This entry was posted on Aug 28 2009 by

The Wellspring of Ideas

A common question: As a writer, where do your ideas come from?  There’s really no definitive answer—suddenly an idea for a story will pop into my head, where a moment before it didn’t exist.  In some cases there may have been a real-life topic that interested me for some time, but how and why real life crosses over into the realm of stories is as much a mystery to me as to anyone else.  I can, however, pinpoint where my inspiration to write comes from.  There a few sources, in fact, one of which is this:


Lunch on a Skyscraper

According to Wikipedia, the photo, sometimes referred to as “Lunch on a Skyscraper,” was taken by Charles C. Ebbets in 1932, and the girder the men are seated on is part of what would become the RCA Building at Rockefeller Center in New York City (copyright is either Charles C. Ebbets, New York Herald Tribune, or Bettman Archive).  It’s a fairly prevalent image that pops up in all kinds of places, and I’ve liked it ever since seeing it for the first time at a restaurant when I was a kid.  Aside from it being an amazing shot, it has always represented to me the idea that everyone has a story to tell.  No matter how everyday someone’s everyday life may seem, there are events and experiences that make that life theirs and theirs alone.

I paid tribute to these eleven laborers with a bit of dialogue from SteepleJack in The Surrogates (Page 46 of the collected edition, for those following along at home).  Wizard reprinted the page in their “Secret Stash” column for issue #166, one of the first print reviews of the book.  I had the article framed as a table display for conventions, and once it outlived its usefulness I hung it on the wall of my office.  It wasn’t until years later, as I was showing the Wizard piece to a reporter who’d come by to interview me, that I realized I had unwittingly hung the article right beside my framed version of the Skyscraper print.  Just one of those events of happenstance that reinforces my belief that the subconscious is usually hard at work while the conscious mind is sleeping at the switch.


(Side Note: As far as tributes to Ebbets’ famous photo go, you’ll be hard-pressed to find one better than this.)


For a few years my family lived in Port St. John, Florida, part of an area known as the Space Coast because of nearby Kennedy Space Center.  I was shooting pool at a bar one night with a guy whose name is lost to me now, and when I asked him what he did for a living, he said he was a janitor (pursuing a career in the “custodial arts,” as Judd Nelson snidely remarked in The Breakfast Club).  Big deal, right?  Well this guy, as it turned out, was a janitor at NASA.  He worked in the Vehicle Assembly Building where the space shuttles are prepped for launch, and as an employee of NASA he was able to watch the launches from a restricted location much closer to the pad than anywhere the general public had access to.  This was over a decade ago, and I don’t recall how many countries had active space programs at the time.  Regardless, there certainly weren’t many places on the planet where one could be in close proximity to a space vehicle of any type, much less a shuttle orbiter, arguably the pinnacle of mankind’s technological achievement.  And here this guy was emptying trash bins next to them on a daily basis. 


Everyone has a story to tell.

One Response to “The Wellspring of Ideas”

  1. Russ
    7:24 am on September 3rd, 2009

    I saw the trailer last night and my heart beat out of my chest. As a writer, I believe in my muse, that messenger who whispers in my dream, day or night, those inspirations that develop into stories. Last evening, as I watched my television, my muse ridiculed me for not listening. In 1980, when I was a junior in high school, the same story came to me. There were differences of course. My imagined reason for the “surrogates” (I’m impressed by the label) was caused by a pandemic of an age advancing disease. The catalyst for their destruction was the idea that as they “served” their host, they “learned” their daily activities as a means of preserving the hosts’ brains. As they learned more, though, the hosts began to die, eventually allowing the surrogates to live independently. But without the hosts to control them, the surrogates began to learn the darker sides of mankind, murder being one of the activities.
    There have been many times that I’ve said “D’oh!” when a new story comes out. It has happend with movies, books, and even TV commercials. But when I received this idea, I wasn’t ready to write it, so my muse, needing an artist to breathe life into it, whispered into someone else’s ear. I’m glad the story is finally being told and, while graphic novels are not my preference, I can’t wait to see the movie. Congratulations!
    I recently dreamt a complete literary novel about a man whose children…oh…never mind. This one’s for me, I hope.

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