Let's see where some of my favorite writers got those crazy ideas:
Previous Guests


This website's November 2007 guest was my longtime chum,
romance writer Toni Blake!

Striving to give her readers heroines they can relate to and heroes they can fall in love with, Toni hopes her writing encourages women to embrace their sensuality. She essentially thinks of her books as being "super sexy with touches of sweetness and humor." With many novels published and more currently under contract, Toni's busy career has included writing for Warner Books, Kensington, Harlequin, New American Library, and Avon Books.


ToniToni on tour at Barnes &Noble

So, Toni, where do you get those crazy ideas?

People always ask me where I get the ideas for my books, and more often than not, I don’t have a good answer.  But it’s educational to be forced to think about it, so let me start by thanking you for the invitation to be a guest here.

Tempt Me Tonight, which came out in June ’07 from Avon and was excerpted in Cosmo, was actually conceived and written years ago when I was targeting a different publisher, Harlequin.  This was in a time where the “sexual hook” and high levels of sensuality in romance were just coming into vogue and were not nearly as prevalent as they are today. 


So I decided to create a heroine who was going to very aggressively seduce the hero early in the book—again, this was fairly ambitious and unusual when I wrote it in the late nineties.  But I also needed the heroine to be likable and sympathetic to the reader—I needed her to be a woman who wouldn’t normally do this sort of thing but circumstances had driven her to it.  Creating those circumstances is what provided the backbone of this story—it’s about a guy who cheated on his first love in high school and what happens when they meet again years later, how deep that hurt still runs, and his struggle to redeem himself in her eyes.

Long story short, Harlequin never bought the book.  But I always liked the story, and when it was time for my second book at Avon, I decided to unearth this old tale.  I expanded it by almost half, adding in some fairly large plot elements and deepening the emotions even more.  Adding that much to a book so old and making the whole thing cohesive and well-paced was one of the greatest challenges I’ve faced as a writer, but I’m very happy with the results. 

My first book with Avon, Swept Away, released in September ’06,  was also an old idea, and again, another I’d pitched to Harlequin years ago, shortly after signing with them.  Harlequin passed on it and the book was never written, but the idea wouldn’t go away. 

I’m not sure where the first kernel of the idea came from, but I suspect it was setting-inspired.  I’m a huge fan of the beach and tropical settings, and Swept Away takes place on a private island off the coast of Florida.  Romance novels are really all about conflict, so I asked myself what would make a good conflict in such a setting?  What if the heroine, who is about to marry another man, ended up stranded on her family’s private island with the first guy she ever had the hots for, “the one that got away”?  So, again, the need to create a powerful conflict within the context of a sexual situation (since I write very sexy books) is simply what drove this idea.

I’m happy to announce that I actually know where the idea to my next book came from!  Letters To A Secret Lover, which will come out from Avon in June ’08, was inspired wholly by the setting after I vacationed in the beautiful, breathtaking Canadian Rockies.  I chose to set my book in Montana, but the “north woods” feeling is the same.  Starting with this setting, I thought about what sorts of characters would be interesting there.  I came up with a guy who had retreated there and become something of a recluse, and a woman who was very much a “fish out of water” in such a place.  Of course, their individual reasons for being there and the resulting conflict between them is the story.  The result is a book that I describe as “Sex and the City meets Men in Trees,” and it was a lot of fun to write.

Thanks again, Laura, for this opportunity!  Should your readers want to learn more about my books, they can visit me online at www.ToniBlake.com.

                                                                   —Toni Blake
                                                                   November 2007


Thanks for visiting, Toni! I'll let you get back to slaving away at your keyboar... Oh! Um. Never mind.

I think that a particularly instructive aspect of the books Toni has told us about is that two of these three novels were originally rejected at one house, then she saw an opportunity to rework them and sell them to another house a few years later. (As novelist Susan Wiggs says in my book Rejections, Romance, and Royalties, a rejection is an invitation to submit elsewhere.) Disappearing Nightly and Fever Dreams are both examples of novels that, like Toni, I reworked and sold to other markets several years after they were rejected by the markets I had originally intended them for.


