August 7th, 2015

Where Do Book Ideas Come From?

Scott Wilbanks

You know you must be desperate when you find yourself Googling random word combinations in the hope that a book title will magically make itself known to you.

To be honest, after a week  and an endless series of, “that’s good, but no thanks”, responses from my publishing house, I was grasping at straws.  As half of my novel is set in the year 1895, the only thing I knew for certain was that I wanted the title to evoke a turn-of-the-century vibe.  To that end, I included the term Victorian in each word combination.  And let me tell you what, there were a lot of those.  Eventually, I stumbled across an online dictionary for Victorian slang, and, with nothing better to do, decided to putter around inside.

That’s when I stumbled across the term lemoncholy, and knew that I’d landed on something special.  According to the dictionary, it was a synonym for melancholy.  Unfortunately, that didn’t gel with my novel’s themes, but a delicious possibility began to percolate around in my head.

What if I coopted the term, combining melancholy with the phrase if life gives you lemons . . . to then mean the habitual state in which one make the best of a bad situation?  That would describe my protagonist, Annabelle Aster, to the tee.

What didn’t register, at the time, was the irony.

Our minds are indescribably complex engines, and mine had chosen to have a last laugh.

You see, nearly nine years ago, I’d done just that—made the best of a bad situation—though I didn’t realize it at the time.  All I knew was that I’d written down a couple sentences in a bleak moment.

In polite company, she was known as Annabelle Aster.  Being a spirited woman, however, she wasn’t often found in such company, as she’d determined it to be, more often than not, insincere.  And also being a sincere woman in every particular, Annie chose her company for the quality of its character, not its rank.

We’d just wrapped up the closing arguments in a three-week-long trial, one that had begun three years earlier when a multi-billion dollar company decided not to pay the commission I’d earned on what was, at the time, the largest transaction in my industry’s history.  Basically, they’d toyed with me for several months, stating that they’d make it their goal to “destroy your company” if I decided to seek recourse through the legal system.  It didn’t matter to them that I’d worked on the transaction for over a year, and, as a result, would be bankrupt if not paid.

So I sued.  It was me and my best friend—a man with a lot of smarts, but no knowledge of my industry—against the resources of a multibillion dollar company and a client who’s wife’s interest income exceeded forty million dollars a year.

Will it surprise you that I was experiencing panic attacks throughout the trial, then, some of which were so bad the lead arbitrator asked if I needed medical assistance?

It must have been a real treat for the opposing parties, not that I cared.  The greatest weapon you possess in a legal battle is an opponent’s absolute readiness to underestimate you.

I’d barely closed the door to my hotel room after the trial’s conclusion, though, when I experienced the mother of them all.  I’m pretty certain that, to an outsider, this particular attack would look have looked a seizure.

Somehow, I’d managed to crawl into the shower—I honestly don’t remember doing it—and sat in the basin with water pouring over me and my clothes.  And while doing so, the strangest thing happened. Those sentences that I shared earlier popped into my head.

They were inspired by a series of letters I’d written to, and received from, a failed date many years before, letters in which I had Annabelle Aster write to her friend, one Elsbeth Grundy, asking for advice regarding her lovestruck friend—me.  I’d emailed the letter to my date, and, well, let’s just say that I got a second date.  And a third.  And, by the fourth, we were an “item.”

Back to the scene in the bathroom, though. Don’t ask me why, but I got out of the shower, changed into a robe, and wandered to a desk where I wrote the words down on a piece of loose leaf paper, before shoving it into my briefcase.

The next day, I found myself back home in San Francisco, too afraid to go to work.  Merely thinking about it put me on the verge of a melt down.  So I cleaned house instead, eventually stumbling across those few sentences.

Intrigued, I sat down, tapping a pen against my kitchen counter.  I wrote an additional sentence.  Then another.

Two months later, I’d written four-hundred-fifty pages of the worst first draft in history.  More importantly, in all that time, I didn’t once set foot in my office.

And the day after I wrote the words THE END, I began the bureaucratic process of shuttering my company.  I’d no heart for it.

But I’d caught the writing bug, having discovered that putting words to paper was the best therapy for what had subsequently been diagnosed as a chronic anxiety disorder.

Time passed—eight years, to be exact—and those sentences I wrote, and those that I added to them, and those that I reworked tirelessly, had turned into a book named The Lemoncholy Life Of Annie Asterwhich has just launched.

High Res bookcoverI don’t think you can even imagine how satisfying that feels. But I’m, only now, seeing the irony of it all.  I’d created my own, personal state of lemoncholy.  I’d made the most of a bad situation.

And then some.

What happened with the trial, you ask?

I won.

And while the years between the trial and my books’ publication saw their fair share of tragedy—that date, turned boyfriend, turned best friend, had died—it also saw me moving to New Zealand after meeting the man I’d ultimately marry.

All we need to make it perfect is a cat.

So, Do you have any stories for us about where you got an idea for a book? 

Scott Wilbanks

Scott's bio photoScott is an American expat living in New Zealand with his frustratingly perfect husband. A former national title holder in the sport of gymnastics whose left arm is an inch shorter than his right—the result of a career-ending accident—Scott ditched the corporate world to “see where this writing will take me.” He is the author of THE LEMONCHOLY LIFE OF ANNIE ASTER, a commercial fiction novel with a fantasy premise releasing August 1, 2015 through Sourcebooks that tells the story of two pen pals who are fighting against the clock to solve the mystery behind the hiccup in time connecting their homes before one of them is convicted of a murder that is yet to happen… and yet somehow already did.

29 comments to Where Do Book Ideas Come From?

