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Inspiration on my doorstep

Sarah Mayberry - Sunday, April 07, 2013

One of the most common questions we writers get is "where do you get your ideas from?" I know some writers roll their eyes at this question, but I find it very flattering! It reminds me that while having my brain teeming with fictional people, places and conflicts seems extraordinarily normal and dullsville to me, it's not the typical experience of most people. In the same way that I am absolutely crap at numbers, some people couldn't come up with a sustained narrative to save their lives. And that is totally cool, because the world needs accountants AND writers, right? At least I hope they do!

I wanted to offer some insight into the inspiration behind my most recent Super Romance, The Other Side of Us. Which, incidentally, is FREE right now at Amazon, Apple i-store, and Barnes and Noble Nook, I believe. Get your free copy while you can, I say! And I hope you enjoy. 

The narrative backbone for The Other Side of Us formed out of a couple of different inspirations. One was a conversation I had with my awesome writing buddy, Joan Kilby. She's a fellow Super Romance author (you should check her books out, she writes the most adorable, sexy, down to earth real men - men who make mistakes and have holes in their socks but who have huge, huge hearts) and I am lucky enough to live in the same part of Melbourne as her. We catch up for walks and talks and lunches, and one day when we were having lunch she told me how her dog, Toby, used to be an escape artist at their former property, always weaseling his way through the fence so he could go next door and play with the dog there. Immediately I thought "wow, what a cute meet. Imagine two people who are forced to interact because their dogs have the hots for each other."  I went home, stewed on it  a little, than rang Joan and asked if she would mind me using her anecdote as a story starter. She very generously gifted it to me, and I had the first part of my story. 

I then started to think about why two people would need to be forced together by their dogs. Obviously, they would have to be neighbors, and they would have to be new neighbors, because otherwise there was no reason for the story to start NOW. I wondered if maybe one of them was a  bit of a recluse, a younger version of a curmudgeon. At that point, I was thinking of the hero. And I wondered if the woman who moved in next door might have been burned, badly, by her marriage. I'm not sure why, but I couldn't stop thinking about Charles and Diana and Camilla. I don't know the real details about what went on between them, but one of the popular versions is that Charles never really got over the relationship he had with Camilla prior to marrying Diana, and that he never really gave it up once he was married, either. The idea of a long-standing affair that almost pre-dates the marriage took a hold in my mind. It's such a betrayal, one of those revelations that would really shake the world for a person. The trick, of course, was to make my heroine not look like an idiot for not realising what was going on.  

So, I was all ready to go with this scenario, my outline was approved by my editor, all lights were green. Then I finished Suddenly You, the Super Romance I wrote prior to The Other Side of Us, and as I wrote the final chapters it occurred to me that I'd created two commitment-shy, once-burned heroines in a row. I did not want to get to the end of The Other Side of Us and find myself flailing around looking for ways to make Mackenzie's inner conflict different from Pippa's. And then it occurred to me that that would not be a problem at all if I made Mackenzie the curmudgeonly loner, and Oliver the once-burned-twice-shy betrayed person. Instantly my brain lit up like Guy Fawkes night and I knew I was on to something. 

Then the rain came. Bucket loads of it, along with dire warnings from the weather bureau to clear out our gutters and drains because even more rain was on the way. They called it a catastrophic weather event, actually, and it was enough to get me up on the ladder cleaning the gunk out of our gutters. A pleasant task, not! That night, the catastrophe darkened our skies, but my husband and I were smugly confident that our drains and gutters were clear and clean. My brother called just before dusk, as the first flood of water streaked down from the sky. "Good luck," he said cheerfully."I'm looking at the weather radar at work and it's showing black above your place. Nice knowing you." I was talking on the cordless handset, and I walked to the front window as I assured my brother that we were fine, thank you very much, and the weather bureau had got us all panicking for nothing. Then I opened the blind and glanced out at the front driveway and realised that there was a RIVER of water pouring down it toward our house. "%&*$#!!! I gotta go!" I said to him. My husband was in his boxers and a tank top. I was in knickers and a tank top. We were both barefoot. I pulled on some pajama pants, shoved my feet into gumboots and went out to see if we could save our house from being flooded. We worked out quickly that the gravel from our slightly-sloping driveway had been washed down by the enormous flow of water and was blocking the grates on the drain across the foot of the driveway. Because the grate was blocked, water was simply flowing over it and pooling around our house. Creeping higher every second. We both tried to scoop gravel away from the grate but it was impossible to keep up with the amount being washed down by the river in our driveway. We settled for grabbing brooms and trying to channel the water either side of our house so it wouldn't creep any higher. 

We worked like wet dogs for half an hour before lightning forced us to take shelter. It was scary and cold, but somehow my husband and I wound up laughing each time we looked at each other, soaked in our underwear and gumboots. I think we must have known at that point that we were going to be okay. Just. And sure enough, we were. The rain subsided, the flow from the street lessened. I walked up through the river-that-had-become-a-creek and saw that the road was completely flooded, the gutters in the street completely blocked or simply overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of the water. 

The picture above is the aftermath of our exciting night - all the gravel in the middle ground used to be on our driveway. It doesn't look like much spread out like that, but it took me a whole day of shoveling and moving stuff in the wheelbarrow to clean it up. Fun and games. 

