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Thrills, Chills, and General Silliness (with Weldon Burge)

More on Short Story Origins

A common question writers are asked is, "So, where do your story ideas come from?" Stephen King, on his official Web site, answered the question in this way: "I get my ideas from everywhere. But what all of my ideas boil down to is seeing maybe one thing, but in a lot of cases it's seeing two things and having them come together in some new and interesting way, and then adding the question 'What if?' 'What if' is always the key question."

I totally agree. Ideas come winging at me like missiles from anywhere and everywhere--overheard snippets of conversations, newspaper items, TV commercials, even graffiti on a city wall! There are so many ideas that I couldn't possibly write all the stories that occur to me. I have notes everywhere, jotted in moments of hot inspiration. Writer's block? What's that? The trick is just being open to whatever occurs to you, and then asking that magic question, What if?

Case in point is my short story "Another Highway Fatality," just published in the February 2011 issue of Suspense Magazine. The story originated years ago when a female coworker told me that she thought she had been stalked while driving in New Jersey.

She and her husband were returning from a weekend trip to the Jersey shore. It was late at night, and she was driving as her husband slept in the back seat. On the dark backroads of New Jersey, a car rapidly approached from behind, and then stayed behind her for miles. She slowed, hoping the person would pass. No, the car kept pace behind her. Miles later, with the car still following, she was so freaked out that she woke her husband. When he sat up in the back seat, the car behind them suddenly passed them and sped away.

She assumed, when her stalker realized she was not alone, he was no longer interested in her and hurried away. Was her imagination just working overtime? Or was she actually in danger?

I immediately saw a "what-if" story buried here, one involving fear and perception, what is real and what may not be real. I enjoy reading and writing psychological horror/suspense, and this story quickly took shape in my mind with a psychological slant, focusing on a damaged central character. Of course, my story ends far darker than my coworker's story--no happy ending here!

What I find fascinating is that someone else hearing my coworker's experience would likely develop a storyline far different than the one I developed.

Story ideas are funny that way.

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