  • Scott, I loved hearing your story of how you became a writer! While I cringe to hear of the hardships you endured at the time it’s so wonderful to know you truly did make lemons from lemonade! And I can relate as I sat down to write my first book to escape the grief of losing my mother – I needed something (anything!) to focus on that did not consume me with despair. Congratulations on your book birthday and wishing you many more! I’m so thrilled for you!

    • Laura was all like, “Do you know that there are some comments to your blog?” And I was all like, “Is it up already!”

      I recall a little of your story, Donna. And it makes me sad to think about it. Grief can be such a powerful motivator, can’t it?

      What I didn’t share is the fact that the person who inspired my character Edmond, and who, in a very odd way, inspired the plot, passed away four weeks after LEMONCHOLY went into production.

      Still grieving for him.

  • If I got to select a dream cast to surround my fire pit by the lake as we shared stories late into the night beneath a starry sky, you’d be there, Scott (Donna already knows she’d be there!). Loved this. I believe strongly in the mind-body connection, and that our bodies know things our minds have not yet grasped. Great example! Continued best wishes on your tour!

    • I’ve picked your brain on so many occasions, and leaned on you for advice on so many more, I’ll show up in a kilt with bagpipes, if that’ll even starts to repay you for your kindness.

  • Love your story, Scott, love your voice. Off to buy your book!

  • The idea for my newly released novel, Freedom Street #61, was a tour of the KGB headquarters in Riga. We had just finished the tour when the guide mentioned that no one had yet written the story of the building and the effect it had on the people of Riga. I was at home a couple of days later thinking about what I could write for my writing group meeting when I remembered that parting comment. A couple of hours later and I had the first few pages and over the next few months turned those pages into a story which ended with a visit to the KGB museum in Riga.

    The story I am currently working on was triggered by a diary I was reading a few weeks ago from an emigre teacher working in Latvia at the beginning of WW2. I found reference to another diary kept by another English woman written around the same time and charting the same events. Thus was born my story.

    That’s what I love about being a writer – I can be inspired by almost anything.

  • Scott, I’m sure I’ll love your book because I was rooting for you all the way through this post. Congratulations on winning the case, publishing your book and on marrying the perfect man. My tabby,ZuZu, thinks you need a cat or two or three??? Take care

    • We’ll take, ’em, Claremary! My husband is the “little, old cat lady” of our neighborhood. There’s an endless parade of them wandering into our kitchen. Half my Facebook posts is about one of them. I’ve named him “Teddy The Terrible.”

  • I’m so glad you won! *fist pump* Your story is so inspiring. Much success to you!

  • You totally ROCK, Scott! It’s the highest compliment I know. Must now go buy your book and tell everyone I know to do the same.

    • You buy that little booger, and I’ll track you down and sign it! Okay, that sounded kinda stalk-ish, but I love that people are responding with such warmth., Heather. It all feels so hopeful!

  • Orly Konig Lopez

    Oh, Scott, every time I read something you’ve written I fall that much more in love with your voice. Thank you for sharing your story with us!

  • I wish I could still few these in my WordPress feed. Favorite line: “The greatest weapon you possess in a legal battle is an opponent’s absolute readiness to underestimate you.” It’s odd how I overlook the authors name in the beginning and assumed I was reading something written by a woman. Good stuff. Good luck.

    • You know, I think that’s the best compliment I’ve received since the book launch–that you assumed I was a woman. I write to women, for them. That you’d make me an honorary member of the tribe is, well… it’s exceptional.

  • bjrjames

    Don’t you just love it when folks underestimate you? ‘Cause then you can whup their a** all day long.

    Many years ago, when my sister and I were both newly divorced–something almost unheard of in the early ’70s here in the deep South, we coined a phrase we still use and I have chosen as the title of my first novel, The Wife-in-Law. Both our ex-husbands had remarried and saying ‘my ex husband’s new wife became a mouthful every time we said it. We finally decided we had mothers-in-law, fathers-in-law, why not a wife-in-law since we would be dealing with these women for many years because we had children with these men. We also used the term when new husbands had ex wives who had children with the new husbands. It gets confusing when dealing with ‘my ex husband’s new wife’ and ‘new husband’s ex wife.’ We call them all ‘The Wife-in-Law,’ and laugh about it. Crying gives us a headache.

  • I am a Southern boy through and through! Was born and raised in Lafayette, Louisiana, before moving to… well, we moved to Houston.

    And that wife-in-law phrase? I totally get it. Ner-ther-ners can’t quite grasp the idea that everyone from the South considers everyone else from the South to be family.

    Best to you!

  • Great story and I love “lemoncholy” and the fact that you made the best of a bad situation. After all, attitude is the difference between ordeal and adventure. Your book is going on my TBR list. I can’t resist time travel and a mystery to boot. Write on…

  • “Attitude is the difference between ordeal and adventure.” I’m going to quote you on my next book tour stop, Lynda! That’s some good stuff…

  • ManjuBeth

    If you wrote your novel the way you wrote this post, I won’t be able to stop reading until the last word. Best of luck!

  • Fae Rowen

    Thank you for a wonderful post, Scott. I so get leaving behind what you’ve been trained for, what you did with an all-consumming passion, because of the actions of another–and turning to writing. I am certain your book will be wildly successful.

    • I wouldn’t mind if you did a variation of a rain dance (with rattles and tom tom drums) to put a little good juju out there for my books success, Fae! I mean, I can use all the help I can get! 🙂

  • Scott, what a great origin story for a book I can’t wait to read. I was absolutely hooked by the description on Amazon and the moment I finish the one I’m reading right now, I’m starting yours. Wish you were coming to the WFWA retreat!

  • Scott, I just bought your book for my Kindle over the weekend, and now, hearing this background, I’m more eager than ever to get to reading it. You had me at the hint of time travel, but knowing that it represents such an incredible victory for you will make the read even better. Thanks for the inspiration!