Star Divider

This site's October 2007 guest, Jennifer Roberson, is the author of three mainstream historical novels, as well as such popular fantasy series as the Chronicles of the Cheysuli, the Sword-Dancer saga, and the new Karavans series. She also collaborated with Melanie Rawn and Kate Elliott on The Golden Key, which novel was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award. Her novels, anthologies, and short stories have been translated and published in Germany, France, Japan, China, Sweden, Poland, Hungary, Russia, Italy, Israel, and the United Kingdom.


Jennifer, I originally became a fan of your work upon reading Sword-Dancer, the first novel of your six-book Sword-Dancer series. Where did you get the idea for this delightful, action-packed fantasy tale?

(Original Edition)
ISBN: 0886773768
DAW Books, September 1986

Sword-Dancer & Sword-Singer
(Reprint Edition)
ISBN: 0756403197
DAW Books, January 2006

Sword-Dancer was an "attack book," one of those novels that arrive one day a'knocking on your brain demanding to be written. Tiger had a story to tell, and he wanted me to be his scribe. The first sentence appeared in my head, and I was off and running. I fully intended to create a subtext about sexism and consciousness-raising without turning the story into a woman who was little more than a man in a brass bikini, but I also wanted to make the story a fun ride. I spent two weeks of 12- to 15-hour days writingwritingwriting, until the book was done. Of course, in those days novels were shorter, too! I doubt I could do that today.

And did you know when you started that it would be a multi-book series, or did that evolve?

It was intended to be a stand-alone novel, but I had so much fun writing about Tiger and Del that by the time I submitted the Sword-Dancer manuscript to DAW Books, I knew had to write additional novels. The series went to four volumes to complete a main story arc, but I always harbored the idea that I'd return to their world. And so I did, writing Sword-Born and Sword-Sworn several years after the completion of the fourth volume.

And where did you get the idea for your new series, the second novel of which, Deepwood, was recently released?
Deepwood by Jennifer Roberson
ISBN: 0756404185
DAW Books, July 2007

For years I'd had an idea warming slowly on one of the backburners of my brain. I was busy with two long series—eight volumes in the Cheysuli books, and six in the Sword-Dancer saga—but my subconscious was already working on an entirely new world. I wanted to take a page from James Michener and write a multiple point-of-view story about an ensemble cast of characters settling into new and dangerous environs, as American pioneers did, and to tell the tale of how these individuals come together to withstand various challenges as they begin new lives. The goal wasn't to write a series so much as to create a universe that would itself be a character, playing the primary role in shaping the lives of the characters. Having Alisanos, a hell-on-earth, be able to change locale and move around in time, gives me the opportunity to tell stories about different characters in different times and places, not lock myself into a series featuring the same characters in each volume with a single over-arching goal, or quest.

I have been asked how many Karavans novels I'll write. In fact, I have no idea. I purposely set it up so that I can write duologies, trilogies, and stand-alone novels, so I'm not tied to a specific number. Currently I'm working on the third of four contracted volumes. Whether I continue depends on how I feel upon completion of the fourth. I also have three new Cheysuli novels to write, and also have ideas for several historicals to follow in the footsteps of my two Robin Hood novels—Lady of the Forest, and Lady of Sherwood—and my Scottish historical, Lady of the Glen (Kensington is in the process of reissuing all three titles), so I suspect I may not return to the Karavans universe immediately. The problem facing all novelists is not finding ideas, but finding the time to write all of the books for which we have the ideas!

                                                                                                                          —Jennifer Roberson

Thanks for visiting, Jennifer!

July 2007: Author of some thirty novels, Mary Jo Putney's stories are noted for psychological depth and unusual subject matter. Winner of two coveted Rita Awards, Mary Jo has made the New York Times, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly bestseller lists, and many of her books have been named among the top romance novels of their years by Library Journal and Booklist.


Mary Jo, where did you get the idea for Silk and Secrets, using an unusual Central Asia setting (possibly the only book I've ever read that was set in Bokhara) and a heroine who disguises herself as a Tuareg?


