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Meg's Blog

THAT QUESTION

So I'm sitting in the airport on my way to the Midwest Literary Festival, having escaped Ivan, and my flight got cancelled so I thought I'd answer some questions on the Ask Meg forum on www.megcabotbookclub.com while I waited for my new flight. I would like to commend the people who posted questions there today (most of them. I see through some your questions, as they are clearly part of your diabolically clever plan to find out my personal feelings for Paul Slater etc, which I know you will then use to figure out who ends up with Suze in Twilight. Tisk tisk). Most of the questions were very good though.

This, sadly, is not always the case with questions asked of authors, however.

People are very curious about author's lives and books, which I understand, because I have a lot of questions myself for certain authors.

Like, I would like to ask PD James whatever happened to Cordelia Gray.

And I would like to ask Harper Lee why she hasn't written any books since To Kill A Mockingbird (that we know of. I have a feeling she's still writing them. She's just not sharing them with us. I bet her family will find like 50 finished novels in her refrigerator after she dies, or something).

I'd like to ask Robert B Parker if Susan Silverman is based on his wife.

I would like to ask Susan Juby if there will be more books about Alice, and if so, could there be MANY more.

And I'd like to ask JK Rowling not to kill off Hermione.

There is one thing I would NEVER ask an author, however. It's a question I know non-writers can't help asking, because it really is a mystery to them, and they really want to know. They have no way of knowing how upsetting this question is to authors.

But I will tell you that in my informal poll of all the authors I know, they unanimously agreed that “Where Do You Get Your Ideas?” is their absolute least favorite question.

Please understand: Authors don't hate the question “Where did you get your idea for (Insert Title of Book Here)?”

Because that's a question you can actually answer. I can tell you, for instance, where I got the idea for The Princess Diaries (because my mom started going out with one of my teachers, and this spawned what would become Mia's first diary entry).

What I can't tell you the answer to is “Where do you get your ideas?” Just GENERAL ideas. Not SPECIFIC ideas. THIS is the question authors hate.

I believe the reason most authors hate this question is not because EVERY SINGLE PERSON TO WHOM WE ARE INTRODUCED asks it. To the point where I now lie when I meet people and tell them I work at the Central Park Zoo as a seal trainer, since that way, I don't want to have to face That Question.

I am not alone in this. Other authors lie about what they do for a living, too, just so they don't have to face That Question.

I'm sure there are writers out there reading this going, “What's the big deal? I LOVE That Question. I could answer That Question all day, in minute detail. I could talk about that time the light shone down from the sun in a single shaft and hit my computer and a choir started singing and suddenly, there it was…An Idea. It just SPOKE to me, BEGGING to be written.”

But I am not friends with any authors like that.

I believe the reason the authors I know hate the Where Do You Get Your Ideas question is because there is no good answer.

That's because we don't know.

Seriously. WE DO NOT KNOW.

Everyone expects us to know. And you can't blame them, because we SHOULD know.

But most of us don't. Most of us make something up just because we HAVE to answer That Question, because if you say you don't know, the person asking goes, “Come on. Of COURSE you know. You wrote the book, didn't you? So just tell me where you got the idea for it.”

And it's true we may know what TRIGGERED an idea for a book. For instance, my mom starting to go out with one of my teachers triggered the idea for writing the journal of a girl whose mom is going out with one of her teachers, which later turned into The Princess Diaries.

But when I explain this to people, they look super disappointed.

Which is another reason why I hate it when people ask That Question. I can never seem to give them a satisfactory reply, even when I tell them the truth.

I have an author friend—who shall remain nameless, but I WILL tell you that he is a guy—who, when asked That Question, replies: “The Idea Store.”

The thing is: people actually believe him. He says people ask him where Idea Store is, because they want to go there and buy an idea or two themselves.

So then he goes on to tell them that Idea Store is in Iowa, and that you can buy ideas there on sale for as low as $7.99 for a basic suspense-thriller idea. He tells them the Idea Store doesn't have an online site yet, but it's only a matter of time. He also says you can sometimes find ideas for sale on eBay, but not lately, because Dan Brown is snapping them all up the minute they go on sale.

Seriously! He tells people this!

AND THEY BELIEVE HIM!!!

I just want to go on the record and tell you all that there is no idea store. Authors get ideas from the same places you get YOUR ideas: From nowhere. From everywhere. From inside our heads. From OUTSIDE our heads.

Ideas just OCCUR. Maybe they're triggered by something that is happening in our families, like my idea for Princess Diaries. Or maybe they're triggered by a movie we saw, or a dream we had, or something we read in the newspapers. Ideas just come along—sadly not as often as any of us would like.

I almost feel like it's bad luck to question the origin of ideas too closely. I mean, do we REALLY want to know where ideas come from?

Because–just like people always look disappointed when I tell them where I got the idea for The Princess Diaries–I think we'd all be disappointed if we knew where ideas REALLY come from.

Because I highly doubt it's any place as cool as the Idea Store.

Well, that's it for now.

More later.

Much love,

Meg

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