Back on the Chain Gang: What’s the Big Idea?

null My turn again for the Blog Chain posting! null

Today’s topic was started by the lovely Elana Johnson on Mindless Musings. The question before the group is “How do you get your ideas?”

I, for one, am big into “What if?”.

The inspiration for The Edge of Memory started out in a random way. It began as a tv commercial for an insurance company. I don’t watch much TV, although my husband often has it on while I’m doing other things, but the music from this commercial stuck with me so strongly that I googled it. The song turned out to be “Half-Acre” by a band called Hem.

The song is about your home being a touchstone, but the part of the lyrics that got wedged into my imagination was:

I am holding half an acre

Torn from a map of Michigan

And folded in this scrap of paper

Is the land I grew up in.

Half an acre is not very big– my yard and the yard next door. So I began thinking how a small piece of a detailed map would be practically meaningless out of context. And that led to conceptualizing a person who would need to find this out-of-context place. Why would that place be important to the character? And if it was so important, why wouldn’t she know about it already or remember it? null

To have a true attachment to the place, I felt like the character needed to have lived there for a good chunk of time. Of course, the longer she’d lived there, the stronger the connection, but also the less likely she wouldn’t already know about it. So then I had to reason why she wouldn’t remember a place where she’d lived. Using my medical background regarding plausible explanations for memory loss, I knew that I would have to give her a pretty traumatic background. That raised questions: Is it better or worse to remember something traumatic? Does the truth really “set you free”?

As a hospitalist pediatrician (an inpatient specialist), I see the sickest of sick kids. And many of the most striking cases I’ve handled have been for victims of abuse. I see patients who get very sick or die from brain, heart, or lung problems, from cancers, from serious infections. Every bad outcome is tragic in pediatrics, but the difference is that in cases of abuse the problem is purposely inflicted. And unlike the other sick patients who usually have a loving entourage of family and friends at the bedside, the victims of abuse are often alone. null

And of course, the effects of child abuse don’t stop once physical wounds are healed. They can suffer from prolonged psychological problems: depression, fear of intimacy, anger problems, substance abuse, eating disorders, and hosts of others. The future can seem grim for child abuse survivors, but I like to believe they can find their way to peace and happiness eventually.

So I resolved to write a story of survival and triumph. And entertain the snot out of the reader along the way, natch. null

Short answer… Overanalyzing song lyrics allowed me to tap into my medical experience and my mushy hopes for child abuse survivors. Then I made my story as interesting as I could. 😉

Okay Bloggy Peeps, I’m out. The Next Big Idea is over on Mary Lindsey’s site. Write on! null

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10 Responses

  1. I love following the train of thought that brought you to your story, and it is especially cool that you are able to incorporate your professional knowledge. I just recently read about another author who is a pediatrician – not sure if you have heard of him, but he just released a collection of short stories, I believe. Here is a link to an interview with him if you are interested: http://www.bookslut.com/features/2008_08_013241.php

  2. Great entry. I like how you walked us through how your novel was born, too. 🙂

    I also worked with children who were abuse survivors, though on the psychological side, so your post also touched me there — I knew the work you did was important before, but I like you even more knowing that you’re helping kids like that.

  3. As always, Kiddoc, you amaze me. You always have such insightful posts, I think I need to start going AFTER you in the chain! Isn’t it interesting what sparks us and makes us think about things? I’m glad to see you didn’t “dream” yours up either. 🙂

  4. Ahhh, music is a good one – for me it’s not so much lyrics, although those get me sometimes, but just the general sound – I’ll elaborate more when it’s my turn 🙂 but I’m with Elana – it’s fascinating to me to hear what sparks that inspiration in others. It’s interesting that for a lot of us it is the same thing, but in totally different ways, or completely different things all together. Very interesting 🙂

  5. That is so interesting- I never knew that’s how you came up with the idea! Fascinating. And very cool!

    I think the same things about the kids I work with sometimes…but I am far far more of a cynic, I’m afraid. You’re way more optimistic than I am. But you got a wonderful story out of the whole train of thought, so bully for you!

  6. Ah, yes, Stacey…

    Don’t think I’ve forgotten how you tried to help me google that song when I couldn’t even remember which company that commercial was for. 🙂

    That was on the old board, before we brought it crashing down, I think. *sniff*

  7. Hey, has anyone here come up with a story idea based on misunderstood song lyrics? (I think that’s called mondegreening. They added it to the dictionary, I swear!) I’m always misunderstanding lyrics, but it’s been really helpful writing wise.

    🙂

  8. […] I already talked in a previous blog chain post about my specific reasons for writing about triumphing over a traumatic childhood in The Edge of Memory, so I’m going to take this post on in “Big Picture” […]

  9. If only more people would hear about this.

  10. Heh am I honestly the first reply to your incredible writing!

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