Please help us welcome author Sidney Bell today to celebrate the upcoming release of Loose Cannon, book one in her new Woodbury Boys series from Carina Press.
What Happened Next?
At a writer’s conference that took place almost a decade ago, I was sandwiched between a writer and one of her biggest fans while they had a long, involved conversation about where the writer got her ideas. I remember the sandwiched part very distinctly because I offered multiple times to trade places with one of them so they wouldn’t be forced to talk around me, and they repeatedly refused, claiming they didn’t want to put me out. So I got a front row seat to a meandering dialogue that eventually ended with both writer and fan frustrated enough that the whole table of attendees became uncomfortable.
If I can sum up the conversation, it went like this:
Fan: Where do you get your ideas?
Fan: Can you be more specific? Like, everywhere where?
Writer: Just…everywhere. It’s different for each book.
Fan: Okay, how’d you get the idea for your last book?
Writer: I saw a woman fall off a bike…(blah blah blah, more words describing the plot here, you get the idea)
Fan: But what made that particular bike accident special? What made it into an idea?
Writer: shrugs helplessly.
For a long time, I didn’t think much about this moment beyond being mildly annoyed by how awkward it was to sit between them for half an hour while the fan pushed and the writer struggled to come up with a satisfactory answer. Later, though, I realized that the fan wasn’t asking the question she actually wanted the answer to. She didn’t care about where the writer got her ideas. She wanted to know how she could get ideas of her own.
Which got me thinking.
The writer’s toolbox is filled with a million things—character development rules, awareness of speech, plot structure diagrams, the proper usage of commas (for some of us, anyway, a list that does not include me), and much more. But at its core, the craft of writing is about asking questions.
That probably seems a little obscure, but questions form the basis of the human experience. They’re part of how we think and how we engage with the world. Questions are the basis of connection: who are you? They’re the basis of imagination: what if? Of empathy: what would it feel like to experience that?
What separates the writer from the fan is pretty simple—we ask “what if” constantly, even about situations that appear to have all the answers included. That’s why the writer’s initial response to her fan’s question—everywhere—is legitimate. If you ask questions of everything, everything becomes a source of inspiration. But it’s the hypothetical realities that we come up with to answer them that prompt us to write. This is our reality, we say with our fiction. This is our answer to the world.
My new novel, Loose Cannon, is the story of Edgar-Allen Church, a young man starting the long process of putting his life back together after spending five years in the correctional system. My idea for this character and his journey came from a job I had in my early twenties working for a residential treatment center similar to the one Church attends in the book. The center was filled with an eclectic group of teenagers—everything from gang members to trauma survivors. Working there was the most stressful time in my life, but it was also deeply rewarding, even on days when it seemed like success stories were far too few. But I eventually turned to writing for my career, and my experiences at the center were relegated to memory.
Then last year, I was reading a book in which the hero overcame his shady past, and I remember thinking that his ‘shady past’ wasn’t all that shady. In fact, it had been fairly romanticized, and his bad deeds had been cancelled out by a single big, plot-satisfying good deed at the end of the story.
It bothered me more than a little.
Romances are filled with characters who are attractive and dramatic and romantic, but redeeming a hero is a lot easier than redeeming a human being. Real life doesn’t allow for a reader’s sympathies when it comes to how shady a past can get, and people don’t always get the perfect opportunity to make up for their sins. It got me wondering. How do flawed people find love? How much forgiveness could a reader have for a man whose ‘shady past’ included the more-realistic sorts of events and actions that I’d found in the kids I’d worked with so many years ago?
Those questions were the foundation that helped me build Loose Cannon. You could say that I wrote an entire book in the process of figuring out the answers.
Going back to my awkward meal at the writing conference for a second, I can say that the writer’s story about the bicycle crash truly wasn’t anything special. It was what the writer’s mind did next that produced a result: much like I had, she asked “what’s going on?” and “why did that happen?” and “what if?”
Neither was the fan wrong in asking where the writer got her ideas. Writers and readers aren’t so different, after all. We’re all looking for the answer to the most central question in all of storytelling:
What happened next?
About Loose Cannon
Released after five years in the system for assault, streetwise Edgar-Allen Church is ready to leave the past behind and finally look to his future. In need of a place to crash, he’s leaning on Miller Quinn. A patient, solidly masculine pillar of strength and support, Miller has always been there for him—except in the one way Church has wanted the most.
With his staunchly conservative upbringing, Miller has been playing it straight his whole life. Now with Church so close again, it’s getting harder to keep his denial intact. As they fumble their way back to friendship after so many years apart, Miller struggles to find the courage to accept who he really is. What he has with Church could be more than desire—it could be love. But it could also mean trouble.
Church’s criminal connections are closing in on the both of them, and more than their hearts are at risk. This time, their very lives are on the line.
About the Author
Sidney Bell lives in the drizzly Pacific Northwest with her amazingly supportive husband. She received her MFA degree in Creative Writing in 2010, considered aiming for the Great American Novel, and then promptly started writing fanfiction instead. Eventually more realistic grown-ups convinced her to try writing something more fiscally responsible, which is how we ended up here.
When she’s not writing, she’s playing violent video games, yelling at the television during hockey games, or supporting her local library by turning books in late.