Writer in Residence

Fertile ground

By Dietrich Kalteis

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Sometimes story ideas seem to come from out of the blue.

“I don't know myself where the ideas really come from, what makes them come, or whether one day they'll stop. I used to tell people the not very funny answers, the flip ones: 'From the Idea-of-the-Month Club,' or 'From a little ideas shop in Bognor Regis,' or 'From a dusty old book full of ideas in my basement’.” — Neil Gaiman

“I can tell you about fifty percent of the time where I got the idea. And the rest of it is totally like getting an idea in a dream and I can’t really remember where they came from.” — Stephen King 

Some ideas are born out of a memory from my past, another’s past, a piece of life going on around me. Life experience is abundant with ideas. I listen and observe — taking in that which captures my curiosity and leaves me wondering about the ‘what if’ of it all. Ideas are the seeds to the scenes to the chapters to the book.

There are the ideas that wake me in the middle of the night, perhaps part of a dream. Maybe there’s an inner writer working in there, but either way, these ideas tend to be fleeting and need to be written down as soon as I wake, or they’re quickly gone and not always willing to return.

Then there are times when an idea is driven by one of my characters, and I follow that.

Which seeds to sow?

When an idea arrives, I jot it down. I may give it time and see if it falls away. If it hangs around for a while wanting my attention, then I give in to it. The ones that persist need to be explored. Writing without a map, not knowing where the idea will take me, builds an excitement in me that makes its way onto the page. When these ideas create vivid images that transport me, I trust it will do the same for the reader.

The initial idea may stay as it first arrived. Other times, it may lead to another idea, and the two have a synergy that offers a new layer, or it takes me in a whole new direction I hadn’t even considered. I love when this happens, and I stay open to these turns that end up being so much better than anything I could have planned before I started writing.

My imagination may run with an idea, but it’s my instinct that guides the way. And that’s something that has developed over time. 

One never knows when or where an incredible idea will show up …

Stuck for four hours on a delayed train, the image of a boy wizard came to J. K. Rowling’s mind.

J. R. R. Tolkien was marking exam papers. Rumored to be bored, he wrote on the back of a paper, “In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit.” And from that he dedicated the rest of his life to making sense of that sentence.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.


Dietrich Kalteis is the award-winning author of Ride the Lightning (bronze medal winner, 2015 Independent Publisher Book Awards, for best regional fiction), The Deadbeat Club, Triggerfish, House of Blazes (silver medal winner, 2017 Independent Publisher Book Awards, for best historical fiction), Zero Avenue, Poughkeepsie Shuffle, and Call Down the Thunder. His novel The Deadbeat Club has been translated to German, entitled Shootout, and 50 of his short stories have also been published internationally. Cradle of the Deep is his eighth published work. He lives with his family on Canada’s West Coast.