It was a scary, crazy night, but the craziest thing of all is that as I was pushing water down the side of my house with a broom, I was thinking "Hey, this would be a great way for Mackenzie and Oliver to get past their initial bad impressions of each other and start to become friends. If her place was flooding and Oliver came over in the middle of the night to help and they were both wet and it was dark... Yeah. That could definitely work."

I'm not sure what it says about me that one of the first things I think about when something happens in my life is "how can I turn this into story?" Probably not something healthy, anyway! But this real-life event became a fictionalised flood in The Other Side of Us, just as Joan's dog story did.  Next time someone asks me where I get my ideas from, I'm going to direct them to this blog post.  Or maybe I won't, because the other place I get stories from is from listening to the people around me.... and I wouldn't want them to bite their tongues on my account! 

Happy reading!

PS. I have upgraded the security on my blog and comments are once again enabled. I would LOVE to hear from you, so don't hold back. Unless, of course, you're a spam bot, selling something horrible. 


Joan Kilby commented on 08-Apr-2013 08:49 AM
Hey, Sarah, I'm so glad I found your blog today. I just finished reading The Other Side Of Us on the weekend. What a fabulous story! I loved Mackenzie and Oliver. The way their romance progressed was natural and real and lovely. You rock! The doggy romance between Strudel and Mr. Smith was an added bonus. I smiled every time you brought those two into the story, thinking back to Toby and his pal next door. I love how bits and pieces of our lives work their way into books. Thanks for another great story!
Sarah Mayberry commented on 08-Apr-2013 09:11 AM
Hi Joan. *waves* So glad you enjoyed this book, for all the usual reasons as well as because you were there at its inception. I loved writing about Strudel and Mr. Smith, channeling my new-found love for Max. Let's come up with more books at lunch this week!
Jessica Lemmon commented on 08-Apr-2013 09:46 AM
Hi Sarah! Just started TOSoU and that Prologue...WOW. Love that you shared the inspiration for that bit. And glad you two are waterlogged, but okay! You continue to be an inspiration to me as I write and read and navigate my new career. Thanks for being awesome! :-)
Fedora commented on 08-Apr-2013 10:10 AM
Great post, Sarah! Glad you pointed it out on FB! Looking forward to reading The Other Side of Us!
Kim commented on 09-Apr-2013 02:39 AM
@Sarah: Thanks for the free ebook. That was a nice gift from you & Harlequin. I actually have the paperback on my TBR pile, but with this offer, I downloaded it onto my Nook, too. I always like it when a dog is featured in a romance. It seems to say something good about a character when they love animals.

Also, I keep hearing good things about Her Best Worst Mistake, so I'll have to pick that up soon. I did read Within Reach when it was released and enjoyed it. You packed a lot of emotion into 200+ pages.

Thanks again for the free ebook.
sarah Mayberry commented on 09-Apr-2013 05:24 PM
Hi Jessica. *waves* I'm so glad you are enjoying the book. I actually wrote that prologue twice, and the second time was definitely better. Poor Oliver! Such a decent guy who's been dealt such a crappy hand. I'm very flattered that you enjoy my work, but I suspect you won't be needing inspiration from little old me for much longer...
Sarah Mayberry commented on 09-Apr-2013 05:25 PM
Hey Fedora! Lovely to hear from you, as always. Hope you enjoy this one. I've got a copy of Suddenly You I need to get into the mail to you, too, since you won it on Limecello's blog eons ago. Should get it off to you tomorrow....
Sarah Mayberry commented on 09-Apr-2013 05:28 PM
Hi Kim. I have to give all the credit to Harlequin for this one, although I *did* have to sign a form to let them do it - does that count? ; ) I'm thrilled to think that so many people will have a chance to read Mackenzie and Oliver's (and Mr. Smith and Strudel's!) story, though, and it's always lovely to have a back up copy, isn't it? If you like my Blaze books, I think you will enjoy Her Best Worst Mistake. I had a lot of fun writing it, that's for sure!
Sonya commented on 10-Apr-2013 12:57 AM
But not even available on Kindle for Australians… as always. *Grr Harlequin is annoying.* But I do already own it! :) And love it!
Rogenna commented on 10-Apr-2013 01:27 AM
That does it, I'm moving to Melbourne. I want to take walks and have lunch with you and Joan.

I downloaded my FREE copy, but have to finish my proposal before I can read it. Coincidentally, my heroine's name is also MacKenzie :)
Sarah Mayberry commented on 10-Apr-2013 07:21 AM
Hi Sonya. Geographic restrictions drive me NUTS as both a reader and a writer. The day someone works out a system that will allow readers to buy a book no matter where they are in the world and for the right territory to get the proceeds, I will dance with my underpants on head for a whole day and night. Glad you enjoyed the book, though! Thanks for dropping by.
Sarah Mayberry commented on 10-Apr-2013 07:24 AM
Hi Rogenna. So nice to hear from you. You would be so welcome to join us on those walks and those lunches. We are hooking up today, and I will raise a latte to you so you will be there in spirit. Hope the writing is going well, and that you enjoy the book when you get to it. I have loved Mackenzie as a name for so long, I am not surprised that other writers do, too.
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