Every writer finds the question “Where do you get your ideas?”annoying, even insulting in its presupposition that the idea’s all there is to it. Shakespeare got most of HIS ideas from other writers; do you think it was the idea of it that enabled him to write, say, “Romeo and Juliet?” Or that the same idea, a couple of centuries later, guaranteed success on Broadway for “West Side Story?”
Besides, we never know where ideas come from, or how they reach us. Something blooms in the garden patch where dwelleth the unconscious mind, and it doth or doth not engage on, and when everything works it taketh root and groweth into thomething. (Sorry, I meant something.)
Of course, there are exceptions. In the summer of 1976 I was driving east across the Arizona desert with my three young daughters, who’d flown out to spend the summer with me. I had a ’68 Chevy, old enough to give trouble, although thus far it hadn’t. I stopped for gas in the middle of nowhere, and the helpful station owner kept spotting potential problems, one right after another, and…
Couple of hours later I was back behind the wheel, fuming more than the engine ever could. I fell silent, and after a few minutes I straightened up and said, “Okay.”
One of the girls asked what exactly was okay.
“That just cost us $200 I can’t afford,” I said, “and I don’t know whether the son of a bitch saved us or screwed us. But if I write the story and run it to 4000 words, and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazines takes it and pays their princely nickel a word, at least we come out even.”
Which happened. I wrote it a few days later, AHMM snapped it up, and published it the following March. And then, a couple of years later, it got dramatized on TV for Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected. I figure Dahl had about as much to do with the program as Hitch did with the magazine, but who cares? That highway stop had paid off nicely.
And I still don’t know for sure if we got saved or screwed…
The foregoing is the product description for “Nothing Short of Highway Robbery,” to be found in my omnibus short story collection, Enough Rope, and recently made available as an individual short story for Kindle. If you’d like to read the story to see just what grew out of the origina idea, well, there’s a decent chance I’ll give it away one of these Orange Wednesdays. Or you can throw caution to the winds and click here, and for a mere $2.99 the story can be yours.