Where Do Ideas Come From? by Merida Johns – Guest Blog and Giveaweay

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Where Do Ideas Come From?

When I tell someone that I have written a novel, the predictable questions come up. “How did you dream up that story? Is this an account of real events. Maybe your life?”

“Well, no, but then again, yes,” I stammer. So, without stammering, let me share the inside scoop with you.

When I started writing fiction, I took two pieces of advice—write about what you know and know about what you write.” Those words made sense to me. After all, authors like Jane Austin, Alice Munro, and Charles Dickens wrote about what they knew, and others like Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie know about what they write. To that advice, I added the Evan Literary Agency’s definition of a novel as a “work of written narrative fiction that may be based on or inspired by a true story but does not claim to be a true account.” These function as my North Star, keeping me focused on my developing ideas that will provide the best possible experience for my readers.

In writing about what I know, my ideas originate from my imagination. But that creativity is influenced by my curiosity, experience, perspectives, and observations that give the story authenticity and sensitivity, helping readers connect with the characters and feel their joy, disappointment, sorrow, and happiness. Let me share an example.

After reading Blackhorse Road, the beta readers found the relationship between Luci, the protagonist, and her father to be profound. Their relationship, built on mutual respect and trust, form Luci’s core values that see her through some tough emotional times and hard choices. One beta reader said that she had wished she had had such a relationship, and another revealed that it brought up memories of her relationship with her father. But where did that idea bubble from for me?

Some years ago, I was visiting with friends who had two teenaged children—a daughter, eighteen-years-old, and a son, sixteen-years-old. All of us chatted before, during, and after dinner, engaging in conversation about politics, world events, and everyday issues. But the teenagers were not ancillary to the conversation, they were part of it. I listened carefully to what these young people had to say in response to powerful questions—What are you concerned about? What’s most important to you? If you had the choice, what would you do? What is your assessment of this situation? How would you handle that problem?

I was impressed with the level of insight, judgment, and perspective of these teenagers. But what I also observed was trust between children and parents. Remembering that experience, I wanted Blackhorse Road to reveal to my readers the possibilities of this dimension.

The following quote is taken from Chapter Five and gives an insight into the relationship between Luci and her father.

Sam knew the best way to get Luci to reveal her thoughts was to pose a question requiring an opinion. He recognized Luci’s growing emotional maturity and was proud of his daughter’s self-confidence and her commitment to a more tolerant world. He also welcomed her ideas and encouraged her to debate with him, believing it honed her judgment and decision-making. Often, Sam would ask Luci her thoughts about a political matter or seek her advice in sizing up a business problem. Allowing her to express herself in a secure environment, Sam believed, helped his daughter build self-esteem.

For knowing about what I write, my recollections of the period 1966-1986, the locations, and the plots chronicled in Blackhorse Road were supplemental by research that opened a new world of fascination. I took a shovel and start digging and could not stop—hungry to learn and examine how historical events, politics, economics, philosophy, religion, and psychology might influence the values of the characters and, ultimately, the consequences of their actions.

But what intrigues me more than the usual fact-checking resources are firsthand accounts that I discover in old letters and diaries. This is how I stumbled upon Arthur.

Chapter Seventeen, titled “Arthur,” was inspired by a packet of yellowed love letters held together with a gold ribbon. The chapter begins in 1966 on a Canadian summer afternoon, where octogenarian Geneviève and her eighteen-year-old granddaughter are sitting together on the front porch sharing the intimacies of their first loves.

The Letters that Inspired a Chapter from Blackhorse Road by Merida Johns

. . . Reviving the intensity of her romances, Geneviève felt a closeness to her granddaughter, believing that Luci, too, would understand the passion she experienced as a young woman. She scooted her rocking chair closer to Luci, longing to confide stories of her youthful affaires de coeur, as she delicately called them.

“Oh, my dear, I’m reliving my old romances vicariously through you,” Geneviève said in a breathy voice . . . Grinning, Geneviève crept her hand into the pocket of her shirtwaist dress and pulled out what looked like letters, tied neatly together with a gold ribbon. Luci’s heart flipped, looking at the packet.

“See here, Luci,” Geneviève whispered, patting the bundle as lovingly as she would a kitten. “These are some of the letters from my dear Arthur.” She paused, meeting Luci’s eyes. “What do you think? Do you want to read them with me?”