Silk and Secrets
by Mary Jo Putney

"Where do you get your ideas?" is the hoariest of questions, but the answer, at least in the particular, can be pretty interesting. As a kid, I was fascinated by the empty spaces in the maps of Asia. (While bored, which was frequently, I studied the maps that hung from the rack that used to be in classrooms.)

What did Central Asia look like? What kind of people lived there? What an adventure to find out! Hence, my Silk trilogy. The first of the series, Silk and Shadows, was a Count of Monte Cristo-ish tale whose wealthy, powerful hero had a mysterious Asian past.

While researching a possible background for that hero, I came across the story of a real rescue mission to Bokhara that took place in 1844. Funded by a group of concerned British officers, an Anglican missionary named Joseph Wolff traveled to Bokhara to ask for the release of two British officers being held captive by the Amir. By the time he got there they’d been executed and he was lucky to escape with his tailfeathers intact, but what a story! I was able to find a modern reprinting of his own account of the journey through an obscure Vermont publisher that specialized in books about the (now former) Soviet Union.

That was the basic premise: a rescue mission to save the life, or at least bring back the bones, of a British officer. So I came up with a hero who was one of those intrepid early Victorian explorers and made the missing officer his brother-in-law.

As for the heroine—I made her the hero’s long estranged wife, now living as a Persian warlord. This is less of a stretch than one might think—consider Lady Hester Stanhope and Jane Digby. I had her masquerade as a Tuareg because that meant she could wrap her head in a blue scarf that would conceal her features and protect her pale Celtic skin. I also gave Juliet and her brothers a background living in North Africa with their father, who was a British consul in Tripoli. That seemed a plausible way for her to pick up Arabic and Islamic customs.

I might add that when I came across the idea for Silk and Secrets, I went into crazed research mode and didn’t work on the other book at all for a couple of weeks. Hell hath no fury like a historical writer with a bone to chew. (Plus, it’s always easier to think about the next book rather than struggling with the current book. It amazes me anything ever gets finished.)

The books with exotic settings don’t appeal to as many readers, I’ve found, but readers who like them really like them. And I might add that when I told my editor of the time that I wanted to write a book based on a rescue mission to Bokhara, she immediately said, “I’ve been there!” She was possibly the only editor in New York who could have said that at that time!

Where did you get the idea to use the 18th-century slave trade as the background of your upcoming cross-genre novel, A Distant Magic?
A Distant Magic by Mary Jo Putney
ISBN: 0345476913
Del Rey Books, July 2007

Some stories are created in colorful ways—other origins are dull as dishwater. A Distant Magic was sparked by a book review in the Baltimore Sun.

The review was for Bury the Chains by Adam Hochschild, a study of the 18th century British abolitionist movement. Even in the few paragraphs of the review, an amazing story was sketched out. In the mid-18th century, slavery was accepted as inevitable and necessary. The majority of humankind was in some form of bondage. But a few people were starting to say that it was wrong to steal Africans from their homes and sell them into brutal, inhuman slavery.

In 1787, twelve men met in the shop of a Quaker printer and founded a society to do the impossible: to end the slave trade. A generation later, the impossible was done, though it took somewhat longer for chattel slavery to end in the west.

I immediately bought Bury the Chains, and was enthralled. Not only is Adam Hochschild a terrific writer (the book was a finalist for the National Book Award), but the story was mesmerizing, and much of it was unknown to me even though I’m a history buff by trade and inclination.

Somehow I had to use this great material in a book. My Guardian series is about families with magical abilities and a commitment to aid humankind when they could. Each book takes place on the back stage of real history, and shows how Guardians working behind the scenes created the outcome we recognize from those boring high school history classes.

One thing that struck me was how fragile the early movement was. The death of a single man could have changed history dramatically and put off abolition for a generation or more. How about if my magically gifted lovers travel through time to protect the fledgling movement? That would work!

