Saturday, December 8, 2012

Alicia Keys--"Girl on Fire"

       Alicia Keys—yes that Alicia Keys—singer/songwriter—says she got the spark for the title track for her latest album from an interview about herself that she was reading.  The interviewer described her as being like a “girl on fire.”  Immediately, she took to the phrase and decided to write a song called “Girl on Fire.”  On September 6 the song debuted on the MTV’s Music Video Awards and her performance was later posted on You Tube.  

Alicia during benefit concert (Wikipedia)
Anthony Bourdaine, chef/author/personality, who has his own show on TV--No Reservations admits that he created his quasi arrogant persona partly from an article he read as a teenager, an article written by Hunter Thompson, which later became the book “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”   That’s all it took -- one article to spark an idea which helped to launch a career.  He needed something and his mind was trolling along and there it was. 

Anthony Bourdain (Wikipedia)
        Lately I’ve been thinking about inspiration.  How writers are inspired.  And how writers can become inspired through the research they do, but I believe that doing research is more than “googling” or opening up a book and reading information that you’re looking to find.  As a writer/songwriter/chef/cook--you need to keep an open mind.  You need to be constantly looking for connections to the work you do--whether it’s song writing, cooking or writing a story.  
      And those connections will come.  
      For me, a writer, I call this phenomena : STORY MAGNET TECHNIQUE. 
      Case in point.  I admit that I’m a world traveler, but that isn’t the important point here.  Because it doesn’t matter where you hear a particular story.  It just so happens that I was in Kenya on safari when our guide James started telling us about how the black rhinoceros survives in a very arid climate.  He said that the black rhinoceros had developed an immunity to a poisonous plant that they needed to eat.  It seems that this particular plant, the Euphorbia Candelabra, contained the liquid that the rhinoceros needed to survive, but the plant itself was deadly to their system.  But over the years, their systems had developed an immunity to the plant.  
       I was so fascinated by this story that I couldn’t let it go.  I came home from Kenya and started thinking about how I could use this concept in the novel I was currently writing: Wild Point Island.    

The cover of my just released book

      So . . . here’s what I did.  My hero Simon Viccars and the other colonists land on Wild Point Island.  They are starving.  Near death.  They find a plant to eat, which is also poisonous to their system.  It almost kills them.  The plant, in fact, gives them a near death experience and changes them physiologically into another life form.  When they come back from the “dead,” they have immortality, are now revenants, which means “one who comes back from a long journey or death,” but they now need the plant, the Euphorbia Candelabra, to survive. 
      I would never have thought of this idea if I hadn’t heard of the rhinoceros story.  
      In addition, I had so many great details to use.  The name of the plant—the Euphorbia Candelabra.  I knew the symptoms a patient would suffer if they ate the plant.  I knew what the plant looked like.  All of this went into my book.  
      I took the concept even further, though.  I wanted the revenants to be prisoners of the island because I wanted them to begin to deteriorate the minute they stepped off the island.  
      So again my STORY MAGNET TECHNIQUE came in handy.  
This time the idea came from an article I read in the New York Times Magazine on cancer.  The article was discussing how some cancers are triggered by one cancer cell in the body.  That if someone has cancer and is operated on and that one cell isn’t removed, the cancer will return.  Not all cancers work like that, but again, I was fascinated by that one cancer cell theory.  I couldn’t let it go. 
I started thinking about whether I could use it in my story.
What if every time one of the revenants stepped off the island, something got triggered and physical deterioration set in.  That would make the revenants prisoners of the island.  They have immortality, but they must remain within the protective environment of the island.   
Why was this so important to my story?
Well, because I wanted to write a love story where the hero and heroine couldn’t be together.  If the hero is a revenant and the heroine is a half and half, then unless she is willing to give up her freedom, they can’t be together.  
Unless, of course, she is a chemist who develops a magic elixir.
That is what happens.  She does develop an elixir to use as a bargaining tool to get her father out of prison.  But to make the elixir idea viable, the reader had to buy into the idea of why the revenants can’t leave the island.  They had to understand the idea.  
This STORY MAGNET TECHNIQUE works 24-7.  You can be sitting in front of your television and suddenly someone is profiling a scientist who felt compelled to pursue a certain line of investigation because he had a family member who . . .  That’s what happened with me.  You listen to this interview and you realize that the main character of the story you’re writing could have said the same thing.  
Ella, my heroine, pursues the development of the elixir because she feels compelled to do so.  She feels guilt.  She feels responsible for her father’s imprisonment.  She believes the guards that took her father away that day were coming for her.  
But it doesn’t have to be a TV interview that you stumble on.  If you want insight into how a chemist thinks, for example, pick up an autobiography written by a chemist.  Or read a magazine article where a chemist is being interviewed.  You never know what you’ll discover—what insight into their thinking which will become a valuable thread in your story.  

This is me, waiting for inspiration

For some reason you will hear the stories you need to hear when you need to hear them.  And all you need is a little imagination so you can twist them to your purposes. 
It worked for Alicia Keys.  It worked for Anthony Bourdain. 
Yeah.  Yeah.  Now you understand--it can work for you.   

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