tripping over yourself.
So I read and envied. Lots of science fiction of the speculative sort. No space ships or heroic conquerors of planets for me. My SF gods were Frank Herbert, Bruce Sterling, John Brunner, William Gibson, Nancy Kress, David Brin, and their like. My nonfiction reading centered around psychology and the social sciences. How do people think? How does culture affect them? Why is the human race so violent and seemingly incapable of significant change? Where are our human weaknesses taking us?
You would think that if I could ask those questions, it might occur to me that they’d make for good science fiction. It finally did, but only after years of thrashing around and being unhappy with myself and my writing. There were any number of ways it could have happened, but it was National Novel Writing Month that finally pushed the right button. After giving up three years in a row, something clicked. There was the Idea: what if there was a well-hidden subspecies of human whose mutation was the origin of vampire legends and stories. Then there were the questions. What if the male children who were throwbacks to an earlier form of the mutation, and who had always been killed lest they endanger the others, were kept alive? And what would that mean for the dominant human race?
The story didn’t need much in the way of world-building or complicated plotting. All it needed was a concentration on the individuals whose lives were going to be changed when humans and the mutants finally met. How would they interact? How would they change the world. Psychology and the social sciences shook hands and said “Let’s write a book.”
So, where do my ideas come from? From the drama and tragedy of real life, the themes that run through human history, and the intricate way that the human mind creates and changes the world and is, in turn, changed by that world.