And work it did, though not easily. I’m not a big fan of time travel, had never wanted to write it. But if that’s the only story structure that will work—well, I wrote time travel. And was able to spin a whole lot of complicated history into a tale that I hope is more interesting than a high school text book. (Well, it would have to be, wouldn’t it?!)

And then there was the book that was inspired by an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, but that’s a tale for another day!

—Mary Jo Putney

In addition to Mary Jo's website, you may want to visit the literate and entertaining group blog she shares with six other accomplished novelists: The Word Wenches. The site is a favorite of mine, since I am officially an Honorary Wench.

—July, 2007

April 2007: My first-ever guest for this topic was my father, Hugo and Nebula Award-winning science fiction writer, Mike Resnick.

Dad, where did you get the ideas for some of your African-oriented science fiction novels, such as Ivory and Paradise?


Ivory by Mike Resnick
Reprinted August 2007
ISBN: 159102546X

In 1984, in a security vault deep beneath the British Museum of Natural History, I was permitted to inspect the record tusks of the greatest mammal ever to walk the Earth, an animal known only as the Kilimanjaro Elephant.

Everything about this animal, from his life to his death, is shrouded in mystery and legend. His ivory was almost twenty percent heavier than the second-largest recorded set of tusks; he was a monster even among his own kind. No white man ever saw him. If any black man saw him during his lifetime, the fact is not recorded. Historians think, but do not know, that he died in 1898; they think, but do not know, that he died on the southeastern slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro; they think, but do not know, that he was killed by a runaway slave. And that is the sum total of their knowledge of this awesome creature.

The moment I first read about the ivory in the early 1980s I knew there was a story to be told—many stories, in fact; as many stories as there were people whose lives had been touched by the pursuit of the ivory. I became obsessed by it, and finally outlined a mainstream novel.        

Then my agent, Eleanor Wood, always more level-headed than I, reminded me who and where my audience was, and suggested that I follow the tusks not just until they were locked away by the museum in 1937, but out into space over the next few millennia.

So I did. And got a Nebula nomination here and a Clarke nomination in England.

Paradise by Mike Resnick

I knew after I'd been to Kenya and had previously read a ton of books about it that I wanted to write a novel about its history—which in my case meant an allegorical science fiction novel. But the history I wanted to cover took place from about 1890 to the present, and the obvious choice was a "generations" book. I hate obvious choices, and besides, the early history was all made by whites and the more recent history was all made by blacks, and since whites and blacks don't intermarry in Kenya, I couldn't tell a generations novel even if I wanted to.

So I put off writing it. Then, on my next trip to Kenya, a 20-year-old white Kenyan girl that Carol (Laura's mother) and I were dining with offered the opinion that Kenya, pleasant as it was, was probably a much nicer place to visit just before her birth, when Britain still controlled it and government services were much more efficient and the poverty was, if not less widespread, at least less visible.

Perry Mason, our 52-year-old private guide, who was also at the table, said that no, she was mistaken. He had been in Kenya since 1952, having come there to fight the Mau Mau and stayed on to become a white hunter and then a safari guide, and in his opinion Kenya was probably at its best in the 1940s, the so-called Golden Age of East African hunting, before all the racial conflict began.

The next night, while visiting with Ian Hardy, an 80-year-old retired hunter who lived up in the Aberdares Mountains, the subject came up again. He had arrived in 1935, and thought Kenya must have been just about perfect a decade earlier, before the great herds were decimated and the farmers began fencing off the land and the hired help started getting notions of independence and equality.

But Karen Blixen had left Kenya in 1931, mourning the passing of her beloved country, which she felt must have been pristine and beautiful just before she arrived in 1912.

And, of course, F. C. Selous, Teddy Roosevelt's white hunter, left Kenya in 1910 because they had already ruined a once-perfect country.

Later in the trip, I spoke to a couple of black Africans, one a student and one a minor political office-holder. Both were sure that Kenya, although it certainly had its problems, was well on the road to becoming a Utopia.

And finally I had my fictional structure—the vision of a receding or forthcoming Golden Age that in truth never was and never will be.    

—Mike Resnick                

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