Taken off guard, Luci’s hand flew up to cover her mouth as her grandmother untied the ribbon as if it were pure gold. Clasping the notes between her hands, Geneviève caressed the cherished mementos with her thumbs as though rubbing them would resurrect Arthur’s spirit. Carefully, she opened one of the fragile, yellowed envelopes and removed several pages of stationery. Even from where she was sitting, Luci saw the beautiful script of Arthur’s hand. The lines of written words were straight and neat with capital letters highlighted in crafted swirls. Luci edged to the front of her chair for a closer look at the letter in her grandmother’s shaking hand . . .

USA General Hospital
Washington Barracks
Washington, DC
August 22, 1901

My Dearest Geneviève . . .

Under another hand, Blackhorse Road could all too easily have been a singular romance. Johns provides more as she follows Luci down the rabbit hole and out the other side of life experience, bringing readers into a world where . . . transgression changes everything and challenges carefully-constructed foundations of belief and values. As Luci lets go of her lifesavers and navigates obstacles to happiness, her story becomes a vivid portrait of hope and self-examination which ultimately moves into unexpected territory. Novel readers seeking a tale that closely considers deception and forgiveness, love gained and lost, and family ties will welcome the multifaceted Blackhorse Road’s ability to come full circle in a satisfyingly unexpected way. – D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

It’s the turbulent mid-1960s, and Luci, an eighteen-year-old Southern California girl, is on the quest for self-determination and new beginnings. Three powerful forces influence her values: the grit of her Irish great-grandmother, Lucinda McCormick; the philosophy of choice of her father, Sam; and the 1960s ideals of equity and altruism. But potent foes thwart Luci at every turn. Her budding romance with a handsome United States Air Force Academy cadet sets the stage for conflict and deception that last for two decades. When Luci discovers how her autonomy and her love affair were hijacked, she struggles with anger and bitterness. But from a surprising source, she finds a forgiveness path that restores her well-being and hope and, in the end, faith in herself.

Enjoy an Excerpt

The cranky engine revved as the driver shifted gears, and the military bus crawled forward exiting the air force base. Along a narrow and dark roadway, the vehicle increased its speed and left the MPs at the gate standing immobile and mute in the glow of the rising moon. Drifting through the open windows, the Southern California desert air blew like pixie dust across the faces of the thirty young women headed home from the street dance. A few hours ago, they were preening and adjusting their bouffant hairdos, reapplying creamy pink lipstick, and placing the last twirls of mascara on their eyelashes to prepare for a street dance with cadets from the elite Air Force Academy. Then, the atmosphere buzzed with gossip, chatter, laughter, and anticipation. Now, the glimmering night sky created the perfect backdrop that lulled each into a contented silence to fantasize about the handsome men they had met.

This is the beginning of my story about love and betrayal and a journey toward empathy, compassion, and forgiveness. It is also a story of choice—my choice to be inspired by the resilience of a great-grandmother, the values of a father, and the wisdom of a spouse. But in the end, it is a story of how a letter of gratitude . . . reminded me to open my heart to love and kindness.

About the Author:Merida Johns takes her experience as an educator, consultant, and businesswoman and writes about the human experience. In 2018 Merida took an unlikely off-ramp from writing textbooks and motivational books to authoring women’s fiction. Her stories are learning lessons where awareness and curiosity transport readers to the most unexpected places within themselves. Merida hails from Windsor, Ontario, Canada, grew up in Southern California and has lived from coast-to-coast in the United States. Besides writing, she enjoys fabric arts, including weaving and knitting. She makes her home in the serene Midwest countryside that gives her the inspiration and space for storytelling.

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  1. Thanks for hosting!

  2. Thank you so much for hosting me and my novel Blackhorse Road. And thank you for your question on where my ideas come from. This was a great opportunity to share with readers and aspiring authors the value that diaries, old letters, and mementos can bring to creating a story and developing it within an authentic context.

    • Long and Short Reviews says

      Thank you for being here. Your post was very interesting and I love that you can trace back so much to the specific ideas that helped you write the book!

  3. James Robert says

    Thank you so much for taking time to bring to our attention another great read.   I appreciate it and thank you also for the giveaway. 

  4. I liked the excerpt.

  5. Victoria Alexander says

    Sounds like a wonderful book I’ll enjoy reading!

  6. Linda Fast says

    I like the title, sounds like an interesting read.

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